New York City Marxist reading group




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Platypus NYC Marxist reading group

Meets Sundays 1-4PM at:

New York University
Puck Building
Sociology Department
295 Lafayette St. 4th floor
New York, NY 10012


·  primary readings


next meeting:

May 24, 2009

Theory and practice (2)

· Theodor W. Adorno, "Marginalia to Theory and Praxis" (1969)

· Theodor W. Adorno, "Resignation" (1969)

Theodor W. Adorno, "Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?" (AKA "Is Marx Obsolete?," 1968)

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

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




Introduction to revolutionary Marxism


October 5, 2008

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)

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

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

Terry Eagleton, "The Politics of Amnesia" (Ch. 1 of After Theory, 2003)

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


October 19, 2008

What is the Left?

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

· Leszek Kolakowski, "The Concept of the Left" (1968)
[in Carl Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader (1969), 144-158]


November 2, 2008

Marxism as theory and practice: the 1920s-30s "Old" Left

"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)

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

· Theodor W. Adorno, part X. "Imaginative excesses" from "Messages in a Bottle" (orphaned from Minima Moralia 1944-47)

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

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

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


November 16, 2008

Missed opportunity: the 1960s "New" Left

"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)

· C. Wright Mills, "Letter to the New Left" (1960) [PDF]

· Mills, "The Politics of Responsibility" (1960)
[in Carl Oglesby, ed., New Left Reader (1969), 23-31]
[includes excerpts from "Letter to the New Left" (1960)
[PDF] ]

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


November 30, 2008

1960s paths not taken (1a): Civil Rights - Black Power (1)

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

· Richard Fraser, Two Lectures on the Black Question in America and Revolutionary Integrationism (1953)

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

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

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

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


December 14, 2008

1960s paths not taken (1b): Civil Rights - Black Power (2)

· Adolph Reed, "Paths to Critical Theory" (1984)

· Harold Cruse, The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual (1967) [selections part 1, 3-10 and 11-63] [part 2, 451-475 and 544-565]


January 11, 2009

1960s paths not taken (1c): Civil Rights - Black Power (3)

· Bayard Rustin, "From Protest to Politics: the future of the civil rights movement" (1965)

· Bayard Rustin, "The Failure of Black Separatism" (1970)

Bayard Rustin, "The Blacks and the Unions" (1971)

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


January 18, 2009

1960s paths not taken (2): gender, sexuality and revolution

"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)

"While capitalism has knocked the material foundation away from family life, lesbians, gay men, and heterosexual feminists have become scapegoats for the instability of the system." (D'Emilio 1983)

"Sexual liberation in contemporary society is mere illusion. . . . In an unfree society, sexual freedom is hardly more conceivable than any other form of freedom. Sexuality is disarmed as sex, as though it were a kind of sport, and whatever is different about it still causes allergic reactions. . . . A true, instinctually erotic life, the relations that generate pleasure, is by no means that healthy sex life that in the most advanced industrial countries is encouraged by all sectors of the economy." (Adorno 1963)

· 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)

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

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

· John D'Emilio, "Capitalism and Gay Identity" (1983)

Theodor W. Adorno, "Sexual Taboos and the Law Today" (1963)


January 25, 2009

What is "revolutionary leadership?"

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

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

· Rosa Luxemburg, "The Crisis of German Social Democracy" Part 1 (1915) [PDF]


February 1, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (1)

· J. P. Nettl, "The German Social Democratic Party 1890-1914 as a Political Model" (1965)


February 8, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (2)

· Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution? (1900/08)


February 15, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (3)

· Karl Korsch, "Marxism and Philosophy" (1923)

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


February 22, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (4)

V. I. Lenin, "Where to Begin?" (1901)

· V. I. Lenin, What is to be Done? Burning Questions of Our Movement (1902) [PDF]
[in Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Lenin Anthology, 12-114]


March 1, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (5)

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

Kautskyism and the Origins of Russian Social Democracy

Bolshevism vs. Menshevism: the 1903 Split

The 1905 Revolution

Party, Faction and "Freedom of criticism"

In Defense of Democratic Centralism:
A 1973 speech by James Robertson to the West German Spartacus (Bolschewiki-Leninisten)

The Struggle Against the Boycotters

The Final Split with the Mensheviks

Toward the Communist International

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


March 8, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (6)

· Georg Lukács, "Preface" [original, 1922], History and Class Consciousness, xli-xlvii

· Georg Lukács, "What is Orthodox Marxism?" (1919), History and Class Consciousness, 1-26

· Georg Lukács, "Class Consciousness" (1920), History and Class Consciousness, 46-82


March 15, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (7a) 1905 (1)

· Leon Trotsky, Results and Prospects (1906)

[recommended background reading:]
Tariq Ali and Phil Evans, Introducing Trotsky and Marxism / Trotsky for Beginners (1980)


March 22, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (7) 1905 (continued)

· Rosa Luxemburg, The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions (1906)


March 29, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (8)

· V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution (1917)


April 5, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (9) 1917-19 (1)

· Rosa Luxemburg, "What does the Spartacus League Want?" and "On the Spartacus Programme" (1918)

[recommended background reading:]
Sebastian Haffner, Failure of a Revolution: Germany 1918-19 (1968)


April 12, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (10)

· V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism — An Infantile Disorder (1920)


April 26, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (11)

· Georg Lukács, "The Standpoint of the Proletariat" [HTML sections 1-2] [sections 3-4] [sections 5-6] (Part III of "Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat," 1923), History and Class Consciousness, 149-222


May 3, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (12) 1917-19 (2)

· Leon Trotsky, The Lessons of October (1924) [HTML]

Rosa Luxemburg, "The Russian Tragedy" (1918)

Rosa Luxemburg, "Order Reigns in Berlin" (1919)


May 10, 2009

Revolutionary Marxism (13)

· Leon Trotsky, The Death Agony of Capitalism and the Tasks of the Fourth International (AKA "Transitional Program for Socialist Revolution") (1938) [HTML]


May 17, 2009

Theory and practice (1)

· Theodor W. Adorno, "Reflections on Class Theory" (1942)

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, selections from the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1847-48, Prefaces to various language editions, I. "Bourgeois and Proletarians," II. "Proletarians and Communists," and IV. "Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties" [PDF])
[in Robert C. Tucker, ed., Marx-Engels Reader, 469-491, and 499-500]


May 24, 2009

Theory and practice (2)

· Theodor W. Adorno, "Marginalia to Theory and Praxis" (1969)

· Theodor W. Adorno, "Resignation" (1969)

Theodor W. Adorno, "Late Capitalism or Industrial Society?" (AKA "Is Marx Obsolete?," 1968)

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

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


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