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As a part of the 10th annual Platypus International Convention, we hosted a panel on the history of Platypus and its engagement with the Left. Held April 7th, 2018 at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. The discussion was moderated by Erin Hagood.

Speakers:

Ian Morrison (1st Phase: Anti-war Movement / Anti-Imperialism)
Spencer Leonard (2nd Phase: The "Marxist Turn" / IBT, CPGB Engagement)
Tom Carey (3rd Phase: #Occupy / Marxism and Anarchism)
Ed Remus (Protracted 4th Phase: Syriza, Podemos / What is Political Party for the Left?)
Omair H (4 ½ Phase: The "Socialist Turn" / Millennial Left)

Panel description:

Draining the swamp, psychoanalyst of the Left, and training the next generation of revolutionaries, are all more or less problematic formulations which we have used to describe what motivates the Platypus project. That given, these formulations all betray a peculiar attachment to that which Platypus wishes to forget: the dead Left. Perhaps they express a secret and difficult desire: that the object of critique might also be saved from the swamp, be receptive to the analysis, or indeed might learn better from our pedagogy. And yet we admit that this will not be the case.

The task of this panel is not so much to inoculate such formulations, rather it aims to dissect them, to observe the motivations of our activity within Platypus, especially where we encounter the greatest difficulty for reflection—that is, when we mean to regard our activity as Platypus itself. With these thoughts in mind, we propose to ask ourselves: Who is Platypus for? How do we assess our progress—as a membership? as an organization? How do we identify our audience?—and how do we become a Platypus for them?

The history of the Platypus Critique begins with a judgment issued on the dead-end course of the 20th century, indeed on the situation arrived at by all history preceding: that the Left has lived and died; that the ‘progress of freedom’ continues to exhaust itself in chimerical forms—a Platypus among others. But this judgment was not passed in condemnation, with the same breath it cried also: Long Live the Left! The very unnaturalness of the historical chimera, it was thought, might mask—and hence disclose—the purpose of its true nature. At least for those still learning how to look upon its monstrous features, illumined by the thought that “the new does not add itself to the old but remains the old in distress, in its hour of need...”

But today, this problematic has itself matured. We have now a ‘first decade’ of the Platypus Critique—this has consequences for the continuing possibility of such a critique. Today, perhaps, the swamp of the dead Left drains itself—in fact, this was already the case even before the first moments of the Platypus Critique. We must admit: our glance is retrospective, our pronouncements made post-festum. But they, like capital, accumulate. It is left for us to reason through this process, and so reflect on our reflection of the past which is the present.

Held on April 6th at the University of Chicago, as part of the 2018 international convention of the Platypus Affiliated Society.

Description:

The financial crash in 2008 caused a crisis for the neoliberal order which has dominated Europe since the 1970s. Initially people put their hopes in neoliberalism, to rectify the situation, by trying to replace one neoliberal party with another but it became increasingly clear that the crisis was terminal. As a result they turned increasingly towards non-neoliberal parties, mostly on the right. Why this turn to the right? Why are people's concerns and needs apparently better met by the right than the left? What does this mean for the left?

Panelists:

Pam Nogales (Berlin, Germany)
Rory Hannigan (London, U.K.)
Jan Schroeder (Vienna, Austria)
David Mountain (London, U.K.)
Dom Jones (London, U.K.)
Clint Montgomery (Leipzig, Germany)
Padraig Macguire (London, U.K.)

Held at the University of Chicago on April 6, 2018 as part of the 10th annual international convention of the Platypus Affiliated Society.

An edited transcript of the event was published in The Platypus Review.

Speakers:

Abdul Alkalimat (Professor of African-American Studies at UIC; author of Malcolm X for Beginners)
Mitchell Cohen (Author of An American in Revolutionary Nicaragua and Listen, Bookchin!)
Johnny Mercer (Socialist Party of Great Britain)
Joseph Estes (Platypus Affiliated Society)

Description:

For half a century, 1968 has represented a high-water mark of social and political transformation, a year of social upheaval that spanned the entire globe. Ushered in by a New Left that sought to distinguish itself from the Old Left that emerged in the 20s and 30s, the monumental events of 1968 set the tone for everything from protest politics to academic leftism.

Today, with the U.S. entangled in a seemingly endless war in Asia and people calling for the impeachment of an unpopular president, with activists fighting in the streets and calling for liberation along the lines of race, gender, and sexuality, the Left’s every attempt to discover new methods and new ideas seems to invoke a memory of the political horizons of 1968. We can perhaps more than ever feel the urgency of the question: what lessons are to be drawn from the New Left as another generation undertakes the project of building a Left for the 21st century?

Held April 8, 2017 at SAIC as part of the 9th annual Platypus International Convention.

Panelists:

Chris Cutrone (School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Platypus)
Leo Panitch (York University; editor of
Socialist Register)
Bryan Palmer (Trent University, author of
Marxism and Historical Practice)

Description:

The First World War manifested an economic, social and political crisis of global capitalism, – “imperialism” – which sparked reflection in the mass parties of the Second International on the task of socialist politics. The revisionist dispute, the “crisis of Marxism” in which Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky first cut their teeth, shaped their understanding of the unfolding revolution as a necessary expression of self-contradiction within the movement for socialism. Even the most revolutionary party produced its own conservatism, hence the need for self-conscious, revolutionary leadership to avoid “tailing” the movement. 

Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky thought that leadership adequate to the revolution of 1917 required historical consciousness. They drew upon Marx’s appraisal of the democratic revolutions of 1848, in which Marx identified the historical contradiction which had developed in bourgeois society and necessitated the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Bolsheviks maintained that a "bourgeois-democratic" revolution could spark a workers' socialist revolution in Europe, subsequently allowing for a struggle for socialism. Lenin held that political forms such as “the state” and “the party” must be transformed in and through revolution. Yet the meaning of 1917 was already contentious in 1924, as Trotsky recognized in his pamphlet, Lessons of October. Trotsky would spend the rest of his life fighting “over the heads of the leaders of the Second and Third International[s]” to maintain socialist consciousness.

Whether in the Popular Fronts of the 1930’s, the Chinese Communists in 1949, or the New Left of the 1960’s, the Left sought to understand itself – both positively and negatively – in relation to the aims and outcomes of 1917. The historical consciousness of its primary actors disintegrated into various oppositions: Lenin the Machiavellian versus Luxemburg the democratic Cassandra; socialism versus liberalism; authoritarianism versus libertarianism. Meanwhile, the futility of the politics shared by Lenin and Luxemburg has been naturalized. It is tacitly accepted that what Lenin and Luxemburg jointly aspired to achieve, if not already impossible a century ago, is certainly impossible today. The premises of the revolution itself have been cast in doubt.

Questions for the panelists:

  1. What were the aims of the 1917 Russian Revolution?
  2. What was the self-understanding of its Marxist leadership?
  3. How has the memory of 1917 changed in the course of the 20th century?
  4. Why does the legacy of 1917 appear arrayed in oppositions?
  5. Are we still tasked by the memory of 1917 today, and if so how?
  6. In what way, if any, does the present moment present a new opportunity to reassess 1917 and the self-understanding of Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky?

A workshop on the Against Equality collective by Yasmin Nair, at the 9th annual Platypus International Convention. Moderated by Nunzia Faes.

Yasmin Nair: Writer, Activist, Academic Editor at Large for Current Affairs, Freelance writer and reviewer for: Baffler, Verso, Vox, Current Affairs, Alternet, In These Times, Daily Dot, Monthly Review, Electronic Intifada, Windy City Times, and others.