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Panel hosted by the Marxist Humanist Initiative at the Left Forum in New York City. The discussion was moderated by MHI member Ravi Bali.

Speakers:

Daphne Lawless, Fightback
Brendan Cooney, MHI
Chris Cutrone, Platypus Affiliated Society
Anne Jaclard, MHI
Bill Weinberg, CounterVortex

Tens of millions of Americans and people around the world, including some of “the left,” have regarded Trump and Trumpism as exceptional threats to our well-being that must be resisted tooth-and-nail. But others have argued that anti-Trumpism is a problem, that concerns about Trumpism are a distraction from struggles against neo-liberalism and U.S. state power, and/or that the left should reach out to Trump’s anti-establishment and populist base. This debate featured speakers with different positions on these and related questions. Among the issues considered was whether or not the positions one opposes are genuinely “of the left.”

Held June 1, 2018 at the Left Forum at John Jay College in New York.

Panelists:

Spencer Leonard - Platypus Affiliated Society
Terrell Carver - Professor of Political Theory at the University of Bristol
Christoph Lichtenberg - International Bolshevik Tendency

Description:

This year marked the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, than whom, as even his ideological opponent Isaiah Berlin had to admit, "no thinker in the nineteenth century has had so direct, deliberate and powerful an influence upon mankind." This panel seeks to bring together intellectuals committed to exploring Marx’s legacy in this post-Marxist age, those who, once more, seek somehow to bring that legacy to bear upon the world. Accordingly, we want to raise the question: What is the legacy of Marx’s life as a revolutionary intellectual -- that is, the legacy of the political writings and activities he contributed to the workers’ movement for socialism?

One of four panels held by the Platypus Affiliated Society at Left Forum 2014, from May 30th to June 1st, 2014.

We generally assume 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 current 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. We hope 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.

Chair:
Justin Elm

Speakers:
Jon Bekken
Alan Milchman
James Livingston

A panel discussion held at Left Forum 2013, at Pace University, on June 9, 2013.

This panel was transcripted in Platypus Review #61 (Click on banner below to see):

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Description:
Bourgeois society came into full recognition with Rousseau, who in the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and On the Social Contract, opened its radical critique. Hegel wrote: "The principle of freedom dawned on the world in Rousseau." Marx quoted Rousseau favorably that "Whoever dares undertake to establish a people’s institutions must feel himself capable of changing, as it were, human nature... to take from man his own powers, and give him in exchange alien powers which he cannot employ without the help of other men." Rousseau posed the question of society, which Adorno wrote is a "concept of the Third Estate." Marx recognized the crisis of bourgeois society in the Industrial Revolution and workers' call for socialism. But proletarian socialism is no longer the rising force it was in Marx's time. So what remains of thinking the unrealized radicalism of bourgeois society without Marx? Kant stated that if the potential of bourgeois society was not fully achieved as the “mid-point” of freedom then Rousseau may have been right to prefer savagery against civilization’s “glittering misery.” Nietzsche warned that we might continue to be "living at the expense of the future:" "Perhaps more comfortably, less dangerously, but at the same time in a meaner style, more basely." How have thinkers of the revolutionary epoch after Rousseau, Adam Smith, Kant, Hegel, Benjamin Constant, and Nietzsche himself, contributed to the possibility of emancipation in a world after Marxism?

Speakers:
Chris Cutrone
Spencer Leonard
Sunit Singh

A talk and guided discussion held at Left Forum 2013, at Pace University, on June 8th, 2013.

Description:
If it is true that the 'commodity-structure' (Lukacs) is the defining feature of modern capitalism down through the present, then it stands to reason that it has no less impacted the way art is produced, consumed, circulated, and exchanged. This shift in art's character happened both objectively (e.g., as in an article produced for exchange on the market), and subjectively (i.e., as a kind of experience and form of expression for the social and individual body). However, art's relationship to its status as a commodity is an ambivalent one: Art has become at once more free from past forms of domination, but its freedom is constrained when subject to the dynamics of capital. Art as a commodity is both its cure and poison, and has become a social problem for its practice. Since becoming aware of this problem, artists, philosophers, curators, and critics have taken various approaches in seeking to overcome it. How has art under a capitalist society changed from its pre-capitalist practices? What is the commodity-form, and what is art's relationship to its logic? Must art seek emancipation from the commodity-form, or is it at home in it? In what sense does art take part in the Left and emancipatory politics -- a practice also seeking to overcome the commodity-form -- if at all? By asking these questions, this panel seeks to reinvestigate art's relationship to the commodity form, and make intelligible how this problematic relationship still sticks with us today.

Discussion Questions:
1. How do you define the terms ‘art,’ and ‘commodity?’ In what ways does art in capitalist society differ from art in precapitalist society? How would you posit the relationship between art and the ‘commodity-structure’ of capitalism? Is art already a commodity from the start, or does it get ‘commodified’ only when integrated in the market? Are there ways that art can resist its commodification, and if so, how?

2. Acknowledging that the issue of art and commodity is not a new question, what troubles this discourse today? How has art’s relationship to the commodity-form changed over time, and what does it look like now? Do we understand the problem better than our predecessors, or are we in a worse mode of understanding?

3. If emancipatory politics is the objective, does overcoming capitalism necessarily follow the abolition of art’s status as a commodity? Do contemporary attempts in ‘dematerialized’ or ‘process-based’ art practices (e.g., social practice, pedagogical projects, or institutional critique) challenge the commodity status of the art object, and if so, how? Should art even seek emancipation from the commodity? In what sense does art take part in the Left and emancipatory politics -- a practice also seeking to overcome the commodity-form -- if at all? 4. How do you position yourself as cultural production within this dialogue? If this is a question about the work of arts’ mode of production in society, and opens up the question of class, then in what ways specifically does your work—or other contemporary art work—respond to class consciousness? What role does criticism or art play towards an emancipatory politics?

Speakers:
Ben Blumberg
Victoria Campbell
Chris Mansour