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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):

theprweb1-91

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

A moderated panel discussion hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society held on Friday, May 24, 2013 at the Eyelevel Gallery in Halifax.

In conjunction with the Annual Y-Level Exhibition ("And all sat mute")

Please Note: Due to technical problems, the ending of the event for both audio and video is cut off.

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.

Panelists:
Merray Gerges
Jocelyn Li
Jakub Milčák
Beck Gilmer-Osborne

[vimeo https://vimeo.com/64377736]

A panel event held at New York University on April 18th, 2013.

Transcripted in Platypus Review #57 (Click on banner to see):
theprweb1 (16)

Recently, a series of exchanges between the Communist Party of Great Britain (PCC), the International Bolshevik Tendency, and the Platypus Affiliated Society has unfolded, mapping a field of positions and historical perspectives whose contours trace some of the most provocative contemporary perspectives on Marxism, socialism, and democracy.

With this public forum speakers will take stock of the points of convergence and divergence that have emerged in order to push the conversation further on key issues such as Left unity, neo-Kautskyism, factionalism, Trotskyism, sectarianism, Leninism and Bolshevism, democratic organization and political program. The event will feature:

James Turley (CPGB)
Bhaskar Sunkara (Jacobin)
Benjamin Blumberg (Platypus)

Please see the link below for a helpful compilation of debates between the Communist Party of Great Britain (PCC), the International Bolshevik Tendency, and the Platypus Affiliated Society.

The full compilation may be found here.

A panel event held on March 12th, 2013 at King's College in Hailfax, Canada

Panelists:
Gary Burrill (Member of the Legislative Assembly for Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley, Nova Scotia New Democratic Party)
Arthur McCalla (Religious Studies, Mount Saint Vincent University)
Katie Toth (Layperson, United Church of Canada)
Antoni Wysocki (STAND)

Description:
Religion necessarily appears to the left today as a question of for or against. But "religion" and "the left" are by no means transhistorical categories. A massive historical divide separates the Abbe Sieyes's conflict with Pope Pius VI from invading Soviet and American armies' conflict with the Afghan mujahideen.

At the beginning of the 20th century, socialist politics served as the church of the working class. It was not merely secular but secularist. Yet, as working class politics unfolded in defeat and betrayal over the course of the 20th century, the left seemed to drift inexorably to the right. This rightward drift was mirrored in religion, and this seemed to render plausible the antipathies of left-secularists such as Christopher Hitchens. Yet during this same period, ostensibly progressive religious movements gained ground by capturing the socially conscious impulses generated in the absence of working class politics. Religion seemed to claim a monopoly on the ideology of peace and social justice. Increasingly, under neoliberal reforms, religion even came to monopolize the provision of social welfare. The left, seemingly overcoming its "theophobia," found itself going to church in hopes of organizing the working class, dropping its erstwhile secularism in the process.

How the left might overcome its current impasses is anybody's guess. An approach towards genuinely reform-minded religionists would seem to offer a means of winning adherents to radical politics without ceding any ground that wasn't already lost to the left decades ago. But while the Left may be bankrupt, religion isn't going out of business any time soon. One is tempted to wonder if the player is not in fact being played.

Questions:
1) Today, some of the most active organizations working with socially-concerned student activists are religious organizations. What does this phenomenon-- community activism, under religion-inflected banners, as ostensible leftism-- say about the current state and future tasks of the political left?

2) The political (and personal) liquidation of the secular left in many parts of the third world during the terminal decades of the cold war occurred alongside the gradual shifting of responsibility for social welfare provision from the state to organizations within civil society, often religious, in the first world. Have these global shifts demanded something new from the left vis a vis religion, and if so, what? If not, why not? More generally, is there a relationship between the death of the left and the revitalization of religion?

3) The Polish revolutionary Marxist, Rosa Luxemburg, stated that socialism would 'complete' Christianity. Does this complicate the traditional Marxist antipathy to religion?

4) To what degree can or should (or must) the left, today, cede organizational ground to religion? How ought those on the left distinguish between tactical cooperation and tailism vis-a-vis religion?

5) Is capitalist society generative of religious organization as a mass phenomenon in the same way that it is generative of left-political organization as a (once-) mass phenomenon? More broadly, what implications for the left follow from your understanding of religion as a mass social phenomenon within capitalism?

6) Early in his career Karl Marx critiqued the secularism of Young Hegelian thinkers for failing to grasp the social and political dimensions of theological questions. One gets a sense of coming full circle; that political questions on the Left today are increasingly explained in theological terms. What do you make of the recent claims by Communist and Marxist thinkers, for example Alain Badiou or Terry Eagleton, in locating the first examples of universalism in the Apostles? Alternately, what of their atheist interlocutors like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, who seem preoccupied with picking through the inconsistencies of religion and make no attempt to understand why so many people are religious? What are the political stakes of these developments? How do you account for the seeming inability of the Left do what seemed possible for Marx, namely to locate the political dimensions of religion and overcome them?