Electoral politics are a longstanding problem for the U.S. left. In recent decades, a number of parties have formed as an alternative to the Democratic Party: the Labor Party, the Green Party, and now, the Justice Party. However, these parties risk becoming little more than networks of activists or pressure groups on the Democratic Party, and it still remains unclear whether a serious electoral challenge to the Democratic Party is possible.
Many progressives blame the “first-past-the-post” structure of U.S. elections, contra labour-friendly parliamentary systems; yet others insist that this procedural focus is misplaced. Leninists charge some quarters of the Left with misunderstanding the proper relationship of the party to the state; but for many, it remains unclear how State and Revolution bears upon the present. Most activists grant the desirability of a viable party to the left of the Democrats, but why exactly such a party is desirable-- to win reforms? to spread emancipatory consciousness?-- is contested as well.
These are old questions for the American left-- as old as Henry George, Daniel De Leon, and the 1930s American Labor Party, perhaps the high point of independent electoral politics in the U.S. This panel will investigate several contemporary approaches to electoral politics to draw out the theories that motivate Leftist third parties; it will also ask how the historical achievements and failures of third parties bear upon the present.
Nikil Saval is an editor at n+1, and a co-editor of Occupy!: Scenes from Occupied America (Verso, 2011). He is currently writing a history of office design and white-collar work.
Lenny Brody is an activist, student of political change, printing industry worker, and descendant of union organizers. He fought with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the civil rights movement and refused induction during the Vietnam War. Mr. Brody has been active in local elections and in the Dennis Kucinich campaigns. He is a member of the Justice Party National Steering Committee and is working to build an independent political movement that will empower the victims of the current economic crisis.
Jason Wright, a contributor to the IBT's journal, 1917, began his career on the left in support of the Democratic Socialists of America. Breaking with DSA in opposition to the 1991 US invasion of Iraq, he spent several years in the Revolutionary Workers League. Disenchanted with the RWL’s mindless hyper-activism, Wright undertook a study of Trotskyism. He concluded that the Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party represented the continuation of Trotskyism and joined the IBT.
Katie Robbins is an activist and member of Healthcare-NOW! NYC and Healthcare for the 99%, a working group of Occupy Wall Street. Katie was national organizer with Healthcare-NOW! from 2008 - 2011 during the national healthcare debate. With doctors, nurses, and other advocates, she was arrested in May 2009 in the Senate Finance Committee asking for single-payer healthcare to be considered as a solution to the healthcare crisis when it was systematically ignored by policy makers.
An international forum on the
CRISIS OF THE LEFT
Chicago | NYC | Philly | Boston | Thessaloniki
Crisis: Pathol. The point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death. “…Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics…”
Many on the Left feel a sense of crisis.
Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics. The Platypus Affiliated Society seeks to make the conversation explicit, and to host a series of discussions about the crisis of the contemporary Left: its quality, causes, and significance for future reconstitution and transformation.
Across five cities worldwide, we’ve invited figures from across the Left–academics, political organizers, theorists–to answer and debate six fundamental questions. We also pose these questions to the Left as a whole and invite responses from all quarters. The questions below stem from confusion; taking nothing for granted, we hope that confronting this confusion might open up future possibilities for renewed consciousness and practice on the Left.
1.) How would you define the Left?
2.) Do you think the Left is in crisis? If so, then what constitutes the crisis?
3.) In trying to understand the contemporary Left, what history matters most? What tasks and problems have we inherited from the Old Left and the New Left?
4.) Could the Left have done something to avoid its current impasses? If so, what?
5.) What is the relationship between the Left and anti-capitalism? Between the Left and Marxism? What should it be?
How does the Left need to change? Who is responsible for making the change happen?
Paul Berman is a writer on politics and literature who is affiliated with two magazines, The New Republic and Dissent, and also contributes from time to time to the New York Times, once in a while to Slate, and to other journals. He has written a history of the left-wing Generation of 1968 around the world, so far in two volumes, under the titles "A Tale of Two Utopias" and "Power and the Idealists." His other books include "The Flight of the Intellectuals," "Terror and Liberalism," and a number of edited anthologies, including a "Selected Poems" of Carl Sandburg. His books have been translated into fifteen languages. His next book will be a study of Nathaniel Hawthorne - who, after all, went through a socialist phase.
Carl Dix is a long-time revolutionary activist. He was one of the Fort Lewis 6, soldiers who refused to ship off to Vietnam. He is a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He is a leading figure in the movement to stop the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth.
Bertell Ollman is a professor in the Dept. of Politics at NYU, but has also given courses on Marx at Oxford and Columbia. He is the author of Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, Social and Sexual Revoluition: Essays on Marx and Reich, Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marxâs Method, Class Struggle is the Name of the Fame: True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman (he is also the creator of the Class Struggle board game), How to Take an Exam...and Remake the World, and a number of other works in this general area. He is currently completing the first collection of Marx's writings on economic crisis.
Marco Roth is an editor and co-founder of n+1 magazine.
Nikil Saval is an associate editor of n+1, where he is a frequent contributor. His writing has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Oxford American, and The London Review of Books. He is currently working on a book about the history of office design and white-collar work.
Jeremy Cohan is a PhD candidate in sociology at NYU, as well as the lead NYC organizer for the Platypus Affiliated Society. Jeremy has written and presented on the political and social theory of Marx, Georg Lukacs, and Michel Foucault; he has chaired several panels for the Platypus Affiliated Society, including on nationalism, bourgeois revolutions, Obama and the Left, and sexual liberation; he is currently doing research on transformations in American education and on early twentieth century revolutions. He has taught introductory sociology and philosophy courses, as well as courses on fascism, and will be a graduate assistant in the year to come in a program on Critical Theory and the Arts.