A conversation on the Left

A moderated panel discussion 

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Image: Image by Augustine Kofie,
with text added by Ross Wolfe

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WHO

James Turley (CPGB)
Bhaskar Sunkara (Jacobin)
Ben Blumberg (Platypus)

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WHAT

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Recently, a series of exchanges between the Communist Party of Great Britain (PCC), the International Bolshevik Tendency, and the Platypus Affiliated Society has unfolded, mapping a field of positions and historical perspectives whose contours trace some of the most provocative contemporary perspectives on Marxism, socialism, and democracy.

With this public forum, speakers will take stock of the points of convergence and divergence that have emerged in order to push the conversation further on key issues such as Left unity, neo-Kautskyism, factionalism, Trotskyism, sectarianism, Leninism and Bolshevism, democratic organization, and political program.

WHEN

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April 18, 2013
7:00-9:00pm

WHERE

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NYU Kimmel Center, Room 904
60 Washington Square South
New York, New York 10012

WHY

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For the self-criticism, self-education, and, ultimately,
the practical reconstitution of a Marxian Left.

NYC panel event: THE MANY DEATHS OF ART

   Julieta Aranda | Gregg Horowitz
Paul Mattick | Yates Mckee

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65 W 11th St.
Wollman Hall (5th fl)
New School

February 23, 2013
6-9pm

Please register on our official event page
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The “death of art” has been a recurring theme within aesthetic and philosophical discourse for over two centuries. At times, this “death” has been proclaimed as an accomplished fact; at others, artists themselves have taken the “death of art” as a goal to be accomplished. So while this widely perceived “death” is lamented by many as a loss, it is celebrated by others as a moment of life renewed. For them, art is all the better for having disburdened itself of the baggage of outmoded modernist ideologies. Insofar as the “death” of longstanding cultural traditions has in the past typically been understood to signal a deeper crisis in society at large, however, the meaning of death necessarily takes on a different aspect today — especially when the tradition in question is modernism, the so-called the “tradition of the new” (Rosenberg). Because the very ideas of “death” and “crisis” appear to belong to the edifice of modernity that has been rejected, these too are are to be jettisoned as part of its conventional yoke. Modernity itself having become passé, even the notion of art’s “death” seems to have died along with modernism.

We thus ask our panelists not merely whether art is at present “dead,” but also if traditions are even permitted the right to perish in conservative times. If some once held that the persistence of philosophy indicated the persistence of obsolete social conditions, does the persistence of art signal ongoing social conditions that ought to have long ago withered away? If so, what forms of political and artistic practice would be sufficient to realize art, and in what ways would realizing art signal something beyond art? Marx felt that the increasing worldliness of philosophy in his time (heralded by the culmination of philosophy in Hegel) demanded not only the end of philosophy, but also that the world itself become philosophical. If avant-garde movements once declared uncompromising war on art in order to tear down the barrier between art and life, would the end or overcoming of art not similarly require that the world itself become artistic?

The Many Deaths of Art event poster

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Platypus Review issue 50 release party

Poster I designed for the launch party.

Join the Facebook event page.
Download a larger flier for the event.

NYU Kimmel Center, Room 805
60 Washington Square South
Manhattan, New York 10011

Thursday // 11.15.2012 // 7:00-9:00 PM

The Platypus Review recently celebrated the publication of its fiftieth issue.  Come join members of the Platypus Review at a launch party to celebrate this momentous occasion, also the start of our international Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis panel series. We will be enjoying sumptious Vietnamese sandwiches in the NYU Kimmel Center at 7 PM, followed by drinks in Vol de Nuit at 148 West 4th St after 9 PM.

We will also be video conferencing with a range of speakers from London, Greece, Germany, Austria, Chicago, and discussing some of our very own Platypus Review staff from New York! Continue reading

“Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis”: A panel discussion with Loren Goldner, David Harvey, Andrew Kliman, and Paul Mattick

Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis

LOREN GOLDNER ┇ DAVID HARVEY ┇ ANDREW KLIMAN ┇ PAUL MATTICK

// November 14th, 2012
7-10PM

// Wollman Hall
Eugene Lang building, 6th floor
65 W 11th St
New York, NY 10011

Join the Facebook event page.
Download an image file of the event flier.
Download the PDF version of the event flier.

The present moment is arguably one of unprecedented confusion on the Left.  The emergence of many new theoretical perspectives on Marxism, anarchism, and the left generally seem rather than signs of a newfound vitality, the intellectual reflux of its final disintegration in history.  As for the politics that still bothers to describe itself as leftist today, it seems no great merit that it is largely disconnected from the academic left’s disputations over everything from imperialism to ecology.  Perhaps nowhere are these symptoms more pronounced than around the subject of the economy.  As Marxist economics has witnessed of late a flurry of recent works, many quite involved in their depth and complexity, recent activism around austerity, joblessness, and non-transparency while quite creative in some respects seems hesitant to oppose with anything but nostalgia for the past the status quo mantra, “There is no Alternative.”  At a time when the United States has entered the most prolonged slump since the Great Depression, the European project founders on the shoals of debt and nationalism.  If the once triumphant neoliberal project of free markets for free people seems utterly exhausted, the “strange non-death of neo-liberalism,” as a recent book title has it, seems poised to carry on indefinitely.  The need for a Marxist politics adequate to the crisis is as great as such a politics is lacking.

And 2011 now seems to be fading into the past.  In Greece today as elsewhere in Europe existing Left parties remain largely passive in the face of the crisis, eschewing radical solutions (if they even imagine such solutions to exist).  In the United States, #Occupy has vanished from the parks and streets, leaving only bitter grumbling where there once seemed to be creativity and open-ended potential.  In Britain, the 2011 London Riots, rather than political protest, was trumpeted as the shafted generation’s response to the crisis, overshadowing the police brutality that actually occasioned it.  Finally, in the Arab world where, we are told the 2011 revolution is still afoot, it seems inconceivable that the revolution, even as it bears within it the hopes of millions, could alter the economic fate of any but a handful.  While joblessness haunts billions worldwide, politicization of the issue seems chiefly the prerogative of the right.  Meanwhile, the poor worldwide face relentless price rises in fuel and essential foodstuffs.  The prospects for world revolution seem remote at best, even as bankers and fund managers seem to lament democracy’s failure in confronting the crisis. In this sense, it seems plausible to argue that there is no crisis at all, but simply the latest stage in an ongoing social regression. What does it mean to say that we face a crisis, after all, when there is no real prospect that anything particularly is likely to change, at least not for the better?

In this opaque historical moment, Platypus wants to raise some basic questions: Do we live in a crisis of capitalism today and, if so, of what sort — political? economic? social? Why do seemingly sophisticated leftist understandings of the world appear unable to assist in the task of changing it? Conversely, can the world be thought intelligible without our capacity to self-consciously transform it through practice? Can Marxism survive as an economics or social theory without politics? Is there capitalism after socialism?

Featuring:

• LOREN GOLDNER

// Chief Editor of Insurgent Notes; ┇ Author: — Ubu Saved From Drowning: Class Struggle and Statist Containment in Portugal and Spain, 1974-1977 (2000), — “The Sky Is Always Darkest Just Before the Dawn: Class Struggle in the U.S. From the 2008 Crash to the Eve of Occupy” (2011)

• DAVID HARVEY

// Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the CUNY Grad Center; ┇ Author: — The Limits to Capital (1982), — The Condition of Postmodernity (1989), — A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005), — “Why the US Stimulus Package is Bound to Fail” (2008)

• ANDREW KLIMAN

// Professor of Economics at Pace University; ┇ Founding member of the Marxist-Humanist Initiative (MHI) in 2009; ┇ Author: — Reclaiming Marx’s Capital: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency (2006), — The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the “Great Recession” (2011)

• PAUL MATTICK

// Professor of Economics, Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Adelphi University; ┇ Editor of The Brooklyn Rail ┇ Author: — Social Knowledge: An Essay on the Nature and Limits of Social Science (1986), — Business as Usual: The Economic Crisis and the Failure of Capitalism (2011)

Event space:

Capitalist unrealism: Norman Bel Geddes’ Futurama (1939)

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Even capitalism used to be more futuristic.

Unreal City…

— T.S. Eliot, “The Wasteland” (1922)

Horizons

ENTER a new era. Are we ready for the changes that are coming? The houses we live in tomorrow will not much resemble the houses we live in today. Automobiles, railway trains, theaters, cities, industry itself, are undergoing rapid changes. Likewise, art in all its forms. The forms they presently take will undoubtedly have kinship with the forms we know in the present; but this relationship will be as distinct, and probably as remote, as that between the horseless buggy of yesterday and the present-day motor car. We live and work under pressure with a tremendous expenditure of energy. We feel that life in our time is more urgent, complex and discordant than life ever was before. That may be so. In the perspective of fifty years hence, the historian will detect in the decade of 1930-1940 a period of tremendous significance. He will see it as a period of criticism, unrest, and dissatisfaction to the point of disillusion when new aims were being sought and new beginnings were astir. Doubtless he will ponder that, in the midst of a worldwide melancholy owing to an economic depression, a new age dawned with invigorating conceptions and the horizon lifted.

Critics of the age are agreed upon one thought: that what industry has given us, as yet, is not good enough. Another plea of critics hostile to the age is that machines make automatons of men. They fail to see that the machine age is not really here. Although we built the machines, we have not become at ease with them and have not mastered them. Our condition is the result of a swift industrial evolution. If we see the situation clearly, we realize that we have been infatuated with our own mechanical ingenuity. Rapidly multiplying our products, creating and glorifying the gadget, we have been inferior craftsmen, the victims rather than the masters of our ingenuity. In our evolution we have accumulated noise, dirt, glitter, speed, mass production, traffic congestion, and the commonplace by our machine-made ideas. But that is only one side.

We have achieved the beginnings of an expression of our time. We now have some inkling of what today’s home, today’s theater, today’s factory, today’s city, should be. We perceive that the person who would use a machine must be imbued with the spirit of the machine and comprehend the nature of his materials. We realize that he is creating the telltale environment that records what man truly is.

It happens that the United States has seized upon more of the fruits of industrialism than any other nation. We have gone farther and more swiftly than any other. To what end? Not the least tendency is the searching and brooding uncertainty, the quest for basic truths which characterize the present day. Never before, in an economic crisis, has there been such an aroused consciousness on the part of the community at large and within industry itself. Complacency has vanished. A new horizon appears. A horizon that will inspire the next phase in the evolution of the age.

We are entering an era which, notably, shall be characterized by design in four specific phases: Design in social structure to insure the organization of people, work, wealth, leisure. Design in machines that shall improve working conditions by eliminating drudgery. Design in all objects of daily use that shall make them economical, durable, convenient, congenial to every one. Design in the arts, painting, sculpture, music, literature, and architecture, that shall inspire the new era.

The impetus towards design in industrial life today must be considered from three viewpoints: the consumer’s, the manufacturer’s, and the artist’s. In his appreciation of the importance of design the artist is somewhat ahead of the consumer, while the average manufacturer is farther behind the consumer than the consumer is behind the artist. The viewpoint of each is rapidly changing, developing, fusing. More than that, the economic situation is stimulating a unanimity of emphasis, a merger of viewpoints. Continue reading

Has #Occupy entered “Phase Three”?

Part of the Platypus contingent at May Day in New York, 2012

I do wonder: Do the coordinated international May Day marches signal a kind of end to the so-called “second phase” of #Occupy, and perhaps the beginning of a “phase three”? My suspicion is that they do, but I’d like to hear other people’s opinions.

Generally speaking, I would mark this second phase as lasting from roughly either the November 15th sequence of evictions or the N17 demonstrations, through “the winter of our discontent” (i.e., decentralization, the breakdown of the chronically dysfunctional GA/Spokescouncil models, and the shift to planning for International Workers’ Day), all the way up to its culmination in the May 1 marches.

The first phase, of course, I’d date from September 17th-November 15th actual large-scale occupation of physical spaces. There was a prehistory to the occupation of Zuccotti Park that was not insignificant, certainly. Not just the Arab Spring or the European anti-austerity protests, but also the actual planning committees throughout August.

Participating in the May Day march in New York two days ago, my hope was that it marked more of a new beginning than a definitive end.  It is perhaps too early to tell what the future may bring.  But I remain somewhat hopeful.

Platypus signs at May Day in New York, 2012

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#Occupy movement roundtable discussion: An invitation to a political dialogue hosted by the Platypus Affiliated Society

El Lissitzky's "Beat the White Circle with the Red Wedge" (1920)

FIRST ROUNDTABLE DISCUSSION

Friday 7pm | October 28, 2011

Kimmel, Room 406.  NYU

60 Washington Square S., NYC

What is the #Occupy movement? (PDF version)

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. 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 questioning the ends of this movement? How can it affect the greater society beyond the occupied spaces?

We in the Platypus Affiliated Society ask participants, organizers, 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 to 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 of the #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 above is a general release intended for activists, organizers, and participants in the recent #Occupy movement who are interested in further exploring its political dimension.  We are open to any number of political orientations or affiliations within the broader spectrum of the Left, whether they be Marxist, anarchist, or more moderate.  Please contact me at rosslaurencewolfe@gmail.com if you would like to contribute or learn more.)

The Platypus Affiliated Society

October 2011

Platypus logo

Radical Bourgeois Philosophy Summer Reading Group

I am eagerly looking forward to the Platypus Affiliated Society’s New York chapter reading group for the summer, which will focus on “Radical Bourgeois Philosophy.”  Having already completed the main readings that lay the theoretical foundation for the group’s political outlook, I feel it will be profitable to better acquaint myself with the texts of classical liberalism and political economy.  Marxists, in their rejection of liberal democracy and bourgeois ideology, all-too-often forget the genuinely progressive legacy of liberalism and the revolutionary role played by the bourgeoisie in history.  This legacy is nowhere better illustrated than in the texts of some of their foremost thinkers — Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau, Smith, Kant, Hegel, Ricardo, and Nietzsche.  Marx’s own deep, if critical, respect for these thinkers (minus Nietzsche, who came later) cannot be ignored.

The following is the reading list and schedule for film screenings related to the subject:

Reading group and History of Humanity Film Screenings & Lectures

Eric Hobsbawm, The Age of Revolution 1789–1848 [PDF]

June 26 – August 21
New York University Puck Building
295 Lafayette St. 4th floor

We will address the greater context for Marx and Marxism through the issue of bourgeois radicalism in philosophy in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Discussion will emerge by working through the development from Kant and Hegel to Nietzsche, but also by reference to the Rousseauian aftermath, and the emergence of the modern society of capital, as registered by liberals such as Adam Smith and Benjamin Constant.

“The principle of freedom and its corollary, “perfectibility,” . . . suggest that the possi- bilities for being human are both multiple and, literally, endless. . . . Contemporaries like Kant well understood the novelty and radical implications of Rousseau’s new principle of freedom [and] appreciated his unusual stress on history as the site where the true nature of our species is simultaneously realized and perverted, revealed and distorted. A new way of thinking about the human condition had appeared. . . . As Hegel put it, “The principle of freedom dawned on the world in Rousseau, and gave infinite strength to man, who thus apprehended himself as infinite.”

– James Miller (author of The Passion of Michel Foucault, 2000), Introduction to Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (Hackett, 1992)

SCHEDULE:

June 26 | 1PM

Chris Cutrone, “Capital in History”
Robert Pippin, “On Critical Theory” [HTML Critical Inquiry 2003]
Rousseau, Discourse on the Origin of Inequality

Film screening | 4:30PM

Marie Antoinette (2006)

June 30 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity pre-1750”

July 3 | 1pm

Rousseau, selection from The Social Contract

Film screening | 4:30PM

Jefferson in Paris (1995)

July 10 | 1pm

Adam Smith, selections from The Wealth of Nations
Volume I
Introduction and Plan of the Work
Book I: Of the Causes of Improvement…
I.1. Of the Division of Labor
I.2. Of the Principle which gives Occasion to the Division of Labour
I.3. That the Division of Labour is Limited by the Extent of the Market
I.4. Of the Origin and Use of Money
I.6. Of the Component Parts of the Price of Commodities
I.7. Of the Natural and Market Price of Commodities
I.8. Of the Wages of Labour
I.9. Of the Profits of Stock
Book III: Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations
III.1.
 Of the Natural Progress of Opulence
III.2. Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the Ancient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire
III.3. Of the Rise and Progress of Cities and Towns, after the Fall of the Roman Empire
III.4. How the Commerce of the Towns Contributed to the Improvement of the Country
Volume II
IV.7. Of Colonies
Book V: Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth
V.1. Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth

Film screening | 4:30PM

Danton (1983)

July 14 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity 1750–1815”

July 17 | 1pm

Benjamin Constant, “The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns
Kant, “What is Enlightenment? ,” and “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View

Film screening | 4:30PM

Amistad (1997)

July 24 | 1pm

Kant, Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
Kant, “On the Common Saying: That May be Correct in Theory, But it is of No Use in Practice” [HTML part 2]

July 31 | 1pm

Hegel, Introduction to The Philosophy of History [HTML] [PDF pp. 14-128]

Film screening | 4:30PM

selected scene from Gettysburg (1993) “No Divine Spark” Glory (1989)

August 4 | 6:30PM

Thursday evening lecture

“History of humanity 1815–48”

August 7 | 1pm

Nietzsche, The Use and Abuse of History for Life [translator’s introduction by Peter Preuss]
Nietzsche, selection from On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense

Film screening | 4:30PM

Nietzsche: Human, All Too Human (1999)

August 14 | 1pm

Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic

Film screening | 4:30PM

Reds (1981)

August 21: Coda | 1pm

Marx, To make the world philosophical, Robert Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader (Norton 2nd ed., 1978) pp. 9–11
Marx, For the ruthless criticism of everything existingMarx-Engels Reader pp. 12–15
Marx, Theses on FeuerbachMarx-Engels Reader pp. 143–145
Marx, On [Bruno Bauer’s] The Jewish QuestionMarx-Engels Reader pp. 26–52
Marx, The coming upheaval [see bottom of section, beginning with “Economic conditions had first transformed the mass”] (from The Poverty of Philosophy, 1847), Marx-Engels Reader pp. 218–219
Marx and Engels, Communist ManifestoMarx-Engels Reader pp. 469–500

Le Corbusier Ville Radieuse (1930)

“Exact Air,” from Le Corbusier’s Radiant City (1930)

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Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse (1930)
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Exact air? Queens and Brooklyn could probably use it, seeing the tornado that just passed through here. Perhaps it’s too fantastic, pure technological messianism. Still, it’s interesting. Le Corbusier on “exact air”:

But then where is Utopia, where the temperature is 64.4º?…
And why the devil do men insist on living in difficult or dangerous climates? I’ve no idea! But I can observe a worsening situation:
The variety of climates had forged races, cultures, customs, dress, and work methods suited to the obtaining conditions.
Alas, the machine age has, as it were, shuffled the cards — the age-old cards of the world. Since the machine age, the product of progress, has disturbed everything, couldn’t it also give us the means to salvation?
Multiplicity of climates, play of seasons, a break with secular traditions — confusion, disorder, and the martyrdom of man.
I seek the remedy, I seek the constant; I find the human lung. With adaptability and intelligence, let’s give the lung the constant which is the prerequisite of its functioning: exact air.
Let’s manufacture exact air: filters, driers, humidifiers, disinfectors. Machines of childish simplicity.
Send exact air into men’s lungs, at home, at the factory, at the office, at the club and the auditorium: ventilators, machines so often used, but so often used badly!
Let’s give man the solar rays which will penetrate the all-glass facades. But will be too hot in the summer and terribly cold in the winter! Let’s create ‘neutralizing walls.’ (And ‘sun control’).

— Le Corbusier, The Radiant City: Elements of a Doctrine of Urbanism to be Used as the Basis of Our Magine-Age Civilization (1933), pg. 42.

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