A panel discussion hosted by The Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Illinois at Chicago on November 6, 2017.
Jonathan Daly (UIC Department of History)
Franklin Dimitryev (News & Letters)
Greg Lucero (Socialist Party USA)
Sam (Black Rose/Rosa Negra)
The First World War manifested an economic, social and political crisis of global capitalism, – “imperialism” – which sparked reflection in the mass parties of the Second International on the task of socialist politics. The revisionist dispute, the “crisis of Marxism” in which Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky first cut their teeth, shaped their understanding of the unfolding revolution as a necessary expression of self-contradiction within the movement for socialism. Even the most revolutionary party produced its own conservatism, hence the need for self-conscious, revolutionary leadership to avoid “tailing” the movement.
Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky thought that leadership adequate to the revolution of 1917 required historical consciousness. They drew upon Marx’s appraisal of the democratic revolutions of 1848, in which Marx identified the historical contradiction which had developed in bourgeois society and necessitated the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Bolsheviks maintained that a "bourgeois-democratic" revolution could spark a workers' socialist revolution in Europe, subsequently allowing for a struggle for socialism. Lenin held that political forms such as “the state” and “the party” must be transformed in and through revolution. Yet the meaning of 1917 was already contentious in 1924, as Trotsky recognized in his pamphlet, Lessons of October. Trotsky would spend the rest of his life fighting “over the heads of the leaders of the Second and Third International[s]” to maintain socialist consciousness.
Whether in the Popular Fronts of the 1930’s, the Chinese Communists in 1949, or the New Left of the 1960’s, the Left sought to understand itself – both positively and negatively – in relation to the aims and outcomes of 1917. The historical consciousness of its primary actors disintegrated into various oppositions: Lenin the Machiavellian versus Luxemburg the democratic Cassandra; socialism versus liberalism; authoritarianism versus libertarianism. Meanwhile, the futility of the politics shared by Lenin and Luxemburg has been naturalized. It is tacitly accepted that what Lenin and Luxemburg jointly aspired to achieve, if not already impossible a century ago, is certainly impossible today. The premises of the revolution itself have been cast in doubt.
- What were the aims of the 1917 Russian Revolution?
- What was the self-understanding of its Marxist leadership?
- How has the memory of 1917 changed in the course of the 20th century?
- Why does the legacy of 1917 appear arrayed in oppositions?
- Are we still tasked by the memory of 1917 today, and if so how?
This moderated panel discussion on the relationship between Marxism and Anarchism today took place at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) on March 19th 2014 with:
It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism. They emerged out of the same crucible â the Industrial Revolution, the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 and 1871, a weak liberalism, the centralization of state power, the rise of the workers movement, and the promise of socialism. They are the revolutionary heritage, and all significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. In this respect, our moment seems no different.
There are a few different ways these ideologies have been taken up. Recent worldwide square occupations reflect one pattern: a version of Marxist theory â understood as a political-economic critique of capitalism â is used to comprehend the world, while an anarchist practice â understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists revolution must begin now â is used to organize, in order to change it. Some resist this combination, claiming that Marxism rejects anti-statist adventurism, and call for a strategic reorganization of the working class to resist austerity, and perhaps push forward a âNew New Dealâ. This view remains wedded to a supposedly practical welfarist social democracy, which strengthens the state and manages capital. There is a good deal of hand waving in both these orientations with regard to politics, tactics, and the end goal. Finally, there have been attempts to leave the grounds of these theories entirely â but these often seem either to land right back in one of the camps or to remain marginal.
To act today we seek to draw up the balance sheet of the 20th century. The historical experience concentrated in these ideas must be unfurled if they are to serve as compass points. To see in what ways the return of these ideologies represent an authentic engagement and in what ways the return of a ghost. Where have the battles left us? What forms do we have for meeting, theoretically and practically, the problems of our present?
A moderated panel discussion hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society on the interrelation of capital, history and ecology, held at Loyola University on November 19th, 2013.
- Franklin Dmitryev (News and Letters) Author of "Ecosocialism and Marx's Humanism"
- Fred Magdoff (University of Vermont) Author of "What Every Environmentalist Needs to Know About Capitalism"
- Steven Vogel (Denison University) Author of "Against Nature: The Concept of Nature in Critical Theory"
- Alice Weinreb (Loyola University) Author of the forthcoming "Modern Hungers: Food, War and Germany in the Twentieth Century"
The Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen recently characterized the period marked by the start of the industrial revolution in the 18th Century to the present as a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. This periodization is meant to capture a change in the history of the planet, namely that for the first time in history its course will be determined by the question of what humanity will become.
This panel will focus on different interpretations of why the Left has failed to deal with the deepening crisis of the Anthropocene through the 19th and 20th Centuries and how and if this problem is interrelated with the growing problems associated with ecological systems across the earth. While Karl Marx would note that the problem of freedom shifted with the industrial revolution and the emergence of the working class - the crisis of bourgeois society that Marx would term capital - the idea of freedom seemed not to survive the collapse of Marxist politics in the 20th Century. We seem to live in a world in which the fate of ecological systems seem foreclosed, where attempts at eco-modernization seem to emerge many steps behind the rate of ecological degradation. For many, degradation of the environment appears a permanent feature of modern society, something which can only be resisted but never transformed.
This panel will consider the relationship between the history of capital and the Left—and thus the issue of history and freedom - and how it may be linked to our present inability to render environmental threats and degradation visible and comprehensible, and by extension, subject to its conscious and free overcoming by society.
At the fourth annual international convention of the Platypus Affiliated Society, speakers from various perspectives were asked to bring their experience of the Left’s recent history to bear on today’s political possibilities and challenges as part of the "Differing Perspectives on the Left" workshop series.
A workshop on News and Letters with Franklin Dmitryev held on March 30th, 2012.