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Gmane
From: jay rothermel <jayrothermel <at> gmail.com>
Subject: Platypus: No need for party?
Newsgroups: gmane.politics.marxism.marxmail
Date: Friday 13th May 2011 01:34:18 UTC (over 6 years ago)
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Weekly Worker 865 Thursday May 12 2011
No need for party?The US Platypus grouping does not have a political line
because there is 'no possibility of revolutionary action'. Mike Macnair
reports on its convention[image: Image: US Platypus organisation: strange
combination]
*US Platypus organisation: strange combination*

I attended the third annual Platypus International Convention in Chicago
over the weekend April 29-May 1. The Platypus Affiliated Society is a,
mainly student, left group of an odd sort (as will appear further below).
Its basic slogan is: ‘The left is dead; long live the left’. Starting
very
small, it has recently expanded rapidly on US campuses and added chapters
in
Toronto and Frankfurt. Something over 50 people attended the convention.

The fact of Platypus’s rapid growth on the US campuses, though still as
yet
to a fairly small size, tells us that in some way it occupies a gap on the
US left, and also tells us something (limited) about the available terms of
debate. The discussions raised some interesting issues (though I am not
sure
how productive most of them were). It is this that makes it worth reporting
the convention. This article will be an only slightly critical report of
the
convention; a second will offer a critique of Platypus’s project.

I was invited to give a workshop on the CPGB’s perspectives, and to
participate in the Saturday evening plenary on ‘The legacy of
Trotskyism’. I
also attended some of the panel discussions and the opening and closing
plenaries, on ‘The politics of critical theory’ and ‘What is the
Platypus
critique?’
 Critical theory

I got little from the opening plenary on ‘The politics of critical
theory’
(on the Frankfurt School). The speakers were: Chris Cutrone of Platypus and
the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; the philosopher of technology
and student of Herbert Marcuse, Andrew Feenberg of Simon Fraser University;
Richard Westerman of the University of Chicago; and Nicholas Brown of the
University of Illinois Chicago, as respondent to the three papers.

The plenary took as its starting point the publication by *New Left Review
*in
2010 of translated excerpts from a set of notes by Greta Adorno of a series
of conversations in 1956 between Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer with a
view to producing a modern redraft of the *Communist manifesto*. This
project got nowhere, and (as Andrew Feenberg pointed out) the
Adorno-Horkheimer conversations are frequently absurd.

Feenberg, who is a ‘child of 68’, remarked also on the extent to which,
in
the conversations, Adorno and Horkheimer displayed fear of falling into
Marcuse’s positions: these, he argued, had more connection to the real
emancipatory possibilities of the post-war world than Adorno and
Horkheimer’s theoreticisms.

Chris Cutrone has posted his paper, ‘Adorno’s Leninism’, on his
provocatively (or perhaps merely pretentiously) titled blog *The Last
Marxist*.[1] <http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#1>
It
argues that the project of the Frankfurt School derived from the
interventions of György Lukács (*History and class consciousness*) and
Karl
Korsch (*Marxism and philosophy*) in the 1920s, and these in turn from the
‘crisis of Marxism’ represented by the revisionist debate in the German
Social Democratic Party in the 1890s and 1900s and the betrayal of August
1914, and the idea of Leninism as representing a philosophical alternative.
So far, so John Rees or David
Renton.[2]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#2>Adorno,
he argued, continued down to his death committed to a version of
these ideas.

After the papers had been presented and Nicholas Brown had responded, there
was a brief and not particularly controversial question and answer session.
 Debating politics

Saturday morning saw two 50-minute sessions of parallel workshops under the
title, ‘Debating politics on the left today: differing perspectives’.
In the
first hour the choice was between the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party
of the USA (leader since 1975: Bob Avakian) and the Democratic Socialists
of
America (DSA). I went to the latter.

DSA claims to be the largest left group in the US with around 10,000
members, though the paid circulation of their paper is lower, at around
5,700 (and the Communist Party USA claimed, as of 2002, 20,000 members).
The
presentation made clear that the group essentially consists of activists in
the left of the Democratic Party engaged in a range of campaigns for
liberal
good causes, plus some support for trade unionists in dispute. Its image of
an alternative society is Sweden or Finland. It is committed to
popular-frontist ‘coalitions’ and has in its constitution rejected any
electoral intervention. It is, in short, not even Lib-Lab: the late 19th
century Lib-Labs at least agitated for working class representation within
the Liberal Party.

In the second hour the choice was between CPGB and the Marxist-Humanists US
(one of the splinters from the News and Letters Collective founded by Raya
Dunayevskaya). I presented the CPGB workshop. I gave a very brief capsule
history of the *Leninist* and of the CPGB since 1991 and explained the
nature of our orientation to ‘reforging a Communist Party’ through
unification of the Marxists as Marxists, and on democratic centralism as an
alternative to bureaucratic centralism.

The question-and-answer session which followed was lively, and I was
pressed
by Platypusers with the ideas that the divisions among the left groups
were,
in fact, principled ones which would prohibit any unity; and that programme
was less fundamental than understanding history or the movement of the
class
struggle. I think I was able in the short time available to answer these
points reasonably clearly: *some* divisions on the left do have a
principled
basis, but many do not, and in any case the divisions in the early
Comintern
were as wide or wider; a clear, short formal party programme is essential
to
party democracy.

A representative of the International Bolshevik Tendency argued that our
view of democratic centralism amounted to going back on the fundamental
gain
represented by the 1903 split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks: I pointed
out that the Spartacist (and other far-left) dogmas around this split
actually originated with Zinoviev’s *History of the Bolshevik Party* as a
factional instrument against Trotsky and were subsequently promoted as part
of the Stalin school of falsification. This argument shocked him.
 Panels

In the afternoon there were three sets of parallel panel sessions under the
general title, ‘Lessons from the history of Marxism’, with (in theory)
15
minutes break between them.

In the first period the choice was between ‘Marxism and the bourgeois
revolutions’ and ‘Marxism and sexual liberation’. I have interests in
both
areas, but chose to go to the sexual liberation panel. It was evident from
the panel blurb for ‘Marxism and the bourgeois revolutions’ that
Platypus
shares the common ‘new left’ error of imagining that bourgeois thought
begins with the 18th century enlightenment, and that the bourgeois
revolutions began with the
French.[3]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#3>

It might be thought that Jonathan Israel’s massive excavation of the
links
of this period with prior Dutch and English politics, religion and
thinkers,
in *Radical enlightenment* (2001) and *Enlightenment contested* (2006),
would have disturbed this approach and led to a return to Marx’s
understanding of a much more prolonged historical process of transition to
capitalism, including the first experiments in the Italian city-states and
the Dutch and English revolutions (visible especially in the second half of
*Capital *Vol 1).

But beginning with the French Revolution and late-enlightenment ideas is,
in
fact, a new left dogma. It is linked to the idea that the ‘Hegelian’
logic
of the first part of volume 1 of Marx’s *Capital* can be read without
reference to the broader claims of historical materialism about the history
before fully developed capitalism. This approach is foundational to
Lukács,
Korsch and the Frankfurt school, who play an important role in Platypus’s
thought.
 Sexual liberation

The panel on ‘Marxism and sexual liberation’ featured four interesting
papers. Pablo Ben critiqued the Reich/Marcuse conception that ‘sexual
liberation’ would undermine the capitalist order. This idea informed the
early gay men’s movement, and later the arguments of Pat Califia and
others
in the lesbian sadomasochism movement and its more general
‘sex-positive’
offshoots. The critique combined the ideas of Adorno in relation to the
regulative power of capitalist economic relations over all aspects of
social
life with the point - well understood by historians of the issue since the
1970s - that ‘sexuality’ as such (ie, the link of sexual choices to
personal
‘identities’) emerges under capitalism. This was a well argued and
provocative paper. But I am not yet convinced that the detail of the
theoretical approach is superior to that which Jamie Gough and I argued in
the mistitled *Gay liberation in the 80s *(1985).

Greg Gabrellas argued for an interpretation of Foucault as a critic of
Reich
starting out from French Maoism. This was again a useful paper, though with
two missing elements. He did not flag up the extent to which Foucault’s
historical claims about madness and the penitentiary, as well as about the
history of sexuality, have been falsified by historians. And, though he
identified Foucault’s tendency to marginalise class politics, he saw this
as
merely a product of the defeat of the left, rather than as an active
intervention in favour of popular frontism. Hence he missed the extent to
which the Anglo-American left academic and gay/lesbian movement
*reception*of Foucault was closely tied to the defence of extreme
forms of popular
frontism by authors directly or indirectly linked to *Marxism Today*, for
whom it was an instrument against the ‘class-reductionist’ ideas of
Trotskyists.

Ashley Weger deployed the ‘typical Platypus’ combination of Adorno with
elements of 1970s Spartacism to polemicise against the taboo/witch-hunt in
relation to intergenerational sex, which she argued flowed from a fetishism
of the ‘innocence’ of childhood and a refusal to recognise the sexual
desires of youth. This paper was competently done and valuably provocative
to current orthodoxies.

It nonetheless did not get as far as the British debate of the 1970s-80s on
the same issue. This recognised that the other side of the coin (adult
aspirations to intergenerational sex) *also* flows from fetishisms, of
innocence and of powerlessness; and that statistically very much the larger
part of intergenerational sex is father-daughter incest, which exploits
family power relations for what is in substance *non-consensual* activity.
Since an immediate transition to the ‘higher stage’ of communism is not
to
be expected, a revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist state order will
not result in the immediate disappearance of this problem. Accordingly
any *immediate
*(or ‘transitional’) programme point on the issue must take a form like
that
in the CPGB’s *Draft programme*: “Abolish age-of-consent laws. We
recognise
the right of individuals to enter into the sexual relations they choose,
provided this does not conflict with the rights of others. Alternative
legislation to protect children from sexual abuse.”

Jamie Keesling’s paper on the sexual emancipation of women was the
weakest
of the four papers, moving from Juliet Mitchell to the modern debate among
feminists about ‘sexy dressing’, to philosopher Harriet Baber’s 1987
article, ‘How bad is rape?’ (which argues that compulsion to do routine
labour is a more serious harm to the
victim),[4]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#4>to
1970s radical feminism (whose arguments she did not grasp or attack in
depth), to Moishe Postone’s 2006, broadly Eustonite, ‘History and
helplessness’,[5]
<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#5>to
Adorno.
While various points were interesting, this did not add up to a
coherent whole.

Four papers in 90 minutes, followed by brief comments from each speaker on
the other papers, led to a very compressed Q&A session. Chris Cutrone asked
for and got brief responses from the speakers to a general question about
the relations between Marxism and liberal political theory, Pablo Ben’s
being the most substantial response. A woman of British origin asked about
the relation of issues of sexuality to ideas of gender and the division
between public and private spheres (again an aspect of the debates of the
1970s-80s) and did not get a satisfactory response.

I have gone into this panel at length because it was intellectually one of
the strongest in the convention. I would nonetheless assess that the
speakers were operating at a lower *theoretical* level than that of the
debates of the left in the British feminist and lesbian/gay movements in
the
1970s-80s.

There are two reasons why that should be the case. The first is that in our
1970s-80s debates there was a real link between theoretical arguments and
positive practical politics. Practical political choices force out the
logical implications of theoretical positions in a way that theoretical
critique on its own does not. The second is that the sub-Frankfurt School
historical schema of the ‘defeat of the left’ stretching back to the
‘crisis
of Marxism’ in the 1900s has a tendency to blind its adherents to the
details of concrete history. By doing so, it permits schematic theory,
which
moves from arbitrarily chosen elements of the concrete to the abstract, but
can never return to work up the concrete as a combination of abstractions.
 Maoism and lefts

The second session offered a choice between a panel on ‘Badiou and
post-Maoism: Marxism and communism today’ and one on ‘Art, culture and
politics: Marxist approaches’, which offered consideration of the
theories
of art of Trotsky, Adorno and Walter Benjamin. I went to the panel on Alain
Badiou, addressed to his *The communist hypothesis *(2010) and a debate
which had already developed online between Chris Cutrone of Platypus and
the
Maoist or post-Maoist ‘Kasama
project’.[6]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#6>
 The panel was Chris Cutrone, Mike Ely and Joseph Ramsey of Kasama, and
John
Steele of Khukuri, all of whom defended Badiou; Mike Ely’s paper is
available on Kasama, John Steele’s on Khukuri, and Cutrone’s on his
blog.[7]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#7>

The arguments of Badiou’s defenders on this panel are intellectually and
politically uninteresting. They seem to be merely a new version of the
tendency of the ex-Maoist, ex-Eurocommunist, and academic left to episodic
fashions, like the fashion for Roy Bhaskar’s ‘critical realism’ which
ran
for some years in the 1990s.

Cutrone’s argument judges, I think correctly, that Badiou’s
‘communism’ is
directly anti-Marxist.[8]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#8>
 Cutrone therefore equally correctly appeals to the Second International
and
its left as the high point of the movement against capitalism to date: it
was this movement that *made possible* 1917. But he tends not to interpret
the strength of the late 19th century movement in terms of Marx’s and
Engels’ idea of capitalism creating its own gravedigger in the
proletariat,
and hence the key to the movement being the political self-organisation of
the working class.

Instead, he poses the need for an emancipatory movement to start from the
conquests of capitalism - which is, indeed, central to Marxism - in terms
of
the conquests of *liberalism*. The political logic of this intellectual
move
is the path followed by the Schachtmanites, by Adorno and Horkheimer, and
more recently by the British Revolutionary Communist Party/*Spiked* and the
Eustonites, towards the political right.

The final panel session offered a choice between ‘Marxism and political
philosophy’ with the same late-enlightenment focus as the ‘bourgeois
revolutions’ panel, here on ‘The classical figures of bourgeois
political
thought: Rousseau, Kant, Hegel’; and ‘The Marxism of the Second
International radicals’. I attended the latter, featuring papers by Chris
Cutrone, Greg Gabrellas, Ian Morrison and Marco Torres.

I may have missed something by arriving late, but I did not get much out of
this panel beyond the stale new left orthodoxy about the sterility of the
SPD majority which is, as I have already indicated, more clearly defended
by
British authors from the Cliffite tradition like Rees and Renton.

In Chris Cutrone’s paper I was struck by three specific features. The
first
is that he claimed that Marx and Engels were suspicious of political
parties.[9] <http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#9>
This
is plain nonsense and I have provided the evidence to the contrary in the
second of my articles on electoral tactics: Marx and Engels argued from the
1840s to the 1890s in *support* of the working class forming itself into a
political party.[10]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#10>

The second, and related, feature is the claim that political parties were a
new phenomenon in the late 19th century and suspect to earlier ‘classical
liberals’. The latter part of this claim is true, but the former is
simply
false: if the Dutch Regent oligarchy did without formal parties, Whigs and
Tories in Britain appeared in 1679-81, reappeared promptly in 1688-89, and
continued to dominate political life until the Whigs were replaced by the
Liberals in the mid-19th century. What was new in the late 19th century and
with the SPD was *highly organised, mass-membership* political parties with
democratic structures. This was a product of the political intervention of
the proletariat as such and is reflected in the fact that in the US, where
the proletariat has not succeeded in breaking into high politics, the
Democrats and Republicans retain looser organisational forms.

The third feature was Cutrone’s reliance for analysis of the SPD on Peter
Nettl’s 1965 article on the SPD as a ‘political
model’.[11]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#11>This
is, to be blunt, unambiguously a work of cold war sociology, which
seeks to force the conclusion that the only real choices available in
politics are between reformist coalitionism and something derived from the
‘actionism’ of Georges Sorel and the
ultra-left.[12]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#12>Its
analysis of the SPD is apolitical-Weberian.

Nettl’s story reaches its climacteric with the betrayal of August 1914.
But
missing, accordingly, are, first, the later emergence of the USPD as a mass
opposition, and, second, the fact that the working class *did in fact *use
the SPD and its Austrian equivalent, the SPÖ, as organising instruments in
the overthrow of the Hohenzollern and Habsburg monarchies in 1918-19. Of
course, the leaderships held back to national horizons and created
‘democratic republics’, which were in reality bourgeois
parliamentary-constitutional
regimes.[13]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#13>These
circumstances fit better with a
*political* account of the SPD’s and the wartime and post-war
Kautskyites’
failure to serve the interests of the working class - because of their
nationalism and false political ideas on the state - than with Nettl’s
Weberian sociological story of political impotence through
‘isolationism’.

Platypus calls on us to recover the history of the left in order to
understand and get beyond its present ‘death’. But in its own attempts
to do
so, the standard of *historical work* is sloppy.
 Trotskyism

The Saturday evening plenary on ‘The legacy of Trotskyism’ featured
labour
historian Bryan Palmer, of Trent University (Ontario, Canada); Jason Wright
from the International Bolshevik Tendency; myself; and Richard Rubin from
Platypus. The panel description contained the claim that, “As one
Platypus
writer has suggested, Trotsky is as out of place in the post-World War II
world as Voltaire or Rousseau would have been in the world after the French
Revolution. Trotsky, unlike Trotskyism, exemplifies the classical Marxism
of
the early 20th century, and that tradition certainly died with him.”

Bryan Palmer is a Trotskyist, and (as far as can be seen from online
sources) one coming from the background of the part of the US Socialist
Workers Party and its international tendency that did not break with
Trotskyism in the
1980s.[14]<http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#14>His
speech made nods in the direction of Platypus’s claims, but asserted
positively that the crash of 2008 showed the relevance of Marxism today;
that the defeats of the 20th century are the result of Stalinism; and that
the ideas of Trotsky and Trotskyism - especially the idea that the crisis
of
humanity reduces to the crisis of revolutionary leadership - retain all
their relevance. The problem was a *trahison des clercs*, in which the
intellectuals sought new alternative ideas repudiating the basics of
Marxism, as with postmodernism, rather than attempt to put Trotsky’s
ideas
into practice.

Jason Wright gave the sort of speech that could be expected: revolutionary
continuity runs through the Fourth International 1938-53, the International
Committee 1953-61, the Revolutionary Tendency of the US SWP and, following
it, the Spartacist League, from 1961 to the 1980s; and thereafter the IBT.
The CPGB, he said in passing, breaks with the tradition of the pre-war
socialist movement as well as that of Bolshevism by calling for votes for
bourgeois candidates. I did not get an opportunity to reply to this at the
meeting, but my recent three-part series on electoral principles and
tactics
can serve as a reply - to the extent that it is worth replying.

I criticised the formulations proposed in the panel description. In the
first place ‘Trotskyism’ means an organised political movement formed
on the
basis of definite programmatic documents - those of the first four
congresses of the Comintern, of the International Left Opposition and of
the
1938 founding congress of the Fourth International. The Trotskyist movement
has splintered into diverse fragments, but it is on its formally adopted
positions that it is to be judged and criticised.

Secondly, ‘classical Marxism’ is an amalgam, like the
‘counterrevolutionary
bloc of rights and Trotskyites’. In the sense in which it used by
Platypus,
it derives from the new left’s, and hence the British SWP’s, attempt to
paste together Marx, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lukács and Gramsci, in
spite
of their diverse and in some respects opposed political and theoretical
positions.[15] <http://www.cpgb.org.uk/article.php?article_id=1004387#15>
To
say that “Trotsky, unlike Trotskyism, exemplifies the classical Marxism
of
the early 20th century, and that tradition certainly died with him” is
therefore an empty claim. What is needed to understand the past of Marxist
theory is to understand the political and theoretical disputes of the
Comintern in the light of the political and theoretical disputes of the
Second International and of the pre-1917 RSDLP.

Within this framework, in the first place the idea of separating Trotsky
from post-war Trotskyism is wrong. Secondly, it is necessary, in order to
progress, to critique the actual programmatic positions of the first four
congresses of the Comintern and of Trotskyism, as I have attempted in
*Revolutionary
strategy* (2008). The most fundamental point is the rejection of
bureaucratic centralism. Thirdly, the failures of the Trotskyists are not
all given by some Trotskyist (or ‘Pabloite’) original sin: there are
lessons, albeit mostly negative, to be learned from the Trotskyists’
attempts to build small groups into something larger and to intervene in
live politics.

Richard Rubin argued that revolutionary continuity is impossible; there is
a
fundamental discontinuity in politics and the main task is to understand
it.
Trotskyism is merely a historical relic. Trotsky insisted on the
*accidental
* character of the tragedy of the 20th century; but the idea of an
accidental epoch is inconsistent with historical materialism. We have to be
Marxists because there is no better way of thinking, but Marxism may be
inadequate; the failure of Trotskyism expresses the antecedent crisis of
Marxism. Both Stalinism and fascism were products of the failure of the
German revolution. This ‘German question’ poses the question how the
strongest Marxist party in the world, the SPD, could betray its own
revolution. Since the objective conditions for socialism had matured, the
explanation had to be the power of bourgeois ideology; both Trotsky and the
Frankfurt school grappled with this problem.

The outcome of World War II represented a victory for the enlightenment,
but
a defeat of revolutionary possibilities. In the 1950s-60s Trotskyists as
well as Maoists were prone to illusions in third-world nationalisms. The
1968 period offered a ‘Dionysian moment’ of ‘revolution through pure
ecstasy’; the Trotskyists, except the Sparts, integrated themselves in
the
new left and lost the character of Trotskyism as a critique of the existing
left. It was this aspect of Trotskyism as honest critique and fidelity to
the October revolution that had to be redeemed.

The speakers were given an opportunity to respond to each other and this
was
followed by slightly longer than usual Q&A discussion. Four substantial
issues were posed. In the first place it seemed to be the common view of
the
other panellists that the divisions of the Trotskyist left were in fact
principled and unavoidable splits, a view which I rejected. Secondly, a
questioner asked whether the evolution of some US ex-Trotskyists towards
neo-conservatism reflected something about Trotskyism; on this there seemed
to be general acceptance of a point I made, in response, that such an
evolution is not found in Europe, while ex-Stalinists had also gone over to
the right.

The third was whether defeats for your own imperialist power make
revolution
more likely, as Jason Wright argued - in my view falsely, except in the
case
of defeat in *inter-imperialist*, or great-power, war. Pablo Ben raised
from
the floor the classic case of the Argentinean left’s shipwreck when it
supported the military regime’s aggression in the 1982 South Atlantic
war.
Richard Rubin argued that defeatism was a moral obligation, but not one
from
which revolution could be expected. This, I think, underrates the issue.
Even if defeatism in our own country’s unjust wars cannot usually be
expected either to *cause* a defeat or to bring on revolution campaigning
on
a defeatist stance educates as wide layers of the working class as possible
in the need for political independence from the local capitalist state, and
thereby *prepares the political ground* for circumstances in which
revolution is on the immediate agenda.

The fourth and most general question was whether revolution *is* on the
agenda and if so in what sense, and whether a party is therefore called
for.
Bryan Palmer’s and Jason Wright’s answer to these questions was
emphatically
yes. Chris Cutrone’s (from the floor) and Richard Rubin’s was that the
objective conditions were present, but the subjective conditions even for a
party were not present. My own response was that proletarian revolution is
on the *historical* agenda; that the weakness of proletarian organisation
takes it off the short-term agenda; and that if Lenin’s ‘the ruling
class
cannot go on in the old way and the masses will not” was to be placed on
the
*immediate* agenda the result would therefore be disastrous. But the result
is precisely that the party question, and the tasks of patiently rebuilding
the workers’ movement, *are* on the immediate agenda.
 Platypus critique

The Sunday morning plenary on ‘What is the Platypus critique?’, with
three
Platypus speakers, was in one way the oddest and in another the most
symptomatic of the sessions. Spencer Leonard opened by saying that Platypus
was sometimes said to have a line which combined Spartacist Trotskyism with
Adorno. This was incorrect: Platypus *does not have a political line*.
Rather it recognises that there is no present possibility of revolutionary
political action, because of the deep-going crisis of Marxism. Its goal is
therefore to bring the left to a recognition of its own failure and to
address the theoretical issues. To this end it aims to ‘host the
conversation’.

He was followed by Laurie Rojas, speaking to her organisational work for
Platypus: this again focussed on the necessity (and difficulty) of
addressing the left, but also emphasised the constant return of the *
necessity* of the Platypus project. The final speaker was Ben Shepard,
whose
speech was interspersed by readings from Samuel Beckett, with Spencer
Leonard attempting to take the other part - I take it using absurdism to
indicate the present left’s absurdity; I am sorry to say that I found
this
sufficiently distracting that I can say no more about the points he made.

The plenary started late and the Q&A session was brief. One self-described
“newbie” said from the floor that she felt at the end of the weekend
rather
as if she had accidentally wandered into a postgraduate philosophy seminar.
A more accurate description would be a *literary theory* seminar. The panel
on political theory which I missed *might* have had the analytical or
phenomenological rigour found in philosophy seminars. But most of the
theoretical papers I heard had the ‘neither quite rigorous philosophy nor
quite rigorous history’ quality of many literary theory papers.

[email protected] *Email address protected by JavaScript.
Please enable JavaScript to contact me.*

*Notes*

   1. chriscutrone.platypus1917.org
   2. J Rees *The algebra of revolution: the dialectic and the classical
   Marxist tradition* London 1998; D Renton *Classical Marxism: socialist
   theory and the Second International* Cheltenham 2002; and see my review
   of both books *Weekly Worker* September 11 2003.
   3. For another example cf B Fine *Democracy and the rule of law* (1984;
   reprint Caldwell, NJ 2002).
   4. *Hypatia* Vol 2, pp125-38.
   5. *Public Culture* 18, pp93-110; also available at various places on
the
   web.
   6. kasamaproject.org
   7. Steele: www.khukuritheory.net/why-is-badiou-of-political-value;
   Cutrone:  chriscutrone.platypus1917.org/?p=1144
   8. Andrew Coates has made somewhat similar points against Slavoj
*Žižek
   *, with whom Badiou is linked, in this paper (‘The leadership of
   “events”’, March 3). Cf also James Turley’s review of *Lenin
reloaded*(‘Hegel reloaded?’, December 13 2007).
   9. He based this on the far left’s common but inaccurate exegesis of
the
   statement in the *Communist manifesto* that “The Communists do not
form a
   separate party opposed to the other working class parties” (in which,
in
   fact, “the other working class parties” means *only* the Chartists
and
   the related US National Reformers).
   10. ‘Principles to shape tactics’ *Weekly Worker *April 21.
   11. *Past and Present* No30, pp65-95; more on the same line in Nettl’s
   two-volume biography of Rosa Luxemburg (1966).
   12. Nettl seeks to distinguish Luxemburg from the anarchists on the
   grounds that her version of activism was based on the spontaneous
movement
   of the working class masses, not arbitrary ‘initiatives’ of the
   revolutionaries. But this shows only that, if Nettl had read Sorel at
all,
   he had not done so with any care.
   13. More in my ‘Leading workers by the nose’ *Weekly Worker*
September 13
   2007.
   14. This appears from the judgments of his review essay on Jan Willem
   Stutje’s *Ernest Mandel* (2010) 55 *International Review of Social
   History* pp117-32.
   15. There is an older usage belonging to the cold war academy, in which
   ‘classical Marxism’ was used to mean a (caricatural) version of
Marxism
   before Lenin.
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