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A moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A with thinkers, activists and political figures focused on contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class. Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society.

Room 224, Dalhousie Student Union Building
October 2nd, 7:00 PM

George Caffentzis - Midnight Notes Collective
Shay Enxuga - Baristas Rise Up
Larry Haiven -Solidarity Halifax / Saint Mary's University

Co-sponsored by the Halifax Radical Imagination Project:

It is generally assumed that Marxists and other Leftists have the political responsibility to support reforms for the improvement of the welfare of workers. Yet, leading figures from the Marxist tradition-- such as Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky-- also understood that such reforms would broaden the crisis of capitalism and potentially intensify contradictions that could adversely impact the immediate conditions of workers. For instance, full employment, while being a natural demand from the standpoint of all workers’ interests, also threatens the conditions of capitalist production (which rely on a surplus of available labor), thereby potentially jeopardizing the system of employment altogether. In light of such apparent paradoxes, this panel seeks to investigate the politics of work from Leftist perspectives. It will attempt to provoke reflection on and discussion of the ambiguities and dilemmas of the politics of work by including speakers from divergent perspectives, some of whom seek after the immediate abolition of labor and others of whom seek to increase the availability of employment opportunities. It is hoped that this conversation will deepen the understanding of the contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.

14 November 2012
Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS

Audio Link (click here)

Matthew Furlong (Foundation Year and Contemporary Studies Programme, King's University)
David Howard (Historical and Critical Studies, NSCAD University)
John Hutton (student activist, Dalhousie)
Clare O'Connor (Toronto activist and author)

From the financial crisis and the bank bail-outs to the question of "sovereign debt"; from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street; from the struggle for a unified European-wide policy to the elections in Greece and Egypt that seem to have threatened so much and promised so little -- the need to go beyond mere "protest" has asserted itself: political revolution is in the air, again.

At the same time, the impending general election in the U.S. seems, by comparison, to be a non-event, despite potentially having far-reaching consequences for teeming issues word-wide. Today, the people -- the demos -- seem resigned to their political powerlessness, even as they rage against the corruption of politics. Hence, while contemporary demands for democracy to politicize the demos, they are also indicative of social and political regression that asks urgently for recognition and reflection. Demands for democracy "from below" end up being expressed "from above": The 99%, in its already obscure and unorganized character, didn't express itself as such in the various recent elections, but was split in various tendencies, many of them very reactionary.

Democracy retains an enigmatic character, since it always slips any fixed form and content, since people under the dynamic of capital keep demanding at times "more" democracy and "real" democracy. But democracy can be like Janus: it often expresses both the progressive social and emancipatory demands, but also their defeat, their hijacking by an elected "Bonaparte".

What is the history informing the demands for greater democracy today, and how does the Left adequately promote -- or not -- the cause of popular empowerment?

What are the potential futures for "democratic" revolution, especially as understood by the Left?

Questions for panelists to consider:

  1. What would you consider as “real” democracy, as this has been a primary demand of recent spontaneous forms of discontent (e.g. Arab Spring, Occupy, anti-austerity protests, student strikes)?
  2. What is the relationship between democracy and the working class today? Do you consider historical struggles for democracy by workers as the medium by which they got “assimilated” to the system, or the only path to emancipation that they couldn’t avoid trying to take?
  3. Do you consider it as necessary to eschew established forms of mass politics in favor of new forms in order to build a democratic movement?  Or are current mass form of politics adequate for a democratic society?
  4. Why has democracy emerged as the primary demand of spontaneous forms of discontent?  Do you also consider it necessary, or adequate, to deal with the pathologies of our era?
  5. Engels wrote that “A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is”. Do you agree? Can this conception be compatible with the struggle for democracy?
  6. How is democracy related with the issue of possibly overcoming capital?
  7. Is there a difference between the ancient and the modern notion of democracy and, if so, what is the source of that difference? Does “real” democracy share more with the direct democracy of ancient polis?
  8. Is democracy oppressive, or can it be such? How would you judge Lenin’s formulation that: “
democracy is also a state and that, consequently, democracy will also disappear when the state disappears.”

A teach-in on the Communist Manifesto
Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at Dalhousie
Part of the NSPIRG Alt-101 Radical Frosh Series

Thursday 7pm | September 20, 2012
Room 302, Student Union Building, Dalhousie University

In the mid-19th century, Marx and Engels famously observed in the Communist Manifesto that a ‘specter’ was haunting Europe — the specter of Communism. 160 years later, it is ‘Marxism’ itself that continues to haunt Left.

What does it mean that Marx and Marxism still appeal while political movements for socialism are weak or non-existent? What were Marxism’s original points of departure for considering radical possibilities for freedom that still speak to the present? How does Marxism still matter?

A roundtable on the Quebec Left following the student strike / Une table ronde sur l'avenir de la Gauche québecoise à la lumiÚre de la grÚve étudiante
Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society / Présenté par la Platypus Affiliated Society
Monday 6pm | June 18, 2012 / Lundi, 18 heures / le 18 juin 2012
QPIRG McGill 3647 University Street

Download audio (link)








Matthew Brett (Canadian Dimension magazine editorial collective, Secretary for the Society for Socialist Studies, Concordia University)

Jamie Burnett (McGill)
Brad Fougere (International Workers of the World (IWW) / Midnight Kitchen)
Coralie Jean (Mouvement Étudiant RĂ©volutionnaire (MER-PCR))
Molly Swain (Gender, Sexuality Diversity, and Feminist Studies Student Association, McGill)

Andony Melathopoulos (Platypus)

While it is clear that the student strike in Quebec expresses more than just discontent against tuition fee hikes, it’s less clear if there is general agreement among strikers on what follows the strike. For many the strike is about resisting neo-liberalism and its assault on the "modĂšle quĂ©bĂ©cois", the system of labour legislation, educational reform and public welfare that emerged from the 1960s Quiet Revolution. But for others the strike signals a possibility to go beyond the past. This is has been expressed as a desire to pick up where the 1970s social democracy left off through demands such as free tuition. Others view Quebec's social democratic past as being part of the problem. They judge that parliamentary approaches have grown irrelevant in the face of a direct democracy that has carried the strike through five months in spite of massive police reaction.

The Platypus Affiliated Society is hosting this roundtable to explore these different political visions for the future of the Quebec Left. We encourage political disagreement among participants in the spirit of clarifying the potential directions and further development of the student movement. We assert that only when we are able create an active culture of thinking and debating on the Left without it proving prematurely divisive can we begin to imagine a Leftist politics adequate to the historical possibilities of our moment. We may not know what these possibilities for transformation are. This is why we think it is imperative to create avenues of engagement that will support these efforts

Bien qu'il soit évident que la grÚve étudiante au Québec exprime plus qu'un simple mécontentement face à la hausse des frais de scolarité, il est moins évident de discerner une position commune parmi les grévistes par rapport à ce qui suivra la grÚve. Plusieurs voient la grÚve comme étant une forme de résistance contre le néo-libéralisme et l'assaut que celui-ci exerce sur le "modÚle québécois": le systÚme de la législation du travail, de réforme éducative et de sécurité sociale établie lors de la Révolution tranquille des années 60. Mais pour d'autres, la grÚve signale la possibilité d'aller au delà du passé. Ce point de vue a été exprimé par le désir de prendre la relÚve de la démocratie sociale des années 70 à travers des demandes comme celle de l'abolition totale des frais de scolarité. Encore d'autres grévistes voient le passé social-démocrate du Québec comme faisant partie du problÚme. Ceux-ci jugent que l'approche parlementaire est devenue désuÚte face à une démocratie directe qui a porté la grÚve pendant 5 mois, en dépit d'une massive réaction policiÚre.

La Platypus Affiliated Society prĂ©sente cette table ronde dans le but d'explorer ces diffĂ©rentes visions politiques de l'avenir de la Gauche quĂ©bĂ©coise. Nous encourageons le dĂ©saccord politique parmi les participants, dans l'esprit de pouvoir clarifier les directions et dĂ©veloppements possibles au sein du mouvement Ă©tudiant. Nous affirmons que nous ne pourrions imaginer une politique de gauche, adĂ©quate aux possibilitĂ©s historiques de notre moment, que lors d'avoir crĂ©Ă© une culture de dĂ©bat et de pensĂ©e active au sein de la Gauche elle-mĂȘme. Il se peut que nous n'avons pas encore pris conscience de ces possibilitĂ©s de transformation. Voici pourquoi nous croyons en l'impĂ©ratif de crĂ©er des forums de dĂ©libĂ©ration qui soutiendront ces efforts de prise de conscience.

The modern left

Defining leftist politics in modern movements

• MARCH 9, 2012




Andy Melathopoulos. Photo by Calum Agnew

What do the American anti-war movement, Occupy Wall Street, the sexual liberation movement, unions and an endangered semi-aquatic mammal from Australia all have in common?

The Platypus Affiliated Society at Dalhousie has been organizing events for the past six months, discussing the history of the political left and answering that question.

Motivated by a sense that the left is disoriented, the Platypus Society draws out the connections and points of disagreement between the various movements on the left-wing today and their historical predecessors, in the hopes of dispelling “ideological murkiness,” according to the website.

Andony Melathopoulos, Canadian coordinator of the Platypus Society and president of the Dal affiliate, hopes their work will prompt more thoughtful consideration about what it means to be on the left today.

On March 1, the group held a public interview between Herb Gamberg, a professor of sociology at Dal, and Tony Thomson from Acadia University, on the history of the New Communist movement in Halifax in the 1970s.

The society has organized six events this year with support from a variety of on-campus groups, such as the Contemporary Studies Society at the University of King’s College, the Dal Women’s Studies department and NSPIRG.  Some topics have included “Does Marxism Even Matter?,” “What is the #Occupy Movement?” and a film screening mini-series featuring Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

The group also meets twice weekly: once as a reading group, discussing the history of Marxist theory, and once to talk politics. The readings, which include texts from Hegel, Rousseau, Adorno and Horkheimer, are available online at the Platypus website.

The Platypus Society at Dal has been “trying to create the space where you can think critically. A space in which you don’t have to simply defend your positions but take them out and have a look at them,” says Melathopoulos.

“This isn’t your uncle’s turkey dinner,” he says. “You don’t have to worry and you don’t have to take your position for granted.”

It’s a place where students can hear a conversation that’s very different from what they’re used to, and where they can ask questions they’re not used to asking, says Melathopoulos.

For some, “it’s unclear why you would even need the category of the left at the moment,” he says. “I remember when we did our first event at Dal in September, we asked the question ‘What is the left?’ and the answer we got was, ‘Well, you support the CBC, healthcare and the unions.’”

Recently, movements such as Occupy Wall Street have rejected an association with the “traditional left.” But people have been announcing the death of the left for a long time, says Melathopoulos.

“If you understand the present in its historical context, you could recognize a left today,” says Melathopoulos.

In the case of Occupy, both the problem identified – macro-scale inequality – and the methodological debates in the movement itself, such as the problem of hierarchy, are not new, says Melathopoulos.

The Platypus Society believes that “if we understand the problem of the left as a historical one, that might help us in the present,” he says.

Melathopoulos doesn’t have a background in sociology or history. He’s a PhD student working with wild honeybees. He says the texts are “not that complicated if you just start reading them with an open mind.”

Founded in Chicago in 2006, the Platypus Society has chapters across the globe, including France, Korea, Greece and Toronto. The group publishes a monthly journal, *The Platypus Review*, which can be found in the atrium of the Killam and at cafés around Halifax. It has featured Noam Chomsky and Slavoj ĆœiĆŸek in the past.

The March issue contains an essay by former Dal student David Bush, writing on the Occupy movement.

As to the name, Marx’s friend and collaborator, Friedrich Engels, thought the platypus was a scheme cooked up by taxidermists in an attempt to discredit Darwin’s theory of evolution; such an animal was ridiculous and patently impossible in the light of natural history. The same is said of ‘the left’ today, says the Platypus Society.

And then Engels saw one.