On June 30, 2019 at the Left Forum at Long Island University Brooklyn in New York City, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel titled "Beyond Sect or Movement: What is a Political Center?"
In his 1973 essay, "Anatomy of the Micro-Sect," Hal Draper gives a definition of a party as opposed to a ‘movement’ or the ‘sects’ that seemed to dominate the Left of his time:
A sect presents itself as the embodiment of the socialist movement, though it is a membership organization whose boundary is set more or less rigidly by the points in its political program rather than by its relation to the social struggle. In contrast, a working-class party is not simply an electoral organization but rather, whether electorally engaged or not, an organization which really is the political arm of decisive sectors of the working class, which politically reflects (or refracts) the working class in motion as it is. A “socialist movement” sums up the mass manifestations of a socialist working class in various fields, not only the political, usually around a mass socialist party.”
Against both the “sect” and merely building a “movement,” Draper argues for the formation of a “political center,” which would be different from a unification of sects, as a first step towards the goal of building a socialist party. How is our present moment similar to or different from that of Draper? What is a socialist party and what are the greatest obstacles today to its realization and how can those obstacles be met? Hal Draper was deeply influenced by his study of Marx and Marxism when he wrote this essay. What can we learn from Hal Draper’s Marxism today?
Spencer A. Leonard - Platypus Affiliated Society
Jim Creegan - ex-SDS, ex-International Bolshevik Tendency, ex-Spartacist League
Michael Hirsch - New Politics Magazine, Portside News Service, DSA
A panel discussion held at Oregon State University on April 25, 2019. The discussion was moderated by Andony Melathopoulos.
Reform, Revolution, Resistance - how do these relate for the Left historically, what do these terms mean today, and how can they help us understand the obstacles and opportunities for building a Left adequate to the 21st Century?
For example, what might we make of recent phenomena such as Bernie Sanders call for "political revolution" leading up to the 2016 primaries, Hillary Clinton (post-2016) lending her support to the "resistance" against Trump and the current moment when avowed socialists in the Democratic Party are calling for reforms, most prominently a Green New Deal?
Also, how are these phenomenon related or distinct to other political actors who claim to also be fighting "the establishment", from Trump in the US to the Gilles Jaune (yellow vest) on the streets in France.
Against this backdrop, there appears to be the legacy of the 20th Century, namely the the mid-century welfare reforms in industrialized countries, the rolling back of these reforms under neoliberalism (beginning in the 1980s) and the resistance to neoliberal austerity (e.g., the alter-globalization movement in the 1990s and more recently after the downturn of 2008). In contrast, the legacy of revolution appears obscure, as exemplified by the muted response to the 100th Anniversary of the defeat of the German Revolution (1919).
We ask panelists to look forward and backwards in order to understand what revolution, reform and resistance mean for their politics today, the extent to which the past bears on the present and what how their understanding of these categories factor into how they view the future.
Held April 19, 2019 at the University of Houston.
Bernard Sampson (CPUSA)
Ryan Booker (Socialist Alternative)
Duy Nguyen (Assistant Professor of World Cultures and Literatures, UH)
Danny Jacobs (Platypus Affiliated Society, Houston)
“The conquest of the governmental power by an hitherto oppressed class, in other words, a political revolution, is accordingly the essential characteristic of social revolution in this narrow sense, in contrast with social reform.” - Karl Kautsky, member of the First Marxist International (“On the Social Revolution”, 1902)
In 1918, a revolutionary moment gave rise to an opportunity for seizure of state power in Germany. This task was put on the table for a divided German Left that sought to bring about in political form the change that the masses were already demanding in practice. This posed the question of leadership directly—what does it mean to take power? What would revolution in a highly industrialized country entail, especially in relation to the Russian experience that polarized the German Left, and how might the Left of today be a legacy of such an unresolved moment in Left-centric history?
How can we politically understand the relationship between reformism, reformists, and opportunism, alongside the ideas of Revolution: when we think of Russia 1917, Germany 1918, and the failed world socialist revolution on our present? How does the history of the German Revolution inform the 20th century and today about what is considered a ‘social’ revolution and what is considered a ‘political’ revolution?
Held at the University of Sheffield on April 12, 2019.
From Brexit and the French yellow-vests to the AfD in Germany, the present centre of political attention is the crisis being expressed through democratic politics both within the nation-state and at the level of the EU. How should the Left understand and relate to this crisis? More broadly speaking, what is the history informing the demands for greater democracy today, and how does the Left adequately promote - or not - the cause of popular empowerment?
Anton Jäger (PhD History student, University of Cambridge)
Patrick Finan (Alliance for Workers' Liberty)
Isaac Stovell (Independent researcher, activist, ecclesial ecologist)
Moderated by Rory Hannigan
Questions for panelists:
- What is the relationship between democracy and the working class today? Do you consider historical struggles for democracy by workers as the medium by which they were “assimilated” to the system, or the only path to emancipation that they couldn’t avoid trying to take?
- Do you consider it as necessary to eschew established forms of mass politics in favour of new forms in order to build a democratic movement? Or are current mass form of politics adequate for a democratic society?
- Why has democracy emerged as the primary demand of spontaneous forms of discontent? Do you consider it necessary, or adequate, to deal with the pathologies of our era?
- Engels wrote that “a revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is”. Do you agree? Can this conception be compatible with the struggle for democracy?
- Is democracy oppressive, or can it be such? How would you judge Lenin’s formulation that: “…democracy is also a state and that, consequently, democracy will also disappear when the state disappears”?
Held at Columbia University on April 11, 2019. The discussion was moderated by Erin Hagood.
- Dan Driscoll, Direct Outreach Coordinator for Columbia’s Housing Equity Project
- Andy Gittlitz, writer for the New Inquiry and the New York Times
- Jennifer Wenzel, Associate Professor in English and Comparative Literature, and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies, at Columbia University
- Frederico of the Revolution Club