With Speakers (in order):
Rex Dunn (Writer)
Zhoe Granger (Director, Arcadia Missa)
Peter Osborne (Professor Of Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University)
If it is true that the 'commodity-structure' (Lukács) is the defining feature of modern capitalism down through the present, then it stands to reason that it has no less impacted the way art is produced, consumed, circulated, and exchanged. This shift in art's character happened both objectively (e.g., as in an article produced for exchange on the market), and subjectively (i.e., as a kind of experience and form of expression for the social and individual body). However, art's relationship to its status as a commodity is an ambivalent one: Art has become at once more free from past forms of domination, but its freedom is constrained when subject to the dynamics of capital. Art as a commodity is both its cure and poison, and has evolved into a social problem for its practice. Since becoming aware of this problem, artists, philosophers, curators, and critics have taken various approaches in seeking to overcome it.
How has art under a capitalist society changed from its pre-capitalist practices? What is the commodity form, and what is art's relationship to its logic? Must art seek emancipation from the commodity form, or is it at home in it? In what sense does art take part in the Left and emancipatory politics, if at all? By asking these questions, this panel seeks to reinvestigate art's relationship to the commodity form, and make intelligible how this problematic relationship still sticks with us today.
Thursday 11 February 2016, 7pm, Goldsmiths, University of London
N.B. An audience question has been removed from audio at the request of the questioner.
Speakers in order:
Jack Conrad - CPGB / Weekly Worker
Elaine Graham-Leigh - Counterfire
Jamie Green - Goldsmiths Labour Students / Momentum
Judith Shapiro - London School of Economics
The conditions for the novel political formations of Syriza and Podemos developed out of the disintegration of the traditional Social Democratic parties in Greece and Spain. Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party in Britain, argued for greater democracy in the party and invoked Labour's origins in working-class organisation and socialism. Yet it is unclear by the invocation exactly what is being remembered, and what is being forgotten. The Bernie Sanders campaign as a "socialist" candidate for leadership of the US Democratic Party appears equally obscure. Precisely when historical consciousness is most necessary, the project of Social Democracy seems to be fading from memory. Little remains of the foundation moment of Social Democracy today, both in practice and thought.
In the late nineteenth century, working people’s response to capital was expressed in the political demand for Socialism. This demand galvanized the formation of European Social Democratic parties guided by the ideology of Marxism. Among the most influential members of the German Social Democratic Party, the political leaders of the Second International, agreed that the primary task of Social Democratic parties was bringing about the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the decisive political struggle between capital and labor. And while some of these leftist ultimately found the revolution too risky in the decisive decades of the 1910s and 1920s, even their political judgment is far to the left to those Social Democratic party members who, after World War II, openly espoused the integration of workers into a more just and thus more democratic capitalist order.
Once a global movement for the self-emancipation of the working class, today’s social democratic parties have fully substituted the task of educating workers in order to overthrow capitalism, with the task of creating and maintaining the conditions for a more just market economy. The present standpoint of social democracy is society as such, bound by national economies and mediated by the state. Social Democracy today promises to fight socialinjustice in the name of the people, but it no longer promises to realize socialism.
Yet what remains is the name, and with it the promise and the problem of Social Democracy.
In this panel we would like to investigate this transformation by looking at the history, the birth and decline, of Social Democracy. How can we understand the historical crisis of social democracy for the Left today? How, if at all, could the trajectory of social democracy shed light on problems yet to be superseded on the Left today?
Questions to panellists:
1. What was Social Democracy? How was it constituted, how did it form and what was it ideological foundation? What problem did it address and what promises did it make?
2. What role did Social Democracy play for the Left throughout the 19th and 20th century? How has this role changed? How did it affect the world and how was it affected by a changing world? When did it come into its own?
3. Was the promise of Social Democracy fulfilled? If yes, how, if no, why did it fail? The current crisis of the Left reveals a need for a reconsideration of Socialist Politics, yet Social Democratic parties are on the retreat and are unable to offer a credible alternative. What does this crisis tell us about the success, failure and the need for Social Democracy?
4. What would you characterize as the beginning moment of the crisis of Social Democracy? Was it the revisionist dispute in 1903, the voting of the war credits in 1914, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the New Left of 1960, the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s, the Reagan and Thatcher era of 1980s, the creation of New Labour in 1994 or the economic crisis of 2008?
5. Taken at face value today, is Social Democracy still project of the Left? Does Social Democracy represent a way forward, or a road block? Do we need a return of the politics of Social Democracy? What problems would they address today, and what lessons could be gained from its reconsideration?
Panellists in order:
Hannah Fair, climate justice activist, doctoral student, Red Pepper writer
James Heartfield, author of "Green Capitalism"
Ru Raynor, anti-aviation activist at Grow Heathrow
Wood Roberdeau, Lecturer in Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths
The awareness of a growing planetary climate crisis in the 1990s appeared to coincide with a change: the final collapse of the traditional forces of the Old Left (communism and social democracy) and the consolidation of what many characterize as neoliberalism. For many green thinkers and activists, the political strength of the Right in the 1990s stymied any meaningful attempt to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. But the global reach of climate change also generated sustained international resistance, which appears unified in its opposition to fossil fuel extraction. For Klein and climate justice activists, the combined weight of this resistance could “change everything” when coupled with the “erosion” of neoliberalism’s credibility, particularly in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and the assessment that climate change is inextricably bound up with capitalism (i.e., that climate change cannot be regulated or solved using “greener” forms of capitalism, but would require a “system change”).
Yet amidst the proliferation of activity--from blocking pipelines, to campus fossil fuel divestment campaigns, to blockades to stop hydraulic fracking and mountaintop removal coal mining projects and protests at international climate talks--it remains unclear how climate activism might lead to something different. U.S. Democrats, for example, appear poised to benefit from discontents around inaction on climate change regulation (in spite of advancing neoliberal reforms in the 1990s under Bill Clinton). In the E.U., climate activism has taken a back seat to antiausterity, as governments responsible for the strictest austerity are largely credited with leadership in decarbonizing their economies. In fact, while an agreement overhauling the Kyoto Protocol seems increasingly likely at the Paris Conference of Parties (COP 21), the same cannot be said about the prospects for “system change.”
The focus of this panel is to consider what remains unchanged by the climate crisis. For there seems to be a continued problem of how discontents under capitalism become readily integrated into new forms of capitalism; a process whereby we unwittingly contribute to the perpetuation of capitalism without intending to. We ask panelists to consider how we might arrive at a post-carbon future from the Left (i.e., in a manner that generates greater consciousness of what capitalism is and how to potentially overcome it). What would a Left response to climate change look like? How does this differ from the Right?