The Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) has altered conceptions of the international socio-political environment on the left, and has accordingly sent shock-waves throughout the realm of art and culture. In solidarity with OWS, artists took their work to the streets, creating on-site carnivalesque performances as forms of protest. Artists globally designed posters and logos to collectively construct the aesthetic appeal of the movement, and more significantly, diverse groups of artists organized to "Occupy Museums," such as the MoMA, the Frick Collection, and New Museum, critiquing them as as "temples of cultural elitism." Occupy Museums claims that the mainstream art world circuit is complicit in neoliberal capitalism and caters to the interests of the "1%." Overall, OWS has renewed a sense of political urgency within the art world that has up to now been relegated to the margins. This panel critically investigates the role of art and culture in the Occupy movement, and how OWS has affected the infrastructure of the mainstream art world. What role does art play in the political struggles that OWS seeks to accomplish? In what ways is OWS a resource for creating change in the way art is produced, received, and distributed? These questions, among others, will act as the touchstone for artists and cultural theorists to asses how art and politics affect each other as the OWS continues to take form.
Noah Fischer is a Brooklyn-based artist originally from north of San Francisco. He has exhibited kinetic art installations, photographs, and sculpture in New York, Europe, and India. He has also worked collaboratively with the Berlin-based performance group andcompany&Co. Noah initiated Occupy Subways and Occupy Museums in the first weeks of OWS. Noah is the curator of the No-Eyes Viewing Wall at Brooklyn Zen Center.
Maria Byck is a video artist and activist. She was part of the Congress of the Collectives at Flux Factory. With the Occupy Wall Street movement, she has worked on programming RevTalks and the Empowerment and Education Open Forum series, and collaborates with the live streaming media team. She is a member of Occupy Cinema and Occupy Museums. Maria has been a member of the Paper Tiger Television video collective since 2005. She has a Masters in Media Studies from the New School.
Ross Wolfe is a graduate student at the University of Chicago focusing on early Soviet history, Marxism, critical theory, avant-garde art and architecture, contemporary political issues (activism, anticapitalism, environmentalism), and radical utopianism.
OWS has put the focus on finance capital as a driver of inequality, and on the need for political action to address it. But what is the function of finance capital in the modern world, and how should our politics address it? This panel will bring together various Marxist and anarchist perspectives on finance capital.
Radhika Desai is Professor at the Department of Political Studies, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Canada. She is the author of Slouching Towards Ayodhya: From Congress to Hindutva in Indian Politics (2nd rev ed, 2004) and Intellectuals and Socialism: 'Social Democrats' and the Labour Party (1994), She edited Developmental and Cultural Nationalisms in 2009. She is co-editing Volume 27 of Research in Political Economy with Paul Zarembka.
Alan Freeman is co-editor of the ‘Future of World Capitalism’ book series and is a former economist at the Greater London Authority. He wrote ‘The Benn Heresy’ and co-edited two books on value theory and, with Boris Kagarlitsky, ‘The Political Economy of Empire and the Crisis of Globalisation.’ With Andrew Kliman he co-edits the new critical pluralist journal Critique of Political Economy.’
Andrew Kliman, a professor of economics at Pace University, is the author of The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession and Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency. He and Alan Freeman edit Critique of Political Economy, a new scholarly online journal. Many of his writings are available at akliman.squarespace.com and With Sober Senses, marxist-humanist-initiative.org/our-publication, Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s publication.
Costas Panayotakis is Associate Professor of Sociology at CUNY's New York City College of Technology and author of Remaking scarcity: from capitalist inefficiency to economic democracy.
The Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on Lenin states that,
“If the Bolshevik Revolution is — as some people have called it — the most significant political event of the 20th century, then Lenin must for good or ill be considered the century’s most significant political leader. Not only in the scholarly circles of the former Soviet Union, but even among many non-Communist scholars, he has been regarded as both the greatest revolutionary leader and revolutionary statesman in history, as well as the greatest revolutionary thinker since Marx.”
Lenin is the most controversial figure in the history of Marxism, and perhaps one of the most controversial figures in all of history. As such, he is an impossible figure for sober consideration, without polemic. Nevertheless, it has become impossible, also, after Lenin, to consider Marxism without reference to him. Broadly, Marxism is divided into avowedly “Leninist” and “anti-Leninist” tendencies. In what ways was Lenin either an advance or a calamity for Marxism? But there is another way of approaching Lenin, which is as an expression of the historical crisis of Marxism. In other words, Lenin as a historical figure is unavoidably significant as manifesting a crisis of Marxism. The question is how Lenin provided the basis for advancing that crisis, how the polarization around Lenin could provide the basis for advancing the potential transformation of Marxism, in terms of resolving certain problems.
The Frankfurt School Critical Theorist Theodor Adorno, in his 1966 book Negative Dialectics, wrote of the degeneration of Marxism due to “dogmatization and thought-taboos.” There is no other figure in the history of Marxism who has been subject to such “dogmatization and thought-taboos” as much as Lenin.
It is important to note as well that Adorno himself sought to remain, as he put it, “faithful to Marx, Engels and Lenin, while keeping up with culture at its most advanced,” to which his colleague Max Horkheimer replied, simply, “Who would not subscribe to that?”
Today, such a proposition seems especially implausible, in many ways. Yet perhaps the memory of Lenin haunts us still, however obscurely.
A series of roundtable discussions hosted by The Platypus Affiliated Society. This is the first part of the discussion series held in Cambridge.
Held on December 15, 2011 at Harvard University.
The recent Occupy protests are driven by discontent with the present state of affairs: glaring economic inequality, dead-end Democratic Party politics, and, for some, the suspicion that capitalism could never produce an equitable society. These concerns are coupled with aspirations for social transformation at an international level. For many, the protests at Wall St. and elsewhere provide an avenue to raise questions the Left has long fallen silent on:
• What would it mean to challenge capitalism on a global scale?
• How could we begin to overcome social conditions that adversely affect every part of life?
• And, how could a new international radical movement address these concerns in practice?
Although participants at Occupy Wall St. and elsewhere have managed thus far to organize resources for their own daily needs, legal services, health services, sleeping arrangements, food supplies, defense against police brutality, and a consistent media presence, these pragmatic concerns have taken precedent over long-term goals of the movement. Where can participants of this protest engage in formulating, debating, and questioningthe ends of this movement? How can it affect the greater society beyond the occupied spaces?
We in the Platypus Affiliated Society ask participants and interested observers of the Occupy movement to consider the possibility that political disagreement could lead to clarification, further development and direction. Only when we are able create an active culture of thinking and debating on the Left without it proving prematurely divisive can we begin to imagine a Leftist politics adequate to the historical possibilities of our moment. We may not know what these possibilities for transformation are. This is why we think it is imperative to create avenues of engagement that will support these efforts.
Towards this goal, Platypus will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions with organizers and participants ofthe Occupy movement. These will start at campuses in New York and Chicago but will be moving to other North American cities, and to London, Germany, and Greece in the months to come. We welcome any and all who would like to be a part of this project of self-education and potential rebuilding of the Left to join us in advancing this critical moment.