Marxist reading group

Chicago 2006




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Preliminary reading

The Absence of the Left

"However difficult the task of grasping and confronting global capital might be, it is crucially important that a global internationalism be recovered and reformulated. . . . None of the massive demonstrations against the war featured oppositional progressive Iraqis who could provide a more nuanced and critical perspective on the Middle East, a telling political failure on the part of the Left." (Postone 2006)

"We have to note, with regret, that the Iraqi democratic forces have not received, in their difficult struggle, effective solidarity and support from international forces of the Left." (Iraqi CP 2006)

Moishe Postone, "History and Helplessness: Mass Mobilization and Contemporary Forms of Anticapitalism" (2006)

Iraqi Communist Party, Letter to Fraternal and Friendly Parties About the Situation in Iraq and the Position of the Iraqi Communist Party (Jan. 2006)

[journalism on labor organizing in U.S.-occupied Iraq:]
"Iraqi Labor Tour in U.S. Stirs Controversy" (Jul. 2005)
"Iraqi Unions Defy Privatization" (Oct. 2005)
"Disunity Threatens Iraqi Labor's Resistance to Occupation" (Nov. 2005)



Discussing Empire?

"The reemergence of imperialist rivalries calls for the recovery of nondualistic forms of internationalism. However objectionable the current American administration is, the Left should be very careful about becoming, unwittingly, the stalking horse for a would-be rival hegemon [and] constituting a form of politics that, from the standpoint of human emancipation, would be questionable, at the very best, however many people it may rouse." (Postone 2006)

"In practice, the sanctimonious anti-power idealism preached by Hardt, Negri & Co. degenerates into the grubby politics of 'lesser evil' capitalism . . . promoting the butchers of Auschwitz and Algeria as more benevolent and progressive than their U.S. rivals." (Spartacist 2006)

Samir Amin, "U.S. Imperialism, Europe, and the Middle East" (2004)

Jürgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, "February 15, Or What Binds Europeans Together: A Plea for a Common Foreign Policy, Beginning in the Core of Europe" (2003)
[excerpts from original German publication]

Gayatri Spivak, "Terror: A Speech After 9-11" (2004)

Russell Berman, "Anti-Americanism and the Movement Against Globalization"
[from Anti-Americanism in Europe: A Cultural Problem (2004)]

Spartacist League, "The Senile Dementia of Post-Marxism: Empire, Multitude and the 'Death of Communism' " (2006)



"Anti-imperialism" and the "Left" after 9-11 and Iraq

"We do not simply oppose U.S. power, but seek to revolutionize the world! . . .
Can Marxist revolutionaries recognize that the policies of U.S. hegemony can be (and today are being mostly or only) opposed from the
Right?" (Chris C 2006)

Spartacist League, "The Left and the Occupation: U.S. Out of Iraq Now! For Class Struggle Against U.S. Capitalist Rulers!" (2005)

Spartacist League and Chris C, "Exchange on the Iraq 'Resistance' " (2004/05)

Spartacist League and Chris C, "Exchange on Iraq Occupation" (2006)

Tariq Ali, "Mid-Point in the Middle East?" (2006)

Fred Halliday, "Who is Responsible? [interview with Danny Postel in Chicago]" (2005)


March 9, 2006

"Why art can't kill the New Left"
discussion of Retort, Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War

"Maybe, after Benjamin — after a half-century of the hermeneutics of suspicion — what needs to be recaptured is the sunlight, the full illusion of assurance and transparency that out there, beyond the academy, still holds the majority in its grip." (Clark 2003)

" 'Is this a "material" which can patiently await interpretation without being consumed by its own aura?' [Adorno to Benjamin 1935] . . . as Marx, it might be argued, fetishizes the commodity in his very account of it." (Foster/October eds. 2006)

Retort Collective, "Afflicted Powers: The State, the Spectacle and September 11" (2004)

Hal Foster/October editors and Retort, "An Exchange on Afflicted Powers" (2006)

T. J. Clark, "Should Benjamin Have Read Marx?" (2003)

T. J. Clark, "Why Art Can't Kill the Situationist International" (1997)


April 15 and 23, 2006

Theory and Practice I
Marcuse and Adorno in the New Left: the 1930s and the '60s

"In socialism, freedom is to become a reality. But because the present system is called 'free' and considered liberal, it is not terribly clear what this might mean. . . . Not only [the Little Man's] lack of freedom but that of [his betters] as well spells his doom. His interest lies in the Marxist clarification of the concept of freedom. . . .
The socialist order of society is not prevented by world history; it is historically possible. But it will not be realized by a logic that is immanent to history but by men trained in theory and determined to make things better. Otherwise, it will not be realized at all." (Horkheimer 1926-31)

"Praxis appears necessarily as a blind spot, as an obsession with what is being criticized. . . . This admixture of delusion, however, warns of the excesses in which it incessantly grows." (Adorno 1969)

Max Horkheimer, selections from Dämmerung (Notes 1926-31)

Paul Berman, "The Passion of Joschka Fischer: from the radicalism of the '60s to the interventionism of the '90s" (2001)

Herbert Marcuse, "The End of Utopia," and "The Problem of Violence" (lectures 1967)

Marcuse, "The Question of Revolution" (interview 1967)

Esther Leslie, Introduction to the 1969 Adorno-Marcuse correspondence (1999)

Theodor W. Adorno and Marcuse, correspondence on the German New Left (1969)

Adorno, "Marginalia to Theory and Praxis" (1969)

[supplemental reading:]
Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood, and Christian Parenti, " 'Action Will Be Taken': Left Anti-Intellectualism and its Discontents" (2002)


May 26, 2006

Theory and Practice II
Korsch, "Marxism and Philosophy"

"As scientific socialism, the Marxism of Marx and Engels remains the inclusive whole of a theory of social revolution . . . a materialism whose theory comprehended the totality of society and history, and whose practice overthrew it. . . . The difference [now] is that the various components of [what for Marx and Engels was] the unbreakable interconnection of theory and practice are further separated out. . . . The umbilical cord has been broken." (Korsch 1923)

Karl Korsch, "Marxism and Philosophy" (1923)

Korsch, "The Marxism of the First International" (1924)

Korsch and Adorno, selected epigraphs on social being and consciousness in modern history (1923, 1935, 1966, 1969)


June 11, 2006

Theory and Practice III
Marx, "Critique of the Gotha Programme"

"Qui si convien lasciare ogni sospetto;
Ogni viltà convien che qui sia morta
[Here all mistrust must be abandoned;
And here must perish every craven thought]"
(Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia 1308-21 quoted by Marx 1859)

Karl Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)
[also in Robert Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader, 3-6]

Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (1875)
[also in Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader, 525-541]

Karl Korsch, Introduction to Marx's Critique of the Gotha Programme (1922)


June 25, 2006

Reading the New Left I
The post-'60s Left and the "unknown" Marx: the path not taken

"The most important Marxian political manifesto remains to be written." (Nicolaus 1968)

Martin Nicolaus, "The Unknown Marx" (1968)
[also in Carl Oglesby, ed., The New Left Reader (1969), 84-110]

Moishe Postone, "Rethinking Marx (in a post-Marxist world)" (1995)


July 9, 2006

Reading the New Left — Excursus I
Women and revolution

"The call to abandon their illusions about their conditions is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions." (Karl Marx, Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right 1843, quoted by Tariq Ali 1987)

"I'm gonna ask you comrade and brother
How do you treat your own woman back home
She got to be herself
So she can free herself."
(John Lennon, "Power to the People" 1968, quoted by Ali 1987)

"The situation of women is different from that of any other social group. This is because they are not one of a number of isolable units, but half a totality: the human species. . . . They are fundamental to the human condition, yet in their economic, social and political roles, they are marginal. It is precisely this combination — fundamental and marginal at one and the same time — that has been fatal to them." (Mitchell 1966)

Juliet Mitchell, "Women: the Longest Revolution" (1966)
[revised version from Women's Estate (1971)]

Quintin Hoare, "On Mitchell's 'Women: The longest revolution' " (1967)

Mitchell, reply to Quintin Hoare (1967)

[recommended background reading:]
Tariq Ali, from "Much Maligned Movements 1969-75"
[Chapter 10 of Street-Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the '60s (1987/2005)] [Pasolini epigraph to 2005 edition]

Herbert Marcuse, "Marxism and Feminism" (1974)

Marcuse, "The Failure of the New Left?" (1975)

Lynne Segal, "Psychoanalysis and Politics: Juliet Mitchell then and now" (2000)

Clara Zetkin and V. I. Lenin, "My Recollections of Lenin: an interview on the woman question" (interview 1920)


July 16, 2006

Reading the New Left II
Crisis on the Left: is revolution justified by history?

"For, after all, are we not always in exceptional situations? The failure of the [1848 revolution in France and the] 1849 revolution in Germany [were] exception[s], the failure in Paris in 1871 was an exception, the German Social-Democratic failure of the beginning of the 20th Century in producing the chauvinism of 1914 was an exception, the success of 1917 was an exception — exceptions, but with respect to what? Nothing but the abstract idea, which is nonetheless comforting and reassuring, of a pure, simple, dialectical schema, which in its very simplicity seems to have retained the memory (or rediscovered the allure) of the Hegelian model and its faith in the resolving power of the abstract contradiction as such: particularly the beautiful contradiction between Capital and Labor." (Althusser 1962)

Louis Althusser, "Contradiction and Overdetermination" (1962)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 57-83; also in Althusser, For Marx (1965-66)]

Carl Oglesby, "Introduction: The Idea of the New Left" (1969)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 1-20]

[supplemental reading:]
Althusser, "Marxism and Humanism" (1963/65)
[also in For Marx]


July 23 and 30, 2006

Reading the New Left — Excursus II
"What is revolutionary leadership?"
Leninism and Trotskyism

"The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of revolutionary leadership." (Leon Trotsky 1938)

" 'Revisionism' is the view that every new development requires the abandonment in practice of basic aspects of previously held theory. Ultimately this drift from the dialectical materialist method leads to a drift from the working class itself. Marxism, on the contrary, develops through the continual integration of new elements, new realities, into its theoretical structure. . . .
Particularly in the present period, when the working class seems to the empiricist to be under the complete and everlasting domination of reformist bureaucracies, this ideological pressure is the result of a terribly strong social pressure. The Trotskyist groups feel small and isolated at the very moment that significant leftist forces are clearly in motion throughout the world. These forces, however, are under the leadership of non-proletarian tendencies: 'left' social democrats, Stalinists of one or another variety, and 'revolutionary' bourgeois or petty-bourgeois groups in the colonial countries." (RT of the SWP-USA 1962)

Cliff Slaughter, "What is Revolutionary Leadership?" (1960)

Revolutionary Tendency of the Socialist Workers Party (USA), "In Defense of a Revolutionary Perspective" (1962)

[supplemental reading:]
Spartacist League, "Genesis of Pabloism" (1972)

Communist (Third) International, "Guidelines on the Organizational Structure of Communist Parties, on the Methods and Content of their Work" (resolutions 1921)
(especially: Resolution of the 24th Session of the Third Congress of the Communist International; and Resolution on the Organization of the Communist International)

[recommended background reading:]
Richard Appignanesi and Oscar Zarate / A&Z, Introducing Lenin and the Russian Revolution / Lenin for Beginners (1977)

Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)

Spartacist League, Lenin and the Vanguard Party (pamphlet 1978)


August 6, 2006

Reading the New Left III
The "black question" in America (1): revolutionary integrationism

"For the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white." (Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks 1952)

Dick Fraser, Two Lectures (1953)

James Robertson and Shirley Stoute, "For Black Trotskyism" (1963)

Spartacist League, "Black and Red — Class Struggle Road to Negro Freedom" (1966)


August 13, 2006

Reading the New Left III (continued)
The "black question" in America (2): in the absence of revolutionary leadership

"As far as organizing white people goes, we give white people the privilege of having a mind and we want them to get a body." (Newton 1968)

Malcolm X, " 'I Don't Mean Bananas' " (1964)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 207-222]

Huey Newton, A Prison Interview (1968)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 223-240]

Finally Got the News
(film on DVD 1970, 55 min.: dir. Stewart Bird, Rene Lichtman and Peter Gessner; produced in association with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers)

[supplemental reading:]
Spartacist League, "Soul Power or Workers Power: The Rise and Fall of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers" (1974)


August 27, 2006

Reading the New Left IV
New forms of discontent?

"It is with [the] problem of agency in mind that I have been studying the intellectuals. . . . [I]f we try to be realistic in our utopianism — and that is not fruitless contradiction — a writer on the Left today must begin there. For that is what we are, that is where we stand." (Mills 1960)

"The advancing one-dimensional society alters the relation between the rational and the irrational. Contrasted with the fantastic and insane aspects of its rationality, the realm of the irrational becomes the home of the really rational — of the ideas which may 'promote the art of life'." (Marcuse 1964)

"The concept of the Left remains unclear to this day." (Kolakowski 1968)

C. Wright Mills, "The Politics of Responsibility" (1960)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 23-31]
[includes excerpts from "Letter to the New Left" (1960)
[PDF] ]

Herbert Marcuse, "Conclusion" from One-Dimensional Man (1964)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 32-40]

Leszek Kolakowski, "The Concept of the Left" (1968)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 144-158]


September 8-14, 2006

Reading the New Left — Excursus III
The Popular Front and the coup against Allende in Chile

"The electoral victory of Allende's Popular Front in Chile poses the issue of revolution or counter-revolution . . . paving the way for a bloody defeat for the Chilean working people when domestic reaction, abetted by international imperialism, is ready." (Spartacist 1970)

Salvador Allende
(film 2004, 100 min.: dir. Patricio Guzmán)

Spartacist League,"Chilean Popular Front" (1970)

[supplemental viewing:]
(film on DVD 1982, 122 min.: dir. Costa Gavras)


September 17, 2006

Reading the New Left V
Re-organizing the Left?

André Gorz, from Strategy for Labor (1964)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 41-56]

Stuart Hall, Raymond Williams and E. P. Thompson, from May Day Manifesto (1967)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 111-143]

Fidel Castro, "The Universal Conscience" (1968)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 186-206]

Ernesto "Che" Guevara, "Socialism and Man in Cuba" (1965)


October 1, 2006

Reading the New Left VI
New "vanguards" for revolution? (1): anti-authoritarianism

Rudi Dutschke, "On Anti-Authoritarianism" (1968)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 243-253]

Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, "The Battle for the Streets — C'est Pour Toi Que Tu Fais La Révolution" [from Obsolete Communism: A Left-Wing Alternative (1968)]
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 254-266]

[recommended background reading:]
Paul Berman, "The Passion of Joschka Fischer: from the radicalism of the '60s to the interventionism of the '90s" (2001)


October 15, 2006

Reading the New Left VI (continued)
New "vanguards" for revolution? (2): the "student" movement

The Open Assembly of June 13-14 1968, "The Appeal from the Sorbonne [Theses]" (1968)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 267-273]

Tom Fawthrop, Tom Nairn and David Triesman, "Three Student Risings" (1968)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 274-289]

Mark Rudd, "Columbia — Notes on the Spring Rebellion" (1969)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 290-312]

Carl Oglesby, "Introduction: The Idea of the New Left" (1969)
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 1-20]


October 29, November 5 and 12, and December 3, 2006

After the New Left
"The thought of the outside"

discussion of Foucault and the Iranian Revolution and post-New Left Islamism

"A social field offers more resistance than strategies [of power], and the thought of the outside is a thought of resistance." (Deleuze, Foucault 1986)

"We should not be deceived into thinking that [history] is an acquisition, a possession that grows and solidifies; rather, it is an unstable assemblage of faults, fissures, and heterogeneous layers that threaten the fragile inheritor from within or underneath." (Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" 1971 in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice 1977)

"The past reveals to the present what the present is capable of seeing." (R. H. Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism 1926 quoted by Abrahamian 1982)

1st session:
October 29, 2006

Frantz Fanon, "Algeria Unveiled" [from A Dying Colonialism (1959)]
[in Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader, 161-185]

[supplemental reading:]
Frantz Fanon, Conclusion to The Wretched of the Earth (1961)

The Battle of Algiers
(film 1966, 121 min.: dir. Gillo Pontecorvo)

[supplemental viewing:]
Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask
(film 1996, 52 min.: dir. Isaac Julien)

2nd session:
November 5, 2006

Fred Halliday, "The Iranian Revolution: Uneven Development and Religious Populism" (1982/86)

Fred Halliday, "The Iranian Revolution and its Implications" (interview 1987)

[supplemental reading:]
Spartacist League, "For Workers Revolution in Iran! Iran Fake Left: 1979: With the Mullahs Against the Monarchy; 2003: With the Monarchy Against the Mullahs" (2003)

[recommended background reading:]
Ervand Abrahamian, Iran Between Two Revolutions (1982) [especially chapters 6-8 on Tudeh Party, and 9-11 on Political Oppositions to the Shah and 1979 Islamic Revolution]

3rd and 4th sessions:
November 12 and December 3, 2006

Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson, "Revisiting Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: the seductions of Islamism" (2004)

Afary and Anderson, Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism (2005) [including Foucault's writings on the Iranian Revolution and contemporary criticisms] [PDF of Introduction, and Part I, Chapters 1-2]

Michel Foucault, "Polemics, Politics and Problematizations" (interview with Paul Rabinow 1984)

[supplemental reading:]
David Greason, "Embracing Death: the Western Left and the Iranian Revolution, 1978-83" (2005)

Fred Halliday, "Who is Responsible? [interview with Danny Postel in Chicago]" (2005)


December 10, 2006

Nietzsche contra Foucault

"What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms — in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are." (Nietzsche 1873)

"This is a parable for every individual among us. He must organize the chaos in himself by recalling in himself his own real needs. . . . against what will be constantly repeated, relearned, and imitated. He begins then to grasp that culture can still be something other than a decoration of life . . . a new and improved Physis [nature], without inner and outer, without pretense and convention, culture as a unanimity of living, thinking, appearing, and willing. . . . This truthfulness may also occasionally seriously harm the idea of culture esteemed at the time; it even may be able to assist a totally decorative culture to collapse." (Nietzsche 1874)

Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life (1874) [translator's introduction by Peter Preuss]

Michel Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" (1971)
[in Language, Counter-Memory, Practice (1977)]

[optional reading:]
Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals (1887)

[supplemental reading:]
Nietzsche, On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense (1873)
[excerpt PDF]

Foucault, "Polemics, Politics and Problematizations" (interview with Paul Rabinow 1984)

[supplemental viewing:]
Noam Chomsky and Foucault, "Human Nature: Justice vs. Power" (Parts 1 + 2, 1971)


[2007 readings]

[2007-08 reading group]

[Marxist readings archive]


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