At the fifth annual international convention of the Platypus Affiliated Society, speakers from various perspectives were 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 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?
An international forum on the
CRISIS OF THE LEFT
Chicago | NYC | Philly | Boston | Thessaloniki
Crisis: Pathol. The point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death. “…Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics…”
Many on the Left feel a sense of crisis.
Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics. The Platypus Affiliated Society seeks to make the conversation explicit, and to host a series of discussions about the crisis of the contemporary Left: its quality, causes, and significance for future reconstitution and transformation.
Across five cities worldwide, we’ve invited figures from across the Left–academics, political organizers, theorists–to answer and debate six fundamental questions. We also pose these questions to the Left as a whole and invite responses from all quarters. The questions below stem from confusion; taking nothing for granted, we hope that confronting this confusion might open up future possibilities for renewed consciousness and practice on the Left.
1.) How would you define the Left?
2.) Do you think the Left is in crisis? If so, then what constitutes the crisis?
3.) In trying to understand the contemporary Left, what history matters most? What tasks and problems have we inherited from the Old Left and the New Left?
4.) Could the Left have done something to avoid its current impasses? If so, what?
5.) What is the relationship between the Left and anti-capitalism? Between the Left and Marxism? What should it be?
How does the Left need to change? Who is responsible for making the change happen?
Paul Berman is a writer on politics and literature who is affiliated with two magazines, The New Republic and Dissent, and also contributes from time to time to the New York Times, once in a while to Slate, and to other journals. He has written a history of the left-wing Generation of 1968 around the world, so far in two volumes, under the titles "A Tale of Two Utopias" and "Power and the Idealists." His other books include "The Flight of the Intellectuals," "Terror and Liberalism," and a number of edited anthologies, including a "Selected Poems" of Carl Sandburg. His books have been translated into fifteen languages. His next book will be a study of Nathaniel Hawthorne - who, after all, went through a socialist phase.
Carl Dix is a long-time revolutionary activist. He was one of the Fort Lewis 6, soldiers who refused to ship off to Vietnam. He is a founding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA. He is a leading figure in the movement to stop the mass incarceration of Black and Latino youth.
Bertell Ollman is a professor in the Dept. of Politics at NYU, but has also given courses on Marx at Oxford and Columbia. He is the author of Alienation: Marx's Conception of Man in Capitalist Society, Social and Sexual Revoluition: Essays on Marx and Reich, Dance of the Dialectic: Steps in Marxâs Method, Class Struggle is the Name of the Fame: True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman (he is also the creator of the Class Struggle board game), How to Take an Exam...and Remake the World, and a number of other works in this general area. He is currently completing the first collection of Marx's writings on economic crisis.
Marco Roth is an editor and co-founder of n+1 magazine.
Nikil Saval is an associate editor of n+1, where he is a frequent contributor. His writing has appeared in Slate, The New York Times, Oxford American, and The London Review of Books. He is currently working on a book about the history of office design and white-collar work.
Jeremy Cohan is a PhD candidate in sociology at NYU, as well as the lead NYC organizer for the Platypus Affiliated Society. Jeremy has written and presented on the political and social theory of Marx, Georg Lukacs, and Michel Foucault; he has chaired several panels for the Platypus Affiliated Society, including on nationalism, bourgeois revolutions, Obama and the Left, and sexual liberation; he is currently doing research on transformations in American education and on early twentieth century revolutions. He has taught introductory sociology and philosophy courses, as well as courses on fascism, and will be a graduate assistant in the year to come in a program on Critical Theory and the Arts.
A roundtable discussion between Alan Goodman from The Revolutionary Communist Party USA, and Richard Rubin from Platypus entitled “Marxism and Israel: Left Perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” at Hunter College in New York City. Panelists were asked to speak on the role the Left has played in the development of Israel, the Left’s analysis of the role of American intervention in the Middle East, and what a critical Marxian approach to the conflict currently looks like, compared to what it might look like.
Questions for the panelists:
1. Historically, what role has the Marxist Left played in the development of Israel? What would a critical Marxist perspective on Israel, the ideology of Zionism and the Palestinian conflict look like? Has a Left critique historically been applied?
2. What is the relationship between American political hegemony and Israel? How has this traditionally been understood by the "Left", and how is it now portrayed? Has this understanding obscured attempts at political and theoretical analysis? How has it affected the international "Left's" approach to the actual political opposition among Palestinians?
3. Why have leftist approaches to the conflict emphasized a politics of resistance over cogent political visions? Do measures, such as BDS campaigns and the Flotilla effort, that seek to delegitimize Israel and the ideology of Zionism through resistance to its immediate means and policies ameliorate immediate social conditions or clarify political conditions? If not, what sort of approach should be emphasized?