FRIDAY APRIL 7th
5:30pm - 6:30pm
Registration | SAIC Columbus Auditorium, 280 S. Columbus Drive, Chicago. Cross street: Monroe St and Jackson Blvd
7:00 - 9:00pm
OPENING PLENARY: Marxism in the Age of Trump
University of Chicago
- August Nimtz
- Chris Cutrone
- Catherine Liu
- Loren Goldner
The long anticipated outcome of the 2016 US Presidential Election—the coronation of Hillary Clinton—was dramatically derailed by twin “populist” insurgencies during the primary campaigns, those of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. Many on the Left hoped the Sanders campaign would either transform the Democratic Party, replacing the neoliberal consensus exemplified by the Clintons with a commitment to social democracy, or form the basis of a new left-wing party. As expected, Sanders himself and the Democrats supported the more familiar candidate and retained their traditional coalition of black and Latino ”ethnic constituencies,” women, LGBTQ “communities,” and, to the extent that it could be mobilized, a section of organized labor.
Not so for the Republicans. Trump is a challenge to and break with the Republican status quo, having shattered the Reagan coalition of Neoliberals, Neoconservatives, Constitutionalists, and Evangelicals apparently in favor of a much wider coalition including former Obama and Sanders supporters, disaffected unionists and workers, as well as residents of declining rural and urban. Sanders and Trump both represented a broad discontent with established political leadership and the decline social conditions over which they presided, but only Trump’s more radical attack on the Republican party could make the crisis apparent.
If Trump and Sanders represented the need for change within capitalism, they present it as a need for capitalism, a need that must be met for capitalism to continue to reproduce itself. Sanders identifies as a socialist, by which he means a kind of revived Keynesian-style state management of capitalism. Trump, for his part, wants political leadership that competently manages capitalism: that is, not only in the interests of the capitalists, but also the workers. Although neither articulated a need to go beyond capitalism, Trump more clearly spoke to a need to imagine a Capitalism beyond both the New Deal and Neoliberalism. Trump thus poses capitalism as a political question – as both a problem and a solution--to be questioned and resolved not at the level of the state, but rather in and through civil society. Capitalism can thereby resolve its own problems, but only insofar as a political demand is raised by the workers. In this respect, Trump may pose more clearly the question that has hung in the air since the crisis of Marxism in the early 20th century: that of the necessity and possibility of overcoming capitalism. If this is still necessary, why? And if it is still possible, how?
We ask the panelists to consider the following questions:
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 did and why does Trump incite such hysteria on the Left? How do we make sense of this phenomenon?
What would it mean to oppose Trump from the Left?
SATURDAY APRIL 8th
2:00pm - 3:30pm
Labor and the State
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 920
- Wayne Price
- Loren Goldner
- Bill Pelz
- Brit Schulte
The Bourgeoisie stated that the State had become subsumed to civil society in the modern era. But the revolutions of 1848 found the recrudescence of the State in a more perfect form than ever before. Revolutionaries had a variety of responses to this, from finding the possibility of emancipation in the state to finding the counter-revolution in the very same institution. Marx took the experience of 1848 as a task for the socialist movement: the proletariat needed to smash the existing Bonapartist state and establish a dictatorship of the proletariat. The form of this was found in the Paris Commune, which Marx called the "negation" of the Bonapartist State, emphasizing both its antithetical character and yet necessary relationship - a "critical" Bonapartism.
By 1875, Critique of the Gotha Program, Marx recognized the repetition of Lassallean doctrine in the demands of his followers. The capitulation was not arbitrary but an ever-present risk that could lure workers away from accomplishing their historical task of abolishing the State, instead filling a capital-reconstituting role in relation to it.
Since WW1, Labor's relationship to the State has become obscured as it has found itself increasingly amalgamated. The communist's participation in the New Deal Coalition supported a social welfare state, and bore fruits on the labor front. In 1935 the NLRA Act was passed, and the rights of labor were on one hand protected by the NLRB, while on the other hand subordinated to the "interest of the public in the free flow of commerce." Labor was thereafter to form a core constituency within the Democratic party, while the communists themselves were soon dispensed. In this era of State Capitalism, the class struggle seemed to be suspended as Labor found its interests become identical with the State's own self-preservation.
The following generation of the Left responded to this new phenomenon. On the one hand the New Left had veered away from the unions due a perceived parochialism; on the other hand the "long 70's" marked a new period of labor militancy and growth, particularly in the public sector. But this so-called "grass-roots upsurge" also coincided with the decline of the welfare state and the rise of Neoliberalism; finally, labor's back was broken by the state itself, the stake driven through its heart with the air controllers strike in 1981.
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?
4:00pm - 5:30pm
Liberalism and Socialism
- August Nimtz
- Yasmin Nair
- Mel Rothenberg
- Leo Panitch
In her seminal 1900 pamphlet, Reform or Revolution?, Rosa Luxemburg stated that if the socialist movement lost sight of its final goal, it would become merely another variety of liberal politics. The goal which rendered socialist revolution qualitatively different for Luxemburg was, paradoxically, the fulfillment of all liberal desiderata. 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 30’s Popular Front between Communist Parties and liberals, at first understood as a temporary strategy to defeat Fascism, proved to be a lasting reformist coalition. Socialism ceased to be about revolutionizing society and more about eliminating exploitation and oppression. Gradually, the industrial working-class came to be seen as irrevocably tied to structures of social domination. Against this trend, the 60’s New Left went searching elsewhere for revolutionary subjects; the social movements coalescing around race, gender, and sexuality seemed to offer a radicalism surpassing the liberal-labor alliance of the time. However, the end of the 60’s saw the integration of the New Left into establishment politics, paralleling the fate of the Communists. Since the subsequent transformation of the major political parties, liberal thought has taken these social movements as part of its lineage, and socialists now take a “class-first” perspective on politics without questioning its underlying assumptions.
In the recent election, this split manifested itself between the Sanders and Clinton wings of the Democratic Party. For Sanders supporters who viewed the split as “socialism vs. liberalism,” Clinton represented the neoliberal establishment which was willing to stiff the working-class under the veil of identity politics. To the Clinton supporters, on the other hand, the Sandernistas were “Brocialists” who reduced the problems of society to economics at the expense of silencing the marginalized and oppressed of society. It is clear since the election that this chasm has been long in the making.
How do both camps fall short of fulfilling the aims of classical liberalism? What would it take for a Left to define itself beyond such aims? 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?
7:00 - 9:00pm
CLOSING PLENARY: 1917-2017
SAIC Neiman Center, 37 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago. Cross street: Monroe St and Jackson Blvd
- Chris Cutrone
- Wayne Price
- Leo Panitch
- Bryan Palmer
In 1917 Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky sought to follow Marx, who recognized the political contradiction of the bourgeois-democratic revolutions of 1848 and the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The Bolsheviks tried to provide the historical consciousness and revolutionary leadership adequate to this task. Lenin thought that political forms such as ‘the state’ and ‘the party’ would be transformed in and through revolution. The Bolsheviks had thought that such a "bourgeois-democratic" revolution would be a potential spark for a workers' socialist revolution in Europe, which then might only subsequently allow a struggle for socialism.
The First World War manifested a global crisis of capitalism - of “imperialism” - that was economic, social and political. Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky first cut their teeth in the “revisionist dispute” in the mass socialist parties of the Second International. Following this “crisis of Marxism”, they sought to understand the revolutions in Russia and elsewhere as a necessary expression of a 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. Trotsky spent the rest of his life fighting “over the heads of the leaders of the Second and Third International[s]”. Already in 1924, in The Lessons of October, this revolutionary leadership was in doubt and the meaning of 1917 in contention.
In the 20th century, the memory of 1917 has re-emerged in crises. Whether in the popular front of the 1930’s, the Communist revolution in China in 1949 or the New Left of the 1960’s, the Left has sought to understand itself – both positively and negatively – in relation to the aims and outcomes of 1917. However, since 1917 the revolutionary consciousness of its primary actors has disintegrated into various oppositions: the principles of liberalism against those of socialism; libertarianism against authoritarianism; the Machiavellian Lenin against Luxemburg as a Cassandra of the revolution; the revolutionary will of ends justifying means against the principled emancipatory means and the virtues of practical defeat. At the same time, the futility of both Lenin and Luxemburg’s politics have been naturalized: it is tacitly understood that neither what Lenin nor Luxemburg aspired to achieve was actually possible to accomplish – either in their time or in ours. The premises of the revolution itself have been thrown into doubt.
· What were the aims of the Russian Revolution in 1917?
· What was the self-understanding of its Marxist leadership?
· How has the memory of 1917 changed in the course of the 20th century?
· Why does the legacy of 1917 appear arrayed in oppositions?
· Are we still tasked by the memory of 1917 today, and if so how?
· 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?