One of four panels held by the Platypus Affiliated Society at Left Forum 2014, from May 30th to June 1st, 2014.
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 self-emancipation of the working class.
A panel event held at the School for Visual Arts on February 25th, 2014.
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 word-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 times “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 established 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 thing 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 you judge Lenin’s formulation that: “…democracy is also a state and that, consequently, democracy will also disappear when the state disappears.”
A panel held on April 6, 2013, at the 2013 Platypus International Convention at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Transcribed in Platypus Review #56 (Click below to see):
Perhaps one of the most influential developments in Marxist thought coming from Germany in the last decades has been the emergence of value critique. Building on Marx’s later economical works, value critics stress the importance of abolishing value (the abstract side of the commodity), pointing out problems in traditional Marxism’s emphasis on the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. The German value critical journal Krisis has famously attacked what they believed was a social democratic fetishization of labor in their 1999 Manifesto Against Labor. Such notions have drawn criticism from more “orthodox” Marxists who miss the role of the political in value critique and the possibility of immanent transformation through engaging the realities of capitalist societies. Did the later Marx abandon his political convictions that he expressed in the “Manifesto”? What about his later political writings, such as his “Critique of the Gotha Program” in which he outlines the different phases of early communism? Is Marxism a scientific project as claims from value critics indicate? Was Marx trying to develop of a “science of value” in his later works? What can value critique teach us after the defeat of the Left in 20th century? Did traditional Marxism necessarily have to lead to the defeat of the Left?
PLEASE NOTE: Due to technical errors, the last fifteen minutes of the video are cut off. The audio version is complete, however.
At the fifth annual international convention of the Platypus Affiliated Society, speakers from various perspectives were asked to bring their experience of the Left’s recent history to bear on today’s political possibilities and challenges as part of the “Differing Perspectives on the Left” workshop series.
A workshop on Internationalist Perspective, with Alan Milchman, held on April 5th, 2013, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.