Crisis is the condition of everyday life in capital. Capitalism kills in silently effective ways without necessary recourse to spectacle, through institutional mechanisms like patent controls on life-saving drugs. This is why everyday squalor in the Middle East is equally, if not more, fitting a symbol for Marxists than Muslims in the ‘state of exception’ on Guantanamo Bay.
The following are excerpts from the transcript of a moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A on problems of strategies and tactics on the Left today, organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society. Panelists: Michael Albert (Z Magazine, author of Parecon: Life After Capitalism), Chris Cutrone (Platypus), Stephen Duncombe (Gallatin School of New York University, editor of Cultural Resistance Reader), Brian Holmes (Continental Drift and Université Tangente), and Marisa Holmes (new Students for a Democratic Society).
A new chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was formed in February at the University of Chicago (UChicago) in tandem with chapters forming throughout the city and across the country. The new SDS is a national student organization dedicated to progressive political change, whose name was borrowed from the famous New Left organization that helped to shape the social unrest of the 1960s.
Alasdair Macintyre begins After Virtue with a parable: Populist demagogues declare war on the natural sciences. Every lab bombed, every chemistry department ransacked, every copy of Nature burned. Once the luddite swell subsides, a group of enlightened citizens attempt to reconstruct science from the remaining fragments. To us, natural science is a way of making sense of the physical world through experiment and observation. In this imaginary future, such a context has been lost. The new, reconstructed science is a wholly self-enclosed activity, like the creation of an imaginary language. Yet however hermetic this science may be, it is consistent; the proofs and the equations mean nothing, but they add up.
It may be that the political meaning of the recent violence in Kenya will exceed the explanatory capabilities of the news media, but the question itself has not yet adequately been posed. In place of a serious engagement with the crisis, coverage of the events has been characterized by genuine shock that this could have happened in Kenya.
Writing from Kenya after 10 years of what he calls “international exile,” former Kenyan-Chicagoan Oketch Onyango told us that he intended on going back in late 2007 to “raise a little bit of hell in the political scene,” but went “running away from the commodity and bang full circle into it in the savanna!,” and so in response he’s been immersed in “reading critical theory like mad” and “doing some writing which papers here don’t want to touch.” This is one article submitted.
Platypus focuses on redeeming the problematic history of the Marxist Left, “against the grain” (Benjamin) of its more or less contingent or necessary outcomes, in order to discover and provoke conscious recognition of the historically obscured necessities for social-emancipatory political struggle in the present. Political organizations and parties and their programs need to be understood both as forms of action and as forms of memory.
Let us assume, for a moment, the identity of Alice, the child protagonist of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.” As we venture slowly through the mirror on the wall, we enter into a world that has been inverted. Yet when we glance back at the static and ordered room on the other side from whence we came, we notice cracks in the glass that serve as passage points between these two worlds. When we acknowledge these fractures in the mirror, our perceptions of what lies on either side suddenly shifts.
I just turned thirty. Fifteen years on the Left—that’s half my lifetime now and what it means to me has changed consistently over the years: from punk rock kid with a mohawk and tattoos on my ribs and shoulders to a union leader with a mortgage and kid and the responsibility of thousands of workers on my shoulders. I often find myself thinking back to when my politics were just forming and how simple those days and those politics were. Things were clear: America was bad, veganism was good, pacifism was good, hierarchy was bad, jobs were for suckers and school was for sellouts, squats were a pure form of existence and love was meant to be free.