Excerpted from an interesting debate at Platypus, worth reading in full. Another participant is Brian Holmes.
“When we in Platypus conceived the topic of this forum on “Resistance” and the Left, we had in mind the title of a pamphlet written over a hundred years ago by the brilliant Marxist radical Rosa Luxemburg, titled Reform or Revolution?, which sought to argue for the necessity of revolutionary politics on the Left, not against reforms, but against a reform-ist perspective that was developing on the Marxist Left at the time, in which it was regarded that only reforms were possible—and hence that political and social revolution was not only unlikely and unnecessary, but undesirable as well.
We in Platypus seek to respond, in the present, to the development of the perspective on the Left that assumes that only “resistance” is possible. We find this to be a symptom of the degradation and degeneration of the Left over the last 40 years, since the 1960s “New” Left—and, indeed, for much longer than that. We find the current self-understanding of the Left as “resistance” to express despair not only at prospects for revolutionary transformation, but also for substantial institutional reforms. Platypus as a project seeks to develop critical consciousness of the history of the Left, which we think is necessary for the possibility of emancipatory politics both today and in the future. We consider how we might suffer from a more obtuse grasp, a less acute consciousness, of socially emancipatory politics than those on the Left that came before us were able to achieve.
In Rosa Luxemburg’s phrase [after Engels], the world in the crisis of the early 20th Century faced the choice of “socialism or barbarism.” But socialism was not achieved, and so we consider that perhaps the present is the descendant and inheritor of barbarism—including on the “Left.” We follow Marx as a critic of the Left to the extent that we find that the conception of emancipation remains inadequate if understood as deriving primarily from struggles against exploitation and oppression. Rather, following Marx and his liberal predecessors, we seek to specify the freedom-problem expressed in the history of capitalist society, to clarify how capitalism is bound up with changes in the character of free humanity.
We find the true significance and meaning of anti-capitalist politics in its expression of how capital itself is the product of and continually creates possibilities for its own self-transformation and self-overcoming. Modern categories for emancipatory social struggles should be understood as part and parcel of capital and how it might point beyond itself to its own transformation and self-abolition.
We find evidence of failure to grasp capital in this double-sided sense to the extent that the very conception of emancipation—as the freedom-in-becoming of the new, rather than the freeing of the priorly-existent–to be virtually tabooed on the Left today. The Left today almost never speaks of freedom or emancipation, but only of “resistance” to the dynamics of change associated with capital and its transformations. The spirit of Marx’s observation that in bourgeois society, under capital, “all that is solid melts into air,” has been displaced by his other famous observation from the Communist Manifesto that “history is the history of class struggle”—but even this observation has been debased to the sense of the perennial suffering of the oppressed, taking the subaltern in their alterity, and not, as Marx meant in his notion of the proletariat, in the figuration of the new—and the new not as an end, but as an opening onto yet further possibilities.
Platypus seeks to reconsider the legacy of Marxist politics in order to understand our present as being conditioned— and haunted—by its failure, so that we can marshal this suppressed and buried history, its unfulfilled emancipatory potential, to the service of the critique of and the attempt to overcome the most fundamental assumptions of the present, including and especially those on the “Left.”