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 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 20, 2011
The “bourgeois revolutions” from the 16th through the 19th centuries — extending into the 20th — conformed humanity to modern city life, ending traditional, pastoral, religious custom in favor of social relations of the exchange of labor. Abbé Sieyès wrote in 1789 that, in contradistinction to the clerical 1st Estate who “prayed” and the aristocratic 2nd Estate who “fought,” the commoner 3rd Estate “worked:” “What has the 3rd Estate been? Nothing.” “What is it? Everything.” Kant warned that universal bourgeois society would be the mere midpoint in humanity’s achievement of freedom. After the last bourgeois revolutions in Europe of 1848 failed, Marx wrote of the “constitution of capital,” the ambivalent, indeed self-contradictory character of “free wage labor.” In the late 20th century, the majority of humanity abandoned agriculture in favor of urban life — however in “slum cities.” How does the bourgeois revolution appear from a Marxian point of view? How did what Marx called the “proletarianization” of society circa 1848 signal not only the crisis and supersession, but the need to fulfill and “complete” the bourgeois revolution, whose task now fell to the politics of “proletarian” socialism, expressed by the workers’ call for “social democracy?” How did this express the attempt, as Lenin put it, to overcome bourgeois society “on the basis of capitalism” itself? How did subsequent Marxism lose sight of Marx on this, and how might Marx’s perspective on the crisis of the bourgeois revolution in the 19th century still resonate today?
Spencer Leonard, “Marx’s critique of political economy: Proletarian socialism continuing the bourgeois revolution?”
Pamela Nogales, “Marx on the U.S. Civil War as the 2nd American Revolution”
Jeremy Cohan, “Lukács on Marx’s Hegelianism and the dialectic of Marxism”
A panel discussion organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society, held on March 20, 2011 at Left Forum, Pace University.
Marx and Engels were not the preeminent socialists but rather socialism's greatest critics, distinguishing their "communism" from "reactionary," "bourgeois" and "democratic" socialism. Lately, Marx is taken for his theoretical analysis of capitalism more than his and Engels's revolutionary politics, discredited after the 20th century's spectacular failures of "Marxism." So what is Marx and Engels's political legacy? What Marx wrote after the failed "social-democratic" revolutions of 1848 still resonates: "Every demand of the simplest bourgeois financial reform, of the most ordinary liberalism, of the most formal republicanism, of the most insipid democracy, is simultaneously castigated as an 'attempt on society' and stigmatized as 'socialism'." How does Marx and Engels's politics of "communism," that is, socialism aware of its historical vocation, task us today?
A panel discussion held on May 29, 2010 at the second Platypus International Convention at SAIC.
The late 1960s and early 1970s witnessed the rise of a new militancy and sectarianism on the Left. Whether in the case of the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the Gay Liberation Front, or many other currents on the Left, developments from that time did much to shape the New Left's legacy as it comes down to the present. This panel seeks to move beyond the usual antinomies of unity versus fragmentation and idealism versus sectarianism that typically shape the discussion of the political trajectories of the period. Instead, it will attempt to grasp these turn of the decade developments as the results of long-standing problems inherited and confronted, yet ultimately abandoned and left unresolved by the New Left.