Panel held at the Marxist Literary Group Summer 2011 Institute on Culture and Society at the Institute for the Humanities, University of Illinois at Chicago on June 22, 2011
The legacy of revolution 1917-19 in Russia, Germany, Hungary and Italy is concentrated above all in the historical figures Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky, leaders of the Left in the Second International (1889-1914) — what they called “revolutionary social democracy” — in the period preceding the crisis of war, revolution, counterrevolution and civil war in World War I and its aftermath. In 1920, Georg Lukács summed up this experience as follows: “[T]he crisis [of capital] remains permanent, it goes back to its starting-point, repeats the cycle until after infinite sufferings and terrible detours the school of history completes the education of the proletariat and confers upon it the leadership of mankind. . . . Of course this uncertainty and lack of clarity are themselves the symptoms of the crisis in bourgeois society. As the product of capitalism the proletariat must necessarily be subject to the modes of existence of its creator. . . . inhumanity and reification.” Nonetheless, these Marxists understood their politics as being “on the basis of capitalism” itself (Lenin). How were the 2nd Intl. radicals, importantly, critics, and not merely advocates, of their own political movement? What is the legacy of these figures today, after the 20th century — as Walter Benjamin said in his 1940 “Theses on the Philosophy of History,” “against the grain” of their time, reaching beyond it? How did Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky contribute to the potential advancement and transformation of Marxism, in and through the crisis of Marxism in the early 20th century? How can we return to these figures productively, today, to learn the lessons of their history?
Platypus President's report by Chris Cutrone at the third annual Platypus Affiliated Society international convention, Chicago, May 1, 2011.
The usual ways of categorizing various trends on the "Left" today have become less useful for distinguishing politically and indicating potential future developments. Trends have defied historical or expected trajectories -- if these in fact ever applied properly -- and so call for a new and different approach to sort out what we're dealing with today and are likely to encounter going forward. Platypus has been rightly recognized (if only occasionally and intermittently) for traversing if not transcending these categories in the approach of our project. Other sets of categories that can be usefully problematized by the "anti-fascist" vs. "anti-imperialist" division are: 1.) socialist vs. liberal; 2.) libertarian vs. authoritarian; and 3.) anti-Stalinist vs. Stalinist.
Panel discussion at the 3rd annual Platypus Affiliated Society international convention, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, April 30, 2011.
How does the prominence of Alain Badiou's approach to communism today speak to the present historical moment and its emancipatory possibilities? Badiou has prioritized May 1968 in France and the contemporaneous Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China for his conception of communism and its potential future. As a former student of Louis Althusser and follower of Jacques Lacan, as well as a philosopher of mathematics, Badiou's work has emphasized a radical ontology of the "event" to describe revolutionary transformation. In describing the politics of communism, Badiou has traced its modern history to the Jacobin phase of the French Revolution, periodizing modern communism's two great "sequences" from 1792-1871 and 1917-76. How does Badiou's conception of communism relate to the history of Marxism in the 20th century, with its roots in the 19th century? How does Badiou's work address the problem of capital, in Marx's terms, or not, and what are the implications of Badiou's communism for anticapitalist politics, moving forward? What does Badiou's work say about the relation of Marxism and communism today?
Please note: The recording for this panel was started mid-way through Chris Cutrone's talk. The full text of Cutrone's is available online here.
The opening plenary of the 3rd annual Platypus Affiliated Society international convention, held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, on April 29, 2011.
Recently, the New Left Review published a translated conversation between the critical theorists Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer causing more than a few murmurs and gasps. In the course of their conversation, Adorno comments that he had always wanted to “develop a theory that remains faithful to Marx, Engels and Lenin, while keeping up with culture at its most advanced.” Adorno, it seems, was a Leninist. As surprising as this evidence might have been to some, is it not more shocking that Adorno’s politics, and the politics of Critical Theory, have remained taboo for so long? Was it really necessary to wait until Adorno and Horkheimer admitted their politics in print to understand that their primary preoccupation was with maintaining Marxism’s relation to bourgeois critical philosophy (Kant and Hegel)? This panel proposes to state the question as directly as possible and to simply ask: How did the practice and theory of Marxism, from Marx to Lenin, make possible and necessary the politics of Critical Theory?
Co-sponsored by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Departments of Art Education, Art History, Liberal Arts, and Visual and Critical Studies, and the SAIC Student Association.
Chris Cutrone, Platypus (School of the Art Institute of Chicago)
Andrew Feenberg (Simon Fraser University)
Richard Westerman (University of Chicago)
Respondent: Nicholas Brown (University of Illinois at Chicago)
A teach-in by Platypus member Chris Cutrone held on Tuesday, April 12th, 2011, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Alain Badiou’s recent book (2010) is titled with the phrase promoted by his and Slavoj Zizek’s work for the last few years, “the communist hypothesis.” Zizek has spoken of “the Badiou event” as opening new horizons for both philosophy and communism. Badiou and Zizek share a background in Lacanian and Althusserian “post-structuralist” French thought, in common with other prominent post-New Left thinkers — and former students of Louis Althusser — such as Etienne Balibar and Jacques Rancière. Althusser found, in the Russian and Chinese Revolutions, a salutary challenge to the notion of the Hegelian “logic of history,” that revolutionary change could and indeed did happen as a matter of contingency. For Badiou, this means that emancipation must be conceived of as an “event,” which involves a fundamental reconsideration of ontology.
Badiou, “The Communist Hypothesis” (2008)
Cutrone, “Chinoiserie: A Critique of the RCP, USA on Badiou” (2010)
Badiou, “Tunisia, Egypt: The Universal Reach of Popular Uprisings” (2011)
Wal Suchting, “Althusser’s Late Thinking about Materialism” (2004)