May 6, 2014
At the Platypus Affiliated Society’s annual International Convention, held at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago April 4-6, 2014, Chris Cutrone delivered the following President’s Report. An edited transcript of the presentation and subsequent discussion appears below. A full audio recording is available online.
To be clear, I am no longer a member of Platypus, and do not agree with all of its interpretations. Nor the opinions of its individual members necessarily reflect my own. That said, I find Cutrone’s article here excellent.
One hundred years later, what does the crisis and split in Marxism, and the political collapse of the major parties of the 2nd International in 1914, mean for us today?
The Spartacists, for example, are constantly in search of the “August 4” moment, the moment of betrayal of the proletariat’s struggle for socialism by various tendencies in the history of Marxism. The Spartacists went so far as to confess their own “August 4th” when they failed to call for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake there.
So, what happened, from a Marxist perspective, on August 4, 1914, when the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) members of the Reichstag voted to finance the Prussian Empire’s war budget?
Two things: the parliamentary representatives of the SPD went against past resolutions to vote down the war effort of the German government; and the disorganization of the SPD leadership, what has been called the effective but illegitimate takeover of the party by the parliamentary delegation. No legitimate political authority of the party sanctioned this action. In all respects of principle and practice, the SPD was destroyed as a political organization as it had existed up to that point.
August 4, 1914, has been called — by the Spartacists — the first great internal counterrevolution in the history of Marxism. This is entirely true.
But it was a counterrevolution conducted not merely by the leadership of the SPD, however they may have abetted it, but rather by the Reich’s government against the SPD membership.
What was the specific character of this counterrevolution, and how was it made possible?
There was a famous pair of sayings by the SPD’s chairman, Bebel: “Not one man or one penny for this rotten system!” and “If it’s against Russia, I myself will pick up a gun!”
The German High Command, in preparation for war, took aim precisely at the contradiction between these two statements by Bebel.
The German High Command wielded the specter of counterrevolution through occupation by Tsarist Russian troops against the SPD in order to prompt their preemptive counterrevolution, which they saw as an act of self-preservation, as the lesser evil. Furthermore, they thought that getting behind the war would allow them to (somehow) control it, to make the government dependent on them and so wrest political concessions from it, perhaps even undermining it, in political favor of the proletariat.
This was not an unreasonable judgment. The question is whether their compromise was too much, whether the act of ostensible self-preservation was in fact actually an act of self-destruction. Continue reading