A panel event held on April 5th, 2014 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the Sixth Annual Platypus International Convention.
James Heartfield (audacity.org)
Mel Rothenberg (Chicago Political Economy Group)
Alex Gonopolskiy (Platypus London)
With the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Communist states the world has witnessed the unchallenged restoration of capitalism. This new configuration seems to radically alter the conditions in which the Left thinks and acts. Economically the collapse gave the European Union an unprecedented upwind and allowed it to integrate the markets of many countries that were formerly part of the Soviet hemisphere. The EU set out with the aim to be a competitive economic entity on global markets and on the international political arena. The EU project was to guarantee for a lasting peace and prosperity in Europe – a “lesson learned” from war and destruction that shaped the first half of the 20th century. And yet there is no grand idea, no ideological driving force accompanying the close economic ties and dependencies that have developed throughout the continent.
After two decades of economic expansion Europe hit a severe crisis in 2009 that was neither foreseen nor properly resolved. The attempt to solve this problem, five years on, has resulted in the wholesale unravelling of the gains brought about by Social Democracy over the past 150 years. And yet, there does not seem to be any clear answer and not even a vague direction proposed by the Left to tackle it. While on the streets of Greece, Spain and Italy – the countries directly affected by austerity programs – there is popular unrest against the remedies imposed by “the Troika” there is no course of action by the Left that would be adequate to the international character of the problem. In the powerhouses of the EU the quiet and – at best – sporadic protests seem to aim at reproducing the politics of anti-austerity from their southern neighbors. From the Social Democratic suggestion of a “European New Deal” to the slogan of “Blockupy” the Left response speaks to the lack of imagination and possibilities through which to seriously challenge the course of events. The European Left seems to have lost its inspirational character for world politics, not to speak of any real organizational capacities.
This panel will focus on the meaning and potential effect of the crisis in Europe for the Left internationally. What are the conditions that created the crisis, what can it tell us about the world we currently live in and what lessons does it provide for the project of reconstituting an international Left?
1. What is the European Union in light of the historical reconfiguration of international geopolitics after the Cold War? Does it have an impact on or is it a sign of a change of how capitalism operates today and in the future? Does thinking about the EU help us to understand the world of today or is it a merely retarded duplicate of changes that the US has undergone a long time ago?
2. What does the Euro-crisis signify for world economy and politics? Does it have a global or a merely “local” character? Is it just a more complicated instantiation of the global economic crisis of 2008 or does it have a “life of its own”, pointing to deeper problems either with the EU itself or global capitalism more generally? What caused the crisis and how can it be resolved – and what does “resolve” mean in this context?
3. What political answers are out there suggested by the Left? Are their regional, European or international in nature? Are they equipped to tackle the problems analyzed above? Is the Left equipped to politically answer or even understand the current crisis? Can you suggest any answers and a path to achieve it? What would need to happen to change the current deadlock?
4. Do the austerity programs mean an end of European Social Democracy? Does the dismantling of the welfare state mean an end of Europe's “third way between Capitalism and Communism”? What implications does this have for the global Left?
A panel event held on November 5th, 2013, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
It is generally assumed that Marxists and other Leftists have the political responsibility to support reforms for the improvement of the welfare of workers. Yet, leading figures from the Marxist tradition-- such as Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky-- also understood that such reforms would broaden the crisis of capitalism and potentially intensify contradictions that could adversely impact the immediate conditions of the workers. For instance, full employment, while being a natural demand from the standpoint of all workers' interests, also threatens the conditions of capitalist production [which rely on a surplus of available labor], thereby potentially jeopardizing the system of employment altogether. In light of such apparent paradoxes, this panel seeks to investigate the politics of work from Leftist perspectives. It will attempt to provoke reflection on and discussion of the ambiguities and dilemmas of the politics of work by including speakers from divergent perspectives, some of whom seek after the immediate abolition of labor and others of whom seek to increase the availability of employment opportunities. It is hoped that this conversation will deepen the understanding of contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.
Democratic Socialists of America/Chicago Political Economy Group
Justice Party/Network for Revolutionary Change
Professor of labor history, University of Illinois at Chicago