The North Star to the rest of the Left: Disengage from Platypus, engage with [pseudo-]reformism

by Corey Ansel

Image: Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son (1819-1823)

NOTE: Just to be clear about my own relationship to Platypus as an organization, I must again remind readers that I am not currently a member, though I am obviously still sympathetic to its cause. Corey’s statement defends Platypus against a number of misperceptions and baseless accusations that are commonly leveled against it. Even if such accusations were true, however, I find it the height of hypocrisy that anyone, especially university professors, would refuse to participate in Platypus events on the ground that it supposedly “lends ideological support” to reactionary ideologies like Zionism or imperialism. This is all the more true given the fact that most of them hold positions at universities and routinely speak on campuses subsidized by the U.S. military (and all the foreign military forces it aids), in return for the advanced weapons technologies their research and development departments provide.

Not to mention that the historical “Lenin,” unlike Richard Seymour’s epigonal pseudonym, didn’t hesitate for a moment to meet cordially and grant an interview to the Fabian socialist (and apologist for British imperialism!) H.G. Wells during the middle of a bloody civil war. 

Originally posted at the Chair Leg of Truth. My one editorial gripe would be that The North Star does not even insist that one engage reformists, since this would seem to suggest that a genuine reformism today exists. What exists today is rather a pseudo-reformism of sorts, which calls for “realistic” programs of reform to reinstate the welfare state or government-funded social programs, even when such programs are no longer viable. The reformists of yesteryear — Bernstein, Schmidt, and the lot — actually deserved to be taken seriously by the likes of Luxemburg. Anyway, for more on The North Star, a shitty webzine owned and chiefly inspired by the living fossil Louis Proyect, and two of its “leading lights,” please see:

1. Dario Cankovic’s report on the Platypus International Convention 2013 in Chicago
2. Ben Campbell’s Sidney Hook moment

For some responses to this hysteria written by Platypus’ president, Chris Cutrone, see:

1. On the so-called “rational kernel of racism”
2. Platypus’ “position” on “imperialism”

Apparently I was not the only person to learn a lesson or two from Homer Simpson in my childhood. It appears that The North Star is at it again, primarily its editor Ben Campbell, having taken to Homer’s immortal quotes to nourish a newly drafted letter calling for total and unconditional disengagement with the public fora and publications of the Platypus Affiliated Society: “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.”

In my article “Dissecting the Platypus,”1 published in issue #963 of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s Weekly Worker, I raised many political points about Platypus as a project that Ben Campbell and Chris Cutrone, the President of the Platypus Affiliated Society, were gracious enough to engage with in the letters’ page of the CPGB’s paper. Thus, I will waste no time attempting to continue my assessment of Platypus in the interest of leaving that dead horse be.

When it comes to a revolutionary regroupment of forces on the left, The North Star’s project is content to ‘try and try again’ in breathing air into the dead horse (or the “stinking corpse”, as Rosa Luxemburg put it) of the Second International. As of the time of this article, Ben Campbell’s letter calling for a disengagement with Platypus as a project due to its stated goalto make war on the existing (“dead,” fake/pseudo) “Left” and to overcome it” has been posted on Richard Seymour’s Lenin’s Tomb blog and been signed by just over a dozen well-known figures amongst the Marxian left.2 Not surprisingly, the list of signatories includes numerous pseudo-Marxists such as Sherry Wolf, a leader of the US-based International Socialist Organization (ISO) and Richard Seymour, a former oppositionist within the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) who after breaking with the group, has recently decided to add another sect, titled the International Socialist Network (ISN), to the sectarian embarrassment that has become the ostensibly revolutionary left. Ironically, I have attempted to engage both politically and polemically to no avail.

Thus, it is no surprise to see those utterly petrified by the notion of an authentic political discussion about topics of political program signing on to a letter of disengagement from a group that seeks to make known the symptoms that cripple existing forces on the left. It should be noted that sect leaders and bureaucrats are an ongoing indication of the left’s vindication of Marx’s analysis of history as “first as tragedy, then as farce.”

As a relatively new project, one could expect The North Star might stay true to its intention to be a “forum for discussion, debate, and “the ruthless criticism of everything existing.”3 Unfortunately, one cannot rely on the left these days to be honest in its intentions. The letter of disengagement revolves primarily around Platypus’ intention to “destroy the left”, as well as many of Chris Cutrone’s controversial statements regarding Iraq and Palestine.

In the letter, Campbell provides an utterly fallacious interpretation of history when he states:

Cutrone’s introduction to the Left came as a member of the Spartacist League, and his project inherits the Spartacist tactic of undermining and caricaturing other leftists. Crucially, though, Platypus’ unique brand of anti-leftism is distinguished from even the most sectarian tendencies on the Left by its unprincipled character, making it categorically different from the ultra-leftism of tendencies that criticize the Left on the basis of program, positions, or concrete analysis.

It might be objectionable to advocate undermining a revolutionary party on the road to seizing power and forging a proletarian dictatorship, such as the traitorous calls from Zinoviev and Kamenev in opposition to the Bolshevik seizure of power in 1917. Additionally, it could be considered unprincipled to ally with the right or with the capitalist state against other leftists with which one might hold political disagreements. On the question of democratic centralism, Leon Trotsky was quite clear when discussing differing trends within the party: “With Stalin against Bukharin? — Yes. With Bukharin against Stalin? — Never!”4 Campbell’s criticisms of the Spartacist League, thus, come from the right. Even more alarming is the supposed notion that the Spartacists have a history of caricaturing other leftists. If they sought to do such a thing, would they not join groups like the ISO and other reformists in their begging of the capitalist state for “jobs, not war!” Herein lies a fundamental misunderstanding of issues of class, which is quite fitting with Campbell’s call to disregard concrete class analysis altogether!

But for the floundering left composed primarily of sects and bureaucratic perverters of Marxist theory, there is little to undermine. In fact, the Spartacist League’s criticisms of other tendencies on the basis of consistent programmatic integrity errs much closer to Marx’s “ruthless criticism of everything existing” than an attempt to water down class lines in the interest of phony unity amongst the left.  Consistency is totally foreign concept to ostensibly left-wing organizations such as the ISO and countless others that are known more for their myriad of political zig-zags throughout the years. One should keep in mind what kind of company these new political projects keep.

In truth, it is undeniable that the left (and even The North Star, to some extent) have chosen to prostrate themselves on the altar of reformism and phony unity. In contrast to Lenin and Trotsky who consistently emphasized program and an analysis of class, Campbell and other signatories of the disengagement letter have their feet sewn on backwards while loudly proclaiming that they are the ones walking a straight line. What we are seeing is snow being added to the avalanche of opportunism and modern-day Menshevism that has been gaining strength since even before the Russian Revolution.

Ironically, the letter continues:

For instance, in combating left anti-imperialism Platypus highlights the arguments of right-wing pro-imperial tendencies that claim to be on the Left (e.g. the anti-Germans). In this sense, Platypus sees nothing problematic about incorporating liberalism and imperialism into its political project in order to attack the Left — from the right.

Anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear is aware of the contradictions that Platypus and its leadership have brought upon themselves by capitulating to the dominant pro-imperialist and bourgeois ideology. Does this make them any worse than the most ruthless sectarian organizations amongst the left that paint their tired, recycled dogma as ‘the’ way forward for the working class? Platypus is at least honest in its desire to destroy presently prevailing conditions. However, if the crisis in the SWP, the neo-Stalinism of groups like Workers World Party (WWP) and the rabid cultism of relics from the new left like Progressive Labor Party (PLP) aren’t a telling sign of the left’s demoralization and utter failure, then it is impossible to tell what is. By blindly supporting disengagement with those who seek to have a discussion, the opportunists merely sew more mouths shut on the left that have hardly been able to formulate clear perspectives as it is.

It is laughable to suggest that a project like The North Star featuring rationalizations for imperialist intervention in Libya and Syria while lavishing praise on the idea of a “Ron Paul Strategy for Socialists” can speak about critiques from the right. It takes one to know one, apparently!

If anything, this recent letter of disengagement paints a clear symptomological picture of reformism-induced blindness. If we are to withhold our criticisms of political allies and opponents in regards to class, program and concrete analysis, then our critiques are no more substantial than sticks and harsh language. An attempt to regroup a Marxist left merely based on title and affiliation leaves revolutionaries politically unarmed. Furthermore, we have bigger fish to fry than merely ourselves. Thus, this disengagement letter is without substance and its heterogeneous signatories should ask themselves whether they are disengaging with the Platypus Affiliated Society or with reality itself.

Concluding his book Living in the End Times, Slavoj Žižek recalls a joke from the days of the Bolshevik Revolution:

…a talented Communist propagandist…after his death, finds himself sent to Hell. He quickly sets about convincing the guards to let him go to Heaven. When the Devil notices his absence, he pays a visit to God, to demand that the propagandist be returned to Hell. However, as soon as the Devil begins his address, starting with ‘My Lord…,’ God interrupts him, saying: ‘First, I am not your Lord but a comrade. Second, are you crazy for talking to fictions — I don’t even exist! And third, be quick, otherwise I’ll miss my Party meeting!’

This is the kind of God needed by the radical Left today: a God who has fully ‘become a man,’ a comrade amongst us, crucified together with two social outcasts, who not only ‘does not exist’ but also knows this himself, accepts his own erasure, passing over entirely into the love that binds all members of the ‘Holy Ghost,’ that is, of the Party or emancipatory collective.5


5. Slavoj Žižek, Living in the End Times. Verso, 2011.

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