Held April 8th, 2017 at SAIC as part of the 9th annual Platypus international convention.
Bill Pelz (Director of the Institute of Working-Class History)
Djamil Arbia (Protagma)
Brit Schulte (Support Ho(s)e, Slutwalk Chicago)
The bourgeois revolutions strove to subordinate the power of the state to the interests of civil society. Yet the revolutions of 1848 disappointed, resulting in the recrudescence of the state, which rose above society to maintain “order.” Revolutionaries were divided over how to respond. Could the state serve as a means of emancipation? Or was it a force of counter-revolution that had to be smashed? For Marx, the capitalist or “Bonapartist” state had to be smashed, but this could only be accomplished by constituting a new state power, a “dictatorship of the proletariat”, that could realize the emancipatory potential unleashed by capitalism. Instead of either accepting or rejecting it, the proletariat had to render the function of the Bonapartist state self-critical.
In his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx warned his followers against regressing to the Lassallean affirmation of the state. Such capitulation was an ever-present risk, tempting the workers to support the political reconstitution of capitalism through state power, rather than the overcoming of both capitalism and the state through social revolution.
After World War I, organized labor was increasingly integrated into the state. In supporting the New Deal, Communists deferred to capitalist state welfare, downplaying the goal of revolution. In 1935 the National Labor Relations Act, in aiming to protect the rights of workers, subordinated organized labor to the state, which had to balance these rights against the "interest of the public in the free flow of commerce." As the AFL and CIO became core constituencies of the Democratic party, the class struggle was repudiated, in favor of a partnership of Labor and Capital brokered by the state.
While the New Left initially reacted against this parochial arrangement, the 70s witnessed a turn toward militant labor organizing, particularly in the public sector. However, this "grassroots upsurge" coincided with the decline of the welfare state and the rise of neoliberalism, whose champions—Democrat as well as Republican—used state power to launch an assault on the labor movement.
How does the State function today? How is it the product of a history of Leftist struggles? Is there a way in which workers in the “Era of Trump” are able make sense of and redeem Labor's history with the State, to develop, as Marxists contend, a dialectical, rather than affirmative or negative relation to the State?
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Held April 8th, 2017 at the 9th Annual International Convention of the Platypus Affiliated Society in Chicago.
Erek Slater (International Marxist Humanist Organization; Amalgamated Transit Union Local 241)
Yasmin Nair (Against Equality; Freelance journalist)
Mel Rothenberg (Chicago Political Economy Group)
Leo Panitch (York University)
In her seminal 1900 pamphlet, Reform or Revolution?, Rosa Luxemburg
stated that if the socialist movement lost sight of its final goal,
there would be nothing to distinguish it from liberal politics. Yet she
also claimed that the desiderata of liberalism could only be fulfilled
through the struggle for socialism. Though still widely read,
Luxemburg’s critique has only grown more enigmatic as the relationship
of these two competing ideologies blurred in the 20th century.
The 1930’s Popular Front alliance of Communist Parties and liberals,
initially conceived as a temporary strategy to defeat Fascism, proved to
be a lasting reformist coalition. Socialism regressed from a politics
of social revolution to a seemingly more radical version of the liberal
protest against exploitation and oppression. When the working-class and
its trade-union leadership began to lose their radical veneer, the
1960’s New Left sought new revolutionary subjects in the social
movements coalescing around race, gender, and sexuality, seemed to offer
a radicalism surpassing the liberal-labor alliance of the time. Yet
the 70’s saw the integration of the New Left into the political
establishment by way of the Democratic Party, paralleling the fate of
the Communists. Now, liberals champion the new social movements, to
which socialists ostensibly oppose a “class-first” perspective.
In the recent election, Clinton represented the neoliberal
establishment which opposed identity politics to the “working class”
concerns voiced by Sanders. For Clinton supporters, the Sandernistas
were “Brocialists” who reduced the problems of society to economics,
neglecting other forms of oppression.
How do both camps fall short of the fulfillment of all liberal
desiderata? What would it take for a Left to define itself beyond
liberal politics? In what ways is the contemporary Left’s relation to
the Democratic Party a legacy of previous capitulations to liberalism?
How has the lack of a self-conscious Left opened the way for regressive
movements to fill the void of emancipatory politics? How can the Left
oppose the establishment parties without simply replacing them?
A pre-convention panel put on Thursday, April 6, 2017 at UIC, from 6-8 pm. Moderated by Gregor Baszak.
Catherine Liu (University of California, Irvine)
Pam Nogales (PhD. Candidate of American History, NYU; Platypus)
Danny Jacobs (PhD. Candidate of Economics, University of Houston; Platypus)
Dan Rudin (PhD. Candidate of Journalism and Media Studies, UCSC; Platypus)
Reid Kotlas (Socialist Party USA; Platypus)
Leftists today lament the strength of neoliberal hegemony. The use of “hegemony” underlines the ideological dimension of the neoliberal order; it suggests that mass ideological legitimacy — and not the triumph of pure force or of back-door machinations — has made neoliberalism politically possible. What were the ideological shifts in political and social consciousness that provided the grounds for neoliberal hegemony? What role did the Left play in this historical transformation of mass consciousness?
Freedom, the rallying cry of socialism, has now served for decades as the stated ideology of the upward redistribution of wealth. These past decades have seen stagnating wages and a widening income disparity—although women, LGBT people, people of color, and others who once faced legally enforced, identity-based social exclusion now appear to be more “free” than they were during the pre-neoliberal period of high Fordism. These two aspects of neoliberalism, its identitarian inclusiveness and its anti-working class agenda, appear to go hand-in-hand. Despite the dubious, partial success of the politics of the New Left, we are probably as far as ever from the goal of global socialism.
In light of this history, how can we imagine a future for the Left, especially in the Age of Trump? How could the Left move beyond organizing the expression of frustrated expectations within neoliberalism — beyond organizing the left wing of neoliberalism itself — to generate the kind of theory and practice required to politically overcome capitalism? And are we already in the process of overcoming neoliberalism in the wake of Trump’s recent political mandate for change? Has the Left become the agent of the status quo, seeking to preserve neoliberalism from uncertain changes that the Trump phenomenon implies?
Held at the University of Illinois, Chicago, on April 7, 2017 as part of the 9th annual Platypus international conference. The discussion was moderated by Reid Kotlas.
Catherine Liu (University of California, Irvine; Author of American Idyll: Academic Antielitism as Cultural Critique)
Chris Cutrone (School of the Art Institute; Platypus)
Gregory Lucero (Socialist Party USA; Revolutionary Chicago)
The long anticipated outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election—the coronation of Hillary Clinton—was dramatically derailed by the twin “populist” insurgencies of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Many on the Left hoped the Sanders campaign would either transform the Democratic Party, replacing the neoliberalism of the Clintons with a commitment to social democracy, or form a new left-wing party. Yet Sanders supported Clinton in the end, and the Democrats relied upon their McGovernite coalition of minorities, women, and organized labor constituencies in the general election.
Trump, on the other hand, was a challenge to the Republican status quo, breaking with Reagan coalition orthodoxies while appealing to working class voters who had supported Obama and might have supported Sanders. While Sanders appealed to the broad discontent with established political leadership and the social decline over which it presided, only Trump managed to capture the potential this presented.
Far from opposing capitalism, Sanders sought a retreat from neoliberalism into New Deal-style reforms, while Trump campaigned on a vision of capitalism beyond both Roosevelt and Reagan, proposing to lead the capitalist class for the benefit of the workers. Trump treats capitalism as a political question which, while posed at the level of the state, can only be resolved in and through civil society. Capitalism, for Trump, can solve its own problems, so long as the workers are politically represented. Trump demonstrates that capitalism remains a palpable political problem, while failing to point beyond it. The 20th century began with the crisis of Marxism, whose political task of overcoming capitalism was subsequently never realized. Is Marxism necessary, and able, to show the way forward?
Questions for the panelists:
- What can the Left do to advance the struggle for socialism under such circumstances?
- Does the re-emergence of politics, along with decline of both “parties of the ruling class” present an opening for Marxism in the “Age of Trump” to pursue anew a course towards party politics?
- Why has Trump incited such hysteria on the Left? How do we make sense of this phenomenon?
- What would it mean to oppose Trump from the Left?
Discussion on the crisis of neoliberalism and the state of the Left in the EU, held April 7, 2017 as part of the 9th annual Platypus international conference.
A united and peaceful Europe seemed to be a distant dream for a generation which went through the experience of war and destruction. Today, this hope gained shape in the new realities of the European Union. Despite its official proclamation of peace, social well-being and an “alternative to capitalism and communism” the project finds itself in a prolonged crisis with uncertain expectations. The Euro-crisis, massive austerity and the increasing interference into democratic principles, a growing division between powerful and weak economies, Germany's new hegemony and the growing influence of financial capital appear in stark contrast to the official slogans of “European values and solidarity”.
The desperate struggle of SYRIZA demonstrated the necessity and seeming impossibility of the Left across Europe to answer with a politics that would be truly international and go beyond “resisting austerity.” Despite growing social unrest, the deep ambivalence towards the EU expresses itself in the inability of the Left to formulate a coherent vision of a political alternative. At the same time, the rejection of the EU is ceded to a growing Right. What is the EU for the Left today? Does the Left believe the EU should be overcome on the basis of the EU itself, or against the EU? The clarification of its nature and appropriate responses seem to be one of the most pressing issues for the Left on the continent and beyond.