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You are here: The Platypus Affiliated Society/Archive for category 2016
Politics as a personal racket—no one has perfected this science better than the Clintons, a power couple that decided very early in their political careers on what they deemed “The Journey,” that eight years of Bill's presidency would inevitably be followed by eight years of Hillary
Famously, Clement Greenberg wrote in 1939 that the avant-garde is connected to the bourgeoisie by an “umbilical cord of gold.” This image has become so familiar that its peculiarities are rarely commented upon. The point is not simply the obvious one for Marxists, that art reflects the interests of a bourgeois class.

Location and time:

Thursday 11 February 2016, 7pm

RHB 144 Goldsmiths, New Cross, SE14 6NW

(Main Building - Lewisham Way)

Confirmed Speakers:

Jack Conrad - CPGB / Weekly Worker

Elaine Graham-Leigh - Counterfire

Jamie Green - Goldsmiths Labour Students / Momentum

Judith Shapiro - London School of Economics

Panel Description:

The conditions for the novel political formations of Syriza and Podemos developed out of the disintegration of the traditional Social Democratic parties in Greece and Spain. Jeremy Corbyn, the new leader of the Labour Party in Britain, argued for greater democracy in the party and invoked Labour's origins in working-class organisation and socialism. Yet it is unclear by the invocation exactly what is being remembered, and what is being forgotten. The Bernie Sanders campaign as a "socialist" candidate for leadership of the US Democratic Party appears equally obscure. Precisely when historical consciousness is most necessary, the project of Social Democracy seems to be fading from memory. Little remains of the foundation moment of Social Democracy today, both in practice and thought.

In the late nineteenth century, working people’s response to capital was expressed in the political demand for Socialism. This demand galvanized the formation of European Social Democratic parties guided by the ideology of Marxism. Among the most influential members of the German Social Democratic Party, the political leaders of the Second International, agreed that the primary task of Social Democratic parties was bringing about the dictatorship of the proletariat, that is, the decisive political struggle between capital and labor. And while some of these leftist ultimately found the revolution too risky in the decisive decades of the 1910s and 1920s, even their political judgment is far to the left to those Social Democratic party members who, after World War II, openly espoused the integration of workers into a more just and thus more democratic capitalist order.

Once a global movement for the self-emancipation of the working class, today’s social democratic parties have fully substituted the task of educating workers in order to overthrow capitalism, with the task of creating and maintaining the conditions for a more just market economy. The present standpoint of social democracy is society as such, bound by national economies and mediated by the state. Social Democracy today promises to fight socialinjustice in the name of the people, but it no longer promises to realize socialism.

Yet what remains is the name, and with it the promise and the problem of Social Democracy.
In this panel we would like to investigate this transformation by looking at the history, the birth and decline, of Social Democracy. How can we understand the historical crisis of social democracy for the Left today? How, if at all, could the trajectory of social democracy shed light on problems yet to be superseded on the Left today?


1. What was Social Democracy? How was it constituted, how did it form and what was it ideological foundation?  What problem did it address and what promises did it make?

2.  What role did Social Democracy play for the Left throughout the 19th and 20th century? How has this role changed? How did it affect the world and how was it affected by a changing world? When did it come into its own?

3.  Was the promise of Social Democracy fulfilled? If yes, how, if no, why did it fail? The current crisis of the Left reveals a need for a reconsideration of Socialist Politics, yet Social Democratic parties are on the retreat and are unable to offer a credible alternative.  What does this crisis tell us about the success, failure and the need for Social Democracy?

4.  What would you characterize as the beginning moment of the crisis of Social Democracy? Was it the revisionist dispute in 1903, the voting of the war credits in 1914, the Russian Revolution of 1917, the New Left of 1960, the crisis of Fordism in the 1970s, the Reagan and Thatcher era of 1980s, the creation of New Labour in 1994 or the economic crisis of 2008?

5.  Taken at face value today, is Social Democracy still project of the Left? Does Social Democracy represent a way forward, or a road block?  Do we need a return of the politics of Social Democracy?  What problems would they address today, and what lessons could be gained from its reconsideration?


II. Introduction to revolutionary Marxism

Chicago: Mondays 6–9PM CST

School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
112 S. Michigan Ave. room 818

• 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:

+ 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)
+ Sebastian Haffner, Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918–19 (1968)
+ Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (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

Film screenings: January 2016

• 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)

Winter 2016

I. What is the "Left?" -- What is "Marxism?"

Week 10. What is Marxism? V. Reification | Jan. 9, 2016

• Georg Lukács, “The phenomenon of reification” (Part I of “Reification and the consciousness of the proletariat,” History and Class Consciousness, 1923)

+ Commodity form chart of terms

Week 11. What is Marxism? VI. Class consciousness | Jan. 16, 2016

• Lukács, Original Preface (1922), “What is Orthodox Marxism?” (1919), “Class Consciousness” (1920), History and Class Consciousness (1923)
+ Marx, Preface to the First German Edition and Afterword to the Second German Edition (1873) of Capital (1867), pp. 294–298, 299–302

Week 12. What is Marxism? VII. Ends of philosophy | Jan. 23, 2016

• Korsch, “Marxism and philosophy” (1923)
+ Marx, To make the world philosophical (from Marx's dissertation, 1839–41), pp. 9–11
+ Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existing (letter to Arnold Ruge, September 1843), pp. 12–15
+ Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach" (1845), pp. 143–145

Winter–Spring 2016

II. Introduction to revolutionary Marxism

Week 13. Revolutionary leadership | Jan. 30, 2016

• Rosa Luxemburg, “The Crisis of German Social Democracy” 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? | Feb. 6, 2016

• Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution? (1900/08)

Week 15. Lenin and the vanguard party | Feb. 13, 2016

• Spartacist League, Lenin and the Vanguard Party (1978)

Week 16. What is to be done? | Feb. 20, 2016

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

Week 17. Mass strike and social democracy | Feb. 27, 2016

• Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions (1906)
+ Luxemburg, "Blanquism and Social Democracy" (1906)

Week 18. Permanent revolution | Mar. 5, 2016

• Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects (1906)
+ Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)

Week 19. State and revolution | Mar. 12, 2016

• Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917)

Week 20. Imperialism | Mar. 19, 2016

• Lenin, Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism (1916)
+ Lenin, Socialism and War Ch. 1 The principles of socialism and the War of 1914–15 (1915)

Week 21. Mar. 26, 2016 (spring break)

Week 22. Apr. 2, 2016 [Platypus international convention]

Week 23. Failure of the revolution | Apr. 9, 2016

• Luxemburg, “What does the Spartacus League Want?” (1918)
• Luxemburg, “On the Spartacus Programme” (1918)
+ Luxemburg, "German Bolshevism" (AKA "The Socialisation of Society") (1918)
+ Luxemburg, “The Russian Tragedy” (1918)
+ Luxemburg, “Order Reigns in Berlin” (1919)
+ Sebastian Haffner, Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918–19 (1968)

Week 24. Retreat after revolution | Apr. 16, 2016

• Lenin, “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder (1920)
+ Lenin, "Notes of a Publicist" (1922)

Week 25. Dialectic of reification | Apr. 23, 2016

• Lukács, “The Standpoint of the Proletariat” (Part III of “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” 1923). Available in three sections from section 1 section 2 section 3

Week 26. Lessons of October | Apr. 30, 2016

• Trotsky, The Lessons of October (1924) [PDF] + Trotsky, "Stalinism and Bolshevism" (1937)

Week 27. Trotskyism | May 7, 2016

+ Trotsky, "To build communist parties and an international anew" (1933)
• Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (1938)
+ Trotsky, "Trade unions in the epoch of imperialist decay" (1940)
+ Trotsky, Letter to James Cannon (September 12, 1939)

Week 28. The authoritarian state | May 14, 2016

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

Week 29. On the concept of history | May 21, 2016

• epigraphs by Louis Menand (on Edmund Wilson) and Peter Preuss (on Nietzsche) on the modern concept of history
+ 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?)
• Benjamin, "On the Concept of History" (AKA "Theses on the Philosophy of History") (1940) [PDF] • Benjamin, Paralipomena to "On the Concept of History" (1940)

Week 30. Reflections on Marxism | May 28, 2016

• 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 31. Theory and practice | Jun. 4, 2016

+ Adorno, “On Subject and Object” (1969)
• Adorno, “Marginalia to Theory and Praxis” (1969)
• Adorno, “Resignation” (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)

II. Introduction to revolutionary Marxism