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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, with everyone all back in Boston for the first time since December (Laura literally got in from India an hour before the start of the meeting), we spent a good deal of our time doing organizational planning for the spring session. We were able, however, to spend some time with the Slaughter reading.

Our discussion covered several aspects of the piece, but focused mainly on the relationship of politics and organization. We addressed the interdependence of the two, acknowledging that any revolutionary organization cannot grow in size or strength without an increasingly rigorous and refined politics, and that the formation of sophisticated revolutionary politics cannot come to pass without a corresponding development of effective organization. To emphasize the necessary bond between the two, one could say that organizing *is* political and that politics *is* the practice of organization. But this fact must be recognized--must be brought to consciousness (and rigorously maintained there)--in order for the dialectical relationship to bear revolutionary fruit; unrecognized it will lead to degeneration.

The question was then posed: if Platypus considers itself a "pre-political" project, what is the nature of its relation to and engagement with organizational practices? This is a complex question, but I would venture to start out by saying that the role of Platypus, through its pedagogical mandate, is to cultivate a situation in which politics and organization, like theory and practice, can be made to develop into a mutually generative relationship. And this means loosening it from the catch-22 paralysis in which it remains stuck. The interdependent nature of the relationship between political consciousness and revolutionary organization can lead either to their total stagnation, in which they become mutually exclusive, or to their mutual propulsion, in which each relies on and makes possible the other. It is for the latter that we must lay the groundwork.

A final note: though Platypus seeks to politicize, we are not a body of political leadership. It is our mission to bring to bear a situation in which revolutionary political leadership is needed, and when that happens Platypus as it now stands will have fulfilled its task, and can be closed as a chapter. Our task, then, is to render our particular project no longer necessary.

-Soren W. (Boston)

Yesterday, with everyone all back in Boston for the first time since December (Laura literally got in from India an hour before the start of the meeting), we spent a good deal of our time doing organizational planning for the spring session. We were able, however, to spend some time with the Slaughter reading.

Our discussion covered several aspects of the piece, but focused mainly on the relationship of politics and organization. We addressed the interdependence of the two, acknowledging that any revolutionary organization cannot grow in size or strength without an increasingly rigorous and refined politics, and that the formation of sophisticated revolutionary politics cannot come to pass without a corresponding development of effective organization. To emphasize the necessary bond between the two, one could say that organizing *is* political and that politics *is* the practice of organization. But this fact must be recognized--must be brought to consciousness (and rigorously maintained there)--in order for the dialectical relationship to bear revolutionary fruit; unrecognized it will lead to degeneration.

The question was then posed: if Platypus considers itself a "pre-political" project, what is the nature of its relation to and engagement with organizational practices? This is a complex question, but I would venture to start out by saying that the role of Platypus, through its pedagogical mandate, is to cultivate a situation in which politics and organization, like theory and practice, can be made to develop into a mutually generative relationship. And this means loosening it from the catch-22 paralysis in which it remains stuck. The interdependent nature of the relationship between political consciousness and revolutionary organization can lead either to their total stagnation, in which they become mutually exclusive, or to their mutual propulsion, in which each relies on and makes possible the other. It is for the latter that we must lay the groundwork.

A final note: though Platypus seeks to politicize, we are not a body of political leadership. It is our mission to bring to bear a situation in which revolutionary political leadership is needed, and when that happens Platypus as it now stands will have fulfilled its task, and can be closed as a chapter. Our task, then, is to render our particular project no longer necessary.

-Soren W. (Boston)

Platypus chapter at SAIC meets Sundays at

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 S. Michigan Ave.

Room 707

1-4pm

[contact: ian.morrison.a@gmail.com]

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

1960s paths not taken (1): Civil Rights - Black Power

bayard_rustin2

Platypus Marxist readings for Sunday January 11, 2009

· Richard Fraser, Two Lectures on the Black Question in America and Revolutionary
Integrationism
(1953)


· James Robertson and Shirley Stoute, "For Black Trotskyism" (1963)

Spartacist League, "Black and Red — Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom" (1966)

· Bayard Rustin, "The Failure of Black Separatism" (1970)

At two locations in Chicago:

University of Chicago
Reynolds Club 5706 S. University Ave.
2nd floor South Lounge
2-5PM

School of the Art Institute of Chicago
112 S. Michigan Ave.
room 707 (7th floor)
1-4PM

If you are not affiliated with SAIC and would like to participate in the reading group contact lrojas@saic.edu

To change the world, we need a movement. This movement must be made up of millions of people and thousands of organizations. These organizations must build and push the movement forward. How do we get to this point? We have to start with leadership.
In its May 2008 issue, the most commercially successful art criticism publication, Artforum, dedicated its pages to the commemoration of the fortieth anniversary of May 1968. The publication presented contributions by many of the leading figures in contemporary critical theory, all of whom have a distinctive sense of indebtedness to that brief period four decades ago, dubbed by Herbert Marcuse as the “Great Refusal.”
Walter Benjamin occupies a unique place in the history of modern revolutionary thought: he is the first Marxist to break radically with the ideology of progress. His thinking has therefore a distinct critical quality, which sets him apart from the dominant and “official” forms of historical materialism, and gives him a formidable methodological superiority.
In 1871 the Paris Commune, a revolutionary body formed during the deep unrest following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, rose against the post-war provisional government of Adolphe Thiers and briefly held power in France. Two months after it took power, the Commune was brutally suppressed by the French army. In his film "La Commune," released in 2002, director Peter Watkins orchestrated and documented a theatrical re-enactment of the Commune.