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What does it mean today when the challenges to the status quo are no longer clearly identifiable as originating from the Left? While it seems implausible that Left ideology has been transcended because people still explain social currents in terms of Left and right, there is a sense in the present that to end exploitation will demand a measure of realpolitik—a better tactical response—rather than ideological clarification. One has the uneasy feeling that existence of the Left and the right only persist by virtue of the fact the concept of the Left has somehow become settled, static, and trapped in history. But wouldn't this be antithetical to any concept of the Left?
THE ASSUMPTION THAT ROSA LUXEMBURG’S CORPSE has significance for the state of the German Left, though perhaps not her body, is tempting. Luxemburg was a Polish socialist involved in a European socialist movement during a time when there was no sovereign Polish state. She was successively a member of the Social Democratic Party of the Kingdom of Poland and Lithuania, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany. As is well known, she also cofounded with Karl Liebknecht the Spartakusbund, and was briefly co-leader of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). In 1918–19 the socialist revolution in Germany was betrayed by the SPD, which is responsible for Luxemburg’s murder. Her murder matters as the pure expression of precisely that revisionism that Luxemburg had so ably critiqued. However, Jerzy Sobotta, writing in Platypus Review 16 (October 2009), does not seem to be interested in this legacy of Rosa Luxemburg, the legacy of free thought and revolutionary Marxism.
Ben Blumberg For the American Left in the first half the 20th century—commonly referred to as the “Old Left”— the task of advancing freedom entailed a thoroughgoing critique of the racist institutions in American society, a socioeconomic and historical analysis of their origins and contemporary function, as well as practical efforts to eradicate these structures. In other words, racism was the challenge faced by the American Old Left. However, to a large extent it evaded the very challenge it set for itself by accepting the characterization of the black population’s political situation as “the Negro problem.” Only the best of the Old Left pushed against this characterization. The New Left, seeking to overcome the Old Left’s shortcomings and receiving a great impulse from the demands of the Civil Rights movement to do so, would nevertheless come to reenact the previous generation’s failings. This brings forth an uncomfortable question: if Marxists in the United States were unable to meet the challenge of raising racism to the level of a transformable reality, then to what extent can we speak of an American tradition of Marxism—a Marxism adequate to the situation of American capitalism—at all?
Hungarian literary critic and political theorist Georg Lukács is generally recognized, along with thinkers such as Antonio Gramsci and Rosa Luxemburg, as one of the most influential intellectual figures of twentieth century Marxism. And while Lukács’ reading of Marx is possibly the most sophisticated and intellectually rigorous to be found in the century and a half long trajectory of historical materialism, his legacy suffers from the “misfortune” that, unlike Gramsci and Luxemburg, he survived what is known as the heroic period of Third International Marxism: the late teens and early twenties.