Held April 8th, 2017 at SAIC as part of the 9th annual Platypus international convention.
Bill Pelz (Director of the Institute of Working-Class History)
Djamil Arbia (Protagma)
Brit Schulte (Support Ho(s)e, Slutwalk Chicago)
The bourgeois revolutions strove to subordinate the power of the state to the interests of civil society. Yet the revolutions of 1848 disappointed, resulting in the recrudescence of the state, which rose above society to maintain “order.” Revolutionaries were divided over how to respond. Could the state serve as a means of emancipation? Or was it a force of counter-revolution that had to be smashed? For Marx, the capitalist or “Bonapartist” state had to be smashed, but this could only be accomplished by constituting a new state power, a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, that could realize the emancipatory potential unleashed by capitalism. Instead of either accepting or rejecting it, the proletariat had to render the function of the Bonapartist state self-critical.
In his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx warned his followers against regressing to the Lassallean affirmation of the state. Such capitulation was an ever-present risk, tempting the workers to support the political reconstitution of capitalism through state power, rather than the overcoming of both capitalism and the state through social revolution.
After World War I, organized labor was increasingly integrated into the state. In supporting the New Deal, Communists deferred to capitalist state welfare, downplaying the goal of revolution. In 1935 the National Labor Relations Act, in aiming to protect the rights of workers, subordinated organized labor to the state, which had to balance these rights against the "interest of the public in the free flow of commerce." As the AFL and CIO became core constituencies of the Democratic party, the class struggle was repudiated, in favor of a partnership of Labor and Capital brokered by the state.
While the New Left initially reacted against this parochial arrangement, the 70s witnessed a turn toward militant labor organizing, particularly in the public sector. However, this "grassroots upsurge" coincided with the decline of the welfare state and the rise of neoliberalism, whose champions—Democrat as well as Republican—used state power to launch an assault on the labor movement.
How does the State function today? How is it the product of a history of Leftist struggles? Is there a way in which workers in the “Era of Trump” are able make sense of and redeem Labor's history with the State, to develop, as Marxists contend, a dialectical, rather than affirmative or negative relation to the State?
Bill Pelz, director of the Institute of Working Class History
Mimi Soltysik, Socialist Party USA
Electoral politics are a longstanding problem for the U.S. left. In recent decades, a number of parties have formed as an alternative to the Democratic Party: the Labor Party, the Green Party, and now, the Justice Party. However, these parties risk becoming little more than networks of activists or pressure groups on the Democratic Party, and it still remains unclear whether a serious electoral challenge to the Democratic Party is possible. Many progressives blame the “first-past-the-post” structure of U.S. elections, contra labour-friendly parliamentary systems; yet others insist that this procedural focus is misplaced. Leninists charge some quarters of the Left with misunderstanding the proper relationship of the party to the state; but for many, it remains unclear how State and Revolution bears upon the present. Most activists grant the desirability of a viable party to the left of the Democrats, but why exactly such a party is desirable-- to win reforms? to spread emancipatory consciousness?-- is contested as well. These are old questions for the American left-- as old as Henry George, Daniel De Leon, and the 1930s American Labor Party, perhaps the high point of independent electoral politics in the U.S. This panel will investigate several contemporary approaches to electoral politics to draw out the theories that motivate Leftist third parties; it will also ask how the historical achievements and failures of third parties bear upon the present.
How does the present election represent an opportunity for the development of a third party? In what ways have Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson each helped develop a window of opportunity for a third party? In what ways might these figures be responsible for miseducating, depoliticizing, or simply misdirecting potential allies?
What conditions would a Clinton or Trump administration produce for the left? How would each represent a challenge to the Left?
How might a third party avoid simply becoming either an instrument for pressuring the Democratic Party to the Left or a mere recruiting tool for activist and sectarian organizations? In other words: what are the practical and theoretical obstacles to the development of the Left beyond the default form of activity that have characterized it since the mid-20th century?
While we take for granted that a third party would have to distinguish itself from the two major parties, how could a third party attempt to draw from voters from both the Democrats and the Republicans?
The rise of progressivism and socialism in the late 19th/early 20th century defined every attempt at the development of a third party in the 20th century. How are progressive and socialist politics distinct and/or related? What role would each play in the development of a mass third party for the 21st century?