[11.14.2012] "Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis" at the New School in NYC

30 posts / 0 new
Last post
RossWolfe's picture
RossWolfe
Offline
Joined: 10-09-11
Oct 23 2012 04:41
[11.14.2012] "Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis" at the New School in NYC

The Platypus Affiliated Society will be hosting a panel on November 14th, 2012 at Wollman Hall at the New School (Eugene Lang building, 6th floor; 65 W 11th St) in NYC, from 7:30-10:30PM:

RADICAL INTERPRETATIONS OF THE PRESENT CRISIS

Featuring the following speakers:

LOREN GOLDNER ┇ DAVID HARVEY ┇ ANDREW KLIMAN ┇ PAUL MATTICK

Join the Facebook event page.
Download an image file of the event flier.
Download the PDF version of the event flier.

The present moment is arguably one of unprecedented confusion on the Left. The emergence of many new theoretical perspectives on Marxism, anarchism, and the left generally seem rather than signs of a newfound vitality, the intellectual reflux of its final disintegration in history. As for the politics that still bothers to describe itself as leftist today, it seems no great merit that it is largely disconnected from the academic left’s disputations over everything from imperialism to ecology. Perhaps nowhere are these symptoms more pronounced than around the subject of the economy. As Marxist economics has witnessed of late a flurry of recent works, many quite involved in their depth and complexity, recent activism around austerity, joblessness, and non-transparency while quite creative in some respects seems hesitant to oppose with anything but nostalgia for the past the status quo mantra, “There is no Alternative.” At a time when the United States has entered the most prolonged slump since the Great Depression, the European project founders on the shoals of debt and nationalism. If the once triumphant neoliberal project of free markets for free people seems utterly exhausted, the “strange non-death of neo-liberalism,” as a recent book title has it, seems poised to carry on indefinitely. The need for a Marxist politics adequate to the crisis is as great as such a politics is lacking.

And 2011 now seems to be fading into the past. In Greece today as elsewhere in Europe existing Left parties remain largely passive in the face of the crisis, eschewing radical solutions (if they even imagine such solutions to exist). In the United States, #Occupy has vanished from the parks and streets, leaving only bitter grumbling where there once seemed to be creativity and open-ended potential. In Britain, the 2011 London Riots, rather than political protest, was trumpeted as the shafted generation’s response to the crisis, overshadowing the police brutality that actually occasioned it. Finally, in the Arab world where, we are told the 2011 revolution is still afoot, it seems inconceivable that the revolution, even as it bears within it the hopes of millions, could alter the economic fate of any but a handful. While joblessness haunts billions worldwide, politicization of the issue seems chiefly the prerogative of the right. Meanwhile, the poor worldwide face relentless price rises in fuel and essential foodstuffs. The prospects for world revolution seem remote at best, even as bankers and fund managers seem to lament democracy’s failure in confronting the crisis. In this sense, it seems plausible to argue that there is no crisis at all, but simply the latest stage in an ongoing social regression. What does it mean to say that we face a crisis, after all, when there is no real prospect that anything particularly is likely to change, at least not for the better?

In this opaque historical moment, Platypus wants to raise some basic questions: Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Why do seemingly sophisticated leftist understandings of the world appear unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, can the world be thought intelligible without our capacity to self-consciously transform it through practice? Can Marxism survive as an economics or social theory without politics? Is there capitalism after socialism?

Speaker bios:

• LOREN GOLDNER

// Chief Editor of Insurgent Notes; ┇ Author: — Ubu Saved From Drowning: Class Struggle and Statist Containment in Portugal and Spain, 1974-1977 (2000), — "The Sky Is Always Darkest Just Before the Dawn: Class Struggle in the U.S. From the 2008 Crash to the Eve of Occupy" (2011)

• DAVID HARVEY

// Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Grad Center; ┇ Author: — The Limits to Capital (1982), — The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), — A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), — "Why the US Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail" (2008)

• ANDREW KLIMAN

// Professor of Economics at Pace University; ┇ Founding member of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) in 2009; ┇ Author: — Reclaiming Marx's Capital: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (2006), — The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the "Great Recession" (2011)

• PAUL MATTICK

// Professor of Economics, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Adelphi University; ┇ Editor of The Brooklyn Rail ┇ Author: — Social Knowledge: An Essay on the Nature and Limits of Social Science (1986), — Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011)

Event space (capacity 150):



Railyon's picture
Railyon
Offline
Joined: 4-11-11
Oct 23 2012 08:59

Will this be recorded, either on video or audio tape?

Android
Offline
Joined: 7-07-08
Oct 23 2012 09:15
Railyon wrote:
Will this be recorded, either on video or audio tape?

I asked this on FB and was told, yes.

RossWolfe's picture
RossWolfe
Offline
Joined: 10-09-11
Oct 23 2012 14:48

Yes, there'll be both video and audio recordings of the event. We're also planning to hold an event on the same topic with our London chapter at the "Up the Anti" event being held by the Anti-Capitalist Initiative on December 1st.

The New York panel is decidedly heavy on Marxist perspectives. For London we have Hillel Ticktin, a very serious disciple of Mandel, and hopefully we can secure a Ciffite from the SWP or Counterfire to represent both rival perspectives. And we'd like to get David Graeber, whose political views are anarchist and whose intellectual training is as an anthropologist (he's very adamant that he's not an economist, and has a number of critiques of economics as a discipline). We're also inviting some communization theorists for that London panel, though Benjamin Noys and Marina Vishmidt sadly won't be able to make it, but we're looking into getting someone from Endnotes/Blaumachen.

Any suggestions for London would be welcome, if there's anyone you know who you think would be good on this topic!

If we do an event in our Boston chapter we'll probably look to get another person from a more anarchist background, like Michael Albert from ParEcon, with whom we've done events in the past.

RossWolfe's picture
RossWolfe
Offline
Joined: 10-09-11
Oct 23 2012 14:58

double post

Railyon's picture
Railyon
Offline
Joined: 4-11-11
Oct 23 2012 18:02
RossWolfe wrote:
Yes, there'll be both video and audio recordings of the event.

Sweet, looking forward to it!

RossWolfe wrote:
For London we have Hillel Ticktin, a very serious disciple of Mandel, and hopefully we can secure a Ciffite from the SWP or Counterfire to represent both rival perspectives. And we'd like to get David Graeber, whose political views are anarchist and whose intellectual training is as an anthropologist (he's very adamant that he's not an economist, and has a number of critiques of economics as a discipline). We're also inviting some communization theorists for that London panel, though Benjamin Noys and Marina Vishmidt sadly won't be able to make it, but we're looking into getting someone from Endnotes/Blaumachen.

This sounds like a political stew out of hell, in a way... I'm down with communization and Graeber personally but I don't know about putting two Trotskyist varieties in the same room, that could get explosive. tongue

RossWolfe wrote:
Any suggestions for London would be welcome, if there's anyone you know who you think would be good on this topic!

How about Werner Bonefeld? He's a politics prof at York uni and one of the founding fathers of Open Marxism.

RossWolfe wrote:
If we do an event in our Boston chapter we'll probably look to get another person from a more anarchist background, like Michael Albert from ParEcon, with whom we've done events in the past.

Now sure if I would call Albert an anarchist. But people around here are not going crazy for Parecon anyway (and rightly so IMO)

RossWolfe's picture
RossWolfe
Offline
Joined: 10-09-11
Oct 27 2012 20:51

Thanks man, so far it looks like for our London panel we have the following:

David Graeber (Goldsmiths College)
Saul Newman (Goldsmiths College)
Hillel Ticktin (CPGB)
James Woudhuysen (Spiked)

Hopefully we will also be getting Anthony Iles from Mute to bring a communization perspective.

We're also going to have one in Chicago, apparently, and already have three speakers for that. Though I'm not sure who we've got scheduled for that so far. Stay tuned!

Android
Offline
Joined: 7-07-08
Nov 16 2012 10:14

Recording of the talk is online:

http://media.platypus1917.org/radical-interpretations-of-the-present-cri...

Noa Rodman's picture
Noa Rodman
Offline
Joined: 4-11-09
Nov 16 2012 11:54

The point at which Artesian left (mentioned on the other thread), namely when Harvey started "rambling" on about finding oxidizable money, is actually a crucial issue, which someone should try to raise at the London panel. In his Capital lecture Harvey speaks of Marx's claim that the credit system can never be emancipated from money (gold), and says that after the end of the gold standard in the 1970s, we see that Marx was wrong. It is not a coincidence that Harvey would then start speaking of Marx's unfair critique of Proudhon and so on.

Definitely Graeber (who boldly states that the 70s are the start of a new world epoch of non-metal money) can be pitted against Ticktin (whose Critique journal is one of the only to still defend Marx's theory of money).

"money — in the form of precious metal — remains the foundation from which the credit system, by its very nature, can never detach itself"

http://libcom.org/library/credit-romanticism-golden-pincers-zachary-atla...

Money is certainly a concrete enough issue (and if it's an academic question, well then, do ask it from these panelists; also it can avoid letting the discussion drift into generalities).

Android
Offline
Joined: 7-07-08
Nov 16 2012 13:14

Just listened to the recording. Maybe I have not paid enough attention to Harvey. I knew he was a social-democratic, but his stuff (from about 1:55) from that meeting, on money is mental - creating a form of money that is anti-accumulation!

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Nov 16 2012 13:54

We should all start hoarding!

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Nov 16 2012 14:52

IMO, Harvey doesn't have a clue. He rambles on about "contradictions" giving us the profound insight about a contradiction between use value and exchange value and then utilizing that profound insight to inform us that the reason for the MBS sub-prime implosion is that housing is produced as a commodity. It's one thing to belabor the obvious. It's quite another thing to present banality as erudition.

His nonsense about oxidizable money is just that. Paper money is oxidizable. It burns. That's what oxidation is. And Noa omits Herr Doktor Harvey's "concrete example" of oxidizable money which is-- fasten your seat belt--- frequent flyer miles. I am not making this up. Verbatim. Frequent flyer miles.

Harvey would benefit for doing a bit of math on frequent flyer miles-- like how much they cost passengers to obtain and then how much they are "worth" when redeemed.

It's nonsense, pure and simple.

Right, it's no coincidence that Harvey refers to Marx's unfair critique of Proudhon. We should look at the real content of that critique, namely that Proudhon wants capital to be capital without the capital. Which is exactly what Harvey wants.

Harvey really really doesn't have a clue as to how the credit system generates, and its function. He then slips easily into the nonsense about "fictitious capital" as flogged by Goldner and others, as if somehow it is the "fictitious" nature of credit... lacking some sort of 1:1 correspondence with "hard capital assets" (or gold in the 'monetarist' version) that embodies the "irrationality" of capitalist accumulation. What baloney.

The credit system is generated and regenerated in capital in the lags, delays, differing rates of turnover. The movement of credit allows the production process to maintain itself as part of the circulation process, and vice-versa.

FWIW, I thought the entire format of the "event" was god-awful. The speakers were supposed to address 6 topics, which were made up of 24 questions (according to my count) and each speaker had 12, count 'em--12, minutes.

Goldner gave his usual spiel about fictitious capital, augmented by his adoption of Rosa Luxemburg's mis-representation of primitive accumulation in the 19th century (Rosa got it so completely wrong re Egypt in the 19th century, it's downright painful). It's a shame, I think. He hasn't moved beyond the analysis presented by the defunct US National Caucus of Labor Committees in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Harvey gave us the above mumbo-jumbo.

Mattick appeared to engage Marxism as if he were matching elements of a wardrobe for a night out.

Kliman, IMO again, did the best job-- actually locating the current predicament of capital in the real, and recent, history of profit and accumulation.

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Nov 16 2012 20:14
S. Artesian wrote:
as if somehow it is the "fictitious" nature of credit... lacking some sort of 1:1 correspondence with "hard capital assets" (or gold in the 'monetarist' version) that embodies the "irrationality" of capitalist accumulation. What baloney.

Yeah, this really important. It's one thing when honest people who don't have a clue about Marx do that, but it's really sad to see Harvey argue for stupid shit like that.

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Nov 16 2012 20:42

Sadder too when you argue about this for years with a friend, as Goldner is. Bugs me sometimes, but hey, nobody's perfect. One thing that I found striking, and you can see this on a video, is how poor most of the speakers are at stirring the audience-- how really unengaging they make Marxism appear.

I mean you have riots going on in Greece, strikes everywhere from Bangladesh to Ontario. You've got a government of the posh and the twits in the UK; you got Merkel touring telling people that poverty is good for the soul; you've got Draghi saying the "ECB is just about done" [referring to the Greece situation, but obviously the statement has more meaning than that]. You have Lagarde rolling her eyes at the EU Finance Ministers, with the EU setting itself new deadlines every week to "resolve" the Greece situation and of course not doing it... And yet, the panel can't make, at least IMO, Marx's critique come alive with any of this.

What an opportunity to lance this abscess of capital's pretense at being the best of all possible worlds. What an opportunity to spit the word "bourgeoisie" with every sentence, so that contempt and materialist critique are forever made inseparable. What an opportunity to agitate, provoke. What missed opportunities.

Ogion
Offline
Joined: 8-05-12
Nov 18 2012 02:44

And, perhaps worse still, the Platypus Society hosted the panel. That should have been a big red light from the beginning, I think.

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Nov 18 2012 04:06

Yeah, but Goldner's a friend, I like Kliman's books, don't know anything about Mattick, and although I've read some of Harvey, I wanted to know if he was as unimpressive in person as he is on the printed page.

Ogion
Offline
Joined: 8-05-12
Nov 18 2012 05:02

Sure, and I’m not saying people shouldn’t have gone. I’ve just personally found that the Platypus Society as an organization thinks the main task ahead is to endlessly go on about and focus on how “declining” or “disoriented” “the left” (“the left” always seems to be defined only vaguely or rigidly) has been at the expense of any useful theory or practical politics. Doing so in itself is somehow an advance. They’ve struck me as being both pretty elitist and obscurantist, and naturally it comes from the Trotskyist and Adornoist background. So they ask four speakers who they think specialize in “Marxist economics” (quoting from the flier) to give their perspectives on the crisis, and in doing so, think this will help towards continuing to go on about the “declining” and “disoriented” “left” and towards their brand of Marxism. I’m sure that’s not what most of the audience got from it, of course, but that’s more or less what the Platypus Society wanted the audience to get from it.

Plus, I've heard platypuses complain and tell me it gives them a bad name.

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Nov 18 2012 05:02

Absolutely agree with every word, Ogion.

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Nov 18 2012 08:57

Well, I talked to someone from the London chapter of Platypus at the Bookfair. After giving my well prepared introduction of KPK on where we come from, what we do, what we've published, etc. (like a good boy scout), the person asked: "So what do you read? What reading groups do you organize?".

I hadn't thought they'd ask about something like that, but I quickly found an answer and said (like a good grad student) that we're doing a reading of Capital vols. 1 and 2 (which is actually true). But it didn't seem to go down very well – quite the contrary, I could see the disappointment (or was it contempt?) in their face smile. I guess reading an excerpt from a different Adorno every week is so much better.

Devrim's picture
Devrim
Offline
Joined: 15-07-06
Nov 18 2012 09:38
S. Artesian wrote:
One thing that I found striking, and you can see this on a video, is how poor most of the speakers are at stirring the audience-- how really unengaging they make Marxism appear.

S. Artesian wrote:
I've read some of Harvey, I wanted to know if he was as unimpressive in person as he is on the printed page.

Harvey is terrible. I listened to a couple of podcasts of him 'doing' capital, but gave up because he was just so absolutely boring. I could never understand why he had become so 'popular'. I later, in an effort to understand why, tried to read some of his stuff, but as people say, it is pretty much nonsense. What on earth is the attraction here?

Devrim

Hektor Rotweiler
Offline
Joined: 11-08-11
Nov 18 2012 16:47

I think Jura should have a reading group on Capital Volume 1 and 2 with the people who organized and most of the people who spoke on the panel. (although I have to say the other Mattick articles and talks I've seen have been aight) That Harvey bit on oxidizable money is pure comic gold! We could at lest start copying and pasting his libcom posts as comments on Harvey's lectures on Capital.

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Nov 18 2012 17:22

It really is comic gold. I just can't believe the audience didn't laugh Harvey out of the building when he started that nonsense. Maybe they did, I left after making my rude interruption from the gallery.

Sometimes you just have to wonder about the excess ego that makes a person blind to how stupid they make themselves look.

Hieronymous's picture
Hieronymous
Offline
Joined: 27-07-07
Nov 19 2012 01:27

In about 2003 or 2004 I received a call from a comrade, saying to hurry over to the UC Berkeley campus because Harvey was speaking to a small group of graduate students. It was a gathering of mostly sycophantic students asking lame questions to impress their professors -- who also were in attendance. This went on for an hour, but many profs and grad students had to leave to teach their classes. Someone asked if we'd like to continue, and a dozen or so of us said yes and then it became a more informal discussion.

I had just read Harvey's Limits to Capital and asked a question about his study groups. The book said that he had continuously had Marx study groups since 1971, with everyone from grad students and professors to activists and workers. My question was how the groups were structured, how they were facilitated and how often they met, and other nuts-and-bolts concerns since my comrades and I had just started a Capital volume I study group ourselves. Harvey perked up, gave some pretty good suggestions (if I remember correctly, like reading all 3 volumes and also the Grundrisse) and the discussion went on for another hour. At one point Harvey refuted a guy praising Bolivarian socialism in South America and was pretty good in saying that was just a variant of state capitalism.

As the conversation wound down, someone pleaded for Harvey to tell us "what to do" with all this understanding of Marx. He shirked, said under his breath something like "that bloody question again," shrugged his shoulders and said, after an extremely long pause: "I don't know, just get rid of this Bush guy!" It was like his statement -- that would be a stretch to even call Social Democratic -- was a pin-prick that deflated the balloon of all the relevant things he had said that afternoon. I wished I'd never gone to hear him speak. But I've never met a professor who is any more radical than Harvey; he's typical of all the self-professed radical professors. It comes with the territory, I guess.

Goldner's cut from similar cloth, except he's completely disingenuous about revealing his sources. That is, until he recruits you into his neo-NCLC inner-circle. Then it's an authoritarian pedagogy of these 3 crucial texts:

    1. Dialectical Economics by Lyn Marcus. Do you get the allusion? It's a contraction of Lenin-Marx. The pseudonym of current far-right crypto-fascist politician Lyndon LaRouche.
    2. The Accumulation of Capital by Rosa Luxemburg. She was correct about so much, like on the national question, working class self-activity, and an internationalist anti-war position. As Artesian pointed out above, the theoretical position of this book is almost entirely flawed.
    3. Capital volume II. This is the Goldnerian-Marcusian-Luxemburgian formula. See the world through the lens of schemas of expanded reproduction.

Goldner is not without his merits. He's done a good job of resuscitating parts of the ultra-left/left communist tradition that were headed for obscurity. With an editor, he can be a brilliant writer. Without one, you get giant embarrassments like his Ubu Saved From Drowning where the book is full of typos. The most egregious is using #1 instead of lower case l throughout the entire book.

I first met Goldner in South Korea in 1997. The presentation of his crisis theory that he gave 15 years ago is 100% identical to the one he gave the other day in New York, with just a few adjustments for recent events. He gave similar presentations in Los Angeles and Oakland in 2010, which had improved because we insisted that he not read a page-length passage from the Grundrisse. The first time he did, we could see the eyes of the audience glaze over with drowsiness. Reading long, difficult passages from a theoretically dense book is the narcotic of the masses.

Artesian is correct that Goldner's handwriting is simply illegible. I stood next to him writing his diagrams 2 years ago and even that close I couldn't make out what they said. Which begs the question of where they come from. That's easy, Dialectical Economics p. 195, Figure 5 for "Departmentalization of Production," p. 217 Figure 6 for "Expanded Reproduction." and p. 218 Figure 7 for "The Structure of Capitalist Development." As though the complexities of a social relationship could be simply refined down to diagrams and schemas.

And this leads to -- like Marcus/LaRouche -- programs out of the crisis. Goldner takes from Marcus a "crash programs around energy: nuclear fusion power," (found here on libcom: see #6), as well as further uses of explicitly capitalist technology, like "implementation of a program of technology export to equalize upward the Third World," or " integration of industrial and agricultural production" (ibid., #s 1 & 9). What the fuck!? We need to offer industrial-technological fixes for the Third World? Like more food production on an agribusiness model? Would this include petroleum-intensive mechanization and chemically-intensive fertilizers/pesticides/herbicides? GMOs? Call me a hippy, but has Goldner ever heard of "permaculture"? More robotic assembly lines to make consumer commodities? Capitalist production techniques embody the alienation and exploitation of the proletariat. As a revolution communizes society, they will be the first to go.

This techno-fetishism is also absurd given the massive destruction to the planet that capitalist accumulation has already caused. Only a fruitcake would advocate using nuclear fusion energy in the name of Marx, But this is not inconsistent with the program of Marcus, emulated by Goldner:

Will Barnes wrote:
The basic categories of Marcus' analysis (“negentropy,” “expanded reproduction”) permit him to identify economically irrational features of capitalist development that are amendable to radical reform. This reform involves markedly increased efficiency and productivity. For Marcus, this reform would greatly lessen the instability of capitalism, ameliorating crises. The reform leads to a capitalism without capitalists based on central planning.

Basically, Goldner hasn't shed his earlier Trotskyism either (like his mentor Lyn Marcus, who came out of the SWP) but has only fused it into a strange amalgam of Trotskio-Luxemburgian-Marcusism. Hence the large number of Trots writing for Insurgent Notes, since Goldner posits them as "the team to beat."

I agree with Artesian about Kliman. His presentation seemed to be the only one addressing the hear-and-now. I thought Mattick made some good points, within such a limiting format. I think the whole framing of the event was incredibly lame.

Now for the ex-Spartacist League Adorno-fetishists in Platypus. I was at the Los Angeles Anarchist Bookfair with one of the British Mouvement Communiste comrades in the summer of 2011. We had some Workers autonomy strikes in China pamphlets on the table. An L.A. Platypus guy strolled by, looked at the pamphlet and asked "Why do you care about the workers in China?" To which the M.C. comrade gave an appropriate reply about supporting class struggle and internationalism. The Platypus guy just scoffed and, like in Jura's example in London, asked what we were reading. I just ignored him, but the British comarde mentioned keeping on top of class struggle globally, to which the Platypus dude just countered with vague post-modern elitist notions of "needing to educate people." At that point we just stopped talking to the fool and he left.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Nov 20 2012 11:40

Agree with much of Hieronymous's comments above.

I have some respect for the short written contributions of Paul Mattick Junior that I have read but the old man himself is still worth a read and his short Critique of Marcuse and 'One Dimensional Man in Class Society' in the library here is worth a re-read even if he was unable to forsee at the time the vast extent of change in the USSR that occurred later.

Hektor Rotweiler
Offline
Joined: 11-08-11
Nov 20 2012 20:05

Hieronymous's anecdote about David Harvey reminds me of a similar one I have about Postone. It few years ago in London during the first wave of the crisis (2008 or 2009?) Postone was speaking at the HM conference on the crisis and he was invited to a weekly crisis meeting that is held London. When it came to be his turn to give his analysis of the conference pretty much the only thing he had to contribute was that he thought the tea party were worrying and they would be successful in the upcoming elections.

Spikymike
Offline
Joined: 6-01-07
Dec 6 2012 14:44

There is a short report of this meeting on the IP blog though it doesn't add much to the discussion here.

See: http://internationalist-perspective.org/blog/

RossWolfe's picture
RossWolfe
Offline
Joined: 10-09-11
Jan 24 2013 22:22

Sorry to be coming so late to respond to these various points.

Jura: Regarding the various volumes of Capital, I just assume most people have read them or know their basic structure. A lot of our members, including myself, were students of Moishe Postone at the University of Chicago. Whatever one thinks of his version of value-critique (and I tend to find it fairly robust and comprehensive, albeit politically problematic), his year-long class on Marx's Capital goes over all three volumes, chapter by chapter, as well as large chunks of the Grundrisse.

As far as Platypus reading groups go, we tend to focus more on Marx's political writings, and then writings from the tradition of political Marxism (Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky) as well as critical theory (Lukacs, Korsch, Adorno). So in terms of Marx, we read his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Communist Manifesto, Class Struggles in France, 1848-1851, The Eighteenth Brumaire, his report with Engels to the Communist League, The Civil War in France, and Critique of the Gotha Program. We occasionally organize special reading groups on political economy or other topics.

S. Artesian: In hindsight, I would have liked to have printed out programs with the questions written out so that I wouldn't have had to read them aloud.

The turnout was incredible, and even a bit overwhelming. I put the estimate at a little over 200 people, though according to some the more realistic number was 250 (more than I even could guess). People showed up really early, and there was an event finishing up beforehand. We had to call in for extra chairs from maintenance. But the audience bore with us as we scrambled to get extra seating. There were a large number of people either standing or in the "overflow sections" on either side (i.e., sitting on the radiators). In terms of the technical setup, there were only two mics on the table, and then a podium with a microphone set up. For Q&A, there was a standing microphone up at the front, which allowed a line later to be formed.

Because of the delay, there seemed to be some impatience from the crowd as to my reading all the questions aloud before the panelists gave their opening remarks. The questions, while crucial in terms of framing the conversation, were a little long for actual recitation. Still, for the record, I timed it: reading out the questions took from 14:05-16:50 of the video. Two minutes, forty-five seconds. Not, as David Harvey suggested, "twenty minutes." I'm pretty sure that reading out the bios they sent me in introducing the panelists, listing all their accolades, took just about as much time as reading the questions aloud. For subsequent editions of the event, I think that it should be boiled down to a minimum, and instead small brochures of the event including the questions written out should be made available to the audience members so they can see if or where the speakers were sidestepping issues raised. Also, it should be noted that in our communication with the speakers we made clear that they wouldn't have to respond to every single question, but rather try to frame their response with respect to those they felt most comfortable addressing.

The question of "fictitious capital" and the idea of financialization as the issue of neoliberalism came up. The basis for this in Marx's own theory is of course developed from some sketches by Marx in volume 3 of Capital. Goldner raised this point, and Harvey later did challenge him on it. Kliman seemed to be nodding his head in agreement with Harvey's criticism of this point, though I'll have to go back and see the video. There were disagreements as to the fundamental contradictions in capitalism, with Harvey's count of 17 distinct contradictions and his attempt to go over "use-value vs. exchange-value" as the most basic of them, illustrated by the housing crisis. Kliman challenged Harvey on this by noting that "exchange-value" is just a form of appearance which masks the more fundamental social relation of value, such that the contradiction was "use-value vs. value."

Loren Goldner often reverted to a rather well-worn spiel, and sadly ignored most of the questions raised by the panel, and I don't think the marker-board was that effective, but where he was good was in raising questions to the other panelists in the response section. Also, he objected to Harvey's rather thinly-veiled Keynesian measures of reform and "new New Deal" policies by making the good point that overcoming capital would require the abolition of the value-form and the reduction to an absolute minimum of necessary labor time. He made good use of the Marx quotation that "The essence of capital is to reduce to a minimum the amount of labor-time necessary to reproduce society while still positing labor-time as the sole measure and guarantor of value." Mattick amplified this point rather elegantly with reference to Marx's own views as well as those of his son-in-law Paul Lafargue's, with "the right to be lazy." Of course, this was a symptomatic moment, because he seemed to put the cutoff point for this understanding of labor as

Mattick blew me away, though. He was clear, concise, and extremely straightforward. He was perhaps the best on the panel. Personally, I find him problematic insofar as he takes the Paul Levi reading of Luxemburg as an anti-Leninist but still, the punchline was there. Mattick seems to agree with the claim that "the Left is dead." He kept repeating it: "the utter disappearance of historical Marxism"; "the complete lack of a Left." Mattick and Kliman really allowed themselves to be pushed by the questions posed for the panel. Kliman more so in his prepared remarks, which were more political and explicitly in response to some of the questions raised. During the Q&A he made some interesting points but sometimes reverted back to his usual song-and-dance. I lost count of the number of times he said "kicking the can down the road." But still, very strong performance from Kliman.

Harvey's prepared remarks were generally pretty good. He established a good rapport with the audience, both through his star power, the quaint charm of his British accent, and his grandfatherly demeanor. To be honest, I somewhat tailored the question of the spatial distribution of the crisis toward Harvey because I knew that he would actually be able to say something interesting and insightful about it. There were a number of felt silences though in the back-and-forth responses. During the Q&A, however, his answers grew increasingly incoherent and even farcical, degenerating into a defense of Proudhon against Marx's criticisms, citing Keynes' General Theory with approval, and proposing a "non-accumulating form of currency" that was oxidizable (the examples he gave were rasberries, airline miles, and these New Deal stamps from the 1930s that were taxed if they weren't used by the end of a given month). The audience, as well as the other panelists, were visibly shocked. I can't even believe we caught it on tape. Apparently, though I couldn't see it from the angle I was at, Mattick's face really telegraphed his reactions to what Harvey was saying. He could be seen just cringing.

The lack of disagreement between the panelists, I think, came mostly with respect to political prescriptions in the present. And that may have almost been the point we were trying to get at through the whole event. "What does it mean to interpret the world without being able to change it? Do drastically different interpretations really recommend different political solutions? What would it mean to say that a group of leftist activists and scholars could disagree substantially over issues of economic or social analysis but barely disagree at all in terms of political solutions?" Because there were a number of disagreements on technical issues of economic interpretation (i.e., the stability of real wages, falling rate of profit, the nature of "fictitious" capital) but there was a general sense of hopelessness as to possible political solutions.

Kliman criticized the idea of a debt jubilee floated by organizations like Strike Debt! as a non-solution but then stressed the need to fight for reforms (even though he said this might ultimately just make things worse in the long term), Harvey raised Argentina 2001-2002 and the radicalism that followed as instructive as a model but then immediately conceded that the radicalization experienced in that country has been utterly reversed over the last 5 years, Loren Goldner (whose activist credentials were probably the most unquestionable) rightly pointed out the huge coordinated strikes in Europe yesterday as encouraging but was generally critical as to the Left's response there, and Paul Mattick was extremely blunt about the disappearance of the historical Left and the need to rebuild a mass international anticapitalist workers' movement before interpretive differences could even be made meaningful at a political level.

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Jan 24 2013 23:35

Pretty good summary, although I was much less impressed by Mattick.

RossWolfe's picture
RossWolfe
Offline
Joined: 10-09-11
Feb 4 2013 18:43

S. Artesian: Not sure if you'd be interested, but if we have any future events you think you'd be qualified to speak on, Platypus will be sure to keep you in mind. Especially now with the Left Forum being pushed back to June and all. Though you seem unimpressed with our project, or feel that it's misguided. Either way, it's up to you.

jura's picture
jura
Offline
Joined: 25-07-08
Feb 4 2013 19:28
RossWolfe wrote:
Regarding the various volumes of Capital, I just assume most people have read them or know their basic structure.

Wow, that's great if it's like that in the US. Somehow I doubt it, though. Anyway, my post was more about the whole "reading groups = very important political activity" thing.