One of the plenary sessions held at the third annual Platypus Affiliated Society international convention, hosted by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago between April 29–May 1, 2011, set about exploring the legacy of Trotsky’s Marxism.
Speakers Mike Macnair of the Communist Party of Great Britain, Bryan Palmer of Trent University, Richard Rubin of Platypus, and Jason Wright of the International Bolshevik Tendency were asked to consider:
“What is the relevance of Trotskyism for the Left today? On the one hand, there is a simple answer: The mantle of Trotskyism is claimed by many of today’s most prominent and numerous leftist parties in America and Europe (and beyond). The International Socialist Organization in America, the Socialist Workers Party in Britain, and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France all have their origins in Trotskyism. Evidently, the collapse of Stalinism in 1989 left Trotskyism’s bona fides, as anti-Stalinist Marxism, intact. On the other hand, Trotskyism has been infamously associated on the Left with sectarianism. Certainly, the ISO, SWP and NPA long ago made their peace in crucial ways with the politics of the post-Marxist New Left — a revisionism that their sectarian brethren (for instance, Trotskyism’s bête noire, the Spartacist League) have proudly and doggedly opposed. However, despite their differences, all varieties of Trotskyism today evince the conditions of the New Left’s ‘return to Marxism’ in the 1970s, for which the legacy of Trotsky provided one significant vehicle (the other being Maoism). For instance Trotsky’s biographer, Isaac Deutscher, strongly influenced the journal New Left Review. And yet there is something peculiar about this legacy. As one Platypus writer has suggested, Trotsky is as out of place in the post-World War II world as Voltaire or Rousseau would have been in the world after the French Revolution. Trotsky, unlike Trotskyism, exemplifies the classical Marxism of the early 20th century, and that tradition certainly died with him. Thus, before we can understand how Trotskyism’s legacy has influenced the Marxism of our time, we must first answer the question: What has Trotskyism made of Trotsky’s Marxism?”
Mike Macnair, Communist Party of Great Britain (Oxford Univ. St. Hugh College)
Bryan Palmer (Trent University)
Richard Rubin, Platypus
Jason Wright, representative of the International Bolshevik Tendency
Representative of the International Socialist Organization (Declined to attend)
Panel discussion at the 3rd annual Platypus Affiliated Society international convention, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, April 30, 2011.
How does the prominence of Alain Badiou's approach to communism today speak to the present historical moment and its emancipatory possibilities? Badiou has prioritized May 1968 in France and the contemporaneous Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China for his conception of communism and its potential future. As a former student of Louis Althusser and follower of Jacques Lacan, as well as a philosopher of mathematics, Badiou's work has emphasized a radical ontology of the "event" to describe revolutionary transformation. In describing the politics of communism, Badiou has traced its modern history to the Jacobin phase of the French Revolution, periodizing modern communism's two great "sequences" from 1792-1871 and 1917-76. How does Badiou's conception of communism relate to the history of Marxism in the 20th century, with its roots in the 19th century? How does Badiou's work address the problem of capital, in Marx's terms, or not, and what are the implications of Badiou's communism for anticapitalist politics, moving forward? What does Badiou's work say about the relation of Marxism and communism today?
Please note: The recording for this panel was started mid-way through Chris Cutrone's talk. The full text of Cutrone's is available online here.
Mike Macnair of the Communist Party of Great Britain introduces his party's politics and project to an audience at the Third Annual Platypus International Convention in Chicago in 2011.
Panel held as part of the third annual Platypus International Convention, on Saturday, April 30th, 2011, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
After its apparent exhaustion as a project of social transformation, Marxism seems to remain alive as a cultural and hermeneutic endeavor. Self-avowedly Marxist theorists -- Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere -- exert a heavy, if opaque, influence on the self-understanding and practice of contemporary art and inspire research programs in the humanities. Despite its radical appeal, "Marxist" theory may ultimately flatter the political and aesthetic claims of the present. Could investigation of of the now obscure historical Marxist cultural critique of Leon Trotsky, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin bring to recognition, and therein challenge the inadaquecies of the present? What opaque historical transformations does the difficulty of such work indicate? How might the long-abused concepts of autonomy, medium specificity, kitsch, avant garde -- form part of what Marx called the "ruthless critique of the present." What might the problems of aesthetics and culture have to do with the political project of the self-education of the Left?