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In its May 2008 issue, the most commercially successful art criticism publication, Artforum, dedicated its pages to the commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of May 1968. The publication presented contributions by many of the leading figures in contemporary critical theory, all of whom have a distinctive sense of indebtedness to that brief period four decades ago, dubbed by Herbert Marcuse as the “Great Refusal.”
From July 24th until July 28th 2008, the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) had its third annual national convention in College Park, Maryland. At the convention, national campaigns were presented and voted on by the attendees. A major campaign introduced at the convention was the Hundred Days campaign, which seeks to organize and engage newly politicized Americans in politics beyond the campaign season. During the first one hundred days of the next administration the campaign will organize two nationwide weeks of action to ensure that the people remain involved in politics after the election cycle. Laurie Rojas, member of Chicago SDS, collaborating author of the Hundred Days campaign and editor of The Platypus Review interviews Rachel Haut, labor researcher, member of the New York non-student SDS chapter, and collaborating author of the Hundred Days campaign.
What does it mean to say, as Platypus does, that “the Left is Dead?” It represents the desire for a tabula rasa, for a start from scratch. It is the admission that there is no living tradition, no movement to join in the Marxist Left; That it has been defeated and that it has self-destructed. It means that the Maoisms and Trotskyisms that today stumble around like zombies in the form of tiny sectarian groups have either given themselves to dishonestly cheerleading for the Green and Democratic parties or simply have become antiquarian societies reciting old revolutionary pieties with the mechanical enthusiasm of Hare-Krishna monks; While at the same time the “radicals” and “anarchists” that prescribe dropping out of society by building “alternative communities” “outside of capitalism” have rationalized their powerlessness into a lifestyle that poses as politics.
In 1969, SNCC member and Third World Women’s Alliance founder Francis Beal wrote The Black Women’s Manifesto; Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female. While Beal was certainly not the first woman to raise questions about the different ways differently raced women were impacted by sexist oppression, The Black Women’s Manifesto marks the birth of modern intersectional political thought.
The election of Barack Obama will be an event. But it has proven confusing for most on the “Left,” who claim to want to overcome anti-black racism and achieve social justice. Rejection of Obama on this basis has been as significant as the embrace of his candidacy. There is as much anxiety as hope stirred by Obama, especially regarding the significance of his blackness.
Walter Benjamin occupies a unique place in the history of modern revolutionary thought: he is the first Marxist to break radically with the ideology of progress. His thinking has therefore a distinct critical quality, which sets him apart from the dominant and “official” forms of historical materialism, and gives him a formidable methodological superiority.
From their canonization in the 1960s through their appropriation by postmodernism in the 1980s, the writings of the Frankfurt School have had their Marxian dimension minimized, vulgarized and ultimately ignored.
The Platypus Affiliated Society in Chicago, in coordination with several chapters of the new Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in Chicago (at the University of Chicago, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and Columbia College, Chicago) organized a public forum on “40 years of 1968: the problematic drama of the past in the present,” scheduled for the evening of Thursday, May 8 downtown at the School of the Art Institute. Invited panelists included Bill Ayers and Mike Klonsky, of the historic SDS and its Revolutionary Youth Movement, and currently active in the Movement for a Democratic Society (MDS). But these two panelists withdrew and the forum was canceled, as we will explain.
Persepolis is a film that does not take itself seriously enough. This is not a comment on the unadorned animation style. Nor am I referring to the narrative of the protagonist: a story of a girl raised in a left-wing milieu that succeeds in arousing quite a bit of empathy in the audience. It is the film’s treatment of depoliticization as a fait accompli and its persistent retreat to the safety of the personal that make it a fascinating symptom of politics today. Read politically, Persepolis is a trenchant, if unreflective, look into the fate of contemporary political life.
The contours of the present day Middle East have been shaped by a mid -20th century triptych of genocide and ethnic cleansing. The first panel in this triptych is the “Holocaust” (“Shoah” in Hebrew, “Khurbn” in Yiddish) the systematic murder of approximately two-thirds of European Jewry by the Nazis in 1941–1945. The second panel is the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by the Zionists in 1947–1949, the “Nakba,” and the third panel which does not have a commonly accepted name is the forced exodus of hundreds of thousands of Mizrachi Jews from Arab countries, most of whom ended up in Israel where they strengthened the Zionist state in crucial ways even though frequently they encountered racial discrimination there at the hands of Ashkenazi Jews. Each of these catastrophes was both a product of the failure of the Left and paved the way for further defeats.