Friday, June 07, 2013

Open letter about the Platypus Affiliated Society

May 29, 2013

Dear friends and comrades,

We are writing to you about the Platypus Affiliated Society, in the hope you will be dissuaded from future participation in this organization's activities. Platypus presents itself as a student group organizing public fora (including its publication, the Platypus Review) for the purpose of "interrogating and clarifying positions" on the Left towards the "practical reconstitution of a Marxian Left." However, in reality the group is defined not by its identification or solidarity with the Left, but by its strategy of, in the words of founder and president Chris Cutrone, “making war on the existing 'Left'.” Thus, Platypus public fora are not intended for productive dialogue, but rather serve as opportunities for Platypus to discredit the scholars and activists on the Left whom they have, in bad faith, invited to participate.

The strategy underlying Platypus' activities is detailed in the attached statements by Cutrone. Here, Cutrone outlines Platypus' identity as a “combat organization” fighting to “hasten the disintegration and dissolution of the ‘Left’." Platypus, Cutrone writes, seeks to “degrade our interlocutors into ever more untenable positions, until, finally, we hope, they abandon any self-conscious commitment to the Left....This will leave the field to us alone.”

Thus, Platypus conceives of itself as in direct antagonism with the Left they hope to demoralize and disorient, and the activist movements they hope to erode. Importantly, however, this is not on the basis of any explicit positions, which Platypus, disingenuously, claims not to take. Rather, the organization's opposition to the Left is a foundational antagonism, in which Platypus posits the Left as the fundamental obstacle to a renewed Marxist politics and defines itself against that Left in its entirety — regardless of what leftists say or do.

Cutrone's introduction to the Left came as a member of the Spartacist League, and his project inherits the Spartacist tactic of undermining and caricaturing other leftists. Crucially, though, Platypus' unique brand of anti-leftism is distinguished from even the most sectarian tendencies on the Left by its unprincipled character, making it categorically different from the ultra-leftism of tendencies that criticize the Left on the basis of program, positions, or concrete analysis.

This unprincipled character of Platypus' anti-leftism in turn leads it to import reactionary ideologies into its “hosted conversation” to use in attacking the Left.

For instance, in combating left anti-imperialism Platypus highlights the arguments of right-wing pro-imperial tendencies that claim to be on the Left (e.g. the anti-Germans). In this sense, Platypus sees nothing problematic about incorporating liberalism and imperialism into its political project in order to attack the Left — from the right.

As one important example, Platypus' opposition to left solidarity with Palestine leads Cutrone to the following, decidedly non-leftist, conclusions:

Now I am going to say something for internal consumption only (this is perhaps a "closeted" position): At this point, the only hope that the Palestinians have is in and through Israel, precisely as a "settler colonial state," not independent of, let alone opposed to it. Just as the only hope for Native Americans has been through integration into the U.S.

Of course the degree to which the U.S. was racist it failed as bourgeois society -- as is true of Israel today. Now, precisely the problem is that Israel doesn't "want" the Palestinians. So the Palestinians are indeed quite vulnerable. But the rational kernel of such racism is that "they are not like us," i.e., the recognition and rejection of non-bourgeois forms of life. We must defend this rational kernel of bourgeois subjectivity obscure to itself, rather than the Ben Lewis et al.'s perspective of assuming everyone is always already bourgeois, anthropologically. They're not.

Bourgeois society is a fragile achievement, not natural. It is a society, not an individual matter.

And it is the only possible basis for progress in freedom.

As an organization Platypus conceives of itself as possessing an understanding of history that positions it — and it alone — at the center of a world-historic revival of the Left. This historical consciousness resides above all in Cutrone, who serves as a guru figure for Platypus as the organization's “chief pedagogue.” Platypus seeks to capitalize on widespread dissatisfaction with the Left to direct recently politicized young people, especially undergraduates, away from the Left, and to progressively instill in them an extreme hostility towards it, based on loyalty to Cutrone's historical narrative alone.

Since Platypus defines itself in opposition to the Left, it cannot be considered a part of the Left. While at present the organization’s size and influence are relatively unsubstantial, the group is likely to continue to grow and engage in increasingly destructive behavior — so long as leftists continue to participate in its “conversation.” As the project depends on the good faith of the very same Left that they "make war" upon, we encourage you to consider a policy of disengagement, by declining to participate in their public fora, including the Platypus Review. We invite those who agree with this sentiment to contact us to have their name added to this letter.

Sincerely,

Ben Campbell, editor of The North Star; former member of the Platypus Affiliated Society (*)

In solidarity,
Bruno Bosteels, Professor of Romance Studies, Cornell University; author of The Actuality of Communism, and Marx and Freud in Latin America
Sebastian Budgen, editor, Historical Materialism (*)
George Ciccariello-Maher, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Drexel University; author of We Created Chávez: A People's History of the Venezuelan Revolution; former member of Bring the Ruckus
Jodi Dean, Professor of Political Science, Hobert and William Smith Colleges; author of The Communist Horizon and Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies
Andrej Grubacic, Associate Professor of Anthropology, California Institute of Integral studies; author of Don't Mourn, Balkanize: Essays After Yugoslavia (PM Press)
Doug Henwood, editor, Left Business Observer; author of Wall Street and After the New Economy
Deepa Kumar, Associate Professor of Media Studies and Middle Eastern Studies, Rutgers University; author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire and Outside the Box
Alexander Locascio, DIE LINKE Berlin (*)
Andrew Loewen, editor/publisher, Briarpatch Magazine (*)
Scott McLemee, New Politics editorial board (*)
Charlie Post, Professor of Sociology, Borough of Manhattan Community College; author of The American Road to Capitalism; member of Solidarity (*)
Nina Power, senior lecturer in philosophy, Roehampton University; author of One-Dimensional Woman
Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist
Jason Read, Professor of Philosophy, University of Southern Maine; author of The Micro-Politics of Capital: Marx and the Prehistory of the Present
Richard Seymour, author of American Insurgents, The Liberal Defence of Murder, and Unhitched
Sherry Wolf, author of Sexuality and Socialism; member of the International Socialist Organization (*)
Carlos Rivera, Maosoleum
Brian Holmes, art and cultural critic, author of Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control of Society 
* organizational affiliations are intended for identification purposes, and do not imply organizational endorsements


Chris Cutrone's 2010 Presidential Report, excerpt (emphasis added):

Especially for those new members of the organization, i.e., those who have joined since last year's 1st annual convention, but also for long-standing members, it is important to lay out (and reiterate) the purpose and structure of our organization.

Platypus is a combat organization. It exists to make war on the existing ("dead," fake/pseudo-) "Left" and to overcome it. In this we are no different from any political organization, whose goal to exert power over the course of human events. How we do so and why we do so the ways we do, i.e., how we justify our activity to ourselves, is an integral part of how we understand our own project.

First, it is necessary to dispel any illusions about Platypus as an organization. It is not a group of people, but an activity in which people participate. Platypus is a project, and like any project, it is defined by its on-going activity. The transformations of Platypus as a project are to be found in the transformations of its activity. Platypus is only Platypus the degree to which it is doing Platypus activity or Platypus work. Because Platypus exists in a changing (set of) historical circumstance(s), to do what it will and must do it must necessarily change its activities over time, both as a function of changing situation, and the development of itself as a set of activities.

So, we are not defined by the people in the organization, but rather by what these people are doing.  When people (especially the most active members) change what they are doing, the project necessarily changes. The issue is how is our project going to control and guide rather than fall victim to such inevitable changes in members' activity in and around Platypus?

I emphasize that we are a combat organization waging war on the "Left" because it is helpful and instructive to regard Platypus not as an entity or fixed structure but rather a campaign. The issue is not maintaining structure so much as maintaining mission. We are on a mission. Members' individual activities and personal orientation towards this mission can and should change, but the mission needs to be preserved. This is a matter of organization. We are not a group of people who need to be structured as a community, but an activity that needs to be organized in order to achieve its goals.

What are our goals? The destruction of the existing "Left." How are we trying to do this? By attacking the "Left" at its weak point, which also happens to comprise its defining point, its historical consciousness.

As I pointed out in my talk on the legacy of the 1970s Left today, existing organizations and tendencies on the "Left" are not distinguished in properly political terms, i.e., they do not separate and oppose people (in their activity) at the level of different goals and differences over how to achieve them, but rather at the level of how they understand their activity in social-historical context, how they differ regarding how they imagine the world, and how they imagine the ways the world has come to be how it is, and thus how and why it might (be) change(d).

We orient our activity around the refounding of what we call a "Marxian" Left, because we think that key aspects of Marx's own insights (shared by his best followers) into the course of human history, how "capital" is situated in this history, and how it might be changed in an emancipatory direction, have been lost. This means that "Marxism" has in fact become the most virulent species of anti-Marx-ism. But we don't think (as, e.g., the Spartacists, or even Moishe Postone, the Marxist-Humanists, et al., do) that this is primarily because of or has taken shape in the ways that people may have come to take different "positions" than Marx and the best Marxists had, which could be easily (naively) chalked up to necessary historical changes and hence innovations, but rather more obscurely, in the ways that self-understandings and the very meanings of categories, and what we may call the "social imagination" and "historical consciousness" have changed, subtly -- and regressively -- to the detriment of consciousness and agency.

So we wage our war in a very peculiar way, and necessarily quite differently than any of our ostensible predecessors/precursors may have done so. We wage it, not deceptively or stealthily, but rather indirectly. We try to hasten the disintegration and dissolution of the "Left," by constantly raising the question of the (Marxian) Left (i.e., emancipatory politics within and beyond capital), and thus provoking reactions that inevitably throw off-kilter and degrade our interlocutors into ever more untenable positions, until, finally, we hope, they abandon any selfconscious commitment to the Left. We try to hasten the abandonment of Leftist and Marxist politics in favor of something else. This will leave the field to us alone. That is how we will win.

But we need to carry on this fight in a myriad of various ways and in different fields/on different fronts. For this we need an ever-wider diversification of activities. For this we need new members, and new opportunities for participation from existing members, drawing upon the (changing) interests and resources among our membership.

We also need to carry on this fight in a variety and increasing scope of domains, hence we need geographic diffusion, and thus more members/participants.

These are the "only" reasons why we need to grow as an organization in terms of membership. We need to permeate, in terms of locations and existing conversations, the global "Left" as much as possible, with the radical interrogation of the question of the "Left" for our time -- and from the most radical
possible, hence from a specifically Marxian perspective on capital.

Our ability to do this is conditioned by the historical moment in which we emerged as a project, i.e., as an organized activity. We need to recruit people not to an intellectual community so much as to a project -- a war on the existing "Left," in which we will build the theoretical and practical resources to refound a Marxist politics.

Because we think that the existing "Left" as an *activity* is "dead," this means we must intersect it rather than replace it. We don't want to be doing what they are doing, at all. We want to be doing not something better, but rather something different. What this will look like down the road of our project in terms of actual practical politics we cannot say for certain. But we can say what it will not be: what the existing "Left" does. So we only need experience on/with the existing "Left" to learn negative lessons, of what not to do.

We do, in fact, want existing "activists" to stop doing what they are doing. But how can we achieve this? Not directly, but rather indirectly. (And perhaps, therefore, not to "stop" them so much as transform their activity.) We want to affect people at various levels of remove. Some activists we want to stop being activists and join our project directly as members of our organization. Other we merely want to affect, however slightly, in their existing activity. This is less a matter of principle regarding species of activism (i.e., we don't want to stop ant-war protesters, but only modify the activities of labor organizers), and is really more case-by-case, with individuals. We don't need everyone to join Platypus, but we need as many as possible to pay attention to our project.


Chris Cutrone's 2011 Presidential Report (emphasis added):

I am writing with a report on the "how" and "when" of Platypus as a project. [Benjamin Blumberg will be reporting, on behalf of the Organizational Committee as a whole, on the "what" and "why" of Platypus.]

Platypus is a declaration of war on the existing "Left." We must recognize what it is that we are doing in order to do it properly and to best possible effect.

Our goal is to effect the maximum degree of transformation of the "Left" today: "The Left is dead! -- Long live the Left!" This is a statement of intent as well as an observation of fact.  The present "Left" must "die" in order that a real Left might live. We want to perform an indispensable role in bringing this about.

The primary and to date only political action Platypus has taken is forming itself as a collective membership and organization. The essence of "politics" is the formation of social groups for the purpose of exercising power over events and thus the course of humanity. Platypus is a way and medium for relating to the world that we seek to change. We must recognize the politics of Platypus.

Platypus is an army on a campaign and its members are soldiers. The tools we develop are weapons in the hands of the membership.

There are many ways of conducting warfare, that is, of exercising political power. Our chosen campaign involves certain forms of combat. For instance, the Platypus Review is a key weapon in our arsenal. Members' neglecting to use this weapon we place in their hands is tantamount to deserting the army in the midst of combat. Your comrades are counting on you to fire your weapon, otherwise you're leaving them in the lurch. We are a combat organization, but our discipline is specific to the kind of warfare we are conducting. Our campaign is concerned with affecting the world in certain ways, for which we are crafting methods -- that is, weapons.

Our war involves peculiar forms of combat, specific to our historical moment, but is nonetheless war. "The pen is mightier than the sword" is a classic phrase of bourgeois society to which our forebears such as Lenin, who, when asked in a Soviet survey, described his profession as "journalist," certainly subscribed.

But we are not in a position to intervene as prior Marxist political projects have done. We are closer to the Frankfurt School than the Bolshevik party but there are important differences we have with the former as well as the latter. Moreover, we aim to do more than the Frankfurt Institute -- in fact more than the Bolsheviks were able to do. We are indeed in a position to embark upon trying to do so, if we leverage our particular historical situation properly.

"Hosting the conversation" is our form of political intervention and combat. Hosting the conversation is a political act, based on who we invite to our conversations as well as how we craft the topics. It is a subtle but nonetheless real form of warfare. As Foucault would have us recognize, discourse is power. For we seek not merely to destroy but to conquer -- to lead. We want to break the bad "Left," and this means breaking -- interrupting, hopefully permanently -- the bad "Leftism" of individuals, not leaving individuals broken.

This means saving people from themselves as much as this is possible. The "Left" today amounts to the inmates running the insane asylum.

This is what it means to say that we aim to "provoke and organize the pathology of the 'Left'," or to perform psychoanalysis on the "Left," to render it as coherently objectifiable symptomology as possible, so that it might be "cured." Our at times severe treatment of the "Left" is borne of compassion not inhumanity. -- One difference from psychoanalysis perhaps is that we largely perform "group therapy."

Regarding our convention this weekend with the sectarians roaming our halls, this should be apparent. Like Freudian psychoanalysis, this is an art not a "science" (in the colloquial sense of a sure practice) -- the art of war. It requires experiential as well as experimental knowledge. It calls for exercise of flexible and case-by-case -- instance-by-instance -- judgment, in the Kantian sense, meaning proceeding without sure concepts of our objects. As Adorno would be the first point out, however, the historical regression that renders our project necessary is first and foremost characterized by the erosion of the faculty of judgment. We are not immune to and are indeed the product and part of the barbarism we seek to combat and overcome. Judgment requires education -- experience.

This means that our essentially "pedagogical" project is at least as much about learning as teaching. We "host the conversation" in order to educate ourselves as well as our target audience and milieus. We thus engage in an activity of indirect effects, for ourselves as well as others. We seek to concretize the problems of ideas (ideology) on the "Left." But we do so in the hopes that this will dispel the bad and raise to greater self-consciousness and thus improve the good ideas.

We emphasize the problem of the "Left" at the level of ideas (hence the importance for us of Kolakowski's "Concept of the Left") because we have deliberately taken on the work of intellectuals and the role of theory in the death of the Left and its potential rebirth. We think bad ideas inhibit and defeat practice.

But this raises certain difficulties of our project that are unavoidable. It means that our campaign is particularly daunting and thus inhibiting for our members. Our project -- our form of combat -- requires long and hard training. And training requires discipline.

We are self-disciplined through our organization. No one enjoys, exactly, being disciplined. But it is nonetheless necessary. Leadership in our organization is about exercising the discipline of training. And this training itself requires experience -- it can only take place the degree to which the organization as a whole and its individual members are active. We can only facilitate and not make our members become more active. We can only provide opportunities and not ourselves as an organization initiate the activity of our members. We can only invite opportunities for our members to be trained.

Their training is up to them. If members choose to resist training, they wash out, as in any disciplined program. Of course it is tempting and natural to blame the trainer or suspect the regimen -- the resent the coach and the discipline -- while undergoing the process of training. Trainers must be patient, but their patience can only last so long as it is not necessary to move on to other trainees who are waiting.

Trainees must volunteer and offer themselves up for training.

This goes for not only our own membership but our target milieus and those with whom we are trying to engage in the conversation we are hosting. We can only invite their participation and thus make them available for our leadership, which we can only perform with their assent, and only the degree to which they are willing and able to participate. Our leadership will be manifest only at the end of a process, but an openness to learning is a precondition for the process to begin. Training is an engagement, meaning it has two sides. No one could possibly teach themselves a martial art without making a fool of themselves when it came to actual combat.

If members drop the regimen of training that has been established through our prior organizational experience, they drop their own process of learning and abandon the project, as surely as if they decided they no longer agreed with the ideas we are trying to promulgate. By dropping the regimen of training one drops membership in the project.

Platypus is not only if primarily about learning ideas. It is about being trained in political practice, a peculiar form of political practice but one nevertheless that will open onto other forms of politics.

Hosting the conversation is in fact a way of conducting our own training, and doing so publicly, and inviting others to participate in a self-learning process that is nonetheless guided and disciplined.

Such discipline in our project is leadership. The leadership is composed of those who are most disciplined in our project. Our leaders are those who have excelled in this discipline and therefore can instruct others in it and take part in actively transforming (meaning, modifying, not altering) the discipline as needed. The goal of leadership is to bring our project to the point at which further transformation is possible and necessary. Eventually, our aim is to be able to raise the question of the desirability of changing the project, the question of what it would mean for our project to qualitatively develop and transcend itself. This will be the next political moment in our project, after our founding moment. We are nowhere near there yet. Premature change would mean abandoning not transforming our project. So, how we do things is in fact what we are as a project.

We have developed methodologies and protocols for our activity -- a training regimen for our members, to which all are subject in our project. Our project is experimental, but it is precisely experimentation that requires strict protocol to be effective.

-- Chris Cutrone, President, the Platypus Affiliated Society


Chris Cutrone on Imperialism and Palestine 11/22/12

Now I am going to say something for internal consumption only (this is perhaps a "closeted" position):

At this point, the only hope that the Palestinians have is in and through Israel, precisely as a "settler colonial state," not independent of, let alone opposed to it. Just as the only hope for Native Americans has been through integration into the U.S. Of course the degree to which the U.S. was racist it failed as bourgeois society -- as is true of Israel today. Now, precisely the problem is that Israel doesn't "want" the Palestinians. So the Palestinians are indeed quite vulnerable.

But the rational kernel of such racism is that "they are not like us," i.e., the recognition and rejection of non-bourgeois forms of life. We must defend this rational kernel of bourgeois subjectivity obscure to itself, rather than the Ben Lewis et al.'s perspective of assuming everyone is always already bourgeois, anthropologically. They're not.

Bourgeois society is a fragile achievement, not natural. It is a society, not an individual matter. And it is the only possible basis for progress in freedom. It is necessary to think (but not necessarily to come out and say) such things now in ways not necessary for Marx, Lenin or Trotsky. But we must emphasize the necessary basis for bourgeois emancipation, even as it disappears from under our feet. This is what the "Left" cannot abide, and hence why it is "dead."

The 20th century, the century of struggles for "national self-determination," failed miserably, and utterly, and produced a world much worse than before: Israel-Palestine is a prime example of this ongoing failure.

-- Chris