The first of an upcoming panel series, to subsequently be held internationally in Halifax, Chicago, London, and Toronto in Fall 2013.
A moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A with thinkers, activists and political figures focused on contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class. Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society at Rethinking Marxism 2013.
Room 101, Campus Center, UMass Amherst
Stanley Aronowitz (Graduate Center of the City University of New York)
Robert Pollin (Political Economy Research Institute and University of Massachusetts, Amherst)
Jason Wright (International Bolshevik Tendency)
"Capital is not a book about politics, and not even a book about labour: it is a book about unemployment." - Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One
"...the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all." - Joan Robinson
"The error consists in believing that labor, by which I mean heteronomous, salaried labor, can and must remain the essential matter. It's just not so. According to American projections, within twenty years labor time will be less than half that of leisure time. I see the task of the left as directing and promoting this process of abolition of labor in a way that will not result in a mass of unemployed on one side, and aristocracy of labor on the other and between them a proletariat which carries out the most distasteful jobs for forty-five hours a week. Instead, let everyone work much less for his salary and thus be free to act in a much more autonomous manner...Today "communism" is a real possibility and even a realistic proposition, for the abolition of salaried labor through automation saps both capitalist logic and the market economy." - Andre Gorz
It is generally assumed 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 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. It is hoped 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.
1. How do you characterize work and employment as a political issue in contemporary society? What is wrong with unemployment? And/or what is wrong with work?
2. A distinction is often drawn between "work" as purposeful human activity (presumably existing before and after capitalism), on the one hand, and "work" in the sense of labor in capitalism, where the worker undertakes purposeful activity for money under threat of material scarcity (typically in the form of wage labor), on the other hand. Is this distinction politically relevant when thinking about work? In a free society, would work manifest in one or both senses?
3. If the widely observable phenomenon of overwork and unemployment is a necessary feature of capitalist society, why and how is this so? What kinds of social necessity, in the present organization of the world, do you take to be underlying this phenomenon? Then, given your understanding of the nature of this necessity, what would it mean to radically transform it?
4. In the history of the Left, what examples do you regard as informing your attitude towards the politics of work and unemployment today, and what is relevant about these touchpoints?
5. Historically, the left has sought to remedy the problems of overwork and unemployment, through various means: full employment; a guaranteed minimum income regardless of employment; and/or shorter working hours for those employed. Which of these, if any, do you consider to be adequate responses, and how, if at all, should the Left pursue them?
6. If the abolition of wage labor should indeed be a goal of emancipatory politics, what forms of politics or concrete demands should be pursued to attain this goal? How do we get from "here" to "there"?
7. Given the breadth of issues and struggles pursued by the Left historically and today--race and racism, gender equality, environmental concerns, globalization, militarism, etc--what is the relationship between the politics of work and the broader project of social emancipation? Exactly how central or peripheral is the politics of work to social emancipation as such?
8. Where do you find the most promising attempts by the Left to address the issue of work and unemployment, today? What makes this contemporary work relevant and propitious?
9. What role, if any, do you assign to political organization, such as an actual or potential political party, in working to progressively transform contemporary relations of work and unemployment? What should be the relationship between any such organization and the working class?
10. A century ago, these questions were consciously taken up by a politically constituted workers movement in which socialists and Marxists participated. Today, discussions of this topic risk becoming utopian in the a-political sense. How, if at all, has the decline of workers movements and the death of the Left circumscribed our ability to engage the politics of work in the present?
A panel discussion organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society, held on June 13, 2013, at the Labour Center of Thessaloniki in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Recently, following a steady pace, a new series of social struggles has emerged in Greece: struggles based on direct democracy and horizontal organizational forms. These struggles share an aversion to the traditional left politics, while on the same time they are considered as social movements opposing state administration and neoliberalism. Square occupations, local assemblies, cooperatives against the privatization of the water, producers-consumers movements, factories occupation under workers control have come to light while the crisis is going deeper. Even if these struggles affect only a handful of the "victims" of the crisis, those involved in them want to fulfill their needs and at the same time overcome old forms of politics by creating new ones. Have new types of struggles really appeared? If yes, is it desirable to replace the previous ones? Do these struggles have an anticapitalistic content? How people involved imagine the escalation and continuation of these struggles? How is the Left related to and influence them? Can solidarity fill in the gap between politics "from above" and politics "from below"?
1) Kostas Nikolaou, member of PROSKALO (initiative for social and solidarity economy) and of Initiative 136 (union of Non-Profit Water Cooperatives of the Municipalities of the Thessaloniki: http://www.136.gr/article/citizens-bid-control-thessalonikis-water).
2) Christos Manoukas, member of KEHA (movement for workers' emancipation and self-management) and of solidarity committee of Vio.Me. factory.
3) Dimitris, worker of Vio.Me. self-managed factory (http://www.viome.org/)
4) Iraklis Christoforidis, member of OKDE (greek section of the 4th International, http://www.okde.gr/)
1) Which is the role, in your opinion, of the political organizations in relation to social struggles? Is there a difference between political and social struggles according to their conception and the way they are being conducted?
2) Is the politicization of these struggles a desirable goal? How can this goal be achieved?
3) How do you conceive solidarity as a political goal for social initiatives? Is solidarity always radical or can it be conservative as well? Is there a "tension" between solidarity and critical political consciousness?
4) Some social struggles, especially under tough economic and social circumstances, may express the interests of a group of people at the expense of general social interests. How can this relationship between the part and the whole be expressed in a fertile way? What does it mean to characterize a struggle with limited participation as radical?
5) Do the social struggles that have emerged share a new form and a new content? Do these struggles continue past struggles in Greece or abroad? Are they part of a broader national or international movement, and if yes, which is it?
6) Can there be a common basis on which all these struggles be united and radicalized? If yes, how can this common basis be combined with the obvious local characteristics of the struggles? Is there an antagonistic relationship between local and broader scale of the struggles?
7) Who is the real enemy of these struggles? Do they have explicitly or implicitly anticapitalistic goal? How can these goals be achieved in a local or a national level in the midst of an international economy?
8) Do these struggles have a prefigurative character (do they partly substantiate some of the aspects of a free future society)? Is this character compatible with the necessity for fulfilling the basic needs of those involved in social struggles?
9) Do the alternative economic initiatives wish to compete and replace the existing dominant economy (with its massive industrial and technological forms or financial forms etc.)? Is this a conscious choice of departing from past movement whose ambition was to socialize the existing economy?
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):
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?
Eine Veranstaltung der Platypus Affiliated Society Deutschland. Mit freundlicher Unterstützung der Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung.
Mittwoch, 5. Juni
Festsaal, Studierendenhaus (über KOZ)
Frankfurt am Main
Mit der Einführung des Euro im Jahr 2002 als gemeinsamer Währung der Europäischen Union und dem damit einhergehenden Integrationsprozess der EU wurde eine weitgehende politische Stabilisierung Europas angestrebt. Gleichzeitig wurde durch den Euro jedoch auch eine Freihandelszone geschaffen, von der in erster Linie die starke Exportwirtschaft Deutschlands profitierte. Besonders seit der Einführung der Hartz-Reformen unter Gerhard Schröder und der extremen Ausweitung des Niedriglohnsektors auf dem deutschen Arbeitsmarkt begannen strukturell schwächere Ökonomien wie Griechenland, Spanien und Italien, aber auch Frankreich und Belgien, zu stagnieren oder drifteten gar in eine große Rezession ab. Aus dieser Perspektive betrachtet, hatte der Prozess der Europäischen Integration einen gegenteiligen Effekt als ursprünglich intendiert: Unter der gegenwärtigen Wirtschaftskrise hat es den Anschein, als ob Europa zerfällt, und in vielen Ländern befinden sich nationalistische Separationsbewegungen im Aufwind, wie in Norditalien, Flandern oder im Elsass.
Die Krise drückt sich also nicht nur in einem ökonomischen, sondern auch in einem politischen Zerfallsprozess aus: Statt einer transnationalen europäischen Föderation kehrt in Europa das alte Gespenst des Nationalismus wieder ein. Daneben fühlen sich viele Menschen innerhalb der EU ohnmächtig und entmündigt in Anbetracht der Entdemokratisierung im Zuge der Austeritätspolitik. Dies geht einher mit einem Vertrauensverlust in klassische politische Institutionen wie Parteien und Parlamente. Selbst der Erfolg von SYRIZA in Griechenland lässt sich nicht erklären ohne Berücksichtigung der sozialen Bewegungen, die der Partei starken Aufwind verschafften. Auch in anderen Ländern der EU drückt sich der Protest gegen die sog. „Troika“ im Erstarken außerparlamentarischer Bewegungen aus, wie der „Indignados“ in Spanien oder „Blockupy“ in Deutschland.
Laut Eigendarstellung von „Blockupy“ ist es Ziel des Bündnisses, „gegen das autoritäre Krisenmanagement und die Troika-Politik Widerstand zu leisten, um die demokratischen und sozialen Rechte der Beschäftigten, Prekarisierten und Erwerbslosen in Europa zu verteidigen.“ Doch wogegen genau richtet sich dieser Widerstand? Gegen ökonomische Institutionen wie die Europäische Zentralbank und den Internationalen Währungsfond? Oder gegen die neoliberale Ideologie als solche? In welche Richtung weist so ein Widerstand? Zurück zum Wohlfahrtsstaatsmodell des Fordismus? Oder können die Proteste gar der Beginn einer neuen anti-kapitalistischen Ausrichtung der europäischen Linken bedeuten? Wäre die EU dabei als transnationale Föderation erhaltenswert oder gehört sie abgeschafft? Was würde an ihre Stelle treten? Wie würde ein demokratisches Europa aussehen und welche Verantwortung kommt dabei Parteien und Parlamenten zu? Wie also sieht die Zukunft linker Politik in Europa aus? Welche Möglichkeiten auf Erfolg bestehen für die neuen Protestbewegungen? Und wie würde ein solcher Erfolg überhaupt definiert werden?
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.
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.