Platypus and the “Pre-Political absence of Consciousness”
Ben Blumberg of Platypus makes this argument on ‘pre-politics’:
“We think that there needs to be recognition of what is absent in our historical moment. We are in a “pre-political moment” because of the absence of consciousness that once existed.”
The argument is simply crafted: Once there was something that could be called ‘consciousness’ that now no longer exists. Our historical moment is the absence of this consciousness. Platypus think (or imagines) such a consciousness will return. This places us in a period which might be called “pre-political” or between phases of political consciousness. According to Platypus, “historical conditions have changed, particularly in terms of the possibility for consciousness.”
How the conditions have changed is unclear, except this:
“On the notion of discontinuity: The possibility of praxis today is largely assumed, whereas we would put it in the form of a question. Is it really the case that an exploitative system that is raised by mendacious politics leads to social discontent, and that is just the natural way of politics? One of the reasons I think that idea can be rejected is that exploitation is not new to our historical epoch. Yet the question of emancipatory politics is historically specific to the era of the bourgeoisie. For Platypus, the question of discontinuity rests on the perplexity that one has to face when one begins to integrate the conditions of possibility and praxis today. We approach those conditions as something that can only be glimpsed when one delves into how they were understood historically. To paraphrase Trotsky, you can stand at the side of a river, but the water doesn’t stop flowing: The history of the objective conditions has changed. It is common to hear strange assertions and questions about the nature of the social order today, such as ‘is it really even mediated by the wage-laborer?’ This points to just how opaque society has become.
“I don’t think Platypus would exist if we just thought that politics was absolutely impossible. In fact, we do what we do precisely because we think it is possible. The question is: What is it going to take to get from here to there?”
The assumption behind the Left rests precisely in the possibility of “politics”. It assumes the question of the rule of one class or the other has not been decided in favor of the bourgeoisie against the proletarian. If the proletarian had won this conflict, we would not today be having this conversation. Which implies one of two things: either the question is still open or the bourgeoisie has won.No evidence has been advanced in any work that I have seen that the question of which class rules is still open. When Platypus states, “The possibility of praxis today is largely assumed, whereas we would put it in the form of a question”, the question they are really asking is this: Is the question of who rules still open? Is the state still an object of conflict between the two classes?
The dispute between Marx and Engels and the anarchists was that the question of which class rules was not decided. According to Marx and Engels, the proletariat could raise itself to become the ruling class and put an end to both classes and the state. Neither the state nor classes would immediately end, but would gradually wither away. Counter to this, anarchists like Bakunin argued the proletariat, upon raising itself to the ruling class, would become a new exploiter. This dispute among communists, however, was completely distinct from the actual settlement of the question of which class rules. The question of which class rules could be settled without ever coming to the issue of the nature of a proletarian rule, if it was settled in favor of the bourgeoisie. Which is to say, the dispute between Marx and Bakunin would be moot once the bourgeoisie decisively defeated the proletarians.
We know the struggle between classes was not decided in favor of the proletariat, but what explains the long absence of any class struggle? What happened to it? I suggest the world historical defeat of the proletarians happened, putting an end to the contest between classes over who rules. We have evidence of this from two World Wars where proletarians marched to their mutual destruction behind their respective bourgeoisies. You cannot just ignore this evidence and its consequences, when the question turned from the bourgeoisie leading proletarians into battle against the old regime to leading them into battle against competing national capitals. This was an irreversible catastrophe against which a handful of revolutionary communists of all stripes vocally and actively dissented.
What happened between 1914 and 1945 was not a superficial political event but represented a material change in the mode of production itself. As a material change in the mode of production it has its unique expression in a peculiar form of state: fascism. Fascism wasn’t an aberration as some folks want to think; it was the end of the possibility of a proletarians victory over the bourgeois class. Once the state assumed the functions of the capitalist and rendered the capitalists superfluous, politics itself expresses only these new material relations of production.
People want to treat the period from the Great War to the end of World War II as a mere interlude in the struggle between classes. It was not, it was a revolutionary event that put an end to the class struggle. It had only two possible outcomes: either the proletariat would overthrow bourgeois rule, or Barbarism. The classical Marxists were not bullshitting on this issue — and they were not engaged in some reductio ad absurdum as Michael Löwy argues. The proletariat would either get it done or it would fall under the unrestrained domination of capital.
Communists who want to avoid this conclusion are not communists, they are trying to avoid the conclusion that nothing short of the abolition of the state is sufficient. And that makes them fascists. Holloway was easy on them to just call them misguided, but I am not Holloway.
The consciousness Platypus is looking forward to is a political consciousness — the consciousness of a class, but the proletarians are not a class and their consciousness is not a class consciousness. It is a communist consciousness, which can only be a universal consciousness of the need to put an end to every state. Politics is just a form through which the proletarians pass, it is not their essential character, but reflects their immaturity. The activity of the proletarians loses this political character as they more and more assume their final constitution. The more capital is concentrated under the control of Washington, the more the proletarians of all countries confront a single enemy. The more they confront this single enemy, the more they assume their final constitution as the new society. The more they assume their final constitution as the new society, the more it must be expressed as a universal association of the proletarians of all countries.
Now why the fuck would anyone want to go back to national politics from here? Who does it serve but the Golden Dawns, UKIPs, and Islamists? Who does it serve but Russia’s Putin, and China’s Xi and South Africa’s Zuma, representatives of their respective national capitals, who have already made their side deals with the dominant fascist state in Washington?