Held April 8th, 2017 at the 9th Annual International Convention of the Platypus Affiliated Society in Chicago.
Erek Slater (International Marxist Humanist Organization; Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241)
Yasmin Nair (Against Equality; Freelance journalist)
Mel Rothenberg (Chicago Political Economy Group)
Leo Panitch (York University)
In her seminal 1900 pamphlet, Reform or Revolution?, Rosa Luxemburg
stated that if the socialist movement lost sight of its final goal,
there would be nothing to distinguish it from liberal politics. Yet she
also claimed that the desiderata of liberalism could only be fulfilled
through the struggle for socialism. Though still widely read,
Luxemburg’s critique has only grown more enigmatic as the relationship
of these two competing ideologies blurred in the 20th century.
The 1930’s Popular Front alliance of Communist Parties and liberals,
initially conceived as a temporary strategy to defeat Fascism, proved to
be a lasting reformist coalition. Socialism regressed from a politics
of social revolution to a seemingly more radical version of the liberal
protest against exploitation and oppression. When the working-class and
its trade-union leadership began to lose their radical veneer, the
1960’s New Left sought new revolutionary subjects in the social
movements coalescing around race, gender, and sexuality, seemed to offer
a radicalism surpassing the liberal-labor alliance of the time. Yet
the 70’s saw the integration of the New Left into the political
establishment by way of the Democratic Party, paralleling the fate of
the Communists. Now, liberals champion the new social movements, to
which socialists ostensibly oppose a “class-first” perspective.
In the recent election, Clinton represented the neoliberal
establishment which opposed identity politics to the “working class”
concerns voiced by Sanders. For Clinton supporters, the Sandernistas
were “Brocialists” who reduced the problems of society to economics,
neglecting other forms of oppression.
How do both camps fall short of the fulfillment of all liberal
desiderata? What would it take for a Left to define itself beyond
liberal politics? In what ways is the contemporary Left’s relation to
the Democratic Party a legacy of previous capitulations to liberalism?
How has the lack of a self-conscious Left opened the way for regressive
movements to fill the void of emancipatory politics? How can the Left
oppose the establishment parties without simply replacing them?
Boris Kagarlitsky: Transnational Institute
Mel Rothenberg: Chicago Political Economy Group
Christoph Lichtenberg: International Bolshevik Tendency
Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the 1989 revolutions—the ‘Autumn of Nations’ in the Soviet bloc. For an entire generation now of age, the USSR and the Cold War are only historical relics. 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 were indicted 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? This panel was held by the Platypus Affiliated Society on Feb. 17th, 2015 at NYU.
A panel event held on April 5th, 2014 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the Sixth Annual Platypus International Convention.
Alex Gonopolskiy (Platypus London)
With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Communist states the world has witnessed the unchallenged restoration of capitalism. This new configuration seems to radically alter the conditions in which the Left thinks and acts. Economically the collapse gave the European Union an unprecedented upwind and allowed it to integrate the markets of many countries that were formerly part of the Soviet hemisphere. The EU set out with the aim to be a competitive economic entity on global markets and on the international political arena. The EU project was to guarantee for a lasting peace and prosperity in Europe – a “lesson learned” from war and destruction that shaped the first half of the 20th century. And yet there is no grand idea, no ideological driving force accompanying the close economic ties and dependencies that have developed throughout the continent.
After two decades of economic expansion Europe hit a severe crisis in 2009 that was neither foreseen nor properly resolved. The attempt to solve this problem, five years on, has resulted in the wholesale unravelling of the gains brought about by Social Democracy over the past 150 years. And yet, there does not seem to be any clear answer and not even a vague direction proposed by the Left to tackle it. While on the streets of Greece, Spain and Italy – the countries directly affected by austerity programs – there is popular unrest against the remedies imposed by “the Troika” there is no course of action by the Left that would be adequate to the international character of the problem. In the powerhouses of the EU the quiet and – at best – sporadic protests seem to aim at reproducing the politics of anti-austerity from their southern neighbors. From the Social Democratic suggestion of a “European New Deal” to the slogan of “Blockupy” the Left response speaks to the lack of imagination and possibilities through which to seriously challenge the course of events. The European Left seems to have lost its inspirational character for world politics, not to speak of any real organizational capacities.
This panel will focus on the meaning and potential effect of the crisis in Europe for the Left internationally. What are the conditions that created the crisis, what can it tell us about the world we currently live in and what lessons does it provide for the project of reconstituting an international Left?
1. What is the European Union in light of the historical reconfiguration of international geopolitics after the Cold War? Does it have an impact on or is it a sign of a change of how capitalism operates today and in the future? Does thinking about the EU help us to understand the world of today or is it a merely retarded duplicate of changes that the US has undergone a long time ago?
2. What does the Euro-crisis signify for world economy and politics? Does it have a global or a merely “local” character? Is it just a more complicated instantiation of the global economic crisis of 2008 or does it have a “life of its own”, pointing to deeper problems either with the EU itself or global capitalism more generally? What caused the crisis and how can it be resolved – and what does “resolve” mean in this context?
3. What political answers are out there suggested by the Left? Are their regional, European or international in nature? Are they equipped to tackle the problems analyzed above? Is the Left equipped to politically answer or even understand the current crisis? Can you suggest any answers and a path to achieve it? What would need to happen to change the current deadlock?
4. Do the austerity programs mean an end of European Social Democracy? Does the dismantling of the welfare state mean an end of Europe's “third way between Capitalism and Communism”? What implications does this have for the global Left?
On May 19, 2011, Platypus invited Carl Davidson, formerly of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Guardian Weekly, Tom Riley of the International Bolshevik Tendency, and Mel Rothenberg, formerly of the Sojourner Truth Organization, to reflect on “The Marxist turn: The New Left in the 1970s.”
The original description of the event, which was moderated by Spencer A. Leonard at the University of Chicago, reads: “The 1970s are usually glossed over as a decade of the New Left’s disintegration into sectarianism, triggered by the twin defeats of Nixon’s election and the collapse of SDS in 1968–69. But the 1970s were also a time of tremendous growth on the Left. The embarrassed silence retrospectively given to the politics of this time contradicts the self-understanding of 1970s radicals’ finally “getting serious” about their Leftism, after the youthful rebellion of the 1960s. After a decade of searching for new revolutionary agents, and faced with the reordering of global capital towards post-Fordism, the 1970s saw a return to working class politics and Marxist approaches, in both theory and practice. The conventional imagination of the 1970s as the long retreat after the defeat of the late 1960s occludes an understanding of the political possibilities present in the 1970s. Our contemporary moment provides an opportunity to rethink the politics of this period. The collapse of the anti-war movement and the disappointments of the Left’s hopes for a reform agenda under Obama have exhausted the resurgence of 1960s-style leftism that took place in the 2000s. The reconsideration of Marx in the wake of the current economic crisis, which parallels the neo-Marxism of the 1970s (if much attenuated by comparison), raises the question of the possibility of a Marxian politics that could fundamentally transform society. Therefore, in this panel discussion we will investigate the neglected significance of the legacy of 1970s-era Marxism for anticapitalist and emancipatory politics today.”