What is Marxism for?
Benjamin Studebaker, Donald Parkinson, James Heartfield, and Chris Cutrone
Platypus Review 153 | February 2023
On April 2, 2022, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted this panel at Northwestern University as a part of the 2022 Platypus International Convention. The panelists were Benjamin Studebaker (formerly of What’s Left?, PhD from the University of Cambridge, benjaminstudebaker.com), Donald Parkinson (editor-in-chief of Cosmonaut magazine and a member of the Marxist Unity Group organizing committee), James Heartfield (historian and activist, author of Britain’s Empires (2020) among others, heartfield.org), and Chris Cutrone (original lead organizer of the Platypus Affiliated Society, teaches philosophy and critical social theory at SAIC and the Institute for Clinical Social Work). Platypus member D. L. Jacobs moderated the panel. The panelists were asked the following questions: Was the Millennial Left Marxist? What was not Marxist about it? What is the relevance of Marxism today? Why is it necessary to recover or return to Marxism and what would it mean to go beyond it? What is the point of leadership by Marxist intellectuals? Is that necessary? The video of the panel is available online at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rl5i4orxCAM>. An edited transcript follows.
Benjamin Studebaker: In the United States, the Millennial Left was built around Bernie Sanders’s presidential runs and a variety of spin-off organizations. The Sanders campaign was attractive to some Marxists because in the beginning, it emphasized universal working-class economic issues. It was all about health care, education, and infrastructure. In those early days, Sanders made an effort to be diplomatic about culture war issues. Both progressive liberals and cultural conservatives use these issues to divide people up, and Sanders was often able to say that out loud. Regardless of whether Sanders himself was a Marxist, it was possible to see the 2016 Sanders campaign as a positive development for Marxism. It created a lot of energy in working people. It was not unreasonable to think that there was potential. Many Marxists were surprised to see Sanders perform so competitively, and it was possible that more surprises lay ahead. Of course, the Clinton campaign accused Sanders’s supporters of being “Bernie bros.” The goal was to frame Sanders as vaguely sexist or racist or something, and to use that to chip away at his progressive support in the primaries. Sanders lost in 2016, and many of his inner circle believed that this was the reason he failed to break through.
To win over progressive liberals in Democratic primaries, the Millennial Left gradually incorporated more polarizing cultural positions. Anarchists and libertarian socialists took larger roles in campaigns and organizations. Some Marxists held out hope that Sanders could use progressive positions to win the primary and pivot back to core economic issues, but between 2016 and 2022 the Millennial Left increasingly became associated with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “Squad.” The Squad, in turn, became associated with efforts to abolish the police and open the borders to immigrants. Liberal media outlets worked tirelessly to associate Sanders and the Millennial Left with the Squad and with the Squad’s politics. Initially, the Sanders campaign was happy to be associated with the Squad, thinking that they would help in the primaries. But the Squad was never very interested in Sanders’s economic program. Ocasio-Cortez made appearances with Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris before finally endorsing Sanders. She described Medicare for All as a negotiating tactic to secure a public option, forcing Sanders to publicly distance himself from her. After Joe Rogan endorsed Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez began publicly declining to attend Sanders’s events. I guess those economic goals were really worth not very much to her.
Many anarchists and libertarian socialists supported Warren, considered supporting Warren, or refused to criticize Warren throughout the campaign. Many of these people backed Sanders in 2016, but were drawn to Warren by her policy white papers and her willingness to pretend to be interested in reparations for slavery. Some of these people meant well but didn’t understand the value of bringing the working class together by, you know, speaking language that they can identify with. Some of them were careerists hoping to establish bona fides in the Millennial Left and then use their credibility with the Left to get jobs in establishment organizations. Some of them were progressive liberals who preferred Sanders to Clinton in 2016 but were pleased with the opportunity to vote for Warren in 2020. I could name names, but I won’t do that.
During the 2020 campaign, I was co-hosting a podcast you may have heard of called What’s Left?. When I was on that show, its purpose was to steer the Millennial Left in a Marxist direction, to steer the Sanders campaign in a Marxist direction, to help Sanders win the primary. The project was unsuccessful on all three counts. The Millennial Left became increasingly hostile to Marxism, the Sanders campaign relied on the labor power of the Millennial Left, and, as the Millennial Left moved to the Right, it followed them. Ultimately this destroyed the mass appeal of the campaign and doomed it to failure.
When I say that the Millennial Left moved to the Right, I'm saying that it moved toward liberalism. As I said in my talk yesterday, for liberals, the individual is the primary unit of society. It is the unhypothetical first principle of everything. It is the liberal equivalent to Plato’s form of the Good. For liberals, abstract conceptions of class, the state, and God are fictions. They might be useful fictions, but if you take them seriously you are reifying them. Only the individual is real. This leads to a liberal tendency to moralize. If individual moral agents are the only social unit that we can be sure really exists, then everything bad that happens comes down to individuals making immoral choices. The individual is responsible for climate change and racism and sexism and the pandemic. Individual vices like corruption and greed cause economic problems. Capitalism and democracy aren’t real, neoliberalism isn’t real, and all explanations that make reference to these things are reifying fake stuff. The remnants of the Millennial Left are obsessed with moralizing. They are also obsessed with making friend / enemy distinctions. Anyone that disagrees with the Millennial Left is a fascist or a white supremacist or a misogynist or what have you. These people can be thrown in Hillary Clinton’s infamous basket of deplorables. Engaging with these people is appeasement. We are meant to triumph over them by abolishing the Senate and the Electoral College, packing the Supreme Court, fighting voter suppression, and so on and so forth. When people don’t agree with the Millennial Left, they are morally wrong for failing to agree, and since they are bad people it is okay to treat them as enemies. This is, of course, deeply Right-wing thinking. It sounds much more like Carl Schmitt than Karl Marx.
If you don't agree, you cannot be part of the Millennial Left. As far as they’re concerned, you must be on the Right. So now you have to choose. You can go along with this and stick with the Millennial Left, but this is like hanging around to sniff a rotting corpse; you can poke it with a stick, but it's not going to move. These people use terms invented in universities that most working people don’t understand, don’t relate to, and are totally irrelevant to their lives. The movement is totally irrelevant to their lives. Most of the people my age involved with it are wasting their lives.
You can become Right-wing, because the Millennial Left says that’s what you have to do. If Marxists ally with social conservatives, the Millennial Left will help the liberal establishment police Marxism out of the discourse in the name of bashing the fash. But the religious Right has money, and many Marxist intellectuals, they need money. But I think the Millennial Left is moribund. Why allow it to dictate what Marxists do? If you don’t need to take money from the progressive liberals or the social conservatives, why play either game? Fighting the culture war diminishes class consciousness regardless of which direction we fight it from. If we make alliances with culture warriors, they put their culture war ahead of the economic interests of working people every time. Yes, the culture war gets people to buy books and subscribe on Patreon. If you participate in it, they might let you write for the Atlantic.
What does helping the working class do for you? It just gets you accused of being a fascist. This is the problem with the Marxist intellectual. Most Marxist intellectuals are professionals, not aristocrats. They work for universities. They work in the media. They work for activist organizations. They need money. So they make cultural content telling themselves they’ll use the money to help workers later. But the culture war keeps the working class divided and ensures that day never comes.
So do we just get rid of Marxist intellectuals? I mean, I'm wearing a suit, so I'm not going to say that.
Unfortunately, if there are no Marxist intellectuals, anarchists, libertarian socialists, progressive liberalists, and religious conservatives will direct worker resentment to useless and futile ends. Workers have so much of their time and energy taken from them every day. The Democrats’ human infrastructure bill calls for huge amounts of money to be poured into child care. Workers don't have time to care for their own children anymore, and we’re supposed to be happy about this — much less read the news, much less become Marxists, much less found authentic working class Marxist organizations. The American working class is swiftly becoming the American subaltern. You know what’s missing? Friedrich Engels. We need Marxists who are so loaded that they don't need to participate in the market. They are the only people free to create a form of Left-wing politics that does not depend on the culture war. But can such people be found? Do any of you have an enormous pile of money? Do you know anybody with an enormous pile of money? Even at beautiful, posh universities like Cambridge, Chicago, and Northwestern, these people are very hard to find, and most of them don’t want to fund Marxism; they want to protect their wealth or go to space.
Somehow, the money must be found. If it’s not, here’s what will happen. The culture war will continue to get more absurd and more detached from the needs of real people. Liberal academics hoping to make a name for themselves in the academy will invent increasingly inaccessible terms and distort every good or useful term we’ve previously used or previously liked. Most people won’t be able to keep up, and more and more Americans will disengage from the political process. They’ll join fandoms. They’ll join churches. They'll get really really interested in futurism. To gin up interest, the Democrats will constantly try to persuade us that the Republicans are Nazis, and the Republicans will constantly try to persuade us that the Democrats are Stalinsts, but people will grow tired of that after a while. They’ll abandon the political, they’ll buy crypto, and try to join the billionaires in space. Can you blame people? If you’re a good Marxist, you can’t.
Donald Parkinson: First of all, I'd like to thank Platypus for inviting me. I was here seven years ago, and it was a blast, and I'm having a blast this time. I know I've probably said things that are quite critical and offensive to Platypus, and I really like that you took it on the chin and still invited me. It shows a genuine commitment to dialogue that we don't really see in the Left today. It’s a real problem today that Marxists across tendencies don’t talk to each other. We stay in our sects, we don't have real dialogue because this person got canceled or no-platformed, so you can’t go to this convention because that’s bad. I really appreciate what you guys are doing. It’s important.
So what is Marxism for? If you spend a lot of time around the Millennial Left, you might think that it’s about being more extreme than liberals on identity politics issues. You might think that it’s about being a PR department for whichever foreign governments happen to oppose the United States for whatever good reasons there might be. You might think that it’s about ruminating on the value form, on the most obscure details of Capital, which I love to talk about as well. But it’s pretty clear to me that the Millennial Left as a whole for the most part is not Marxist, despite taking up the signifier of Marxism in many cases. And I don’t think it could be any other way, because we are a generation that has been coming into political consciousness in a historical period of immense regression. As shitty as the Soviet Union was in a lot of ways, the collapse of the Soviet Union did huge damage to the ability of humanity to actually imagine an alternative to the existing order. This has a lot to do with market fundamentalism that has taken over. So much of the Left has essentially taken up individualism, has taken up market type thought — even if they are in denial about it — because the Soviet Union collapsing has just made it so hard for people to be real Marxists. But there is a minority of us in the Millennial Left who see the problems with the rest of our generation, and we are taking a lot of efforts to study these historical issues, to study the question, to absorb these historical lessons, and to re-embed ourselves in the historical continuity that was so broken by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Millennial Left is completely unmoored from the traditions of the past Left. You can go on YouTube and see the kind of stuff that modern Leftists are saying, and it couldn’t be farther away from what classical Marxists believed. If you listen to the way AOC talks, she talks like a college activist, not like a real tribune of the people. Even when the content of what she says might be good, the way she says it is alien to how workers think. It’s alien to classical Marxism. My point here is that we’re unmoored from the tradition of the past, except for small pockets of sects, like Workers World Party, CPUSA, the whole alphabet soup. These groups have connections to past generations of Marxists, but they are essentially the equivalent of the utopian socialist groups that existed before Marxism made its great innovation.
My point here is that in the Millennial Left there is a Marxist periphery, and we need to build it, obtain hegemony, and show that the liberal ideas of the existing Millennial Left are incorrect, and I think that is possible.
What is real Marxism? It should be clear that I think the Millennial Left failed to absorb the real lessons of Marxism. Instead, it exists in a distorted form of critical theory, extremist identity politics, and vulgar Marxist-Leninist revivalism. The problem is that this generation has completely failed at the task of building the party. Marxism has to center the project of building the party, because the aim of Marxism is the merger of socialism and the workers’ movement, and you do this through the process of building the party. This generation has essentially conceded leadership to the Democrats, and various sectarian groups as aforementioned think that their group is going to one day be the party, but we all agree that that’s just not in the cards. None of these existing groups are going to build themselves up into a mass party through recruitment of one person at a time.
On the other hand, you have people who have just become apolitical cynics, who have been so disappointed by the liberalism of the Millennial Left that they feel that there’s just no way out except to possibly make alliances with the conservative Right, or to become completely apolitical and give up on the task of contesting politics. That’s just as much of a mistake as conceding leadership to the Democrats and absorbing the ideology of liberalism.
Marxism is a total worldview. It is not simply a criticism of capitalism, it’s a philosophy, dialectical materialism, which makes ontological claims about the nature of the universe itself. It’s a scientific theory: historical materialism. Marx himself described historical materialism as doing for modes of production what Darwin was doing for the origin of species. He saw himself as developing a scientific theory. You may not like that, but that is what Marx himself believed. Most importantly, it is a political project. On the panel yesterday there was a debate about politics-first Marxism versus economics-first Marxism, and I think we need to be politics-first Marxists, because it is in the sphere of the political that ideological Marxists can actually intervene in the existing processes of history itself. It’s in the political — in this process of politics — where Marxists can actually influence things. If you just want to organize workers and organize unions, that’s good, you're helping people out, but unless you link that to a political project, I don’t think you’re really doing Marxism.
The reason we need to be politics-first Marxists, while still being extremely focused and rigorous on theory, is that we need to carve out an independent space for Marxism in our society. As I said before, much of the existing Left is completely tailing the Democrats, except for a small minority who are, essentially, jaded social conservatives. This is not how Marxists do politics. Marxists have sought to take advantage of the contradictions between different factions of the bourgeoisie. We’ve always sought to play these factions off against each other and to maneuver into a better position. The problem is that when workers do that, they have to be contesting for an independent space for themselves. We need to build a Marxist political party that can actually try to intervene in these different inter-class conflicts. And — as we’re talking about the culture war here — that is what the culture war is: an inter-bourgeois conflict between provincial capital and mobile international capital. There’s obviously exceptions to this, there’s large petty bourgeois contingents and aspects of working-class support for various sides, but in the end it is ruling-class projects competing with each other. I don’t think Marxists can just try to attach their goals to one side of this intra-class debate to ride it into a position where we could then someday carve out independent Marxist politics.
Why is Marxism relevant today? I'll simply say, look at what is happening in Ukraine right now. Look at how liberalism has pushed the world into a confrontation between a proxy of a nuclear armed nation and a nuclear armed nation. Liberalism’s quest to destroy everything that stands in the way of expanding the market and create this universal, global market system with the U.S. as a benevolent hegemon is very much a project that possibly threatens the existence of humanity and, in this situation where the bourgeoisie is destroying society, destroys the ability for humans to be social in a lot of ways. It’s left a vacuum, and who fills this vacuum is the nationalist Right. Now, personally I don't like the nationalist Right. They don’t offer any real alternative to liberalism, so that means we need something else, something that can compete with the universalism of liberalism but without being simply an abstract market-oriented universalism. Marxism is perfect for this. It’s an internationalist, scientific worldview. It is the only way to create a new global project that can replace the existing liberal order. The nationalist Right, because they are nationalist, cannot actually create a new global order. They can perhaps push the global order to become more of a system of competing autarchic blocs, like the pre-Breton Woods era, but I don't think they can raise the question of a new global order. This question is being posed in current events in Ukraine and elsewhere, and it is why we need the kind of universalist progressive ideology of Marxism that is not liberal, however.
Otherwise, we’re stuck in regression, we’re heading into global catastrophe. We’re going in a nationalist direction. The diplomatic historian E. H. Carr made a very good point after World War II, that if the global system was going to advance into a place where peace would be possible, the system of nation states itself had to be addressed. That is something that Marxism is able to do. A liberal kind of cosmopolitanism is not a real solution to the problem of national division, and this idea of a global proletarian unity is the only thing that can actually provide an alternative to what we have now.
Other people have other ideas, like that we’re going to have the Global Islamic Duma. This isn’t a viable project. Some people say that that’s more likely than Marxism taking off, but I think, because what we are saying is guided by scientific truth, that we have a better chance. Because what we are saying is true, if we bring our arguments to people and we do a good job, they will realize that it is true, even if it takes years and years of people failing and running into walls. It will work because we have truth on our side.
The original socialist movement created a worldview with its own cosmology of the universe. This allowed the workers’ movement to create its own world project separate from the bourgeoisie. It gave workers the confidence that they were part of a world-historical movement, that world history was something that they were not only being affected by, but something that they were participating in and that they could change. Today, we’ve lost this historical consciousness, and so the solution is to reforge Marxism. This will be a collective intellectual project. It will also be a political project. It is the project of Cosmonaut and the Marxist Unity Group, of which I am part. My solution here is not that we should start a new sectarian group separate from the existing Left and refuse to engage them, but rather that we should fight within the existing Left, in any kind of space that we can contest. If we can participate and fight for Marxism and have a fighting chance of convincing people and making our case, we need to take advantage of that. This is the point of Lenin's “Left-Wing” Communism (1920).
Some people may say, “you just said all these terrible things about liberals and the Millennial Left, yet you are arguing for existing with them.” I don't see this as being any more contradictory than being in an AFL-CIO union but disagreeing with U.S. imperialism. We find whatever space in society can be contested, and we fight for it. We need to win the battle of ideas, because despite being historical materialists we understand the importance of ideas. And it is in politics and ideas where Marxists can have a space of intervention right now.
We must fight for Marxist unity. Across the various small, sectarian groups, across large organizations like the DSA, we need to raise the idea of the political program guiding the party as the basis for which Marxists unite, not based on specific theoretical interpretations of Marxism. Despite the importance of all philosophy and worldview aspects, it is the program that we must unite around. This is why leadership by Marxist intellectuals should engage with the existing projects of the existing Left to bring our ideas forward, to participate in the formation of the existing Left, and to push it in a genuinely Marxist direction without compromising our Marxism. This is the basic idea of the merger formula: Marxist intellectuals exist to absorb their knowledge into the broader working class movement and aid in the creation of a movement.
Honestly, at a certain point, we no longer need Marxist intellectuals in the way that they exist now, because it’s quite obvious that Marxist intellectuals are primarily petty bourgeois, PMC, aristocratic — whatever term you want to use — because we are the people who have the time and the resources to develop and to understand this science of society.
We need to take the lead in the fight for a democratic republic in the United States. The question of democracy in this country is still essential, and Marxists need to fight for proletarian hegemony in the broader struggle for democracy. This movement must take the shape of a fight to abolish our existing constitution and establish a new republic, and this needs to be the kind of call that we make to the public: the existing political system, the existing institutions must be defeated if society is to progress any further. We must be open that we live in an imperialist police state, and we need to take the lead in the fight to overthrow that state and establish a genuinely democratic system that can allow the proletariat, the working class and its allies, to have the political space and the ability to move forward in the struggle for socialism and lead the struggle for a new global order.
I want to end on a quote by Lenin, that very much captures the vibe that I'm trying to convey: “The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious. It provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defense of bourgeois oppression.” Today we are a minority even among the Left. But we must be a forward-looking minority, seeking to build a majority around a program that speaks to the interests and the ideals of the masses. Will we win? We can only find out by attempting to do this. We must struggle for our politics in an unapologetic way, and we must dare to win.
James Heartfield: I want to say first: Marx, without doubt, is probably the most important thinker about society of all time. Which seems like a slightly creepy thing to say, but there you have it. I still think that in my experience the body of work that Marx produced is probably the best resource that we have available for understanding modern society. But I do want to introduce a problem in that: Marx’s core methodological approach is historical specificity. I.e., his essential proposition is that society changes, that it’s in transformation, that it’s no fixed crystal but an organism that moves. And that presents a problem for understanding Marx today, because we cannot understand it without acknowledging that his prognosis is based upon an analysis of the economic theories that run from about 1760 through to about 1840, and the world he lived in no longer exists in the way that it did at the time. We have been through massive transformations, not the least inspired by people who read Karl Marx. The end results of each period are the beginnings and the foundations of the next. We are not in 1848, I think it’s important to understand — as Marx would have surely said.
Of Marx-ism I want to make a slightly different point. The impulse to make Marx’s theory into a doctrine really was a defensive posture of the Cold War. The world was divided between the free West and the communist East, and all oppositions were branded in this McCarthyite way as Marxist, meaning alien — German, somehow, but not English, perhaps Russian — as a way of making them ridiculous and small. They responded in the proper way, which is to say, no, we’re proud to be Marxists, we are Marxists, and we're going to stick up for that and fight for that proposition, we're going to defend that status. Further to that desire to defend Marxism, which I say is a defensive posture but makes sense within the context, is that Left doctrinal disputes often turned upon the interpretation of Marxism. “Have you betrayed Marxism?” “Are you keeping to the tenets of Marxism?” “I will defend Marxism against this false deviation you are pursuing.” These were real disputes. I want to say that actual problems were being resolved and addressed in these arguments about: are you in keeping with the Marxist theory? But that was to do with the form of the day. The importance of fighting for “no, we are the true Marxists, they have vacated the field” is to do with the conditions of the time.
Post-Cold War, I personally feel no strong need to defend the status of Marxism. I don’t want to withhold the mantle of Marxism from anybody, I don't want to award it to anybody. I don't think I'm qualified to be honest; I don't think any of us are qualified. Perhaps the working class is qualified, but that’s a slightly different issue. When we talk about the Millennial Left, I'm slightly refusing the invitation, because it’s not up to me to say that they do or do not fulfill the high ideal of being Marxist. It’s important that the temptation to make Marxism into a dogma can have a very destructive influence for theorizing about the present because it’s hostile to Marx’s own method. He once ridiculed an opponent, “yes, this is the truth, kneel here,” and there’s something of that character when we say “that is Marxism, that is not Marxism” — here is the truth, kneel here. It's not useful, either, because what happens is that you never see what is new, because every event becomes only some empirical fulfillment of the ideal which you’ve already set out that somehow preexists all these new social conditions, and these new social conditions turn out not to be new at all but merely evidence that Marx was right all along.
I'm going to dig myself in a whole heap of trouble here, because as an illustration I want to say that all indications are that we really are on the precipice of a really profound economic shock — in terms of gas prices, food prices — and you can see this happening all over the globe right now: Sri Lanka just declared a state of national emergency. There are all kinds of conflicts going on. The working parts of the world society are under tremendous pressure because of the dislocations in terms of the basic reproduction of conditions of existence, and that’s all coming. Now, the temptation obviously will be to bundle all of these into a confirmation of Marx’s own prognostications that here we have the inherent crisis that the tendencies of capitalism necessarily lead to, and it would be compelling: here it is, demonstrated, Marx’s proposition that capitalism tends towards crisis. But lots of the contemporary conditions do not spring from the kind of crisis tendencies that Marx was describing — not in any obvious way — and if you want to argue that, I want to hear the mediating links. Marx’s proposition was that capitalist accumulation presented its own limitations; it created objective limitations that would manifest themselves in a crisis of falling profitability and eventually of unsold goods — as the surface phenomena, just to emphasize that — Marx’s point is that these are objective, but if you look at today’s conditions, it’s really compelling that the subjective conditions played a tremendous part in the dislocation of the economy over the last two years. We see that, willfully, whole parts of the economy were put to sleep, that real disastrous routes were taken which are going to manifest themselves in the next two years or more, that there’s a massive bill to pay. There are all these kinds of problems that are in a large part in some sense premised upon the general conditions that Marx describes, but much more obviously they are premised upon the bad policies that were pursued. I don’t like where that goes but that’s where it goes. Indeed, one of the great problems that we face in coping with the fallout of pandemic policies and the way they wrecked the productive economy is that in the preceding period we did not invest enough, that our economies are not robust precisely because there is not an overaccumulation but an underaccumulation of capital. In the British economy the rate of investment is almost in negative figures. It’s astonishing, the way that it’s pursued.
I said I wouldn’t award or dismiss qualification, but there are some interesting developments in what you might loosely call Marxist theory that are essentially hostile to Marx’s own method. The most important is John Bellamy Foster’s attempt to fold the ecological crisis into Marxist theory, and we’ll see a lot more of that. I see people writing about the triple crisis — the health crisis, the ecological crisis, and the economic crisis — as if these things are all the same thing. That’s basically bad methodology, but I realize I have to stop it here, and I look forward to hearing what my fellow panelists have got to say.
Chris Cutrone: Marxism is borne of critique. Critique is not mere criticism, not fault-finding or debunking or falsifying of things, but exploring conditions of possibility for change, and not merely accidental, random or otherwise “objective” change, as in entropic processes, but conditions for transforming things as subjective agents of freedom, the realization of potential in what exists beyond itself. Furthermore, critique is not opposition, not treating things as if from the outside, but finding potential from within things of which we are inextricably parts and participants. The aim of critique is to recognize the possibilities for being subjects rather than objects of change: not change as something that happens to us, but change for which we can claim responsibility as the product of our own action.
There was a socialist or communist movement before Marxism, originating in the early 19th century. Marxism was borne of the critique of an existing socialist and communist movement. Marxism sought to clarify the aims of a movement already under way, by critiquing it, finding its conditions of possibility in its symptomatic expressions, diagnosing its prognosis.
Socialism was not possible before capitalism. Nor was it necessary, nor even desirable. Marxism hence held a dialectical relationship between capitalism and socialism. For Marxism, capitalism is nothing but the possibility and necessity of socialism. Capitalism was for Marxism the crisis borne of the contradiction of bourgeois social relations by the industrial forces of production that were the product of the historical progress of bourgeois social relations. In this way, Marxism found the industrial forces of production pointing beyond the bourgeois social relations to be the expression of the self-contradiction of those social relations. What were these “bourgeois social relations,” according to Marxism? They were the social relations of labor: the exchange of labor as a commodity as the basis for society, emerging in and through and as the product of the dissolution of the preceding caste community of traditional civilization. Bourgeois society was the liberation of production through the emancipation of labor.
The bourgeois revolution regarded itself as the revolt of labor: the revolt of the Third Estate against the illegitimate authority of the religious and noble-aristocratic orders, the First and Second Estates. The Third Estate comprised all those who worked, as opposed to those who prayed and those who fought. Bourgeois right was the right of labor against the right of might, the right of conquest, upon which the preceding social and political order had been based, and which religious authority regarded as the Divine Right of God’s (or the gods’) will, in which “might makes right.” This was the rule of society for thousands of years — perhaps of nature for eons. Bourgeois society is one in which there are “no gods and no masters,” no traditionally sanctioned patriarchs and no slaves, but only human social rights: it was the rule of freedom over nature. Marxism regarded the struggle for socialism or communism to proceed from this already accomplished bourgeois emancipation. If there was still illegitimate power — not right based on labor and its exchange-relations in freedom — Marxism regarded this not as a holdover from the ancient past but a new modern problem due to capitalism. In this respect, Marxism regarded capitalism as the regression of bourgeois society — the regression from bourgeois freedom: “wage-slavery.” It was the regression from a history of freedom to pre-history, a reversion to nature.
Marxism regarded the emerging self-contradiction of bourgeois social relations in capitalism to point beyond the emancipation of labor from traditional civilization, which was found to be necessary but insufficient for full freedom. Alongside the subjective phenomenon of the socialist or communist movement for working class freedom emerging after the Industrial Revolution, there was a new objective phenomenon of a proletarianized working class, workers expropriated of the social property of their labor as self-possessing owners of commodities, their labor-power and its products as contributions to social cooperation, participating as bourgeois citizens in society through their labor. The “proletariat” refers to citizens without property in the Ancient Roman Republic: tribal Romans who were entitled to rights as citizens despite not owning property — which meant not possessing the land of Rome’s conquests. (Tribal Romans were a ruling class in the sense of an aristocratic warrior caste of conquerors ruling over subjugated peoples and territories.)
But in bourgeois society, property is not a physical possession claimed through conquest, but a social right recognized through the social relations of labor in free association and cooperation. Hence, a proletarianized working class in bourgeois society is a contradiction in terms, a phenomenon of the self-contradiction of society. For Marxism, it is the Industrial Revolution that divides the bourgeois Third Estate of labor and its social relations into antagonistic interests of capitalists and workers: owners of capital as the means of social production and owners of labor-power as a commodity that is increasingly stripped of its material contribution to social cooperation. This division was an expression of the self-contradiction of freedom in social production: the self-production of society and its free self-transformation.
This is why Marxism regards capitalism as a self-contradiction and crisis of production — and not a matter of unequal distribution and inequitable consumption. It is a crisis of society and its freedom. It is a real crisis of the basis or substance of society, in which workers as citizens lose their social rights, not intentionally or deliberately, but as a result of a seemingly “objective” process of the development of social production. It is not the result of ruthless exploitation or theft — which bourgeois society condemns as not only illegitimate but criminal — by others, but Marxism thought was the result of the actions of the workers themselves, and was their responsibility. Workers’ demands for the social value of their labor as participants in bourgeois cooperation — the cooperation of citizens in bourgeois society — is an engine driving the improvement of production, to realize and maximize the value of labor in the production of wealth, but undermines the social measure of wealth according to the time of labor, as industrial production — science and technology — outstrips the measure of human labor-time as the basis for the value of wealth in society. The unintended consequence of this is the devaluation of labor even while social wealth increases.
This is a complex phenomenon that is expressed at both a micro and macro level. It manifests as a phenomenon of the reproduction of the human species in the historical succession of generations, in which a surplus of workers is experienced as overpopulation — the crisis of the overproduction of both material wealth and of the human species itself. But Marxism regarded it not as surplus humanity but surplus labor and surplus capital, the waste of social production and of human life, pressing for a resolution. It was a contradiction of wealth and value, or of wealth and the means of appropriation of that wealth by society in its social relations of labor. The struggle for the appropriation of social wealth and its potentialities beyond itself between capital and labor is not a struggle for possession between groups but a self-contradiction of wealth and its social value in capitalism.
Thus Marxism regarded communism as the “real movement of history” in capitalism, namely the real potential possibility of industrial production pointing beyond bourgeois society and its relations of labor. But this real movement of history is contradictory. It is not only linear but also cyclical: it points backwards as well as forwards, as society struggles to restore the social value of labor even while the industrial condition of material production leaves it behind. The result of this contradictory movement of society in history is not only to divide the bourgeois Third Estate between workers and capitalists, but also and more importantly to divide the proletarianized working class between high-wage and low-wage sectors as well as between employed and unemployed, etc. in a disparity and hierarchy of exploitation and wealth and participation in social production within the working class, which takes place not only within local communities but between localities in global production; and not only in space but in time, for instance between generations, in which older workers might benefit from capitalism at the expense of younger workers or younger workers benefit at the expense of older ones.
In short, it creates competition between workers — competition within the working class — as a new dynamic of historical movement, fundamentally affecting the concrete forms of social production in capitalism, especially as the conditions for production are struggled over, economically, socially and politically. But this competition not only promotes innovation or improvement of production as in the original bourgeois vision, but actually undermines and destroys the basis of social production, and is less than even a zero-sum game, by devaluing both labor and capital, throwing human beings and concrete forms of production prematurely on the scrapheap of history before their full potentials are even begun to be realized.
In Marx’s own time, it appeared that the widening contradiction between bourgeois right — bourgeois social relations — and industrial production in society led directly to social and political crisis and antagonism — a political struggle — that demanded resolution. As Marx put it, the capitalists and workers both had bourgeois right — the right of the social value of labor in production, whether in the form of wages or capital — on their side, and that hence, “where right meets right, force will decide,” namely politics (not violence!). Hence, capitalism was a condition of “insoluble contradiction” and the “class struggle” was inevitable. This class struggle, however, was understood originally by Marxism to be not merely the antagonism of different social groups — capitalists and workers — but the struggle for the proletarianized working class to constitute itself as a social and political force and thus as a class: the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie. But since the working class not only suffers but benefits from capitalism — depending on wage labor to survive and indeed to thrive — the class contradiction of the proletariat vs. the bourgeoisie is not the same as the antagonism of the capitalists and the workers — which itself is not identical to the contradiction of capital and labor.
The workers’ labor is capital — it is for instance, circulating capital vs. fixed capital and variable vs. constant capital, according to Marx — and so the social antagonism of capital and labor is always also an antagonism within labor as well as an antagonism within capital. It was not enough for Marxism that the social disintegration of production in capitalism manifest as antagonism, for instance the Darwinian struggle for existence among capitalist firms or among many capitals — for example, between “national” capitals — but also such a struggle among workers — including among “national working classes [sic]” or national sectors of the global working class.
What Marxism regarded as necessary was the self-constitution of the working class as a class in-itself objectively, through constituting itself as a class for-itself subjectively. For example, Marxism recognized that, for the value of labor as a commodity to be constituted in industrial (as opposed to artisanal) production at all requires collective bargaining; without collective bargaining, for instance through trade unions, labor is not even a commodity, not even a unit of social exchange, and there is no bourgeois social relation or bourgeois right of labor to be found at all — this is why liberal democratic bourgeois thought found labor union collective-bargaining to be necessary to not only preserve but constitute bourgeois social rights in capitalism.
But the workers’ struggle to constitute their social right in capitalism was for Marxism the constitution of the contradiction of capitalism: the contradiction of industrial forces by bourgeois social relations. Society itself seemed to face the crisis — choice — between supporting human labor in the working class and supporting scientific technique and technology in production. It is society as a whole that faces the choice and contradiction of capital vs. labor. This includes the working class in its collective bargaining as a social subject in capitalism — whether this takes place economically through trade union negotiation in private employment contracts, or as the public subject of citizenry in political democracy adjudicating law and policy.
For Marxism, the limits — the self-contradiction — that the proletarianized working class came up against in capitalism had already been faced in bourgeois society and liberal democracy, in both civil society and political democracy in the early 19th century, and the struggle for socialism or communism had emerged as a consequence of such limits being reached and contradictions made manifest as an inevitable impasse in history. But this contradiction and limit had manifested and reached an impasse in the socialist or communist movement itself, producing divisions and antagonisms in both theory and practice among the socialists who predated and lived into and as contemporaries of Marx’s own time.
Not only that, but the self-contradictory character of socialism had already been recognized in bourgeois economic, social and political thought and among bourgeois politicians — sometimes more acutely than among the socialists themselves. Not only Marxists and socialists, but bourgeois thinkers and political actors found the real movement of history to lead inevitably to socialism. Conservative bourgeois and reactionary observers in the 19th century bemoaned it, but nonetheless recognized the inexorable tide of history moving against them towards socialism. So the problem was one to be faced and overcome by the would-be reformers and “revolutionaries” of capitalism themselves, whether from among the workers or the capitalists. For Marxism, the class struggle was one over the direction of society within and beyond capitalism.
Marxism began by taking up and critiquing the crisis and confusion of contemporary reformers and revolutionaries as a matter of their self-contradictory social and political aspirations and visions — how these were not observations from outside but perspectives from within capitalism itself, from within its self-contradiction and crisis pointing not only to potential possibilities beyond itself but to its seemingly inevitable end.
The purpose of Marxism in its original historical moment was to serve as a critical faculty in the progress of the proletarianized working class’s struggle for socialism. It was to arm socialists with an awareness of the reasons for the historical crises besetting their own movement, and precisely in its success and forward motion. — But not only that success and forward motion but the movement itself ended long ago.
Today, by contrast, after the rise and fall of historical Marxism over a century ago, and due to its failure, capitalism no longer appears to have an inevitable end expressed by the possibility and necessity of socialism, but rather “socialism” seems to be a mere desire, a utopian vision divorced from practical reality, whether economic, political or social — for instance, an aspiration that, as the DSA’s Jacobin magazine founder and editor Bhaskar Sunkara put it recently, is “at its core moral and ethical in nature,” but which drives not inevitably towards its revolutionary realization but rather motivates capitalist reforms to render distribution more “equitable,” and this is primarily on a national-state and not international let alone global level. It necessarily and not accidentally avoids the contradiction of capital.
The problem of capitalism is today no longer faced let alone grasped as Marxism once did, as a self-contradiction of the workers’ struggles leading to the necessity of socialism as a historic task, but is just a matter of unbearably excessive social pathologies demanding capitalist political measures to try to deal with mounting discontents: Sunkara’s Jacobin / DSA is formulating solutions for capitalism to continue.
The current crisis of neoliberalism is not a terminal crisis of capitalism — not even one that could be made so politically — but merely an opportunity for the reconstitution of capitalism, and not through the self-constitution of the working class as an economic, social and political subject of history, but just as an electoral constituency of liberal democracy — and not even a subject of liberal democracy but an object of state policy.
Jacobin agonizes over its role as would-be professional managers of the working class; really, they are not even that but just self-deluded ideologues opining their craft of spin for the latest capitalist messaging — and not even policy. More or less unemployed Millennial and Zoomer workers watch YouTube videos as neurasthenics between anxious applications for their next gigs, seeking to explain the “reasons” for their endless misery. — Hopefully they will quickly forget them for the niche click-bait ephemera that they are, in favor of more mainstream and hence more socially rational pursuits.
This is why the existential crisis of humanity and society shows up today not in the battle of politics and democracy in a proletarianized society and its working class but rather in culture and psychology, about which Marxism has nothing to say beyond how these are already expressed by humanistic bourgeois culture in crisis, including its most radical anthropological questioning such as speculations on the “trans-” or “post-human” condition of society in capitalism. It is not raised to the level of collective politics in public life — not even as technocratic management, which is just reified and ossified mechanized humanism — but devolves upon isolated individuals in private misery.
Supposed “Marxism” today is not the critical self-clarification it once was of a historic revolutionary or even reform movement for socialism, but is just an obscure justification for choosing among policies for managing a crisis that is no longer regarded as an insoluble contradiction and historical impasse, but has become naturalized as a permanent condition of society and of humanity, purported “human nature” itself — including the degraded condition of what passes for “politics” as the gang-warfare — telling you which “side” to be on — among the ruins and desperate new upshoots of chaotic permutation in the long disintegration of decaying bourgeois society in capitalism.
Marxism today has no purpose — there is no purpose to Marxism — but serves only as a reminder that there once was a purpose, a purpose to capitalism, in socialism. Without an existing struggle for socialism, Marxism has no purpose. Without the purpose of socialism, there is no Marxism.
BS: I have this problem: I'm a bit of a Marxist Platonist, and insofar as Marxism is taken to be empiricism or positivism it shuts me out. Given that a lot of people are religious or spiritual or rationalist — you know, a lot of regular people in the way that they ordinarily think — it's a bit of a problem to define Marxism too much as empiricism. Here's a Platonist way to be a Marxist: the Good is real, and everything else is an imitation of the Good, every other term, every other concept people use. But some terms we ought to use, because it’s useful and good to use those terms, because they help us think better and help us do things better. Marxism supplies us with a lot of those terms and ways of thinking that help us to come to grips with things that are bad like exploitation and alienation.
Because I think this way, any time anybody uses any other kind of term, and tries to force me to use it, I get grumpy. I think, “Why do they want me to use that term? And why do they want me to use it that way? What are they going for there?” I've seen it too many times as a student. I’ve seen Isaiah Berlin, I've seen the people in the States who’ve pushed the equality / equity binary distinction to force you to think in a particular way. I've seen it too many times. Especially when people conceive of it as a binary, and they pretend that they’re helping you think in more interesting ways, but actually they're trying to box you into having a particular view, with the other view presented just as something for you to negate, that's when I get really suspicious, because Platonism is not dogmatic. Only the Good is real. Every attempt to explain it or concretize it is an imitation and is deviant from the thing itself, which we cannot fully explain, and so we are always having to grasp after it and try to make sense of it when it is to some degree apophatic — beyond description.
When somebody tells you that Marxism can be split between a kind of “politics-first” Marxism and a kind of “economics-first” Marxism, that sounds an awful lot like the distinction that was drawn a few years ago between class-first socialism and other kinds of socialism. The purpose of that distinction was to say that you don't want to be a class-first socialist or class-first Marxist, because then you’re ignoring all these other things — you’re reductive. In the same way, economics-first Marxism is a way of trying to box out a set of views and dismiss them as reductive.
Part of the reason people want to dismiss economics-first Marxism as reductive is that it helps people to criticize some of the things leaders on the Left say and do. Economic Marxism allows us to think that if you occupy a particular role in society, the fact that you occupy that role and the fact that you get the means of subsistence from somebody or from some class, that affects how you think. It affects your incentive structure. It affects the degree to which we can trust you. It affects the degree to which you can be relied upon. All of that is true. And it’s true because it’s good and helpful, not as a reified abstraction.
One of the things that gets my goat about this is that you never hear people talk about: how do you fund the work that you do? I don't do work that’s all that special or all that important, but I'll tell you how: my parents’ money. I went to Warwick with my parents’ money, then I went to the University of Chicago with my parents’ money, and then I went to Cambridge with my parents’ money, and I'm fortunate that my parents think I'm so clever that whatever it is I decide to do, they’ll fund it. I can never go fully bust, I can never go fully bankrupt, because while my parents are not fabulously rich people, they have enough money to keep me around.
I don't have to worry about some of the things that other people worry about. The people who call themselves the Left, they don’t get their money from their parents anymore, if they used to. They get it from progressive liberals. They get it from in some cases social conservatives. They get it from people whose interest is in pursuing culture war, and if they deviate from that, it becomes hard to keep the money. Part of it is because it sells: if you're trying to run a profitable magazine, if you're trying to run a profitable podcast, talking about the culture war sells. I got off of What's Left?, it changed what it was talking about, and it ballooned! It became huge! It became very, very popular; many times more popular than it was when I was on it. Maybe I’m really boring.
This is something we need to be thinking about as we go through this, and especially when people say, “they call themselves the Left, so we have to work with them.” They think like Right-wingers: they're individualist, they think in friend / enemy terms — they don't think like Left-wingers in any important sense. There’s nothing about what they do that advances the Good in any important sense, so why do we let them dictate what terms we think in? Or what we call ourselves? These people are prancing about under the name of the Left casting shadows on the cave for us to look at. Why should we buy into that? There's nothing good about it, and until somebody explains what's good about it, frankly I'm just rather tired of it.
DP: I’d like to clarify first what I mean by politics-first Marxism. Let's take the example of Lenin. Now, Lenin has a very famous book called What Is To Be Done? (1902), and it is treated by many as a Bible for organizing a small group of people who sell newspapers at protests. But the real purpose of What Is To Be Done? is that Marxists in Russia at the time had a group Lenin called the economists. (They had another Russian name, Rabocheye Dyelo.)
CC: It was the workerists.
DP: The workerists, yes. They thought that essentially the main goal, the main purpose, of Marxism was to just organize workers in the trade unions and to support liberal reform efforts where possible, but in the end the main goal was to aid the economic organization of the working class, because the idea was that the economic contradictions on their own would get workers to see the necessity of socialism, and Marxism had to help along this almost organic effort. But Lenin points out that, no, that is not what Marxists are about. We are about fighting for our politics and bringing these politics to the workers and organizing these workers not simply to fight for their economic demands — which you certainly do support and are incredibly important — but to organize the workers for the struggle for a democratic republic — to overthrow tsarism. This program is called the democratic dictatorship of the proletariat and the peasantry.
What I mean by politics-first Marxism is this: that our goal is not to simply aid in the economic organization of the working class and to organize for economic reforms, but to aid in the process of subject formation, where the working class can become a political subject that is the vanguard in the battle for democracy, which is still relevant in the U.S. despite our liberal constitutional deceptions.
I think about what you said, Ben, about empiricism, was that a reference to me talking about science?
BS: Well, you're not the only one.
DP: Of course I'm not the only one! When you say empiricism you have to be careful, because empiricism is a specific philosophy of what science is — this idea that science is just about finding regularities and coming up with theories to economize them — and there are other versions of empiricism, but when I'm talking about Marxism as scientific, I'm saying that what we're trying to do is look beyond the surface appearance of society, and we're trying to look deeper, and use the tool of abstraction to find the deeper social laws and mechanisms and structures that produce social reality as well as interfacing with nature. This is a far deeper understanding of science than the empiricist understanding of science because it allows us to apply science to society. When you look at science and society and when you try to do a scientific analysis of capitalism, you are inevitably — if you are serious about it — going to clash with the ideal laws of capitalism by revealing how it truly works. In this sense it is an explanatory critique of the existing structures we're trying to study. It's not a value-free, value-neutral science. It’s still politically charged even if we are trying to develop an objective picture of reality.
Another thing I wanted to say is, Ben, you talked about abolishing the Senate as if it’s a culture war issue. And that isn’t the case. We need to talk about the Constitution itself. We need to take up these struggles like abolishing the Senate and democratizing our institutions. The aim is to have the proletariat become the hegemonic force in these struggles rather than dismissing them as culture-war struggles. I don't understand how that’s a culture-war issue.
BS: Because it's about crushing the Midwest, crushing the states that have been economically disadvantaged for the last 40 or 50 years. The low-population, rural states which did not see much of the economic or job growth during the Obama years; in fact, the vast majority of the counties in these states saw job growth continue to decline during the 2010–16 period. People want to crush those people and get rid of the Senate out of anti-Trumpist sentiment, not out of any kind of Left-wing impulse.
JH: I'm interested in what everybody's got to say. Argumentatively, as Diogenes said, I’ve seen Plato’s cup, but not his cup-ness. Social movements don’t exist to fulfill ideals or theories; on the contrary, our theories ought to be there to manifest social movements, to give intellectual expression to try and summarize the movement that’s taking place.
I'm interested in particular in what Chris was saying, because superficially it did seem towards the end there as if you were saying, “that's it, Marxism is gone” — I'm both sympathetic and appalled. I want it to exist, but me wanting it to exist is not the same thing. It’s as Donald is saying about What Is To Be Done?: in the context of an early birth of the workers’ movement in Russia, where there were disputes and an actual struggle for leadership, Lenin tried to summarize the way that the struggle for leadership could project beyond the immediate arguments of trade unionists and other organizers, but only insofar as that struggle was already existent, and that was the movement within the working class — which itself was still a minority of the Russian population. That's not as important as people think. But now I'm stuck, because as well as studying the texts, as valuable as they are, we need to be looking at what is changing in society. Where are the movements? I don't mean “the movements,” like the ecology movement or the women’s movement — that’s usually a formula to not pay attention, because it’s unfortunate and painful, but all the social contests of our age are utterly weird.
In France, there's a long, mad, slow burn protest over an ecologically-inspired fuel tax. That’s what started the gilets jaunes. Though whether that’s still the case is hard to say. People are protesting in Australia and in Germany about vaccines, which is insane — everybody should get vaccinated. But nonetheless, this is what’s happened. I’m not saying there's nothing positive in this, but I am saying: this is what is, and we need to somehow relate to all of this, because we can’t invent a spectral workers’ movement in our heads to respond to and write programs for when it isn’t there! We're talking about the vote in Amazon. How many people voted? I counted a couple of thousand who took part in this vote on whether they should organize in Amazon. Great! I'm very pleased with them. But I don't think that that in itself, not even as its kernel, is a new workers’ movement on the march.
CC: James, you mentioned that we’re not in 1848, and you also mentioned that Marx’s theory became a doctrine mostly under the impact of the Cold War. I wanted to say a couple of things: of course the Cold War is over. We still have doctrinaire Marxism. But that drives us back into what Marxist theory was before it became a doctrine, and what its living basis was. So if I remember correctly, you were around Living Marxism? And that’s the spirit of that journal. Of course we’re not in 1848, no. But in some ways we are in 1848. Meaning, we’re in 1848, but without the constituted socialist and communist workers’ movement of Marx’s own formative moment, and that does change things.
I want to use that to transition to, Donald, what you were talking about in terms of the struggle for democracy versus the battle of democracy. The “battle of democracy” is the formulation that Marx and Engels used, rather than the struggle for democracy. And just to remind you that the U.S. is one of the few democratic republics in the world, in fact. And to also echo Ben's point, which is that the democratic republic, the form that we have, liberal democracy, the Senate, the Supreme Court, the balance of powers, the checks and balances, those are institutions of democracy. They’re also institutions against democracy but they’re institutions of democracy. So a dialectical approach to that is warranted.
That brings me around to the idea that the U.S. is an imperialist state and is the global police state, etc. Which brings me back to 1848. Namely, what is the role of the state in capitalism? And what it means to say that we’re living, as Lenin put it, but also as Marx put it, in the era of imperialism. Marx used another term, Bonapartism, but he meant the same thing. In which case the battle of democracy is a battle over the destiny of the imperialist police state. That’s where I wanted to bring in yet again another Marx-ism, if you will, which is the dictatorship of the proletariat. Meaning yes, society has moved on in certain important ways since the 1840s. However, it’s also remained stuck in the same place, especially at a political level. So, concretely, we might say even economically, James, I took your point about the current economic crisis not being necessarily comprehensible as an overproduction crisis. However, we still have a political form that is based on the social and economic crisis of capitalism. And that is the imperialist police state that Donald mentioned. Any national state in the world, given the opportunity, would become that imperialist police state. So they all have that germ of origin to them. It just so happens that for historical reasons that the United States is the top dog in that global order. So why is that at all important and relevant?
Again, I’ll come back to a point that Donald made. He called for an independent space for Marxism politically. I would say, no. Actually what’s needed is not an independent space for Marxism. That would be a little premature. And that takes for granted some bad aspects of sectarian Leftism that you would otherwise want to distinguish yourself from. In fact, two things are needed. One is an independent space not for Marxism but for the working class, socially and politically. And also, and relatedly, although differently, an independent space for socialism, which is what I take Ben’s point to be about not being a liberal. In Ben’s presentation, he used Marxism to mean socialism. And so I do think that those two related spaces, politically, socially, and intellectually, are what need to be established. That's the stage that we’re at now. We're in a kind of pre-Marxist stage, if you will.
Q & A
Donald, you stated at the beginning that we need to build Marxism. You're not the first one to say that. The fact that we're saying it today is conditioned by the failure to do it previously. How do you account for that repeated pattern of a task being necessary and nevertheless the task not being risen to time and time again?
DP: We suffered a massive defeat in the 20th century. We started 1917 off pretty good. It seemed like the world revolution was coming. There were a lot of advances made despite the fact that they didn't come through. There was just a massive historical defeat. Each generation has certain tasks that are set. There’s a possibility we will fail, but the hope is that there will be constructive lessons learned from such a failure, as I believe there were constructive lessons to learn from the failures of the 20th century. If we use scientific thinking to study the past and think about what we did wrong, what we did right, what aspects of our politics were not working, which aspects were, my hope is that the failures of the past can give us the knowledge and the raw experimental material and data, or whatever you want to call it, that can give us a stronger understanding of society and history that can then create stronger politics for Marxists today. Perhaps we are not rising up to that occasion, but nonetheless I can't imagine anything else. I can't imagine trying anything else at this point.
To Chris Cutrone, I genuinely wonder, why are you here? Why are any of you really here? “Marxism is dead, the Left is dead, all of this is dead.” Because I know why I'm here, I know why I'm a communist and I know why I'm a Marxist. As you were talking about earlier, I'm one of those Zoomers that is going to be bouncing from gig economy job to gig economy job until I die. And I know that there’s 50 million protesters who were striking in India for the rights of informal workers and against the efforts to privatize industries in Modi’s India. Two years back there were 250 million farmers striking in India. There is still a global proletariat, even if it’s not present in this university, or any of these godless universities.
CC: Yes, to say that there’s no working class movement for socialism or communism and therefore no need for a Marxist critique of that movement, no need for a Marxist apprehension of the contradictory character of that movement, would appear to immediately exclude what have you — Nepal, India, workers struggles in Bangladesh. Obviously, there is a rolling dynamic of proletarianization in the world, and there are people struggling more or less within that context and struggling against it, within it, for it, for the direction of it. However, there is the question of seizing the means of production. And seizing the means of production doesn’t mean seizing the land or seizing the factory. It means seizing capital. In other words, what’s the politics necessary to grasp capital? And where is capital? Where is global capital? It still is primarily in the industrialized metropolitan centers of capital.
Now, immediately I'm thinking I'm contradicting myself because the working class is capital, as I pointed out in my presentation. And so where is the working class? This, I fear, is going to get us back into some mid-20th century and New Left preoccupations that still hang over our imagination, namely, looking for the true revolutionary subject. You could say the working class in the U.S. is relatively quiescent in comparison to places like India, but it doesn’t mean that the working class in India is constituted as a revolutionary subject. If it were, maybe we would be having a different kind of conversation, but it’s not. And so we are back to the kinds of questions that all the panelists have raised, namely about the political constitution of that revolutionary subject — however one understands the revolution, meaning, it need not be the revolution that Marxism envisioned in an immediate sense. It could be the revolution in the sense of the struggle for a democratic republic in the U.S. and constitutional reform, as Donald mentioned. In France, in terms of the Yellow Vest movement, one of the contemporary phenomena there is the former Socialist Party politician, Mélenchon, who calls for a Sixth Republic. We don’t have to see what would apply to the Marxist theory and identify where the revolutionary subject is in that immediate sense, but we can just observe the political crises that do exist and that are happening. Yes, people are struggling in Modi's India. I don't think that the Indian state or even Modi's party's rule is in jeopardy. In the U.S., by contrast, one of the main capitalist political parties has been in crisis, namely the Republican Party. And in a derivative sense, in a related sense, the Democrats. It’s not about regarding Bernie Sanders or AOC as a socialist or as a Marxist. They're not. However, there is clearly a crisis of the Democratic Party, too. That doesn't mean that there’s going to be revolution, although it is interesting that the capitalist politicians are constantly talking about coups and insurrections and civil war.
BS: On the question about the periphery, the trouble with the periphery is that the periphery lacks the industrial capacity to make a state which is economically competitive with the capitalist state or some alternative political formation, if you don't like the word state, that could hold up against global capital. In certain situations where you have a lot of oil wealth, oil wealth can be a bulwark for a time for a state in a specific area, but the Green Movement is rapidly unwinding the capacity of the petrol states to do that. Most of the petrol states that do that do it from a relatively conservative direction, so there’s not a whole lot of potential in that.
In terms of why I'm here, if I say that the Millennial Left is dead and it’s a corpse and that you poke it with a stick . . . For several reasons. One, I want to encourage all of you to be good Marxists: think about things structurally, don't blame and shame individuals for the things that they do, don’t individualize collective problems, problems that are of the system, of the whole society. That is the number one thing you can do to distinguish yourself from being a liberal in your thinking and if you do that continuously, it will help you distinguish yourself in your action.
DP: On the question of the periphery, we need to keep in mind that the labor of the Global South is really not peripheral anymore. We have a situation where, according to the work of John Smith in his book Imperialism in the Twenty-First Century (2016), 80% of the global proletariat is in the Global South. But you are right that there is a sense that it's hard to de-link and economically compete with capital states. My argument here is essentially that we should try to organize at the continental level.
There is some mystification about what the party is. What constitutes the party? Where does it come from? Does it come from a program? Does it come from the struggle of the people? I recall Lenin in What is to Be Done?, where he talks about organizations being constituted on an idea. This doesn’t mean that you have Marxism and that just gives you the abstract idea of what a party makes. It's more liberal, more Rousseau. As in, what creates an organization? It's some sort of constitution towards a common goal. It makes me wonder: what is the relationship of Marxism to politics, to the politics of socialism and to the politics of the proletariat? Obviously Marxism isn’t identical with politics. It never has been. It wasn't identical with the politics of socialism. It was a criticism of the politics of socialism. Marxism is a criticism of politics that points towards the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, but he doesn’t outline what that is positively. What is the relationship of Marxism to politics if it’s not identical with politics? Or if it is not immediately practical?
JH: “What is a party?” is a great question, but it's not a question for now because there is no demand for a party. There’s not enough social struggle demanding leadership to crystallize. The way we thought of it at the time [in the 1980s], was that the party, the organization with the aspiration to be a party, would be in dialogue with the leading sections of the working class arguing with other people, and it would be in a position to develop a program around which a party could be built. There's great reading on it, but I do feel it's got slightly a scholastic character because we're not really there. E.g., Lukács’s “Towards a Methodology of the Problem of Organization” (1922).
Now, Lenin's aspiration was to supersede politics, and it’s there in Marx and in the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843). The implication is that politics is a kind of degenerate or alienated state of human existence, and that the unity of the nation only exists external to social production and that itself is a manifestation of the way that we're alienated within our human relations. The state itself is an alienated form. Lenin, borrowing from that, said, we want a party of a new kind. He meant a party that went beyond or that had its feet in party politics. It presented itself at elections and things like this as a party like, for example, the Liberal Party, but secretly or not so secretly, it was actually going to abolish all this stuff.
These are only historically specific forms, but I find the contemporary problem is more or less the reverse of that, because much more the problem is that this political sphere closed down in the period after 1997. The mass participation of communities through their political parties has been shut down. The Labour Party through its affiliation to trade unions had 17 million members in a country of 60 million. The Conservative Party had a million members in its own party. When we did party politics in the 1970s, the whole country was mobilized and everybody put the flag up, etc. in a way that you can’t see today. Today’s politics is a professional thing, and in any event, they all seem to agree on the basic issues. That's why we all feel shut out. That's why people like Corbyn supporters were so moved, because he was actually going to speak to them. It’s why the Brexit Party existed, because they said that all the people in the top echelons, the front benches of those parties, said you must vote to remain. I'm not a soothsayer, but at that moment I thought, we might actually win this thing, because everybody official has told us we can't do this thing, and then they've invited us to vote on it. And hey, I know where this goes. Yah boo to you. Maybe it wasn’t much more than a yah boo to you, but this is important. The way that the mass of people have been excluded from political life at the end of the 20th century and the early 21st century is what they're protesting about. The way the gilet jaunes talk about Macron is actually unhinged. It’s terrible. But when I’m there, I'm absolutely with them. I want to hang him in effigy, or in fact, because they're really saying something that they feel. They’re saying that they’re sick of being treated like this, like some kind of stage army that you invoke at election time. We’re all supposed to put a little mark on a piece of paper. Mélenchon, who's been an interesting politician for a long time, may get somewhere because he's going to mobilize that sentiment, which he's always had that populist instinct for. Though, like all of these things, they're squalls. They come up. They come down. George Galloway was an immense figure for a long time and then suddenly didn't exist anymore.
DP: We shouldn’t understand the party as this quasi-mystical world spirit that embodies the historical consciousness of the proletariat. The idea of the Marxist party starts with Chartism and with this idea that the movement has a basic list of demands that unites it. The First International is essentially the idea of uniting the entire working class, regardless of political tendency, and trying to hash out a politics from there. Later in the Gotha Program and the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), the idea of the party as defined by the program inspired by Chartism comes into play. Then by 1891, there was the Erfurt Program. What defines the party is the fact that its program expresses the interests of a specific class in society. This vision of the party is better than the idea of a labor party of the whole class because it does exclude certain sections of the working class. In the Second International, based on its program, you couldn’t be an anarchist and be a member of the party because you had to accept the program and the program demanded political action. When we talk about the party, we’re really talking about program, and we're talking about an organization that is a vessel for a program and is organizing a social force that can put that program into action by taking state power. It's that simple.
BS: A few years back, me and a friend decided to run a little political experiment. My friend was living in Indiana, I was at Cambridge, and we went, “What if we go and find somebody and run them for city council? And we tell them how to think about things? And we set up their campaign and we tell them what to say? Can we get somebody elected to city council?” So we found somebody who, at the time worked at CVS, and we talked him into running. I was in Cambridge. So I was giving advice and my friend was there. My friend was doing a lot of the campaigning with the candidate. And three of us, with one of us absent, got this person elected with virtually no money. They asked me for a lot of money, but I thought we probably wouldn't win, so I didn’t give them all that much. But we won with three people and one of them absent. Of course, then because he worked at CVS, as soon as he got elected, the opportunities to rise within the ranks of the Democratic Party and one day become mayor got to him. He immediately broke all of his promises about free city buses for the people, etc. “Oh no, the homeless would then ride the buses and that would cause trouble,” he said. And we went, “you're not supposed to say that out loud. If you're going to betray us, do it better.”
Anyway, I learned something from that. Two things. One thing that makes me feel good and one thing I don't like so much. The thing I don't like so much is that anybody who relies on the market will ultimately betray you because the market is their master. Even if they are a humble worker who works at CVS: you put them in that spot, and being in that spot changes the way that they think. Secondly, you can get somebody elected to city council in a relatively large town with three people. And I didn't even give them very much. I'm not even sure I gave them ten bucks. They just worked very hard. So here's my thought. You can't run a straightforward electoral party, third party in the U.S. and get anywhere with it because 47 out of 50 U.S. states have a law mandating the selection of candidates by primaries. Once you open your candidate selection up to the primary system, whoever’s got the money wins, and you have to campaign to your narrow band of primary supporters who are all going to be weirdos. If you look at the Democratic Party primary base, they're weird people, they’re professional class, they’re managerial, they’re disproportionately not the kinds of people who care about economic issues. Same goes for the Republican base, it’s disproportionately petty bourgeois, etc. Once you are picking your candidates through a primary, you're letting the system decide who you run and you don't actually have a party. Even if you think you've started a workers’ party, if you’re picking with primaries, you don’t have that. You have a party that picks candidates through a system dictated to it by the American state.
Here's what I propose. The people who have parent money should get together. We should pool the parent money, and we should all get together in the same state. We should run people in both Democratic and Republican primaries, and we should run them for the same races. They should pre-agree on economic issues, then they're free to say whatever they need to say culturally to win the primary. On the understanding that regardless of who wins, they'll take the same economic stances. If anybody betrays the organization, they will be cut off henceforth from the pool of parent money. You could start this in a relatively small town with just a handful of people who have parent money and just see where it goes.
JH: It sounds like how British politics works.
CC: Maybe I was being a bit coy about the fact that we don’t need an independent space for Marxism but we need an independent space politically for the working class on the one hand and for socialism on the other hand. Part of the problem with socialism is the ideological conflicts within socialism that go all the way back to Marx’s time and even predate Marx, and certainly have been compounded by the history in between. However, the reason I realize now I might have been being a little bit coy about that goes back to the question of why am I here, why is Platypus here? The mission of Platypus is to dissolve ideological obstacles to the reestablishment of socialism, because there are a lot of ideological obstacles. That's not the same thing as ideological obstacles to Marxism; the ideological obstacles to socialism are a little bit different. But Platypus is not trying to organize the working class. It's a self-conscious limitation that we’ve adopted for ourselves because frankly, when I started this thing, when my students started it, I realized what the capabilities and incapacities of such a group would be immediately. In other words, I thought my students at the University of Chicago and at the School of the Art Institute, of a mixed class background, not everyone being privileged particularly, are not going to go out and organize the working class. That's just not happening. They might be workers, they might have to work wage labor to survive. They may not have professional careers. They’re not going to organize the working class. That’s just not our remit. That doesn’t mean that that doesn't have to be done. That does have to be done. But that’s a different project.
The Millennial Left did reach towards a space for socialism and it did reach in that direction in a variegated way. In other words, the Millennial Left rediscovered socialism via all the various ideological tendencies of socialism: anarchism, Maoism, Trotskyism, post-Marxism, the whole gamut did resurface. Our point in Platypus was that they all had something in common, namely the dead character of all of those various tendencies. It’s not like Trotskyism is more alive than Maoism or anarchism is more dead than Marxism or something like that. It’s not. They’re all equally dead. They’re all equally an obstacle. In Platypus we talk about via negativa: our project is really negative. It’s critical in that sense. It's an awareness of the obstacles. This is very different from the things being articulated by the other members of the panel, all of which are more positive and which I would not oppose per se, but it’s just not my remit. It’s not the role that I've taken upon myself and it’s not the particular emphasis of Platypus as a project, which is again not to say that it’s opposed to anything else. But it is interesting. I will point this out. There is a lot of overlap between Cosmonaut and Platypus. You’ll find a lot of similar thought figures, formulations, and preoccupations. A lot of things in common. But you’ll also find that difference: Cosmonaut is trying to do something more positive, while Platypus is more negative.
DP: I will have to admit that with Cosmonaut, Platypus has kind of been an influence because you guys have the motto “to host the conversation.” That’s kind of what we want to do too. It’s just that we're positive and not negative. Chris did a good job summing it up actually.
Donald, you said earlier that you can’t imagine doing anything besides this. It was in the context of asking why we would have this sort of conversation. Is Marxism for asking what Marxism is for? What is this conversation? Is this what you imagine this to be?
DP: If you talk to the Platypus people, they would probably say Marxism is for talking about what Marxism is for, because it's the whole Frankfurt School critical theory thing. That’s cool. It’s fun. I like Hegel. I like philosophy. But the reason I said I can't really see myself doing anything else is that I'm a wingnut. I see the way the world is going. I see the way liberalism is destroying the world with militarism, and the only alternative seems to be this communitarian nationalism. It just seems obvious that we have to recover what was lost with the most radical, progressive, and forward-thinking part of modernity, which was the Marxist workers’ movement. What that movement had going for it is still relevant today. The raw material that allowed that movement to exist still does exist today. It’s just a question of politics and navigating the political antagonism and the contradictions of our time in order to recover that lost radical subjectivity. We’re living in postmodernism, essentially. Postmodernism is just modernism without the telos. And that telos was the workers’ movement. The capitalist class, liberalism, is just about tearing things down. Modernism was about this flux of society tearing things down and creating something new out of the ashes. With postmodernism, we just have the flux and the disintegration, but not the telos that can allow something new to come out of it. If we want to escape the postmodern predicament, we have to recover what gave modernism its telos and its directionality to overcome its contradictions and develop into something better.
How can we be Marxists? Today, are we necessarily dogmatic in so far as we insist on the historical possibility for socialism? Does the good or liberty, in so far as any of the panelists are interested in liberty, necessarily become dogmatic? What kind of limits to our own thinking are posed by this moment of political impasse?
JH: I don't believe revolution is imminent, but I'm confident that social change is imminent and it’s taking place all around us. Whatever the organizational form of oppositional movements that actually challenge the trajectory of society is, it may not be called socialism, and I don’t think it needs to be called Marxism. So I don’t care if there is no Marxism in the future because there will be something better.
BS: If we're kind of screwed, and the theory of history suggests that we might be, we might not be at the end of the development of capitalism. It might not yet have reached the contradictions. It might not have fully fettered itself to the point at which it can be overcome. You have to consider that if you think the theory of history has value. If you think that's true, the thing to observe is that Marxists are an endangered species. Let's say that Marxists are Siberian tigers. If you want to save the Siberian tiger, you need to know, how does it live? What kind of environment does it need to exist? Why is the environment in which the Siberian tiger exists going away? How would you go about creating new habitats? There are a number of different possible habitats where Marxists could live.
I encourage you to look at yourself insofar as you are a Marxist and aren't somebody who goes around blaming and shaming individuals for things. I can't be sure you're not because so many people call themselves Marxists these days and they're not. That doesn't help either. It's a kind of invasive species, crowds out life under the canopy. But insofar as you are a Marxist, what in your life enables you to go on thinking this way? One thing is participating in a community of other people who also think in this way that you can exchange ideas with. Something like this has a certain preservationist effect for the endangered species that is Marxism. But what other environments apart from a university seminar hall, parent money, what other enclaves can Marxists exist in? Can we build more of them? Can we expand them?
I want to point out a key difference between Donald and Chris on the nature of Marx's view or lack of view towards the dictatorship of the proletariat. What wing of the bourgeois revolution did Marx inherit? Donald might say that it was the radical democratic republicanism of the sans-culottes and of the Anti-Federalists, people who were arguing for unicameral chambers because a bicameral chamber was what the liberal wing of the Enlightenment supported, because capital and the planters were able to assert their political power more. Chris mentioned that the U.S. is one of the only democratic republics in the world. The wing of the bourgeois revolution that Marx inherited would criticize that, e.g., Rousseau and James Harrington. What did liberalism bequeath to Marx? Was it Montesquieu's vision or was it the James Harrington vision?
DP: Marxism is part of the tradition of the radical Enlightenment, and it’s part of the tradition of the radical democratic wing of the classical bourgeois revolution. Marx saw the dictatorship of the proletariat as based on the 1793 Jacobin Constitution. That was his opinion, a form of state, a radical democracy through which the proletariat could rule and solve the social question. There is a radical break in the French Revolution between social republicanism and bourgeois liberal republicanism and Marxism comes out of that break, the radical Enlightenment as opposed to the liberal Enlightenment.
CC: The Jeffersonian Revolution of 1800 and Thomas Paine's letters on the American Republic, written in support of Jefferson's election and reelection in 1800 and 1804, did not challenge the U.S. Constitution that existed. But there was a question of what, not necessarily the social content, but what the political content of the U.S. Constitution was. That was in contention at that time.
Yes, pre-Marxian socialism definitely comes out of the Jacobin tradition. However, the dictatorship of the proletariat does not come from the radical republicanism of the Jacobin era in the French Revolution. It comes, rather, out of 1848. In other words, the dictatorship of the proletariat is a response to Bonapartism. It's a response to the fact that you're not simply going to have the rule of the people in the way that some of the Jacobins thought. Robespierre, for instance, defended the right to property. It's not a straightforward question: does that mean that Robespierre was a liberal, was he a republican? This has been a core point of Ben’s various interventions in the convention, the difference between a small-r republican and a liberal. I also think that there's the question, Donald put it this way, and James has handled it a little bit differently over the course of the convention, of the difference between a liberal and a small-d democrat.
Marxism and the critique of socialism that Marxism had are based on the idea that liberal democracy and the democratic republic that came out of the bourgeois revolution were both necessary and impossible in capitalism. In other words, it's still a demand, and yet capitalism is actually an obstacle to that. James brought up that Lenin and Marx had a vision of the realization of politics in order to abolish politics. That is another key point. One thing that I've observed that comes out of the 20th century, that the Millennial Left cracked its head against and didn't quite grasp, is the conflation of the dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism. In other words, the most controversial aspect of Marxism, what really distinguishes it from other varieties of socialism, from all of it, anarchism, Lassallean socialism, whatnot, is the theory of the transition. The theory of the transition was of course used ideologically to justify the stalled revolutions of Russia, China, etc., but there's still a point to that. The original Marxist conception of the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat is precisely to understand it as the potential transition to the transcendence of politics. In other words, we should not identify socialism with the Paris Commune, with the dictatorship of the proletariat, or with radical republicanism or radical democracy of the bourgeois revolution. That will be, to put it in Marxist ideology critique terms, a necessary form of misrecognition of the struggle for socialism, but one that needs to be transcended ultimately, to achieve freedom. Political freedom is one sided and is actually the expression of unfreedom, according to Marx. And not only in the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, but much later in the “Critique of the Gotha Program” (1875) too. There's no such thing as a free state, etc.
BS: 18th century theorists drew on a lot of different stuff. To some degree, they were trying to separate themselves from earlier thinkers that they considered medieval, but they also borrowed from different ancient thinkers. You can be very opposed to scholasticism, like the humanism, which you might identify with Machiavelli. But Machiavelli thinks of himself writing the Discorsi (c. 1517)on the Romans, thinking of himself mainly through a Roman lens. Many Marxist concepts and terms are obviously of Roman inheritance. Dictatorship, tribune, proletariat. Proletariat, yes. Bonapartism in part is a bit more than just imperialism. It's also Caesarism. It's a question of preventing the revolutionary energy from being diverted into Caesarism, which is what happened in the late Roman Republic. There was energy for land reform. There were a variety of people who had rich parents who tried to lead these people demanding land reform, in part because they were a little grandiose and they wanted to be in charge, but they were also well-meaning. People like Cicero slagged all these people off as demagogues. Don't watch Historia Civilis on YouTube, because that guy's a total Ciceronian. He totally slags off the popularity. He drives me crazy. A lot of this is in part in reaction to the ways in which the French Revolution reminded people of the late Roman Republic. That casts a certain pall because many of the same things happen. You get a period of contestation among lots of different people, ending in one person ruling ostensibly to affirm the ideals of the revolution, but also often making decisions which protect an order associated with the ruling class. That's Bonaparte and that is, of course, the Principate, Augustus, etc. Julius Caesar was killed, so we don't really get to know. Anytime the Senate kills somebody, I take that as maybe a vote of confidence in what they might have done. But you can't know because the Senate killed them. Same thing goes for Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus.
In terms of where liberalism definitively emerges, the distinctive liberal thing is imagining Reason as replacing God initially, and reason is associated with the individual's capacity to reason. You see that a lot in the 18th century. Once you get to a point where it becomes obvious to the liberals that reason cannot replace God, that you can't have a universalistic consensus built around individual reason, I call this post-Nietzschean liberalism, or the darker form of liberalism, which you'd associate with Max Weber. Through Max Weber, discussion of that comes into the Frankfurt School, comes into Marxism, and through the appropriation of that tradition, contemporary liberals are returning to aspects of that. In the U.S., there's a tendency to stick to 18th century thinking and pre-Nietzschean classical liberals. These liberals fundamentally don't understand the impossibility of replacing the Catholic consensus with Reason. Because of this, they're a bit on the wrong foot. They are subscribing to an ideology which totally failed in Europe early on and was superseded by a form of liberalism that was more dialectical in its approach and in its attitude to ruling. James Harrington had an enormous influence on Marx and shouldn't be discounted. Harrington emphasized that the class that is dominant dictates the form of the state.
JH: It’s important to understand that Marx was a very promiscuous reader who raided sources. The books are my slaves, he said, not my masters. He rarely coined a new term. “The social” was coined by Louis de Bonald as a protest against liberalism. It’s an intriguing mash-up of the liberal democratic ideal with the conservative critique of it. Marx was, after all, a student of Hegel, who was a conservative figure, if in a confused way. They were keen on Carlyle. In the Manifesto, that piece about the “cash-nexus” comes from Carlyle. Is there anything we can learn from all this? “Dictatorship of the proletariat” is a rewording of Burke, who talked about the “despotism of the multitude,” and I suspect it was a kind of gag, which was often made, by the way, by the Chartists. Marx and Engels are English Chartists, among the other things they were. There was a guy who had a magazine called Pig’s Meat because Burke had referred to the “swinish multitude.” “Dictatorship of the proletariat” was a genius inversion of what was meant to be an insult, and he turns it into “yes, the very poorest, we are going to be the richest.” Somebody wrote The Wise Wound (1978), a book talking about women. The “radical chains” conception, that the worse off you are the better off you are – I’m not sure is entirely going there. We are in a moment when people who have been excluded are protesting that. It would be interesting to see where that goes. |P
Transcribed by Erin Hagood
 James Heartfield, Spencer Leonard, Anthony Monteiro, and Benjamin Studebaker, “Marxism and liberalism” (April 1, 2022), the transcript of which appears in Platypus Review 150 (October 2022), available online at <https://platypus1917.org/2022/10/01/marxism-and-liberalism-2/>, and the video is available at <https://youtu.be/KyjKMoaoH0E>.
 Daniel Burnfin, Parker McQueeney, Anthony Monteiro, Andy Thayer, “What is Leadership for the Left?” (April 1, 2022), hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society, the video of which is available at <https://youtu.be/i_iORUx7sms>.
 V. I. Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism” (1913), available online at <https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/mar/x01.htm>.