A panel event held at the Inaugural European Conference of the Platypus Affiliated Society on July 18th, 2014 at Goldsmiths College, London.
At this panel event, Platypus members Lucy Parker (London); Jan Schroeder (Frankfurt); and Nikos Manousakis (Thessaloniki) reflected upon the below questions. This was followed by an open audience Q&A.
What have been some of the more significant engagements in your chapter with the Left? Why was this important for the development of your chapter and, what has this engagement taught us about the nature international Left?
What are some challenges in building your local chapter, what is the landscape of the Left that makes it hard to navigate, etc?
Why Platypus? Why does platypus need to exist in your location aside from you being there?What are the recurring points of discussions within your chapter? Do you feel like your chapter differs from the international discussions if so how?
This is an international conference, in what way do you see yourself as part of an international organization and how do you see Platypus as an international project? What do you see as the growing trends in the Left in the next year or two? How might Platypus be positioned to address these? Should it?
Where do you want Platypus to go? What other kind of engagements do you hope to foster in the future with the help of other international chapters?
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. Held on March 21st, 2014 at Goldsmith's College.
Federico Campagna (author of 'The Last Night - anti-work, atheism, adventure', Zero Books, 2013)
Jack Conrad, Communist Party of Great Britain.
Rachael Maskell, Unite National Officer; and South London People's Assembly.
"Capital is not a book about politics, and not even a book about labour: it is a book about unemployment." - Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One
"...the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all." - Joan Robinson
"The error consists in believing that labor, by which I mean heteronomous, salaried labor, can and must remain the essential matter. It's just not so. According to American projections, within twenty years labor time will be less than half that of leisure time. I see the task of the left as directing and promoting this process of abolition of labor in a way that will not result in a mass of unemployed on one side, and aristocracy of labor on the other and between them a proletariat which carries out the most distasteful jobs for forty-five hours a week. Instead, let everyone work much less for his salary and thus be free to act in a much more autonomous manner...Today "communism" is a real possibility and even a realistic proposition, for the abolition of salaried labor through automation saps both capitalist logic and the market economy." - Andre Gorz
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.
1. How do you characterize work and employment as a political issue in contemporary society? What is wrong with unemployment? And/or what is wrong with work?
2. A distinction is often drawn between "work" as purposeful human activity (presumably existing before and after capitalism), on the one hand, and "work" in the sense of labor in capitalism, where the worker undertakes purposeful activity for money under threat of material scarcity (typically in the form of wage labor), on the other hand. Is this distinction politically relevant when thinking about work? In a free society, would work manifest in one or both senses?
3. If the widely observable phenomenon of overwork and unemployment is a necessary feature of capitalist society, why and how is this so? What kinds of social necessity, in the present organization of the world, do you take to be underlying this phenomenon? Then, given your understanding of the nature of this necessity, what would it mean to radically transform it?
4. In the history of the Left, what examples do you regard as informing your attitude towards the politics of work and unemployment today, and what is relevant about these touchpoints?
5. Historically, the left has sought to remedy the problems of overwork and unemployment, through various means: full employment; a guaranteed minimum income regardless of employment; and/or shorter working hours for those employed. Which of these, if any, do you consider to be adequate responses, and how, if at all, should the Left pursue them?
6. If the abolition of wage labor should indeed be a goal of emancipatory politics, what forms of politics or concrete demands should be pursued to attain this goal? How do we get from "here" to "there"?
7. Given the breadth of issues and struggles pursued by the Left historically and today--race and racism, gender equality, environmental concerns, globalization, militarism, etc--what is the relationship between the politics of work and the broader project of social emancipation? Exactly how central or peripheral is the politics of work to social emancipation as such?
8. Where do you find the most promising attempts by the Left to address the issue of work and unemployment, today? What makes this contemporary work relevant and propitious?
9. What role, if any, do you assign to political organization, such as an actual or potential political party, in working to progressively transform contemporary relations of work and unemployment? What should be the relationship between any such organization and the working class?
10. A century ago, these questions were consciously taken up by a politically constituted workers movement in which socialists and Marxists participated. Today, discussions of this topic risk becoming utopian in the a-political sense. How, if at all, has the decline of workers movements and the death of the Left circumscribed our ability to engage the politics of work in the present?
Video coming soon! Audio recording above.
A panel event held on Saturday, December 1st, 2012 at the Mile End campus of Queen Mary University.
Transcribed in Platypus Review #55 (Click below to see):
The present moment is arguably one of unprecedented confusion on the Left. The emergence of many new theoretical perspectives on Marxism, anarchism, and the left generally seem rather than signs of a newfound vitality, the intellectual reflux of its final disintegration in history. As for the politics that still bothers to describe itself as leftist today, it seems no great merit that it is largely disconnected from the academic left’s disputations over everything from imperialism to ecology. Perhaps nowhere are these symptoms more pronounced than around the subject of the economy. As Marxist economics has witnessed of late a flurry of recent works, many quite involved in their depth and complexity, recent activism around austerity, joblessness, and non-transparency while quite creative in some respects seems hesitant to oppose with anything but nostalgia for the past the status quo mantra, “There is no Alternative.” At a time when the United States has entered the most prolonged slump since the Great Depression, the European project founders on the shoals of debt and nationalism. If the once triumphant neoliberal project of free markets for free people seems utterly exhausted, the “strange non-death of neo-liberalism,” as a recent book title has it, seems poised to carry on indefinitely. The need for a Marxist politics adequate to the crisis is as great as such a politics is lacking.
And 2011 now seems to be fading into the past. In Greece today as elsewhere in Europe existing Left parties remain largely passive in the face of the crisis, eschewing radical solutions (if they even imagine such solutions to exist). In the United States, #Occupy has vanished from the parks and streets, leaving only bitter grumbling where there once seemed to be creativity and open-ended potential. In Britain, the 2011 London Riots, rather than political protest, was trumpeted as the shafted generation’s response to the crisis, overshadowing the police brutality that actually occasioned it. Finally, in the Arab world where, we are told the 2011 revolution is still afoot, it seems inconceivable that the revolution, even as it bears within it the hopes of millions, could alter the economic fate of any but a handful. While joblessness haunts billions worldwide, politicization of the issue seems chiefly the prerogative of the right. Meanwhile, the poor worldwide face relentless price rises in fuel and essential foodstuffs. The prospects for world revolution seem remote at best, even as bankers and fund managers seem to lament democracy’s failure in confronting the crisis. In this sense, it seems plausible to argue that there is no crisis at all, but simply the latest stage in an ongoing social regression. What does it mean to say that we face a crisis, after all, when there is no real prospect that anything particularly is likely to change, at least not for the better?
In this opaque historical moment, Platypus wants to raise some basic questions: Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Why do seemingly sophisticated leftist understandings of the world appear unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, can the world be thought intelligible without our capacity to self-consciously transform it through practice? Can leftist theoretical frameworks survive as an economics or social theory without politics? Is there capitalism after socialism?
David Graeber (author, Debt: the First 5000 Years)
Saul Newman (author, From Bakunin to Lacan)
Hillel Ticktin (co-founder, Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory)
James Woudhuysen (contributor to Sp!iked magazine)
In October, the Platypus Review published it's fiftieth issue. In celebration of this landmark occasion, at the issue No. 50 release party held in New York City on November 15, 2012, an international video conference with the members of the current and past editorial staff of the Platypus Review was held, including speakers involved with the Platypus Review from New York City and Chicago, USA, London, UK, Thessaloniki, Greece, Maastricht, the Netherlands, Frankfurt, Germany, and Graz, Austria.
A panel discussion with audience Q & A on the problematic forms of "anticapitalism" today.
Held on Wednesday 13th June, 7pm at the University of London Union (ULU), Malet Street, London.
Clare Solomon (co-editor of Springtime: The New Student Rebellions (2011); President of the University Of London Union in 2010)
James Heartfield (active in extra-parliamentary Left for thirty years; author of The 'Death of the Subject" Explained (2002), and the forthcoming Unpatriotic History of the Second World War (2012)).
James Turley (member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) for five years, and a regular writer for the Weekly Worker; co-editor and contributer to Red Mist, a blog of Marxist cultural commentary)
Matt Cole (organizer, researcher, editor, writer, Rousseauist; Kingston University)
Laurie Rojas (founding member of the Platypus Affiliated Society, editor of the Platypus Review).
"[After the 1960s, the] underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency [. . .] in a historical situation of heightened helplessness [. . .] became a self-constitution as outsider, as other [. . .] focused on the bureaucratic stasis of the [Fordist/late 20th Century] world: it echoed the destruction of that world by the dynamics of capital [with the neo-liberal turn after 1973, and especially after 1989].
The idea of a fundamental transformation became bracketed and, instead, was replaced by the more ambiguous notion of âresistance.â The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted or of the politics of the resistance involved â that is, the character of determinate forms of critique, opposition, rebellion, and ârevolution.â The notion of 'resistance' frequently expresses a deeply dualistic worldview that tends to reify both the system of domination and the idea of agency.
'Resistance' is rarely based on a reflexive analysis of possibilities for fundamental change that are both generated and suppressed by [the] dynamic heteronomous order [of capital]. ['Resistance'] is an undialectical category that does not grasp its own conditions of possibility; that is, it fails to grasp the dynamic historical context of which it is a part."
- Moishe Postone, "History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism"
(Public Culture 18:1, 2006)
1. Since the 1960s, and especially since the 1990s, struggles for social, economic and political emancipation have been conceived less in terms of structural reforms or revolutionary transformation and more in terms of "resistance." How do you define âresistanceâ and how do you understand its role in possibilities for social change?
2. One powerful way "resistance" has been conceived has been in terms of "culture" and practices of âeveryday life.â How do you understand the implicit (if not explicit) distinction thus made of politics directed at society as a whole, from the more apparently mundane concerns and stakes of quotidian existence?
3. What, in your understanding, are the reasons for and the consequences of this historical shift away from movements for reform or revolutionary politics, to tactics, strategies, and self-understandings in terms of "resistance?"
4. Where do the new forms of politics of âresistanceâ point, in your estimation, for social-emancipatory possibilities, today and in the future?
5. What kinds of change do you envision on the horizon of present social concerns? How do you imagine the potential manifestations of such change?
6. What can and should those on the Left and those interested in working towards social emancipation do, tactically and strategically, in view of such possibilities for change?