Held October 4, 2018 at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
John Abbott, Senior lecturer of history at UIC
John Bachtell, Chairman of the Communist Party USA
Fred Mecklenburg, News and Letters
David Faes, Platypus / Campaign for a Socialist Party
The term ‘socialism’ appears to be enjoying a resurgence of public interest - both favorably where it is self-prescribed and pejoratively where it is meant to degrade the respectability of public figures. From early 2016 at the height of Bernie Sanders's campaign for the Democratic Party nomination to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory over Joe Crowley in June, the term ‘socialism’ appears to be gaining some level of purchase and a whole lot of press. In many instances, ‘socialism’ is commingled with terms as varied as ‘social democratic’, ‘communist’, ‘marxist’, ‘anarchist’, etc. As such, we view this is as an opportune moment to ask, “what is socialism after all?” What do public figures mean when they identify as socialists or any one of its varied strains? What do their opponents think it means? What does it mean and what can it mean? And perhaps, most important of all, what did it mean in the past?
Teach-in on anti-Trump-ism and its implications for the left, held by Platypus members Nunzia Faes and Clint Montgomery in Frankfurt, Germany on November 11, 2016.
The accusations against Donald Trump of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and even fascism have been front and center for Republicans, liberals and leftists alike, while at the same time it is recognized that it was millions of former Obama voters who put him over the edge.
Many of the policies Trump called for already existed. For instance, surveillance and increased scrutiny of Muslim immigrants in the “War on Terror,” the war against ISIS, the wall on the border with Mexico, the mass deportations of “illegal” immigrants, and proposals for a super-exploitative guest-worker immigration program. Since the election, many of his strongly worded rhetoric has been removed from his platform entirely. Leaders of the Democratic Party such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have conceded support for Trump on his policies meant to help American workers and to "drain the swamp" by getting finance out of politics. Meanwhile, many on the Left call for the dismantling of the Democratic Party, as a corporate fundraising machine that doesn’t speak to the needs of working people, to start anew. However what this means for them is the reinvigoration of the Democratic Party, which, based on the statements of Warren and Sanders, will now be led by President Trump.
During the campaign season itself the far left was divided between a strong anti-Trump, lesser evil endorsement of the Democrat establishment candidate and those who, too aware of what that neoliberal, imperialist establishment politics meant for people in America and around the world, could only stand helpless before the absence of anything outside the reality of Trump versus Clinton.
What is clear is that there is now no opposition to the status quo from the Left in America with power independent of the Democrat Party. In light of this fact, any future Left must keep firmly in view that its diagnosis of the Trump phenomenon--whether it is whitelash, proto-fascism, or neoliberal discontent--is at once its answer to what it represents. What sort of answers could the Left offer to oppose the establishment from the Left?"