A panel event that took place in Aristotle University of Thessaloniki at 17th of December 2013, organized by the Thessaloniki chapter of the Platypus Affiliated Society.
It seems that there are still only two radical ideologies: Anarchism and Marxism. They emerged out of the same crucible - the Industrial Revolution, unsuccessful revolutions in 1848 and 1871, a weak liberalism, the centralization of state power, the rise of the workers movement, and the promise of socialism. They are the revolutionary heritage. All significant radical upsurges of the last 150 years have returned to mine their meaning for the current situation. Our moment seems no different.
There are a few different ways these have been taken up. Recent worldwide square occupations reflect one pattern: some version of Marxist theory - understood as a political economic critique of capitalism - is used to comprehend the world, while an anarchist practice - understood as an anti-hierarchical principle that insists revolution must begin now - is used to organize, in order to change it. Another option: some resist this combination, claiming that Marxism repudiates anti-statist adventurism, and calls for a strategic reorganization of the working class to resist austerity, and perhaps push forward a “New New Deal”. This view remains wedded to a purportedly practical welfarist social democracy, which strengthens the state and manages capital. There is a good deal of hand-waving in both these
orientations - as to the base of politics, as to tactics and strategy, as to the end goal. Finally, there are attempts to leave the grounds of these theories entirely - but these often seem either to land right back in one of the camps or to remain marginal.
To act today we seek to draw up the balance sheet of the 20th century. The historical experience concentrated in these ideas must be unfurled if they are to serve as
compass points. In what ways the return of these ideologies represent an authentic engagement - and in what ways the return of a ghost? Where have the battles left us? What forms do we have for meeting - theoretically and practically - the problems of the day?
What do Marxism and Anarchism have to say to those politicized today? Do they instruct us as to how we might act, now? Must we return to these orientations? If so, how?
Many recent leftist groupings tend toward square occupation and leaderless horizontality, while retaining an unclear, even reformist, ideological orientation toward capitalism and the state. How do you understand the advent of these forms? Do they challenge traditional Marxist theory and ways of organizing? Are they affirmations of Anarchist modes of thinking and practice? In general, what forms of organization are necessitated by the theories we inherit and the tasks of today?
Can you briefly assess the most important splits and breaks between and within both traditions? Does the historical divide between Marxism and Anarchism still matter? What are the significant splits within Marxism and within Anarchism that continue to shape the context?
What are the inalienable values and the end goals of radical politics? Are Marxism and Anarchism ideologies of freedom? Of democracy? Of the working class? How do they handle the objective contradictions of realizing these principles under the conditions of capitalist life?
What should we fight for today - more state or less state? Has history vindicated Marxism or Anarchism or neither at all?
Nikos Nikisianis: member of Network for Social and Political rights (participates in Syriza)
Lia Gioka: activist and translator
Tasos Sapounas: member of the communist marxist-leninist party of Greece
Panel held on March 31st, 2012 at the Fourth Annual Platypus International Convention, School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Hegel famously remarked that the task of philosophy was to "comprehend its own time in thought." In a sense, we can extend this as the raison d'etre for artistic production, albeit in a modified way: art's task is to "comprehend its own time in form." Yet only with the revolutionary rise of modernity can this dictum make sense. Beginning in the 18th Century, art sought to register and materialize the way in which social consciousness changed along side the developing material conditions of social life. Thus, in times of great social transformation, we also bear witness to major shifts in artistic production: The French Revolution and David, The Revolutions of 1848 and Courbet, and the Russian Revolution and Suprematism and Constructivism are three major examples.
This panel focuses on the relationship between social and aesthetic transformation. How do shifts in formal processes and approaches towards materiality speak to larger changes in the structures of social life? Is the focus on changes within art's form too confining of vision, and must art also concern itself with intervening into the political and social arena? Is art always reacting to, or tailing after social transformations, or can shifts in Culture prefigure such developments? -- In other words, can there be a cultural lag and a cultural leep? The panelists have been asked to address these questions among others in order to flesh out the uneven and at times obscure relationship that art has with a society that is constantly in flux.
Panel held as part of the third annual Platypus International Convention, on Saturday, April 30th, 2011, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
After its apparent exhaustion as a project of social transformation, Marxism seems to remain alive as a cultural and hermeneutic endeavor. Self-avowedly Marxist theorists -- Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere -- exert a heavy, if opaque, influence on the self-understanding and practice of contemporary art and inspire research programs in the humanities. Despite its radical appeal, "Marxist" theory may ultimately flatter the political and aesthetic claims of the present. Could investigation of of the now obscure historical Marxist cultural critique of Leon Trotsky, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin bring to recognition, and therein challenge the inadaquecies of the present? What opaque historical transformations does the difficulty of such work indicate? How might the long-abused concepts of autonomy, medium specificity, kitsch, avant garde -- form part of what Marx called the "ruthless critique of the present." What might the problems of aesthetics and culture have to do with the political project of the self-education of the Left?
Public forum of the Platypus Affiliated Society
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 9TH 6:00 PM
UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO
INTERNATIONAL HOUSE ASSEMBLY HALL
1414 EAST 59TH STREET
Spencer A. Leonard
The memory of the 1960s, which has long kindled contestation and debate on the means and ends of freedom politics, is rapidly fading into the political unconscious. The election of Barack Obama and the collapse of the anti-war movement mark the end of a period that has now come full circle. After a half-century of rebellion, many old New Left-ists now call for a â€œnew New Dealâ€ to return to welfare-statist and authoritarian society against which the New Left rebelled. History threatens to repeat itself, this time in an even more dimly recognized and ferocious form.
â€œIn the United States today there is no Left,â€ C. Wright Mills declaimed in the waning months of the 1950s, making him one of the most beloved intellectuals of his generation, â€œpolitical activities are monopolized by an irresponsible two-party system; cultural activities -- though formally quite free, tend to become nationalistic or commercial -- or merely private.â€ If Mills continues to speak to us, it is as a reminder of tasks long deferred, memories long repressed.
This panel attempts to address the current moment, in which many who participated in the moment of the New Leftâ€™s beginnings have survived a full cycle of history. Rather than a rehash of old debates or yet another nostalgia- ridden recap of the era, interventions which have ceased to offer critical perspective on the present, this panel seeks to ask the simple but fundamental question: What, if any, is significant for us today in the thwarted attempt by 1960s radicals to re-found emancipatory politics?
The Global Voices Lecture Program of International House, with the support of the University of Chicago Student Activities Fund
A roundtable discussion hosted by Platypus NYU
Kenyon Farrow, Queers for Economic Justice
Greg Gabrellas, Platypus
Gary Mucciaroni, Political Science, Temple University
Sherry Wolf, International Socialist Organization
This event was hosted by Platypus NYU on Monday, November 8th, 2010
With roots in earlier radical traditions, movements that sought to radically redefine the relationship of sex, politics, and freedom erupted onto the historical stage in the 60s. Yet while much has radically changed in the US and elsewhere in the world, humans are still far too limited in determining their sexual and erotic lives. This roundtable will reflect on the meaning and future of sexual politics today on the Left, with some emphasis on examining and contextualizing the contemporary struggle for gay marriage. What are the potentials and limits of present politics and organization around gay marriage? What successes and limitations has it met? What relationship is there between gay politics today and the Left overall? What frontiers of sexual liberation ought to be at the center of the Left's political agenda?
"The only decent marriage would be one allowing each partner to lead an independent life, in which, instead of a fusion derived from an enforced community of economic interests, both freely accepted mutual responsibility."
-- Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1944)
"The fundamental characteristic of the present system of marriage and family is in our society its monolithism: there is only one institutionalized form of inter-sexual or inter-generational relationship possible. It is that or nothing. This is why it is essentially a denial of life. For all human experience shows that intersexual and intergenerational relationships are infinitely various -- indeed, much of our creative literature is a celebration of the fact -- while the institutionalized expression of them in our capitalist society is utterly simple and rigid. It is the poverty and simplicity of the institutions in this area of life which are such an oppression. Any society will require some institutionalized and social recognition of personal relationships. But there is absolutely no reason why there should be only one legitimized form -- and a multitude of unlegitimized experience. Socialism should properly mean not the abolition of the family, but the diversification of the socially acknowledged relationships which are today forcibly and rigidly compressed into it. This would mean a plural range of institutions -- where the family is only one, and its abolition implies none. Couples living together or not living together, long-term unions with children, single parents bringing up children, children socialized by conventional rather than biological parents, extended kin groups, etc. -- all these could be encompassed in a range of institutions which matched the free invention and variety of men and women."
-- Juliet Mitchell, "Women: the Longest Revolution" (1966)
From Lenin's "Left-Wing" Communism -- An Infantile Disorder (1920):
"[E.g.,] Parliamentarianism has become "historically obsolete". That is true in the propaganda sense. However, everybody knows that this is still a far cry from overcoming it in practice. Capitalism could have been declared -- and with full justice -- to be "historically obsolete" many decades ago, but that does not at all remove the need for a very long and very persistent struggle on the basis of capitalism.
"Parliamentarianism is "historically obsolete" from the standpoint of world history, i.e., the era of bourgeois parliamentarianism is over, and the era of the proletarian dictatorship has begun. That is incontestable. But world history is counted in decades. Ten or twenty years earlier or later makes no difference when measured with the yardstick of world history; from the standpoint of world history it is a trifle that cannot be considered even approximately. But for that very reason, it is a glaring theoretical error to apply the yardstick of world history to practical politics. . . ."
* * *
"The revolutions of February and October 1917 led to the all-round development of the Soviets on a nation-wide scale and to their victory in the proletarian socialist revolution. In less than two years, the international character of the Soviets, the spread of this form of struggle and organisation to the world working-class movement and the historical mission of the Soviets as the grave-digger, heir and successor of bourgeois parliamentarianism and of bourgeois democracy in general, all became clear. . . .
"But that is not all. The history of the working-class movement now shows that, in all countries, it is about to go through (and is already going through) a struggle waged by communism — emergent, gaining strength and advancing towards victory -- against, primarily, Menshevism, i.e., opportunism and social-chauvinism (the home brand in each particular country), and then as a complement, so to say, Left-wing communism. The former struggle has developed in all countries, apparently without any exception, as a duel between the Second International (already virtually dead) and the Third International The latter struggle is to be seen in Germany, Great Britain, Italy, America (at any rate, a certain section of the Industrial Workers of the World and of the anarcho-syndicalist trends uphold the errors of Left-wing communism alongside of an almost universal and almost unreserved acceptance of the Soviet system), and in France (the attitude of a section of the former syndicalists towards the political party and parliamentarianism, also alongside of the acceptance of the Soviet system); in other words, the struggle is undoubtedly being waged, not only on an international, but even on a worldwide scale.
"It is now essential that Communists of every country should quite consciously take into account both the fundamental objectives of the struggle against opportunism and "Left" doctrinairism, and the concrete features which this struggle assumes and must inevitably assume in each country, in conformity with the specific character of its economics, politics, culture, and national composition (Ireland, etc.), its colonies, religious divisions, and so on and so forth. Dissatisfaction with the Second International is felt everywhere and is spreading and growing, both because of its opportunism and because of its inability or incapacity to create a really centralised and really leading centre capable of directing the international tactics of the revolutionary proletariat in its struggle for a world Soviet republic."
-- V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism -- An Infantile Disorder (1920)
As I have pointed out in previous posts, the Lenin of 1920 is pointed to by anarchists and Left-communists as the Right, opportunist Lenin, the Lenin that suppressed the Kronstadt mutiny and implemented the New Economic Policy sanctioning capitalist enterprise, etc. This text is taken as a rationalization for such a (supposedly) Right turn by Lenin (and Trotsky, who supported it). On the other hand, Lenin's pamphlet has also been abused -- perhaps above all -- by Stalinist-informed reformist "Marxism." The pejorative "ultra-Left" has an unfortunate ideological history traceable to a fundamental misunderstanding of the point Lenin was trying to make here.
Our discussion of Lenin's pamphlet should focus on this elucidation by Lenin of the difference, crucial for politics, between "historical" and "practical" obsolescence. For such discussion should emphasize how this difference is one of the keys ways that regression manifests itself. For social-democratic reformism -- including most especially Stalinism! -- is only one side of regression. The other is "ultra-Leftism." And this would include not only so-called "utopianism" but also what Lenin called "doctrinairism," or, more simply, dogmatic sectarianism. Not only Lukacs and Korsch (as expressing, broadly, both paths to degeneracy in the 1920s-30s and beyond, namely Stalinism and "Left" Communism), but also the the "Trotskyism" of the Spartacists (et al.).
But, as we have discussed previously, there is no hard-and-fast rule that can be applied to avoid such sectarian dogmatism, just as there is none for avoiding opportunist concession that liquidates Marxism's raison d'etre. Rather, both sectarian dogmatism and opportunist liquidationism are dangers against which we can only exercise judgment, and not conceptual -- or organizational, strategic or tactical -- schemes.
This speaks back to our fundamental perspective that Left and Right exist on a spectrum, as dimensions of social-political phenomena, and are not different in kind. But this spectrum of continuity between Left and Right is one of symptomology, from which the Left is not exempted, but only pushes the envelope of what is critically recognizable and practically possible, whereas the Right blurs and betrays this, in theory and practice.
Lenin's point about the lessons to be drawn from the Bolshevik Revolution is that international workers council/soviet-revolutionary politics has revealed itself as a practical political possibility -- and indeed a necessity under given conditions of WWI, etc., the "imperialist" form of capitalism -- for moving beyond capitalism. Marxists were tasked with recognizing this and advancing this social-political form, but recognizing it, not as an abstract principle to array against capitalism understood in a one-sided way, but as part and parcel of it.
This speaks to our larger point in Platypus of recognizing the any potential "democracy of the producers" as the highest expression of the commodity form -- of capital -- and not as being already beyond it.
The self-understanding of the revolutionary moment of 1917-19, as expressed here by Lenin, and in coming readings (in 2 weeks) by Trotsky and Luxemburg on the significance of the Bolshevik and German Revolutions, is vital for us on this point. It helps cut through all the false anxiety (as well as spurious positivity by various sectarians such as the Spartacists, ISO, et al.) around the Bolshevik Revolution in particular, but 1917-19 more generally. It thereby helps us reorient our sense of the task of a revolutionary Marxian politics at present, by regaining potentially lost horizons. It allows us to grasp regression not vaguely, but acutely. All that remains vague -- and rightfully so -- is what it would mean to actually build upon (and potentially beyond, at some future point of advanced practical success) the politics and self-understanding of Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky. The vague character of what it would mean to re-attain the similar point of achievement of their politics is of a different order. In this sense, the obfuscation -- really, silence -- around the theoretical point of departure for Lukacs and Korsch, and, after them, Benjamin and Adorno, is all we have to work with, beyond LLT.
Because Benjamin and Adorno consciously recognize and thematize regression, and, in however obscure a way, seem to retain their ability to find some kind of audience in the present (whereas LLT, and Lukacs and Korsch do not so easily), their philosophy of history, of the disparity between what Lenin calls the historical and the practical, or what Korsch and Lukacs (and Adorno after them) call the problem of the separation of theory and practice, and how the memory of Marx and 1848 informed all of these thinkers/actors, we have our possible approach laid out before us.
Ours is an eminently modest approach: To conceive and hold fast to the inner coherence of the thought and political action among the examples and writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lukacs, Korsch, Benjamin and Adorno, what they all share in common and can contribute collectively to the critical theory of capital and a political practice of working within, through and beyond it in an emancipatory manner.
Practice has obviously informed theory, and in a rather seemingly inexorably regressive way (e.g., the already mentioned complementary trajectories of degeneration traced by Lukacs and Korsch, in the directions of Stalinism and ultra-Left communism, respectively, after their great insights circa 1920-1923, in the immediate wake of 1917-19).
The question remains -- LLT raised it long ago -- whether and how theory, in the form of historical consciousness (i.e., a Marxian approach, such as expressed by Lenin in this pamphlet), can inform -- grasp and push beyond the actual limits and horizons of -- practice.
Platypus exists to explore this.
-- But first we have to be clear about what it is we are actually exploring to begin with. This is why we are reading Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky at all.
One principal aspect of the great example LLT provide us in Platypus is that, unlike the subsequent pseudo-"Left," they always refused to call defeat "victory," the hallmark of opportunism -- of the Right. Platypus exists to counteract and prevent calling defeat victory, what the "Left" has done and continues to do, in various forms, ever since the collapse of the 2nd International in 1914 and the rank duplicity of the SPD in the German Revolution of 1918-19, the Stalinization of the world Communist movement beginning in the 1920s, and the all varieties of desperate "Leftism" (e.g., "New Leftism," the "new social movements," neo-"anarchism," etc.) that have flourished ever since, in the wake of these crucial defeats.
Such defeatism that Lenin identified long ago has taken the form both of the overt, avowed Right, and of a dogmatic-sectarian ultra-"Left," whose perspective has lost all potential practical purchase on the world, and has thus become a new Right, in practice as well as in theory.
Platypus takes its stand against such regression of consciousness. The first step is the memory, provoking recognition, that can interrupt the flow of regression, the possibility of thinking and acting otherwise that the historical example of LLT can be shown to prove is possible, however under circumstances different from our own.