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An interview with Lawrence Parker, the author of Communists and Labour: The National Left-Wing Movement, 1925-1929, conducted by Efraim Carlebach of the Platypus Affiliated Society on July 21, 2018.

An edited transcript of the interview was published in the Platypus Review Issue #111.

Between us we can change this rotten society. Now, put on your coat and make for the nearest cinema. Look at their deadly love-making on the screen. Isn’t it better in real life? Make up your mind to learn to love. Then, during the interval, when the first advertisements come on, pick up your tomatoes or, if you prefer, your eggs, and chuck them. Then get out into the street, and peel off all the latest government proclamations until underneath you discover the message of the days of May and June.

Stay awhile in the street. Look at the passers-by and remind yourself: the last word has not yet been said. Then act. Act with others, not for them. Make the revolution here and now. It is your own. C’est pour toi que tu fais la révolution.

— Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative


Recommended films for screening

+ Brother Outsider: The Bayard Rustin Story
+ Rebels with a Cause: The SDS
+ Medium Cool
+ Columbia Revolt
+ The Weather Underground
+ Finally Got the News


Recommended background readings

+ Students for a Democratic Society, Port Huron Statement (1962)
+ Irwin Unger, The Movement (1974); see also Unger’s retrospective of 1968

Further background readings

+ Kirkpatrick Sale, SDS (1973)
+ Massimo Teodori, The New Left (1969)
+ Harold Jacobs, Weatherman (1970)


required / + recommended reading


Primary book source *

• Carl Oglesby, ed. The New Left Reader (1968)


Week 1 | June 13

• Stuart Hall, "Introducing New Left Review"
• C. Wright Mills, "Letter to the New Left" and "The politics of responsibility" *
• Leszek Kolakowski, "The concept of the Left" *
• Herbert Marcuse, "Conclusion to One-Dimensional Man" *


Week 2 | June 20

• Carl Oglesby, "The idea of the New Left" *
• Louis Althusser, "Contradiction and over-determination" *
+ Althusser, "Marxism and humanism"


Week 3 | June 27

• Cliff Slaughter, "What is revolutionary leadership?"
Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party/U.S., "In defense of a revolutionary perspective"
Spartacist League, "Genesis of Pabloism"


Week 4 | July 4

• Malcolm X, "I don't mean bananas" *
• Huey Newton, "A prison interview" *
Spartacist League, "Soul power or workers' power? The rise and fall of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers"
+ Harold Cruse, from The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual Part 1 Part 2


Week 5 | July 11

• Andre Gorz, from Strategy for Labor *
Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams, E.P. Thompson, from The May Day Manifesto *


Week 6 | July 18

• Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, "The battle of the streets," from Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative *
• Rudi Dutschke, "On anti-authoritarianism" *
• Mark Rudd, "Columbia: Notes on the Spring rebellion" *
Sorbonne students' open assembly of June 13-14, 1968, "The appeal from the Sorbonne" *
Tom Fawthorpe, Tom Nairn, David Triesman, "Three student risings" *


Week 7 | July 25

Marcuse, "The question of revolution" (1967)
+ Theodor 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)
Adorno, “Marginalia to Theory and Praxis” (1969)
Adorno, “Resignation” (1969)
+ Adorno, Interview with Der Spiegel magazine (1969)

Week 11. What is Marxism? VI. Class consciousness | Jan. 16, 2018

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, 2018

Korsch, “Marxism and philosophy” (1923)
+ Being and becoming (freedom in transformation) / immanent dialectical critique chart of terms
+ 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 2018

II. Introduction to revolutionary Marxism

Week 13. Revolutionary leadership | Jan. 30, 2018

• 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, 2018

Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution? (1900/08)
+ Eugene Debs, "Competition versus Cooperation" (1900)


Week 15. Lenin and the vanguard party | Feb. 13, 2018

Spartacist League, Lenin and the Vanguard Party (1978)


Week 16. What is to be done? | Feb. 20, 2018

• 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, 2018

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


Week 18. Permanent revolution | Mar. 6, 2018

• 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. 13, 2018

Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917)


Week 20. Imperialism | Mar. 20, 2018

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. Failure of the revolution | Mar 27, 2018

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)
+ Eugene Debs, “The Day of the People” (1919)
+ Sebastian Haffner, Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918–19 (1968)


Easter Break | Apr. 3, 2018


International Convention Break | Apr. 10, 2018


Week 22. Retreat after revolution | Apr. 17, 2018

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


Week 23. Dialectic of reification | Apr. 24, 2018

Lukács, “The Standpoint of the Proletariat” (Part III of “Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat,” 1923). Available in three sections from marxists.org: section 1 section 2 section 3
+ Being and becoming (freedom in transformation) / immanent dialectical critique chart of terms


Week 24. Lessons of October | May 1, 2018

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


Week 25. Trotskyism | May 8, 2018

+ 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 26. The authoritarian state | May 15, 2018

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


Week 27. On the concept of history | May 22, 2018

• 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)
+ Being and becoming (freedom in transformation) / immanent dialectical critique chart of terms


Week 28. Reflections on Marxism | May 29, 2018

• Theodor Adorno, “Reflections on Class Theory” (1942)
Adorno, “Imaginative Excesses” (1944–47)
+ Being and becoming (freedom in transformation) / immanent dialectical critique chart of terms
+ 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 29. Theory and practice | Jun. 5, 2018

+ Adorno, “On Subject and Object” (1969)
Adorno, “Marginalia to Theory and Praxis” (1969)
Adorno, “Resignation” (1969)
+ Being and becoming (freedom in transformation) / immanent dialectical critique chart of terms
+ 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)

Tuesdays
6pm - 9pm
Starbucks, St. Katherine's House, 10 Kingsway

March 23, 2017 | London School of Economics 

With speakers (in order):

Jack Conrad (Communist Party of Great Britain / Weekly Worker) 
Adam Buick (Socialist Party of Great Britain) 
Robin Halpin (translator or works by the Exit! group)  

Moderated by Nunzia Faes

Panel Description:

This panel invites you to reflect on the history of social democracy from a leftist viewpoint. Such a perspective raises the spectre of the socialist Second International, the Marxist political organisation that led the workers’ movement for socialism around the turn of the 20th century.
In the U.S., this politics found its expression in Eugene Debs, a radical labour leader converted to Marxism in prison by reading the German Marxist, Karl Kautsky. In Germany, in Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht’s Communist Party of Germany, inheritor of the Spartacus League’s opposition to joining the German state’s war effort during the First World War. And in Russia, most famously, in the capture of state power by the Bolshevik Party led by Lenin. Thus the Second International gave rise to what is arguably the greatest attempt to change the world in history: the revolutions of 1917–19 in Russia, Germany, Hungary, and Italy. In these revolutions, Communists split from Social Democrats, the latter of whom formed the bulwark of counterrevolution.


During much of the 20th century, a Marxist-Leninist approach to history prevailed on much of the hard left, according to which the Second International revolutionaries had effectively superseded the politics of more right-wing figures within social democracy, such as Kautsky. The Third International has in this respect been widely accepted as an advance upon the Second. In the 1930s, the rise of fascism seemed to sideline the Communist vs. Social Democrat controversy. A generation later, after World War II, these same Social Democratic parties in the West engaged in wide-ranging reforms, while still opposing Communism in the East. For a few decades of supposed “convergence” between East and West, it seemed that the earlier evolutionary view of achieving socialism, contra Communist revolution, might be proven correct.


But the New Left in the West emerged in opposition to such reformism, in search of a more radical politics. The New Left saw itself as in keeping with the earlier revolutionary tradition, even with the significant changes offered to it. In the neoliberal era, however, the division between reform and revolution has been blurred if not erased. Today, by contrast, social democracy is on the defensive against neoliberalism, even while its memory is resuscitated by such phenomena as SYRIZA, Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, and Bernie Sanders. But, do we in fact need to reckon with the earlier history of Marxism—the split between Communists and Social Democrats—in order to understand the problem and project of social democracy today? How are the questions of social democracy and social revolution related today, in light of history? What has social democracy come to signify politically?