Held at the University of Illinois, Chicago, on April 7, 2017 as part of the 9th annual Platypus international conference. The discussion was moderated by Reid Kotlas.
Catherine Liu (University of California, Irvine; Author of American Idyll: Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique)
Chris Cutrone (School of the Art Institute; Platypus)
Gregory Lucero (Socialist Party USA; Revolutionary Chicago)
The long anticipated outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election—the coronation of Hillary Clinton—was dramatically derailed by the twin “populist” insurgencies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Many on the Left hoped the Sanders campaign would either transform the Democratic Party, replacing the neoliberalism of the Clintons with a commitment to social democracy, or form a new left-wing party. Yet Sanders supported Clinton in the end, and the Democrats relied upon their McGovernite coalition of minorities, women, and organized labor constituencies in the general election.
Trump, on the other hand, was a challenge to the Republican status quo, breaking with Reagan coalition orthodoxies while appealing to working class voters who had supported Obama and might have supported Sanders. While Sanders appealed to the broad discontent with established political leadership and the social decline over which it presided, only Trump managed to capture the potential this presented.
Far from opposing capitalism, Sanders sought a retreat from neoliberalism into New Deal-style reforms, while Trump campaigned on a vision of capitalism beyond both Roosevelt and Reagan, proposing to lead the capitalist class for the benefit of the workers. Trump treats capitalism as a political question which, while posed at the level of the state, can only be resolved in and through civil society. Capitalism, for Trump, can solve its own problems, so long as the workers are politically represented. Trump demonstrates that capitalism remains a palpable political problem, while failing to point beyond it. The 20th century began with the crisis of Marxism, whose political task of overcoming capitalism was subsequently never realized. Is Marxism necessary, and able, to show the way forward?
Questions for the panelists:
- What can the Left do to advance the struggle for socialism under such circumstances?
- Does the re-emergence of politics, along with decline of both “parties of the ruling class” present an opening for Marxism in the “Age of Trump” to pursue anew a course towards party politics?
- Why has Trump incited such hysteria on the Left? How do we make sense of this phenomenon?
- What would it mean to oppose Trump from the Left?