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Thursday 4 Sept 2014 @ 6pm
Dalhousie Student Union Building

A moderated roundtable hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society (Dal/King's). Part of the 2014 NSPIRG Rad Frosh.

Round table participants:
Anna Dubinski (King's)
Holly Lobsinger (Dalhousie, NSPIRG)
Ian Matheson
Jack Wong (NSCAD)

What is the relation of student activism to what might be broadly called the Left? What might it be? The responses to these questions seem to either look to or eschew the past for inspiration.

Many contemporary movements have taken as their inspiration the student radicalism of the 1960s, like the Students for a Democratic Society; the subsequent anti-oppression movements of the 1970s and 80s, of gender, environmental, anti-imperialism; and the horizontal democratic resistance politics of the anti/alter globalization movement which characterized much of 1990’s activism. Such an approach of connecting student activism to the Left, however, often ends up in what can seem like anachronistic esoteric arguments. In a present moment dominated by austerity and the seemingly never ending rise of the Right, there seems to be more fundamental questions than, say, the rehashing of position of feminists, anarchists and Marxist groups of the past — questions that might unsettle the comfortable assumptions of radical politics today.

An alternative stance is to think of such of questions as an irrelevant, academic obstruction to real action, recognizing that theory can often confuse more than clarify. The abundance of jargonistic takes on the Left, however, does not diminish that students specifically and the Left more broadly, need spaces to ask themselves questions and struggle for answers.

A place for critical thought and discussion then may be necessary, as movements, whether confused or theory-avoidant, need to ask themselves what political success and failure would look like, on their terms. This roundtable gives radical student activists an opportunity to reconsider what the relation of student activism might be with respect to a reconsidered Left. How would we move beyond the past, to consider freshly the question of how student activism might relate to the Left?

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?


February 1, 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM, University of King’s College, Archibald Room, 6350 Coburg Road, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 2A1
January 30, 7 PM, Ondaatje Hall, 6135 University Avenue, Marion McCain Arts & Social Sciences building
October 9, 7 PM, Wilson Common Room, New Academic Building, University of King's College

Please join the Platypus Affiliated Society for every second Thursday (beginning Sept 5) for a film series that examines the history of socialism from the Second International to the New Left.

The first two films in the series are part of the 2013 NSPIRG Rad Frosh.

// The Second International (1889-1914)
5 Sept @ 7pm (Dalhousie Art Gallery)
Rosa Luxemburg (1986, 122 min, dir. Margarethe von Trotta (German with English Subtitles))
Cannes Palme D’Or nominee and Best Actress winner (for Barbara Sukowa’s luminous performance), this is a sweeping biopic of radical socialist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919).

// The Russian Revolution (1917)
19 Sept @ 6pm (Dalhousie Art Gallery)
Reds (1981, 195 min, dir. Warren Beatty, English)
A film about John Reed, author of Ten Days that Shook the World on the Russian Revolution, and Louise Bryant and their Greenwich Village milieu, including Emma Goldman, Eugene O'Neill, Max Eastman and others during the early years of American Communism, directed by Warren Beatty and starring Beatty, Diane Keaton, and Jack Nicholson.

// The 1930s Old Left
10 Oct @ 7pm (Room 307, Dalhousie Student Union Building)
Cradle Will Rock (1999, 132 min., dir. Tim Robbins, English)
A drama based on real events about theater life in the 1930s during the times of the Great Depression, the Works Progress Administration, the Red Scare (anti-communism), fascism, unions, Hitler, Mussolini, New York mayor Nelson Rockefeller, director Orson Welles, painter Diego Rivera, and newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst. The film focuses on the lives of several people during hard times in New York as many struggle to find their place in America. The main focus of the film is a play titled Cradle Will Rock, which tells a pro-union story about lower class workers trying to survive in a growing power-hungry world.

// The 1960s New Left
24 Oct @ 6pm (Dalhousie Art Gallery)
Le fond de l'air est rouge (Grin without a Cat) (1977, 180 min, dir. Chris Maker, French, Spanish, English, and German with English subtitles)
Chris Marker’s epic account of the rise and fall of the New Left. Part One, “Fragile Hands,” charts the growth of the student-protest movement amid a background of Vietnam, the Black Panthers, the Red Brigade, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara, climaxing in the events of 1968. Part Two, “Severed Hands,” analyzes the movement’s tortuous decline, both from outside aggression (in Czechoslovakia and Chile) and internal dissension.