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I am writing with some brief, partial notes from our discussion at UChicago at yesterday's (Sun. 3/8/09) reading group, on several essays from Georg Lukacs's 1923 book History and Class Consciousness.

I want to emphasize and discuss in particular a couple of passages, from the (original, 1922) Preface, and the essay "What is Orthodox Marxism?" (1919).

Specifically, I wish to discuss Lukacs's use of categories, "materialist dialectics," and his meaning of Marxism as a "method," which might otherwise prove confusing or tricky.

First, however, I wish to quote a passage from the other essay we read for yesterday's meeting, "Class Consciousness" (1920), which is concerned with the Marxist conception of proletarian class consciousness as *historical* consciousness of capital and the historical tasks of the working class, what it will take to get beyond capital, which is fundamentally related to Lenin's conception of proletarian class consciousness coming from "outside" the immediate struggles of the working class under capital. For Lukacs, following Lenin and Luxemburg and Marx, "class consciousness" is *historical* consciousness (hence the title of Lukacs's book History and Class Consciousness).

"To say that class consciousness has no psychological reality does not imply that it is a mere fiction. Its reality is vouched for by its ability to explain the infinitely painful path of the proletarian revolution, with its many reverses, its constant return to its starting-point and the incessant self-criticism of which Marx speaks in the celebrated passage in The Eighteenth Brumaire. Only the consciousness of the proletariat can point to the way that leads out of the impasse of capitalism. As long as this consciousness is lacking, the crisis remains permanent, it goes back to its starting-point, repeats the cycle until after infinite sufferings and terrible detours the school of history completes the education of the proletariat and confers upon it the leadership of mankind. But the proletariat is not given any choice. As Marx says, it must become a class not only 'as against capital' but also 'for itself'; that is to say, the class struggle must be raised from the level of economic necessity to the level of conscious aim and effective class consciousness. The pacifists and humanitarians of the class struggle whose efforts tend whether they will or no to retard this lengthy, painful and crisis-ridden process would be horrified if they could but see what sufferings they inflict on the proletariat by extending this course of education. But the proletariat cannot abdicate its mission. The only question at issue is how much it has to suffer before it achieves ideological maturity, before it acquires a true understanding of its class situation and a true class consciousness. Of course this uncertainty and lack of clarity are themselves the symptoms of the crisis in bourgeois society."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/history/lukacs3.htm

Please note the recursive, non-linear conception of history involved in Lukacs's discussion of the historical tasks of proletarian "class consciousness," and the notion of regression inherent in it. It is such a conception by Lukacs that led to Benjamin and Adorno's further ruminations on history, in addition to the following point made by Karl Korsch in his contemporaneous study "Marxism and Philosophy" (1923) that we read a few weeks ago:

"It is wholly understandable from the viewpoint of the materialist dialectic that this original form of Marxist theory could not subsist unaltered throughout the long years of the second half of the nineteenth century (which was in practice quite unrevolutionary). Marx's remark in the Preface to the Critique of political Economy on mankind as a whole is necessarily also true for the working class, which was then slowly and antagonistically maturing towards its own liberation: 'It 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'. This dictum is not affected by the fact that a problem which supersedes present relations may have been formulated in an anterior epoch."

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

Hence, the permanent relevance of the Marxian insight into the problem of capital and the special role of the working class in its (on-going re-)constitution and thus potential overcoming, which is not left behind by some linear development of history, but rather remains in a constellation (to use Benjamin's word) in the present, more or less clearly, as a matter of the relation of theory and practice.

As Lukacs put it in "What is Orthodox Marxism?," in a passage that came up more than once in our discussion,

"Orthodox Marxism, therefore, does not imply the uncritical acceptance of the results of Marx's investigations. It is not the 'belief' in this or that thesis, nor the exegesis of a 'sacred' book. On the contrary, orthodoxy refers exclusively to method. It is the scientific conviction that dialectical materialism is the road to truth and that its methods can be developed, expanded and deepened only along the lines laid down by its founders. It is the conviction, moreover, that all attempts to surpass or 'improve' it have led and must lead to over-simplification, triviality and eclecticism."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/history/orthodox.htm

But since the relation between theory and practice does not exist in a stable but rather a variable context -- as Adorno put it in Negative Dialectics (1966), the relation of (Marxian) theory and practice "is not settled once and for all but fluctuates historically" -- the "development, expansion and deepening" Lukacs calls for cannot be in a linear-progressive manner, despite his use of the phrase "along the lines [already] laid down" to describe Marxist "orthodoxy." Of the three terms in Lukacs's description, "deepened" is the most important, for it speaks to the relation Platypus, following Lukacs and Korsch, finds between Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky and Marx: our hypothesis that the development and transformation of Marxism in their hands (in thought and action) was a "deepening" of the Marxian point of departure and not a digression, that 1917 remains strongly constellated with 1848. As Korsch pointed out (in "Marxism and Philosophy") what is peculiar is that the transformation of Marxism by LLT was done under the (somewhat illusory) auspices of a "return to Marx" and "orthodoxy."

The task Platypus finds in the revolutionary Marxist tradition remains one of discerning what it would take to *deepen* the Marxian point of departure.

Another quotation that kept coming up in our discussion was Spartacist founder James Robertson's phrase (in his 1973 speech "In Defense of Democratic Centralism" included in the 1978 pamphlet Lenin and the Vanguard Party we read for our previous reading group meeting), that "one cannot separate the ability to know the world from the ability to change it:"

"The truth is historically conditioned; that is, the outlook of the Communist movement of the first four congresses of the Communist International rested upon a historic and successful upheaval of the revolutionary proletariat [in 1917]. A comparable theoretical breakthrough and generalization accompanied this massive revolutionary achievement. It is as though the theoretical outlook of the proletarian vanguard in the period 1919-23 in the International stood atop a mountain. But since that time, from the period of the Trotskyist Left Opposition until his death and afterward, the proletariat has mainly witnessed defeats and the revolutionary vanguard has either been shrunken or its continuity in many countries broken. One cannot separate the ability to know the world from the ability to change it, and our capacity to change the world is on a very small scale compared to the heroic days of the Communist International."

http://www.bolshevik.org/Pamphlets/LeninVanguard/LVP%20Robertson%20to%20Spartacus-BL.htm

So, the relation of theory and practice not only changes historically, but is subject to a process of regression, whereby failures in practice and theory mutually condition each other in a regressive dynamic. The reason that the theoretical digestion of 1917 in the early Lukacs and Korsch (and not these authors' later Stalinist and ultra-Left "Council Communist" degenerations, respectively) remains unsurpassed and not improved upon (but only elaborated further by Benjamin and Adorno) since then is that Marxist politics did not achieve practical success beyond that of the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The practical failures in turn gave rise to theoretical degeneration, which then conditioned further confusion about practical politics, etc.

To say, as Robertson does in the quotation above, that the "truth is historically conditioned" (an eminently Hegelian phrase!), is to point out the problem of what Lukacs called "materialist dialectics."

In his original (1922) Preface to History and Class Consciousness, Lukacs wrote about the relation of Marx to Hegel that,

"It is of the essence of dialectical method that concepts which are false in their abstract one-sidedness are later transcended (zur Aufhebung gelangen). The process of transcendence makes it inevitable that we should operate with these one-sided, abstract and false concepts. These concepts acquire their true meaning less by definition than by their function as aspects that are then transcended in the totality. Moreover, it is even more difficult to establish fixed meanings for concepts in Marx's improved version of the dialectic than in the Hegelian original.

"For if concepts are only the intellectual forms of historical realities then these forms, one-sided., abstract and false as they are, belong to the true unity as genuine aspects of it. Hegel's statements about this problem of terminology in the preface to the Phenomenology are thus even more true than Hegel himself realised when he said: 'Just as the expressions "unity of subject and object", of "finite and infinite", of "being and thought", etc., have the drawback that "object" and "subject" bear the same meaning as when thy exist outside that unity, so that within the unity they mean something other than is implied by their expression: so, too, falsehood is not, qua false, any longer a moment of truth.'"

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/history/preface-1922.htm

Platypus takes a great deal of emphasis from this idea in Lukacs that an anticapitalist politics in a Marxian sense would necessarily, inevitably work through "forms of misrecognition." But such "misrecognition" needs to be understood first and foremost, if not entirely exclusively, through the subjectivity of the *commodity form* as understood by Marx and Lukacs, Benjamin and Adorno. It is in this sense that categories are both "true and not true," or "false and not false," or false in and of themselves but not false in a "dialectical" sense.

The "unity" of which Lukacs speaks is in terms of the "totality" of capital (or, more accurately, in its totalizing logic). This goes a long way towards what Marxists mean when they say "materialist." They do not mean "material" in the sense of some ontological "matter," in an empiricist or materialist metaphysics that posits the primacy of matter.

Rather, "materialist" means "concrete."

Marx, in the Grundrisse, discussing his adoption of a Hegelian mode of "presentation" through categories, describes this as "rising from the abstract to the concrete." What this means is that concrete reality needs to understood as the concretion of "abstractions."

This is the opposite of an empiricist deductive use of categories as abstracting generalizations that are either useful or not. It is not a matter of Marxism's categories' "accuracy" in terms of their being effectively "useful" for our analysis in a practical sense. It is not a matter of our use of categories that can be subject to empirical validation or correction.

It is rather, in terms of what Marx called "alienation" and "fetishism" and what Lukacs called "reification," a matter of how categories which are socially *real* abstractions (in a process of really effective social abstraction) make use of *us*! The categories refer to problems we must overcome, which we nonetheless can only overcome on the basis of such problems themselves.

Labor in the commodity form is the most primary of the categories in a Marxian approach. In this sense, labor is both true and not true, false and not false: it is true/false only the degree to which it is to be overcome, which can only be accomplished from the ground of our being subjects of/to it.

Hence, the "dialectical" sense in which "materialist" concretion presents itself as a task of understanding and action (or theory and practice).

As Lukacs goes on to say in his 1922 Preface to History and Class Consciousness,

"In the pure historicisation of the dialectic this statement receives yet another twist: in so far as the 'false' is an aspect of the 'true' it is both 'false' and 'non-false'. When the professional demolishers of Marx criticise his 'lack of conceptual rigour' and his use of 'image' rather than 'definitions', etc., they cut as sorry a figure as did Schopenhauer when he tried to expose Hegel's 'logical howlers' in his Hegel critique. All that is proved is their total inability to grasp even the ABC of the dialectical method. The logical conclusion for the dialectician to draw from this failure is not that he is faced with a conflict between different scientific methods, but that he is in the presence of a social phenomenon and that by conceiving it as a socio-historical phenomenon he can at once refute it and transcend it dialectically."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/history/preface-1922.htm

This goes a long way towards elucidating what Lukacs means by "method" in his essay on "What is Orthodox Marxism?" (1919):

"Materialist dialectic is a revolutionary dialectic. This definition is so important and altogether so crucial for an understanding of its nature that if the problem is to be approached in the right way this must be fully grasped before we venture upon a discussion of the dialectical method itself. The issue turns on the question of theory and practice. And this not merely in the sense given it by Marx when he says in his first critique of Hegel that 'theory becomes a material force when it grips the masses.' Even more to the point is the need to discover those features and definitions both of the theory and the ways of gripping the masses which convert the theory, the dialectical method, into a vehicle of revolution. We must extract the practical essence of the theory from the method and its relation to its object. If this is not done that 'gripping the masses' could well turn out to be a will o' the wisp. It might turn out that the masses were in the grip of quite different forces, that they were in pursuit of quite different ends. In that event, there would be no necessary connection between the theory and their activity, it would be a form that enables the masses to become conscious of their socially necessary or fortuitous actions, without ensuring a genuine and necessary bond between consciousness and action."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/lukacs/works/history/orthodox.htm

So, it is not a matter of Marxism as one "method" among others to which it can be favorably compared. As the Adorno scholar Gillian Rose put it, Marxism is a "mode of cognition sui generis," because of the relation to theory and practice to which it refers, namely the problem of capital as a block to either effective thought or action.

As Lukacs put it, the difference between Marx and Hegel is that we are tasked to grasp the "inner coherence" and "self-understanding" of Marx, whereas with Hegel's thought we must instead, by comparison, grasp only its seminal moments. This is because of the historical difference separating Marx from Hegel, the emergence of (modern, industrial) capital. This is because it is only by grasping the coherence of Marx's critical theory of capital, which was also a critically reflexive theory of the modern socialist workers' movement, that we can hope to grasp capital itself as a problem to be practically overcome. Without Marx, capital remains an incoherent problem to which we will remain subject.

So, it is not a matter of analytical validity of a Marxian approach, but rather of *making" the Marxian point of departure into an effective practical reality.

If we remain haunted by Marx's insight into the problem of capital, which was itself borne by the emergence of the modern socialist workers movement that he sought to critically understand and whose potential he sought to reflexively historically push further, then this is because we will remain tasked to "prove" Marxism, by *making* the revolution against capital.

Marxism will either be proven through our political action or it will turn out to not have any effective reality. Platypus exists in order to try to pursue the realization of Marxism. This will not take place through the eclectic qualification or supplementation of Marxism but only through its radical deepening. To parallel the phrase at the end of Korsch's "Marxism and Philosophy" (1923), Marxism cannot be "abolished" (or, rather, surpassed as a form of *politics*, as theory and practice) without being *realized*. As Korsch put it, "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."

I am writing with some notes and suggestions on Lenin's What is to be done? (1902).

I'd like to start with a quotation from Lenin's first footnote, in the chapter "Dogmatism and Freedom of Criticism:"

"At the present time (as is now evident), the English Fabians, the French Ministerialists, the German Bernsteinians, and the Russian Critics all belong to the same family, all extol each other, learn from each other, and together take up arms against "dogmatic" Marxism. In this first really international battle with socialist opportunism, international revolutionary Social-Democracy will perhaps become sufficiently strengthened to put an end to the political reaction that has long reigned in Europe? -- Lenin"

What's remarkable about this footnote is that Lenin thinks that winning the dispute against Marxist revisionism and social democratic reformism will signal the beginning of "putting an end to political reaction" more generally! -- In other words, that the fight against the Right begins with the bad "Left!" This can only be so through a prioritization of consciousness.

Clearly there is affinity here of Lenin with our project in Platypus. Lenin was not the "actionist" and did not simply prioritize practice over theory, of which he might be accused -- nor was he simply the "pragmatist" for which he might be embraced!

This points to the true character of the overall issue of "tailism" that is at the heart of Lenin's pamphlet. This should be approached as a matter of theory and practice.

The historical distinction, not to be downplayed, between Lenin's moment and ours, is that his critique of tailism is in the context of a period of political radicalization of the workers' movement of Russia, which had gone through rapid growth after a period of intensive industrialization in the last years of the 19th Century.

Lenin's concern is the same as that expressed by Rosa Luxemburg, that the (revolutionary Marxist) Social Democrats be able to "lead and shape" events rather than following behind ("tailing after") them impotently, which will prevent effective political action.

This is the central concern of Lenin's focus on organization. How does "social democratic" (revolutionary Marxist) consciousness anticipate, through a long historical view, and therefore could take a leading role in the spontaneity of either economic or liberal social-political struggles under capital, and transform these into the struggle to overcome capital?

At the level of consciousness and ideology, this is related to Luxemburg's discussion in Reform or Revolution? of how challenges to Marxism must take the guise of Marxism -- and discussion by Korsch in "Marxism and Philosophy" that developments in Marxism must take the form of a "return to Marx." In Lenin's case, there was the phenomenon of the Russian intelligentsia being swept up in a fashion for Marxism. So Lenin is concerned first and foremost in attacking this liberalism in the guise of "Marxism," as Luxemburg was doing in attacking the revisionist "Marxists" in Reform or Revolution?

Lenin's pamphlet was an attempt to draw organizational consequences in the Russian social democratic party from the international revisionist debate. -- But there is a serious question about whether it is possible to find an organizational solution to the problem of opportunism, which is what the substance was of Luxemburg's critique of Lenin in her essay on "Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy" (republished later in English under the scurrilous title added by an American Cold War editor, "Leninism or Marxism?").

Retaining the focus on "tailism," the passive expectancy and contemplative comportment of the pseudo-"Left" has long been a danger, but one especially so since the 1960s "New Left." (It is a deeply ingrained problem that I tried to highlight in my previous notes on Korsch.)

For example the critical Marxist intellectuals from whom we might take inspiration from the '60s generation, Postone, Reed, Halliday, Mitchell, et al., all exhibit this problem, of shearing theoretical analysis from political ideology, so that the problem of adequate consciousness, let alone political action, becomes a paralyzed paradox. The real stakes of intellectual action become impossible to reckon, and so theory and practice remain separated in a freewheeling manner: it never becomes a question, as it was for Lenin -- and Luxemburg -- of "what is to be done?"

Instead, it becomes a self-flagellation of the intellectuals, for whom Adorno's introductory remarks in Negative Dialectics have an additional meaning, different from their original context, for there is expressed in another form the "defeatism of reason after the attempt to change the world miscarried." -- To avoid or fail to task oneself in one's own thinking and action with the question of "what is to be done?" is to defeat one's reason.

For the point is not to try to "recognize" the emancipatory potential of various social-political phenomena, but the attempt to transform these endemic discontents in an emancipatory direction. More specifically, Marx had already recognized the emancipatory potential of the constitutive contradiction of the struggles of the working class (as such) under capital. The point for Lenin and Luxemburg was how to push the envelope of these in a (self-)transformative direction, how to follow Marx's prognosis that the class struggle of the proletariat pointed beyond itself.

The point of Lenin was not, for example, to "recognize" the "national struggles" (struggles against "national" oppression), but to find how the proletariat could use these to broaden its leadership in the struggle to transform (global) society.

Lenin and Luxemburg took a great deal for granted, and were concerned first and foremost with the danger of what in their time was a rather advanced state of the class struggle of the proletariat from being blunted and hemmed in by the horizons of bourgeois society, or "opportunism" (what Moishe Postone calls "proletarian/capital-constitutive consciousness/politics").

But by the 1960s (and certainly also today!) the problem is quite different: it was not the matter of maintaining the advanced progress and rooting out the inherent dangers of relapse to "bourgeois" terms in the proletarian-socialist class struggle of the workers (what Lukacs called "reification," by which he meant the "advanced socialist" consciousness of the WWI-era Marxist revisionists like Kautsky, and not merely the primordial everyday consciousness of the workers under capitalism), but the constitution of the working class as a social (let alone political) force of any kind.

This is why our project is not so much one of the "proletariat" but more basically of the "Left." Our task is to clarify what it means to be progressive-emancipatory and then to situate the concrete realities of contemporary capitalism within this long historical view.

In this our task is similar to Lenin's, but coarser and less rigorously specified -- as it had been so by Lenin's greater context of the developed 2nd International Marxist socialist workers' movement.

Leaving aside Lenin and Luxemburg, today we are in a worse position than Marx, who characterized his project as bringing to consciousness what people were already struggling for and thus pushing their struggle further, beyond itself.

In the face of the spiraling degenerate barbarism of the present, we might be tempted to say that even in their most obtuse conservative-reactionary forms people are yet still struggling for emancipation from capitalism and not towards its further deepening barbarism. (This was what Terry Eagleton implied in his recent talk at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago -- Eagleton gave yet another expression of how "the Left is the Right!")

The choice of what to "tail" behind today is much worse than in Lenin or Marx's time. It is not a matter of the danger of our abdicating leadership of and thus betraying (potentially) progressive-emancipatory social-political forces, but of resisting the temptation to dress up as progressive (or even human) what is manifestly not.

This is why it is most important for us in Platypus to emphasize that the last thing the historical revolutionary Marxist Left wanted to do was be the most sophisticated chroniclers or apologists for what was already happening. They wanted to change the world, which for them began, first and foremost, with transforming the best social struggles of their time in a deeper and further emancipatory direction.

We want to do the same, but, to avoid the opportunism/tailism Luxemburg and Lenin sought to specify in a more acute manner, we start with a much more obtuse and recalcitrant object, not an advanced workers' movement but freewheeling capitalism and various despairing conservative-reactionary responses to it. We have much less at our disposal to "transform," so we must begin instead with discrimination, sorting and separating out, through "ruthless criticism of everything existing." Starting out, we need to not assume but to see if there's anything there for us to work with at all.

We wish we could share Lenin's impatience with reformist formulations like "giving the economic struggle itself a political character," when today there is not even what Lenin or Luxemburg would have recognized as the merely "economic" struggles by the working class.

* * *

Lenin's What is to be done? is a truly rich text. What I appreciate most about it is the spirit with which it's imbued, from the very subtitle, "Burning questions of our movement," to its discussions of theoretical struggle, workerist economism as the flip side of romantic revolutionary terrorism of the intelligentsia, and the fetishism of "democracy" as epitome of "primitiveness" among both workers and students.

So many of the problems any possible Left would face and has faced is confronted with amazing single-minded clarity by Lenin.

One of my favorite sections is 5.1/A "Who was offended by [Lenin's previous article] 'Where to begin?'."

Lenin's describing in detail the ambivalent vacillations of his opponents in the Russian Social Democratic Party in both their rhetoric and actions reminds me of the kind of pathological response Platypus has provoked among both "friends" and enemies.

I appreciate the humor with which Lenin responded to the apparent "monstrosity" of his proposals in his intervention in the controversies on the Left of his day.

The picture Lenin portrays of the Russian "Left" of his time ought to ring too true for us in the present. But what Lenin attributed to the "primitiveness" of "Russian conditions" (i.e., the immaturity of the *workers movement* there) we need to generalize much more broadly. (As will be shown in the Spartacist pamphlet on Lenin and the Vanguard Party we're reading next week, as was also shown in Nettl's article, Lenin's attitude towards problems of theory and organized practice would have benefited the entire 2nd Intl. in this period and not only the Russian party.)

When we provoke offense, we need to pay close attention and analyze this, because the truth of our situation is thus revealed, from which both we and others need to learn. Thus there's some point to a certain reflexivity permeating all our work. We need others (externally) to be constantly asking themselves bemusedly "What is Platypus?" while we go about deliberately (internally) asking this of ourselves.

As Spencer put it last Fall in what should become one of our most important catchphrases of recent experience, Platypus aims to "provoke and organize the pathology of the 'Left'."

This is modeled on the procedure of Freudian psychoanalysis -- Richard has described Platypus as "psychoanalysis for the Left." (Amanda Armstrong's article in the PR #2 Feb. '08 on Freud and Castoriadis is good for pointing out how the constitutive limits of psychoanalysis are homologous to -- and exist for the same reasons as -- those of politics -- and of pedagogy!)

Our principal problem in Platypus comes when we have been denied/denied ourselves opportunities for occasioning, following through on and sustaining the kind of provocative pedagogical exercises that are our raison d'etre.

We need to extend the range and depth of our provocations (for us as well as others) to recognize that the "Left is dead!" / "the Left is the Right!" There are a myriad of concrete occasions for this that remain to be explored, and some we have already done that need (constant, if modulated) repeating -- the essence of pedagogy.

* * *

"Neo-coms" vs. "neo-cons?" -- Platypus's "neo-Leninism"

At an early point in our development of the Platypus project, there was some consideration of characterizing Platypus as a "neo-com" project, that is, neo-communism -- against and complementary to the neo-cons of neo-conservatism, for instance. -- The idea was that, just as the decay, disintegration and decomposition of the Left had spawned such hybrid phenomena as neoconservatism, perhaps we were not so much the reconnection with and continuation of an earlier revolutionary Marxist tradition but its transformation, under the guise, however, of such historical memory (as Korsch pointed out in "Marxism and Philosophy" that we read last week, about Luxemburg and Lenin's ostensible "return to Marx" -- see my previous post on this).

So we might say that Platypus is neo-"Leninist" -- but in a completely different way than the "Leninism" of the sectarian (including academic) "Left."

For instance, there was a conference in 2001 that issued an edited anthology of essays published as Lenin Reloaded (Duke, 2007), with contributions by Fredric Jameson, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Kevin Anderson, Lars Lih, Antonio Negri, Terry Eagleton, Alex Callinicos, Daniel Bensaid, Etienne Balibar, et al. -- most of which is rehash of stale banalities when not just hand-wringing over how pathetic the "Left" has become since "Leninism" was unceremoniously ditched by the 1960s "New Left" over the course of 1968-89.

So, in what way would Platypus be neo-Leninist differently from the ultimately shallow provocations of a Zizek, for instance?

Unlike most on the (ex-)sectarian "Left," and (academic) readers of Lenin, we don't find him to be particularly original regarding "organization" (as Luxemburg biographer J. P. Nettl pointed out in his 1965 article on "The German SPD 1889-1914 as political model" that we read a few weeks ago, all Lenin did was address the issue in a way other 2nd International Marxists had not), and we do not regard him differently than, e.g., Rosa Luxemburg. -- And we, following Lukacs and Korsch (and Benjamin and Adorno) find Luxemburg and Lenin to share a focus on the importance of *consciousness*. It is not so much that Lenin was what Lukacs called him eulogistically in 1924, a "theoretician of practice," but rather that Lenin, like Luxemburg (in her 1900 pamphlet on Reform of Revolution? that we read a couple of weeks ago), tried to address the (problematic) relation of theory to practice.

As Nettl pointed out in the article we read, unlike Kautsky, who simply provided "Marxist" theoretical rationalizations for whatever the German SPD (or 2nd Intl. Marxism more generally) did tactically and organizationally, Luxemburg and Lenin took seriously the matter of how Marx's critique of capital ought to affect practice. It was Bernstein (along with Kautsky) who prioritized "practice" with his formulation that the "movement is everything and the goal nothing," whereas Luxemburg and Lenin essentially replied to this that the movement without the goal -- of revolutionary socialism -- was "nothing." -- As it in fact came to be, historically, with the obscuring and dropping of the goal, the lowering and liquidation of the horizon of possibility that came with the degradation of Marxism, first through its vulgarization in the 2nd Intl. and its Stalinization in the trajectory of the 3rd Intl. after the failure of the revolution that had opened in 1917-19 (which affected even the ostensible opponents of Stalinism in Trotskyism, etc.). Lenin, as much as Luxemburg, was about the memory and recovery of that original critical Marxian horizon of the possibility of effective historical thought and action that could lead beyond capital.

A key aspect of the present putrescence of the "Left" is the terror with which it meets the question of effective consciousness (let alone organized politics), which expresses the degradation and degeneration and ultimate loss of the insights into the problem of theory and practice that had been manifested by Lukacs, Korsch, Benjamin and Adorno -- in the wake of Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky.

Nevertheless, there remains a sense that there was something to these thinkers' work, and hence something to the possibility of political action that provoked such theoretical reflection and recognition.

Platypus seeks to (pre)serve this sense, and to free it from what Adorno called (in Negative Dialectics, 1966), "dogmatization and thought taboos," allowing it to find renewed expression and elaboration for the possibility of a future Left worthy of the name.

Lenin remains as essential to this as he was originally, in both theory and practice.

I am writing with some notes and suggestions on Lenin's What is to be done? (1902).

I'd like to start with a quotation from Lenin's first footnote, in the chapter "Dogmatism and Freedom of Criticism:"

"At the present time (as is now evident), the English Fabians, the French Ministerialists, the German Bernsteinians, and the Russian Critics all belong to the same family, all extol each other, learn from each other, and together take up arms against "dogmatic" Marxism. In this first really international battle with socialist opportunism, international revolutionary Social-Democracy will perhaps become sufficiently strengthened to put an end to the political reaction that has long reigned in Europe? -- Lenin"

What's remarkable about this footnote is that Lenin thinks that winning the dispute against Marxist revisionism and social democratic reformism will signal the beginning of "putting an end to political reaction" more generally! -- In other words, that the fight against the Right begins with the bad "Left!" This can only be so through a prioritization of consciousness.

Clearly there is affinity here of Lenin with our project in Platypus. Lenin was not the "actionist" and did not simply prioritize practice over theory, of which he might be accused -- nor was he simply the "pragmatist" for which he might be embraced!

This points to the true character of the overall issue of "tailism" that is at the heart of Lenin's pamphlet. This should be approached as a matter of theory and practice.

The historical distinction, not to be downplayed, between Lenin's moment and ours, is that his critique of tailism is in the context of a period of political radicalization of the workers' movement of Russia, which had gone through rapid growth after a period of intensive industrialization in the last years of the 19th Century.

Lenin's concern is the same as that expressed by Rosa Luxemburg, that the (revolutionary Marxist) Social Democrats be able to "lead and shape" events rather than following behind ("tailing after") them impotently, which will prevent effective political action.

This is the central concern of Lenin's focus on organization. How does "social democratic" (revolutionary Marxist) consciousness anticipate, through a long historical view, and therefore could take a leading role in the spontaneity of either economic or liberal social-political struggles under capital, and transform these into the struggle to overcome capital?

At the level of consciousness and ideology, this is related to Luxemburg's discussion in Reform or Revolution? of how challenges to Marxism must take the guise of Marxism -- and discussion by Korsch in "Marxism and Philosophy" that developments in Marxism must take the form of a "return to Marx." In Lenin's case, there was the phenomenon of the Russian intelligentsia being swept up in a fashion for Marxism. So Lenin is concerned first and foremost in attacking this liberalism in the guise of "Marxism," as Luxemburg was doing in attacking the revisionist "Marxists" in Reform or Revolution?

Lenin's pamphlet was an attempt to draw organizational consequences in the Russian social democratic party from the international revisionist debate. -- But there is a serious question about whether it is possible to find an organizational solution to the problem of opportunism, which is what the substance was of Luxemburg's critique of Lenin in her essay on "Organizational Questions of Russian Social Democracy" (republished later in English under the scurrilous title added by an American Cold War editor, "Leninism or Marxism?").

Retaining the focus on "tailism," the passive expectancy and contemplative comportment of the pseudo-"Left" has long been a danger, but one especially so since the 1960s "New Left." (It is a deeply ingrained problem that I tried to highlight in my previous notes on Korsch.)

For example the critical Marxist intellectuals from whom we might take inspiration from the '60s generation, Postone, Reed, Halliday, Mitchell, et al., all exhibit this problem, of shearing theoretical analysis from political ideology, so that the problem of adequate consciousness, let alone political action, becomes a paralyzed paradox. The real stakes of intellectual action become impossible to reckon, and so theory and practice remain separated in a freewheeling manner: it never becomes a question, as it was for Lenin -- and Luxemburg -- of "what is to be done?"

Instead, it becomes a self-flagellation of the intellectuals, for whom Adorno's introductory remarks in Negative Dialectics have an additional meaning, different from their original context, for there is expressed in another form the "defeatism of reason after the attempt to change the world miscarried." -- To avoid or fail to task oneself in one's own thinking and action with the question of "what is to be done?" is to defeat one's reason.

For the point is not to try to "recognize" the emancipatory potential of various social-political phenomena, but the attempt to transform these endemic discontents in an emancipatory direction. More specifically, Marx had already recognized the emancipatory potential of the constitutive contradiction of the struggles of the working class (as such) under capital. The point for Lenin and Luxemburg was how to push the envelope of these in a (self-)transformative direction, how to follow Marx's prognosis that the class struggle of the proletariat pointed beyond itself.

The point of Lenin was not, for example, to "recognize" the "national struggles" (struggles against "national" oppression), but to find how the proletariat could use these to broaden its leadership in the struggle to transform (global) society.

Lenin and Luxemburg took a great deal for granted, and were concerned first and foremost with the danger of what in their time was a rather advanced state of the class struggle of the proletariat from being blunted and hemmed in by the horizons of bourgeois society, or "opportunism" (what Moishe Postone calls "proletarian/capital-constitutive consciousness/politics").

But by the 1960s (and certainly also today!) the problem is quite different: it was not the matter of maintaining the advanced progress and rooting out the inherent dangers of relapse to "bourgeois" terms in the proletarian-socialist class struggle of the workers (what Lukacs called "reification," by which he meant the "advanced socialist" consciousness of the WWI-era Marxist revisionists like Kautsky, and not merely the primordial everyday consciousness of the workers under capitalism), but the constitution of the working class as a social (let alone political) force of any kind.

This is why our project is not so much one of the "proletariat" but more basically of the "Left." Our task is to clarify what it means to be progressive-emancipatory and then to situate the concrete realities of contemporary capitalism within this long historical view.

In this our task is similar to Lenin's, but coarser and less rigorously specified -- as it had been so by Lenin's greater context of the developed 2nd International Marxist socialist workers' movement.

Leaving aside Lenin and Luxemburg, today we are in a worse position than Marx, who characterized his project as bringing to consciousness what people were already struggling for and thus pushing their struggle further, beyond itself.

In the face of the spiraling degenerate barbarism of the present, we might be tempted to say that even in their most obtuse conservative-reactionary forms people are yet still struggling for emancipation from capitalism and not towards its further deepening barbarism. (This was what Terry Eagleton implied in his recent talk at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago -- Eagleton gave yet another expression of how "the Left is the Right!")

The choice of what to "tail" behind today is much worse than in Lenin or Marx's time. It is not a matter of the danger of our abdicating leadership of and thus betraying (potentially) progressive-emancipatory social-political forces, but of resisting the temptation to dress up as progressive (or even human) what is manifestly not.

This is why it is most important for us in Platypus to emphasize that the last thing the historical revolutionary Marxist Left wanted to do was be the most sophisticated chroniclers or apologists for what was already happening. They wanted to change the world, which for them began, first and foremost, with transforming the best social struggles of their time in a deeper and further emancipatory direction.

We want to do the same, but, to avoid the opportunism/tailism Luxemburg and Lenin sought to specify in a more acute manner, we start with a much more obtuse and recalcitrant object, not an advanced workers' movement but freewheeling capitalism and various despairing conservative-reactionary responses to it. We have much less at our disposal to "transform," so we must begin instead with discrimination, sorting and separating out, through "ruthless criticism of everything existing." Starting out, we need to not assume but to see if there's anything there for us to work with at all.

We wish we could share Lenin's impatience with reformist formulations like "giving the economic struggle itself a political character," when today there is not even what Lenin or Luxemburg would have recognized as the merely "economic" struggles by the working class.

* * *

Lenin's What is to be done? is a truly rich text. What I appreciate most about it is the spirit with which it's imbued, from the very subtitle, "Burning questions of our movement," to its discussions of theoretical struggle, workerist economism as the flip side of romantic revolutionary terrorism of the intelligentsia, and the fetishism of "democracy" as epitome of "primitiveness" among both workers and students.

So many of the problems any possible Left would face and has faced is confronted with amazing single-minded clarity by Lenin.

One of my favorite sections is 5.1/A "Who was offended by [Lenin's previous article] 'Where to begin?'."

Lenin's describing in detail the ambivalent vacillations of his opponents in the Russian Social Democratic Party in both their rhetoric and actions reminds me of the kind of pathological response Platypus has provoked among both "friends" and enemies.

I appreciate the humor with which Lenin responded to the apparent "monstrosity" of his proposals in his intervention in the controversies on the Left of his day.

The picture Lenin portrays of the Russian "Left" of his time ought to ring too true for us in the present. But what Lenin attributed to the "primitiveness" of "Russian conditions" (i.e., the immaturity of the *workers movement* there) we need to generalize much more broadly. (As will be shown in the Spartacist pamphlet on Lenin and the Vanguard Party we're reading next week, as was also shown in Nettl's article, Lenin's attitude towards problems of theory and organized practice would have benefited the entire 2nd Intl. in this period and not only the Russian party.)

When we provoke offense, we need to pay close attention and analyze this, because the truth of our situation is thus revealed, from which both we and others need to learn. Thus there's some point to a certain reflexivity permeating all our work. We need others (externally) to be constantly asking themselves bemusedly "What is Platypus?" while we go about deliberately (internally) asking this of ourselves.

As Spencer put it last Fall in what should become one of our most important catchphrases of recent experience, Platypus aims to "provoke and organize the pathology of the 'Left'."

This is modeled on the procedure of Freudian psychoanalysis -- Richard has described Platypus as "psychoanalysis for the Left." (Amanda Armstrong's article in the PR #2 Feb. '08 on Freud and Castoriadis is good for pointing out how the constitutive limits of psychoanalysis are homologous to -- and exist for the same reasons as -- those of politics -- and of pedagogy!)

Our principal problem in Platypus comes when we have been denied/denied ourselves opportunities for occasioning, following through on and sustaining the kind of provocative pedagogical exercises that are our raison d'etre.

We need to extend the range and depth of our provocations (for us as well as others) to recognize that the "Left is dead!" / "the Left is the Right!" There are a myriad of concrete occasions for this that remain to be explored, and some we have already done that need (constant, if modulated) repeating -- the essence of pedagogy.

* * *

"Neo-coms" vs. "neo-cons?" -- Platypus's "neo-Leninism"

At an early point in our development of the Platypus project, there was some consideration of characterizing Platypus as a "neo-com" project, that is, neo-communism -- against and complementary to the neo-cons of neo-conservatism, for instance. -- The idea was that, just as the decay, disintegration and decomposition of the Left had spawned such hybrid phenomena as neoconservatism, perhaps we were not so much the reconnection with and continuation of an earlier revolutionary Marxist tradition but its transformation, under the guise, however, of such historical memory (as Korsch pointed out in "Marxism and Philosophy" that we read last week, about Luxemburg and Lenin's ostensible "return to Marx" -- see my previous post on this).

So we might say that Platypus is neo-"Leninist" -- but in a completely different way than the "Leninism" of the sectarian (including academic) "Left."

For instance, there was a conference in 2001 that issued an edited anthology of essays published as Lenin Reloaded (Duke, 2007), with contributions by Fredric Jameson, Slavoj Zizek, Alain Badiou, Kevin Anderson, Lars Lih, Antonio Negri, Terry Eagleton, Alex Callinicos, Daniel Bensaid, Etienne Balibar, et al. -- most of which is rehash of stale banalities when not just hand-wringing over how pathetic the "Left" has become since "Leninism" was unceremoniously ditched by the 1960s "New Left" over the course of 1968-89.

So, in what way would Platypus be neo-Leninist differently from the ultimately shallow provocations of a Zizek, for instance?

Unlike most on the (ex-)sectarian "Left," and (academic) readers of Lenin, we don't find him to be particularly original regarding "organization" (as Luxemburg biographer J. P. Nettl pointed out in his 1965 article on "The German SPD 1889-1914 as political model" that we read a few weeks ago, all Lenin did was address the issue in a way other 2nd International Marxists had not), and we do not regard him differently than, e.g., Rosa Luxemburg. -- And we, following Lukacs and Korsch (and Benjamin and Adorno) find Luxemburg and Lenin to share a focus on the importance of *consciousness*. It is not so much that Lenin was what Lukacs called him eulogistically in 1924, a "theoretician of practice," but rather that Lenin, like Luxemburg (in her 1900 pamphlet on Reform of Revolution? that we read a couple of weeks ago), tried to address the (problematic) relation of theory to practice.

As Nettl pointed out in the article we read, unlike Kautsky, who simply provided "Marxist" theoretical rationalizations for whatever the German SPD (or 2nd Intl. Marxism more generally) did tactically and organizationally, Luxemburg and Lenin took seriously the matter of how Marx's critique of capital ought to affect practice. It was Bernstein (along with Kautsky) who prioritized "practice" with his formulation that the "movement is everything and the goal nothing," whereas Luxemburg and Lenin essentially replied to this that the movement without the goal -- of revolutionary socialism -- was "nothing." -- As it in fact came to be, historically, with the obscuring and dropping of the goal, the lowering and liquidation of the horizon of possibility that came with the degradation of Marxism, first through its vulgarization in the 2nd Intl. and its Stalinization in the trajectory of the 3rd Intl. after the failure of the revolution that had opened in 1917-19 (which affected even the ostensible opponents of Stalinism in Trotskyism, etc.). Lenin, as much as Luxemburg, was about the memory and recovery of that original critical Marxian horizon of the possibility of effective historical thought and action that could lead beyond capital.

A key aspect of the present putrescence of the "Left" is the terror with which it meets the question of effective consciousness (let alone organized politics), which expresses the degradation and degeneration and ultimate loss of the insights into the problem of theory and practice that had been manifested by Lukacs, Korsch, Benjamin and Adorno -- in the wake of Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky.

Nevertheless, there remains a sense that there was something to these thinkers' work, and hence something to the possibility of political action that provoked such theoretical reflection and recognition.

Platypus seeks to (pre)serve this sense, and to free it from what Adorno called (in Negative Dialectics, 1966), "dogmatization and thought taboos," allowing it to find renewed expression and elaboration for the possibility of a future Left worthy of the name.

Lenin remains as essential to this as he was originally, in both 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."

"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.

Platypus chapter at University of Chicago meets Sundays at
Reynolds Club 5706 S. University Ave.

2nd floor South Lounge
2-5PM
For more information contact mtorre3@artic.edu

I want to speak about the meaning of history for any purportedly Marxian Left. We in Platypus focus on the history of the Left because we think that the narrative one tells about this history is in fact one’s theory of the present. Implicitly or explicitly, in one’s conception of the history of the Left, is an account of how the present came to be. By focusing on the history of the Left, or, by adopting a Left-centric view of history, we hypothesize that the most important determinations of the present are the result of what th
ACCORDING TO LENIN, the greatest contribution of the German Marxist radical Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) to the fight for socialism was the statement that her Social Democratic Party of Germany had become a “stinking corpse” as a result of voting for war credits on August 4, 1914. Lenin wrote this about Luxemburg in 1922, at the close of the period of war, revolution, counterrevolution and reaction in which Luxemburg was murdered.