Contrary to Hegel, who sought to consummate in theory the system that emerged as humanity rendered itself the necessary product of history, Marx is thought to have definitively indicted this system, or at least what it became. Marx’s critique is understood as a ‘systemic’ critique, a critique not of the actions of individuals or groups but of the whole social structure within which individuals and groups are bound to adopt the social roles that give them actuality. Marx offered no alternative system however, and that alternative which was eventually offered in his name ended in calamity.
Yet Marx did not offer such a critique. Rather, he recognized that the system had already become self-critical, and that this criticism was now advancing in the form of the struggles of the proletariat. It was with this struggle that Marx identified his criticism, a criticism which is nothing if not a critical participation in the political struggle, and thus a struggle to transform the ‘system’ on its own basis. “By raising the representative system from its political form to the universal form and by bringing out the true significance underlying this system, the critic at the same time compels this party to go beyond its own confines, for its victory is at the same time its defeat.” Continue reading →
Plenary 1: The 1990s Left today (Friday, March 30th, 2012)
Description: After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and collapse of the Soviet Union soon after, a new political era opened, in which Marxism was discredited and anarchism became predominant on the radical Left. The most pressing challenges of post-Cold War neo-liberal globalization came amid an era of prosperity at the supposed “end of history.” Postmodernist disenchantment with “grand narratives” of emancipation meant a turn against “ideology.” Social “justice” rather than freedom became the watchword for a better world. “Resistance” and “horizontal” or “rhizomatic” politics provided a model for “changing the world without taking power” (as John Holloway, inspired by the Zapatistas, put it). Information technology — the rise of the internet — matched the new cosmopolitanism. The global order of “empire” confronted by the “multitude” demanded access to the “commonwealth” (Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri). The “death of communism” challenged the Left’s imagination of an emancipated future. “Black bloc” protest and “communization” theory replaced traditional socialism, as the 20th century came to an uncertain close.
Plenary 2: The 2000s Left today (Saturday, March 31st, 2012)
Description: As a result of the 9/11 attacks, the War on Terror rekindled anti-imperialist protest, even while it seemed to deliver a grave blow to the newly emergent World Social Forum, “alterglobalization” movement. Neo-conservatism in the U.S. presented the specter of growing divisions in the global order, to which the world’s most vulnerable might fall victim. Religious fundamentalism appeared to surge. Disenchantment with capitalist development accompanied the social imagination of ecological crisis and economic downturn: the desire for a “green economy” and apparent need for decreased consumption. At the same time, new intensification of global migration of workers presented challenges for political integration. The U.S. and allied wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond, were met by an anti-war movement and a new generation of radicalization. But the wars were eclipsed by financial crisis and Obama’s election, bringing anti-austerity protests (setting the stage later for #Occupy), as the first decade of the 21st century ended with the economic crisis lingering and even deepening, scotching hopes for a reversal of neoliberalism and return to “Keynesian” social investment policies. Neoliberalism and neoconservatism both stood in disrepute, but without presenting a clear alternative for the future. Continue reading →