March 23, 2017 | London School of Economics
With speakers (in order):
Jack Conrad (Communist Party of Great Britain / Weekly Worker)
Adam Buick (Socialist Party of Great Britain)
Robin Halpin (translator or works by the Exit! group)
Moderated by Nunzia Faes
This panel invites you to reflect on the history of social democracy from a leftist viewpoint. Such a perspective raises the spectre of the socialist Second International, the Marxist political organisation that led the workers’ movement for socialism around the turn of the 20th century.
In the U.S., this politics found its expression in Eugene Debs, a radical labour leader converted to Marxism in prison by reading the German Marxist, Karl Kautsky. In Germany, in Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht’s Communist Party of Germany, inheritor of the Spartacus League’s opposition to joining the German state’s war effort during the First World War. And in Russia, most famously, in the capture of state power by the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. Thus the Second International gave rise to what is arguably the greatest attempt to change the world in history: the revolutions of 1917–19 in Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Italy. In these revolutions, Communists split from Social Democrats, the latter of whom formed the bulwark of counterrevolution.
During much of the 20th century, a Marxist-Leninist approach to history prevailed on much of the hard left, according to which the Second International revolutionaries had effectively superseded the politics of more right-wing figures within social democracy, such as Kautsky. The Third International has in this respect been widely accepted as an advance upon the Second. In the 1930s, the rise of fascism seemed to sideline the Communist vs. Social Democrat controversy. A generation later, after World War II, these same Social Democratic parties in the West engaged in wide-ranging reforms, while still opposing Communism in the East. For a few decades of supposed “convergence” between East and West, it seemed that the earlier evolutionary view of achieving socialism, contra Communist revolution, might be proven correct.
But the New Left in the West emerged in opposition to such reformism, in search of a more radical politics. The New Left saw itself as in keeping with the earlier revolutionary tradition, even with the significant changes offered to it. In the neoliberal era, however, the division between reform and revolution has been blurred if not erased. Today, by contrast, social democracy is on the defensive against neoliberalism, even while its memory is resuscitated by such phenomena as SYRIZA, Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, and Bernie Sanders. But, do we in fact need to reckon with the earlier history of Marxism—the split between Communists and Social Democrats—in order to understand the problem and project of social democracy today? How are the questions of social democracy and social revolution related today, in light of history? What has social democracy come to signify politically?
7:00pm / 30 November 2016
London School of Economics
Speakers (in order):
Adam Booth (writer and activist with Socialist Appeal and the International Marxist Tendency)
James Heartfield (Sp!ked / Author of 'An Unpatriotic History of the Second World War')
Patrick Neveling (SOAS Development Studies, Utrecht University Cultural Anthropology)
Paul Demarty (Weekly Worker / CPGB)
The Left has for over a generation – for more than 40 years, since the crisis of 1973 – placed its hopes in the Democratic and Labour Parties to reverse or slow neoliberal capitalism – the move to trans-national trade agreements, the movement of capital and labor, and austerity. The post-2008 crisis ofneoliberalism, despite phenomena such as SYRIZA, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and anti-austerity protests more generally, Bernie Sanders's candidacy, and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership, has found expression on the avowed Right, through UKIP, Brexit, the U.K. Conservatives' move to "Red Toryism" and now Donald Trump's election. The old neoliberal consensus is falling apart, and change is palpably in the air. Margaret Thatcher's infamous phrase "There Is No Alternative" has been proven wrong. What can the Left do to advance the struggle for socialism under such circumstances?
In the 1960s the Left faced political and social crises in an era of full employment and economic growth. Departing from official Communism, which had largely supported the development of the welfare state in industrialized capitalist countries, many on the Left challenged the existing political order, of Keynesian-Fordism, through community organising on the principle of expanding individual and collective freedom from the state. Against Keynesian economic demands, many of these Leftists supported the Rights efforts, to integrate formerly oppressed identity groups into the corporate professional-managerial class. Since the 1970s, the significance of the fact that all these aims were taken up, politically, by the Right, in the name of ‘freedom’, in the form of neo-liberalism is still ambiguous today.
Some on the Left have understood this phase of ‘neo-liberalism’ to be continuous with the post-war Fordist state, for example in Ernest Mandel’s conception of “late capitalism” and David Harvey’s idea of “post-Fordism”. The movement of labor and capital was still administered by the Fordist state. Distinctively, others on the Left have opposed neo-liberalism for over a generation through a defence of the post-war welfare state, through appeals to anti-austerity and anti-globalisation.
How does this distinction within the Left between the defense of the welfare state and the defense of individual freedom affect the Left’s response to the crisis of neo-liberalism? Why has the Left recently supported attempts to politically manage the economic crisis post-2008, against attempts at political change? How can the Left struggle for political power, with the aim of overcoming capitalism and achieving socialism, when the political expression of the crisis of neo-liberalism has largely come from the Right, and Trump won the election in November?
Panelists (in order of presentations):
Neil Davenport - Institute of Ideas / Spiked
Mike Macnair - Communist Party of Great Britain / Weekly Worker
Gerry Downing - Socialist Fight
A united and peaceful Europe seemed to be a distant dream for a generation which went through the experience of war and destruction. In the latter part of the 20th century, this hope gained shape in the new realities of the European Union. Despite its official proclamation of peace, social well being and an “alternative to capitalism and communism”, today the project finds itself in a prolonged crisis with uncertain expectations. The refugee crisis, the Euro-crisis, massive austerity and the increasing interference into democratic principles, a growing division between powerful and weak economies, and Germany's new hegemony appear in stark contrast to the official slogans of “European values and solidarity”. The desperate struggle of SYRIZA demonstrated the necessity and seeming impossibility of the Left across Europe to answer with a politics that would be truly international and go beyond “resisting austerity.”Despite growing social unrest, the deep ambivalence towards the EU expresses itself in the inability of the Left to formulate a coherent vision of a political alternative. Should it be overcome on the basis of the EU itself, or against the EU? The clarification of its nature and appropriate responses seem to be one of the most pressing issues for the Left on the continent and beyond.
1. The EU ideologically relies on defining itself as a project of pacifism (peace in Europe) and a “third way” politics of a “social market economy”. What do you make of these claims? Should the Left be fighting for the fulfillment of the promise of the EU? How would you characterize the evolution and realization of the EU project in light of its foundational claims?
2. How can the project of the EU be described in political and economic terms? Is it an “imperialist” project? If so, who are the “Imperialists”? Is the EU a “neoliberal” project? If so, to what end? What do these terms clarify? What would an anti-neoliberal or anti-imperialist politics entail?
3. What are the driving forces behind the EU and what are the implications for a Left politics in Europe? Can the EU be ‘pushed to the Left’ or is it a project against the Left?
4. Today, the Left’s response to the Euro-crisis has mostly confined itself to nation states. Yet, the EU represents a “transnational” project. How does this affect the nature of internationalism for the Left? Is this an opportunity yet to be realized, or does the EU represent an obstacle to a true international?
5. SYRIZA was seen as an indicator of shifting political and economic forces in the EU, yet the Left in stronger economies has remained weak. What did its election reveal? What has the Brexit question revealed about the European Left and its tasks? How do both of these affect the dynamic of the EU and how do they task the greater Left?
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)
University of London Union (ULU), Malet Street, London, WC1E 7HX
“[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 ‘resistance.’ The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted or of the politics of the resistance involved — that is, the character of determinate forms of critique, opposition, rebellion, and ‘revolution.’ 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 “resistance” 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 “everyday life.” 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 “resistance” 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 — those interested in working towards social emancipation — do, tactically and strategically, in view of such possibilities for change?
Also find us at our Facebook event.
Since 2007 Platypus has been organizing a series of events on The 3Rs. Click on the date/location to go to the audio:
Michael Albert (Z Magazine, author of Parecon: Life After Capitalism), Chris Cutrone (Platypus) [Chris Cutrone's opening remarks prepared text], Stephen Duncombe (Gallatin School of New York University, editor of Cultural Resistance Reader), Brian Holmes (Continental Driftand Université Tangente), and Marisa Holmes (new Students for a Democratic Society).
Jeff Booth (Socialist Alternative)
Gayge (Common Struggle Libertarian Communist Federation)
Joe Ramsey (Kasama Project)
Laura Lee Schmidt (Platypus)
J. Phil Thompson (MIT)
Todd Gitlin (Columbia University)
Tom Trottier (Workers’ International Committee)
Ross Wolfe (Platypus Affiliated Society)
Baolinh Dang (Proletarian Revolutionary Action Committee- Revolutionary Students Movement),
Cam Hardy (Platypus),
Megan Kinch (#Occupy, Toronto Media Co-Op), and
Jim Stanford (Canadian Auto Workers).
Eric Anatolik (Occupy NS), Jacques Beaudoin (Parti communiste revolutionnaire – Revolutionary Communist Party, Canada) Howard Epstein (New Democratic Party MLA Halifax Chebucto), Max Haiven (Edu-Factory, Historical and Critical Studies NSCAD) and Andony Melathopoulos (Platypus). The panel was moderated by Pam Nogales.