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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/Berlin: New Left Reading Group 2018

Berlin: New Left Reading Group 2018

This year marks the 50th anniversary of May 68. As such, we would like to invite you to participate in the 12-week reading group covering the New Left.

The same amount of time has passed between our moment and 1968 as between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the events 1968. Ushered in by a New Left that sought to distinguish itself from the Old Left that emerged in the 20s and 30s, the monumental events of 1968 set the tone for everything from protest politics to academic leftism that we know today. We can perhaps feel the urgency of the question: what lessons are to be drawn from the New Left as another generation undertakes the project of building a Left for the 21st century?


Starting Feb 20th, 2018

Tuesdays 7–10pm

Zossener Str. 56, 10961 Berlin 

(Eingang A. 4. Stock. Buzzer: Zizoo)

Call 017680637663 if you cant find us!

Facebook event and discussion here.


General recommended background readings:


Week 1: Feb 20th
Introducing the New Left
New forms of discontent?

"It is with [the] problem of agency in mind that I have been studying the intellectuals. . . . [I]f we try to be realistic in our utopianism — not fruitless contradiction — a writer on the Left today must begin there. For that is what we are, that is where we stand." (Mills 1960)

"The concept of the Left remains unclear to this day." (Kolakowski 1968)


Week 2: Feb 27th
Theory and Practice I
Frankfurt School and the New Left: the 1930s and the '60s

"In socialism, freedom is to become a reality. But because the present system is called 'free' and considered liberal, it is not terribly clear what this might mean. . . . Not only [the Little Man's] lack of freedom but that of [his betters] as well spells his doom. His interest lies in the Marxist clarification of the concept of freedom. . . . The socialist order of society is not prevented by world history; it is historically possible. But it will not be realized by a logic that is immanent to history but by men trained in theory and determined to make things better. Otherwise, it will not be realized at all."
(Horkheimer 1926-31)

"Praxis appears necessarily as a blind spot, as an obsession with what is being criticized. . . . This admixture of delusion, however, warns of the excesses in which it incessantly grows." (Adorno 1969)

Recommended background reading:


Week 3: March 6th
Theory and Practice II

Adorno-Marcuse correspondence


Week 4: March 13th
Crisis on the Left: is revolution justified by history?

"For, after all, are we not always in exceptional situations? The failure of the [1848 revolution in France and the] 1849 revolution in Germany [were] exception[s], the failure in Paris in 1871 was an exception, the German Social-Democratic failure of the beginning of the 20th Century in producing the chauvinism of 1914 was an exception, the success of 1917 was an exception — exceptions, but with respect to what? Nothing but the abstract idea, which is nonetheless comforting and reassuring, of a pure, simple, dialectical schema, which in its very simplicity seems to have retained the memory (or rediscovered the allure) of the Hegelian model and its faith in the resolving power of the abstract contradiction as such: particularly the beautiful contradiction between Capital and Labor." (Althusser 1962)


Supplemental Reading:


Week 5: March 20th
"What is revolutionary leadership?"

"The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership."
(Leon Trotsky 1938)

" 'Revisionism' is the view that every new development requires the abandonment in
practice of basic aspects of previously held theory. Ultimately this drift from the dialectical
materialist method leads to a drift from the working class itself. Marxism, on the contrary,
develops through the continual integration of new elements, new realities, into its
theoretical structure. . . . Particularly in the present period, when the working class seems
to the empiricist to be under the complete and everlasting domination of reformist
bureaucracies, this ideological pressure is the result of a terribly strong social pressure.
The Trotskyist groups feel small and isolated at the very moment that significant leftist
forces are clearly in motion throughout the world. These forces, however, are under the
leadership of non-proletarian tendencies: 'left' social democrats, Stalinists of one or another variety, and 'revolutionary' bourgeois or petty-bourgeois groups in the colonial countries." (RT of the SWP-USA 1962)

Supplemental reading:

Recommended Background Reading:

  • Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution(1977)
  • Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism (1980)
  • Spartacist League, Lenin and the Vanguard Party (pamphlet 1978)


Week 6: March 27th
Re-organizing the Left?


Week 7: April 3rd
New "vanguards" for revolution? (1): anti-authoritarianism

  • Rudi Dutschke, "On Anti-Authoritarianism" (1968) [in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 243-253]
  • Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, "The Battle for the Streets" — C'est Pour Toi Que Tu Fais La RĂ©volution" [from Obsolete Communism: A Left-Wing Alternative (1968)] [in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 254-266]

Supplemental Readings:


Week 8: April 10th
Identity Politics

Supplemental Readings:

Suggested Viewing: Finally Got the News (film 1970, 55 min.: dir. Bird, Lichtman and Gessner with LRBW


Week 9: April 17th