Presented by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Illinois at Chicago, 3 February, 2016, 7 pm
In the mid-19th century, Marx and Engels observed, in the Communist Manifesto, that a specter was haunting Europe - the specter of Communism. A century and a half later, it is Marxism itself that continues to haunt the Left, while capitalism remains.
What were Marxism's original points of departure for considering radical possibilities for freedom that might still speak to the present?
Thursday, Sept. 24
White Oak Room
Student Center East
750 S Halsted
We generally assume that Marxists and other Leftists have the political responsibility to support reforms for the improvement of the welfare of workers. Yet, leading figures from the Marxist tradition– such as Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky– also understood that such reforms would broaden the crisis of capitalism and potentially intensify contradictions that could adversely impact the immediate conditions of workers. For instance, full employment, while being a natural demand from the standpoint of all workers’ interests, also threatens the conditions of capitalist production (which rely on a surplus of available labor), thereby potentially jeopardizing the current system of employment altogether. In light of such apparent paradoxes, this panel seeks to investigate the politics of work from Leftist perspectives. It will attempt to provoke reflection on and discussion of the ambiguities and dilemmas of the politics of work by including speakers from divergent perspectives, some of whom seek after the immediate abolition of labor and others of whom seek to increase the availability of employment opportunities. We hope that this conversation will deepen the understanding of the contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the selfemancipation of the working class.
September 24, 2014
Panel Event, Chicago, UIC
Walter Benn Michaels, UIC professor, English
John Bachtell, chairman, Communist Party USA
Judith K. Gardiner, UIC professor, Gender and Women's Studies, English
“After the failure of the 1960s New Left, the underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency, in a historical situation of heightened helplessness, became a self-constitution as outsider, as other, rather than an instrument of transformation. Focused on the bureaucratic stasis of the Fordist, late 20th Century world, the Left echoed the destruction of that world by the dynamics of capital: neoliberalism and globalization.
The idea of a fundamental transformation became bracketed and, instead, was replaced by the more ambiguous notion of ‘resistance.’ The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted, or of the politics of the resistance involved.
‘Resistance’ is rarely based on a reflexive analysis of possibilities for fundamental change that are both generated and suppressed by the dynamic heteronomous order of capital. ‘Resistance’ is an undialectical category that does not grasp its own conditions of possibility; it fails to grasp the dynamic historical context of capital and its reconstitution of possibilities for both domination and emancipation, of which the ‘resisters’ do not recognize that that they are a part.”
— Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism” (Public Culture¸ 18.1: 2006)
Resistance politics has waned since the Occupy movement, but it remains unclear to many on the left how an avowedly reform-oriented or even revolutionary politics might function other than as an elaborate act of resistance. What might render a strike more than a prolonging of workers’ accommodation to the prevailing trends? How might socialists build independent electoral parties that can become more than a protest vote? How are the spontaneous discontents (acts of ‘resistance’) that constantly emerge in our society channeled into a politics of the status quo, and what has it taken in the past-- what might it yet require-- for the Left to transcend such a politics?
This moderated panel discussion on the relationship between Marxism and Anarchism today took place at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) on March 19th 2014 with:
It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism. They emerged out of the same crucible â the Industrial Revolution, the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 and 1871, a weak liberalism, the centralization of state power, the rise of the workers movement, and the promise of socialism. They are the revolutionary heritage, and all significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. In this respect, our moment seems no different.
There are a few different ways these ideologies have been taken up. Recent worldwide square occupations reflect one pattern: a version of Marxist theory â understood as a political-economic critique of capitalism â is used to comprehend the world, while an anarchist practice â understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists revolution must begin now â is used to organize, in order to change it. Some resist this combination, claiming that Marxism rejects anti-statist adventurism, and call for a strategic reorganization of the working class to resist austerity, and perhaps push forward a âNew New Dealâ. This view remains wedded to a supposedly practical welfarist social democracy, which strengthens the state and manages capital. There is a good deal of hand waving in both these orientations with regard to politics, tactics, and the end goal. Finally, there have been attempts to leave the grounds of these theories entirely â but these often seem either to land right back in one of the camps or to remain marginal.
To act today we seek to draw up the balance sheet of the 20th century. The historical experience concentrated in these ideas must be unfurled if they are to serve as compass points. To see in what ways the return of these ideologies represent an authentic engagement and in what ways the return of a ghost. Where have the battles left us? What forms do we have for meeting, theoretically and practically, the problems of our present?