The closing plenary of the 2013 Platypus International Convention, held from April 5-7, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Transcripted in Platypus Review #58 (Click below to see):
“Program” and “Utopia” have for well over a century now sat in uneasy tension within the politics of the Left, in tension both with each other and with themselves. Political programs tend to be presented in the sober light of practicability — straightforward, realistic, matter-of-fact. Social utopias, by contrast, appear quite oppositely as the virtue of aspiring ambition — involved, unrealistic, exhilarating. Historically, then, the two would appear to be antithetical. In either case, one usually offers itself up as a corrective to the other: the programmatic as a harsh “reality check” to pipe-dream idealism; utopianism as an alternative to dreary, cynical Realpolitik.
Today, however, it is unavoidable that both program and utopia are in profound crisis. For those Leftists who still hold out some hope for the possibility of extra-electoral politics, an impasse has arisen. Despite the effusive political outbursts of 2011-12 in the Arab Spring and #Occupy — with their emphasis on the identity of means and ends, anti-hierarchical modes of organization, and utopian prefiguration — the Left still seems to have run aground. Traces may remain in the form of various issue-based affinity groups, but the more ambitious projects of achieving sweeping social transformation have been quietly put to rest, consoled with the mere memory of possibility.
Meanwhile, longstanding Left organizations, having temporarily reverted to the usual waiting game of patiently tailing popular discontents with the status quo, until the masses finally come around and decide to “get with the program” (i.e., their program), have experienced a crisis of their own: slowly disintegrating, with occasional spectacular implosions, many of their dedicated cadre call it quits amid demoralization and recriminations. What possibilities might remain for a Left whose goal is no longer utopian, and whose path is no longer programmatically defined?
A panel organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society, held on March 19, 2011, at Left Forum, Pace University.
Over 90 years ago, Rosa Luxemburg was killed in the failed German Revolution of 1918-19. Yet the controversy surrounding the politics of her final years still smolders. Was she a critic of the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution, democratic advocate of spontaneity âfrom below?â Or, was she an orthodox Marxist, proponent of revolution through the determined political leadership of labor and other social-reform movements? Perhaps it's time that the matter is reposed. If Luxemburg still speaks to us, it is not in abstract lessons torn from history, but, as Walter Benjamin put it, by her struggle in and âagainst the grainâ of history. Luxemburg wrote that âSocialism is the first popular movement in world history that has set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby free will, into play in the social actions of mankind.â How might we yet learn from Luxemburg's example? Why must we remember her attempt to realize socialism; what might be the consequences of forgetting?