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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/Platypus International Convention/Platypus International Convention 2016/8th Annual International Convention, April 1-3, 2016


7:00 - 9:00pm
​OPENING PLENARY: International Social Democracy
SAIC Columbus Auditorium

  • Jack Ross (author of The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History)
  • Karl Belin (Pittsburgh Socialist Organizing Committee)
  • Bernard Sampson (CPUSA)
  • Chris Cutrone (Platypus Affiliated Society)

Panel Description

This panel invites you to reflect on the history of social democracy from a Leftist viewpoint. Such a perspective raises the specter of the Socialist (Second) International—the Marxist political organization that led the workers movement for socialism around the turn of the 20th century. In the U.S. this politics found its expression in Eugene Debs, a radical labor leader converted to Marxism in prison by reading the German Marxist Karl Kautsky; in Germany, in Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Leibknecht’s Communist Party of Germany, inheritor of the Spartacist League’s opposition to joining the German state’s war effort during the First World War; and in Russia, most famously, in the capture of state power by the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. Thus the Second International gave rise to what is arguably the greatest attempt to change the world in history: the revolutions of 1917–19, in Russia, Germany, Hungary and Italy. In these revolutions, Communists split from Social Democrats, the latter of whom formed the bulwark of counterrevolution. During much of the 20th century, a “Marxist-Leninist” approach to this history prevailed on much of the “hard” left, according to which the Second International revolutionaries had effectively superseded the politics of more Right-wing figures within Social Democracy (such as Kautsky); the Third International has in this respect been widely accepted as an advance upon the Second.

In the 1930s, the rise of fascism seemed to sideline the Communist vs. Social Democrat controversy. A generation later, after WWII, these same Social Democratic parties in the West engaged in wide-ranging reforms, while still opposing Communism in the East. For a few decades of supposed "convergence" between East and West, it seemed that the earlier "evolutionary" view of achieving socialism, contra Communist revolution, might be proven correct. But the New Left in the West emerged in opposition to such reformism, in search of more radical politics. The New Left saw itself as in keeping with the earlier revolutionary tradition, even with significant changes offered to it. In the neoliberal era, however, this division between reform and revolution has been blurred if not erased. Today, by contrast, social democracy is on the defensive against neoliberalism, even while its memory is resuscitated by such phenomena as SYRIZA, Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

But: Do we in fact need to reckon with the earlier history of Marxism, before the split between Communists and Social Democrats, in order to understand the problem and project of social democracy today? How are the questions of social democracy and social revolution related today, in light of history? What has social democracy come to signify politically?


9:30am - 10:00am
Registration | Lobby: 112 South Michigan Ave.

10:00am - 11:20am
Workshops Session I

  • Jack Ross, (author of The Socialist Party of America: A Complete History) | room 111
  • Xavier Danae Maatra, Trans Liberation | room 112

11:30am - 12:50pm
Workshops Session II

  • Bernard Sampson (CPUSA) and Jason Schulman (DSA), Sanders Campaign | room 112
  • Brian Tokar (Institute for Social Ecology) | room 111

1:00 - 2:00 pm
Lunch (Provided) | 112 S. Michigan Ave, Served on 13th Floor

2:00pm - 3:30pm

Women: The Longest Revolution?
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 920

  • Marilyn Nissim-Sabat (Lewis University)
  • Christine Riddiough (Chicago Women's Liberation Union)
  • Judith Gardiner (University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • Panel Description

    Named after Juliet Mitchell’s 1966 essay, this panel will explore the long history of the struggle for women’s liberation from the vantage point of the Left today. Mitchell critiques bourgeois feminist demands such as the right to work and equal pay to posit the need instead for equal work. She calls for a politics capable of taking on the fundamental transformation of society and more immediate demands “in a single critique of the whole of women’s situation.” In keeping with the spirit of this essay, we ask again what the relationship might be between the struggle for general social emancipation and the particular tasks of feminism? How have Leftists imagined this relationship historically? What do we make of it today?

    While the “woman question” has played an important role in the history of the Left, its automatic inclusion in current Leftist politics does not necessarily reflect a greater understanding of what the struggle for women’s liberation might mean politically. How exactly is it “the longest revolution?” When did it begin? If the crisis of bourgeois society in the industrial revolution posed the need for women’s freedom as inseparable from the project of human emancipation, then what do we make of the later separation of the feminist movement from the workers’ movement for socialism? What do the seeming successes of feminism tell us when thought in relation to the failure of the proletarian struggle to deepen the task of human freedom?

4:00pm - 5:30pm​
Black Politics and the American Left
112 S. Michigan ave. | Room 920

  • Kenneth Warren (University of Chicago)
  • Martha Biondi (Northwestern University)
  • Xavier Danae Maatra (Chicago Freedom School)

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?

7:00 - 9:00pm

​CLOSING PLENARY: The Death of Social Democracy

SAIC Neiman Center, 37 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago. Cross street:​ ​Monroe St and Jackson Blvd

  • Brian Tokar (Institute for Social Ecology)
  • Jason Schulman (DSA)
  • Christoph Lichtenberg (IBT)
  • William Pelz (Author and Historian)

Panel Description

Given the disintegration of traditional social democratic parties, 2015 saw the rise of novel political formations such as Syriza and Podemos. 2016 has seen the rise of the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party and the mass support for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. This panel seeks to address the project of social democracy today, both in light of these new political formations and the long history of social democratic politics on the left.

Once a global movement for the self-emancipation of the working class based on a Marxist revolutionary politics, today’s social democratic parties have fully substituted the task of organizing workers in order to overthrow capitalism with the task of creating and maintaining the conditions for a more just market economy. The present standpoint of social democracy is society as is it is, bound by national economies and mediated by nation-states. Social democracy today promises to fight social injustice in the name of the people, but it no longer promises to realize socialism. Yet what remains is the name, and with it the promise and the problem of “social democracy.”

Is “social democracy” still a project for the Left? While social democracy arose in the late 19th century as an expression of working people’s political demand for socialism, it came into a series of crises over the course of the 20th century. How have these crises transformed the way in which the left understands both historical Social Democracy and current social democratic political formations? Have these transformations—whether the revisionist dispute in the 1890s-1900s, the support of national governments in WWI, the dispute around the Russian and German Revolutions of 1917-19, the New Left of the 1960s, the crisis of the 1970s, the Reagan and Thatcher neoliberal turns of the 1980s, the emergence of “Third Way” politics in the 1990s, or the economic crisis of 2008—meant the death of social democracy? Has the meaning of social revolution and socialism changed for the Left given the changing definition of “social democracy?” How, if at all, could the trajectory of social democracy shed light on tasks yet to be achieved on the Left today?


11:00am - 12:30pm
Platypus Internal Plenary
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 1307

11:00 - 12:30pm

Platypus President’s Report: ​Chris Cutrone,
112 S. Michigan Ave | Room 1307

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