Science and technology are intertwined with the transformation of society. For at least two centuries, reformers and revolutionaries have grappled with the question of how technology-- first machinery, later cybernetics and robotics-- might lead to the end of compulsory work. The end of compulsory work figured prominently in the voluntary communal experiments of the Occupy encampments, yet the Left as historical attempts to grapple with this question are often forgotten by today's activists. The possibility that technology may free us from labour finds expression in a range of figures: 19th century utopian socialism, Marx and the revolutionary Marxists, postwar sociologists such as Daniel Bell, New Left thinkers such as Andre Gorz, futurists such as Jeremy Rifkin, neo-Marxists such as Moishe Postone, and anarchists such as Bob Black-- to name just a few. When the New Communist Movement tried to organize the remnants of the U.S. industrial proletariat in the clutch of outsourcing and-- more significantly-- automation of jobs, it confronted this problem head-on; and today we, too, occupy this post-Fordist reality of chronic unemployment. This panel will explore how contemporary figures on the Left understand technology's promise and why it remains unfulfilled-- why the vast majority of our species remains forced to experience unemployment as scarcity and misery rather than as abundance and freedom.
George Caffentzis is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine in Portland, Maine. He is a founding member of the Midnight Notes Collective. He is the author of many books and articles on money, machines and capitalism. His e-book, "No Blood for Oil!" can be downloaded gratis at radicalpolytics.org.
Dr. Fred Block is Research Professor of Sociology at UC Davis with interests in economic and political sociology. His work focuses on "hidden" industrial policy - U.S. government support of the commercialization of new technologies, despite the prevailing belief that technological and industrial advances are best left to market forces. He has authored books and articles including âSwimming Against the Current: The Rise of a Hidden Developmental State in the United States" and "Rethinking Capitalism."
Carl Davidson is currently a field organizer and national co-chair for Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism. Together with Jerry Harris, he is author of "CyberRadicalism: A New Left for a Global Age," a collection of essays of the impact of computers on Marxism and socialism. Davidson is a national board member of the Solidarity Economy Network. He lives near Pittsburgh and is also a member of Steelworker Associates, a community action arm of the USW.
Walda Katz-Fishman, a scholar activist and popular educator, is professor of sociology at Howard University and was a founding member and former board chair of Project South: Institute for the Elimination of Poverty & Genocide. She serves on the U.S. Social Forum National Planning Committee and is active in the bottom-up movement for equality, justice and democracy. She is a founding member of the League of Revolutionaries for a New America.
On May 19, 2011, Platypus invited Carl Davidson, formerly of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Guardian Weekly, Tom Riley of the International Bolshevik Tendency, and Mel Rothenberg, formerly of the Sojourner Truth Organization, to reflect on “The Marxist turn: The New Left in the 1970s.”
The original description of the event, which was moderated by Spencer A. Leonard at the University of Chicago, reads: “The 1970s are usually glossed over as a decade of the New Left’s disintegration into sectarianism, triggered by the twin defeats of Nixon’s election and the collapse of SDS in 1968–69. But the 1970s were also a time of tremendous growth on the Left. The embarrassed silence retrospectively given to the politics of this time contradicts the self-understanding of 1970s radicals’ finally “getting serious” about their Leftism, after the youthful rebellion of the 1960s. After a decade of searching for new revolutionary agents, and faced with the reordering of global capital towards post-Fordism, the 1970s saw a return to working class politics and Marxist approaches, in both theory and practice. The conventional imagination of the 1970s as the long retreat after the defeat of the late 1960s occludes an understanding of the political possibilities present in the 1970s. Our contemporary moment provides an opportunity to rethink the politics of this period. The collapse of the anti-war movement and the disappointments of the Left’s hopes for a reform agenda under Obama have exhausted the resurgence of 1960s-style leftism that took place in the 2000s. The reconsideration of Marx in the wake of the current economic crisis, which parallels the neo-Marxism of the 1970s (if much attenuated by comparison), raises the question of the possibility of a Marxian politics that could fundamentally transform society. Therefore, in this panel discussion we will investigate the neglected significance of the legacy of 1970s-era Marxism for anticapitalist and emancipatory politics today.”
Transcript in Platypus Review #40 (Click below):
Carl Davidson (former Students for a Democratic Society)
Tom Riley (International Bolshevik Tendency)
Mel Rothenberg (former Sojourner Truth Organization)