As a part of the 10th annual Platypus International Convention, we hosted a panel on the history of Platypus and its engagement with the Left. Held April 7th, 2018 at the School of the Art Institute Chicago. The discussion was moderated by Erin Hagood.
Ian Morrison (1st Phase: Anti-war Movement / Anti-Imperialism)
Spencer Leonard (2nd Phase: The "Marxist Turn" / IBT, CPGB Engagement)
Tom Carey (3rd Phase: #Occupy / Marxism and Anarchism)
Ed Remus (Protracted 4th Phase: Syriza, Podemos / What is Political Party for the Left?)
Omair H (4 ½ Phase: The "Socialist Turn" / Millennial Left)
Draining the swamp, psychoanalyst of the Left, and training the next generation of revolutionaries, are all more or less problematic formulations which we have used to describe what motivates the Platypus project. That given, these formulations all betray a peculiar attachment to that which Platypus wishes to forget: the dead Left. Perhaps they express a secret and difficult desire: that the object of critique might also be saved from the swamp, be receptive to the analysis, or indeed might learn better from our pedagogy. And yet we admit that this will not be the case.
The task of this panel is not so much to inoculate such formulations, rather it aims to dissect them, to observe the motivations of our activity within Platypus, especially where we encounter the greatest difficulty for reflection—that is, when we mean to regard our activity as Platypus itself. With these thoughts in mind, we propose to ask ourselves: Who is Platypus for? How do we assess our progress—as a membership? as an organization? How do we identify our audience?—and how do we become a Platypus for them?
The history of the Platypus Critique begins with a judgment issued on the dead-end course of the 20th century, indeed on the situation arrived at by all history preceding: that the Left has lived and died; that the ‘progress of freedom’ continues to exhaust itself in chimerical forms—a Platypus among others. But this judgment was not passed in condemnation, with the same breath it cried also: Long Live the Left! The very unnaturalness of the historical chimera, it was thought, might mask—and hence disclose—the purpose of its true nature. At least for those still learning how to look upon its monstrous features, illumined by the thought that “the new does not add itself to the old but remains the old in distress, in its hour of need...”
But today, this problematic has itself matured. We have now a ‘first decade’ of the Platypus Critique—this has consequences for the continuing possibility of such a critique. Today, perhaps, the swamp of the dead Left drains itself—in fact, this was already the case even before the first moments of the Platypus Critique. We must admit: our glance is retrospective, our pronouncements made post-festum. But they, like capital, accumulate. It is left for us to reason through this process, and so reflect on our reflection of the past which is the present.
Panel organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society presented at the 2011 Naturfreundejugend (Friends of Nature) Berlin Herrschaftskritisches Sommercamp, held in August 2011.
Introducing Platypus: Hosting the conversation on the death of the Left
What is Platypus?
We will present on the recent history of the Left in the U.S. through the history of the emergence and activities of our new student organization, the Platypus Affiliated Society. Platypus was established in 2006 in response to the failure of the Iraq anti-war movement. We formed an organization dedicated to "hosting the conversation" on the death of the Left. In particular, Adorno's critique of the 1960s New Left resonated powerfully, and led us to explore Adorno's assumptions from the history of Marxism. We find the most interesting and deepest questions and problems of modern history to be raised by Marxism, but not exclusively so. We hope to help clear or at least call critical attention to the present and historical ideological obstacles to the potential for forming a cosmopolitan Left as a truly progressive-emancipatory force.
The history of Platypus
Our first two public fora were in 2007, on the questions of "imperialism" and the anti-war movement, and "resistance" and the problems of neo-anarchism originating in the 1960s. Since then, we have held many further public fora on different topics, such as: the relation between art, culture and politics; immigration; Iran; Israel-Palestine; the labor movement; philosophy and critical theory; and sexual liberation. Also in 2007 we began publishing the Platypus Review, as our forum-in-print for contending perspectives on the Left and its history, reviewing monthly Platypus's various public activities and engagements. Platypus participated in the newly refounded Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), for instance, in collaboration with U.S. Labor Against the War, presenting workshops on the Iraqi Left, and we helped to organize new chapters of the SDS. But with the historical shift of the collapse of the anti-war movement, the financial crisis and economic downturn, and the election of Obama as U.S. President in 2008, Platypus has turned to more independent activity in hosting the conversation on the absence of a true Left, seeking to present more directly questions and problems from the history of Marxism, as guide to why and how the world has arrived at its present state.
Platypus's organizational aims and goals -- an international conversation
We aim at primarily student audiences and participation, trying to intervene in the reproduction of the bad "Left" that takes place pedagogically through both the academic and activist environments to which students are exposed. Beginning in 2009, we began participating in and hosting panel discussions at the annual national conference of the American Left, the Left Forum in New York City, and holding our own annual international convention in Chicago. Beyond the U.S., we have expanded internationally in Canada, Germany, Greece and the U.K., bringing the conversation we seek to host onto a greater global stage. We seek to establish and coordinate as many chapters for doing this work of hosting the conversation on the death of the Left, in as many campus locations, internationally, as possible, in order to make palpable the present absence but continued urgent need for a real Left.
Panel held as part of the third annual Platypus International Convention, on Saturday, April 30th, 2011, at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
After its apparent exhaustion as a project of social transformation, Marxism seems to remain alive as a cultural and hermeneutic endeavor. Self-avowedly Marxist theorists -- Zizek, Badiou, Ranciere -- exert a heavy, if opaque, influence on the self-understanding and practice of contemporary art and inspire research programs in the humanities. Despite its radical appeal, "Marxist" theory may ultimately flatter the political and aesthetic claims of the present. Could investigation of of the now obscure historical Marxist cultural critique of Leon Trotsky, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin bring to recognition, and therein challenge the inadaquecies of the present? What opaque historical transformations does the difficulty of such work indicate? How might the long-abused concepts of autonomy, medium specificity, kitsch, avant garde -- form part of what Marx called the "ruthless critique of the present." What might the problems of aesthetics and culture have to do with the political project of the self-education of the Left?
Panel organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society given at the 2011 annual conference of the Cultural Studies Association in Chicago, IL on Thursday, March 24th, 2011, at Columbia College, Chicago.
Benjamin Shepard - Independent Scholar (Los Angeles), Platypus Affiliated Society
Jacob Cayia - University of Illinois - Chicago
Omair Hussain - School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Lucy Parker - School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Greg Gabrellas (chair) - University of Chicago, Platypus Affiliated Society