Chris Cutrone, founder and President of the Platypus Affiliated Society, interviewed by Douglas Lain of Zero Books, on the crisis of neoliberalism and the election of Donald Trump.
Cutrone's writings referenced in the interview can be found at:
Chris Cutrone is the last Marxist. Cutrone is a college educator, writer, and media artist, committed to critical thinking and artistic practice and the politics of social emancipation. Born in 1970 and raised in Valley Stream on Long Island near New York City, Cutrone is an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Departments of Art History, Theory and Criticism and Visual and Critical Studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and is a lecturer in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago, where he completed the PhD in the Committee on the History of Culture and MA in Art History. He received the MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the BA from Hampshire College. His doctoral dissertation is on Adorno’s Marxism.
Cutrone is the original lead organizer of the Platypus Affiliated Society (its reading group in Chicago was established in 2006). From 1989–92, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Gulf War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, to the Los Angeles Riots and the election of Bill Clinton, Cutrone was a youth member of the Spartacist League, U.S. section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), upholding the revolutionary socialist tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky and the October Revolution of 1917.
Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at the University of Tennessee (Knoxville) on April 26, 2017.
• Travis Donoho, Co-chair of the Knox area Democratic Socialists of America
• Barbara Bridges, Chair of the Green Party (US) of Knoxville
• Jason Dawsey, Lecturer of History at the University of Tennessee
Moderated by Matt Cavagrotti
Electoral politics are a longstanding problem for the U.S. left. In recent decades, a number of parties have formed as an alternative to the Democratic Party: the Labor Party, the Green Party, and now, the Justice Party. However, these parties risk becoming little more than networks of activists or pressure groups on the Democratic Party, and it still remains unclear whether a serious electoral challenge to the Democratic Party is possible.
Many progressives blame the “first-past-the-post” structure of U.S. elections, contra labour-friendly parliamentary systems; yet others insist that this procedural focus is misplaced. Leninists charge some quarters of the Left with misunderstanding the proper relationship of the party to the state; but for many, it remains unclear how State and Revolution bears upon the present. Most activists grant the desirability of a viable party to the left of the Democrats, but why exactly such a party is desirable-- to win reforms? to spread emancipatory consciousness?-- is contested as well.
These are old questions for the American left-- as old as Henry George, Daniel De Leon, and the 1930s American Labor Party, perhaps the high point of independent electoral politics in the U.S. This panel will investigate several contemporary approaches to electoral politics to draw out the theories that motivate Leftist third parties; it will also ask how the historical achievements and failures of third parties bear upon the present.
1. How does the present election represent an opportunity for the development of a third party?In what ways have Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, and Gary Johnson each helped develop a window of opportunity for a third party?
2. In what ways might these figures be responsible for miseducating, depoliticizing, or simply misdirecting potential allies?
3. What conditions would a Clinton or Trump administration produce for the left? How would each represent a challenge to the Left?
4. How might a third party avoid simply becoming either an instrument for pressuring the Democratic Party to the Left or a mere recruiting tool for activist and sectarian organizations? In other words: what are the practical and theoretical obstacles to the development of the Left beyond the default form of activity that have characterized it since the mid-20th century?
5. While we take for granted that a third party would have to distinguish itself from the two major parties, how could a third party attempt to draw from voters from both the Democrats and the Republicans?
6. The rise of progressivism and socialism in the late 19th/early 20th century defined every attempt at the development of a third party in the 20th century. How are progressive and socialist politics distinct and/or related? What role would each play in the development of a mass third party for the 21st century?
Held April 8th, 2017 at the 9th Annual International Convention of the Platypus Affiliated Society in Chicago.
Erek Slater (International Marxist Humanist Organization; Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241)
Yasmin Nair (Against Equality; Freelance journalist)
Mel Rothenberg (Chicago Political Economy Group)
Leo Panitch (York University)
In her seminal 1900 pamphlet, Reform or Revolution?, Rosa Luxemburg
stated that if the socialist movement lost sight of its final goal,
there would be nothing to distinguish it from liberal politics. Yet she
also claimed that the desiderata of liberalism could only be fulfilled
through the struggle for socialism. Though still widely read,
Luxemburg’s critique has only grown more enigmatic as the relationship
of these two competing ideologies blurred in the 20th century.
The 1930’s Popular Front alliance of Communist Parties and liberals,
initially conceived as a temporary strategy to defeat Fascism, proved to
be a lasting reformist coalition. Socialism regressed from a politics
of social revolution to a seemingly more radical version of the liberal
protest against exploitation and oppression. When the working-class and
its trade-union leadership began to lose their radical veneer, the
1960’s New Left sought new revolutionary subjects in the social
movements coalescing around race, gender, and sexuality, seemed to offer
a radicalism surpassing the liberal-labor alliance of the time. Yet
the 70’s saw the integration of the New Left into the political
establishment by way of the Democratic Party, paralleling the fate of
the Communists. Now, liberals champion the new social movements, to
which socialists ostensibly oppose a “class-first” perspective.
In the recent election, Clinton represented the neoliberal
establishment which opposed identity politics to the “working class”
concerns voiced by Sanders. For Clinton supporters, the Sandernistas
were “Brocialists” who reduced the problems of society to economics,
neglecting other forms of oppression.
How do both camps fall short of the fulfillment of all liberal
desiderata? What would it take for a Left to define itself beyond
liberal politics? In what ways is the contemporary Left’s relation to
the Democratic Party a legacy of previous capitulations to liberalism?
How has the lack of a self-conscious Left opened the way for regressive
movements to fill the void of emancipatory politics? How can the Left
oppose the establishment parties without simply replacing them?