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On February 16, 2018, as part of its Fourth European Conference, the Platypus Affiliated Society organized a panel discussion, “50 Years of 1968,” at Goldsmiths University. Moderated by David Faes of Platypus, the event brought together the following speakers: Robert Borba, supporter of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP USA); Judith Shapiro, professor at the London School of Economics, former member of the Spartacist League, and adviser to the Russian Ministry of Finance; Jack Conrad, of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the Weekly Worker; and Hillel Ticktin, honorary Senior Research Fellow at Glasgow University. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion.
On March 23, 2017, the Platypus Affiliated Society organized a panel discussion, “What is Socialism? International Social Democracy,” at the London School of Economics. Moderated by Nunzia Faes of Platypus, the event brought together the following speakers: Jack Conrad of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the Weekly Worker; Adam Buick of the Socialist Party of Great Britain; and Robin Halpin, translator of works by the Exit! group. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion.

Thursday 11 February 2016, 7pm, Goldsmiths, University of London

N.B. An audience question has been removed from audio at the request of the questioner.

Speakers in order:

Jack Conrad - CPGB / Weekly Worker

Elaine Graham-Leigh - Counterfire

Jamie Green - Goldsmiths Labour Students / Momentum

Judith Shapiro - London School of Economics

Panel Description

The conditions for the novel political formations of Syriza and Podemos developed out of the disintegration of the traditional Social Democratic parties in Greece and Spain. Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party in Britain, argued for greater democracy in the party and invoked Labour's origins in working-class organisation and socialism. Yet it is unclear by the invocation exactly what is being remembered, and what is being forgotten. The Bernie Sanders campaign as a "socialist" candidate for leadership of the US Democratic Party appears equally obscure. Precisely when historical consciousness is most necessary, the project of Social Democracy seems to be fading from memory. Little remains of the foundation moment of Social Democracy today, both in practice and thought.

In the late nineteenth century, working people’s response to capital was expressed in the political demand for Socialism. This demand galvanized the formation of European Social Democratic parties guided by the ideology of Marxism. Among the most influential members of the German Social Democratic Party, the political leaders of the Second International, agreed that the primary task of Social Democratic parties was bringing about the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the decisive political struggle between capital and labor. And while some of these leftist ultimately found the revolution too risky in the decisive decades of the 1910s and 1920s, even their political judgment is far to the left to those Social Democratic party members who, after World War II, openly espoused the integration of workers into a more just and thus more democratic capitalist order.

Once a global movement for the self-emancipation of the working class, today’s social democratic parties have fully substituted the task of educating workers in order to overthrow capitalism, with the task of creating and maintaining the conditions for a more just market economy. The present standpoint of social democracy is society as such, bound by national economies and mediated by the state. Social Democracy today promises to fight socialinjustice in the name of the people, but it no longer promises to realize socialism.

Yet what remains is the name, and with it the promise and the problem of Social Democracy.
In this panel we would like to investigate this transformation by looking at the history, the birth and decline, of Social Democracy. How can we understand the historical crisis of social democracy for the Left today? How, if at all, could the trajectory of social democracy shed light on problems yet to be superseded on the Left today?

Questions to panellists:

1. What was Social Democracy? How was it constituted, how did it form and what was it ideological foundation? What problem did it address and what promises did it make?

2. What role did Social Democracy play for the Left throughout the 19th and 20th century? How has this role changed? How did it affect the world and how was it affected by a changing world? When did it come into its own?

3. Was the promise of Social Democracy fulfilled? If yes, how, if no, why did it fail? The current crisis of the Left reveals a need for a reconsideration of Socialist Politics, yet Social Democratic parties are on the retreat and are unable to offer a credible alternative. What does this crisis tell us about the success, failure and the need for Social Democracy?

4. What would you characterize as the beginning moment of the crisis of Social Democracy? Was it the revisionist dispute in 1903, the voting of the war credits in 1914, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the New Left of 1960, the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s, the Reagan and Thatcher era of 1980s, the creation of New Labour in 1994 or the economic crisis of 2008?

5. Taken at face value today, is Social Democracy still project of the Left? Does Social Democracy represent a way forward, or a road block? Do we need a return of the politics of Social Democracy? What problems would they address today, and what lessons could be gained from its reconsideration?

7pm;  Thursday, February 11, 2016
Goldsmiths, University of London SE14
RHB 144

 

Speakers:

Jack Conrad - CPGB / Weekly Worker
Elaine Graham-Leigh - Counterfire
Jamie Green - Goldsmiths Labour Students/ Momentum
Judith Shapiro - Writer and lecturer at London School of Economics

The poster for the event can be found here.

Panel Description:

The conditions for the novel political formations of Syriza and Podemos developed out of the disintegration of the traditional Social Democratic parties in Greece and Spain. Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party in Britain, argued for greater democracy in the party and invoked Labour's origins in working-class organisation and socialism. Yet it is unclear by the invocation exactly what is being remembered, and what is being forgotten. The Bernie Sanders campaign as a "socialist" candidate for leadership of the US Democratic Party appears equally obscure. Precisely when historical consciousness is most necessary, the project of Social Democracy seems to be fading from memory. Little remains of the foundation moment of Social Democracy today, both in practice and thought.

In the late nineteenth century, working people’s response to capital was expressed in the political demand for Socialism. This demand galvanized the formation of European Social Democratic parties guided by the ideology of Marxism. Among the most influential members of the German Social Democratic Party, the political leaders of the Second International, agreed that the primary task of Social Democratic parties was bringing about the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the decisive political struggle between capital and labor. And while some of these leftist ultimately found the revolution too risky in the decisive decades of the 1910s and 1920s, even their political judgment is far to the left to those Social Democratic party members who, after World War II, openly espoused the integration of workers into a more just and thus more democratic capitalist order.

Once a global movement for the self-emancipation of the working class, today’s social democratic parties have fully substituted the task of educating workers in order to overthrow capitalism, with the task of creating and maintaining the conditions for a more just market economy. The present standpoint of social democracy is society as such, bound by national economies and mediated by the state. Social Democracy today promises to fight social injustice in the name of the people, but it no longer promises to realize socialism.

Yet what remains is the name, and with it the promise and the problem of Social Democracy.
In this panel we would like to investigate this transformation by looking at the history, the birth and decline, of Social Democracy. How can we understand the historical crisis of social democracy for the Left today? How, if at all, could the trajectory of social democracy shed light on problems yet to be superseded on the Left today?

Questions:

1. What was Social Democracy? How was it constituted, how did it form and what was it ideological foundation? What problem did it address and what promises did it make?

2. What role did Social Democracy play for the Left throughout the 19th and 20th century? How has this role changed? How did it affect the world and how was it affected by a changing world? When did it come into its own?

3. Was the promise of Social Democracy fulfilled? If yes, how, if no, why did it fail? The current crisis of the Left reveals a need for a reconsideration of Socialist Politics, yet Social Democratic parties are on the retreat and are unable to offer a credible alternative. What does this crisis tell us about the success, failure and the need for Social Democracy?

4. What would you characterize as the beginning moment of the crisis of Social Democracy? Was it the revisionist dispute in 1903, the voting of the war credits in 1914, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the New Left of 1960, the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s, the Reagan and Thatcher era of 1980s, the creation of New Labour in 1994 or the economic crisis of 2008?

5. Taken at face value today, is Social Democracy still project of the Left? Does Social Democracy represent a way forward, or a road block? Do we need a return of the politics of Social Democracy? What problems would they address today, and what lessons could be gained from its reconsideration?

A moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A with thinkers, activists and political figures focused on contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.  Held on March 21st, 2014 at Goldsmith's College.

Panelists:
Federico Campagna (author of 'The Last Night - anti-work, atheism, adventure', Zero Books, 2013)
Jack Conrad, Communist Party of Great Britain.
Rachael Maskell, Unite National Officer; and South London People's Assembly.

Description:

"Capital is not a book about politics, and not even a book about labour: it is a book about unemployment." - Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One

"...the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all." - Joan Robinson

"The error consists in believing that labor, by which I mean heteronomous, salaried labor, can and must remain the essential matter. It's just not so. According to American projections, within twenty years labor time will be less than half that of leisure time. I see the task of the left as directing and promoting this process of abolition of labor in a way that will not result in a mass of unemployed on one side, and aristocracy of labor on the other and between them a proletariat which carries out the most distasteful jobs for forty-five hours a week. Instead, let everyone work much less for his salary and thus be free to act in a much more autonomous manner...Today "communism" is a real possibility and even a realistic proposition, for the abolition of salaried labor through automation saps both capitalist logic and the market economy." - Andre Gorz

It is generally assumed that Marxists and other Leftists have the political responsibility to support reforms for the improvement of the welfare of workers. Yet, leading figures from the Marxist tradition-- such as Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky-- also understood that such reforms would broaden the crisis of capitalism and potentially intensify contradictions that could adversely impact the immediate conditions of workers. For instance, full employment, while being a natural demand from the standpoint of all workers’ interests, also threatens the conditions of capitalist production (which rely on a surplus of available labor), thereby potentially jeopardizing the system of employment altogether. In light of such apparent paradoxes, this panel seeks to investigate the politics of work from Leftist perspectives. It will attempt to provoke reflection on and discussion of the ambiguities and dilemmas of the politics of work by including speakers from divergent perspectives, some of whom seek after the immediate abolition of labor and others of whom seek to increase the availability of employment opportunities. It is hoped that this conversation will deepen the understanding of the contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.

Questions:
1. How do you characterize work and employment as a political issue in contemporary society? What is wrong with unemployment? And/or what is wrong with work?

2. A distinction is often drawn between "work" as purposeful human activity (presumably existing before and after capitalism), on the one hand, and "work" in the sense of labor in capitalism, where the worker undertakes purposeful activity for money under threat of material scarcity (typically in the form of wage labor), on the other hand. Is this distinction politically relevant when thinking about work? In a free society, would work manifest in one or both senses?

3. If the widely observable phenomenon of overwork and unemployment is a necessary feature of capitalist society, why and how is this so? What kinds of social necessity, in the present organization of the world, do you take to be underlying this phenomenon? Then, given your understanding of the nature of this necessity, what would it mean to radically transform it?

4. In the history of the Left, what examples do you regard as informing your attitude towards the politics of work and unemployment today, and what is relevant about these touchpoints?

5. Historically, the left has sought to remedy the problems of overwork and unemployment, through various means: full employment; a guaranteed minimum income regardless of employment; and/or shorter working hours for those employed. Which of these, if any, do you consider to be adequate responses, and how, if at all, should the Left pursue them?

6. If the abolition of wage labor should indeed be a goal of emancipatory politics, what forms of politics or concrete demands should be pursued to attain this goal? How do we get from "here" to "there"?

7. Given the breadth of issues and struggles pursued by the Left historically and today--race and racism, gender equality, environmental concerns, globalization, militarism, etc--what is the relationship between the politics of work and the broader project of social emancipation? Exactly how central or peripheral is the politics of work to social emancipation as such?

8. Where do you find the most promising attempts by the Left to address the issue of work and unemployment, today? What makes this contemporary work relevant and propitious?

9. What role, if any, do you assign to political organization, such as an actual or potential political party, in working to progressively transform contemporary relations of work and unemployment? What should be the relationship between any such organization and the working class?

10. A century ago, these questions were consciously taken up by a politically constituted workers movement in which socialists and Marxists participated. Today, discussions of this topic risk becoming utopian in the a-political sense. How, if at all, has the decline of workers movements and the death of the Left circumscribed our ability to engage the politics of work in the present?