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Presented by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Chicago, 5 February 2015


Whether it is the gruesome murder of school children in Peshawar or the brutal killing of editors of Charlie Hebdo, it is clear that our world is in the grip of militant Islam. But what is even more shocking is the response of the Left to these incidents. Mired in confusion, the contemporary Left has failed to comprehend the gravity of the current situation and continues to make confounding gestures towards the force of political Islam, liberal values, such as the freedom of speech, and above all, its own orientation toward the current political crisis. This teach-in will address the rise of political Islam as a consequence of the demise of the Left internationally.

Christopher P. (Anarcho-Syndicalist Review) Michael Staudenmaier (author, Truth and Revolution) Mel Rothenberg (Chicago Political Economy Group) Jamie Theophilos (local activist)

A lecture by Joseph M. Schwartz, Professor of Political Science (Temple University), and author of The Future of Democratic Equality: Reconstructing Social Solidarity in a Fragmented United States (2009) - winner of the 2011 American Political Science Association's David Easton Book Prize.

Presented by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Chicago on April 3, 2014.

Co-sponsored by:

The Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory (3CT)
University of Chicago Department of Political Science


In the late 1970s and early 1980s socialists in Western Europe strove to gain greater democratic control through efforts such as the Swedish Meidner Plan and Mitterand's first 2 years in office. But instead of a more radical turn to social democracy, neoliberalism prevailed and became the new common sense not only of the right, but also of moderate social democratic/US liberal left. This "common sense" has been hard to replace with a counter-hegemonic left "good sense" because of the absence of an alternative governing project to the left of neoliberalism in OECD countries. Consequently, while neoliberal policies gave rise to Great Recession, the proffered solutions to the crisis -- even from the mainstream social democracy in N. Europe -- have remained neoliberal in character.

This lecture will explore why social forces and movements from the left have been unable to generate a clear alternative to neoliberalism and outline the need for a global alternative “social structure of accumula

The fourth installment of a panel series, held at the University of Chicago on November 23rd, 2013.  The first three panels were held in Halifax, Frankfurt, and Thessaloniki.

A moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A with thinkers, activists and political figures focused on contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics that adequately address issues of democracy. Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Chicago.


MICHAEL GOLDFIELD (Wayne State University)

AUGUST NIMTZ (University of Minnesota)

PETER STAUDENMAIER (Marquette University)

From the financial crisis and the bank bail-outs to the question of "sovereign debt"; from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street; from the struggle for a unified European-wide policy to the elections in Greece and Egypt that seem to have threatened so much and promised so little—the need to go beyond mere "protest" has asserted itself: political revolution is in the air, again.

At the same time, the elections in US and recently in Germany, by comparison, to be a non-event, despite potentially having far-reaching consequences for teeming issues world-wide. Today, the people—the demos—seem resigned to their political powerlessness, even as they rage against the corruption of politics. Hence, while contemporary demands for democracy to politicize the demos, they are also indicative of social and political regression that asks urgently for recognition and reflection. Demands for democracy "from below" end up being expressed "from above": The 99%, in its already obscure and unorganized character, didn't express itself as such in the various recent elections, but was split in various tendencies, many of them very reactionary.

Democracy retains an enigmatic character, since it always slips any fixed form and content, since people under the dynamic of capital keep demanding at time "more" democracy and "real" democracy. But democracy can be like Janus: it often expresses both the progressive social and emancipatory demands, but also their defeat, their hijacking by an elected "Bonaparte."

What is the history informing the demands for greater democracy today, and how does the Left adequately promote—or not—the cause of popular empowerment? What are the potential futures for "democratic" revolution, especially as understood by the Left?


1. What would you consider as "real" democracy, as this has been a primary demand of recent spontaneous forms of discontent (e.g. Arab Spring, Occupy, anti-austerity protests, student strikes)?
2. What is the relationship between democracy and the working class today? Do you consider historical struggles for democracy by workers as the medium by which they got "assimilated" to the system, or the only path to emancipation that they couldn't avoid trying to take?
3. Do you consider it as necessary to eschew establishment forms of mass politics in favor of new forms in order to build a democratic movement? Or are current mass form of politics adequate for a democratic society?
4. Why has democracy emerged as the primary demand of spontaneous forms of discontent? Do you also consider it necessary, or adequate, to deal with the pathologies of our era?
5. Engels wrote that "A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian things there is." Do you agree? Can this conception be compatible with the struggle for democracy?
6. How is democracy related with the issue of possibly overcoming capital?
7. Is there a difference between the ancient and the modern notion of democracy and, if so, what is the source of that difference? Does "real" democracy share more with the direct democracy of ancient polis?
8. Is democracy oppressive, or can it be such? How do you judge Lenin's formulation that: "democracy is also a state and that, consequently, democracy will also disappear with the state disappears."


Video will be forthcoming!

A panel event held in Chicago at the University of Chicago on May 6, 2013.

Transcripted in Platypus Review #57 (Click on banner to see):
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The reelection of Obama presented a problem for the American left. Lost was the hopeful rhetoric of transforming society for the better, and as it became clear that Obama’s administration had returned to “politics-as-usual,” the left began to cynically appraise the purported gains made in his first term. Not the least of these was the claim that we live in a “post-racial” society. From Abolitionism to the Civil Rights Movement, the issue of racism was and is a defining one for the American left. As social life in the United States has reproduced itself through various social and ideological transformations, racism seemed always to reproduce itself in and through those transformations. And, surely not without merit is the contemporary left’s skepticism regarding America’s supposed achievement of a “post-racial society.” Yet, any talk of race in the current age must account for the fact that America’s first black president was twice elected by substantial margins. If anti-Black racism subsists, it clearly does not have the same relationship it once did to capitalism and society in general. This panel will investigate the how the left understands the concept of race in contemporary politics, and how this concept can, should, or will maintain of political significance for a future renascent left.

Michael Dawson
Cedric Johnson