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I. What is the "Left?" — What is "Marxism?"

Saturdays 1–4PM

School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
112 S. Michigan Ave. room 920

University of Chicago (UChicago)
The Reynolds Club 2nd floor South Lounge
5706 S. University Ave.

• required / + recommended reading

A. Sept. 11, 2010 (SAIC only)

• Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism” (2006)
+ Iraqi Communist Party, Letter about the Situation in Iraq (2006)
Spartacist League, “The Senile Dementia of Post-Marxism” (2006)
+ Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood, and Christian Parenti, “ ‘Action Will Be Taken’: Left Anti-Intellectualism and its Discontents” (2002)

B. Sept. 18, 2010 (SAIC only)

• Karl Marx, To make the world philosophical (from Marx's dissertation, 1839–41), For the ruthless criticism of everything existing (1843), Theses on Feuerbach (1845)

C. Sept. 25, 2010 (SAIC only)

• epigraphs by James Miller (on Rousseau), Peter Preuss (on Nietzsche) and Louis Menand (on Edmund Wilson) on modern history and freedom
• Robert Pippin, "On Critical Theory" (2003)
• Chris Cutrone, "Capital in History" (2008)

Week 1. Oct. 2, 2010

Kant,  “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View” (1784)
+ Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754)
• Benjamin Constant, “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns” (1819)
+ Rousseau, selection from The Social Contract (1762)

Week 2. Oct. 9, 2010

• Leszek Kolakowski, “The Concept of the Left” (1968)

Week 3. Oct. 16, 2010

• Max Horkheimer, selections from Dämmerung (1926–31)
• Theodor W. Adorno, “Imaginative Excesses” (1944–47)

Week 4. Oct. 23, 2010

• Siegfried Kracauer, “The Mass Ornament” (1927)
• Wilhelm Reich, “Ideology as Material Power” (1933/46)

Week 5. Oct. 30, 2010

Marx, selections from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts (1844)
Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848)

Week 6. Nov. 6, 2010

• Georg Lukács, “The Phenomenon of Reification” (Part I of “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” History and Class Consciousness, 1923)

Week 7. Nov. 13, 2010

Lukács, “Preface” (1922) , “What is Orthodox Marxism?” (1919) , “Class Consciousness” (1920), History and Class Consciousness (1923)

Week 8. Nov. 20, 2010

• Karl Korsch, “Marxism and Philosophy” (1923)
+ Marx, To make the world philosophical (from Marx's dissertation, 1839–41), For the ruthless criticism of everything existing (1843)
+ Korsch, “The Marxism of the First International” (1924)

Week 9. Dec. 4, 2010 (SAIC) / Jan. 15, 2011 (UChicago)

• Juliet Mitchell, “Women: the Longest Revolution” (1966)
• Clara Zetkin and Vladimir Lenin, “An interview on the woman question” (1920)
Adorno, “Sexual Taboos and the Law Today” (1963)
• John D’Emilio, “Capitalism and Gay Identity” (1983)

Week 10. Dec. 11, 2010 (SAIC) / Jan. 22, 2011 (UChicago)

• Richard Fraser, “Two Lectures on the Black Question in America and Revolutionary
• James Robertson and Shirley Stoute, “For Black Trotskyism” (1963)
+ Spartacist League, “Black and Red: Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom” (1966)
+ Bayard Rustin, “The Failure of Black Separatism” (1970)
• Adolph Reed, “Black Particularity Reconsidered” (1979)
+ Reed, “Paths to Critical Theory” (1984)

Week 11. Dec. 18, 2010 (SAIC) / Jan. 8, 2011 (UChicago)

+ Marx, selections from the Grundrisse (1857–61)
• Martin Nicolaus, “The Unknown Marx” (1968)
Postone, “Necessity, Labor, and Time” (1978)
+ André Gorz, from Strategy for Labor (1964)
+ Murray Bookchin, Listen, Marxist! (1969)

10 sessions of readings introducing the raison d'être of the Platypus project.

Platypus Marxist reading group

June 5 – August 14, 2010

Saturdays 1–4PM at:

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 S. Michigan Ave. room 707

Marx and Marxism

Marx and Engels at work together
Marx and Engels at work together

Readings pp. from Robert C. Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader (Norton 2nd ed., 1978) (* at

June 5

Karl Marx on the history of his opinions (from Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy), pp. 3–6

Marx, To make the world philosophical, pp. 9–11

Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existing, pp. 12–15

Marx, Theses on Feuerbach, pp. 143–145

June 12

Marx, On The Jewish Question, pp. 26–52

June 19

Marx, The coming upheaval [see bottom of section, beginning with "Economic conditions had first transformed the mass"] (from The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847), pp. 218–219

Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto, pp. 469–500

Marx, Address to the Central Committee of the Communist League, pp. 501–511

June 26

The tactics of social democracy (Engels's introduction to Marx, The Class Struggles in France), pp. 556–573

Marx, from The Class Struggles in France 1848–50, pp. 586–593

July 3

[break for Independence Day weekend]

July 10

Marx, The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, pp. 594–617

July 17

Marx, On imperialism in India, 653–664 (available online as The British Rule in India and The Future Results of British Rule in India)

Marx and Engels, Europocentric world revolution, pp. 676–677 (available online as Marx to Engels October 8, 1858 and Engels to Kautsky September 12, 1882)

July 24

Marx, The Civil War in France, pp. 618–652

July 31

Marx, Inaugural address to the First International, pp. 512–519

Karl Korsch, The Marxism of the First International *

August 7

Korsch, Introduction to Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme *

Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, pp. 525–541

August 14

Max Horkheimer, "The Authoritarian State" (1940) (in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, eds. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt, pp. 95–117)

* * *

August 28

Vladimir Lenin, "Karl Marx" (1914)

Dear Platypi,

Please join us on the weekend of March 19th at the 2010 Left Forum. Platypus members from Toronto, Chicago, Boston along with New York City members will be there both presenting and chairing these panels.  Below are a list of Platypus organized panels along with their respective line-ups and time slots.

Session 3: SATURDAY, 3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
The American Left and the “Black Question”: From Politics to Protest to the Post-Political
Benjamin Blumberg (Chair) - Platypus Affiliated Society
Tim Barker - Columbia University Student
Pamela Nogales - Platypus Affiliated Society
Christopher Cutrone - Platypus Affiliated Society
Session 4: SATURDAY, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Politics of the Contemporary American Student Left
Pam Nogales (Chair) - Platypus Affiliated Society
Ashley Weger - Platypus Affiliated Society (Depaul Chapter Head)
Hannah Rappleye - New School alumnus, former Senior Editor of the NS Free Press
Easton Smith - Sarah Lawrence student, Unite Here organizer
Session 4: SATURDAY, 5:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Nationalism, Anti-Imperialism and International Solidarity Today
Jeremy Cohan (Chair) - Platypus Affiliated Society (New York University chapter)
Ryan Hardy- Platypus Affiliated Society
Spencer Leonard Platypus- Affiliated Society
TBA (Writer for Revolution Newspaper)
Peter Hudis (U.S. Marxist-Humanists)
SESSION 5: SUNDAY, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
Marxism and Anarchism: The Relevance of Radical Traditions Today
Blair Taylor (Chair) -
Ian Morrison - Platypus Affiliated Society
Annie Day - Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP)
Peter Staudenmaier - Cornell University
SESSION 5: SUNDAY, 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM
The Left and Prospects for Democracy in the Middle East: Iraq
Laura Lee Schmidt (Chair) - Platypus Affiliated Society; History, Theory and Criticism of Art and Architecture, MIT
Issam Shukri - Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI)
Kanan Makiya - Brandeis University
Christopher Cutrone - Platypus Affiliated Society; University of Chicago
SESSION 6: SUNDAY, 12:00 - 2:00 PM
The Green Movement and the Left: Prospects for Democracy in Iran
Laura Lee Schmidt (Chair) - Platypus Affiliated Society; History, Theory, and Criticism of Art and Architecture, MIT
Siyaves Azeri - Worker-Communist Party of Iran
Hamid Dabashi - Columbia University
Christopher Cutrone - Platypus Affiliated Society; University of Chicago
Saeed Rahnema - York University
SESSION 7: SUNDAY, 3:00 - 5:00 PM
Between the Old and New Left: An American Post-war Balance Sheet
Ian Morrison (Chair) - Platypus Affiliated Society
Benjamin Blumberg - Platypus Affiliated Society
Chris Mansour - Parsons The New School For Design

The Platypus Affiliated Society presents
30 Years of the Islamic Revolution in Iran: The Tragedy of the Left
6:00pm Sunday, September 13, 2009
at The Brecht Forum 451 West St New York, NY

Chicago                                                   New York City

A moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A on the legacy and effects of the Islamic Revolution for the Left, both in Iran and internationally,  addressing the still-vexing questions of the relationship of anti-imperialism, democracy, and religious fundamentalism for potential responses to this year's election crisis and protests

New York City:  Brecht Forum, September 13th 6pm

Panelist include:

Ervand Abrahamian, author of Iran Between Two Revolutions, The Iranian Mojahedin, Khomeinism, Tortured Confessions, and Inventing the Axis of Evil

Hamid Dabashi, author of  Theology of discontent: the ideological foundation of the Islamic Revolution, in Iran, Authority in Islam: from rise of Muhammad to the establishment of the Umayyads, and Islamic Liberation Theology: Resisting the Empire

Siyaves Azeri, Head of the Committee of International Relations of the Worker-Communist Party of Iran

Chicago: University of Chicago, November 5th 2009

Panelist include:

Maziar Behrooz, author of Rebels with a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran

Chris Cutrone, PhD candidate in the Committee on the History of Culture and Lecturer in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago; Adjunct Assistant Professor, Art History, Theory and Criticism and Visual and Critical Studies, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

Kaveh Ehsani is a member of the editorial committee of Middle East Report

Danny Postel, author of Reading "Legitimation Crisis" in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism

I am writing with some very brief notes on the first week of readings from Kant, his essays on "What is Enlightenment?" and "The Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View," and Benjamin Constant's essay on "The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns."


We are moving somewhat non-chronologically, starting with Constant as a reading from 1819 that synthesizes Smith with Rousseau (as well as taking issue with a Rousseauian perspective that cannot address the growth of modern, capitalist society since Rousseau's time). Constant is continuing and not critiquing let alone opposing Rousseau (he is distinguishing Rousseau from the supposedly Rousseauian Jacobins, et al.).

Constant should serve to put a finer point on Smith and bring out more emphatically what is only implied -- or taken for granted -- by Smith. As I pointed out in my previous post, Smith is most emphatically in dialogue with the Rousseau of The Social Contract. So one should not get bogged down in Smith vs. Rousseau on the conception of property, in, e.g., The Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, because Rousseau's conception there is polemical in a way more easily recognizable to Smith than it might be for us barbarians! Smith is in dialogue not with Rousseau's "negative" polemic in which is raised a radical image of individual freedom, but rather with Rousseau's more "positive" theory of society, and first and foremost, social freedom, the possible coherence of society in and through its transformation in freedom, in The Social Contract.

Smith's notion of modern society as exchange -- increased breadth of trade and reciprocally increased depth of division of labor -- and its self-regulating character (e.g., the "invisible hand") must be seen as Smith's interpretation and specification of what Rousseau called the "general will," i.e., society as more than the sum of its parts, capitalism as social freedom -- the freedom of society to transform and progress through transformation. Smith wants to know what makes the Rousseauian "general will" possible, and this is what drives his conception of capitalism.

-- This involved for Smith the transformation of traditional relations of space and time, e.g., relations between town and country, and new and different purposes and forms of colonization, etc., which I would want to emphasize at least as much as, e.g., the "labor theory of value," etc. Smith should not become merely a traditional Marxist avant la lettre in an analytic-categorial sense, but rather needs to be grasped as a philosopher of freedom, which is why Marx would take him seriously to begin with.

Constant, a liberal, interprets modern society in such Smithian cosmopolitan-commercial terms, as in that differences among nations were becoming more apparent than real, etc., bringing about a real cosmopolitanism of international fraternity (as against and despite the power games of statesmen, who are rightly viewed with suspicion as potential criminals against this emergent global society), and, on a more local level, the sublimation of Hobbes's "war of all against all" into the mutually developmental process of competition, etc.

The most important aspect of Constant's argument, of course, is the profound qualitative transformation of modern society, from the traditional/ancient, that he seeks to register and grasp in its implications for the transformation of politics. The transformation of the very ground for and concept of freedom is Constant's ultimate point and should not be obscured or dodged (in terms of "how he understands capitalism," etc., "ideologically" -- again, we're interested in Constant's argument from the standpoint of the philosophy of freedom); Constant gives a very straightforward and prosaic argument that Hegel will make more apparently abstrusely. Both Hegel and Constant derive their thinking about modern freedom from Rousseau and Smith -- with Hegel also coming from Kant.

Turning to Kant, the issue of freedom as transformation must be kept foremost in mind.

In "What is Enlightenment?" Kant is concerned with where freedom in this social-transformative sense is located. He is trying to specify its place and role.

Kant's peculiar use of the public-private distinction, which is wholly counter-intuitive to our colloquial commonsensical use of these terms, needs emphasis, in order to bring out what Kant is trying to say. -- As usual, one should never get hung up on the terms themselves but stay focused on how they are being used to make a specific argument, how they are serving that argument. So first we need to know what that argument actually is.

Kant is in dialogue with Rousseau at the level of the open-ended and profound, qualitative-transformative character of human freedom. (In working through this summer syllabus, when in doubt, always return to the James Miller epigraph on Rousseau I gave you as an initial guide, which will serve for all the readings this summer.)

The idea that the merely "private" use of reason is not the realm of freedom for Kant is quite difficult to wrap one's mind around, because it means going against all our commonplace assumptions of psychological predispositions.

For Kant, e.g., Obama's use of reason in exercising his duties as President counts only as the merely "private" use of reason. It is not in this capacity that Obama can act on behalf of the freedom of humanity. Rather, it is only in public discourse and debate, on behalf of further "enlightenment," that Obama can affect positively the unfolding of human freedom -- the freedom to transform humanity's own conditions. It is thus indirect.

As President, and not only as husband to his wife and father of his children, or as employee in the private sector such as being a law professor at UChicago before entering politics, Obama is not free to act in such a way as to be able to contribute to the development of human freedom, because he is a mere cog in the machine of the social order, compelled to act in the service of interests, both his own as well as others'.

For Kant, it is only as a public citizen than Obama can exercise any possible influence on free humanity. In other words, it's not in making policy decisions in his "public" role as President, but only in his speaking, as we would term it, as a "private citizen" that Obama could, for Kant, participate in the furthering of enlightenment, or what he describes as humanity's emergence from self-incurred immaturity.

This is a tremendous if not preposterous idea of Kant's, and it serves us well to consider where it comes from. It comes from Rousseau's idea of the "general will" as something more than the sum of its parts in individual wills, in which the movement of human freedom -- both individual and collective -- manifests and unfolds.

Kant is taking Rousseau's radically new conception of human freedom and specifying it as a matter of "enlightenment" and what is meant by this. The apparent peculiarity of Kant's argument (its counter-intuitive use of categories of public and private, etc.) comes from the obscurity of the desideratum of free humanity as freedom in transformation with which our radical bourgeois philosophers were wrestling as an emergent property of their world (what we take for granted and to which we have thus dulled ourselves).

What is this "humanity?" It is not the sum total of human beings, but rather the human social (meaning, for moderns, global-cosmopolitan) collective's transcendental character, or more than the sum of its parts (hence taking for granted Rousseau's account of the "general will").

Kant's "Cosmopolitan History" is a great and wonderful precursor and point-for-point program for Hegel's subsequent philosophy of history, which is also followed by Marx and by Marxist politics. -- We seek to continue to pursue the "revolution" of which Kant speaks in his "Cosmopolitan History."

The barbarism of our era can only read Kant with a debunking, jaundiced eye, and ignore what they can read right before them in this bracing text.

Kant is very clear here, for instance that if a world of a cosmopolitan civil society is not achieved then Rousseau's negative opinion of civilization (as polemical mien) and relatively positive estimation of "noble savagery" would be (perversely, against Rousseau's actual intentions) vindicated. This is what Benjamin will call the "go-for-broke game of history." History has become a task, to make civilization worthwhile by transcending its history in freedom -- in the freedom that civilization both evinces and whose open-ended possibilities it furthers.

We are back to Rousseau's account of humanity's unlimited "perfectibility" as that which ails us, but also what tasks us with transformation in freedom, and makes that task capable of fulfillment.

Smith, Kant and Constant, following Rousseau, want to know what about modern society allows this, and thus want to further our consciousness of it, as part and parcel of our practical achievement of it: theirs is the radical project of enlightenment in the service of freedom.

The reading group schedule with links to the readings for the summer has been posted at:


Platypus Marxist reading group summer 2009, June 28 - August 16

Radical bourgeois philosophy: Kant-Hegel-Nietzsche

We will address the greater context for Marx and Marxism through the issue of bourgeois radicalism in philosophy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Discussion will emerge by working through the development from Kant and Hegel to Nietzsche, but also by reference to the Rousseauian aftermath, and the emergence of the modern society of capital, as registered by liberals such as Adam Smith and Benjamin Constant.

"The principle of freedom and its corollary, 'perfectibility,' . . . suggest that the possibilities for being human are both multiple and, literally, endless. . . . Contemporaries like Kant well understood the novelty and radical implications of Rousseau’s new principle of freedom [and] appreciated his unusual stress on history as the site where the true nature of our species is simultaneously realized and perverted, revealed and distorted. A new way of thinking about the human condition had appeared. . . . As Hegel put it, 'The principle of freedom dawned on the world in Rousseau, and gave infinite strength to man, who thus apprehended himself as infinite.' "
-- James Miller (author of The Passion of Michel Foucault, 2000), Introduction to Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett, 1992)

* * *

Book sources

The readings are mostly linked to HTML web text sources; a few are PDFs that I've scanned or are available on the web.

But I would encourage the following book purchases which will make matters much simpler:

- Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett: ISBN 0872201503)

- Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations (Univ. Chicago: ISBN 0226763749)

- Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (Hackett: ISBN 087220166X)

- Kant, Perpetual Peace (etc.) (Hackett: ISBN 0915145472)


- Kant, Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: ISBN 0521654084)

- Hegel, Intro to Philosophy of History (Hackett: ISBN 0872200566)

- Nietzsche, On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life (Hackett: ISBN: 0915144948)

- Nietzsche, Basic Writings (Modern Library: ISBN 0679783393)

* * *

Notes on the readings

I'd like to write some notes to you now about beginning this reading group mini-course with Rousseau.

The schedule is such that the reading for the 2nd week of Rousseau is much shorter than for the 1st. This will allow for a comprehensive discussion of both texts by Rousseau at the 2nd session. So I will address, first, Robert Pippin's short 2003 essay in response to the forum in the journal Critical Inquiry "On Critical Theory," and then address both Rousseau texts, the Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, and The Social Contract.


Pippin takes us through a history of modern philosophy, and distinguishes roughly 2 periods (though he does not explicitly do so): 1.) Kant-Hegel, the turn of the 18-19th Centuries; and 2.) 19th Century, post-Hegelian philosophy. He describes this turn as follows:

"the modern form of life coming into view after the middle of the nineteenth century or so was in some basic way unacceptable, unaffirmable, pathological even, certainly ugly. (A “recoil” most dramatically first obvious much earlier, in Rousseau.) To cut to the chase: it then became obvious how difficult it would be to theorize, as it is now put, this gap, or absence or lack in this new, comprehensive form of life. No appeal to an underlying, unrealized human nature (Feuerbach, the early Marx) was possible (if one truly took Kant’s critical results to heart and abstained from Marx’s neo-Aristotelian essentialism); no appeal to an independent moral criterion was possible (after the historicizing Hegel); and the idea of an underlying historical teleology, such that what was “missing” was what was “not yet actual,” but being realized, began to seem a metaphysical regression."

Leaving aside Pippin's misunderstanding of (the early) Marx (as "neo-Aristotelian essentialism"), obviously the question of 1848 is raised by Pippin (Pippin describes the crisis coming "after the middle of the 19th Century," not only with Marx, but also Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, et al.).

So, we have, on the one hand, "Kant (or the Kantian moment), as the hinge on which something quite new in the history of philosophy and social and perhaps aesthetic theory swings open." And we have the crisis of the 19th Century circa 1848. And Rousseau prefigures both (but, in Pippin's account, Rousseau is more associated with the "recoil" or "revulsion" from modernity).

Pippin laments the fact that after 1848, "the idea of an underlying historical teleology, such that what was “missing” was what was “not yet actual,” but being realized, began to seem a metaphysical regression." Obviously, he doesn't think that Hegel really is subject to such a critique (of metaphysical regression). So, then the question becomes, what is meant by "what is missing" as something "not yet actual, but being realized?"

Here, I'd like to point to my essay on "Capital in History: the need for a Marxian philosophy of history of the Left" (2008), which addresses the issue of the broader historical context for capital as social modernity:


For, broadly speaking, in trying to address Kant-Hegel-Nietzsche, we are addressing the emergence and crisis of modern, "bourgeois" society, the preconditions of the constitution of capital in the bourgeois revolutions, which Rousseau, Smith, Kant, Hegel and Constant address, and the manifestation of the crisis of capital with the industrial revolution and the global crisis of the 1840s leading to the revolutions of 1848, from which Marx originates, and its aftermath, which Nietzsche addresses.

Understanding capital as a transitional condition of social history, the end of pre-history and the threshold of true human history as freedom, is paramount, here.

This understanding is largely missing in Pippin, of course (though it is indicated, however cryptically, in the last line from Pippin I highlighted, above). But it is indicated in Rousseau, with whom is inaugurated, paradoxically, both a radical conception of freedom (see the James Miller epigraph, above) and a negative "recoil" to the history of civilization.

Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

The most important thing to emphasize and use to frame Rousseau is the issue of the history of civilization itself, what is motivating Rousseau's imagination of an originary "state of nature" to which the "noble savage" (e.g., Native Americans) seem closer for Rousseau than their more "civilized" European brethren.

The question is, why is Rousseau motivated, as virtually no one before him, to imagine the "loss" involved in the birth of civilization, or the transition from nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled agricultural civilization? Why does the entire history of civilization come into such radical question for Rousseau?

-- Because the emergence of the modern, "bourgeois" society Rousseau is registering in the 18th Century seems to be both the "perfection" of the civilization that preceded it, and to open radically new possibilities. This paradox and ambivalence is what is motivating Rousseau's investigation of human nature and freedom.

Rousseau, The Social Contract

Rousseau's Social Contract is a trickier text to tackle, because it appears in many respects to be the very opposite of the anarchic individualism Rousseau seems to champion in the Discourse on Inequality.

But this is only apparent, and is really an artifact of the 1960s New Left, which found the 2nd Discourse (on Inequality) more sympathetic in its "anarchist" negativity than The Social Contract, despite and indeed because the latter text was much more inspirational for the bourgeois radicals of the American and French Revolutions.

The key category for Rousseau's Social Contract is the "general will."

While it might appear to be some totalitarian collectivism, modeled after the ancient "democratic" polity of Athens, etc., it was actually Rousseau's (admittedly obscure) attempt to grasp modern society's dynamic of individual and collective freedom.

Rousseau's radical idea was that the freedom of the individual member of society found its actual ground and possibility in the freedom of the social collectivity. The individual owes his freedom to society. (This seems radically opposed to his account of the loss of freedom due to civilization found in the 2nd Discourse.)

What Rousseau is trying to address is the phenomenon of social freedom. Rousseau's category of the "general will," which he explicitly emphasizes is not the mere sum of individual wills or their average, but is in fact more than the sum of its parts, is meant to do more than reconcile the individual and society, but rather demonstrate the actual transcending of both the individuals and the empirical social collective they comprise. The "more than the sum of its parts" aspect of society is for Rousseau key to grounding the collective efforts of social individuals as subject to change and progress in freedom. (What Rousseau is saying about society is of course really only about modern society, of which Rousseau himself might not have been so clear.) This is going to be very important to Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations can thus be considered in extended dialogue with Rousseau. -- And for Hegel!

* * *

Philosophical constitution of modernity

I want to make a controversial claim, which is that capital (as Marx understood it) has a dimension of "philosophical" constitution. In other words, just as capital has a political constitution, through the liberal-democratic "bourgeois" revolutions, that, had they not taken place, would have prevented the constitution of capital, so it goes that without certain developments in the realm of "philosophy" capital would not have found its historical constitution. (This also goes for the "scientific revolution" and the Protestant Reformation, which might be considered important components of the philosophical revolution of the Enlightenment in the 17th-18th Centuries.)

The point is that ideas and intellectual production matter. The alternative is to too try to find, e.g., Rousseau and Kant already expressing the "commodity form" in thought, etc., which, while true to a certain degree, also begs the question of their importance, and tends to involve an impoverished notion of "ideology," as merely "reflecting" social conditions, etc. But thinking should not be so disenchanted. Thinking is not secondary but (just as) primary (and consequential as physical action may be).

The point would be, rather, to find in canonical thinkers of modernity, e.g., Rousseau, Smith, Kant, Hegel, et al., forms of thought in which thinkers as subjects participate and act (thinking as doing) that are "bound up with" social-historical developments. Retrospectively, we can't help but find these thinkers to be expressing something "ideological" about the modern society of capital. But, more importantly, we need to be able to recognize that the influence of their thought is part of what made modernity happen. These thinkers were themselves (in their thought, an active) part of the transformation in which they were bound up. Modernity took place in their thinking. -- They were revolutionary thinkers.

Forms of thought matter. Failure to think is as important and consequential as thinking in certain ways can be complicit or compromised. Thinking is part of historical transformation. Thinking has the character of both a means of emancipation and an obstacle to this.

* * *

On postmodernism and regression

I would like to say something about the issue of "postmodernism" as raised by Pippin.

Although postmodernism still flies in sclerotic academia, its time is long since past.

What makes Platypus possible is the definite end of postmodernism (as well as the concomitant exhaustion of the 1960s "New Left").

What that means is that it needs to be emphasized that certain problems have been with us a very long time, now. That is Pippin's point. Postmodernism was the latest attempt to try to go beyond Kant (or "beyond Hegel and Nietzsche" as a book from the 1990s by a scholar of the Frankfurt School puts it), while clearly falling below Kant (and Rousseau!).

The point is that even if Marx were wrong, Hegel and Nietzsche would be right. And even if Hegel and Nietzsche were wrong, Kant would be right. And even if Kant were wrong, Rousseau would be right.

What this means is that the regression we diagnose has its positive dimension, which is the regained saliency of earlier thought's ability to critique the present. Not only have we fallen below Marx and so need to revisit him, but we've fallen below the radical bourgeois philosophers of revolution, and so need to revisit them. We need to revisit what Marx took for granted in order to be able to grasp his attempt to critique and get beyond them.

So postmodernism is actually more dated than are Rousseau and Kant (let alone Marx!). Just because aged academics (or their younger sycophants) don't realize this doesn't change the fact that this is indeed the case. It's not for nothing that towards the end of his life Foucault imagined that he had been trying to carry on the Kantian project all along (or, that Rosalind Krauss embraced Kant at the end, etc.). Kant is the beginning and the end, so to speak. The attempts to get beyond Kant have been of mixed success: Hegel, Marx, and Nietzsche. Hegel is closest to Kant; as Adorno put it, Hegel is Kant "come into his own." Marx and Nietzsche express the crisis of bourgeois society. Everything since them has either at best reiterated their problematic, or avoided it in a regression to a pre-Kantian perspective. That is Pippin's point.

Platypus Marxist reading group

June 28 - August 16

Sundays 1-4PM at:

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 S. Michigan Ave.
room 707

Radical bourgeois philosophy: Kant-Hegel-Nietzsche

We will address the greater context for Marx and Marxism through the issue of bourgeois radicalism in philosophy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Discussion will emerge by working through the development from Kant and Hegel to Nietzsche, but also by reference to the Rousseauian aftermath, and the emergence of the modern society of capital, as registered by liberals such as Adam Smith and Benjamin Constant.

"The principle of freedom and its corollary, 'perfectibility,' . . . suggest that the possibilities for being human are both multiple and, literally, endless. . . . Contemporaries like Kant well understood the novelty and radical implications of Rousseau's new principle of freedom [and] appreciated his unusual stress on history as the site where the true nature of our species is simultaneously realized and perverted, revealed and distorted. A new way of thinking about the human condition had appeared. . . . As Hegel put it, 'The principle of freedom dawned on the world in Rousseau, and gave infinite strength to man, who thus apprehended himself as infinite.' "
-- James Miller (author of
The Passion of Michel Foucault, 2000), Introduction to Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett, 1992)

Marx and Engels at work together
Marx and Engels at work together

Weekly reading schedule:


1.) Robert Pippin, "On Critical Theory" [HTML Critical Inquiry 2003]; and Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality


2.) Rousseau, selection from The Social Contract


3.) Adam Smith, selections from The Wealth of Nations
Volume I
Introduction and Plan of the Work
Book I: Of the Causes of Improvement...
I.1. Of the Division of Labor
I.2. Of the Principle which gives Occasion to the Division of Labour
I.3. That the Division of Labour is Limited by the Extent of the Market
I.4. Of the Origin and Use of Money
I.6. Of the Component Parts of the Price of Commodities
I.7. Of the Natural and Market Price of Commodities
I.8. Of the Wages of Labour
I.9. Of the Profits of Stock
Book III: Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations
Of the Natural Progress of Opulence
III.2. Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the Ancient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire
III.3. Of the Rise and Progress of Cities and Towns, after the Fall of the Roman Empire
III.4. How the Commerce of the Towns Contributed to the Improvement of the Country
Volume II
IV.7. Of Colonies
Book V: Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth
V.1. Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth


4.) Benjamin Constant, "The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns;" and Kant, "What is Enlightenment? ," and "Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View"


5.) Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, and "On the Common Saying: That May be Correct in Theory, But it is of No Use in Practice" [HTML part 2]


6.) Hegel, Introduction to the Philosophy of History [HTML] [PDF pp. 14-128]


7.) Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History for Life [translator's introduction by Peter Preuss], and selection from On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense


8.) Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals

[Andrew Kliman wrote:]

Reply to Chicago Political Workshop, Chris Cutrone, and Principia Dialectica

Posted: May 27th, 2009 | Author: Andrew Kliman | Filed under: Organization, Philosophy | Tags: concreteness, plagiarism, Postone |

On plagiarism, Postone, and “the” present

May 27, 2009

Dear Comrades,

1. First, I want to respond to the charge that I plagiarize Moishe Postone, by categorically denying it. When, last July, Sean of Principia Dialectica put forward the allegation of plagiarism (using somewhat different words), I tried to overlook it. I thought that the charge wouldn’t be taken seriously, given that Sean left it wholly unsubstantiated. But now I see that the charge has indeed been taken seriously, repeated, and perhaps implicitly endorsed, by the Chicago Political Workshop, in a posting two days ago.

[Principia Dialectica allegation of plagiarism of Postone by Kliman:]

[Chicago Political Workshop posting:]

That Sean first encounters some idea in Postone, and then encounters a somewhat similar idea when he hears Kliman, tells us something about the process of Sean’s intellectual development. It tells us nothing about the process of development of the ideas. It is not evidence of plagiarism.

But as far as I can see, when Sean alleges that “Postone’s book is having a much more profound effect on” Kliman than he is “prepared to admit,” and that at “Kliman’s talk in London it was evident that Postone’s influence had rubbed off … although … he was loathe to admit it,” the case against me rests wholly on the sequence in which Sean personally encountered the ideas.

For the record: My understanding of capital(ism) and Marx’s critique of it were pretty much fully formed by or before 1988, when I completed my Ph.D. at the age of 33. The key thinker who influenced my views on these matters was Marx himself. (It is strange, indeed, to allege that I appropriate Postone without acknowledgement when his Time, Labor, and Social Domination is not a primary text, but an interpretation of a work to which we both have access, Marx’s Capital!)

My views were also deeply influenced by the work of Raya Dunayevskaya, and there were lesser influences—such as I. I. Rubin and various authors of the 1970s and 1980s who discussed “abstract labor” and “value-form.”

I read Postone’s Time, Labor, and Social Domination in the mid 1990s, but it did not make a strong impression on me, for three reasons: (a) my views were already well formed; (b) much of Postone’s argument was not new to me, since it was quite similar to things developed in the “abstract labor” and “value-form” discussions of 10-20 years before (as Chris Arthur noted in his mid-1990s review of Postone’s book in Capital and Class); and (c) Postone’s view of abstract and concrete labor is so different from Marx’s, and his exegetical interpretation of Marx’s concepts of abstract and concrete labor is so wrong, that I didn’t find his book particularly helpful in order to further develop my own thinking.

But what have I said that sounds so Postone-like to Sean (and perhaps also the Chicago Political Workshop)? I’m guessing it is the following: “In his talk Kliman spelt out in a clear manner that value – as the mediator of human relations – is the subject that needs to be overcome if we are all to move towards creating a fully human society.”

Well, I arrived at this perspective by studying the work of Dunayevskaya (principally from Marxism and Freedom and from her writings of the 1940s which argued that the USSR was a state-capitalist society because the law of value operated there), and then from Marx himself, when I re-studied Capital in light of her interpretation. Here’s something Ted McGlone and I wrote about this issue that was published in 1988—i.e., well before the appearance of Postone’s book:

[R]adical economists’ views on value theory have seemingly crystallized into two main approaches, characterised by de Vroey (1982) as the `technological’ and `social’ paradigms. As students of a third, humanist problematic, we hope in this paper to create a dialogue with proponents of other approaches …. Our own view is neither ‘technicist’ nor market-oriented, but a production-centred value theory of labour . In short, we take capitalist technological relations themselves to be social relations, class relations of dead to living labour in production . `[L]abour is expressed in value’ because `the process of production has mastery over man, instead of the opposite’ (Marx, 1977 : 174-75) . We do not de-emphasise the quantitative aspect of Marx’s value theory, however; this paper, for instance, attaches great importance to the aggregate equalities which obtain in Marx’s transformation procedure.” [pp. 56-57 of Andrew Kliman and Ted McGlone, “The Transformation Non-Problem and the Non-Transformation Problem,” Capital and Class 35, Autumn 1988]

I request that a link to the above response be published wherever the allegation appears that I appropriate Postone without acknowledgement, and that the allegation itself be withdrawn.

2. I am pleased that the Chicago Political Workshop and I agree that “those on the left who treat all attempts to understand the political economy of capitalism as rank economism” should be taken to task. I hope that this can be the beginning of a fruitful dialogue.

3. The Chicago Political Workshop writes, “It is our sense that Kliman’s work thus far is inadequate to his own charge, but that he is right that understanding capitalism is essential to overcoming it.” Okay, I’ll bite: why is my work thus far inadequate to my own charge? (And what exactly does this mean—what charge, exactly?) I’m not trying to pick a fight here; I’m always seeking to improve my work. And maybe there are different views here about the kinds of things that need to be developed, which would then be a potentially fruitful topic for discussion.

4. In response to the Chicago Political Workshop post, Chris Cutrone engaged some of the issues yesterday. It is not clear to me whether Chris is criticizing me, and if so, why. But his posting can be read as one that links me to “traditional Marxism”—“Instead, it becomes a matter of one form of analysis (Postone) as better than another (Kliman, et al., or, as Postone puts it, ‘traditional Marxism’)”—and to an alleged call for “for some new empirical *economic* analysis of present-day capitalism” to the exclusion of other analyses and inquires.

[Chris Cutrone response to the Chicago Political Workshop:]

Again, I’m not sure of Chris’s intent, so I’ll just discuss this possible reading. The “traditional Marxism” notion is strange and ill-informed. What is “traditional Marxism” about the Marxist-Humanism developed by Raya Dunayevskaya, which the Marxist-Humanist Initiative is now attempting to renew organizationally? She was no traditional Marxist in the eyes of the traditional Marxists who turned her into an un-person (the historical-literary allusion is intentional). What is “traditional Marxism” about the temporal single-system interpretation of Marx’s value theory, the proponents of which, myself included, have been turned into un-persons (the historical-literary allusion is intentional) by the traditional Marxist value theorists?

As for the alleged call for “for some new empirical *economic* analysis of present-day capitalism” to the exclusion of other analyses and inquiries, I have no affinity with it. I am not calling for people to come down on one side or the other of a rigid, binary, either/or choice between “economics” and everything else. I think the notion that we have to pick and choose is ridiculous.

Unfortunately, Chris doesn’t agree that it is ridiculous. For reasons that are unclear to me, he presents the options open to us as a rigid either/or choice: “As if the reproduction of capital is primarily a matter of *economics* (and not politics, culture, or ideology)!” Why do we have to choose? Can’t it be a matter of all four? And why the word “primarily”? This seems to suggest that there must be a hierarchy of determinants that’s the same in all cases, and that “economics” is separate from–if not indeed opposed to–politics, culture, and ideology, rather than all of them being mutually constituting moments of one total process.

The need to choose also seems to be implicit in the following phrases of Chris’s: “THE problem of capitalism” and “THE problem of capital” (my caps). I don’t really understand these phrases, but I’m skeptical of the reduction of a very complex set of processes to one “problem”—THE problem. But note that if there’s just one problem, then it’s more plausible that there’s just one best approach to THE problem, and thus it becomes more plausible that we have to choose THE best approach.

And then Chris says, “We do indeed need an adequate analysis of our contemporary situation. Platypus chooses, quite deliberately, to analyze the present in terms of history, the present as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” I have no problem with analyzing “the present as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” That’s also what Dunayevskaya did, again and again, and it’s what my comrades and I in Marxist-Humanist Initiative are trying to do today.
But here again, Chris burdens us with a dubious “the”: “analyze THE present in terms of history … a history of unresolved problems on the Left” (my caps). The only sense I can make of this is that Chris means that Platypus chooses, quite deliberately , to ignore any dimension of “the” present that can’t be sliced and diced so as to fit the Procrustean bed of “a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” For surely, to take just one key example, the current NON-reproduction of capital—the current economic (and therefore political, cultural, and ideological) crisis—is a significant aspect of “the problem of capital” today, an important aspect of “the present.” But there just ain’t no way that one can fruitfully discuss it “as the accumulation of a history of unresolved problems on the Left.” Unless one wants to just ignore this significant dimension of “the present,” I think it would be more useful to seriously study the theories of value and crisis in Capital and the daily news in the financial press.

Chris writes, “Whereas Marx critiqued the bourgeois philosophy and political-economy of the heroic period (of Kant and Hegel and Adam Smith and David Ricardo, et al.) and the ideology of his contemporary socialist “Left” (of Proudhon, et al.) … we in Platypus start with the problematic consciousness on the present-day “Left” and its historical roots, what the present “Left” has abandoned as being symptomatic of its fatal problems.” Again, I have no trouble with subjecting to scrutiny “the problematic consciousness” of the contemporary Left. But Chris’s historical analogy suffers, I think, from an insufficient appreciation of the Kantian sense in which Marx “critiqued” political economy. It was a critique not just of ideology and philosophy and economic thought, but a critique of the conditions needed for them to exist—a critique of the mode of production and corresponding social formation upon which this ideology and philosophy and economic thought arise, and which make them possible.

Now, I’m not saying that the consciousness of the Left needs to be understood by deriving it from the vicissitudes of the mode of production. I’m just saying that critique in the sense of Marx’s phrase “ruthless critique of all that exists” is not a critique of “consciousness” detached from all else.

Chris’s rigid binary emerges the most clearly, however, in the following: “The spirit of Marx today is not to be found in the immanent-ideology critique of the New York Times columns of Paul Krugman et al., let alone an analysis of ‘economic’ phenomena, BUT RATHER in the political and ‘philosophical,’ cultural and psychological critique of the supposed (but actually pseudo-) ‘Left,’ and its critical recognition as the product of a *regression* in theory and practice since the time of Marx and the best Marxists” (my caps). Again, I have nothing against looking at the issue that Chris wants to look at, but what’s this “but rather” about? Why do we need to choose? And is it really in “the spirit of Marx” to ignore the worst economic crisis of capitalism since the 1930s, possibly soon to become the worst slump since the 1930s—or maybe worse? No, of course it isn’t. That’s absurd. One matter “of consciousness” continues to intrigue and trouble me: the effort to declare that there’s one best way of looking and thinking, and that it is the same best way for everything. This effort, as I suggested above, goes hand in hand with a stringent reduction of complex processes and phenomena to single units—“the” problem of capital, “the” present.

Chris Cutrone did not invent this approach. I’ve encountered it again and again among critical-theory-type folks, Western Marxists, whatever. For instance, at a New York book party for my book, Reclaiming Marx’s “Capital”: A refutation of the myth of inconsistency, Bertell Ollman kept counterposing his way of approaching Capital (as a discussion of alienation) to mine (which is evidently to focus narrowly on the myth of inconsistency, or on “economics”—because, if I write a book about the myth of inconsistency, then, well, obviously, that’s how I approach Capital !). I just as insistently kept repeating that there was no need to choose—pointing out the cheese and focaccia that we had as refreshments at the event, I kept reminding the audience, “you can have cheese AND focaccia”—but Ollman would have none of it.

This got me to thinking: Why would anyone want to defend the importance of alienation to Capital by dismissing the issue of Capital’s internal inconsistency and by dismissing a defense of its internal consistency?

And how could anyone think that he was actually defending Marx’s discussion of alienation by projecting the attitude that the logical consistency of what Marx wrote is unimportant?!

So I came up with the following conjecture: The tendency toward rigid, totalizing either/or oppositions flows from a relativist or perspectivist position that has infected Western Marxism. As we all know, there are different ways of looking at and thinking about the world. But relativists and perspectivists go further. They claim that these different ways of looking and thinking are the ultimate determinants of the conclusions at which we arrive. In other words, they claim that, in the end, one’s perspective dominates over any input from logic and facts—or that what counts as facts and logic, too, is determined by one’s perspective.

If that is so, then there are no “external” facts and logic that determine the results of any inquiry. All results depend on the perspective one adopts, and the adoption of a perspective is just a matter of choice—no “external” facts or logic induce one choice rather than another. So what becomes paramount is not to investigate the phenomena and answer the questions, but to struggle over the choice of perspective. Since the perspective determines the results, the hegemony of THE RIGHT way of looking and thinking is all important. And since there are no “external” facts or logic that would allow us to say that this method might be helpful to answering this kind of question, while that method might be appropriate to the investigation of that problem, there’s a strong tendency to TOTALIZE the struggle for the hegemony of one’s perspective. If one accepts that one’s perspective is partial, one is accepting the legitimacy of a different perspective, and since there are no “external” facts and logic that would determine the boundaries of either perspective—this is appropriate for exploring the crisis of the Left, that’s appropriate for explaining the current economic crisis, etc.—there is just an interminable turf battle, ranging over the entire turf. So in order that one’s perspective not be globally defeated by an alien perspective, one must struggle for the global defeat of the alien perspective.

In the real world (and in intellectual endeavors where getting real results, not just panache, matters), no one thinks like this. We don’t wipe our butts with spatulas; we don’t cook with toilet paper; and we don’t ask which one we primarily need in order to grapple with “the” problem of daily living. Thank goodness.

[Chris Cutrone replied:]

1 comment: Chris Cutrone said at 11:15 pm on May 27th, 2009:

I agree that there is no question of plagiarism of Postone by Kliman. I think Principia Dialectica’s argument is tendentious, at best.

Similarly, I must admit to giving a rather one-sided polemical argument in my critique of the Chicago Political Workshop.

I was arguing against an economic-determinist approach. If I were to put it dialectically, I would say, following Marx, that one needs to inquire into the philosophical underpinnings of the economy as much as one might need to interrogate the political-economic conditions of thought.

I agree that a Kantian approach is appropriate, i.e., inquiring into conditions of possibility [inquiring into the conditions of possibility for capitalism].

So I would not want to be mistaken for giving an either/or view of economics vs. philosophy, etc.

On the other hand, I would stand by the formulation of a question of “the” problem of capital. For the totalizing process of capital is not a matter of an apparent static heterogeneity, as if there is no difference at any moment (there is), but rather how the concrete and particular play out over time (and this in a complicated way).

And so I would not chalk up emancipatory potential to such difference, which I see as potentially (and usually) contributing precisely to the reproduction of capital, rather than its overcoming over time.

I don’t think it’s a matter of adopting a (single) perspective, but rather, looking back over history, there was a trajectory from Marx to Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky that brought to a head the crisis (for humanity, in a historical sense) of capital, which has been abandoned since then. In other words, I think the contradiction of capital was manifested by historical revolutionary Marxism, rather than the latter just responding to it. I think -- and it’s Platypus’s point of departure -- that the history of the Left is the history of capital brought to its highest expression. This history offers us a potential perspective, perhaps not the only one, but the best one, or, more accurately, the most necessary one that is available.

In the words of Sebastian Haffner, author of Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-19, this history illuminates the present -- reveals it in definite relief -- like a piercing laser beam.

* * *

P.S. I would encourage everyone interested to review my exchange with the Marxist Humanist Peter Hudis in the Platypus Review on capital in history:

My original article:


Peter Hudis reply:


My rejoinder:


-- Chris