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Part II. Introduction to revolutionary Marxism

March 13 – July 17

Mondays 7–10pm

Zossener Str. 56, 10961 Berlin (Eingang A. 4. Stock. Buzzer: Zizoo)

Join us as we embark on our 4-month-long reading group.

We will discuss key texts from the high period of the history of Marxism in the 2nd International and the crisis of Marxism in the early 20th century. We will address the problem of consciousness of this history and its potential political implications in the present. Readings include Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, the philosophical reflections on Marxism by Lukacs and Korsch, and their ramifications in the Frankfurt School Critical Theory of Walter Benjamin, Horkheimer, and Adorno.

The discussion will be in English but texts are available in German below.

  • required/ + recommended reading

Marx and Engels readings pp. from Robert C. Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader (Norton 2nd ed., 1978)

Recommended winter break preliminary readings:

• Sebastian HaffnerFailure of a Revolution: Germany 1918–19(1968)
+ Leszek Kolakowski, “The concept of the Left” (1968)
+ Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate / A&Z, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution / Lenin for Beginners (1977)
+ Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid. (1980)
+ James Joll, The Second International 1889–1914 (1966)
+ Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station: A Study in the Writing and Acting of History (1940), Part II. Ch. (1–4,) 5–10, 12–16; Part III. Ch. 1–6

Recommended viewing: March and April 2017

• 37 Days(2014) [Episode 1] [Episode 2] [Episode 3]
• Fall of Eagles (1974) episodes: "Absolute Beginners," "The Secret War," and "End Game"
• Rosa Luxemburg (1986)
• Oliver Stone's Untold History of the United States (2012) Episodes A (1900-20) and B (1920-40)
• Reds (1981)

Spring-Summer 2017 syllabus

Introduction to revolutionary Marxism 

Week 13. Revolutionary leadership | March 13, 2017

•  Rosa Luxemburg, “The Crisis of German Social Democracy” Part I / “Die ‘Junius-Broschüre’ / Krise der Sozialdemokratie”Teil I Part 1 (1915)
•  J. P. Nettl“The German Social Democratic Party 1890–1914 as a Political Model”(1965)
•  Cliff Slaughter, “What is Revolutionary Leadership?” (1960)

Week 14. Reform or revolution? | March 20

•  LuxemburgReform or Revolution?/ "Sozialreform oder Revolution"


Week 15. Lenin and the vanguard party | March 27

•  Spartacist LeagueLenin and the Vanguard Party/ “Lenin und die Avantgardepartei” (1978)

Week 16. What is to be done? | April 3

•  V. I. LeninWhat is to be Done?/ "Was tun?" (1902)
+ Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate / A&Z, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution /Lenin for Beginners (1977)

Break: April 10, 2017 [Platypus international convention] 

Week 17. Mass strike and social democracy | April 17

•  LuxemburgThe Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions/  „Massenstreik, Partei und Gewerkschaften“  (1906)
+ Luxemburg, "Blanquism and Social Democracy" / „Blanquismus und Sozialdemokratie"  (1906)

Week 18. Permanent revolution | April 24

•  Leon TrotskyResults and Prospects/ "Ergebnisse und Perspektiven" (1906)
+ Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Error! Hyperlink reference not valid.(1980)

Week 19. State and revolution | May 1

•  LeninThe State and Revolution/ "Staat und Revolution"  (1917)

Week 22. Failure of the revolution | May 8

•  Luxemburg“What does the Spartacus League Want?”/  "Was will der Spartakusbund?" (1918)
•  Luxemburg“On the Spartacus Programme” / "Unser Programm und die politische Situation" (1918)
+ Luxemburg, 
"German Bolshevism" (AKA "The Socialisation of Society") (1918)
+ Luxemburg, “The Russian Tragedy” / "Die Sozialisierung der Gesellschaft" (1918)
+ Luxemburg, 
“Order Reigns in Berlin” / "Die Sozialisierung der Gesellschaft" (1919)
+ Sebastian Haffner, 
Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918–19 / "Die deutsche Revolution 1918/19" (1968)

Week 23. Retreat after revolution | May 15

•  Lenin“Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder/ "Der „Linke Radikalismus“, die Kinderkrankheit im Kommunismus"(1920)
+ Lenin, 
"Notes of a Publicist" / "Notizen eines Publizisten" (1922)

Week 24. Dialectic of reification | May 22

•  Lukács“The Standpoint of the Proletariat”(Part III of “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” 1923). Available in three sections from marxists.orgsection 1 section 2 section 3 / “Der Standpunkt des Proletariats” (= Teil III. des Kapitels “Die Verdinglichung und das Bewußtsein des Proletariats”) In: Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein

Week 25. Lessons of October | May 29

•  TrotskyThe Lessons of October(1924) [PDF] "Die Lehren des Oktobers"
+ Trotsky, "Stalinism and Bolshevism" /  "Bolschewismus und Stalinismus" (1937)

Week 26. Trotskyism | June 5

• TrotskyThe Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International / "Der Todeskampf des Kapitalismus und die Aufgaben der 4. Internationale" (Das Übergangsprogramm) (1938)
+ Trotsky, "To build communist parties and an international anew" (1933)
+ Trotsky, "Trade unions in the epoch of imperialist decay" (1940)
+ Trotsky, Letter to James Cannon (September 12, 1939)

Week 27. The authoritarian state | June 12,

•  Friedrich Pollock"State Capitalism: Its Possibilities and Limitations"(1941) (note 32 on USSR)
•  Max Horkheimer, "The Authoritarian State" (1942)

Week 28. On the concept of history | June 19

•  Epigraphs by Louis Menand(on Edmund Wilson) and Peter Preuss(on Nietzsche) on the modern concept of history
• Benjamin"On the Concept of History" (AKA "Theses on the Philosophy of History") (1940) [PDF] • BenjaminParalipomena to "On the Concept of History"(1940)
+ Charles Baudelaire, from Fusées [Rockets] (1867)
+ Bertolt Brecht, "To posterity" (1939)
+ Walter Benjamin, "To the planetarium" (from One-Way Street, 1928)
+ Benjamin, "Experience and poverty" (1933)
+ Benjamin, Theologico-political fragment (1921/39?)

Week 29. Reflections on Marxism | June 26

•  Theodor Adorno“Reflections on Class Theory”(1942)
•  Adorno“Imaginative Excesses”(1944–47)
+ Adorno, Dedication"Bequest""Warning: Not to be Misused" and "Finale"Minima Moralia (1944–47)
+ Horkheimer and Adorno, "Discussion about Theory and Praxis" (AKA "Towards a New Manifesto?") [Deutsch] (1956)

Week 30. Theory and practice | July 3

• Adorno“Marginalia to Theory and Praxis” (1969)
• Adorno“Resignation” (1969)
+ Adorno, “On Subject and Object” (1969)
+ Adorno, “Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?” (AKA “Is Marx Obsolete?”) (1968)
+ Esther Leslie, Introduction to the 1969 Adorno-Marcuse correspondence (1999)
+ Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, correspondence on the German New Left (1969)

On November 7, 2016, the eve of the U.S. presidential election, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel discussion entitled “Immigration and the Left” at the University of Illinois at Chicago [UIC]. Moderated by Joseph Estes of Platypus, the event posed three questions to the panelists: How has the Left approached the question of immigration historically? What opportunities exist in the immigrants’ rights movement today for a renewed emancipatory politics? What role can left-wing civil and political organizations play in immigration politics? Three speakers addressed these questions: Jorge Mujica, seasoned activist and the Strategic Campaigns Organizer for Arise Chicago; Ralph Cintron, professor of English and Latino and Latin American Studies at UIC; and Jacqueline Stevens, professor of Political Science at Northwestern University. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion.
On October 23, 2016, the Platypus Affiliated Society hosted a panel discussion entitled “Immigration and the Left” at the University of Houston. Moderated by Danny Jacobs of Platypus, the event posed three questions to the panelists: How has the Left approached the question of immigration historically? What opportunities for a renewed emancipatory politics exist in the immigrants’ rights movement today? What role can left-wing civil and political organizations play in immigration politics? Three speakers addressed these questions: Alvaro Rodriguez, from the Communist Party, USA; Henry Cooper, from Proyecto Latino Americano; and Liam Wright, a veteran of Occupy Seattle and other social movements. What follows is an edited transcript of their discussion.

7:00pm / 30 November 2016
London School of Economics

Speakers (in order):

Adam Booth (writer and activist with Socialist Appeal and the International Marxist Tendency)
James Heartfield (Sp!ked / Author of 'An Unpatriotic History of the Second World War')
Patrick Neveling (SOAS Development Studies, Utrecht University Cultural Anthropology)
Paul Demarty (Weekly Worker / CPGB)

Panel description:

The Left has for over a generation – for more than 40 years, since the crisis of 1973 – placed its hopes in the Democratic and Labour Parties to reverse or slow neoliberal capitalism – the move to trans-national trade agreements, the movement of capital and labor, and austerity. The post-2008 crisis ofneoliberalism, despite phenomena such as SYRIZA, Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring and anti-austerity protests more generally, Bernie Sanders's candidacy, and Jeremy Corbyn's Labour leadership, has found expression on the avowed Right, through UKIP, Brexit, the U.K. Conservatives' move to "Red Toryism" and now Donald Trump's election. The old neoliberal consensus is falling apart, and change is palpably in the air. Margaret Thatcher's infamous phrase "There Is No Alternative" has been proven wrong. What can the Left do to advance the struggle for socialism under such circumstances?

Some background:

In the 1960s the Left faced political and social crises in an era of full employment and economic growth. Departing from official Communism, which had largely supported the development of the welfare state in industrialized capitalist countries, many on the Left challenged the existing political order, of Keynesian-Fordism, through community organising on the principle of expanding individual and collective freedom from the state. Against Keynesian economic demands, many of these Leftists supported the Rights efforts, to integrate formerly oppressed identity groups into the corporate professional-managerial class. Since the 1970s, the significance of the fact that all these aims were taken up, politically, by the Right, in the name of ‘freedom’, in the form of neo-liberalism is still ambiguous today.

Some on the Left have understood this phase of ‘neo-liberalism’ to be continuous with the post-war Fordist state, for example in Ernest Mandel’s conception of “late capitalism” and David Harvey’s idea of “post-Fordism”. The movement of labor and capital was still administered by the Fordist state. Distinctively, others on the Left have opposed neo-liberalism for over a generation through a defence of the post-war welfare state, through appeals to anti-austerity and anti-globalisation.

How does this distinction within the Left between the defense of the welfare state and the defense of individual freedom affect the Left’s response to the crisis of neo-liberalism? Why has the Left recently supported attempts to politically manage the economic crisis post-2008, against attempts at political change? How can the Left struggle for political power, with the aim of overcoming capitalism and achieving socialism, when the political expression of the crisis of neo-liberalism has largely come from the Right, and Trump won the election in November?

A panel on the politics of work held at the University of Houston, December 4, 2016 by Platypus Houston.


Dylan Daney - UNITE HERE!
David Michael Smith - Houston Socialist Movement
Duy Lap Nguyen - Professor of World Cultures and Literatures, University of Houston

"Capital is not a book about politics, and not even a book about labour: it is a book about unemployment." - Fredric Jameson, Representing Capital: A Reading of Volume One

"...the misery of being exploited by capitalists is nothing compared to the misery of not being exploited at all." - Joan Robinson

"The error consists in believing that labor, by which I mean heteronomous, salaried labor, can and must remain the essential matter. It's just not so. According to American projections, within twenty years labor time will be less than half that of leisure time. I see the task of the left as directing and promoting this process of abolition of labor in a way that will not result in a mass of unemployed on one side, and aristocracy of labor on the other and between them a proletariat which carries out the most distasteful jobs for forty-five hours a week. Instead, let everyone work much less for his salary and thus be free to act in a much more autonomous manner...Today "communism" is a real possibility and even a realistic proposition, for the abolition of salaried labor through automation saps both capitalist logic and the market economy." - Andre Gorz

It is generally assumed that Marxists and other Leftists have the political responsibility to support reforms for the improvement of the welfare of workers. Yet, leading figures from the Marxist tradition-- such as Lenin, Luxemburg and Trotsky-- also understood that such reforms would broaden the crisis of capitalism and potentially intensify contradictions that could adversely impact the immediate conditions of workers. For instance, full employment, while being a natural demand from the standpoint of all workers’ interests, also threatens the conditions of capitalist production (which rely on a surplus of available labor), thereby potentially jeopardizing the system of employment altogether. In light of such apparent paradoxes, this panel seeks to investigate the politics of work from Leftist perspectives. It will attempt to provoke reflection on and discussion of the ambiguities and dilemmas of the politics of work by including speakers from divergent perspectives, some of whom seek after the immediate abolition of labor and others of whom seek to increase the availability of employment opportunities. It is hoped that this conversation will deepen the understanding of the contemporary problems faced by the Left in its struggles to construct a politics adequate to the self-emancipation of the working class.