Panel held on November 15th, 2011, at the University of Chicago, as part of the international Crisis of the Left panel series.
What is the Crisis of the Left?
Crisis: Pathol. The point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death.
Many on the Left feel a sense of crisis.
Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics. The Platypus Affiliated Society seeks to make the conversation explicit, and to host a series of discussions about the crisis of the contemporary Left: its quality, causes, and significance for future reconstitution and transformation.
Across five cities worldwide (Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, Thessaloniki, Boston), weâve invited figures from across the Leftâacademics, political organizers, theoristsâ to answer and debate six fundamental questions. We also pose these questions to the Left as a whole and invite responses from all quarters. The questions below stem from confusion; taking nothing for granted, we hope that confronting this confusion might open up future possibilities for renewed consciousness and practice on the Left.
How would you define the Left?
Do you think the Left is in crisis? If so, then what constitutes the crisis?
In trying to understand the contemporary Left, what history matters most? What tasks and problems have we inherited from the Old Left and the New Left?
Could the Left have done something to avoid its current impasses? If so, what?
What is the relationship between the Left and anti-capitalism? Between the Left and Marxism? What should it be?
How does the Left need to change? Who is responsible for making the change happen?
Moderated by Greg Gabrellas
Mike Ely is a veteran revolutionary who works with Kasama's project for reconceiving the communist movement. He started political life with the early SDS and the Black Panther Party in the 1960s, and spent time in France and Soviet-Occupied Czechoslovakia during the heady year of 1968. During the 1970s, Mike worked as a communist organizer within waves of coal miner wildcat strikes in Appalachia, and participated in the debates and organizational shakeouts of the New Communist Movement. For 25 years after 1980 he was a writer and editor for the Maoist press in the United States, and a member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. As a journalist, he reported on the life and struggles of immigrant workers in the Deep South, Native American spear-fishers in the Midwest, steelworkers within the rustbelt decline in Johnstown, anarchists and Turkish youth in Berlin squats, and residents of Chicagoâs Cabrini Green housing projects. Mike is currently the editor of the Kasamaproject.org discussion space and a close observer of the Occupy together movement.
Roberta Garner completed her undergraduate work and her Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Chicago. After three years in New York (at Queens College and Barnard), she returned to Chicago and started teaching at DePaul University where she served as sociology department chair for a total of nine years. She has lived abroad in Italy, France, and Mexico. She writes in the areas of political sociology and social movements, theory, and research methods; her book Doing Qualitative Research (co-authored with Greg Scott and published by Pearson) will be in print in February. Her recent articles include three pieces in Science and Societyâa review article on Nassim Talebâs The Black Swan (with Michael Ash), a review essay on fraud in science, and an article with Larry Garner entitled: "How the US hasnât been the same since the SU passed away."
Alexander Hanna is pursuing a PhD in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, focusing on politics and social media. His research looks at social movement groups and networks in Egypt, and how blogs, Facebook, and Twitter aid them. He is in his second year as co-president of the Teaching Assistantsâ Association (TAA). The TAA is the oldest graduate employee union in the country and represents nearly 3,000 teaching and project assistants at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Greg Gabrellas is a graduate student at the University of Chicago for American history and social thought, a member of the Platypus Affiliated Society, and a lead organizer for the Crisis of the Left event series. He was a founder of the Woodlawn Collaborative, a center for the arts, education and progressive political activism on Chicago's South side. He has contributed to the Platypus Review and the Chicago Maroon on topics ranging from the politics of race and sexuality, immigration and the labor movement, environmentalism and the legacy of Rosa Luxemburg. With Spencer Leonard and Watson Ladd, he is a co-producer of Radical Minds on WHPK 88.5 FM Chicago.
A panel discussion with:
Alexander L. Hanna (chair): former organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops
Atlee McFellin: Students for a Democratic Society, New School Radical Student Union
Pam Nogales: Platypus (New York)
C. J. Pereira Di Salvo: former organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops
Laurie Rojas: Platypus (Chicago), former member of Students for a Democratic Society
Young people’s heightened participation in politics in the run-up to the election of Barack Obama was crucial to his election and cannot be ignored. The burning post-election questions that the Left must answer are 1) what are the current politics of youth and student organizations and 2) how can the mobilization of youths and students be expanded and deepened? This panel aims to explore these questions by critically reflecting upon the politics of two of the largest and most successful Left student organizations of recent times: the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS).
The panelists will engage these organizations by examining the various perspectives currently influencing them, and explore how these ideas affect their means and ends. This requires us to delve into their current politics, principles, and practice with relation to the history of Left student activism, as well as the history of the Left as a whole. We hope this panel will not only provide insight into the failures of the student Left, but also begin a serious discussion within these organizations and the Left at-large of what the revolutionary potential of such struggle can be.