In October, the Platypus Review published it's fiftieth issue. In celebration of this landmark occasion, at the issue No. 50 release party held in New York City on November 15, 2012, an international video conference with the members of the current and past editorial staff of the Platypus Review was held, including speakers involved with the Platypus Review from New York City and Chicago, USA, London, UK, Thessaloniki, Greece, Maastricht, the Netherlands, Frankfurt, Germany, and Graz, Austria.
A panel event held at the New School in New York City on November 14th, 2012.
Transcribed in Platypus Review #56:
The present moment is arguably one of unprecedented confusion on the Left. The emergence of many new theoretical perspectives on Marxism, anarchism, and the left generally seem rather than signs of a newfound vitality, the intellectual reflux of its final disintegration in history. As for the politics that still bothers to describe itself as leftist today, it seems no great merit that it is largely disconnected from the academic left’s disputations over everything from imperialism to ecology. Perhaps nowhere are these symptoms more pronounced than around the subject of the economy. As Marxist economics has witnessed of late a flurry of recent works, many quite involved in their depth and complexity, recent activism around austerity, joblessness, and non-transparency while quite creative in some respects seems hesitant to oppose with anything but nostalgia for the past the status quo mantra, “There is no Alternative.” At a time when the United States has entered the most prolonged slump since the Great Depression, the European project founders on the shoals of debt and nationalism. If the once triumphant neoliberal project of free markets for free people seems utterly exhausted, the “strange non-death of neo-liberalism,” as a recent book title has it, seems poised to carry on indefinitely. The need for a Marxist politics adequate to the crisis is as great as such a politics is lacking.
And 2011 now seems to be fading into the past. In Greece today as elsewhere in Europe existing Left parties remain largely passive in the face of the crisis, eschewing radical solutions (if they even imagine such solutions to exist). In the United States, #Occupy has vanished from the parks and streets, leaving only bitter grumbling where there once seemed to be creativity and open-ended potential. In Britain, the 2011 London Riots, rather than political protest, was trumpeted as the shafted generation’s response to the crisis, overshadowing the police brutality that actually occasioned it. Finally, in the Arab world where, we are told the 2011 revolution is still afoot, it seems inconceivable that the revolution, even as it bears within it the hopes of millions, could alter the economic fate of any but a handful. While joblessness haunts billions worldwide, politicization of the issue seems chiefly the prerogative of the right. Meanwhile, the poor worldwide face relentless price rises in fuel and essential foodstuffs. The prospects for world revolution seem remote at best, even as bankers and fund managers seem to lament democracy’s failure in confronting the crisis. In this sense, it seems plausible to argue that there is no crisis at all, but simply the latest stage in an ongoing social regression. What does it mean to say that we face a crisis, after all, when there is no real prospect that anything particularly is likely to change, at least not for the better?
In this opaque historical moment, Platypus wants to raise some basic questions: Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Why do seemingly sophisticated leftist understandings of the world appear unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, can the world be thought intelligible without our capacity to self-consciously transform it through practice? Can Marxism survive as an economics or social theory without politics? Is there capitalism after socialism?
1. Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Is capitalism basically the same in its “laws of motion” and can it be grasped equally well today as it was by Marx? What difference, if any, does the collapse of the socialist workers movement make for our understanding of capitalism?
2. Why are sophisticated leftist understandings of the world seemingly unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, is the world intelligible despite our incapacity to transform it politically? Can the Left survive as an economics or social theory? Is our work more “difficult” today in theorizing capitalism, or of a completely different kind than it was for past generations of leftist intellectuals?
3. Many on the Left welcomed the #Occupy movement in 2011 because, above all, it responded to capitalist austerity in its slogans and characterized itself in class terms. Did #Occupy betoken a renewed salience of class? How did #Occupy and other movements worldwide differ from the political response — whether by the new social movements or other political expressions — to the crisis of Fordism beginning in the late 1960s and crystallizing with the Oil Crisis in 1973?
4. How does the present crisis compare with past crises of capital? What might we expect to be the duration of the present crisis? Is there an end in sight? Or are we witnessing the “terminal crisis” of capitalism? How do we know? If not the end of capitalism as such, does the present crisis at least signal an end to neoliberalism? If so, what will take its place?
5. How do your political views influence your understanding of capitalism and crisis? In what sense is economics as a science or discipline independent and autonomous from those politics? How do you avoid the danger of your theory from simply confirming your politics, rather than allowing our understanding of present circumstances to help push beyond our present political impasse?
6. At different moments of its unfolding the crisis has been differently expressed in different locations — a sub-prime mortgage crisis in North America, then a sovereign debt crisis in Europe, and now in a still different form in China. What is the extent of the present crisis and how has it been distributed globally? Unevenly? What does globalization look like in a period of prolonged crisis? Is the era of US hegemony at an end? If so, what will take its place? How is/was American imperialism connected to first Fordism and, later, post-Fordist capitalism and how does the new capitalism challenge a new American Empire-led global (re-)organization?
// Co-Editor at Insurgent Notes; ┇ Author (complete archive of writings available here): — Ubu Saved From Drowning: Class Struggle and Statist Containment in Portugal and Spain, 1974-1977 (2000), — “The Sky Is Always Darkest Just Before the Dawn: Class Struggle in the U.S. From the 2008 Crash to the Eve of Occupy” (2011), “Globalization of Capital, Globalization of Struggle” (2012)
// Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Grad Center; ┇ Author: — The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), — A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), — “Why the US Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail” (2008), — The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2011), — Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (2012)
// Professor of Economics at Pace University; ┇ Contributing author to the Marxist-Humanist Initiative’s (MHI’s) With Sober Senses since 2009; ┇ Author: — Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (2007), — The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession (2012)
// Teaches Philosophy at Adelphi University; ┇ Former editor of the International Journal of Political Economy (1987-2004), frequent contributor to The Brooklyn Rail ┇ Author: — Social Knowledge: An Essay on the Nature and Limits of Social Science (1986), — Art in Its Time: Theories and Practices of Modern Aesthetics (2003), — Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011)
A panel event held on November 14th, 2012, at Dalhousie University. The first iteration of our "Democracy and the Left" international panel series.
Matthew Furlong (Foundation Year and Contemporary Studies Programme, King’s University)
David Howard (Historical and Critical Studies, NSCAD University)
John Hutton (student activist, Dalhousie)
Clare O’Connor (Toronto activist and author)
From the financial crisis and the bank bail-outs to the question of “sovereign debt”; from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street; from the struggle for a unified European-wide policy to the elections in Greece and Egypt that seem to have threatened so much and promised so little — the need to go beyond mere “protest” has asserted itself: political revolution is in the air, again.
At the same time, the impending general election in the U.S. seems, by comparison, to be a non-event, despite potentially having far-reaching consequences for teeming issues word-wide. Today, the people — the demos — seem resigned to their political powerlessness, even as they rage against the corruption of politics. Hence, while contemporary demands for democracy to politicize the demos, they are also indicative of social and political regression that asks urgently for recognition and reflection. Demands for democracy “from below” end up being expressed “from above”: The 99%, in its already obscure and unorganized character, didn’t express itself as such in the various recent elections, but was split in various tendencies, many of them very reactionary.
Democracy retains an enigmatic character, since it always slips any fixed form and content, since people under the dynamic of capital keep demanding at times “more” democracy and “real” democracy. But democracy can be like Janus: it often expresses both the progressive social and emancipatory demands, but also their defeat, their hijacking by an elected “Bonaparte”.
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?
What are the potential futures for “democratic” revolution, especially as understood by the Left?
Questions for panelists to consider:
What would you consider as “real” democracy, as this has been a primary demand of recent spontaneous forms of discontent (e.g. Arab Spring, Occupy, anti-austerity protests, student strikes)?
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 got “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 favor 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 also 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?
How is democracy related with the issue of possibly overcoming capital?
Is there a difference between the ancient and the modern notion of democracy and, if so, what is the source of that difference? Does “real” democracy share more with the direct democracy of ancient polis?
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.”
A roundtable discussion organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society on October 18, 2012 at New York University.
A year, a month, and a day ago marked the official beginning of an ostensibly new, post-Obama phase of radical politics in America.
The longer prehistory of Occupy has been variously traced back to anti-austerity protests in Europe, the Arab Spring, and the London riots — with some of its roots stretching all the way to alter-globalization in the late 1990s. Occupy can be understood both in this broader context of radicalization going on throughout the world at the time and as a phenomenon in its own right.
Today Occupy stands at a crossroads. Our moment provides a brief vantage point from which one might reflect upon what the Occupy movement has been to date (its victories, its failures, its enduring impact), whether it still exists at present, and — if so so — what are the tasks that remain for it to fulfill moving forward?
A little over a month on from #S17, and only three weeks away from the US elections, we in the Platypus Affiliated Society thus ask our panelists to consider:
1. What kinds of social transformation has Occupy brought about? What kinds of social conflicts remain unresolved? Where has it triumphed, and where has it fallen short?
2. How, if at all, has Occupy changed your political outlook? Has it modified the kinds of goals you hope to achieve through your activism? And has your approach toward organizing a mass movement in order to achieve these goals shifted at all?
3. What sort of new political possibilities has Occupy opened up that beforehand seemed impossible? Conversely, is there anything once felt had been politically possible at Occupy's outset but now no longer feel is possible?
PLEASE NOTE: Due to technical difficulties, the last five minutes of this panel were not recorded on either audio or video. We apologize for the inconvenience.
The Platypus Affiliated Society
Lisa Montanarelli (Writers for the 99%, Platypus Affiliated Society) is an author and activist who participated in the occupation of Zuccotti Park and collaborated with more than 50 other writers and researchers on the book Occupying Wall Street. She has since become a member of Platypus.
Fritz Tucker (Occupier, journalist) is a native Brooklynite, writer, activist, theorist, and researcher of people's movements the world over, from the US to Nepal. Last year he authored the article "A Chill Descends on Occupy Wall Street: The Leaders of an Allegedly Leaderless Movement."
Victoria Sobel (Media & Finance working groups) is an activist and major organizer within the Occupy movement in New York, especially during its two months in Zuccotti Park.
Shyam Khanna (Strike Debt) is an organizer of Strike Debt, a prominent outgrowth of the Occupy movement.
David Haack (Occupy Your Workplace) is an underemployed artist an anticorporate activist who lives in New York City. He is also a leading organizer within the Occupy Your Workplace working group, and author of "How the Occupy movement won me over" (published in Britain's The Guardian) and "The New Left Zombie is Dead! Long Live Occupy!" (published in Platypus Review 45).
Victoria Campbell (Occupier, Pacifica's Occupy Wall Street Radio show on WBAI) is an artist and activist involved with Occupy Wall Street, also a host on Pacifica's Occupy Wall Street Radio show.
Panel held on March 31st, 2012 at the Fourth Annual Platypus International Convention, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hegel famously remarked that the task of philosophy was to "comprehend its own time in thought." In a sense, we can extend this as the raison d'etre for artistic production, albeit in a modified way: art's task is to "comprehend its own time in form." Yet only with the revolutionary rise of modernity can this dictum make sense. Beginning in the 18th Century, art sought to register and materialize the way in which social consciousness changed along side the developing material conditions of social life. Thus, in times of great social transformation, we also bear witness to major shifts in artistic production: The French Revolution and David, The Revolutions of 1848 and Courbet, and the Russian Revolution and Suprematism and Constructivism are three major examples.
This panel focuses on the relationship between social and aesthetic transformation. How do shifts in formal processes and approaches towards materiality speak to larger changes in the structures of social life? Is the focus on changes within art's form too confining of vision, and must art also concern itself with intervening into the political and social arena? Is art always reacting to, or tailing after social transformations, or can shifts in Culture prefigure such developments? -- In other words, can there be a cultural lag and a cultural leep? The panelists have been asked to address these questions among others in order to flesh out the uneven and at times obscure relationship that art has with a society that is constantly in flux.