Held April 4th, 2019 at the University of Chicago, as part of the 11th Annual International Conference of the Platypus Affiliated Society.
- John Abbott, Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago
- Robert Bird, Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature, University of Chicago
- John Bachtell, Chairman of the Communist Party USA
- Patrick M. Quinn, founding member of Solidarity
- Earl Silbar, Students for a Democratic Society (Chicago 1968), member of Fox Valley Citizens for Peace and Justice
1989 is largely remembered as a decisive close to the Cold War contest between communism and capitalism—with the victory of the latter casting a seemingly damning verdict against Marxism as a form of politics. The planned economies based on collectivized property of these states wereindicted as failures, and their totalitarian regimes called into question the very notion of working class rule. The fall of communism thus profoundly affected the Left’s ability to imagine the overcoming of capitalism, and the possibility of a classless society beyond it. But in passing into history, the meaning of 1989 can also be reconsidered. The Platypus Affiliated Society wants to use this anniversary to reassess the question of how 1989 weighs on the present. What is the significance of 1989 in its historical context, and what is its relevance for Left politics today?
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?
September 24, 2014
Panel Event, Chicago, UIC
Walter Benn Michaels, UIC professor, English
John Bachtell, chairman, Communist Party USA
Judith K. Gardiner, UIC professor, Gender and Women's Studies, English
“After the failure of the 1960s New Left, the underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency, in a historical situation of heightened helplessness, became a self-constitution as outsider, as other, rather than an instrument of transformation. Focused on the bureaucratic stasis of the Fordist, late 20th Century world, the Left echoed the destruction of that world by the dynamics of capital: neoliberalism and globalization.
The idea of a fundamental transformation became bracketed and, instead, was replaced by the more ambiguous notion of ‘resistance.’ The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted, or of the politics of the resistance involved.
‘Resistance’ is rarely based on a reflexive analysis of possibilities for fundamental change that are both generated and suppressed by the dynamic heteronomous order of capital. ‘Resistance’ is an undialectical category that does not grasp its own conditions of possibility; it fails to grasp the dynamic historical context of capital and its reconstitution of possibilities for both domination and emancipation, of which the ‘resisters’ do not recognize that that they are a part.”
— Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism” (Public Culture¸ 18.1: 2006)
Resistance politics has waned since the Occupy movement, but it remains unclear to many on the left how an avowedly reform-oriented or even revolutionary politics might function other than as an elaborate act of resistance. What might render a strike more than a prolonging of workers’ accommodation to the prevailing trends? How might socialists build independent electoral parties that can become more than a protest vote? How are the spontaneous discontents (acts of ‘resistance’) that constantly emerge in our society channeled into a politics of the status quo, and what has it taken in the past-- what might it yet require-- for the Left to transcend such a politics?