FRIDAY APRIL 7th
Registration | University of Chicago, Bartlett Lounge, 5640 S. University Ave
3:00pm - 4:30pm
The State of the European Left: United Against the Right? | University of Chicago, Chicago IL
7:00 - 9:00pm
OPENING PLENARY: Marxism in the Age of Trump
University of Chicago
924e 57th st
- 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 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?
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 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?
SATURDAY APRIL 8th
11:30am - 12:40am
Yasmin Nair: Against Equality Collective | Maclean Room. 111
Bryan Palmer: James P. Cannon and the Origins of the American Revolutionary Left, (1890-1928) | Maclean Room. 112
2:00pm - 3:30pm
Labor and the State
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 707
- Wayne Price
- Loren Goldner
- Bill Pelz
- Brit Schulte
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?
4:00pm - 5:30pm |
Liberalism and Socialism
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 707
- Erek Slater
- 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, 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?
7:00 - 9:00pm
CLOSING PLENARY: 1917-2017
Sharp Room 327
37 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60603
- Chris Cutrone
- Wayne Price
- Leo Panitch
- Bryan Palmer
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.
· What were the aims of the 1917 Russian Revolution?
· 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?