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Revolutionary politics and thought


Classroom at the University of Lyon with markings on wall reading "DE L'HISTOIRE KARL MARX," made during student occupation of parts of the campus as part of the May 1968 events in France.

Chris Cutrone, Samir Gandesha, Nikos Malliaris, Dimitrios Roussopoulos, Joseph Schwartz

No coarser insult, no baser defamation, can be thrown against the workers than the remark, ‘Theoretical controversies are for the intellectuals’“
- Rosa Luxemburg, Reform or Revolution (1900)

“Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology formulated by the working masses themselves in the process of their movement the only choice is-either bourgeois or socialist ideology… This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology. They take part, however, not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able, and to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and develop that knowledge.“

- Vladimir Lenin, What is to be Done? (1902)

"The liquidation of theory by dogmatization and thought taboos contributed to the bad practice."
- Adorno, Negative Dialectics (1966)

In the 1840s Karl Marx wrote that social revolution would involve "carrying out the thoughts of the past," in which "humanity begins no new work but consciously completes the old work". The role of revolutionary thought for Marx, in other words, involved drawing attention to how past revolutionary tasks were failing to be worked through in present political practice; of understanding the reasons why theory and practice had changed and, in turn, how this understanding could be advanced towards the (present) completion of the (old) revolution.

Later, for Lenin and Luxemburg, political disputes in the Second International revolved around the failings of revolutionary practice. Luxemburg and Lenin seemed optimistic about revolutionary thought being carried out by the practices of mass political movements for socialism. They assumed that workers could act as “socialist theoreticians” while participating in revolutionary politics.

In the 1960s, figures like C. Wright Mills retrospectively assessed the emergence of the intelligentsia as “distinct and historically specific,” locating the political role of figures such as Lenin and Luxemburg as a phenomenon of the development of modern society. But Mills was wistful: he recognized that political-intellectual figures like Luxemburg and Lenin were missing in his time. What does the current role of intellectuals say about the historical disappearance of the kind of political possibilities Mills had in mind?

While the separation of revolutionary thinking and politics might seem more distinct in the present, with "theory" being relegated to universities, and "practice" to social movements, it seems increasingly common for academic work motivated from the Left to blur the boundary between theory and social movements. While this state of affairs may seem to approach the sentiment articulated by Luxemburg, that there be nothing separating theoretical issues from the people struggling to overcome their condition, it does so without the emergence of corresponding political practices that would transcend the present. Alternatively, other currents of theory, among both independent intellectuals and organized political tendencies, seem completely severed from everyday social practice and so harmless as subcultural activities. Theory today seems to either assert the primacy of practice, leaving no recourse but to take up practical discontents as inalienable in thinking, or is so entirely cut off from practical concerns that it seems sustainable only in the academy. Revolutionary thinking, no less than revolutionary practice, seems hard to locate in the present.....Continue Reading

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Trading Parking Lots for Affordable Housing

‘9 x 18’ Plan Ties Development Rules to Public BenefitsBefore Current parking at a superblock-size East Harlem housing development.CreditPeterson Rich Office/Sagi GolanWhat is the solution to affordable housing in New York?One number has been repeated over and over - 200,000 subsidized u ...

App Lists Exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Christoph HitzSree Sreenivasan, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s chief digital officer, provides helpful criteria for someone looking to evaluate the museum’s new app.“What we think about is kind of the before, during and after experience,” he said. “Before they come, t ...

On the beach: memory, modernity and how an émigré’s artistic vision built an English seafront


The De La Warr Pavillion is a modernist classic. But the legacy of its co-creator, Serge Chermayeff, says everything about the English coast as a place of identity, exile and reinvention

“Bexhill is a really boring place,” my boyfriend warned me. “The only interesting thing about it is the pavilion.” Bexhill-on-Sea is a small seaside town in East Sussex. The people you meet on the street tend to be either incredibly young or incredibly old: eternally idling teenagers or retired couples on seaside promenades. There are a few crumbling hotels on the seafront. And there’s the pavilion. Built to resemble a great ocean liner, the De La Warr Pavilion is one of the most significant modernist buildings in Britain. Its clean lines and strong geometric shapes bear no compromise, and almost 80 years after it was built it still strikes you as a slice of pure artistic vision.


Gotham state of mind: what do comics tell us about cities?

‘The defining characteristic of Gotham must be that there is always crime’ … Batman.Photograph: dc.wikia.comRaised in New York, fed by newspapers and nourished by urban life, comics tell the secrets of cities … and of those of us who live in them....Continue Reading> via Th ...

Adaptive City

bustler.netMonday 15 September 2014, @20:00pmLocation:YardAward winner MoMa PS1 in 2014 for young architects David Benjamin of cities that can adapt to the environment in real time.Register> via ...

9/11 did not transform the world

Getty Images/File 2013One World Trade Center, seen from the Brooklyn Promenade, was built on the site of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York.Like EveryNew Yorker I remember Sept. 11, 2001, like it happened yesterday.There was the feeling of utter disbelief when I turned on the television that morning t ...

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