The Decline of the Left in the 20th Century Toward a Theory of Historical Regression WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO SAY, as Platypus does, that the Left is dead? And what does it mean to speak of the history of the Left postmortem? Our task is to address these questions. In the present, the Left has turned away from the question of how the defeated revolutionary Marxism of the first and second decades of the twentieth century continued through mid-century in the Frankfurt School.
The Decline of the Left in the 20th Century Toward a Theory of Historical Regression THE ABANDONMENT OF EMANCIPATORY POLITICS in our time has not been, as past revolutionary thinkers may have feared, an abandonment of revolution in favor of reformism. Rather, because the revolutionary overcoming of capital is no longer imagined, reformism too is dead. As the task of achieving human society beyond capital has been abandoned, nothing worthy of the name of politics takes its place, nor could it. The project of freedom has now altogether receded from view. For, while bourgeois thinkers like Hegel were no doubt mistaken in their identification of capital with freedom, they nevertheless grasped that the question of freedom only poses itself with reference to the capital problematic.
The Decline of the Left in the 20th Century Toward a Theory of Historical Regression IT MIGHT SEEM COUNTER-INTUITIVE to approach the date of 1968 through the political thought and self-understanding of Theodor Adorno, who is not only considered the most pessimistic in his critique, but also deemed an opponent of the New Left, especially after he infamously called the police on student demonstrators at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research. Yet Adorno’s response to the politics of 1968 can help us understand both the roots of New Left politics and its legacy today.
The Decline of the Left in the 20th Century Toward a Theory of Historical Regression THE DATE PROPOSED for me to discuss, 1933, immediately summons up two names: Roosevelt and Hitler—Reformism or Barbarism. I wish, though, to couple them with another pair, and another date. The date is 1940. The names are Trotsky and Benjamin. These four names are meant both as contrasts and parallels. At first glance, Hitler and Roosevelt, the New Deal and fascism, might seem polar opposites. But many contemporaries understood Roosevelt and fascism as addressing comparable problems, albeit by somewhat different methods. Similarly, while Benjamin the melancholic mandarin and Trotsky the fiery revolutionary might seem at opposite poles of Marxist discourse, it is the thesis of Platypus that they are both responses to the same crisis of Marxism, just as Hitler and Roosevelt are responses to the crisis of capitalism. These two crises, the crisis of capitalism and the crisis of Marxism, have determined the history of the 20th century, and continue to weigh on the history of the 21st.
The Decline of the Left in the 20th Century Toward a Theory of Historical Regression Chris Cutrone THE YEAR 1917 is the most enigmatic and hence controversial date in the history of the Left. It is therefore necessarily the focal point for the Platypus philosophy of history of the Left, which seeks to grasp problems in the present as those that had already manifested in the past, but have not yet been overcome. Until we make historical sense of the problems associated with the events and self-conscious actors of 1917, we will be haunted by their legacy. Therefore, whether we are aware of this or not, we are tasked with grappling with 1917, a year marked by the most profound attempt to change the world that has ever taken place.
On April 18, 2009, the Platypus Affiliated Society conducted the following panel discussion at the Left Forum Conference at Pace University in New York City. The panel was organized around four significant moments in the progressive separation of theory and practice over the course of the 20th century: 2001 (Spencer A. Leonard), 1968 (Atiya Khan), 1933 (Richard Rubin), and 1917 (Chris Cutrone). The following is an edited transcript of the introduction to the panel by Benjamin Blumberg, the panelists’ prepared statements, and the Q&A session that followed.