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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/Platypus International Convention/15th Annual Platypus International Convention 2023: History and Class Consciousness

15th Annual Platypus International Convention 2023: History and Class Consciousness

Wednesday March 29 – Northwestern University

4:30 - 6:00pm (555 Clark Street | Room B03): Marxism and Radical Republicanism

Speaker: Luke Pickrell (Marxist Unity Group) 

Respondent: Benjamin Katz

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Founded as a faction within the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the Marxist Unity Group (MUG) has advocated for the DSA to break with the Democratic Party and build an independent socialist party. Among other things, MUG calls for “the overthrow of the antiquated slaveholder Constitution, to be replaced by a truly democratic republic of the working class.” At this event, Luke Pickrell will present on Marxism and radical republicanism, and how these traditions matter for MUG’s political orientation today. It is MUG’s contention that the socialist movement should champion the demand for a democratic socialist republic in North America. Pickrell’s presentation will explicate Marx’s republicanism as freedom from domination, the history of the Paris Commune and Second International, and strategy for our present moment.

6:30 - 9:00pm: Social Event with food & beverages (paid Ă  la carte)
Five & Dime 1026 Davis St, Evanston, IL 60201

Thursday March 30 – University of Chicago

9:30 - 11:00am (Ida Noyes Hall | Max Palevsky Theater): Reform and Revolution: A presentation by Johannes Regell (Socialisterna – Välfärdspartiet)

Speaker: Johannes Regell (Socialisterna Välfärdspartiet)

Respondent: Andreas Wintersperger

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Socialisterna - Välfärdspartiet (trans. the Socialists – Welfare Party) is a socialist party that was established in Sweden in 2003. One of its founding members, Johannes Regell, will be giving a presentation on how Socialisterna envisions reform and revolution. His presentation will be followed by Q&A.

11:00am - 12:00 pm: Lunch Break

12:00 - 2:00pm (Ida Noyes Hall | Max Palevsky Theater): Second International Marxism in America: Origins and Crisis

Speakers: Chris Cutrone, Ed Remus, Will Stratford, Spencer Leonard, Pamela C. Nogales C.

Respondent: David Faes

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Marxists have long recognized that the prospects for global proletarian socialism depend upon the existence and success of a mass socialist political party in the United States. Yet a mass political party for proletarian socialism has only ever existed in the U.S. for barely two decades: the Socialist Party of America (SPA) during the lifetime of the party's five-time presidential candidate, Eugene Debs. The Debs-era SPA was founded by multiple socialist tendencies in 1901 and experienced its terminal crisis as a mass party in 1919; the party was suppressed by a U.S. state terror campaign and it fractured amidst the global Socialist-Communist split.

This panel will explore foundational questions about the origins and crisis of the Debs-era SPA. How did the SPA inherit various forms of nineteenth-century revolutionary politics, including Jeffersonianism, Civil War-era republicanism, and the Marxism of the First International? How did the success of the SPA’s organizers and officeholders prompt crises within the party, including conflicts over the party’s relationship to labor unions and to the U.S. state, and how did SPA leaders such as Eugene Debs and Victor Berger approach these crises and conflicts? Finally: was the viability of the Debs-era SPA conditioned upon a specific form of capitalism that will never return, or does the political and societal terrain of capitalism remain in some ways unchanged from Debs’s time to ours, such that the horizons of the SPA remain our own?

3:00 - 4:30pm (Kent Lab | Room 120): Broadcasting & Publishing in Platypus

Speakers: Spencer Leonard, Louis Sterrett, Pamela C. Nogales C.

Respondent: Andreas Wintersperger

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What is Platypus content in 2023? What does it mean to author an article, lead an interview for the PR, or produce a segment for SPS? Platypus Publishing, The Platypus Review, and Sh-t Platypus Says are three separate but related ventures in Platypus. This panel will include presentations on the formation, aims, and aspirations of these different forms of publication, and how they relate to the larger structure of Platypus as an organization.

5:00 - 6:30pm (Kent Lab | Room 120): The low point of labor resistance is behind us: The Socialist Workers Party looks forward

Speaker: Roy Landersen (Socialist Workers Party)

Respondent: Aaron Bao

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Founded in 1938, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) and its weekly paper, The Militant, have long been an important presence on the Left. At this event, Roy Landersen of the SWP will be speaking on why the low point of labor resistance is behind us and what the prospects and tasks are for independent class politics. Landersen’s presentation will be followed by Q&A. 

8:00 – 11:00pm (Tritriangle Art Gallery | Floor 3): Night of the Avant Garde ft. live music | Program ($10 suggested donation at door)

Friday March 31 – University of Chicago

11:45 - 1:45pm (The Study at University of Chicago | Winter Garden): Whither Maoism?

Speakers: Norman Finkelstein (author), CJ Hunt (UC Santa Cruz), Jerry Harris (Global Studies Association of North America), Mike Macnair (Communist Party of Great Britain) 

Respondent: Spencer Leonard

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Formative for many student radicals who came of age in the 1960 and ’70s were the Students for a Democratic Society, the Cultural Revolution, May 1968 in Paris, revolutions in the Third World, and the 1970s New Communist Movement. For many Leftists who sought to engage, critique, and advance these movements, Marxism meant Maoism, which they understood to be an advancement of Marxism–Leninism. Currently, as the Left of Generation Z comes of age, a kind of neo-Maoism is growing more popular, both on college campuses and online. What is Maoism, and what is its relationship with Marxism? How did Maoism emerge out of the Chinese Revolution? What made Maoism plausible, and what makes it appealing today? What may have rendered it implausible? What is the significance of Maoism as a political tendency on the Left, and why did Maoism seem in some ways to be more successful than Trotskyism?

What has Maoism been, and where is it going? How does its history weigh on us today — and why should we care about it?

3:30 - 5:00 pm (The Oriental Institute | James Henry Breasted Hall): Andrew Feenberg on The Ruthless Critique of Everything Existing

Speaker: Dr. Andrew Feenberg (Simon Fraser University)

Respondents: Ethan Linehan, ItsĂŻ Ramirez

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Dr. Andrew Feenberg will present his recently released work with Verso, The Ruthless Critique of Everything Existing: Nature and Revolution in Marcuse’s Philosophy of Praxis (2023), followed by Q&A. 

3:00 - 4:30pm (Kent Lab | Room 120): Norman Finkelstein on I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get to It

Speaker: Dr. Norman Finkelstein

Respondent: Edward Remus

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Dr. Norman Finkelstein will be presenting his recently released work with Sublation, I'll Burn That Bridge When I Get to It! Heretical Thoughts on Identity Politics, Cancel Culture, and Academic Freedom (2023), followed by Q&A.

5:00 - 6:30pm (Kent Lab | Room 120): Revolutionary Strategy & Neo-Social Democracy: A Trans-Atlantic Dialogue

Speakers: Mike Macnair (Communist Party of Great Britain), Matthew Strupp (Marxist Unity Group)

Respondent: David Mountain

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The collapse of the Occupy movement, the Arab Spring, and anti-austerity protests of the 21st century’s first decade offered the Millennial Left an opportunity to reconsider the perennial issue of Left leadership. But caught between the twin poles of “electoralism” and “base-building,” or the ballots and the streets, the Millennial Left has avoided an adequate confrontation with the question at the heart of leadership: the “political party question.” Often using efforts like Mike Macnair's book Revolutionary Strategy (2008) as a guide, thought leaders of the Millennial Left like Bhaskar Sunkara and Vivek Chibber turned (in the pages of Jacobin and Catalyst, respectively) to the legacy of 2nd International Marxism for principles of political party organization, from which sprang forth a revival of interest in social democracy, or more commonly short-handed as “neo-Kautskyism.” Late Millennial expressions of this phenomenon like Cosmonaut magazine, groupings affiliated with the Marxist Center, and the DSA caucus Marxist Unity Group all self-identify as “neo-Kautskyan” and “Macnairite,” but it remains unclear what all these tendencies have in common and where they diverge. In this workshop, Platypus asks one representative from the CPGB and one from MUG to pursue these questions by exploring their respective organizational histories. Why return to the deep history of social democracy in the present? What is a socialist party? What are the greatest obstacles today to its realization? How can those obstacles be met? Presentations from each speaker will be followed by open Q&A.

8:00 - 10:00pm: Social Event with food and beverages ($40 paid in advance here: Paypal)
Exchequer Restaurant, 226 S Wabash Ave, Chicago, IL 60604

Saturday April 1 – University of Chicago

9:00 – 11:00am (Kent Lab | Room 120): The Politics of Critical Theory

Speakers: Mike Atkinson (University of Brighton), Nora Sprenger (University of Vienna), Ryan Mickler (Northeastern University), Miles Byrne (University of California, Santa Cruz), Bret Schneider (Caesura Magazine)

Respondent: Suzy Vogenthaler

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This year marks the centenary of Georg Lukács’s History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, published in 1923. Among other things, Lukács’s magnum opus set the foundation for the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. More somberly, the year 2023 comes fifty years after the death of Max Horkheimer, a leading figure of the Frankfurt School. No one would contest the influence of History and Class Consciousness, nor of the Frankfurt School, in the history of the Left. However, what remains unclear is the relevance that Critical Theory holds in the present — if any. What is the political role of Critical Theory for the Left today? How did the practice and theory of Marxism, from Marx to Lenin, make possible and necessary the politics of Critical Theory? How does our moment differ, or remain the same, from the one in which Critical Theory emerged?

9:00 – 11:00am (Ida Noyes Hall | Max Palevsky Theater): Immigration and the Left

Speakers: Jule Hoffman (University of Leipzig), Tobias Kohlberger (University of Applied Sciences, BFI Vienna), Jakob Trescher (University of Leipzig), Leo Jank (University of Vienna), Barbara Utracka (Oxford University)

Respondent: Caleb Chen

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Although mobilization around the issue waxes and wanes, immigration remains an ever-present flashpoint in political discourse. In Germany, the issue has taken on greater salience since the escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, as refugees flee to Western Europe. In the United States, although coverage has diminished following the 2020 election, the number of deportations has in fact increased under the Biden–Harris administration. What are the similarities and differences between how the immigration crisis is unfolding in these two contexts? What is the meaning of this crisis to the Left and its attempts to change the world? What would constitute an emancipatory response to the problems of immigration? 

9:00 – 11:00am (Ida Noyes Hall | 2nd Floor, West Lounge): What Does Climate Change?

Speakers: Jonas Nestroy (Free University of Berlin), Allison Hewitt-Ward (School of Visual Arts), Noah Sonnenschein (University of Magdeburg), Michael McClelland (University of Otago)

Respondent: Andony Melathopoulos

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Every year since 2019, there have been thousands of strikes all over the globe calling for policy changes to address climate change, accompanying anxieties about capitalism’s ability to guide humanity into an environmentally volatile future. Recently, we have also seen an increasingly active and visible subset of climate activists resort to more extreme measures, such as attempting to vandalize famous pieces of art or gluing themselves to motorways during rush hour. While these tactics may garner a great deal of attention, the stated goal is typically focused rather narrowly on minor changes in the environmental regulatory laws of specific regions. Amidst the proliferation of activity, it remains unclear how climate activism might lead to something adequate to the global tasks looming over us. How does climate activism relate to greater political and social concerns? What should a Left response to climate change look like? Short presentations from each panelist will be followed by an open Q&A. 

11:00am - 12:00pm: Lunch Break

12:00 - 2:00pm (Kent Lab | Room 120): Back to the 1970s? Socialism, Labor, and the Left

Speakers: Luke Pickrell (Marxist Unity Group), Naomi Craine (Socialist Workers Party), Richard de Vries (Teamsters), Jack Metzgar (Roosevelt University)

Respondent: C.D. Hardy

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In the 1970s, much of the New Left adopted a perspective that would later be named the “rank-and-file strategy.” Amidst a turn to industry, socialists proletarianized themselves by seeking employment in strategically “working-class” sectors in order to lead the workers towards an independent class politics. Now, fifty years later, the rank-and-file strategy is experiencing a resurgence, under changed conditions, among a new generation of Millennial and Generation Z leadership. However, the parallels between the 2020s and the 1970s have emerged without much reflection. How does the original articulation of the “rank-and-file” strategy compare to its contemporary revival? What is motivating the return of this labor strategy? Are the prospects for such a strategy more favorable today, or less — and why? What lessons should be drawn from the past fifty years regarding the relationship between labor organizing and socialist politics?

2:30 - 4:30pm (Kent Lab | Room 107): The Politics of the Democratic Socialists of America

Speakers: Harold Meyerson (Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee; DSA), Jamal Abed-Rabbo (Class Unity), Matthew Strupp (Marxist Unity Group), D. L. Jacobs (Platypus Affiliated Society)

Respondent: Erin Hagood

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From the early to mid-2010s, a mounting crisis seemed to be registered in “politics as usual.” The Occupy movement, the Indignados, and similar anti-austerity protests erupted and receded, only to be reconsolidated in various attempts at left-wing party politics. However, the new political parties, such as Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, and Razem in Poland were ultimately sidelined by the political turmoil from which they hoped to benefit. Despite being an attempt to transform an existing and well-established party, rather than founding a new one, Jeremy Corbyn’s bid at leading the Labour Party was overwhelmingly defeated in 2019. Meanwhile, in the United States, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) experienced phenomenal growth following the Sanders campaign and the election of Donald Trump. Even as late as 2020 or 2021, the DSA could claim to be holding ground. At present, however, the DSA appears to be fracturing under the stresses of “late Bidenism” and the intractably conservative nature of the Democratic Party. The time is ripe, then, not only for a retrospective, but also for a reflection on the prospects for socialism. What are the goals and tasks of the DSA? Did the economic and political turmoil of the last decade present any opportunities for emancipatory politics? How were those opportunities seized — and not seized — by the DSA, or by the Left more generally? What are the prospects for socialism in the coming decade?

5:00 - 7:00pm (Kent Lab | Room 107): A Century of Critical Theory: The Legacy of Georg Lukács

Speakers: Mike Macnair (Communist Party of Great Britain), Andrew Feenberg (Simon Fraser University), Chris Cutrone (Platypus Affiliated Society)

Moderator: Atiya Singh

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Strange as it is to reconsider Georg Lukács today after the demise of the Bolshevik experiment with which he was associated, the centenary marking the publication of his magnum opus, History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (1923), offers the occasion to ask: What is the meaning of Lukács and HCC today? Over the last 100 years, various claims have been made of HCC. On the one hand, it is said to have inaugurated “Western Marxism” and set the foundation for the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School. On the other, people have accused it of giving philosophical justifications for terroristic or opportunistic tendencies within Marxism–Leninism. We ask our panelists to consider the following: What is the relationship between political practice and theory that Lukács articulated in the revolutionary period of 1919–1925, based on his close reading of Lenin and Luxemburg? What in his critique of reification and defense of Marxist orthodoxy did the later Lukács disavow? What can we make of Lukács's legacy today? How have we received his investigation and elaboration of the problematic of Marxism? What are the essential issues raised for our time?

9:00pm - 12:00am (NOT NOT in Humboldt Park, 3950 W Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60651): Social Event ft. live music