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Platypus International Convention

June 12-14, 2009

What has the Left been and what can it become?

please note suggested background readings for the panels, workshops and roundtables.

don't forget to register!

Friday, June 12th, 2009.

6pm @ SAIC Ballroom (main floor)

Introducing Platypus

presentation by Ian Morrison

• A brief presentation on Platypus's trajectory since its founding in 2006.

Panel Discussion:

The Decline of the Left in the Twentieth Century: Towards a Theory of Historical Regression

panelists include: Chris Cutrone, Atiya Khan, Spencer Leonard, & Richard Rubin; moderated by Benjamin Blumberg

• The opening panel will elucidate significant moments in the progressive separation of theory and practice in the 20th and 21st Century history of Leftist politics: 2001 (Spencer Leonard); 1968 (Atiya Khan); 1933 (Richard Rubin); and 1917 (Chris Cutrone). Each of these dates marked fundamental transformations on the Left. How do we relate to their legacies today? How has the problem of relating theory to practice, and ends to means, been dealt with politically on the Left? How has the political thought and action associated with each of these historical turning points revealed or obscured problems on the Left? How do the historical failures of the Left affect possibilities for the Left today and in the future?

The panel discussion will be followed with a Q & A session including the audience.

Suggested readings:

"The Left is Dead! -- Long Live the Left!" Vicissitudes of historical consciousness and possibilities for emancipatory social politics today

Introducing Platypus

A short history of the Left

What is a platypus?

Saturday, June 13th, 2009


Brunch: At 11am we will be serving food, coffee, and drinks before we begin the day. Open to anyone who wishes to attend, however, we recommend you register.

Please note: This day consists of a multitude of events happening simultaneously. There are four major time blocks for workshops and roundtables, the first three have two different events happening at once. Time block 1 is from 12:00-1:30pm; time block 2 is from 2:00-3:30pm; time block 3 is from 4:00-6:00pm; and lastly, time block 4 is from 6:30-8:30pm (which will only consist of one event). In between each time blocks, there are 30 minute rest periods. At this time, snacks and drinks will be available on the 13th floor lounge for everyone to consume.

Please refer to the time and room number that corresponds with the event you would like to participate.



An Unmet Challenge: Marxism and the Problem of Anti-Black Racism in the United States

led by Benjamin Blumberg

room 707

• In this workshop, we will begin with Trotsky's warning made to the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) that the nonfulfillment to face the problem of racism in the United States will show the era's Marxist politics to have been a lie, or incoherent at best. We will examine how at the heart of the failure of American Marxism to bring about revolutionary change in the social, economic and ideological life of the American proletariat - and thereby to enormously advance the prospects of international revolution - was the inability to meet the challenge posed by the problem of racism.

Suggested readings:

Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual [selections part 1, 3-10 and 11-63] [part 2, 451-475 and 544-565]

Adolph Reed, "Black Particularity Reconsidered"

Max Schachtman, Race and Revolution



Colonialism and Internationalism

led by Sunit Singh

room 1307

• This workshop will explore Leftist debates surrounding colonialism in the historical wake of the year 1917, and address its failures and missed opportunities. It will be posed that these events took place in the face of a decaying empire accompanied with a growing nationalism, which would later give rise to what is known as the “Third World.”

suggested readings:

Lenin, Theses on the National and Colonial Question

Lenin, National and Colonial Question (part 1)

Lenin, Socialism and War (1915), Ch. 1, "The Principles of Socialism and the War of 1914–1915: The Right of Nations to Self-Determination"



The End of Ideology Thesis: The American Left's Turn Towards the Right from the 1930s-50s

led by Chris Mansour

room 707

• In the mid 20th century, there was a tendency in the international intellectual scene--one which grew out of the Left--which asserted that the question of Marxism and class struggle began to exhaust itself, and in the near future Marxism would wither away as a political alternative. This tendency was exemplified by Daniel Bell's “The End of Ideology” thesis: the idea that ideology in itself actually hindered progressive social change. In this workshop, we will investigate the historical roots of the end of ideology thesis, and attempt to understand the degeneration of American anti-Stalinist thinkers such as Daniel Bell and Irving Kristol, et al.

Suggested readings:

Daniel Bell, The End of Ideology [chapter 13: The Mood of Three Generations]

Christopher Lach, The Agony of the American Left



The Israel/Palestine Conflict and the Left in historical perspective

led by Richard Rubin

room 1307

• Starting in the early twentieth century and ending in the present crisis, this workshop will seek to explain how the worsening political situation in Israel/Palestine is inextricably linked with the Lefts’ long, and often contradictory, relationship with the conflict.

Suggested reading:

Catastrophe, historical memory and the Left: 60 years of Israel/Palestine



The Left Around the World: Canada, India/Pakistan, Germany, and Mexico

room 707

panelists: Ryan Hardy (Canada), Atiya Khan (India/Pakistan), Jerzy Sobotta (Germany), & Marco Torres (Mexico); moderated by Spencer Leonard

• In the Communist Manifesto, Marx famously wrote, “The working men have no country.” At the same time, he noted that the form the universal struggle for freedom would take in the age of proletarian capitalist was precisely international - “Though not in substance, yet in form, the struggle of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie is at first a national struggle. The proletariat of each country must. . ., first of all settle matters with its own bourgeoisie.” This roundtable discussion brings together panelists with significant political experience outside the United States to discuss the question of the tension between national and international historical conceptions of the Left. Each panelist will give an account their sense of the characteristic forms the Death of the Left is taking in the country of which they speak, identifying any groups or tendencies who register any awareness of the prevailing regression on the global Left today. Of particular interest will be the question of (decline of) internationalism. The ambition of the panel is to at least begin re-imagining what the reconstitution of Left Internationalism might look like in the 21st century.



Contemporary Art and Criticism: a Search for a Critical Standpoint

panelists: Haseeb Ahmed, Roman Petruniak (InCubate), Laurie Rojas & Bret Schneider; moderated by Chris Mansour

room 1307

• Within the last decade, there has been an ostensible shift away from "postmodern" artistic practices, yet this aesthetic shift remains highly underspecified. How are we to account for recent artistic development? What substantial shifts have taken place? and what enduring challenges remain for artists? Looking at the wide-ranging practices and institutions that make up the art world today, we will analyze contemporary artworks potentials, as well as the fetters impinging on artistic expression today.



Politics of the Contemporary Student Left: Hopes and Failures

panelists: Alex Hanna, Ashley Weger, Mario Garcia, Pam Nogales; moderated by Laurie Rojas

room 1307

• What are the current politics of youth and student organizations? How can the mobilization of youths and students be expanded and deepened? This panel aims to explore these questions by critically reflecting upon student politics, examining the various perspectives currently influencing them, and exploring how these ideas affect their means and ends.

Suggested readings:

The New School occupation and the direction of student politics: an interview with Atlee McFellin by Pam Nogales

Red-baiting and ideology: the new SDS by Richard Rubin and Laurie Rojas

The Hundred Days Campaign: the present and future of SDS: an intervew with Rachel Haut by Laurie Rojas

Five questions to the student Left by Pam Nogales and Benjamin Shepard

A polemic on protest: Reflections on the RNC resistance by Raechel Tiffe

Sunday, June 14th, 2009.

1pm @ SAIC ballroom

Panel Discussion:

The Platypus Synthesis: History, Theory, and Practice


panelists: Richard Rubin, Chris Cutrone & Ian Morrison

• A discussion on Platypus's theoretical stance, its raison d'etre, and where the project will be going.

[MP3 audio recording]

Suggested readings:

Capital in history: The need for a Marxian philosophy of history of the Left

"The Left is Dead! -- Long Live the Left!" Vicissitudes of historical consciousness and possibilities for emancipatory social politics today