Madelaine (Parti communiste révolutionnaire-Revolutionary Communist Party (supporter))
During the 19th century, suffrage rights were widened in the heart of capital, confronting political radicals with the question of whether and how elective offices could be used to achieve revolutionary aims. Since that time, differences of opinion on how to approach electoral politics have been at issue throughout the Left’s most fundamental splits: the break between Marxism and anarchism; the apparent capitulation of international social democracy to world war; the struggle for the legacy of the Russian Revolution; to capitalist stabilization and the apparent apathy to politics that would characterize our time.
Since the early 20th century such splits have attended the decline of the Left rather than its ascendancy, forcing recent generations of marginalized radicals to grapple with an impossible choice: either a "realistic" electoral compromise with the status quo, often couched in the logic of “lesser evilism,” or a "sectarian" electoral purism doomed to irrelevance, often inspired by fidelity to once-revolutionary “correct positions.” This impasse guarantees a hearing for those who, like many Occupy movement activists, advocate a principled abstention from electoral politics.
In the present moment there seems to be a shift back from popular mobilization and movement building, to electoral strategies and parliamentary representation. Although previously social movements severely criticized existing parliamentary democracy, the idea of facilitating radical causes through electoral politics and campaigns has recently gained prominence. So in Canada there has been the growth of the NDP (not only federally, but with a victory in Alberta); the European crisis has seen the rise of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain in and the victory of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party in the U.K.; in the U.S. an avowedly social democratic Bernie Saunders appears to be having some success in the race for the Democratic leadership.
This panel tries to bring into question the significance of electoral politics in a moment when party representation has been largely delegitimized and disapproved. What are the uses, limits, promises, and perils of electoral campaigns and elective offices for Leftist politics?
Holly Lobsinger (Dalhousie, NSPIRG)
Jack Wong (NSCAD)
1. What sorts of questions should radical students ask themselves, the Left, and about the world?
Student life presents unique opportunities — to read, discuss, examine and critique different traditions of politics, sometimes with no previous political experience at all. And yet, a fear of sectarian controversy that could rip apart fragile student coalitions seems to call for, at least partially, imposed limitations to debate and criticism, and perhaps even the intellectual and political development enabled by the post-secondary setting. Even more, as students we often occupy a precarious part of the broader Left, due to perceived (and, perhaps often, real) social privilege. How can we as students actually engage in serious, honest reflection and conversation to clarify these uncertainties? What obstacles do they face? What sort of fundamental questions ought we as student activists ask ourselves and the broader Left? How should we ask them?
2. What is capitalism, and how can it be overcome?
In 2006 the new SDS, a broad coalition of student activists in the US, asserted its aims were to: “change a society which depends upon multiple and reciprocal systems of oppression and domination for its survival: racism and white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, heterosexism and transphobia, authoritarianism and imperialism, among others.” A very similar vision was advanced during the 2012 student strike in the CLASSE Manifesto. These systems, with a single exception, are straightforward forms of domination. A ruling stratum (whites, men) oppresses a given subaltern. While capitalism might appear likewise, as the direct and violent oppression of one class by another, many on the Left would argue this oversimplifies the complicated historical, social, political, economic and cultural characteristics of capitalism. How ought the students think about the specific form of capitalist domination? And what forms of politics are adequate to overcome it?
3. Why, and how, could students succeed today where they didn't in the past?
The Port Huron (1962) statement of the original Students for a Democratic Society sought to “replace power rooted in possession, privilege, or circumstance by power and uniqueness rooted in love, reflectiveness, reason, and creativity…” From the vantage point of the present, the first SDS seems to have failed to meet its own task. Possession, privilege and circumstance still determine social power. So why did the student movement of the past fail to achieve its ultimate ends? And how can the new student movement succeed, especially in the absence of a large-scale, organized international movement in the present? What would make international revolutionary politics possible again? How ought we to understand the loss of political possibility?
Throughout the 20th century, there was a powerful idea that there could be a homogeneous experience which would culminate into a revolutionary 'working class culture.' Whether represented through the USSR's Prolekult during the 1920s, the Mexican muralists and American Artist Union in the 1930s, or by the artists associated with the Art Workers Coalition in the 1960s-70s, each movement sought to create artworks which would transcend the decadent forms characteristic of bourgeois culture. However, since the variety of revolutionary aspirations of all these groups ultimately failed to transform society in an emancipatory direction, the merits and potentiality of a coherent working-class culture have been thrown into question. This panel seeks to explore the concept of working-class culture, its history, and what it might mean today.
A panel discussion held at University of King's College on 1 February, 2014.
Sponsored by the King's Student Union and Dalhousie Student Union
Eva Curry - Stand
Christoph Lichtenberg - International Bolshevik Tendency
Chris Parsons - student activist
Alex Khasnabish - The Radical Imagination Project, Mount Saint Vincent University
It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism. They emerged out of the same crucible - the Industrial Revolution, the unsuccessful revolutions of 1848 and 1871, a weak liberalism, the centralization of state power, the rise of the workers movement, and the promise of socialism. They are the revolutionary heritage, and all significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. In this respect, our moment seems no different.
There are a few different ways these ideologies have been taken up. Recent worldwide square occupations reflect one pattern: a version of Marxist theory — understood as a political-economic critique of capitalism — is used to comprehend the world, while ananarchist practice — understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists revolution must begin now — is used to organize, in order to change it. Some resist this combination, claiming that Marxism rejects anti-statist adventurism, and call for a strategic reorganization of the working class to resist austerity, and perhaps push forward a “New New Deal”. This view remains wedded to a supposedly practical welfarist social democracy, which strengthens the state and manages capital. There is a good deal of hand waving in both these orientations with regard to politics, tactics, and the end goal. Finally, there have been attempts to leave the grounds of these theories entirely — but these often seem either to land right back in one of the camps or to remain marginal.
To act today we seek to draw up the balance sheet of the 20th century. The historical experience concentrated in these ideas must be unfurled if they are to serve as compass points. To see in what ways the return of these ideologies represent an authentic engagement and in what ways the return of a ghost. Where have the battles left us? What forms do we have for meeting, theoretically and practically, the problems of our present?