Marxism and the History of the Left
Alternate Fridays, 11 AM at Northwest Café, Harvard Northwest Labs.
Week 1 — September 26, 2014.
- Leszek Kolakowski, “The concept of the Left” (1968)
- Karl Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existing (letter to Arnold Ruge, September 1843)
Jason Giannetti (Lawyer)
Doug Enaa Greene (Kasama Project)
Nick Ford (ALL-oNE)
Evan Sarmiento (FRSO)
Stephen Squibb (Occupy Harvard, n+1)
Date: 15th December 2011
Time: 6:00 PM
Place: Room K354
CGIS Knafel Building
Next to Harvard GSD
Cambridge St., Cambridge MA
The recent Occupy protests are driven by discontent with the present state of affairs: glaring economic inequality, dead-end Democratic Party politics, and, for some, the suspicion that capitalism could never produce an equitable society. These concerns are coupled with aspirations for social transformation at an international level. For many, the protests at Wall St. and elsewhere provide an avenue to raise questions the Left has long fallen silent on:
• What would it mean to challenge capitalism on a global scale?
• How could we begin to overcome social conditions that adversely affect every part of life?
• And, how could a new international radical movement address these concerns in practice?
Although participants at Occupy Wall St. and elsewhere have managed thus far to organize resources for their own daily needs, legal services, health services, sleeping arrangements, food supplies, defense against police brutality, and a consistent media presence, these pragmatic concerns have taken precedent over long-term goals of the movement. Where can participants of this protest engage in formulating, debating, and questioningthe ends of this movement? How can it affect the greater society beyond the occupied spaces?
We in the Platypus Affiliated Society ask participants and interested observers of the Occupy movement to consider the possibility that political disagreement could lead to clarification, further development and direction. Only when we are able create an active culture of thinking and debating on the Left without it proving prematurely divisive can we begin to imagine a Leftist politics adequate to the historical possibilities of our moment. We may not know what these possibilities for transformation are. This is why we think it is imperative to create avenues of engagement that will support these efforts.
Towards this goal, Platypus will be hosting a series of roundtable discussions with organizers and participants ofthe Occupy movement. These will start at campuses in New York and Chicago but will be moving to other North American cities, and to London, Germany, and Greece in the months to come. We welcome any and all who would like to be a part of this project of self-education and potential rebuilding of the Left to join us in advancing this critical moment.
The Russian Revolution, which Lenin held up as the torch-light of emancipation for the world proletariat, is being run into national socialist channels. . . . “The Russian proletariat,” said Lenin, “cannot single-handed bring the socialist revolution to a victorious conclusion. But it can give the Russian revolution a mighty impetus such as would create most favorable conditions for a socialist revolution, and would, in a sense, start it. It can help to create more favorable circumstances for its most important, most trustworthy and most reliable collaborator, the European and American proletariat, to join the decisive battles” (“Farewell letter to the Swiss workers,” 1917).
Boston, Chicago, London, New York, Philadelphia
Video will be broadcast live and available as recordings at: http://www.livestream.com/platypusaffiliatedsociety
Saturdays 1–4PM CST
School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)
112 S. Michigan Ave. room 920
Chicago Platypus Facebook invitation: http://www.facebook.com/events/140497572752262/
Saturdays 2–5PM EST
The New School
6 E. 16th St. (between Union Square West and 5th Ave.) room 1001
• recommended / + supplemental reading
Recommended preliminary readings:
+ Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)
+ Nicolas Krassó, “Trotsky’s Marxism” (1967)
• Platypus Historians Group, “The dead Left: Trotskyism” (2008)
• Richard Rubin, “The decline of the Left in the 20th century: 1933″ (2009)
• Ian Morrison, “Trotsky’s Marxism” (2011)
• Mike Macnair, Bryan Palmer, Richard Rubin, and Jason Wright, “The legacy of Trotskyism” (2011)
• Grover Furr, “Learning from the Communist Movement of the 20th century: A response to Richard Rubin”(2012)
+ Spartacist League, Lenin and the Vanguard Party (1978)
+ Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate / A&Z, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution / Lenin for Beginners (1978)
+ Isaac Deutscher, The Prophet: Trotsky biography (three volumes: 1954, 1959, 1963)
Week 1. Jun. 16, 2012
• Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)
• Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects (1906)
Week 2. Jun. 23, 2012
+ Trotsky, 1905 (1907)
Week 3. Jun. 30, 2012
Week 4. Jul. 7, 2012
+ Trotsky, Where is Britain Going? (1925)
+ Trotsky, Problems of the Chinese Revolution 1927–31 (1932)
+ Trotsky, writings on the rise of Hitler and the destruction of the German Left (1930–40), especially “To build communist parties and an international anew” (1933)
Week 5. Jul. 14, 2012
• Trotsky, “Stalinism and Bolshevism” (1937)
• 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, The Revolution Betrayed (1936)
+ Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism (1939/40), especially “Letter to James Cannon” (September 12, 1939)
+ Trotsky, “Art and politics on our epoch” (1938)
+ Mary McCarthy, “My Confession” (1954)
Week 6. Jul. 21, 2012
+ James Cannon, “The coming American revolution” (1946)
+ C.L.R. James, Raya Dunayevskaya, et al., “Program of the minority tendency of the Workers Party/U.S.” (1946)
+ C.L.R. James, “Dialectical materialism and the fate of humanity” (1947)
+ Herbert Marcuse, “33 Theses” (1947)
+ Earl Browder and Max Shachtman with C. Wright Mills, “Is Russia a socialist community?” (1950)
+ Ernest Mandel, “The theory of ‘state capitalism’” (1951)
+ Michel Pablo, “On the duration and the nature of the period of transition from capitalism to socialism” (1951)
+ Pablo, “Where are we going?” (1953)
Week 7. Jul. 28, 2012
+ Cornelius Castoriadis, “The workers and organization” (1959)
• Cliff Slaughter, “What is revolutionary leadership?” (1960)
• Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party/U.S., “In defense of a revolutionary perspective”(1962)
+ Tony Cliff, “The coming Russian revolution” (final chapter of Russia: A Marxist Analysis, 1964)
+ Hal Draper, “The two souls of socialism” (1966)
+ Isaac Deutscher, “Marxism in our time” (1965)
+ Murray Bookchin, “Listen, Marxist!” (1969)
• Spartacist League, “Genesis of Pabloism” (1972)
Primary Marxist reading group
• required / + recommended reading
Week A. Aug. 4, 2012
• epigraphs on modern history and freedom by James Miller (on Jean-Jacques Rousseau), Louis Menand (on Edmund Wilson), Karl Marx, on “becoming” (from the Grundrisse, 1857–58), and Peter Preuss (on Nietzsche)
+ Rainer Maria Rilke, “Archaic Torso of Apollo” (1908)
+ Robert Pippin, “On Critical Theory” (2004)
• Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1754) PDFs of preferred translation (5 parts):    
• Rousseau, selection from On the Social Contract (1762)
Week B. Aug. 11, 2012
Week C. Aug. 18, 2012
Week D. Aug. 25, 2012
Week E. Sep. 1, 2012 Labor Day weekend
• Martin Nicolaus, “The unknown Marx” (1968)
• Moishe Postone, “Necessity, labor, and time” (1978)
• Postone, “History and helplessness: Mass mobilization and contemporary forms of anticapitalism” (2006)
+ Postone, “Theorizing the contemporary world: Brenner, Arrighi, Harvey” (2006)
Week F. Sep. 8, 2012
• Juliet Mitchell, “Women: The longest revolution” (1966)
• Clara Zetkin and Vladimir Lenin, “An interview on the woman question” (1920)
• Theodor W. Adorno, “Sexual taboos and the law today” (1963)
• John D’Emilio, “Capitalism and gay identity” (1983)
Week G. Sep. 15, 2012
• Richard Fraser, “Two lectures on the black question in America and revolutionary integrationism” (1953)
• James Robertson and Shirley Stoute, “For black Trotskyism” (1963)
+ Spartacist League, “Black and red: Class struggle road to Negro freedom” (1966)
+ Bayard Rustin, “The failure of black separatism” (1970)
• Adolph Reed, “Black particularity reconsidered” (1979)
+ Reed, “Paths to Critical Theory” (1984)
Week H. Sep. 22, 2012
Week 1. Sep. 29, 2012
Panel held on April 16th, 2012, in Boston, as part of the 3 Rs panel series.
Thanks to Doug Enaa Greene (http://www.youtube.com/user/dwgthed) for the video recording.
“After the failure of the 1960s New Left, the underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency, in a historical situation of heightened helplessness, became a self-constitution as outsider, as other, rather than an instrument of transformation. Focused on the bureaucratic stasis of the Fordist, late 20th Century world, the Left echoed the destruction of that world by the dynamics of capital: neoliberalism and globalization.
The idea of a fundamental transformation became bracketed and, instead, was replaced by the more ambiguous notion of ‘resistance.’ The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted, or of the politics of the resistance involved.
‘Resistance’ is rarely based on a reflexive analysis of possibilities for fundamental change that are both generated and suppressed by the dynamic heteronomous order of capital. ‘Resistance’ is an undialectical category that does not grasp its own conditions of possibility; it fails to grasp the dynamic historical context of capital and its reconstitution of possibilities for both domination and emancipation, of which the ‘resisters’ do not recognize that that they are a part.”
— Moishe Postone, “History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism” (Public Culture¸ 18.1: 2006)
Reform, revolution, resistance: what kind of weight do these categories hold for the Left today? How are they used, to where do they point, and what is their history? Join the Platypus Affiliated Society for a discussion concerning a question that has renewed immediacy in light of the #Occupy movement.
The Platypus Affiliated Society in Boston presents
A Public Forum
The 3 Rs: Reform, Revolution, and "Resistance"
— the problematic forms of "anticapitalism" today —
Monday 16 April 2012, 6:30-8:30PM
Encuentro 5, 33 Harrison Ave, 5th floor, Boston, MA 02111 (map)
"Reform, Revolution, Resistance": what kind of weight do these categories hold for the Left today? How are they used, to where do they point, and what is their history? The discussion concerns a question that has renewed immediacy in light of the Occupy movement.
For more details, contact at firstname.lastname@example.org. Latest updates can be found on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/groups/146774129298/
RSVP for the event here: http://www.facebook.com/events/423855730963519/
"[After the 1960s, the] underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency [. . .] in a historical situation of heightened helplessness [. . .] became a self-constitution as outsider, as other [. . .] focused on the bureaucratic stasis of the [Fordist/late 20th Century] world: it echoed the destruction of that world by the dynamics of capital [with the neo-liberal turn after 1973, and especially after 1989].
The idea of a fundamental transformation became bracketed and, instead, was replaced by the more ambiguous notion of 'resistance.' The notion of resistance, however, says little about the nature of that which is being resisted or of the politics of the resistance involved — that is, the character of determinate forms of critique, opposition, rebellion, and 'revolution.' The notion of 'resistance' frequently expresses a deeply dualistic worldview that tends to reify both the system of domination and the idea of agency.
'Resistance' is rarely based on a reflexive analysis of possibilities for fundamental change that are both generated and suppressed by [the] dynamic heteronomous order [of capital]. ['Resistance'] is an undialectical category that does not grasp its own conditions of possibility; that is, it fails to grasp the dynamic historical context of which it is a part."
— Moishe Postone, "History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism" (Public Culture 18:1, 2006)
Live broadcast: www.livestream.com/platypus1917
Saturday, December 17, 2011
9AM U.S./Canada PST / 10AM MST / 11AM CST / 12PM EST;
and 17:00 London / 18:00 Frankfurt and Berlin /
19:00 Thessaloniki / 22:30 Delhi / 02:00 Seoul
If you are in Chicago:
Saturday, 11am | 17 December 2011 |School of the Art Institute of Chicago, 112 S. Michigan Ave. room 919
Please join Platypus for a brief introduction to and discussion about the relevance of Lenin today, in anticipation of our Winter-Spring 2012 primary Marxist reading group, on the history of revolutionary Marxism, centered on the writings of Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, and Adorno.
The Encyclopedia Britannica's entry on Lenin states that,
"If the Bolshevik Revolution is -- as some people have called it -- the most significant political event of the 20th century, then Lenin must for good or ill be considered the century's most significant political leader. Not only in the scholarly circles of the former Soviet Union, but even among many non-Communist scholars, he has been regarded as both the greatest revolutionary leader and revolutionary statesman in history, as well as the greatest revolutionary thinker since Marx."
Lenin is the most controversial figure in the history of Marxism, and perhaps one of the most controversial figures in all of history. As such, he is an impossible figure for sober consideration, without polemic. Nevertheless, it has become impossible, also, after Lenin, to consider Marxism without reference to him. Broadly, Marxism is divided into avowedly "Leninist" and "anti-Leninist" tendencies. In what ways was Lenin either an advance or a calamity for Marxism? But there is another way of approaching Lenin, which is as an expression of the historical crisis of Marxism. In other words, Lenin as a historical figure is unavoidably significant as manifesting a crisis of Marxism. The question is how Lenin provided the basis for advancing that crisis, how the polarization around Lenin could provide the basis for advancing the potential transformation of Marxism, in terms of resolving certain problems.
The Frankfurt School Critical Theorist Theodor Adorno, in his 1966 book Negative Dialectics, wrote of the degeneration of Marxism due to "dogmatization and thought-taboos." There is no other figure in the history of Marxism who has been subject to such "dogmatization and thought-taboos" as much as Lenin.
It is important to note as well that Adorno himself sought to remain, as he put it, "faithful to Marx, Engels and Lenin, while keeping up with culture at its most advanced," to which his colleague Max Horkheimer replied, simply, "Who would not subscribe to that?"
Today, such a proposition seems especially implausible, in many ways. Yet perhaps the memory of Lenin haunts us still, however obscurely.
The discussion will be broadcast live on the web. Additionally, a recording will be made available after the event.
Recommended background readings:
UPDATE: Noam Chomsky's talk has been moved to Saturday Oct. 22 due to the rain. Platypus will still be in attendance.
The time hasn't been determined. Time: 6:00 PM. Dewey Square, Boston, MA.
Please make sure to coordinate with us at email@example.com or use the contact tab.
This week, on 19th Oct 2011, the MassArt Coffee Break will meet at Dewey Square to attend a talk by Noam Chomsky.
Saturday, Oct 22| 6:00 PM
Noam Chomsky at OccupyBoston
FSU Soapbox, Dewey Square occupation.
Time: Thursday, October 13 · 6:00pm - 9:00pm
Place: CGIS South Building, Room, S050 Harvard University (Map: http://goo.gl/UoiC1)
Contact: boston [at] platypus1917 [dot] org
Battle on Wall Street?
Part 1 of 2-part film screening series: Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
"Want to know what the mother of all bubbles was? Came out of nowhere, by chance. They called it the Cambrian Explosion. It happened around 530 million years ago. And, over the next 70-80 million years, the rate of evolution accelerated so fast that we came along, the human race. They still can't explain how that happened, except that it happened. Some people say it was by chance. Others, design. But who really knows?"
The recent #occupy protests depart significantly from the anti-war politics that has defined activism on the Left for the past decade. Slogans decrying corporate greed now dominate the picket signs that until recently were used to condemn U.S. imperialism. However, does this spreading protest movement signal a new era of activism in the U.S.? Or, are these recent demonstrations expressing old and familiar discontents? Perhaps, as the role of Adbusters suggests, something of the 1990s has come back into vogue, bringing back to the fore the age-old hatred of the bankers and impersonal financial institutions, and opposition to neoliberal globalization, now in crisis. The spirit of the 1999 Seattle protest against the World Trade Organization seems to have returned, with a vengeance. Please join Platypus in considering the historical sources of the ongoing anti-Wall Street protests through the lens of two recent films that highlight the popular imagination of contemporary capitalism and its discontents.
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? Does Marxism even matter?
Come share your thoughts Saturday, 12 March 2011 at 745 Commonwealth Ave, 5th floor, room 525. No prior knowledge of Marx is necessary, but you can find the Communist Manifesto beforehand here.