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You are here: Platypus /University of Chicago Marxist reading group Winter-Spring 2009

University of Chicago Marxist reading group Winter-Spring 2009

Platypus chapter at University of Chicago meets Sundays at

Reynolds Club 5706 S. University Ave.

2nd floor South Lounge

For more information contact

[PDF of 2008-2009 scheduled readings]

January 25, 2009

What is "revolutionary leadership?"

· Cliff Slaughter, "What is Revolutionary Leadership?" (1960)

· Rosa Luxemburg, "The Crisis of German Social Democracy" Part 1 (1915) [PDF]

February 1, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (1)

· J. P. Nettl, "The German Social Democratic Party 1890-1914 as a Political Model" (1965)

February 8, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (2)

· Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution? (1900/08)

February 15, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (3)

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

Karl Korsch, "The Marxism of the First International" (1924)

February 22, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (4)

V. I. Lenin, "Where to Begin?" (1901)

· V. I. Lenin, What is to be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement (1902) [PDF]
[in Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Lenin Anthology, 12-114]

March 1, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (5)

· Spartacist League, Lenin and the Vanguard Party (pamphlet 1978)

Kautskyism and the Origins of Russian Social Democracy

Bolshevism vs. Menshevism: the 1903 Split

The 1905 Revolution

Party, Faction and "Freedom of criticism"

In Defense of Democratic Centralism:
A 1973 speech by James Robertson to the West German Spartacus (Bolschewiki-Leninisten)

The Struggle Against the Boycotters

The Final Split with the Mensheviks

Toward the Communist International

[recommended background reading:]
Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate / A&Z, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution / Lenin for Beginners (1977)

March 8, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (6)

· Georg Lukács, "Preface" [original, 1922], History and Class Consciousness, xli-xlvii

· Georg Lukács, "What is Orthodox Marxism?" (1919), History and Class Consciousness, 1-26

· Georg Lukács, "Class Consciousness" (1920), History and Class Consciousness, 46-82

March 15, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (7) 1905

· Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects (1906)

[recommended background reading:]
Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)

March 22, 2009

at Wilder House 5811 S. Kenwood Ave.

Revolutionary Marxism (7) 1905 (continued)

· Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions (1906)

March 29, 2009

7-9PM at Wilder House 5811 S. Kenwood Ave.

Revolutionary Marxism (8)

· V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917)

April 5, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (9) 1917-19 (1)

· Rosa Luxemburg, "What does the Spartacus League Want?" and "On the Spartacus Programme" (1918)

[recommended background reading:]
Sebastian Haffner, Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-19 (1968)

April 12, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (10)

· V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism — An Infantile Disorder (1920)

April 26, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (11)

· Georg Lukács, "The Standpoint of the Proletariat" [HTML sections 1-2] [sections 3-4] [sections 5-6] (Part III of "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat," 1923), History and Class Consciousness, 149-222

May 3, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (12) 1917-19 (2)

· Leon Trotsky, The Lessons of October (1924) [HTML]

Rosa Luxemburg, "The Russian Tragedy" (1918)

Rosa Luxemburg, "Order Reigns in Berlin" (1919)

May 10, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (13)

· Leon Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (AKA "Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution") (1938) [HTML]

May 17, 2009

Theory and practice (1)

· Theodor W. Adorno, "Reflections on Class Theory" (1942)

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, selections from the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1847-48, Prefaces to various language editions, I. "Bourgeois and Proletarians," II. "Proletarians and Communists," and IV. "Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties" [PDF])
[in Robert C. Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader, 469-491, and 499-500]

May 24, 2009

Theory and practice (2)

· Theodor W. Adorno, "Marginalia to Theory and Praxis" (1969)

· Theodor W. Adorno, "Resignation" (1969)

Theodor W. Adorno, "Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?" (AKA "Is Marx Obsolete?," 1968)

Esther Leslie, Introduction to the 1969 Adorno-Marcuse correspondence (1999)

Theodor W. Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, correspondence on the German New Left (1969)


  • Posted 12 years ago

    yeah….Northside….i promise i will come in the next month

    by Richard Kidd on January 20, 2009 10:31 pm
  • Posted 12 years ago

    U of C Reading Group Report: Gender, Sexuality and Revolution
    Jan. 18th, 2009

    Central to our discussion was Juliet Mitchell’s “Women: The Longest Revolution”. Her essay allowed us to make connections with the exchange between Lenin and Clara Zetkin, “On the Women’s Question”. D’ Emilio came up in terms of the limitations of his argument of prefigurative politics, whereas Adorno’s “Sexual Taboos and the Law” was discussed tangentially.
    We opened the discussion by addressing Mitchell’s treatment of Marx and Engels on the issue of the family. While she appreciates the attempt to historicize the family by Marx and Engels, she is critical of the orthodox Marxists for not only interpreting Marx-Engles in an economic-derivative fashion, but also arguing for “abolishing the family” in order to solve women’s oppression. Marx had argued that in the context of capitalism abolishing the family would simply result in the prostitution of women. This argument is similar to the one Marx had made against Proudhon, who argued for the abolition of private property and equalizing wages. Marx had critiqued Proudhon for treating private property extrinsic to capitalism and labor as a natural category. For both Marx and Engels, women’s equality had to be established in the sphere of production.
    Mitchell elaborates this point further by unfolding the different axes along which a family is constituted, i.e., production, reproduction, sexuality and the socialization of children. Family is reconfigured in bourgeois society by virtue of its different functions. Capitalism reconstitutes it as workers’ private sphere where the dichotomy of labor and free time is structurally constituted by capital. For Mitchell then, the slogan “abolition of the family” is an empty slogan if it remains devoid of organized labor politics. She understands that the women’s question can be addressed in capitalism but not resolved within it. Embedded in her argument is the issue of proletarianization of women for a revolutionary consciousness. In her view, feminism had failed to articulate its relationship to Marxism.
    We related Mitchell’s treatment of a revolutionary consciousness to the notion of history, which is laid out in the trope of Nature and culture. Marx called the metabolic relation between man and nature the humanization of nature. All of human history is to become human, but it is also about capitalist production which also allows us to imagine the future on the basis of the present. Mitchell seizes on this point and relates the liberation of women and sexuality to the realization of human history. In capitalism it is possible to liberalize sex, but not the realization of libidinal satisfaction. Mitchell argues for non-repressive heterosexuality—a point which is explicitly argued in D’Emilio’s essay in terms of pursuing individual pleasure, gay sexuality and identity, expressed in pre-figurative politics. D’Emilio can be critiqued for seeing gay sexuality or pre-figurative politics as liberating. Contra to D’Emilio, Mitchell understands the limits of pre-figurative politics and that gay liberation or post-contraception society can be repressive. Adorno’s essay “Sexual Taboos and the Law Today”, can be useful here insofar as he argues that there are new forms of sublimation, but they are of a repressive character. Adorno does not want to see any part of present sexuality as pre-figuring that of the future.
    There is a desire to overcome capitalism in Mitchell. But the overcoming of capitalism is a strategic question. She raises a classic question on revolutionary strategy which is not simply about leveling maximalist demands but about building a party. She would concur with Lenin on thinking through the women’s question strategically. For Lenin, the question always was how to make strategy commensurate with social theoretical analysis of capitalism. The question that is raised in the exchange between Lenin and Zetkin is how to organize and satisfy desire. One can think through the women’s question, peasant question etc., through the proletarian revolution. What had become clear in the wake of the Bolshevik revolution that the Bolsheviks were in a position to change women’s position and thereby transform sexual relations which the bourgeois law couldn’t change. The primacy of the proletarian revolution can open up the women’s question.

    by Atiya Khan on February 2, 2009 3:06 pm
  • Posted 12 years ago

    U of C Reading Group Report: Jan. 25th 2009
    Cliff Slaughter, “What is Revolutionary Leadership?”; Rosa Luxemburg, The Crisis of German Social Democracy (Part 1)

    We started off with a brief historical background of Trotskyism and Cliff Slaughter’s position in the 4th International, and the various Trotskyist tendencies—Pablosim, Mandelism—that prevailed in the international.
    We started where the article ends: the notion of state-capitalism. A clarification was issued with respect to the usage of this term in the article. State-capitalism refers to the claim made by Trotsky in terms of the Soviet Union as a “deformed workers’ state”—a claim which doesn’t open the door to the totalitarian thesis, but rather it is a condensation of the most repressive aspects of capitalism like fascism. However, the convergence of capitalism-fascism, was an issue taken up by Trotskyists in the US like the Shactmanites, and later this tendency was reflected in the Partisan Review circle in NYC and fed rightward movements, for instance, a la Arendt. This is to say that Trotskyists of the Schachmanite variety sought to critique Soviet totalitarianism as a consequence of centralized party politics, an argument which articulated that totalitarianism, fascism, state capitalism are of a piece. As far as Trotsky’s thesis goes, it was about military defense of the USSR against capitalism and quite unlike Schactmanites who started to write briefs for McCarthy and pushed for intervention in the USSR. The defense of the USSR also amounted to re-radicalization of the Bolsheviks, which precipitated a purge of Trotskyist so much so that by the time of the Spanish civil war the term “Trotskyist fascists” came into being to attack Marxists who aligned with Trotsky.
    Against this background, Slaughter offers a critique of orthodox Marxism in the post war period by analyzing how Marxism had become one-sided in its critique of political consciousness. He begins by attacking the economic-determinism of Marxism which understands historical dialectic in terms of a series of fixed stages—slavery, feudalism, capitalism and socialism. The danger of such an argument is that it brackets the role of politics in the category of the superstructure thereby attributing primacy to the economy or the base. Once the role of politics became subservient to the economic structure of capitalism, Slaughter argues, Marxism ignored the role of consciousness.
    Slaughter’s essay is a direct response to Lukacs’s and Gramsci’s notion of the party in that it is subject to necessary forms of misrecognition; it is a question of a society in which consciousness is inherently inadequate. In a sense, his argument is that of totality wherein working class party constitutes the highest form of consciousness. The response to fetishism is organization and theorization which are tied in the party. Just a political economy and the critique of political economy are qualitatively different, one needs a theory that goes beyond the idea that capitalist profits are the unrecompensed gains of exploitation of labor. What one needs is a theory of social domination, a theory of totality. Party, Slaughter argues, is the only form of organization that ties together history and totality; party accumulates the knowledge of history. The constitution of working class party means advancing revolutionary consciousness and politics that goes beyond the immediate consciousness of the proletariat. Slaughter also distinguishes between party politics and trade unions. Whereas trade union politics emerges out of conflict in the factory and hence organizes the working class, the party penetrates the trade unions and must preserve its independent role. Both the party and trade unions need to be preserved in the effort to overcome capitalism as both speak to consciousness that is rooted in capitalism.
    Luxemburg begins by discussing the catastrophic failure of the SPD (German Social Democratic Party) to oppose the approval of war credits in 1914. She is arguing for Marxist politics that must exist for self-criticism, and that’s where her critique of democratic centrality of Marxist politics comes in. The real issue is to learn from history. The category of history, like in Slaughter, is understood politically, which is tied to socialist politics and regression. The idea of learning from history, having history, the accumulation of struggles, all are meaningful only in the context of a project of emancipation; the alternative to emancipation being defeat. For Luxemburg the evolution of history is politically rooted, and is not a metaphysics of history. We wound up our discussion on the question: how does Luxemburg’s piece echo of Benjamin’s angel of history?

    by Atiya Khan on February 2, 2009 3:07 pm

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