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Panel discussion on the life and legacy of Karl Marx as a revolutionary intellectual, hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society on March 27, 2019 at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville).

Speakers:
Dr. Harry Dahms, University of Tennessee (Sociology)
Dr. Arnold Farr, University of Kentucky (Philosophy)
Dr. Spencer Leonard, Platypus Affiliated Society

Moderated by AJ Knowles.

Description:
This past year marked the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, than whom, as even his ideological opponent Isaiah Berlin had to admit, “no thinker in the nineteenth century has had so direct, deliberate and powerful an influence upon mankind.” This panel seeks to bring together intellectuals committed to exploring Marx’s legacy in this post-Marxist age, those who, once more, seek somehow to bring that legacy to bear upon the world. Accordingly, we want to raise the question: What is the legacy of Marx’s life as a revolutionary intellectual -- that is, the legacy of the political writings and activities he contributed to the socialist workers’ movement?

On February 17, 2018, the white-nationalist Traditionalist Workers’ Party (TWP) held a rally on the campus of the University of Tennessee. The rally was led by Matthew Heimbach, a central organizer of the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 in opposition to the planned removal of a public statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The TWP’s February 2018 rally on the University of Tennessee (UT) campus drew about 45 white nationalists, about 250 protesters, and about 200 law enforcement officers. In light of these events, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a conversation about the Left’s relation to racism and fascism on campus and in society at large. Speakers included Jordan Rogers, President of the UT chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA); Dr. Raja Swamy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UT; and Chris Irwin of the Appalachian Anti-Racist Action Tea Party.

On February 17, 2018, the white-nationalist Traditionalist Workers’ Party (TWP) held a rally on the campus of the University of Tennessee. The rally was led by Matthew Heimbach, a central organizer of the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 in opposition to the planned removal of a public statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The TWP’s February 2018 rally on the University of Tennessee (UT) campus drew about 45 white nationalists, about 250 protesters, and about 200 law enforcement officers. UT allowed the TWP to hold its rally on the university campus despite the fact that no UT students or faculty had invited the TWP to campus; furthermore, the TWP’s rally neither addressed students nor included students in the invitation-only guest list for its campus rally. In light of these events, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a conversation on March 21st, 2018, about the Left’s relation to racism and fascism on campus and in society at large. Speakers included Jordan Rogers, President of the UT chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA); Dr. Raja Swamy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UT; and Chris Irwin of the Appalachian Anti-Racist Action Tea Party. The event was moderated by Spencer Leonard of Platypus. Speakers included Jordan Rogers, President of the UT chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA); Dr. Raja Swamy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UT; and Chris Irwin of the Appalachian Anti-Racist Action Tea Party. The event was moderated by Spencer Leonard of Platypus.

Protestors from the anti-fascist demonstration on UT's campus in February.
Propaganda from local anti-fascist activists painted on "The Rock" on the UT campus while the event was ongoing, covering the paint in the previous image.

Anti-Platypus propaganda painted on "The Rock" on the UT campus while the event was ongoing.
Introductory workshop to the development of freedom in human history from the Platypus perspective.
Hosted by Ethan Linehan at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville), September 24, 2017

Description:

In the mid-19th century, Marx and Engels famously observed that a "spectre was haunting Europe: the spectre of Communism". 170 years later, it is Marxism itself that haunts us, while capitalism remains.

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 concerning radical possibilities for freedom that might still speak to the present?

Does Marxism even matter?

Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) on April 26, 2017.

Speakers

Travis Donoho, Co-chair of the Knox area Democratic Socialists of America

Barbara Bridges, Chair of the Green Party (US) of Knoxville

Jason Dawsey, Lecturer of History at the University of Tennessee

Moderated by Matt Cavagrotti

 

Panel Description

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.

 

Questions

1. How does the present election represent an opportunity for the development of a third party?In what ways have Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson each helped develop a window of opportunity for a third party?

2. In what ways might these figures be responsible for miseducating, depoliticizing, or simply misdirecting potential allies?

3. What conditions would a Clinton or Trump administration produce for the left? How would each represent a challenge to the Left?

4. How might a third party avoid simply becoming either an instrument for pressuring the Democratic Party to the Left or a mere recruiting tool for activist and sectarian organizations? In other words: what are the practical and theoretical obstacles to the development of the Left beyond the default form of activity that have characterized it since the mid-20th century?

5. While we take for granted that a third party would have to distinguish itself from the two major parties, how could a third party attempt to draw from voters from both the Democrats and the Republicans?

6. The rise of progressivism and socialism in the late 19th/early 20th century defined every attempt at the development of a third party in the 20th century. How are progressive and socialist politics distinct and/or related? What role would each play in the development of a mass third party for the 21st century?

Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) on March 25, 2014.

Speakers

Dr. Allen Dunn, University of Tennessee English Department Head

Chris Irwin, United Mountain Defense

Jon Phoenix, Kentuckians for the Commonwealth

Moderated by Grady Lowery.

Panel Description

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 anarchist 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?