[lbo-talk] Platypus: what we are, what we do, and why

Christopher Cutrone ccutrone at speedsite.com
Tue Apr 6 14:22:22 PDT 2010

I'm writing in response to the request made by Doug Henwood via Bhaskar Sunkara, regarding the thread on the recent interview on "Steal This Radio" with Platypus organizers Chris Mansour and Ian Morrison.

A "two-sentence" description of what we're about was requested. I think Bhaskar has done a good job describing our project.

We consider ourselves an organized political project but not a political party. Our project has two dimensions, the public work we do and the self-understanding we try to cultivate among our own members as to why we are doing what we are doing. These are not necessarily the same thing, what we are doing and the reasons for this, and in fact I would consider it a matter of relating "theory and practice."


We organize public fora on various topics of relevance to the Left, and an open-submission forum-in-print, The Platypus Review, a free monthly broadsheet publication funded and distributed mainly on college/university campuses in Chicago, NYC, Boston, Toronto and elsewhere (Yale, Princeton, UWisconsin Madison, Purdue, UC Santa Cruz, etc.). We have about 40 dues-paying members and several additional regular collaborators, in the U.S., Canada, Germany and the U.K.

We started as a reading group in Chicago in 2006 and formally constituted ourselves as an organization, starting to hold our fora and publish our paper in 2007. We've had the following panelists or published writings by: Ernesto Laclau, Moishe Postone, T. J. Clark, Hal Foster, David Harvey, Stephen Duncombe, Danny Postel, Michael Lowy, Peter Hudis, Kevin Anderson, Andrew Kliman, James Heartfield, David Black, Michael Albert, Paul Street, Ervand Abrahamian, Hamid Dabashi, Leo Panitch, members of the ISO, Solidarity and the RCP, and worked closely with the new SDS, the (various) Marxist-Humanists, the immigration rights movement, and others. We have included various student activists on our public forum panels, and have the plurality of our published writings have been by undergraduate students. Most of our published articles in The Platypus Review have been written by non-members of Platypus and hence do not reflect our organization's "positions" on

anything. The closest our publications have reflected our organization's perspectives, this has been in the form of my articles, but even these do not express any solid consensus of formulation. Our own articulations aim to raise questions and to provoke discussion and debate rather than offer analysis, let alone programmatic or properly political positions.

As an organized membership, we have consisted mostly of undergraduate or recently graduated students, with a few graduate students (Chris Mansour is an MFA student at Parsons; Ian Morrison is not a student, but a recent college graduate), and a couple of professional academics/teachers. We have only 2 members over 40 y.o. (and only 6 over 30 y.o.).


A few of us are current or former students of Moishe Postone; a couple of us have also been mentored by Adolph Reed. These are our two single most influential living figures for our thinking, but a couple of us are also former members of the Spartacist Youth Club when we were in college almost 20 years ago. My personal academic specialization is Frankfurt School Critical Theory, Adorno and Benjamin in particular. The group started with several of my students asking for an extra-curricular reading group on the contemporary relevance of F.S. critical theory for politics. One of our very first readings was Featherstone/Henwood/Parenti's "Action Will Be Taken" critique of the "anti-war" movement (2002).

We've offered, for our own self-understanding, what we call a "synthesis" of the "2nd International radicals" Lenin, Luxemburg, and Trotsky with F.S. critical theory, especially by Benjamin and Adorno, but also by the early Lukacs and Korsch, considering all of these to be the most interesting developments of Marx's work in theory and practice. We think that what Korsch termed the "crisis of Marxism" 1914-23, was never adequately resolved but rather Marxism disintegrated and degenerated, with negative consequences for the Left, "Marxist" or otherwise.

After Benjamin and Adorno, we consider post-1917-19 history to be "regressive" regarding emancipatory politics. We think the 1960s-70s "New Left" did not rectify this in any way, even though there were some (very few) promising (but aborted) starts in this direction. We have a rather polemical attitude towards the legacy of the New Left, which we think muddied matters more than clarifying them, contributing to the regression.

We think that the "Left is dead" and that, as a result, some important emancipatory thought has migrated to the "Right" (i.e., migrated to aspects of neoconservative and neoliberal thought), and hence we think that classical liberalism needs to be reappropriated by any purported Left, including any ostensible Marxist socialist politics. E.g., we think that Christopher Hitchens is as much a member of the "Left" worthy of (critical) consideration as is Tariq Ali, et al. We think that nothing can be taken for granted about the Left, and that "all bets are off" with regard to past, historical positions and programs of the Left, Marxist or otherwise. We think it necessary to cultivate debate on the very meaning of the Left at its most radically fundamental levels in order for the Left to be reformulated as an effective political force.

We find Kolakowski's 1968 essay on "The Concept of the Left" an extremely useful discussion of the Left as defined politically intellectually/ideologically, and not sociologically, i.e., that the Left is defined by its utopianism and negation of the status quo, not by its constitution by social groups (e.g., socioeconomic "classes," or oppressed minorities, et al.):


I hope this clarifies.

-- Chris


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