A panel event held at the Inaugural European Conference of the Platypus Affiliated Society contemplating the question of left unity. The panel was held at Goldsmiths College on July 19, 2014.
Communist Party of Great Britain
International Bolshevik Tendency
A workshop with the CPGB held at the Inaugural European Conference of the Platypus Affiliated Society on Saturday, July 19th, 2014 at Goldsmiths College, London.
Every year at Platypus conferences, speakers from various perspectives are asked to bring their experience of the Left’s recent history to bear on today’s political possibilities and challenges as part of the “Differing Perspectives on the Left” workshop series.
A moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A with thinkers, activists and political figures focused on contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class. Held on March 21st, 2014 at Goldsmith's College.
Federico Campagna (author of 'The Last Night - anti-work, atheism, adventure', Zero Books, 2013)
Jack Conrad, Communist Party of Great Britain.
Rachael Maskell, Unite National Officer; and South London People's Assembly.
"Capital is not a book about politics, and not even a book about labour: it is a book about unemployment." - Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One
"...the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all." - Joan Robinson
"The error consists in believing that labor, by which I mean heteronomous, salaried labor, can and must remain the essential matter. It's just not so. According to American projections, within twenty years labor time will be less than half that of leisure time. I see the task of the left as directing and promoting this process of abolition of labor in a way that will not result in a mass of unemployed on one side, and aristocracy of labor on the other and between them a proletariat which carries out the most distasteful jobs for forty-five hours a week. Instead, let everyone work much less for his salary and thus be free to act in a much more autonomous manner...Today "communism" is a real possibility and even a realistic proposition, for the abolition of salaried labor through automation saps both capitalist logic and the market economy." - Andre Gorz
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 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 the contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.
1. How do you characterize work and employment as a political issue in contemporary society? What is wrong with unemployment? And/or what is wrong with work?
2. A distinction is often drawn between "work" as purposeful human activity (presumably existing before and after capitalism), on the one hand, and "work" in the sense of labor in capitalism, where the worker undertakes purposeful activity for money under threat of material scarcity (typically in the form of wage labor), on the other hand. Is this distinction politically relevant when thinking about work? In a free society, would work manifest in one or both senses?
3. If the widely observable phenomenon of overwork and unemployment is a necessary feature of capitalist society, why and how is this so? What kinds of social necessity, in the present organization of the world, do you take to be underlying this phenomenon? Then, given your understanding of the nature of this necessity, what would it mean to radically transform it?
4. In the history of the Left, what examples do you regard as informing your attitude towards the politics of work and unemployment today, and what is relevant about these touchpoints?
5. Historically, the left has sought to remedy the problems of overwork and unemployment, through various means: full employment; a guaranteed minimum income regardless of employment; and/or shorter working hours for those employed. Which of these, if any, do you consider to be adequate responses, and how, if at all, should the Left pursue them?
6. If the abolition of wage labor should indeed be a goal of emancipatory politics, what forms of politics or concrete demands should be pursued to attain this goal? How do we get from "here" to "there"?
7. Given the breadth of issues and struggles pursued by the Left historically and today--race and racism, gender equality, environmental concerns, globalization, militarism, etc--what is the relationship between the politics of work and the broader project of social emancipation? Exactly how central or peripheral is the politics of work to social emancipation as such?
8. Where do you find the most promising attempts by the Left to address the issue of work and unemployment, today? What makes this contemporary work relevant and propitious?
9. What role, if any, do you assign to political organization, such as an actual or potential political party, in working to progressively transform contemporary relations of work and unemployment? What should be the relationship between any such organization and the working class?
10. A century ago, these questions were consciously taken up by a politically constituted workers movement in which socialists and Marxists participated. Today, discussions of this topic risk becoming utopian in the a-political sense. How, if at all, has the decline of workers movements and the death of the Left circumscribed our ability to engage the politics of work in the present?
A panel event held at New York University on April 18th, 2013.
Recently, a series of exchanges between the Communist Party of Great Britain (PCC), the International Bolshevik Tendency, and the Platypus Affiliated Society has unfolded, mapping a field of positions and historical perspectives whose contours trace some of the most provocative contemporary perspectives on Marxism, socialism, and democracy.
With this public forum speakers will take stock of the points of convergence and divergence that have emerged in order to push the conversation further on key issues such as Left unity, neo-Kautskyism, factionalism, Trotskyism, sectarianism, Leninism and Bolshevism, democratic organization and political program. The event will feature:
Please see the link below for a helpful compilation of debates between the Communist Party of Great Britain (PCC), the International Bolshevik Tendency, and the Platypus Affiliated Society.
The full compilation may be found here.
A panel held on April 6, 2013, at the 2013 Platypus International Convention at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Transcribed in Platypus Review #59 (Click below to see):
Ten years on from the US invasion of Iraq, are we any closer to understanding what Imperialism is and why we are against it? The problem of Imperialism seems to be getting more difficult to clarify, in relation to our present moment. Since the euphoria around the Arab Spring has passed, the Left has had mixed responses to the interventionist foreign policy of the US, UK and France in the Middle East and North Africa.
It is difficult to disentangle and to clarify what relation the Left’s responses to current issues in Libya, Mali and Syria bear to the history of anti-Imperialism. Never-the-less, if we are to ever overcome Imperialism, we must also confront the history of the Left’s attempts to overcome it.
Just over thirty years ago, the Falklands war presented problems for the Left, in terms of being, on the one hand, against imperialism of British intervention, on the other hand, against a brutal military dictatorship in Argentina. Anti-fascism and anti-imperialism have not always been in ideological conflict on the Left. But, it could be argued, that they have increasingly become so. If this is the case, it might suggest a changing character of anti-Imperialism during the history of the 20th Century. Looking further back, to WW1, what did Marxists understand by the term Imperialism? Does being anti-Imperialist, today even mean to be anti-Capitalist? Does being anti-Capitalist, mean to be anti-Imperialist?
In asking ‘What is Imperialism and for what reasons are you against it?’ this panel is also attempting to address ‘What does it mean to be Marxist, and what does it mean to be on the Left, today?’ It is also to ask, what has become of the Left, and conversely, what could it become?