On Thursday November 19, 2009, Platypus Review Editor-in-Chief Spencer A. Leonard discussed with author George Scialabba a new volume of essays entitled What are Intellectuals Good For? (Boston: Pressed Wafer Press, 2009). Their discussion was conducted live on “Radical Minds,” a radio show Leonard conducts weekly with co-host Greg Gabrellas on WHPK 88.5 FM in Chicago. Leonard and Scialabba’s discussion focused chiefly on a single theme of the book, the connections and disconnects between the intellectuals of the anti-Stalinist Old Left forged in America in the 1930s and the New Left that emerged decades later in the early 1960s. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion.
DAVID BLACK’S VALUABLE COMMENTS and further historical exposition (in Platypus Review 18, December 2009) of my review of Karl Korsch’s Marxism and Philosophy (Platypus Review 15, September 2009) have at their core an issue with Korsch’s account of the different historical phases of the question of “philosophy” for Marx and Marxism. Black questions Korsch’s differentiation of Marx’s relationship to philosophy into three distinct periods: pre-1848, circa 1848, and post-1848. But attempting to defeat Korsch’s historical account of such changes in Marx’s approaches to relating theory and practice means avoiding Korsch’s principal point. It also means defending Marx on mistaken ground. Black considers that Korsch’s periodization—his recognition of changes—opens the door to criticizing Marx for inconsistency in his relation of theory to practice. But that is not so.
Given the recent election crisis and continuing protests in Iran and in light of the 30th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, The Platypus Affiliated Society on November 5, 2009 hosted a panel discussion at the University of Chicago entitled 30 Years of the Islamic Revolution: The Tragedy of the Left. Panel participants included Danny Postel, journalist and author of Reading Legitimation Crisis in Tehran: Iran and the Future of Liberalism; Kaveh Ehsani, editor of The Middle East Report (MERIP); Maziar Behrooz, historian and author of Rebels with a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran; and Chris Cutrone of Platypus. This supplement to issue #20 of the Platypus Review consists of an edited transcript of the discussion, beginning with the panelists’ prepared remarks, followed by their responses to each other, and ending with a series of questions and answers.
GEORG LUKÁCS INTRODUCED the notion of totality as a major theme for Western Marxism in his work History and Class Consciousness, where he wrote, It is not the primacy of economic motives in historical explanation that constitutes the decisive difference between Marxism and bourgeois thought, but the point of view of totality. The category of totality, the all-pervasive supremacy of the whole over the parts, is the essence of the method which Marx took over from Hegel and brilliantly transformed into the foundations of a wholly new science...Proletarian science is revolutionary not just by virtue of its revolutionary ideas which it opposes to bourgeois society, but above all because of its method. The primacy of the category of totality is the bearer of the principle of revolution in science.
THE ASSUMPTION THAT ROSA LUXEMBURG’S CORPSE has significance for the state of the German Left, though perhaps not her body, is tempting. Luxemburg was a Polish socialist involved in a European socialist movement during a time when there was no sovereign Polish state. She was successively a member of the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. As is well known, she also cofounded with Karl Liebknecht the Spartakusbund, and was briefly co-leader of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). In 1918–19 the socialist revolution in Germany was betrayed by the SPD, which is responsible for Luxemburg’s murder. Her murder matters as the pure expression of precisely that revisionism that Luxemburg had so ably critiqued. However, Jerzy Sobotta, writing in Platypus Review 16 (October 2009), does not seem to be interested in this legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, the legacy of free thought and revolutionary Marxism.
TO QUOTE ALDOUS HUXLEY and to paraphrase Atiya Khan in her Platypus Review article “The poverty of Pakistan’s politics,” I represent “a sad symptom of the failure of the intellectual class in time of crisis.” In Khan’s telling, it is the intellectual Left which failed (in) Pakistan, and under its sad banner now congregate blind and mute liberals such as myself. It is a strong, and harshly delivered, criticism and I take it very seriously.