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

/2009/06/21/platypus-chicago-summer-2009-radical-bourgeois-philosophy/

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)

-or-

- 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

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:

/2008/10/01/capital-in-history-the-need-for-a-marxian-philosophy-of-history-of-the-left/

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.

[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:]

http://www.principiadialectica.co.uk/blog/?p=176

[Chicago Political Workshop posting:]

http://chicagopoliticalworkshop.webs.com/apps/blog/show/1059848-the-new-anti-economism

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:]

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/platypus1917/message/2929

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:

/2008/10/01/capital-in-history-the-need-for-a-marxian-philosophy-of-history-of-the-left/

Peter Hudis reply:

/2008/11/01/re-thinking-the-crisis-of-capital-in-light-of-the-crisis-of-the-left/

My rejoinder:

/2008/11/01/remember-the-future-a-rejoinder-to-peter-hudis-on-%E2%80%9Ccapital-in-history%E2%80%9D/

-- Chris

I am writing with some very brief notes on Adorno's last writings from 1968-69, the "Marginalia to Theory and Praxis," "Resignation," "Late Capitalism or Industrial Society? (AKA "Is Marx Obsolete?")," and the Adorno-Marcuse correspondence of 1969.

The center of Adorno's critique of the 1960s New Left was their romantic opposition to capitalism, found, for example, in their desideratum of the unity of theory and practice. Rather, Adorno asserted the progressive-emancipatory aspect of the separation of theory and practice.

As Adorno put it, in the "Marginalia,"

"If, to make an exception for once, one risks what is called a grand perspective, beyond the historical differences in which the concepts of theory and praxis have their life, one discovers the infinitely progressive aspect of the separation of theory and praxis, which was deplored by the Romantics and denounced by the Socialists in their wake -- except for the mature Marx."

As Korsch put it in our earlier reading, "Marxism and Philosophy" (1923),

"As scientific socialism, the Marxism of Marx and Engels remains the inclusive whole of a theory of social revolution . . . a materialism whose theory comprehended the totality of society and history, and whose practice overthrew it. . . . The difference [now] is that the various components of [what for Marx and Engels was] the unbreakable interconnection of theory and practice are further separated out. . . . The umbilical cord has been broken."

What is important to note in the above passage from Korsch is that the unity of theory and practice is not being asserted as the norm, but rather their interrelation/interconnection, something quite different. The "umbilical cord" becoming "broken" means not that theory and practice have become separated, merely, but that they are no longer being interrelated properly. Theory and practice remain different things.

The following passage from Adorno's Negative Dialectics (1966), from a section titled "Relation to Left-Wing Hegelianism," describes well Adorno's conception of the theory-practice problem as a historical one, in which past moments (in modern history/the history of the Left) have a non-linear relation to the present:

"The objection has been raised that, because of its immanently critical and theoretical character, the turn to [the] nonidentity [of social being and consciousness] is an insignificant nuance of Neo-Hegelianism or of the historically obsolete Hegelian Left -- as if Marxian criticism of philosophy were a dispensation from it. . . . Yet whereas theory succumbed . . . practice became non-conceptual, a piece of the politics it was supposed to lead out of; it became the prey of power. . . . The liquidation of theory by dogmatization and thought taboos contributed to the bad practice. . . . The interrelation of both moments [theory and practice] is not settled once and for all but fluctuates historically. . . . Those who chide theory [for being] anachronistic obey the topos of dismissing, as obsolete, what remains painful [because it was] thwarted. They thus endorse the course of the world -- defying which is the idea of theory alone. . . . If [one] resists oblivion -- if he resists the universally demanded sacrifice of a once-gained freedom of consciousness -- he will not preach a Restoration in the field of intellectual history. The fact that history has rolled over certain positions will be respected as a verdict on their truth content only by those who agree with Schiller that 'world history is the world tribunal'. What has been cast aside but not absorbed theoretically will often yield its truth content only later. It festers as a sore on the prevailing health; this will lead back to it in changed situations."

Korsch's "Marxism and Philosophy" also poses this complex, non-linear historical temporality of the problem of theory and practice:

"'[Humanity] always sets itself only such problems as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely it will always be found that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or are at least understood to be in the process of emergence' [Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)]. This dictum is not affected by the fact that a problem which supersedes present relations may have been formulated in an anterior epoch."

Adorno's point, following Korsch, is that earlier formulations of the problem of emancipatory theory and practice could and indeed did "supersede present relations," or, as Adorno put it elsewhere (in "Sexual Taboos and the Law Today," 1962),

"The theorist who intervenes in practical controversies nowadays discovers on a regular basis and to his shame that whatever ideas he might contribute were expressed long ago -- and usually better the first time around."

Adorno is, in his late writings, continuing the ruminations of Korsch and Lukacs on what Korsch called the "crisis of Marxism" in which the crisis of capital necessarily expressed itself by the time of world war and revolution 1914-19. Precisely what Lukacs and Korsch subsequently forgot, after their seminal writings of 1923 we read, Adorno remembered, that the Marxian project was characterized fundamentally by awareness of the problem of theory and practice. Instead, Korsch and Lukacs later fell victim to what Adorno calls "identity [or "reconciliation"] thinking;" like other "vulgar Marxists" they assumed the coincidence of social being and consciousness, rather than the dialectic of the two.

Adorno's problem is somewhat different from what Korsch and Lukacs sought to address. Whereas they had to contemplate the self-contradictory character of both social being and consciousness under capital, expressed precisely in the attempt to overcome capital in theory and practice, Adorno had to try to address the degradation -- the regression -- of both critical theory and social-political practice.

The dual, simultaneously linear and recursive temporality of capital means that, as Korsch had put it, the development and transformation of the Marxian point of departure necessarily takes the form of a "return to Marx," the attempt to get back to an "original, pure Marxism" (of Marx and Engels themselves). Such "return" is both actual and illusory.

Adorno seeks to address his own return to Marx in ways that are self-conscious of this paradox. Hence, in "Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?," also known as "Is Marx Obsolete?" (1968), Adorno answers that Marx is both permanently relevant this side of emancipation from capital, and obsolete in the sense that the problem of capital necessarily appears differently than it did to Marx. Adorno's point is that it is only via Marx that one can overcome the obsolescence of Marx.

Lukacs had already broached this paradox when he offered that one could potentially disagree with all of Marx's conclusions and still return Marx's "method." But this is a dialectical conception in Lukacs and Adorno because of course method and conclusion cannot really be separated. But they can appear to be separated and opposed, and necessarily so. Means and ends can appear to be at odds. The point is to work through this separation -- not only this, but worked through on the very basis of this separation.

The paradox is that, as Lukacs put it, a "radical change in perspective is not possible on the soil of bourgeois society," or, that, with Marxism, "it would appear that nothing has changed."

All that can be done is to advance the dialectic -- and crisis -- of capital, the degree to which this has been critically recognized. And this must necessarily take the form of advancing the dialectical crisis of Marxism, in both theory and practice.

As Adorno put it, in a 1935 letter to Benjamin,

"The fetish character of the commodity is not a fact of consciousness; rather it is dialectical, in the eminent sense that it produces consciousness. . . . [P]erfection of the commodity character in a Hegelian self-consciousness inaugurates the explosion of its phantasmagoria."

It was precisely this advancement through crisis, through bringing forms of necessary misrecognition to critical self-awareness while advancing their practical problems, that had been taken up by Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky (in the revisionist dispute and the subsequent crisis of war and revolution 1914-19, i.e., in that Luxemburg et al. recognized the revisionist reformism of Bernstein et al. as a necessary outcome of the growth of Marxism as a political movement), that was abdicated and abandoned in the early 20th Century, with social democratic reformism (i.e., the succumbing to the essence of reformist Marxist revisionism even by the stalwarts of "orthodoxy" such as Kautsky), Stalinism (the degeneration of "Leninism" into a variety of the same) and the disintegration of "Trotskyism" in the wake of Trotsky. (Trotsky's "Leninism" amounts to his recognition of the necessity of a split in Marxism as the result of -- as bound up with -- the advancement of Marxism in practical politics and theoretical consciousness.)

Adorno recognized this degradation and disintegration, aborting and avoiding the crisis and potential advancement of Marxism in theory and practice, as a problem of regression.

The crisis of capital has been expressed as the crisis in Marxism. The problem is that the significance of the crisis of Marxism has not been recognized as the necessary form of appearance of the crisis of capital. Instead, Marxism has been either abandoned/rejected -- or "upheld" and banalized -- as if Marxism itself had not become (had not always been) self-contradictory. Marxism, whether as critical theory or practical politics, necessarily becomes "vulgarized" (ceases to be itself) if it is experienced as naïve consciousness rather than being recognized with at least some reflexive self-awareness as a dialectical problem of consciousness.

Adorno ends his final essay, on "Resignation" (1969), with rumination on "thinking." On the one hand, Adorno recognizes that what is thought can be forgotten and lost, and, on the other hand, Adorno recognizes that what was once thought can be thought again, that thought has as its medium the universal, but only in a critical sense. The universal -- capital -- remains to be critically recognized. Hence the thought of its critical recognition remains possible. We can recognize the thought that was once thought. We can read Adorno -- and Benjamin, Lukacs, Korsch, Trotsky, Lenin, Luxemburg and Marx -- and still recognize the problems of our own thinking about the issue of capital. The question is how we explain this continued recognition to ourselves. This prompts the further thought of theory and practice.

But this thought of the relation of theory and practice threatens to fall short if it does not take the form of how Adorno closes his "Marginalia," that "[practice] appears in theory merely, and indeed necessarily, as a blind spot, as an obsession with what it being criticized. . . . This admixture of delusion, however, warns of the excesses in which it incessantly grows."

Marxism is both true and untrue; the question is how one recognizes its truth and untruth, and the necessity of its being both.

Platypus seeks both to refound and continue and to transform Marxian critical theory and political practice through the self-consciousness of the limits and necessity of Marxism as the limits and necessity of capital. We seek, theoretically, to make out the crisis of Marxism as the crisis of capital, in consciousness of capital's emancipatory possibilities, as it was recognized once before, in the revolutionary moment of 1917-19, and, conversely, practically, to make the crisis of capital take the form of the crisis of proletarian socialism, in the social-political practice of capital's emancipatory possibilities, as it had been, however abortively, once or twice before, what Adorno, following Benjamin, Lukacs and Korsch, contemplated about the limits and failure of the revolution of 1917-19, following what Marx had spent the rest of his life -- in theory and practice -- contemplating about 1848.

Historical transformations in social-political context Chris Cutrone We in Platypus have anticipated, since our inception in 2006, the possibility of a "return to Marx," and have sought to inform the terms in which this might take place. We have sought the re-opening of historical issues on the Left with the intention of their fundamental recon­sideration, taking nothing for granted, so that we could definitively close the books on stale "debates" in which the "Left" has remained stuck for more than a genera­tion, since at least the 1960s. Given the confusion reign­ing on the "Left" today, the urgency for this is evident.

I am writing with some very brief notes on the 3rd part of Lukacs's essay "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat," "The Standpoint of the Proletariat," which is very important for Platypus's grasp of the self-understanding of the revolutionary Marxism in 1917-19 that Lukacs was trying to theoretically digest. -- In a certain sense, this piece by Lukacs is the culmination of all the prior readings we have done by Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Lukacs and Korsch.

For Lukacs, "proletarian class consciousness" is historical consciousness of the problem of capital, i.e., proletarian consciousness is Marx's own thought. Likewise, "reification" and "immediacy" refer not to everyday, naive consciousness, but rather to what Marx called "political economy," which in Lukacs's time took the form of "Marxism." When Lukacs writes "reification"/"immediacy" he means Kautskyan "orthodoxy" in 2nd Intl. Marxism (and not merely Bernsteinian "revisionism," let alone what Lenin called "trade union consciousness" [in What is to be done?] or what Luxemburg called "liberalism" [in Reform or Revolution?]).

Lukacs's point is not that it is the concrete sociological position (or in the process of production, etc.) that grants the proletariat the possibility of getting beyond capitalism as "subject-object of history" (the most common way of misinterpreting Lukacs), but rather that the dialectical character of capitalism/bourgeois society takes its highest, most acute form in terms of proletarian socialism. The modern society of capital goes through, broadly, two historical phases, its "bourgeois" one of emergence, and its "proletarian" one of crisis and potential overcoming, which is datable to at least as early as 1848 and Marx and Engels's realization of this in theory in practice with the Communist Manifesto -- after which "bourgeois" thought, according to Marx, becomes "vulgar," i.e., becomes concerned with affirming what has become untenable from the standpoint of bourgeois society's own emancipatory intent, namely capital.

Proletarian socialism is the most advanced, most adequate conscious expression of the dialectic of capital, through which the necessity of getting beyond capital might be made manifestly possible.

-- Those critics of Lukacs who think he is either ontologizing labor/the working class as emancipatory agent are only avoiding the most obvious question: why Marx, who certainly recognized that the reproduction of conditions of proletarian labor is precisely what needs to be overcome, still nevertheless endorsed the working class politics of proletarian socialism as the only progressive-emancipatory way out of capital.

Lukacs was merely following Marx (and the best Marxists, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky) in arguing that capital can and must be overcome only by the wage laborers struggling in and through forms of necessary appearance, or through necessary forms of (mis)recognition.

Lukacs's "Hegelian" Marxism was not, as may be mistaken (e.g., by Postone et al.), the reassimilation of Marx back to Hegel (thus transforming Marx's thought into the affirmation of capital/labor, a la Hegel), but rather the attempt to reground the "Hegelian" dimension of Marx's thought, which was necessary precisely in order to bring a Marxian approach to critically theorizing the crisis of Marxism itself. Only by engaging the Hegelian dimension of Marx, Lukacs thought, could Marxism itself become subject to a "dialectical" treatment.

Lukacs, like Marx and the best Marxists before him, recognized that the struggle against capital is necessarily symptomatic of it. This is the meaning of the word "dialectic" in the subtitle to Lukacs's book History and Class Consciousness: studies in Marxist dialectics, which sought to analyze the social-historical phenomenon of Marxism in a Marxian critical-theoretical manner. Lukacs was not providing a philosophical justification for Marxism, but rather a Marxian (i.e., immanent and historical) critique of Marxism as it had developed up to that time.

The reason that so few can grasp what Lukacs was actually trying to do is because they don't understand Marxism to begin with.

I am writing with some very brief notes on the 3rd part of Lukacs's essay "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat," "The Standpoint of the Proletariat," which is very important for Platypus's grasp of the self-understanding of the revolutionary Marxism in 1917-19 that Lukacs was trying to theoretically digest. -- In a certain sense, this piece by Lukacs is the culmination of all the prior readings we have done by Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Lukacs and Korsch.

For Lukacs, "proletarian class consciousness" is historical consciousness of the problem of capital, i.e., proletarian consciousness is Marx's own thought. Likewise, "reification" and "immediacy" refer not to everyday, naive consciousness, but rather to what Marx called "political economy," which in Lukacs's time took the form of "Marxism." When Lukacs writes "reification"/"immediacy" he means Kautskyan "orthodoxy" in 2nd Intl. Marxism (and not merely Bernsteinian "revisionism," let alone what Lenin called "trade union consciousness" [in What is to be done?] or what Luxemburg called "liberalism" [in Reform or Revolution?]).

Lukacs's point is not that it is the concrete sociological position (or in the process of production, etc.) that grants the proletariat the possibility of getting beyond capitalism as "subject-object of history" (the most common way of misinterpreting Lukacs), but rather that the dialectical character of capitalism/bourgeois society takes its highest, most acute form in terms of proletarian socialism. The modern society of capital goes through, broadly, two historical phases, its "bourgeois" one of emergence, and its "proletarian" one of crisis and potential overcoming, which is datable to at least as early as 1848 and Marx and Engels's realization of this in theory in practice with the Communist Manifesto -- after which "bourgeois" thought, according to Marx, becomes "vulgar," i.e., becomes concerned with affirming what has become untenable from the standpoint of bourgeois society's own emancipatory intent, namely capital.

Proletarian socialism is the most advanced, most adequate conscious expression of the dialectic of capital, through which the necessity of getting beyond capital might be made manifestly possible.

-- Those critics of Lukacs who think he is either ontologizing labor/the working class as emancipatory agent are only avoiding the most obvious question: why Marx, who certainly recognized that the reproduction of conditions of proletarian labor is precisely what needs to be overcome, still nevertheless endorsed the working class politics of proletarian socialism as the only progressive-emancipatory way out of capital.

Lukacs was merely following Marx (and the best Marxists, Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky) in arguing that capital can and must be overcome only by the wage laborers struggling in and through forms of necessary appearance, or through necessary forms of (mis)recognition.

Lukacs's "Hegelian" Marxism was not, as may be mistaken (e.g., by Postone et al.), the reassimilation of Marx back to Hegel (thus transforming Marx's thought into the affirmation of capital/labor, a la Hegel), but rather the attempt to reground the "Hegelian" dimension of Marx's thought, which was necessary precisely in order to bring a Marxian approach to critically theorizing the crisis of Marxism itself. Only by engaging the Hegelian dimension of Marx, Lukacs thought, could Marxism itself become subject to a "dialectical" treatment.

Lukacs, like Marx and the best Marxists before him, recognized that the struggle against capital is necessarily symptomatic of it. This is the meaning of the word "dialectic" in the subtitle to Lukacs's book History and Class Consciousness: studies in Marxist dialectics, which sought to analyze the social-historical phenomenon of Marxism in a Marxian critical-theoretical manner. Lukacs was not providing a philosophical justification for Marxism, but rather a Marxian (i.e., immanent and historical) critique of Marxism as it had developed up to that time.

The reason that so few can grasp what Lukacs was actually trying to do is because they don't understand Marxism to begin with.

Left Forum 2009 "Turning Points"
April 17-19, 2009
Dialectics of Defeat: Towards a Theory of Historical Regression and
Politics of the Contemporary Student Left: Hopes and Failures

" '[Humanity] always sets itself only such problems as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely it will always be found that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or are at least understood to be in the process of emergence' [Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)]. This dictum is not affected by the fact that a problem which supersedes present relations may have been formulated in an anterior epoch."

"As scientific socialism, the Marxism of Marx and Engels remains the inclusive whole of a theory of social revolution . . . a materialism whose theory comprehended the totality of society and history, and whose practice overthrew it. . . . The difference [now] is that the various components of [what for Marx and Engels was] the unbreakable interconnection of theory and practice are further separated out. . . . The umbilical cord has been broken."

-- Karl Korsch, "Marxism and Philosophy" (1923)

http://www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/1923/marxism-philosophy.htm

This work by Karl Korsch, published in the same year as Lukacs's book History and Class Consciousness, similarly takes up the theme of the neglected Hegelian dimensions of Marx's thought.

Ironically, while Lukacs's work uses history in its title and Korsch's essay invokes the theme of philosophy, Korsch's treatment is more historical and Lukacs's more philosophical.

I'd like to call attention in particular to one extended passage from early in Korsch's text to illustrate this:

"In the normal presentations of the history of the nineteenth-century philosophy which emanate from bourgeois authors, there is a gap at a specific point which can only be overcome in a highly artificial manner, if at all. These historians want to present the development of philosophical thought in a totally ideological and hopelessly undialectical way, as a pure process of the 'history of ideas'. It is therefore impossible to see how they can find a rational explanation for the fact that by the 1850s Hegel's grandiose philosophy had virtually no followers left in Germany and was totally misunderstood soon afterwards, whereas as late as the 1830s even its greatest enemies (Schopenhauer or Herbart) were unable to escape its overpowering intellectual influence. Most of them did not even try to provide such an explanation, but were instead content to note in their annals the disputes following Hegel's death under the utterly negative rubric of 'The Decay of Hegelianism'. Yet the content of these disputes was very significant and they were also, by today's standards, of an extremely high formal philosophical level. They took place between the various tendencies of Hegel's school, the Right, the Centre and the different tendencies of the Left, especially Strauss, Bauer, Feuerbach, Marx and Engels. To close this period, these historians of philosophy simply set a kind of absolute 'end' to the Hegelian philosophic movement. They then begin the 1860s with the return to Kant (Helmholtz, Zeller, Liebmann, Lange) which appears as a new epoch of philosophical development, without any direct connection to anything else. This kind of history of philosophy has three great limitations, two of which can be revealed by a critical revision that itself remains more or less completely within the realm of the history of ideas. Indeed, in recent years more thorough philosophers, especially Dilthey and his school, have considerably expanded the limited perspective of normal histories of philosophy in these two respects. These two limits can therefore be regarded as having been overcome in principle, although in practice they have survived to this day and will presumably continue to do so for a very long time. The third limit, however, cannot in any way be surpassed from within the realm of the history of ideas; consequently it has not yet been overcome even in principle by contemporary bourgeois historians of philosophy.

"The first of these three limits in the bourgeois history of philosophy during the second half of the nineteenth century can be characterised as a 'purely philosophical' one. The ideologues of the time did not see that the ideas contained in a philosophy can live on not only in philosophies, but equally well in positive sciences and social practice, and that this process precisely began on a large scale with Hegel's philosophy. The second limit is a 'local' one, and was most typical of German professors of philosophy in the second half of the last century: these worthy Germans ignored the fact that there were other philosophers beyond the boundaries of Germany. Hence, with a few exceptions, they quite failed to see that the Hegelian system, although pronounced dead in Germany for decades, had continued to flourish in several foreign countries, not only in its content but also as a system and a method. In the development of the history of philosophy over recent decades, these first two limits to its perspective have in principle been overcome, and the picture painted above of the standard histories of philosophy since 1850 has of late undergone considerable improvement. However, bourgeois philosophers and historians are quite unable to overcome a third limitation on their historical outlook, because this would entail these 'bourgeois' philosophers and historians of philosophy abandoning the bourgeois class standpoint which constitutes the most essential a priori of their entire historical and philosophical science. For what appears as the purely 'ideal' development of philosophy in the nineteenth century can in fact only be fully and essentially grasped by relating it to the concrete historical development of bourgeois society as a whole. It is precisely this relation that bourgeois historians of philosophy, at their present stage of development, are incapable of studying scrupulously and impartially.

"This explains why right up to the present day certain phases of the general development of philosophy in the nineteenth century have had to remain 'transcendent' for these bourgeois historians of philosophy. It also explains why there are still certain curious 'blank patches' on the maps of contemporary bourgeois histories of philosophy (already described in connection with the 'end' of the Hegelian movement in the 1840s and the empty space after it, before the 'reawakening' of philosophy in the 1860s). It also becomes intelligible why bourgeois histories of philosophy today no longer have any coherent grasp even of a period of German philosophy whose concrete essence they previously had succeeded in understanding. In other words, neither the development of philosophical thought after Hegel, nor the preceding evolution of philosophy from Kant to Hegel, can be understood as a mere chain of ideas. Any attempt to understand the full nature and meaning of this whole later period -- normally referred to in history books as the epoch of 'German idealism' -- will fail hopelessly so long as certain connections that are vital for its whole form and course are not registered, or are registered only superficially or belatedly. These are the connections between the 'intellectual movement' of the period and the 'revolutionary movement' that was contemporary with it."

Korsch then goes on to describe in detail the various vicissitudes of the problem of "philosophy" in the history of Marxism, in Marx and Engels's own works, and then in 2nd Intl. Marxism up to his time, and how they relate to the changing relationship of theory and practice in the political history of Marxism, its purchase in practical politics.

Please note, that, unlike various "New Left" Romantic approaches, the goal is not overcoming the separation or distinction between theory and practice, but rather a matter of grasping how they are related (hence, Korsch's "umbilical cord" metaphor in the epigraph above). The theory-practice distinction/separation was grasped by Korsch (like Lukacs) as indicative of the problem Marx (and Marxism) had sought to address. Marx et al. did not resolve the theory/practice problem but grasped it as symptomatic.

Likewise, Korsch characterizes Marxism as emergent from the ideology of the revolt of the Third Estate, the liberal bourgeois-democratic revolutions, rather than as a break with this.

This is important because it means that the immanent relationship of Marxist socialism to liberalism is akin to the immanent relationship of the proletariat to capitalism, and the problem of philosophy is liked to that of the state: philosophy is not to be "abolished" once and for all, but qualitatively transformed, and the theory-practice problem is not to be overcome all at once but to "wither away." (This is very like Lukacs's understanding of proletarian socialism "completing reification" in order to get beyond it, through it.)

For Korsch, Marx and Engels look forward to the "overcoming" of philosophy, but as a long term qualitative transformation of subjectivity, a transcending of the need to reflect "philosophically." -- This relates to Korsch's note on Dilthey's discovery that "philosophical" categories are not only ones of conscious thought, but also of social and cultural practice.

As Korsch writes in conclusion:

"Just as political action is not rendered unnecessary by the economic action of a revolutionary class, so intellectual action is not rendered unnecessary by either political or economic action. On the contrary it must be carried through to the end in theory and practice, as revolutionary scientific criticism and agitational work before the seizure of state power by the working class, and as scientific organisation and ideological dictatorship after the seizure of state power. If this is valid for intellectual action against the forms of consciousness which define bourgeois society in general, it is especially true of philosophical action. Bourgeois consciousness necessarily sees itself as apart from the world and independent of it, as pure critical philosophy and impartial science, just as the bourgeois State and bourgeois Law appear to be above society. This consciousness must be philosophically fought by the revolutionary materialistic dialectic, which is the philosophy of the working class. This struggle will only end when the whole of existing society and its economic basis have been totally overthrown in practice, and this consciousness has been totally surpassed and abolished in theory. -- 'Philosophy cannot be abolished without being realised.' "

So the problem and important role of consciousness is thus brought to the fore by Korsch, through a rich treatment of the issue of ideology that should follow from our prior discussion of Luxemburg -- and lines up with Lukacs, and Kolakowski and Slaughter -- the long ramifications of the "revisionist debate," for which Ian compiled the quotations for use at the last reading group meeting, on Luxemburg's Reform or Revolution?, and that informed Lenin and Trotsky's point of departure, which we will begin addressing in subsequent meetings, starting with Lenin's What is to be done?, and the issue of "tailism," etc.

The reading of Korsch should be related to Platypus, at the level of what Korsch calls "intellectual action" -- this is our mandate, and it should thus be demystified. But because of the historical juncture at which we find ourselves, it is not the matter of what Korsch calls the "dialectical materialist philosophy of the revolutionary working class," but of the philosophy of the Left, and more specifically the philosophy of the history of the Left, whether we can adequately specify the present problem of consciousness and the relation of theory and practice as it has been given to us by history.

* * *

Another important point in Korsch, regarding Platypus:

"[T]he coincidence of consciousness and reality characterises every dialectic, including Marx's dialectical materialism. Its consequence is that the material relations of production of the capitalist epoch only are what they are in combination with the forms in which they are reflected in the pre-scientific and bourgeois-scientific consciousness of the period; and they could not subsist in reality without these forms of consciousness. Setting aside any philosophical considerations, it is therefore clear that without this coincidence of consciousness and reality, a critique of political economy could never have become the major component of a theory of social revolution. The converse follows. Those Marxist theoreticians for whom Marxism was no longer essentially a theory of social revolution could see no need for this dialectical conception of the coincidence of reality and consciousness: it was bound to appear to them as theoretically false and unscientific."

The latter "Marxist theoreticians" to which Korsch refers are of course the "revisionists," Bernstein (and Kautsky), et al., but could just as easily refer to others -- such as Moishe Postone. For Postone (and certainly for his students) any striving for a Marxian politics will always remain "ungrounded," "voluntaristic," etc.

(Instead, Postone leaves the problem of a Marxian politics vague and unworked-out, and makes the outrageous claim that Marx never elaborated a politics from his insights in Capital, as if Marx's actual politics didn't really count, and as if the latter can be separated from the former!)

The problem with the 1960s-era recovery of Marxian critical theory, by Postone, Adolph Reed, Fred Halliday (who translated Korsch in 1970) et al. is that they were never able to transcend the problem of how their theoretical "reflection" related to their political action and its self-understanding. They could never see how their intellectual work was itself a political action, but rather always regarded it as "beside" this.

(The only one of the three, Reed, who did attempt political practice, only did so in a cynically opportunist way -- attempting to split/reform the Democratic Party! -- Another character we have read in Platypus, Martin Nicolaus [translator of Marx's Grundrisse], went back on his own realizations in "The Unknown Marx" [1968], where he harshly criticized Baran and Sweezy for their conclusion that the proletariat had ceased to be a potentially revolutionary force, and later joined New Left Maoism! -- Yet another, Juliet Mitchell, whose "Women: the Longest Revolution" [1966] we read, divorced New Left Review's Perry Anderson and retreated into psychoanalysis. I found a very good recent [2006] interview with Mitchell that ought to give us pause, especially as it ends on a very provocative note about the possibility of a "critique of the normative psychosis of the political social world:"

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-04-12-mitchell-en.html

Precisely because these potential recoverers of Marx of the 1960s generation did not seek to do what Marx and the revolutionary Marxists (Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, et al.) did, change the world, they could not help but remain politically aporetic. Politics became for them the great, inapproachable question. In this sense, they fell under the same criticism Luxemburg had made of Bernstein in 1900: they recoiled in fear from the task of trying to change the world. They could never -- they never really tried to -- recognize their own thinking and attempts to influence others as either potentially changing or failing to change the world in the ways they may have (vainly) wished.

Our project, on the other hand, tries precisely to do this; we seek to instill the profound recognition that what we do or don't do (try or fail) will have real consequences -- hence all the (genuine) anxiety and fear that attend our efforts.

* * *

Korsch wrote on what he called (in 1923) "the decisive crisis of Marxism in which we still find ourselves today:"

"[O]ften described by its major representatives as a 'restoration' of Marxism[,] [t]his transformation and development of Marxist theory has been effected under the peculiar ideological guise of a return to the pure teaching of original or true Marxism. Yet it is easy to understand both the reasons for this guise and the real character of the process which is concealed by it. What theoreticians like Rosa Luxemburg in Germany and Lenin in Russia have done, and are doing, in the field of Marxist theory is to liberate it from the inhibiting traditions of the Social Democracy of the second period. They thereby answer the practical needs of the new revolutionary stage of proletarian class struggle, for these traditions weighed 'like a nightmare' on the brain of the working masses whose objectively revolutionary socioeconomic position no longer corresponded to these evolutionary doctrines. The apparent revival of original Marxist theory in the Third International is simply a result of the fact that in a new revolutionary period not only the workers' movement itself, but the theoretical conceptions of communists which express it, must assume an explicitly revolutionary form. This is why large sections of the Marxist system, which seemed virtually forgotten in the final decades of the nineteenth century, have now come to life again."

Our problem in Platypus is that we are living in an entirely inverted historical period to that of the revolutions of 1917-19 and the "decisive crisis of Marxism" of the late 19th-early 20th Century time of the emergence of the revolutionary-radicals from the tutelage of the "orthodox"-"epigones."

This is something Richard will refer to as the "paradox of orthodoxy," that Platypus might be considered "honestly revisionist."

For just as Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky actually revised and developed "Marxism" (against the authoritative "Marxists") in the name of orthodoxy and a "return to Marx," we are also seeking to overcome the limitations of the best of historical Marxism in our remembrance of it.

Korsch wrote of the "fragmented" and "disintegrated" character that the "Marxism" of the epigones exhibited in its "long decay." -- This is similar to how we find Marxism as a historical legacy today.

The difference is that whereas 2nd Intl. Marxism had deteriorated under the dual pressures of the decline of revolutionary possibilities (after 1848, with a slight return in the 1860s culminating with the Paris Commune, as noted by Korsch in the supplemental reading "The Marxism of the 1st International" [1924]) and the rise of reformist ones, today we are facing the results of the far more profound decay and disintegration of the decline of both revolutionary and reformist practical possibilities. We are not in the position of trying to transform a reformist relation of the working class to the society of capital into a revolutionary one, but of trying to provide the intellectual-ideological ground for instigating simultaneously possibilities for reform and revolution.

Recently, I had a discussion with some Platypi in which I said that by the time a reinvigorated workers' movement rebuilt itself to its former relative historical power for achieving reforms it would be necessary to struggle for revolution. -- Well, this is precisely what had occurred by WWI with 2nd Intl. Marxist socialism: the growth of its reformist possibilities is what had in fact produced the development and crisis of imperialism and hence the need for revolution.

The problem is whether the "decisive crisis" has already come and gone, whether the crisis of Marxism of the early 20th Century manifested the highest development, in a practical-political sense, of the crisis of capitalism, and we have been doomed by that history to never again be able to achieve socialism and the potential transition beyond capital. Or does the possibility of our own consciousness express, in however obscure form, a revolutionary possibility that still subsists, "despite everything." Are we (can we become) proof of our own hypothesis that the Marxian departure that points beyond capital yet still remains pertinent and viable? If so, what about the particular characterization of our memory of revolutionary Marxism speaks to the present, what is the relation expressed by our "coincidence of consciousness and reality?" Why has that "which seemed virtually forgotten . . . come to life again" with our project? -- Or has it?

For we are trying to become a factor in history that could be productive of and not merely respond to the crisis of capital. We are trying to turn the permanent crisis of capital that exists latently into a manifest crisis, and the potential resistance we face comes precisely from the unconscious sense that avoiding such a crisis is what humanity seeks to buy at the price of increasing barbarism.

" '[Humanity] always sets itself only such problems as it can solve; since, looking at the matter more closely it will always be found that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or are at least understood to be in the process of emergence' [Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)]. This dictum is not affected by the fact that a problem which supersedes present relations may have been formulated in an anterior epoch."

"As scientific socialism, the Marxism of Marx and Engels remains the inclusive whole of a theory of social revolution . . . a materialism whose theory comprehended the totality of society and history, and whose practice overthrew it. . . . The difference [now] is that the various components of [what for Marx and Engels was] the unbreakable interconnection of theory and practice are further separated out. . . . The umbilical cord has been broken."

-- Karl Korsch, "Marxism and Philosophy" (1923)

http://www.marxists.org/archive/korsch/1923/marxism-philosophy.htm

This work by Karl Korsch, published in the same year as Lukacs's book History and Class Consciousness, similarly takes up the theme of the neglected Hegelian dimensions of Marx's thought.

Ironically, while Lukacs's work uses history in its title and Korsch's essay invokes the theme of philosophy, Korsch's treatment is more historical and Lukacs's more philosophical.

I'd like to call attention in particular to one extended passage from early in Korsch's text to illustrate this:

"In the normal presentations of the history of the nineteenth-century philosophy which emanate from bourgeois authors, there is a gap at a specific point which can only be overcome in a highly artificial manner, if at all. These historians want to present the development of philosophical thought in a totally ideological and hopelessly undialectical way, as a pure process of the 'history of ideas'. It is therefore impossible to see how they can find a rational explanation for the fact that by the 1850s Hegel's grandiose philosophy had virtually no followers left in Germany and was totally misunderstood soon afterwards, whereas as late as the 1830s even its greatest enemies (Schopenhauer or Herbart) were unable to escape its overpowering intellectual influence. Most of them did not even try to provide such an explanation, but were instead content to note in their annals the disputes following Hegel's death under the utterly negative rubric of 'The Decay of Hegelianism'. Yet the content of these disputes was very significant and they were also, by today's standards, of an extremely high formal philosophical level. They took place between the various tendencies of Hegel's school, the Right, the Centre and the different tendencies of the Left, especially Strauss, Bauer, Feuerbach, Marx and Engels. To close this period, these historians of philosophy simply set a kind of absolute 'end' to the Hegelian philosophic movement. They then begin the 1860s with the return to Kant (Helmholtz, Zeller, Liebmann, Lange) which appears as a new epoch of philosophical development, without any direct connection to anything else. This kind of history of philosophy has three great limitations, two of which can be revealed by a critical revision that itself remains more or less completely within the realm of the history of ideas. Indeed, in recent years more thorough philosophers, especially Dilthey and his school, have considerably expanded the limited perspective of normal histories of philosophy in these two respects. These two limits can therefore be regarded as having been overcome in principle, although in practice they have survived to this day and will presumably continue to do so for a very long time. The third limit, however, cannot in any way be surpassed from within the realm of the history of ideas; consequently it has not yet been overcome even in principle by contemporary bourgeois historians of philosophy.

"The first of these three limits in the bourgeois history of philosophy during the second half of the nineteenth century can be characterised as a 'purely philosophical' one. The ideologues of the time did not see that the ideas contained in a philosophy can live on not only in philosophies, but equally well in positive sciences and social practice, and that this process precisely began on a large scale with Hegel's philosophy. The second limit is a 'local' one, and was most typical of German professors of philosophy in the second half of the last century: these worthy Germans ignored the fact that there were other philosophers beyond the boundaries of Germany. Hence, with a few exceptions, they quite failed to see that the Hegelian system, although pronounced dead in Germany for decades, had continued to flourish in several foreign countries, not only in its content but also as a system and a method. In the development of the history of philosophy over recent decades, these first two limits to its perspective have in principle been overcome, and the picture painted above of the standard histories of philosophy since 1850 has of late undergone considerable improvement. However, bourgeois philosophers and historians are quite unable to overcome a third limitation on their historical outlook, because this would entail these 'bourgeois' philosophers and historians of philosophy abandoning the bourgeois class standpoint which constitutes the most essential a priori of their entire historical and philosophical science. For what appears as the purely 'ideal' development of philosophy in the nineteenth century can in fact only be fully and essentially grasped by relating it to the concrete historical development of bourgeois society as a whole. It is precisely this relation that bourgeois historians of philosophy, at their present stage of development, are incapable of studying scrupulously and impartially.

"This explains why right up to the present day certain phases of the general development of philosophy in the nineteenth century have had to remain 'transcendent' for these bourgeois historians of philosophy. It also explains why there are still certain curious 'blank patches' on the maps of contemporary bourgeois histories of philosophy (already described in connection with the 'end' of the Hegelian movement in the 1840s and the empty space after it, before the 'reawakening' of philosophy in the 1860s). It also becomes intelligible why bourgeois histories of philosophy today no longer have any coherent grasp even of a period of German philosophy whose concrete essence they previously had succeeded in understanding. In other words, neither the development of philosophical thought after Hegel, nor the preceding evolution of philosophy from Kant to Hegel, can be understood as a mere chain of ideas. Any attempt to understand the full nature and meaning of this whole later period -- normally referred to in history books as the epoch of 'German idealism' -- will fail hopelessly so long as certain connections that are vital for its whole form and course are not registered, or are registered only superficially or belatedly. These are the connections between the 'intellectual movement' of the period and the 'revolutionary movement' that was contemporary with it."

Korsch then goes on to describe in detail the various vicissitudes of the problem of "philosophy" in the history of Marxism, in Marx and Engels's own works, and then in 2nd Intl. Marxism up to his time, and how they relate to the changing relationship of theory and practice in the political history of Marxism, its purchase in practical politics.

Please note, that, unlike various "New Left" Romantic approaches, the goal is not overcoming the separation or distinction between theory and practice, but rather a matter of grasping how they are related (hence, Korsch's "umbilical cord" metaphor in the epigraph above). The theory-practice distinction/separation was grasped by Korsch (like Lukacs) as indicative of the problem Marx (and Marxism) had sought to address. Marx et al. did not resolve the theory/practice problem but grasped it as symptomatic.

Likewise, Korsch characterizes Marxism as emergent from the ideology of the revolt of the Third Estate, the liberal bourgeois-democratic revolutions, rather than as a break with this.

This is important because it means that the immanent relationship of Marxist socialism to liberalism is akin to the immanent relationship of the proletariat to capitalism, and the problem of philosophy is liked to that of the state: philosophy is not to be "abolished" once and for all, but qualitatively transformed, and the theory-practice problem is not to be overcome all at once but to "wither away." (This is very like Lukacs's understanding of proletarian socialism "completing reification" in order to get beyond it, through it.)

For Korsch, Marx and Engels look forward to the "overcoming" of philosophy, but as a long term qualitative transformation of subjectivity, a transcending of the need to reflect "philosophically." -- This relates to Korsch's note on Dilthey's discovery that "philosophical" categories are not only ones of conscious thought, but also of social and cultural practice.

As Korsch writes in conclusion:

"Just as political action is not rendered unnecessary by the economic action of a revolutionary class, so intellectual action is not rendered unnecessary by either political or economic action. On the contrary it must be carried through to the end in theory and practice, as revolutionary scientific criticism and agitational work before the seizure of state power by the working class, and as scientific organisation and ideological dictatorship after the seizure of state power. If this is valid for intellectual action against the forms of consciousness which define bourgeois society in general, it is especially true of philosophical action. Bourgeois consciousness necessarily sees itself as apart from the world and independent of it, as pure critical philosophy and impartial science, just as the bourgeois State and bourgeois Law appear to be above society. This consciousness must be philosophically fought by the revolutionary materialistic dialectic, which is the philosophy of the working class. This struggle will only end when the whole of existing society and its economic basis have been totally overthrown in practice, and this consciousness has been totally surpassed and abolished in theory. -- 'Philosophy cannot be abolished without being realised.' "

So the problem and important role of consciousness is thus brought to the fore by Korsch, through a rich treatment of the issue of ideology that should follow from our prior discussion of Luxemburg -- and lines up with Lukacs, and Kolakowski and Slaughter -- the long ramifications of the "revisionist debate," for which Ian compiled the quotations for use at the last reading group meeting, on Luxemburg's Reform or Revolution?, and that informed Lenin and Trotsky's point of departure, which we will begin addressing in subsequent meetings, starting with Lenin's What is to be done?, and the issue of "tailism," etc.

The reading of Korsch should be related to Platypus, at the level of what Korsch calls "intellectual action" -- this is our mandate, and it should thus be demystified. But because of the historical juncture at which we find ourselves, it is not the matter of what Korsch calls the "dialectical materialist philosophy of the revolutionary working class," but of the philosophy of the Left, and more specifically the philosophy of the history of the Left, whether we can adequately specify the present problem of consciousness and the relation of theory and practice as it has been given to us by history.

* * *

Another important point in Korsch, regarding Platypus:

"[T]he coincidence of consciousness and reality characterises every dialectic, including Marx's dialectical materialism. Its consequence is that the material relations of production of the capitalist epoch only are what they are in combination with the forms in which they are reflected in the pre-scientific and bourgeois-scientific consciousness of the period; and they could not subsist in reality without these forms of consciousness. Setting aside any philosophical considerations, it is therefore clear that without this coincidence of consciousness and reality, a critique of political economy could never have become the major component of a theory of social revolution. The converse follows. Those Marxist theoreticians for whom Marxism was no longer essentially a theory of social revolution could see no need for this dialectical conception of the coincidence of reality and consciousness: it was bound to appear to them as theoretically false and unscientific."

The latter "Marxist theoreticians" to which Korsch refers are of course the "revisionists," Bernstein (and Kautsky), et al., but could just as easily refer to others -- such as Moishe Postone. For Postone (and certainly for his students) any striving for a Marxian politics will always remain "ungrounded," "voluntaristic," etc.

(Instead, Postone leaves the problem of a Marxian politics vague and unworked-out, and makes the outrageous claim that Marx never elaborated a politics from his insights in Capital, as if Marx's actual politics didn't really count, and as if the latter can be separated from the former!)

The problem with the 1960s-era recovery of Marxian critical theory, by Postone, Adolph Reed, Fred Halliday (who translated Korsch in 1970) et al. is that they were never able to transcend the problem of how their theoretical "reflection" related to their political action and its self-understanding. They could never see how their intellectual work was itself a political action, but rather always regarded it as "beside" this.

(The only one of the three, Reed, who did attempt political practice, only did so in a cynically opportunist way -- attempting to split/reform the Democratic Party! -- Another character we have read in Platypus, Martin Nicolaus [translator of Marx's Grundrisse], went back on his own realizations in "The Unknown Marx" [1968], where he harshly criticized Baran and Sweezy for their conclusion that the proletariat had ceased to be a potentially revolutionary force, and later joined New Left Maoism! -- Yet another, Juliet Mitchell, whose "Women: the Longest Revolution" [1966] we read, divorced New Left Review's Perry Anderson and retreated into psychoanalysis. I found a very good recent [2006] interview with Mitchell that ought to give us pause, especially as it ends on a very provocative note about the possibility of a "critique of the normative psychosis of the political social world:"

http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2006-04-12-mitchell-en.html

Precisely because these potential recoverers of Marx of the 1960s generation did not seek to do what Marx and the revolutionary Marxists (Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, et al.) did, change the world, they could not help but remain politically aporetic. Politics became for them the great, inapproachable question. In this sense, they fell under the same criticism Luxemburg had made of Bernstein in 1900: they recoiled in fear from the task of trying to change the world. They could never -- they never really tried to -- recognize their own thinking and attempts to influence others as either potentially changing or failing to change the world in the ways they may have (vainly) wished.

Our project, on the other hand, tries precisely to do this; we seek to instill the profound recognition that what we do or don't do (try or fail) will have real consequences -- hence all the (genuine) anxiety and fear that attend our efforts.

* * *

Korsch wrote on what he called (in 1923) "the decisive crisis of Marxism in which we still find ourselves today:"

"[O]ften described by its major representatives as a 'restoration' of Marxism[,] [t]his transformation and development of Marxist theory has been effected under the peculiar ideological guise of a return to the pure teaching of original or true Marxism. Yet it is easy to understand both the reasons for this guise and the real character of the process which is concealed by it. What theoreticians like Rosa Luxemburg in Germany and Lenin in Russia have done, and are doing, in the field of Marxist theory is to liberate it from the inhibiting traditions of the Social Democracy of the second period. They thereby answer the practical needs of the new revolutionary stage of proletarian class struggle, for these traditions weighed 'like a nightmare' on the brain of the working masses whose objectively revolutionary socioeconomic position no longer corresponded to these evolutionary doctrines. The apparent revival of original Marxist theory in the Third International is simply a result of the fact that in a new revolutionary period not only the workers' movement itself, but the theoretical conceptions of communists which express it, must assume an explicitly revolutionary form. This is why large sections of the Marxist system, which seemed virtually forgotten in the final decades of the nineteenth century, have now come to life again."

Our problem in Platypus is that we are living in an entirely inverted historical period to that of the revolutions of 1917-19 and the "decisive crisis of Marxism" of the late 19th-early 20th Century time of the emergence of the revolutionary-radicals from the tutelage of the "orthodox"-"epigones."

This is something Richard will refer to as the "paradox of orthodoxy," that Platypus might be considered "honestly revisionist."

For just as Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky actually revised and developed "Marxism" (against the authoritative "Marxists") in the name of orthodoxy and a "return to Marx," we are also seeking to overcome the limitations of the best of historical Marxism in our remembrance of it.

Korsch wrote of the "fragmented" and "disintegrated" character that the "Marxism" of the epigones exhibited in its "long decay." -- This is similar to how we find Marxism as a historical legacy today.

The difference is that whereas 2nd Intl. Marxism had deteriorated under the dual pressures of the decline of revolutionary possibilities (after 1848, with a slight return in the 1860s culminating with the Paris Commune, as noted by Korsch in the supplemental reading "The Marxism of the 1st International" [1924]) and the rise of reformist ones, today we are facing the results of the far more profound decay and disintegration of the decline of both revolutionary and reformist practical possibilities. We are not in the position of trying to transform a reformist relation of the working class to the society of capital into a revolutionary one, but of trying to provide the intellectual-ideological ground for instigating simultaneously possibilities for reform and revolution.

Recently, I had a discussion with some Platypi in which I said that by the time a reinvigorated workers' movement rebuilt itself to its former relative historical power for achieving reforms it would be necessary to struggle for revolution. -- Well, this is precisely what had occurred by WWI with 2nd Intl. Marxist socialism: the growth of its reformist possibilities is what had in fact produced the development and crisis of imperialism and hence the need for revolution.

The problem is whether the "decisive crisis" has already come and gone, whether the crisis of Marxism of the early 20th Century manifested the highest development, in a practical-political sense, of the crisis of capitalism, and we have been doomed by that history to never again be able to achieve socialism and the potential transition beyond capital. Or does the possibility of our own consciousness express, in however obscure form, a revolutionary possibility that still subsists, "despite everything." Are we (can we become) proof of our own hypothesis that the Marxian departure that points beyond capital yet still remains pertinent and viable? If so, what about the particular characterization of our memory of revolutionary Marxism speaks to the present, what is the relation expressed by our "coincidence of consciousness and reality?" Why has that "which seemed virtually forgotten . . . come to life again" with our project? -- Or has it?

For we are trying to become a factor in history that could be productive of and not merely respond to the crisis of capital. We are trying to turn the permanent crisis of capital that exists latently into a manifest crisis, and the potential resistance we face comes precisely from the unconscious sense that avoiding such a crisis is what humanity seeks to buy at the price of increasing barbarism.

Chris Cutrone

Platypus Review 9 | December 2008

[PDF]

For the “Left” that is critical of him, the most common comparison made of Obama is to Bill Clinton.

This critique of Obama, as of Clinton, denounces his “Centrism,” the trajectory he appears to continue from the “new” Democratic Party of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) expressed by Clinton and Gore’s election in 1992. Clinton’s election was seen as part of the triumph of “Third Way” politics that contemporaneously found expression in Tony Blair’s “New” Labour Party in Britain.

The idea of such “Third Way” politics is that, compared to the prior political polarizations that developed around the Reagan and Thatcher neoliberal assault on the Keynesian-Fordist state and the resistance against this trend by traditional “social-democratic” politics, the “radical Center” expressed the possibility of a deeper and more effective political transformation. — What if the “Third Way” politicians were correct?

While the “Left” attacks Obama for being too Centrist or Right-wing, a neoliberal in blackface, the Right attacks Obama for being a closet “socialist” (or “Marxist”!). But both attacks neglect the fundamental transformation of politics that has taken place over the course of the past generation, since the “Reagan Revolution”: the Right cynically because they wish to demagogically drive their conservative-reactionary politics ever further; and the “Left” more despairingly because they have never made proper sense of the crisis of the Keynesian-Fordist state, and so have thought that the neoliberal Right’s efforts can be simply reversed with a “progressive” outcome — that Keynesian Fordism had been progressive and not regressive in terms of social emancipation.

Behind this lies a deeper confusion that informed the problematic politics of the 1960s “New” Left, and behind that, the reformism of the Left of the 1930s. The “Old” Left had jumped on the bandwagon of FDR’s New Deal reforms — and the remaking of Europe and Japan as well as the postcolonial “developing” states in a Keynesian-Fordist “social-democratic” image after WWII. The “New” Left responded to this conservatization ambivalently, however, attacking the authoritarian liberalism of JFK and LBJ in the 1960s, but then attempting to stave off its collapse in the 1970s-80s. In this the post-’60s “Left” has been as mistaken in its defense as it had been previously in its attack.

The “social democratic” politics of the mid-20th Century involved tying the workers’ movement to state policies, depoliticizing labor struggles and eviscerating the remnants of the socialist movement of the early 20th Century. The collapse of such Keynesian-Fordist reformist politics began in the 1970s and has carried through the ’80s and ’90s to the present. The displacement of the reformism associated with the Democratic Party (and Labour in the U.K.) by a “new” Right starting in the 1970s was facilitated by the demobilization of the working class as a social force with its roots in the 1930s, the period of the Stalinization of Marxism — the transformation of Marxism into a reformist ideology.

The alliance of such “Marxism” with liberalism and social democracy in the Popular Front against fascism in Europe and with FDR’s Democratic Party in the 1930s and during WWII, despite the Cold War against the USSR and its allies that followed, collectively remade the world in its image of politics. What was most important about the politics of the mid-20th Century was not the struggles, however epic, it contained and expressed, but rather how such politics repressed possibilities for social emancipation.

The challenge “Third Way” politics has offered to the terms of both the Old and New Left, emerging from the crisis of the Keynesian-Fordist state in the latter part of the 20th Century, has not been met. The changes this politics has augured are askew of the mainstream conceptions of “Left” and “Right” as they were established in the mid-20th Century, after the collapse of the Left into a conservative phenomenon in and through the Popular Front of the 1930s, and the subsequent failure to renew emancipatory politics in the 1960s. Indeed, the “Left” since the 1960s has been trapped in an essentially conservative pose, trying to hold back the tide of neoliberal changes. The problems inherent in this can be summarized by the divisions the “Left” accepts between “personal” and “government” responsibility, or between libertarian and authoritarian politics — the opposition of individual to collective freedom.

To take one prominent example, Adolph Reed, in a variety of writings and statements in other media prior to the election, has excoriated Obama for his rhetoric of “personal responsibility” regarding the problems facing black Americans. For Reed (as for Jeremiah Wright, and Jesse Jackson, Sr., who in off-air comments expressed a desire to “cut his nuts off” after Obama made a Fathers’ Day commentary about black “dead-beat dads”), Obama’s rhetoric of personal responsibility falls in with the neoliberal politics of disclaiming public (governmental) responsibility for social ills and “privatizes” them instead.

Of course Reed is right to criticize such rhetoric by Obama. But the question remains whether today we ought to proceed as if the main enemy was the rhetoric of the 1965 Moynihan Report, “The Negro Family: the case for national action,” which infamously identified a supposed “culture of poverty” pathology beyond the possibility of state amelioration, and sought to disenchant the 1960s Great Society expansions of the 1930s New Deal. While Reed and others in the 1960s rightly pointed to the essential affinity between the roots of neoconservatism of Moynihan et al. and the paternalism of liberal reformism, they failed to properly clarify the relation between the reformist politics of labor organizations and the state policies and agencies into which these groups were integrated (such as the National Labor Relations Board) in the mid-20th Century.

The question is whether the terms of such political battles of the 1960s era are still pertinent — whether we ought to place our hopes in reversing policy changes that have occurred from Reagan through Bill Clinton to George W. Bush — or do we need instead to interrogate the terms of this (apparently) perennial struggle so as to be able to adopt an entirely different and potentially more effective framework for emancipatory politics. For the most significant change from the 1960s to the present has been the decimation of the — reformist, non-class struggle — workers movement.

An authentic Marxian Left would not oppose the politics of the governmental responsibility — of the capitalist state — to that of individual persons. A Marxian approach would neither devolve social responsibility onto individual persons nor would it invest collective responsibility in the form of the capitalist nation-state. Nor would it disclaim personal responsibility but would pose it very differently than liberals do — whether they be liberals of the moralizing “conservative” kind or of the supposedly more radical lifestyle-choice variety.

A Marxian approach would argue that the working class has, at the levels of both individual-personal and collective responsibility, to struggle for socialism — and that Leftist intellectuals have a responsibility to help facilitate this struggle.

Rather than the illusions in Obama — either positive or negative — that associate him simply with the vicissitudes of movement along a spectrum of “Left” and “Right” informed fundamentally by Keynesian-Fordist state policies or their undermining by neoliberalism, a response to the “Third Way” politics Obama represents needs to be formulated that recognizes a historical trajectory that is not reassimilable back into the social politics of the mid-20th Century. For such politics had been settled by the time of Clinton’s election in 1992, after the Reagan-Thatcher “revolution” and the destruction of the Soviet Union. There is a line of continuity between Clinton and Obama, but not one of betrayal of the Left but of historical changes for which the “Left” has been ill-prepared.

The triumph of neoliberalism, as well as of “Third Way” politics of the “radical Center” at the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st Centuries cannot be understood properly as a move to the Right that can be reversed by undoing it or by repolarizing politics according to an earlier mode of government policies. They must be seen as part of a deep-rooted historical trajectory that can only be defeated through a new politicization of the working class for socialism, a politics that has been neglected since the early 20th Century.

We must learn the lessons of the 20th Century not learned by those who came before us, and not accept the terms by which they rationalized their failures. Obama, as the latest sign of “change” in this on-going trajectory, underscores this necessity.

Like the “Third Way” we should not accept the opposition of individual and collective social responsibility in conceiving our politics. Unlike the “Third Way,” we should not affirm the forms of state and civil society in which these different dimensions of social responsibility are mediated in today’s late, “post-revolutionary” capitalism. We should rise to the challenge of the necessary double-sided critique that can meet the conservative politics of the “Third Way” in terms of its — and our — own historical moment, and not in the obsolete and, even in their time, mistaken and ineffective terms of a moribund “Left.”

Since his election, Obama has made it clear that he wishes to steer clear of outdated polarizations — as well he should, if he wants to be an effective politician. We should not treat this merely as “political” equivocation or obfuscation, but rather as clearing the way to a potential better recognition of social reality. For a long time now, the “Left” has been adept at skirting the issues and accepting, however tacitly, the terms of social politics set by others. For it is as true that “government [of the capitalist nation-state] is not the answer” as it is that neoliberal “free market” reforms have been a farcical debacle — with tremendous costs to humanity. But the historical failure of the Left is what brought us to this impasse of the 20th Century, the 21st Century opportunity of the “Third Way” and its politics of the “radical Center.” The vacuum of historical politics has been filled, and we need to address this present effective space for politics and not remain self-marginalized, in disdain of it.

We cannot continue the preceding “Left’s” follies in accepting the terms and attempting to re-fight the battles of the 1960s and the 1930s (and their aftermath), in an endless “rear-guard action,” without denying our social reality in its most fundamental respects. Obama has not been a transformative figure in the sense of bringing about a change. Rather, Obama’s victory expresses a change that has been already long under way — and about which the “Left” has remained confused and in denial for far too long, as a result of its abandonment of Marxism.

For a Marxian approach should seek to occupy the vital, radical center of political life, if social emancipation beyond capital is ever to be achieved. Not the intellectual cynicism of “postmodernism” or the despairing utopian politics of an “anarchist” withdrawal from mainstream political life, but an open assault on the on-going conservatizing strategies of depoliticization and the consolidation of power that takes form in ever more socially opaque and inaccessible ways.

Reversing this can only happen in the context of a reinvigorated workers’ movement that would seek to centrally reorganize social life, at a global scale. Today, this must begin with the integrated North American working class, who, occupying the beating heart of the world of capital, has a unique historic responsibility and potentially emancipatory role to play, for whose abdication all of humanity will continue to pay a terrible and escalating price. Addressing the ideological clarification necessary for overcoming this deficit of working class politics will be possible only through Marxian critical theory, carried on by intellectuals trained and dedicated to do this.

As Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919), the great revolutionary Marxist politician of the early 20th Century stated it, during the disintegration of the international Marxist workers’ movement in the First World War,

Socialism is the first popular movement in world history that has set itself the goal of bringing human consciousness, and thereby free will, into play in the social actions of humankind . . . to try to take its history into its own hands; instead of remaining a will-less football, it will take the tiller of social life and become the pilot to the goal of its own history. (The Crisis of German Social Democracy, AKA the Junius pamphlet, 1915)

We need to resume this fight. |P