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You are here: Platypus /Platypus International Convention/Platypus International Convention 2015/7th Annual International Convention, April 10-12th, 2015

7th Annual Platypus International Convention

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FRIDAY APRIL 10

6:00 - 8:00pm
​OPENING PLENARY: NEO-LIBERALISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS
SAIC Columbus Auditorium

  • Walter Benn Michaels (University of Illinois, Chicago)
  • Toby Chow (University of Chicago)
  • Donald Parkinson (Communist League of Tampa)
  • Margaret Power (Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago)

[expand title="Panel Description"]

Leftists today lament the strength of neoliberal hegemony. The use of “hegemony” underlines the ideological dimension of the neoliberal order; it suggests that mass ideological legitimacy -- and not the triumph of pure force or of back-door machinations -- has made neoliberalism politically possible. What were the ideological shifts in political and social consciousness that provided the grounds for contemporary neoliberal hegemony? What role did the Left play in this historical transformation of mass consciousness?
Freedom, the rallying cry of socialism, serves now as the stated ideology of the upward redistribution of wealth. The past decades have seen stagnating wages and a widening income disparity—although women, LGBT people, people of color, and others who once faced legally enforced, identity-based social exclusion now appear to be more “free” than they were during the pre-neoliberal period of high Fordism. These two aspects of neoliberalism, its identitarian inclusiveness and its anti-working class agenda, appear to go hand-in-hand. Despite the dubious, partial success of the politics of the New Left, we are probably farther than we have ever been from the goal of global socialism. In light of this history, how can we imagine a future for the Left? How could the Left move beyond organizing the expression of frustrated expectations within neoliberalism-- beyond organizing the left wing of neoliberalism itself-- to generate the kind of theory and practice required to politically overcome capitalism?

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8:30 - 11:30pm
Dinner at Exchequer | 226 S Wabash Ave: $20 per person Includes pizza and beer

SATURDAY APRIL 11

9:00am - 9:30am
Registration | Lobby: 112 South Michigan Ave.


9:30am - 10:50am
Workshops Session I

  • Scott Hiley, Communist Party USA | Room 620
  • Donald Parkinson, Communist League of Tampa (USA) | Room 314
  • Juan Conatz, Recomposition (USA) | Room 920

11:00am - 12:20pm
Workshops Session II

  • Charley Earp, Socialist Party USA | Room 620
  • Peter Staudenmaier, Institute for Social Ecology | Room 314
  • Jacob Denz, Graduate Student Organizing Committee, UAW local 2110 (NYU) | Room 920

12:20am - 13:30pm
Lunch (Provided) | 112 S. Michigan Ave, Served on 13th Floor

1:30pm - 3:30pm

The American Left and the "Black Question": From Politics to Protest to the Post-political
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 620

  • Toby Chow (University of Chicago)
  • Brandon Johnson (Chicago Teachers Union)
  • August Nimtz (University of Minnesota)
  • Adolph Reed, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania)

[expand title="Panel Description"]

Beneath a consensus of avowed anti-racism, the American Left remains conflicted about whether and how to politicize race. This panel seeks to shed historical light on today's political impasses, asking: How has racism changed throughout U.S. history, and to what degree has racism been overcome in America? Our neoliberal and post-political present has been shaped by key periods of political conflict over race and racism, from the failure of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era through the entrenchment of Jim Crow through the abolition of legal racial segregation with the Civil Rights Movement. If we have overcome the forms of legalized racism that plagued American society before the 1960s, this victory has nevertheless failed to translate into the meaningful improvement of living conditions for the vast majority of black people in America. Instead, the general downturn since the early 1970s has been managed in a way that has worsened conditions for most black people in the context of a broader stratification and brutalization of American society. This situation demands a strident refutation of the pseudo-problem of "class versus race;" we ask today's left to consider the implications of Adolph Reed's formulation that "racism is a class issue." With a view to how a politics of freedom would approach race and racism, what lessons can be drawn from the most significant periods in the history of the American Left, such as the populist movement, the pre-WWI Socialist Party, the 1920s-30s Communist Party, and the 1960s-70s New Left? If the problem of racism has been bypassed but not overcome, leaving in place the structural conditions that have shaped racism historically, how might we recognize these structural conditions and thereby render race and racism politically tractable?

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Electoral Politics and the Left: Problems and Prospects 112 S. Michigan Ave. | Room 920

  • Scott Hiley, Communist Party, USA
  • Jorge Mújica, Chicago Socialist Campaign (USA)
  • ​Tom Riley International Bolshevik Tendency (Canada)

[expand title="Panel Description"]

During the 19th century, suffrage rights were widened in the heart of capital, confronting political radicals with the question of whether and how elective offices could be used to achieve revolutionary aims. Since that time, differences of opinion on how to approach electoral politics have been at issue throughout the Left’s most fundamental splits: the break between Marxism and anarchism; the apparent capitulation of international social democracy to capitalist war and, later, to capitalist stabilization; the struggle for the legacy of the Russian Revolution, fought between Trotskyism and Stalinism and, later, Maoism. Since the era of Lenin and Debs, such splits have attended the decline of the Left rather than its ascendancy, forcing recent generations of marginalized radicals to grapple with an impossible choice: either a "realistic" electoral compromise with the status quo, often couched in the logic of “lesser evilism,” or a "sectarian" electoral purism doomed to irrelevance, often inspired by fidelity to once-revolutionary “correct positions.” This impasse guarantees a hearing for those who, like many Occupy movement activists, advocate a principled abstention from electoral politics. What are the uses, limits, promises, and perils of electoral campaigns and elective offices for Leftist politics? Should the Left aim to “set the clock back” 100 years to the era of mass electoral parties for socialism in the heart of capital? Is something on this order still necessary, and if so, how could it yet be possible? Does electoral politics figure in our emancipation beyond capitalism?

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4:00pm - 6:00pm​
Can there be a working class culture and experience?
112 S. Michigan ave. | Room 707

  • Walter Benn Michaels (University of Illinois, Chicago)
  • Juan Conatz, Recomposition (USA)
  • Paul Elitzik (FNewsMagazine, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, USA)
  • Jacob Denz, Graduate Student Organizing Committee, GSOC-UAW local 2110 (NYU, USA)

[expand title="Panel Description"]

The 20th century left gave rise to the recurring idea that a homogeneous working class experience could culminate in a revolutionary 'working class culture.' Various movements sought to create artworks that would transcend the apparently decadent forms characteristic of bourgeois culture; these movements ranged from the USSR's 1920s Proletkult to the Mexican muralists and American Artist Union of the 1930s to the Art Workers Coalition in the 1960s-70s. However, the merits and potentiality of a coherent working-class culture have been thrown into question by the failure of all of these projects to transform society in an emancipatory direction, despite their revolutionary intentions. This panel seeks to explore the concept of working class culture, its history, and what it might mean for the Left today.

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Democracy and the Left
112 S. Michigan ave. | Room 920

  • Mike Macnair, CPGB (UK)
  • August Nimtz (University of Minnesota)
  • Aaron Smeaton (Groupe Internationaliste Ouvriere, Internationalist Communist Tendency)
  • Peter Staudenmaier (Institute for Social Ecology)

[expand title="Panel Description"]

From the financial crisis and the bank bail-outs to the question of “sovereign debt”; from the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street; from the struggle for a unified European-wide policy to the elections in Greece and Egypt that seem to have threatened so much and promised so little — the need to go beyond mere “protest” has asserted itself: political revolution is in the air, again.
At the same time, the impending general election in the U.S. seems, by comparison, to be a non-event, despite potentially having far-reaching consequences for teeming issues worldwide. Today, the people — the demos — seem resigned to their political powerlessness, even as they rage against the corruption of politics. Hence, while contemporary demands for democracy to politicize the demos, they are also indicative of social and political regression that asks urgently for recognition and reflection. Demands for democracy “from below” end up being expressed “from above”: The 99%, in its already obscure and unorganized character, didn’t express itself as such in the various recent elections, but was split in various tendencies, many of them very reactionary.
Democracy retains an enigmatic character, since it always slips any fixed form and content, since people under the dynamic of capital keep demanding at times “more” democracy and “real” democracy. But democracy can be like Janus: it often expresses both the progressive social and emancipatory demands, but also their defeat, their hijacking by an elected “Bonaparte”.
What is the history informing the demands for greater democracy today, and how does the Left adequately promote — or not — the cause of popular empowerment?
What are the potential futures for “democratic” revolution, especially as understood by the Left?

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7:00 - 9:00pm

​CLOSING PLENARY: WHAT IS POLITICAL PARTY FOR THE LEFT?

SAIC Columbus Auditorium, 280 S Columbus Dr Chicago. Cross street:​ ​Monroe St and Jackson Blvd

  • Chris Cutrone, Platypus
  • Mike Macnair, CPGB (UK)
  • Adolph Reed, Jr. (University of Pennsylvania, USA)
  • Tom Riley, International Bolshevik Tendency (Canada) ​​SAIC

[expand title="Panel Description"]

In spite of many different political currents and tendencies the most significant question informing the "Left" today is the issue of "political party.” Various "Left unity" initiatives have been taking place in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent downturn, following Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring, alongside continuing "post-political" tendencies inherited from the 1980s-90s, perspectives such as expressed by Hardt and Negri's Empire, Multitude, and Commonwealth, John Holloway's Change the World without Taking Power, the Invisible Committee's The Coming Insurrection, the California student protestors' Communique from an Absent Future, the formation of SYRIZA in Greece, and the new party Podemos in Spain rejecting the organized "Marxist Left" as well as the established labor unions as part of the existing "political caste." In Germany, Die Linke appears poised to break into high political office. At the same time, there has been a growing crisis of the largest "orthodox Marxist" ("Trotskyist") political organizations in the Anglophone and Western European countries, which has been characterized as the "crisis of ('actually existing') Leninism" in the developed capitalist countries. New publications have emerged such as Jacobin magazine, N+1 and Endnotes journals, as a new "millennial Marxism." And there has emerged a related discussion of the legacy of Marxism in principles of political organization going back to the Second International 1889-1914 ("neo-Kautskyism"), for instance in Lars Lih's revisionist history of Lenin and Bolshevism and the Communist Party of Great Britain's member Mike Macnair's book Revolutionary Strategy (2008), the latter occasioned by the formations of the Respect Party in the U.K. and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France. Today, perhaps the most significant question facing the "Left" internationally is the issue of "political party," raising a question that goes all the way back to Marx’s dispute with the anarchists in the First International: What would it mean for the Left to take "political action" today?
Today the issue of “political party” seems to generate more problems for the Left than it solves. Formalized political organization would appear indispensable for a long term viewpoint beyond the ebb and flow of movements. Yet the role of the party in sustaining activity and discontents over time -- of building towards a revolution -- has had, at best an ambivalent legacy, leading as much to rationalizing politically ineffective strategies or giving cover for various forms of opportunism (e.g. reformism, careerism, etc.). Today the idea of political parties as a means for the Left -- through which the necessity for social transformation could be developed within society -- as opposed to an end in itself is difficult to envision both theoretically and practically. Yet the growing default -- politics without parties -- seems equally unable to do more than give license to the ebbs and flows through which capitalism changes, but invariably persists. There appears no escape from the question of Political Party for the Left.

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9:30 pm: Party: Location: TBA

SUNDAY APRIL 12

11:00am - 12:30pm
Platypus Internal Plenary: Hosting the conversation when the conversation is not welcome
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 1307

11:00 - 12:30pm

Platypus President’s Report: ​Chris Cutrone, How is Platypus a Pre-Political Project?
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 1307

Sponsored by School of the Art
Institute Student Government (SAICSG).

PRE- and POST- CONVENTION ACTIVITIES

Wednesday April 8:
7:00 - 9:00 pm | University of Illinois Chicago | The Politics of International Student Protests

  • Jacob Denz (NYU, USA)
  • Jan Schröder (Frankfurt, Germany)
  • Oliver Smith (Montreal, Canada)


Student Center East,
750 S Halsted,
Chicago IL
| Cardinal Room (3rd floor on the southern side of the building)

9:00pm | NOTAG IV: Night of the Avant-Garde

Cafe Mustache
2313 N Milwaukee Ave,
Chicago, IL 60647

Friday April 10:
10:30 am | University of Chicago | What Next for the International Left?

  • Mike Macnair (UK)
  • Cam Hardy (Canada)
  • Lucy Parker (UK)
  • Dan Rudin (US)

South Lounge, Reynolds Club,
University of Chicago

Monday April 13:
6:30 pm | Loyola University | The Politics of International Student Protests

  • David Mountain (UK)
  • Jakub Baran (Poland)
  • Jocelyn Li (Canada)
  • Sebastian Vetter (Austria)
  • Shirin Hagner (Germany)

Loyola University Chicago,
Lake Shore Campus,
Cudahy Science Building
| Room 207