An anti-revisionist at the 2013 Platypus Convention

(CV #48, June 2013)

As editor of Communist Voice, I attended the meetings of the Platypus International Convention from Friday to Saturday, April 5-6, and spoke on two panels on April 6. The theme of the convention was "Program and Utopia"; and most of the speakers don't seem to have been members of Platypus.

The Platypus Affiliated Society is an odd sort of organization — self-consciously so, as one can see by its name "Platypus", which is a reference to a strange-looking animal that is one of the few mammals that lays eggs. Their motto is "The left is dead! Long live the left!"; which means that they are devoted to dealing with the crisis of the left. Unfortunately, it isn't clear what they mean by the "left", nor how they expect to overcome its crisis. They mainly organize reading groups and forums on various subjects, and publish the Platypus Review, which carries articles mostly from outside Platypus. Their theory is a combination of Trotskyism with the Frankfurt school, while we at Communist Voice regard Trotskyism and postmodernism as symptoms of the crisis of the left, and hold that it is crucial to continue the anti-revisionist struggle, which requires opposing both revisionist ideologies, Trotskyism and Stalinism. But the positive part of the work of Platypus is organizing an exchange of views among activists of very different political trends.

I ended up speaking on two panels: One was the anti-imperialism panel: the official subject was whether there was a contradiction between anti-fascism and anti-imperialism, but the real subject was the Arab Spring and the Syrian uprising. Of the three panelists, I was the only one to defend the Syrian and Libyan uprisings. I gave a realistic assessment of the disappointing type of regimes that could be expected to arise from the struggles of the Arab Spring, while nevertheless holding that the overthrow of the old regimes was of tremendous importance for the revolutionary working class and the future development of anti-imperialism. I opposed non-class anti-imperialism, which judges struggles from their momentary effect, real or imagined, on the maneuvers of rival imperialisms rather than on their lasting effects on the situation of the working people.

My defense of the Syrian uprising met with the bitter opposition of Larry Everest, the speaker from the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party of the USA. He is a zealous supporter of non-class anti-imperialism; he spoke emotionally and at length of the crimes of imperialism and of RCP's Program and its Constitution for the future socialist republic, but overlooked an assessment of the current stage of the mass struggle in the Middle East or its importance for the future development of the revolutionary movement. He denounced me for supposedly backing "humanitarian imperialism" for supporting the Libyan uprising despite the NATO air intervention and for supporting the right of the insurgents to make use of the intervention. I denounced him as a liar, because he had heard me denounce Western imperialism, point out its danger to the Arab Spring, and the need for us to always expose its motives. At the same time I held that it was legitimate for uprisings to make use of the differences among outside reactionary powers, and that few revolutions in history had ever succeeded without doing so. The irony, of course, is that the RCP supports movements and governments that have also made use of such contradictions, and in particular in the discussion Larry Everest emphasized the importance of the Soviet Union’s struggle against the Nazis,  and yet the Soviet Union received massive military aid from Western imperialism in World War II.

The other panel I spoke on was the environmental panel, where the subject was why the left and the environmental movement weren't doing that well. I was the only panelist who spoke of the need to build a working-class environmental movement that would openly oppose establishment environmentalism and its advocacy of failed market measures such as cap and trade or new fiascoes in the making, such as the carbon tax. The other two panelists would speak of opposing the fundamental logic of capitalism and of changes they wanted to see in society, but they wouldn't give an assessment of the nature of establishment environmentalism (correct on the dangers of global warming, but advocating harmful market measures).

Meanwhile the most notable figure at the convention was probably Andreas Karitzis, the representative from the Greek organization Syriza ("Coalition of the Radical Left - Unitary Social Front"), which is the official opposition in the Greek parliament to the servile parties of austerity. In fact, Syriza almost won the national elections of June 2012. And unlike the sell-out Greek Socialists, who are part of the pro-austerity coalition, Syriza is fighting austerity. Their representative described the history of Syriza, how it worked with the mass movements, and the brutal pressure from the bourgeoisie against them. But from the several presentations he gave, it also appears that Syriza isn't sure what it would or could do if it does come to power. This uncertainty was a major point in the discussion about Greece. This, it seems to me, shows one aspect of the fact that, despite Karitzis' talk of overcoming capitalism, Syriza is a reformist party. It would prefer to proceed by renegotiating the austerity deal and getting better terms. It seems to know that this isn't likely to be possible, yet it hasn't yet confronted the question of what radical steps would be necessary to oppose the brutal financial, economic and political pressure the European bourgeoisie would put on a Greek government that rejects austerity.

For the text of my presentation on imperialism, see page 43.

For the text of my presentation on the environment, see page 27.

Videos of the entire discussion at these panels can be found at http://platypus1917.org/2013/04/06/what-is-imperialism-what-now-media/ and http://platypus1917.org/2013/04/06/capital-history-and-environmental-politics/. Other panels, including those with presentations by the representative of Syriza, can be found at  http://platypus1917.org/2013/04/06/differing-perspectives-on-the-left-syriza-greece/, http://platypus1917.org/2013/04/06/the-labor-left-after-politics-and-after-utopia/ and http://platypus1917.org/2013/04/06/feed/.

– Joseph Green <>


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