A series of roundtable discussions hosted by The Platypus Affiliated Society. This is the second part of the discussion series held in New York City.
Held on December 9, 2011 at New York 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?
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 of the #Occupy movement. These will start at campuses in New York, Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia but will be moving to other North American cities, and overseas to London, Germany, Greece, India and South Korea 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.
The Platypus Affiliated Society
Discussants were asked to consider the following questions:
1. In light of the recent series of coordinated and spectacular evictions that took place on November 15th, as well as the international Day of Action that followed two days later, is it fair to say that the #Occupy movement has entered into “phase 2”? If so, what is the nature of this new phase of the movement’s development? How has the occupation been forced to adapt to a changing set of conditions on the ground and what sorts of fresh difficulties do these new conditions pose for the occupiers? A moment of crisis can often be a moment of opportunity—what direction do you feel the movement should take in order to remain viable and relevant?
2. There are striking similarities between the Occupy movement and the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Both began in the last year of a Democratic presidency, were spearheaded by anarchists, were motivated by discontents with neo-liberalism, and were supported by organized labor.
What, if anything, makes this movement different? How is it a departure from Seattle? What are the lessons to be learned from the defeat of the anti-globalization movement?
3. Some have characterized the #Occupy movement as sounding the tocsin for “class war” (e.g., of the 99% vs. the 1%). Others recognize the fact of dramatic inequality, and want the #Occupy movement to spearhead a set of economic reforms. Others see #Occupy as transforming something revolutionary beyond the “economic”. These perspectives point to radically different directions for this movement.
Would you characterize this movement as “anti-capitalist”? (Should it be?) If so, what is the nature of these “anti-capitalist” politics? In what way does the #Occupy movement affirm or reject the political ideas of anti-capitalist movements before it?
4. Some have become wary about the role of labor organizations in the #Occupy movement. Concerns point to the possibility of eventual “co-optation” into Democratic Party politics. Others worry that the “horizontal,” leaderless structure cultivated by the occupiers might be undermined by the decidedly top-down, hierarchical organization of labor unions. Certain of these collaborations, for example between the labor activists and occupiers in Oakland, have been seen as highly fruitful. Still, the broader call for a general strike that some organizers have hoped for has so far not been met.
What role should organized labor play in the #Occupy movement?
5. One division that emerged early on among the occupants concerned the need to call for demands. Some took issue with the content of the demands, arguing that if these are to be truly “representative of the 99%” they cannot assume a radical stance that would alienate a large section of the population. Others worry that demands focused on electoral reform or policy would steer the movement in a conservative direction. Some call into the question the call for demands in the first place, as these would limit — even undermine — the open-ended potential for transformation present in the #Occupy movement and could only close revolutionary possibilities.
What, if any, demands do you think this movement should be calling for? And, more importantly, what kind of social transformation would you like to see this movement give rise to?
6. What would it mean for the #Occupy movement to succeed? Can it?
Brian Dominick has nearly 20 years' experience as an activist, organizer, and journalist. In his writing and lecturing, he has largely focused on questions of strategy and tactics for far-reaching social change. Forming and consulting alternative institutions has been a specialty of Brian's, from affinity groups to worker coops to 501(c)(3)s to international activism networks. He is a former co-founder of NewStandard News and instructor at the Z Media Institute.
Erik Van Deventer is a doctoral student at NYU in the Department of Sociology, presently working on the political economy of finance. He has been active at OWS and in the demands working group.
Hannah Appel earned her Ph.D. in the Department of Anthropology at Stanford University. With research interests in the daily life of capitalism and the private sector in Africa, in particular, Hannah's work draws on critical development studies, economic anthropology, and political economy. Her current project - Futures - is based on fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork in the transnational oil and gas industry in Equatorial Guinea.
Nathan Schneider is an editor for Waging Nonviolence. He writes about religion, reason, and violence for publications including The Nation, The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The American Prospect, and others. He is also an editor at Killing the Buddha.
***Unless otherwise stated by the participants, their comments today do not necessarily reflect the overall opinion of their respective Working Groups.
Φιλοσοφική Σχολή Α.Π.Θ.
@Thessaloniki, Greece: Wednesday, Nov. 23rd, 6:00 – 9:00pm
New building of School of Philosophy, Room 112
An international forum on the
CRISIS OF THE LEFT
Chicago | NYC | Philly | Boston | Thessaloniki
A panel of the Crisis of the Left international forum held on November, 23rd, 2011 at Aristotle University
Crisis: Pathol. The point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death. “…Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics…”
Many on the Left feel a sense of crisis.
Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics. The Platypus Affiliated Society seeks to make the conversation explicit, and to host a series of discussions about the crisis of the contemporary Left: its quality, causes, and significance for future reconstitution and transformation.
Across five cities worldwide, we’ve invited figures from across the Left–academics, political organizers, theorists–to answer and debate six fundamental questions. We also pose these questions to the Left as a whole and invite responses from all quarters. The questions below stem from confusion; taking nothing for granted, we hope that confronting this confusion might open up future possibilities for renewed consciousness and practice on the Left.
1.) How would you define the Left?
2.) Do you think the Left is in crisis? If so, then what constitutes the crisis?
3.) In trying to understand the contemporary Left, what history matters most? What tasks and problems have we inherited from the Old Left and the New Left?
4.) Could the Left have done something to avoid its current impasses? If so, what?
5.) What is the relationship between the Left and anti-capitalism? Between the Left and Marxism? What should it be?
How does the Left need to change? Who is responsible for making the change happen?
Moderated by Thodoris Velissaris
Stavros Mavroudeas is an Associate Professor of Political Economy in the Department of Economics of the University of Macedonia, where he has worked and taught since 1993. He’s published several articles in international and Greek journals of political economy, including Science & Society, Review of Radical Political Economics, Review of Political Economy, and has contributed to edited volumes. His publications include “Forms of existence of abstract labour and the value-form,” “Regulation theory: The road from creative Marxism to post-modern disintegration” and “Henryk Grossmann’s falling rate of profit theory of crisis: A presentation and a reply to old and new critics,” among many others. He is also a founding member and secretary of the Greek Scientific Society of Political Economy.
Xristos Laskos is an economist and member of the Political Secretariat of SYN (Coalition of Left and Ecological Movements). His articles frequently appear in newspapers such as Avgi and Epochi, and he is a member of the editorial board of Entos Epochis (a journal distributed every two weeks with Epochi). His recent book, No turning back: From Keynes to Thatcher: Capitalist crises, social needs, socialism (with Eykleidis Tsakalotos) was recently published in Greece by Kapsimi editions.
Grisgoris Tsilimantos lives and works in Thessaloniki. He is a member of the Anti-authoritarian Movement.
Babis Kouroundis is a lawyer who lives in Thessaloniki. He is a member of the Socialist Workers Party’s Regional Committee of Thessaloniki, and is also a member of the national coordinating committee of the ANTARSYA (Front of the Greek Anti-capitalist Left).
Thodoris Velissaris has studied economics and philosophy, and currently works as a teacher. He has been active in several political projects in Greece over the past years. He is now a member of Platypus Affiliated Society. Check out his recent article on the Greek crisis in the Platypus Review.
On March 21, 2011, the Program in Critical & Visual Studies at Pratt Institute was pleased to join with the Platypus Affiliated Society sponsoring this talk by Professor Tim Hall of the University of East London.
For more information about Pratt's Program in Critical & Visual Studies, please see their site at: http://www.pratt.edu/academics/liberal_arts_and_sciences/critical_visual_studies/
Recent attempts to address the question of the good or worthwhile life have placed it at the center of social and political theory. These attempts have come, for the most part, from explicitly conservative commentators. Timothy Hall reminds us that such questions about the good life are also at the heart of critiques of social domination. In this talk, Hall discusses the continued relevance of Georg Lukacs' critical theory of the social relations of capital and the pervasive nihilism it produces. At a time of uneven challenges to authoritarian regimes and policies, questions of social justice and questions of the meaningful, good, or worthwhile life cannot be separated or put aside, but are pivotal to understanding resistance and social change. Hall brings Lukacs --- and perhaps Critical Theory itself --- back to this contested terrain.
Tim Hall is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the University of East London. His main areas of interest are Marxism and Frankfurt School critical theory. His publications include The Modern State: theories and ideologies (Edinburgh 2007) with Erika Cudworth and John McGovern and The Fundamental Dissonance of Existence (Continuum 2010) with Timothy Bewes. He is currently writing a book on the political thought of Theodor Adorno. In addition he has an interest in state theory and international ethics and is currently researching Marxist state theory and Cosmopolitan political theory.
The Platypus Affiliated Society
The Department of Social Science & Cultural Studies
and its Program in Critical & Visual Studies, Pratt Institute.
A teach-in with Sam Gindin, Packer Chair in Social Justice, York University, held in Toronto on November 29, 2010.
Austerity measures stemming from the global financial crisis threaten to undermine public sector unions and the services they provide. The unions, however, have failed to politicize the crisis along class lines, and by extension, to the Left. This is leading to situations like the Toronto mayoral election where union activity was stigmatized opportunistically to motivate a rightward populism.
If anything, this crisis reveals that the connection between public sector unionism and the Left has become unclear. This is a problem that cannot be solved by simply reconsidering union strategy pragmatically; its solution depends on working through and clarifying the history, ideology and politics that underlie how public sector unions and the Left have come to relate.
This teach-in with leading Canadian labour analyst Sam Gindin explores the present crisis, its meaning and how we might get beyond it. His recent piece with Michael Hurley, titled “The Public Sector: Search for a Focus” considers how union activity could be changed not only to meet the challenge of austerity but also to reignite the Canadian Left.
Co-hosted with OPIRG York. Thanks to Socialist Project for the video recording.
An all day symposium, "What is Critique?" was held on Nov. 20th, 2010 at the New School in New York City. The first video is from the afternoon panel, entitled The Art Critique: Its History, Theories, and Practices. This panel consisted of Tom Butter, Simone Douglas, and James Elkins; it was moderated by Laurie Rojas. The second video is documentation of the evening panel, entitled The Relevance of Critical Theory to Art Today. The panel consisted of J.M. Bernstein, Chris Cutrone, Lydia Goehr, and Gregg Horowitz; it was moderated by Chris Mansour.
Abstract: What is Critique? is an all day symposium that consists of panel discussions with artists, critics, teachers, and students city-wide that investigates the role that art critiques and criticism play in art production. The first half of the day will focus on the nature and function of art critiques as a form criticism and pedagogy. The latter part of the day will be a panel discussion addressing the relationship between critical theory, art production and art reception.
The Art Critique: Its History, Theories, and Practices
The Relevance of Critical Theory to Art Today
James Elkins grew up in Ithaca, New York, separated from Cornell University by a quarter-mile of woods once owned by the naturalist Laurence Palmer.
He stayed on in Ithaca long enough to get the BA degree (in English and Art History), with summer hitchhiking trips to Alaska, Mexico, Guatemala, the Caribbean, and Columbia. For the last twenty-five years he has lived in Chicago; he got a graduate degree in painting, and then switched to Art History, got another graduate degree, and went on to do the PhD in Art History, which he finished in 1989. (All from the University of Chicago.) Since then he has been teaching at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He is currently E.C. Chadbourne Chair in the Department of Art History, Theory, and Criticism.
His writing focuses on the history and theory of images in art, science, and nature. Some of his books are exclusively on fine art (What Painting Is, Why Are Our Pictures Puzzles?). Others include scientific and non-art images, writing systems, and archaeology (The Domain of Images, On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them), and some are about natural history (How to Use Your Eyes).
Current projects include a series called the Stone Summer Theory Institutes, a book called The Project of Painting: 1900-2000, a series calledTheories of Modernism and Postmodernism in the Visual Art, and a book written against Camera Lucida.
He married Margaret MacNamidhe in 1994 on Inishmore, one of the Aran Islands, off the West coast of Ireland. Margaret is also an art historian, with a specialty in Delacroix. Jim’s interests include microscopy (with a Zeiss Nomarski differential interference microscope and Anoptral phase contrast), optics (he owns an ophthalmologist’s slit-lamp microscope), stereo photography (with a Realist camera), playing piano, and (whenever possible) winter ocean diving.
Tom Butter has been exhibiting sculpture, drawings and prints in NYC and internationally since 1980. His work is included in several museum collections in the United States, and has been reviewed in many art publications. Recipient of 3 NEA Grants and 2 New York Foundation for the Arts Grants, Butter has taught in many east coast fine art programs, including those at RISD, Tyler, Yale University, Harvard, University of the Arts, School of the Museum of Fine Arts, MICA. A member of the faculty at Parsons the New School for Design in the Fine Arts Department since 1986, he was recently Director of the MFA Program ’06-’07. Currently adjunct faculty at Parsons and Brooklyn College (CUNY), staff writer Whitehot Magazine, website:www.tombutter.com
Simone Douglas is the director of the MFA in Fine Arts at Parsons. She works across photography, video and installation, and has curated numerous exhibitions. Her works have been exhibited internationally at, and are held in, collections including the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; the Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney; and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Additional exhibitions include at the Photographers Gallery, London; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney; and the Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney. She was project director and curator for Picture Sydney: landmarks of a new generation at the Australian Museum, a Getty Conservation Institute Initiative. She has been a guest scholar at Koln International School of Design, and initiated the international art and design collective Conjecture and served on the Board of Directors at First Draft Gallery, Sydney. Most recently, Simone is running an international visual research project, The Exquisite Corpse. Before joining the faculty at Parsons, Simone held faculty posts at the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW; National Art School, Sydney; and Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney (tenured) where she is currently an honorary faculty member. She holds an M.F.A. and a Grad. Dip. Prof. Art Studies from the College of Fine Arts, University of NSW and a B.A. in Visual Arts from Sydney College of the Arts, University of Sydney
Gregg M. Horowitz is Chair of Social Science and Cultural Studies at Pratt Institute and Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University. He works on the philosophy of art and art history, political philosophy, and psychoanalysis. He has special research interests in the relation of aesthetics, cultural theory and art criticism to critical social theory.
Horowitz is the author of SUSTAINING LOSS: ART AND MOURNFUL LIFE (Stanford University Press, 2001), and, with A. Danto and T. Huhn, THE WAKE OF ART: CRITICISM, PHILOSOPHY, AND THE ENDS OF TASTE (Gordon and Breech, 1998). More recently, he has authored “The Residue of History: Dark Play in Schiller and Hegel” in GERMAN IDEALISM – AN INTERNATIONAL YEARBOOK (Walter de Gruyter, 2007), pp.179-98 and essays on Andreas Gursky, Tony Oursler, and Wallace Stevens.
Lydia Goehr is Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University. She is one of the 2009-2010 recipients of the Lenfest Distinguished Columbia Faculty Award for exceptional teaching in Arts & Sciences. In 2005, she received a Columbia University Presidential Award for Outstanding Teaching and in 2007-8 was recipient The Graduate Student Advisory Council (GSAC)’s Faculty Mentoring Award (FMA). She has also been a recipient of Mellon, Getty, and Guggenheim Fellowships, and in 1997 was the Visiting Ernest Bloch Professor in the Music Department at U. California, Berkeley, where she gave a series of lectures on Richard Wagner. She has been a Trustee of the American Society for Aesthetics. In 2002-3, she was the visiting Aby Warburg Professor in Hamburg and a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. In 2005-6, she delivered the Royal Holloway-British Library Lectures in Musicology in London and the Wort Lectures at Cambridge University. In 2008, she was a Visiting Professor at the Freie Universität, Berlin (Cluster: “The Language of Emotions”) and in 2009, a visiting professor in the FU-Berlin SFB Theater und Fest. She is the author of The Imaginary Museum of Musical Works: An Essay in the Philosophy of Music (1992; second edition with a new essay, 2007); The Quest for Voice: Music, Politics, and the Limits of Philosophy [essays on Richard Wagner] (1998); Elective Affinities: Musical Essays on the History of Aesthetic Theory [essays on Adorno and Danto] (2008), and co-editor with Daniel Herwitz of The Don Giovanni Moment. Essays on the legacy of an Opera (2006). She has written many articles, most recently on the work of Theodor W. Adorno, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Arthur Danto. She offers courses in the history of aesthetic theory, the contemporary philosophy of the arts, critical theory, and the philosophy of history. Her research interests are in German aesthetic theory and in particular in the relationship between philosophy, politics, history, and music. With Gregg Horowitz, she is series editor of Columbia Themes in Philosophy, Social Criticism, and the Arts, Columbia University Press. She is presently writing a book on the contest of the arts.
Jay Bernstein is Chair and University Distinguished Professor in Philosophy at The New School for Social Research. He received his BA in 1970 from Trinity College in Religion and his PhD in 1975 from the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of numerous books and articles on philosophy; his recent books on art include The Fate of Art and Against Voluptuous Bodies: Late Modernism and the Meaning of Painting.
Chris Cutrone teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the University of Chicago, where he is completing his dissertation on Adorno’s Marxism. He is the original lead organizer of Platypus.