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You are here: Platypus /Archive for tag emancipation

A roundtable discussion hosted by Platypus NYU
with speakers:
Kenyon Farrow, Queers for Economic Justice
Greg Gabrellas, Platypus
Gary Mucciaroni, Political Science, Temple University
Sherry Wolf, International Socialist Organization

This event was hosted by Platypus NYU on Monday, November 8th, 2010
http://newyork.platypus1917.org

http://www.archive.org/details/WhichWayForwardForSexualLiberationARoundtableHostedByPlatypusNyu

With roots in earlier radical traditions, movements that sought to radically redefine the relationship of sex, politics, and freedom erupted onto the historical stage in the 60s. Yet while much has radically changed in the US and elsewhere in the world, humans are still far too limited in determining their sexual and erotic lives. This roundtable will reflect on the meaning and future of sexual politics today on the Left, with some emphasis on examining and contextualizing the contemporary struggle for gay marriage. What are the potentials and limits of present politics and organization around gay marriage? What successes and limitations has it met? What relationship is there between gay politics today and the Left overall? What frontiers of sexual liberation ought to be at the center of the Left's political agenda?

"The only decent marriage would be one allowing each partner to lead an independent life, in which, instead of a fusion derived from an enforced community of economic interests, both freely accepted mutual responsibility."
-- Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1944)

"The fundamental characteristic of the present system of marriage and family is in our society its monolithism: there is only one institutionalized form of inter-sexual or inter-generational relationship possible. It is that or nothing. This is why it is essentially a denial of life. For all human experience shows that intersexual and intergenerational relationships are infinitely various -- indeed, much of our creative literature is a celebration of the fact -- while the institutionalized expression of them in our capitalist society is utterly simple and rigid. It is the poverty and simplicity of the institutions in this area of life which are such an oppression. Any society will require some institutionalized and social recognition of personal relationships. But there is absolutely no reason why there should be only one legitimized form -- and a multitude of unlegitimized experience. Socialism should properly mean not the abolition of the family, but the diversification of the socially acknowledged relationships which are today forcibly and rigidly compressed into it. This would mean a plural range of institutions -- where the family is only one, and its abolition implies none. Couples living together or not living together, long-term unions with children, single parents bringing up children, children socialized by conventional rather than biological parents, extended kin groups, etc. -- all these could be encompassed in a range of institutions which matched the free invention and variety of men and women."
-- Juliet Mitchell, "Women: the Longest Revolution" (1966)

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Chris Cutrone KARL KORSCH'S SEMINAL ESSAY on “Marxism and Philosophy” (1923) is a historical treatment of the problem from Marx and Engels’s time through the 2nd International to the crisis of Marxism and the revolutions of 1917–19 in Russia, Germany and beyond. More specifically, Korsch took up the development and vicissitudes of the relation between theory and practice in the history of Marxism, which he considered the “philosophical” problem of Marxism. Korsch, like Georg Lukács and the thinkers in Frankfurt School critical theory, was inspired by the “subjective” aspect of Marxism exemplified by Lenin's irreducible role in the October Revolution. Korsch was subsequently denounced as a “professor” in the Communist International and quit the movement, embracing council communism and shunning Marxian theory, writing an "Anti-Critique" in 1930 that critiqued Marxism as such, and by 1950 actively seeking to liquidate the difference between Marxian and anarchist approaches. In so doing, Korsch succumbed to what Adorno termed “identity thinking.” By assuming the identity of theory and practice, or of social being and consciousness in the workers’ movement, Korsch abandoned his prior discernment and critical grasp of their persistent antagonism in any purported politics of emancipation.

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.

From Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), Results and Prospects (1906), VII. The Pre-Requisites of Socialism:

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/rp07.htm

"Undoubtedly, the concentration of production, the development of technique and the growth of consciousness among the masses are essential pre-requisites for socialism. But these processes take place simultaneously, and not only give an impetus to each other, but also retard and limit each other. Each of these processes at a higher level demands a certain development of another process at a lower level. But the complete development of each of them is incompatible with the complete development of the others.

"The development of technique undoubtedly finds its ideal limit in a single automatic mechanism which takes raw materials from the womb of nature and throws them at the feet of man in the form of finished articles of consumption. If the existence of the capitalist system were not limited by class relations and the revolutionary struggle that arises from them, we should have some grounds for supposing that technique, approaching the ideal of a single automatic mechanism within the framework of the capitalist system, would thereby automatically abolish capitalism.

"The concentration of production arising from the laws of competition inherently tends towards proletarianizing the whole population. Isolating this tendency, we should be right in supposing that capitalism would carry out its work to the end, if the process of proletarianization were not interrupted by a revolution; but this is inevitable, given a certain relationship of forces, long before capitalism has converted the majority of the nation into a reserve army, confined to prison-like barracks.

"Further -- consciousness, thanks to the experience of the everyday struggle and the conscious efforts of the socialist parties, undoubtedly grows progressively, and, isolating this process, we could in imagination follow this growth until the majority of the people were included in the trade unions and political organizations, united by a spirit of solidarity and singleness of aim. If this process could really increase quantitatively without being affected qualitatively, socialism could be realized peaceably by a unanimous, conscious 'civil act' some time in the 21st or the 22nd century.

"But the whole point lies in the fact that the processes which are historically pre-requisite for socialism do not develop in isolation, but limit each other, and, reaching a certain stage, determined by numerous circumstances -- which, however, is far removed from the mathematical limit of these processes -- they undergo a qualitative change, and in their complex combination bring about what we understand by the name of social revolution.

"We will begin with the last-mentioned process -- the growth of consciousness. This takes place, as we know, not in academies, in which it might be possible artificially to detain the proletariat for fifty, a hundred or five hundred years, but in the course of all-round life in capitalist society, on the basis of unceasing class struggle. The growth of the consciousness of the proletariat transforms this class struggle, gives it a deeper and more purposeful character, which in its turn calls out a corresponding reaction on the part of the dominant class. The struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie will reach its denouement long before large-scale enterprises begin to dominate in all branches of industry.

"Further, it is of course true that the growth of political consciousness depends upon the growth of the numbers of the proletariat, and proletarian dictatorship presupposes that the numbers of the proletariat will be sufficiently large to overcome the resistance of the bourgeois counter-revolution. But this does not at all mean that the 'overwhelming majority of the population must be proletarians and the 'overwhelming majority' of the proletariat conscious socialists. It is clear, of course, that the conscious revolutionary army of the proletariat must be stronger than the counter-revolutionary army of capital, while the intermediate, doubtful or indifferent strata of the population must be in such a position that the regime of proletarian dictatorship will attract them to the side of the revolution and not repel them to the side of its enemies. Naturally, proletarian policy must consciously take this into consideration. . . .

"Socialism is not merely a question of equal distribution but also a question of planned production. Socialism, that is, co-operative production on a large scale, is possible only when the development of productive forces has reached the stage at which large enterprises are more productive than small ones. The more the large enterprises outweigh the smaller, i.e., the more developed technique has become, the more advantageous economically does socialized production become, and, consequently, the higher must the cultural level of the whole population be as a result of equal distribution based upon planned production.

"This first objective pre-requisite of socialism has been in existence a long time -- ever since the time when social division of labour led to the division of labour in manufacture. It has existed to an even greater extent since the time when manufacture was replaced by factory, machine production. Large undertakings became more and more advantageous, which also meant that the socialization of these large undertakings would have made society more and more wealthy. . . .

"What level must social differentiation have attained in order that the second pre-requisite for socialism may be realized? In other words, what must be the relative numerical weight of the proletariat? Must it make up a half, two-thirds or nine-tenths of the population? It would be an absolutely hopeless undertaking to try to define the bare arithmetical limits of this second prerequisite for socialism. In the first place, in such a schematic effort, we should have to decide the question of who is to be included in the category 'proletariat'. Should we include the large class of semi-proletarian semi-peasants? Should we include the reserve masses of the urban proletariat -- who on the one hand merge into the parasitical proletariat of beggars and thieves, and on the other fill the city streets as small traders playing a parasitical role in relation to the economic system as a whole? This question is not at all a simple one.

"The importance of the proletariat depends entirely on the role it plays in large-scale production. The bourgeoisie relies, in its struggle for political domination, upon its economic power. Before it manages to secure political power, it concentrates the country’s means of production in its own hands. This is what determines its specific weight in society. The proletariat, however, in spite of all co-operative phantasmagoria, will be deprived of the means of production right up to the actual socialist revolution. Its social power comes from the fact that the means of production which are in the hands of the bourgeoisie can be set in motion only by the proletariat. From the point of view of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat is also one of the means of production, constituting, in conjunction with the others, a single unified mechanism. The proletariat, however, is the only non-automatic part of this mechanism, and in spite of all efforts it cannot be reduced to the condition of an automaton. . . .

"Now we come to the third pre-requisite of socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Politics is the plane upon which the objective pre-requisites of socialism are intersected by the subjective ones. Under certain definite social-economic conditions, a class consciously sets itself a certain aim -- the conquest of political power; it unites its forces, weighs up the strength of the enemy and estimates the situation. Even in this third sphere, however, the proletariat is not absolutely free. Besides the subjective factors -- consciousness, preparedness and initiative, the development of which also have their own logic -- the proletariat in carrying out its policy comes up against a number of objective factors such as the policy of the ruling classes and the existing State institutions (such as the army, the class schools, the State church), international relations, etc.

"We will deal first of all with the subjective conditions: the preparedness of the proletariat for a socialist revolution. It is, of course, not sufficient that the standard of technique has rendered socialist economy advantageous from the point of view of the productivity of social labour. It is not sufficient, either, that the social differentiation based on this technique has created a proletariat which is the main class by virtue of its numbers and its economic role, and which is objectively interested in socialism. It is further necessary that this class should be conscious of its objective interests; it is necessary that it should understand that there is no way out for it except through socialism; it is necessary that it should combine in an army sufficiently powerful to conquer political power in open battle. . . .

"But many socialist ideologues (ideologues in the bad sense of the word -- those who stand everything on its head) speak of preparing the proletariat for socialism in the sense of its being morally regenerated. The proletariat, and even 'humanity' in general, must first of all cast out its old egoistical nature, and altruism must become predominant in social life, etc. As we are as yet far from such a state of affairs, and 'human nature' changes very slowly, socialism is put off for several centuries. Such a point of view probably seems very realistic and evolutionary, and so forth, but as a matter of fact it is really nothing but shallow moralizing.

"It is assumed that a socialist psychology must be developed before the coming of socialism, in other words that it is possible for the masses to acquire a socialist psychology under capitalism. One must not confuse here the conscious striving towards socialism with socialist psychology. The latter presupposes the absence of egotistical motives in economic life; whereas the striving towards socialism and the struggle for it arise from the class psychology of the proletariat. However many points of contact there may be between the class psychology of the proletariat and classless socialist psychology, nevertheless a deep chasm divides them.

"The joint struggle against exploitation engenders splendid shoots of idealism, comradely solidarity and self-sacrifice, but at the same time the individual struggle for existence, the ever-yawning abyss of poverty, the differentiation in the ranks of the workers themselves, the pressure of the ignorant masses from below, and the corrupting influence of the bourgeois parties do not permit these splendid shoots to develop fully. For all that, in spite of his remaining philistinely egoistic, and without his exceeding in 'human' worth the average representative of the bourgeois classes, the average worker knows from experience that his simplest requirements and natural desires can be satisfied only on the ruins of the capitalist system. . . .

"If socialism aimed at creating a new human nature within the limits of the old society it would be nothing more than a new edition of the moralistic utopias. Socialism does not aim at creating a socialist psychology as a pre-requisite to socialism but at creating socialist conditions of life as a pre-requisite to socialist psychology."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1931/tpr/rp07.htm

After the recent discussion of Luxemburg's pamphlet on Reform or Revolution? (1900/08), there might be some confusion regarding the relationship between Luxemburg's formulations and the raison d'etre of Platypus as an organized project today. -- What is the point of reading Luxemburg today?

Whereas Luxemburg was critiquing Eduard Bernstein and other "revisionists'" arguments that the development of capitalism had made proletarian social revolution superfluous or even harmful, Luxemburg was arguing that such historical "development" must be seen as symptomatic of the growing and deepening crisis of capitalism, and that the organized Marxist social-democratic labor and political movement must be seen as part of that history, part of that crisis.

Rather than diminishing the importance of the Marxist political point of departure, as Bernstein had hypothesized, for Luxemburg, the development of the proletarian socialist movement, as part and parcel of and inextricably bound up with the development of capitalism, had only gained in saliency, had only grown in political importance.

Luxemburg understood Bernstein's "revisionism" in a two-fold sense: theoretically and psychologically. But in both senses as a matter of ideology. Theoretically, the bankruptcy of bourgeois thought had caused it to collapse into Marxism. Psychologically, the apparent convergence of liberalism and ("Marxist") socialism meant the attempt to avoid, as a matter of political practice, the growing crisis of capitalism. Hence, Bernstein's assumption of the gradual "evolution" of capitalism into socialism, whereas Luxemburg emphasizes the crucial crossroads at which modern society had arrived: in the language of her later Junius pamphlet (The Crisis of German Social Democracy, 1915), borrowed from Engels, "socialism or barbarism!"

It was precisely this crossroads of socialism or barbarism that the "revisionists" denied, and that Luxemburg had to reestablish in order to grasp the crucial role that Marxism as an organized political tendency could and indeed needed to play for the emancipation of humanity beyond capital.

But Luxemburg was writing in a very different time from ours. Where Luxemburg attributed "revisionism" -- the impulse to liquidate Marxist socialism back into liberalism -- to the fear that the dawning crisis and depth of the tasks revealed by the development of the international socialist workers' movement engendered among what she called the "petit bourgeois" intellectuals adhering to the workers' movement, she confidently characterized this as a passing malady.

More fundamentally, however, Luxemburg pointed to the deeper conflict within the working class itself, between apprehending its interests in a "petit bourgeois" vs. "proletarian" way.

This is the essence of Luxemburg's accusation that Bernstein et al. had collapsed back into liberalism, but under the guise (and as a tendency) of avowed, self-conscious "Marxism."

For a workers' movement without a Marxian revolutionary politics is just liberalism, despite whatever "Marxist" verbiage or consciousness with which it might clothe itself.

So Luxemburg was calling attention to and theoretically elucidating the danger that the workers' movement (however avowedly "socialist" or even "Marxist" it thought itself) would relapse back into liberalism, precisely as the political tasks it faced were revealed in all their breadth and depth. What later thinkers in the Frankfurt School critical theoretical tradition would characterize as the "fear of freedom" underlies this perpetual danger of opportunism (as opposed to inadequate explanations like "selling out," etc.).

Today, by contrast, we face not a world in which the depth and breadth of the task of a social politics that could point beyond capitalism has been revealed, but in which it is deeply obscured and hidden.

We lack the developed workers' movement of Luxemburg's time (i.e., 2nd International Marxist socialism) that could simultaneously reveal the task of anticapitalist politics, as well as provide the means for succumbing to the danger of abdicating this task (through labor reformism etc., co-optation to the capitalist state, etc.).

And we lack the consciousness that such a politics is desirable, let alone possible or necessary. "Marxism" has consumed itself in the abdication of the task it historically set for itself, and it has buried the truth of the modern of society of capital in the sepulcher of its own demise.

Nevertheless, read properly, the history of Marxist socialism offers some clues into such necessities, possibilities, and desirabilities of a Marxian politics, a politics derived from Marx's recognition of the problem of capital.

We cannot, as Luxemburg could, point to the class polarization of society as an underlying reality with which a Marxian politics could grasp actual possibilities -- and to which such a politics contributed the emergence and development.

Rather, we are left with a more obscure task, revealing that there was ever a point to the Marxian characterization of modern society as capitalist. We are back to square one in this sense, not at Luxemburg's moment of culminating crisis in thought and potential action, but deeply lost in the accumulated barbarism that has necessarily resulted from the failure of historical revolutionary Marxism.

Sectarian "Marxists" read Luxemburg merely as an eloquent defense of "revolution" against "reformism," but as Luxemburg herself pointed out, it is only the reformists who separate and oppose the struggle for fundamental transformation from reforms. The apparent contradiction between reform and revolution is itself a product of the degeneration of effective practical political agency and consciousness.

Whereas Luxemburg had a movement to critique and goad on, we only have a history that haunts us, and one that becomes dimmer over time, demanding fundamental recognition and potential elaboration of an available, if rendered temporarily obscure, framework for asking in our present what is necessary, possible, and desirable for transforming our world.

Rather than waiting for some "objective" crisis of capitalism that, according to the senile "Left" will supposedly do our work for us, while it continues to never ever come, we are tasked by Luxemburg and her fellow historical revolutionary Marxists to explore what we can actually do to advance the crisis of modern society, to make it take the form of a political crisis over its direction and potential resolution.

Platypus, initially, has taken up this task as a matter of conscious recognition of the problem that needs to be addressed, of basic orientation towards the true horizon of potential possibility to be explored.

While it might appear that Luxemburg's practical revolutionary Marxist politics was proven wrong and hopeless by history, it's not as if her debating opponents, e.g., Bernstein, fared any better, in theory or practice.

Whereas Bernstein et al. offered nothing that could address the history that followed, which did not lead to socialism, Luxemburg's clear warning about the threat of regression has been actualized, and for precisely the reasons she had recognized.

This doesn't mean following Luxemburg's (et al.) script, but rather her spirit. It is why we, and not the ostensible "Marxists" who supposedly follow her more strictly, are answering her (and her historical Marxist cohort's) call, and hopefully not too late.

". . . [M]odern man finds his own 'essence' in his greatest discovery, namely, that the most important thing is to turn 'life' into a 'lived experience' and to make all possibilities of lived-experience accessible generally to all in an equal manner so that through this universality of 'lived experience' 'life' may prove and actualize itself as the unconditioned whole. . . . Without initiating its own self-destruction, how could that which has made itself beforehand the goal of itself and has put all goal-setting at the service of this goal, ever inquire into a goal?

"The unconditionality of the 'life' of 'lived experience' means positing 'becoming' as the actual 'being' and thus simultaneously consolidating the unquestionability of being itself. . . . The forgottenness of forgetting is the most hidden sheltered process in the 'dis-humanization' of man. . . .

"[A] uniformly emerging and uniformly expanding fostering of all potentials of the creative spirit receives it first 'justification' and determination for the unity and unification of life and its actualities. Thus the 'historical' man of culture fulfills that doom, which, within the forgottenness of forgetting of being drives the 'dis-humanization' of man to an ab-ground that can become a ground for the fundamental transformation of man." [252-253]

-- Martin Heidegger, Mindfulness, "The Completion of Occidental Metaphysics (Hegel and Nietzsche): Be-ing and 'becoming'" (1938) [Athlone, 2006, 249-254]

http://books.google.com/books?id=EflJx-fJrtEC&pg=PA249&dq=heidegger+mindfulness+G281

* * *

But, as James Miller (author of The Passion of Michel Foucault, 2000) put it, in his introduction to Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett, 1992):

"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.'" [xiv-xv]

http://books.google.com/books?id=qF_cMG-ybMgC&pg=PR15&dq=Rousseau+Discourse+Origin+Inequality+Hackett+Hegel&lr=

". . . [M]odern man finds his own 'essence' in his greatest discovery, namely, that the most important thing is to turn 'life' into a 'lived experience' and to make all possibilities of lived-experience accessible generally to all in an equal manner so that through this universality of 'lived experience' 'life' may prove and actualize itself as the unconditioned whole. . . . Without initiating its own self-destruction, how could that which has made itself beforehand the goal of itself and has put all goal-setting at the service of this goal, ever inquire into a goal?

"The unconditionality of the 'life' of 'lived experience' means positing 'becoming' as the actual 'being' and thus simultaneously consolidating the unquestionability of being itself. . . . The forgottenness of forgetting is the most hidden sheltered process in the 'dis-humanization' of man. . . .

"[A] uniformly emerging and uniformly expanding fostering of all potentials of the creative spirit receives it first 'justification' and determination for the unity and unification of life and its actualities. Thus the 'historical' man of culture fulfills that doom, which, within the forgottenness of forgetting of being drives the 'dis-humanization' of man to an ab-ground that can become a ground for the fundamental transformation of man." [252-253]

-- Martin Heidegger, Mindfulness, "The Completion of Occidental Metaphysics (Hegel and Nietzsche): Be-ing and 'becoming'" (1938) [Athlone, 2006, 249-254]

http://books.google.com/books?id=EflJx-fJrtEC&pg=PA249&dq=heidegger+mindfulness+G281

* * *

But, as James Miller (author of The Passion of Michel Foucault, 2000) put it, in his introduction to Rousseau's Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett, 1992):

"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.'" [xiv-xv]

http://books.google.com/books?id=qF_cMG-ybMgC&pg=PR15&dq=Rousseau+Discourse+Origin+Inequality+Hackett+Hegel&lr=

A Film by Margarethe von Trotta
A political biography of one of the leading figures in the history of the Left
Friday, January 30th, 2009
6:30pm
295 Lafayette st. 4th FL New York, NY 10012

Friday, January 23rd, 2009
6:30pm
New York University Sociology Department
Puck Building
295 Lafayette st. 4th FL
New York, NY 10012

Friday, January 23rd, 2009
6:30pm
New York University Sociology Department
Puck Building
295 Lafayette st. 4th FL
New York, NY 10012