Panel presentation by the Platypus Affiliated Society at Left Forum 2009: "Turning Points," Pace University, NYC, April 17-19, 2009
The panelists elucidate significant moments in the progressive separation of theory and practice in the 20th and 21st Century history of Leftist politics: 2001 (Spencer Leonard); 1968 (Atiya Khan); 1933 (Richard Rubin); and 1917 (Chris Cutrone). Each of these dates marked fundamental transformations on the Left. How do we relate to their legacies today? How has the problem of relating theory to practice, and ends to means, been dealt with politically on the Left? How has the political thought and action associated with each of these historical turning points revealed or obscured problems on the Left? How do the historical failures of the Left affect possibilities for the Left today and in the future?
A panel discussion with:
Alexander L. Hanna (chair): former organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops
Atlee McFellin: Students for a Democratic Society, New School Radical Student Union
Pam Nogales: Platypus (New York)
C. J. Pereira Di Salvo: former organizer for United Students Against Sweatshops
Laurie Rojas: Platypus (Chicago), former member of Students for a Democratic Society
Young people’s heightened participation in politics in the run-up to the election of Barack Obama was crucial to his election and cannot be ignored. The burning post-election questions that the Left must answer are 1) what are the current politics of youth and student organizations and 2) how can the mobilization of youths and students be expanded and deepened? This panel aims to explore these questions by critically reflecting upon the politics of two of the largest and most successful Left student organizations of recent times: the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS).
The panelists will engage these organizations by examining the various perspectives currently influencing them, and explore how these ideas affect their means and ends. This requires us to delve into their current politics, principles, and practice with relation to the history of Left student activism, as well as the history of the Left as a whole. We hope this panel will not only provide insight into the failures of the student Left, but also begin a serious discussion within these organizations and the Left at-large of what the revolutionary potential of such struggle can be.