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