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On wednesday 9/14 Platypus hosted a  dialogue with Sebastian Fraenkle, editor of the influential German left journal Phase II revolving around what does contemporary landscape of left politics look like in Germany and the United States? What are the points of convergence and departure that shape left politics in these two countries? What might we learn from one another? This conversation will touch on  the legacy of 9-11, the Anti-Deutsch milieu, popular anticapitalism versus value critique, the relative prominence of the Marxist and anarchist traditions, and the contentious differences in orientation towards the Israel-Palestine conflict, among other themes.

Hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society.

Room 804, Kimmel Center, New York University (60 Washington Square South)

In the mid-19th century, Marx and Engels famously observed in the Communist Manifesto that a 'specter' was haunting Europe— the specter of Communism. 160 years later, it is 'Marxism' itself that haunts us.

In the 21st century, it seems that the Left abandoned Marxism as a path to freedom. But Marx critically intervened in his own moment and emboldened leftists to challenge society; is the Left not tasked with this today? Has the Left resolved the problems posed by Marx, and thus moved on?

For more information, please contact Brian Hioe:

A lecture by Platypus member James Vaughn upon the history of humanity up to 1750, given as part of the Platypus summer 2011 radical bourgeois philosophy reading group. Held on June 30st, 2011 at New York University.

Platypus Summer Reading Group 2011: Radical Bourgeois Philosophy


We will address the greater context for Marx and Marxism through the issue of bourgeois radicalism in philosophy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Discussion will emerge by working through the development from Kant and Hegel to Nietzsche, but also by reference to the Rousseauian aftermath, and the emergence of the modern society of capital, as registered by liberals such as Adam Smith and Benjamin Constant.

"The principle of freedom and its corollary, 'perfectibility,' . . . suggest that the possibilities for being human are both multiple and, literally, endless. . . . Contemporaries like Kant well understood the novelty and radical implications of Rousseau's new principle of freedom [and] appreciated his unusual stress on history as the site where the true nature of our species is simultaneously realized and perverted, revealed and distorted. A new way of thinking about the human condition had appeared. . . . As Hegel put it, 'The principle of freedom dawned on the world in Rousseau, and gave infinite strength to man, who thus apprehended himself as infinite.'"
- James Miller (author of The Passion of Michel Foucault, 2000), Introduction to Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett, 1992)


Join us for a discussion of the CPGB's response to Platypus and reflections on our project

Communist Party of Great Britain critique of Platypus discussion


"Platypus: Is it a sect? Is it an academic grouping? Is it a theoretical dead end?"

Saturday, June 4

2PM - 5PM

Puck Building (4th fl)

295 Lafayette Street

The Communist Party of Great Britain's Mike Macnair's critique of Platypus in their paper The Weekly Worker is based on a conception of Marxism as practical politics that we don't share.

Macnair's critique provides an opportunity for clarifying and further developing the self-understanding of our organized project in Platypus.

While Macnair shares our priority of learning from the history of Marxism in the era of the 2nd International 1889-1914, Macnair challenges our philosophy of history, following Lukacs, Korsch, Benjamin and Adorno, of the "crisis of Marxism" 1914-19 and subsequent "regression."

The question is not whether Platypus has a political "line" or program, but rather whether Platypus is, like other "Marxist" organizations, a "propaganda group."

Macnair, for instance, divides political activity into 2 broad categories: 1.) propaganda ("many ideas to few people"); and 2.) agitation ("few ideas to many people"). In such a characterization of this distinction, Platypus would be more propagandistic than agitational. In either sense, however, there is the assumption of our project being *political* at all. -- Are we, as many on the "Left" suspect, evading matters in insisting that our project is "pre-political?" Macnair thinks that we are thus evading responsibility. Or, "to not have a line is to have a line" (of tacitly supporting the status quo, i.e., "imperialism").

In what way *is* Platypus a political project? And, if political, how "propagandistic?" For in either case, it is not a matter of *whether* (we are political and propagandistic), but *how* are we so? And why would we be political and propagandistic in ways different from the CPGB, RCP, ISO, Marxist-Humanists, Spartacist League, et al.? -- Not simply by avoiding taking a "line" or not formulating a "program."
Marxism could be considered (today, and perhaps also in the past) as either:

1.) a guide to action; or

2.) a guide to history

We would pose the latter, Marxism as a guide to history, against the typical sectarian "Left" rationale for (or, e.g., anarchist or liberal, *rejection of*) Marxism as a guide to action, due to both the nature and character of our project in our own, present historical moment.

There is possible disagreement or at least tension *within* Platypus between:

1.) treating our project (of "hosting the conversation") as being necessitated by our historical moment in a largely *negative* sense, as the lack of possibility for doing otherwise (what else *could* we do, now?); or

2.) treating the necessity, possibility, and (importantly) *desirability* of our project in a more "positive" sense, according to our sense that what we are trying to do was not only possible and necessary but also would have been desirable in previous historical moments. -- In other words, the nature and character of our project is not (merely) unfortunate.

We would, indeed, maintain (controversially) that Marxism has *always* been primarily a "guide to history" rather than a "guide to action," or, more precisely, that it has only been a guide to action through being a guide to history.
There are to be considered 2 different conceptions of what we do, either: 1.) "hosting the conversation" is a *means* towards the end of promulgating our own ideas; or, alternatively, 2.) there is the idea of "provoking and organizing the pathology [symptomology] of the Left" through hosting the conversation. In either case, Platypus serves an educative function.

The question is whether Platypus is primarily about teaching or learning. Teaching would be about the former, an essentially propagandistic task; learning would be about the latter, meaning providing the possibility for *our own* as well as others' learning how to grasp the present through engaging it symptomatically. -- How can the conversation we host be critically transformative? How could our project be made to advance beyond itself?

Hence, Macnair's critique of Platypus is a good occasion for us to clarify and deepen our sense of the raison d'etre of Platypus as an organized project.

* * *

Macnair's articles and letters in response as PDF:


Macnair's articles:
May 12:
May 19:

Platypus letters in response:
May 19:
May 26:

Immigration and the Left:

A Public Interview with Jane Guskin and David Wilson, authors of The Politics of Immigration

Tuesday 19 april
7:30 pm
Silver 621
The corner of washington pl. and washington square park east

Mass marches on May Day 2006 in the US, banning of minarets in Switzerland, pogroms in Libya against blacks from Central Africa feared to be mercenaries: Immigration is a central issue faced by the contemporary Left. But as mobilization has waxed and waned, the question of what constitutes an emancipatory response to the problems of immigration in modern society, too often remains unaddressed. This event will consider the limits and potentials of current immigration politics on the Left today, in America and globally. What is the future of internationalism?

An evening in conversation with Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson, authors of The Politics of Immigration. Moderated by Laurie Rojas, assistant editor of the Platypus Review.