A Response to Benedict Cryptofash, in lieu of a debate. Ft. Chris Cutrone of Platypus Affiliated Society
It’s going down!
Dear Friends and Fellow Travelers,
What follows is a very long post that could have been three times longer if I did it justice. So either bare with me and put in the work, or admit you don’t have what it takes.
Just kidding! For those who cannot commit to reading this article in its entirety, I have two options for you: 1. Listen to it here, and 2. I’ll give a short summary below:
One important leftist critic of the left who is the founder and a key voice of Platypus Affiliated Society and an anti-leftist critic of the left are both claiming the name of Marx to argue their points with one another over the last few months. I’ve been following it all quite fascinated. Recently I hoped to host an actual conversation between the two but the latter won’t do it so now I’m bringing the former on to talk about it “in lieu of a debate.” I’ll play a sort of interviewer-devil’s advocate role throughout that conversation so that hopefully we can all learn something. That will happen at 5pm CST on Thursday this week at this link.
“Benedict Cryptofash” was simply an anonymous Twitter shit-poster who I had heard referenced by one of my friends who took to criticizing “the post left.” Because someone had called me post left once, and because I didn’t know what that meant, I was keen to at least look over “the discourse.”
Not really knowing what I am at this point, but still having a lot of fidelity to what I take to be the essence of Marx’s project (even if I tend to disagree with all existing Marxists), I hoped to find my people. Instead, I admit to being too much of a boomer to figure out where to even begin with Twitter.
My ill-formed impression of “the discourse” is that a handful of disenchanted leftists, some of whom may be abandoning politics, turning to the right, or becoming some kind of anarchists, have been saying provocative things about the left, which is currently made up of, in their perspective, ascendant professionals and managers who are helping to co-opt radical slogans and rhetoric into the mechanisms of power for a new generation.
To my friend who spent a lot of time tweeting about why he thinks the “post left” is “stupid” I asked: Why the hype? You act like this is a genuine movement with some kind of power or potential to do something, when it is seemingly just a handful of Twitter people talking to each other about some aspirant PMC opinion-havers. His response was that, with the way things were going, it would not be surprising if these post-lefties gained traction and became a serious force for reaction.
“The fact is, their position is sexy.” He said. This bothered him because his Orthodox Marxist position, which he takes to be true, may be correct, but neither it nor his organization are in any way hip to the times and able to appear intelligible, much less attractive, on a platform like Twitter.
While I agree his dogmatic Marxist org, with its backwards ideas about French theory and its tirelessly repeated watered-down slogans and scripts from the 1910s being recycled and “applied” to our current moment, is not sexy or going to gain any traction today, I first of all doubt that some Twitter opinion-havers are going to change much.
If the professional managerial class is defined by anything cultural it is probably its certainty of the importance of the marketplace of ideas and of the responsibility held by those who have followings. As for me, I have become very skeptical over the last two years as to whether they actually have any real power at all. Ability to inflict harm? Totally! But power? I’m not sure any of us do. I guess we’ll see, but in the meantime, why should I care?
More importantly, why in the fucking world would you care? I’m not sure why you would care, because you, dear reader, are probably not a super-online-Twitter-person anyway. Those people never read this far into an article.
However, if you have been yourself disenchanted with the left, realizing its “radical wing” on the streets or in the DSA is just the “shock troops” to power today, then you will no doubt find some gems while sorting through the PMC trash heap that is Twitter.
Some of you are thoroughly disenchanted with the left and that was why you turned to the kind of theory you see me n Mikey doing in the first place, because without an adequate theory (understanding) of subjectivity, social change, and Capital, and the ways ideology and the new media conditions change the game, then we have no hope of ever getting to some kind of new symbolization.
Or perhaps you were never very allured by either Marxism or Bernie, much less the Democrats. I doubt there are many conservative or traditionalist readers in my audience beyond a few who may peak in from time to time. I know why they would care: a chance to eat popcorn and watch the left eat itself!
Unironically though, until recently I realized I had attracted a few such people into my life: stupid ideologically lazy self-satisfied asshats who practice literally zero self-criticism of their own presuppositions, frameworks, or purported solutions, but who love to intellectually jack off to me doing so to my own assumptions or those who are stereotyped as representing the broader left. That’s the risk you run when attempting to practice intellectual integrity and not just doubling down on dated dogmatic bullshit, though I hope to develop an approach that does not appeal to these kinds of people...
Anyway, enough speculation on audience. Let’s bring it back around to the topic at hand: In this piece I need to lay out why I, at the very least, care, which will hopefully resonate with some of you. If you find any of this interesting, then you will be fascinated by what’s to come, which will involve a short introduction to why I am now excited for something that is happening in four days.
The intoxicating relief of apparent influence, representation, and basically being a part of something
The reason I care is because “the Left” became a sort of transcendent notion to me, perhaps even my master signifier, for at least six years of my life (up until mid 2020?). I identified as “a leftist” and would say things like “the American left is not The Left.” Having read some very impactful works by Marx before getting involved with Bernie, I thought I knew what “the real Left” is and, furthermore, thought I could do good for the world by being involved with Bernie, since I saw him as, at the bare minimum, reviving the idea of working class power. That meant knocking on doors, phone banking, and doing everything I could to foster a rising tide of pro-working class movement energy, while always pushing towards something more theoretically-based and hopefully capable of paving a positive path beyond capital.
Though I would not have called myself “an influencer,” I was nevertheless trying to influence progressives, liberals, and radical liberals to become what I considered to be leftists, which meant in my book: People who fight for and organize the working class across races, national divides, genders, and every other bourgeois division, for the sake of a radical transformation of society that abolishes the form of labor specific to capitalism without regressing to something worse, such as what gets called “rentism” in Peter Frase’s Four Futures or “Neo-feudalism” in Joel Kotkin’s book by that name, much less outright and widespread slavery posturing under the guise of woke anti-capitalism (what the IMF people call The Great Reset).1
Because my own political journey would take too long to lay out here, it will suffice to say that a series of defining experiences shook me from my dogmatic slumbers. I came to resolutely agree with Slavoj Zizek’s statement that we now need to reverse Feuerbach’s 11th thesis.3 Slavoj says that, “If in the 20th Century we tried to change the world too quickly, the time is to interpret it again, to start thinking.”3
I think the word “interpret” leaves many, especially the action-faction of today’s Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), with the impression of sitting around in armchairs and navel-gazing. I remember Emerican Johnson of NonCompete said somewhere that action without theory is better than theory without action. Considering the fact that many forms of “action” get people hurt, and in many cases more so than they were already being hurt by systemic violence, I couldn’t disagree more. Fuck around and get hurt yourself, that’s one thing. Fuck around and hurt some innocent people? These are not casualties of war and you are not a state–but what irrational displays of violence do is quite the opposite of “putting pressure on leaders to be accountable” or whatever. Instead, unstrategic (stupid) forms of violence play into and reify existing frameworks, polarities, and legitimation narratives for state intervention and its expansion of control.
Action without theory has been glorified by leftists throughout history–always by those who romanticize spontaneous uprisings of the oppressed. Though these can ostensibly get short-term wins from representative institutions, and maybe even sometimes displace one regime by another, nothing in the last century has posed a real threat to capital, and almost every purported solution, correction, or reform has strengthened the illusion that these forms of action give us real power, which is itself a tremendous drawback. By repeating this idea that we can “make” institutions accountable we become complicit with a system whose very self-justification lies in purporting to represent us. No amount of “the oppressed inherently know what to do, we just need to center and uplift X, Y, and/or Z groups” has proven to redeem any real hope for a future.
Action without theory is reaction. This is due, in part, to the fact that there is no such thing as a-theoretic perception, or a straightforward and objectively immediate access to the things-themselves. “Common sense” falls into simply inverting the terms of the operative framework, rather than calling into question, developing an understanding of, or seriously challenging that framework itself.
Though all of critical theory and continental philosophy has argued the above claim in a million different ways, such arguments are wasted on those who “do not have ears to hear.” Let the action-faction burn itself out and co-opt every popular uprising back into the existing institutions while simultaneously decrying the status quo it is assimilating itself into.
Enter Platypus, which opens a space for working through and understanding the deadlocks of our current situation
We’ve got our work cut out for us–for those of us who want to take the challenge to understand the complexity of our time so as to free ourselves from the ruts we are in, so as to hopefully find a way forward that does not simply legitimate the same old same old dressed up in radical sounding words.
Towards the end of 2021 I talked about a few new strains of thought I was looking into,4 a couple of which were mentioned in my first book Waypoint. Most significant of those tendencies that I told everyone I was looking into was, probably, The Platypus Affiliated Society, PAS. PAS’s motto is “The Left is dead, long live the left!”
The short version of the Platypus Statement of Purpose is as follows:
In the face of the catastrophic past and present, the first task for the reconstitution of a Marxian Left as an emancipatory force is to recognize the reasons for the historical failure of Marxism and to clarify the necessity of a Marxian Left for the present and future. — If the Left is to change the world, it must first transform itself! (Click here for the long version)5
PAS assumes that the Left is not only dead but that it can be reconstituted, that it must be reconstituted if we are to save ourselves and this planet from the imminent crises of Capital. Drawing off of the works of critical theorists and bringing together every possible tendency today, they have become the most fruitful platform for the exchange of ideas and interventions related to theory and practice.
PAS has been around for a little over fifteen years (an outstanding achievement in this day and age). Though relatively new, the people who sit on its panels, write in its journal, and who work through its study materials are old seasoned activists and revolutionaries, professors, as well as fresh-faced baby leftists. I appreciated this society’s ability to bring together so many contradicting viewpoints so as to foster the kind of critical discourse necessary for sorting through the mess that is our current situation.
Enter Cryptofash, the first critic to argue, from the standpoint of Marx, that Platypus does not go far enough
I was already involved with Platypus (not as an official member, but as someone who joined events, discussions, read the journal, and watched a lot of their posted video-content from panels at conferences) when I became aware of Benedict Cryptofash.
As mentioned earlier, Cryptofash was, for a few months, nothing but some Twitter personality who seemed to make provocative statements without showing any evidence of having done the work of history or theory. That changed when he launched a Substack at the end of last year. Now there is a place besides the meandering podcast that is What’s Left to actually see a thesis develop.
What is this thesis being developed by Mr. Cryptofash? That the Left is not dead at all but is instead alive and well in the form of the actually-existing Democratic Party and its radically self-disavowing protest wing. That there is no such thing as a “transcendent left” against which to judge the Democratic party and that, even though “leftists” call themselves anti-liberal or anti-Democrat while making appeals to some higher ideal, that’s all just a bunch of idealism and ideology that obfuscates what’s really going on. Cryptofash goes even further, saying that he is against the “dirtbag left” (anti-PC) and the “post-left” too. He claims that none of these tendencies go far enough. He claims that what we need to do is be anti-left, like Karl Marx was.
In his response to Cutrone’s reliance on Kołakowski’s “The Concept of the Left” Cryptofash says:
Kołakowski’s Left/Right metaphysics have nothing to do with Marx, who never oriented his thought according to this moral binary and only opposed such idealistic frameworks… The utopian Left Marx critiqued in his time is after all not very different from the bourgeois socialists of today, who as the ideological shock troops of the Democratic Party, function “to perpetuate things as they are” as much as anyone on the Right… what use to the proletariat is this intra-bourgeois dividing line cultivated by the Left? As the two sides of liberal democracy, “Left versus Right” ensures all political conflict remains within bourgeois parameters. Its very purpose is to divorce politics from class, to divide people instead based on ideas, values, beliefs, identities, “ideological and moral attitudes,” etc. The Left/Right ideology of capitalist society is ultimately worse than useless to the proletariat, for it denies its existence and historical purpose as a social class, submerging its objective conflicts into the idealistic terrain of bourgeois politics.
This is a heretical position to most Marxists today who, like my Bernie-days self, thinks that it is their job to educate and “push a little further left” those beautiful souls who are either within or near the progressive Democrat position.
Confusing as it might be, Cryptofash’s position makes immediate sense to anyone who understands the history of the left and how Marx was, in many ways, its greatest critic. The idea that Marx was the actually-existing left’s greatest critic was in fact already made by Chris Cutrone, the founder of The Platypus Affiliated Society, in a response to Alain Badiou’s The Communist Hypothesis:
If Marx is mistaken for an affirmer and promulgator of “communism” as opposed to what he actually was, its most incisive critic (from within), we risk forgetting the most important if fragile achievement of history: the consciousness of potential in capital. As Marx wrote early on, in an 1843 letter to Arnold Ruge that called for the “ruthless criticism of everything existing,” “Communism is a dogmatic abstraction and… only a particular manifestation of the humanistic principle and is infected by its opposite, private property.”6
That ruthless criticism defined an entire century of revolution and, even for those who tried to abandon Marx, has never ceased to haunt and inform current day political struggle and culture war.
Cutrone upholds the inconvenient truth most leftists would prefer to ignore, which was that Marx saw communism as a means to a more important end, but not as the end itself. (Whether Marx would still see it as a useful means is a question few self-ID’d Marxists seem prepared to ask...)
While Cutrone readily advances the position that Marx was a fierce critic of the left, he says that this was done from within. Cryptofash enters at this point to say Cutrone is not going far enough.
On his “The Anti-Leftist Marxist” Substack, Cryptofash has rolled out an entire series of polemics that draw off of Marxist theory and history to argue that what is today called “the left” is not in any way something that Marx himself would support and that, far be it the case that he would choose the Democrats as a lesser evil while focusing his energies on Trump, Marx always chose the higher road of critiquing what calls itself the left.
Isn’t this all just a waste of time when we could be in the streets?
Why have I found this all quite fascinating and considered this perspective worth thinking through in all seriousness? At this point, for me, every critique is on the table, but the ones I am most interested in stem back to Marx’s push to ground out a coherent, useful, and real theory that does not get lost in platitudes, lofty sentiments, and politics as usual (reformist nor revolutionary), but that instead abandons high sounding talk for a rigorous analysis of the actual conditions that presuppose and reproduce exploitation in a capitalist society. Marx aspired to a critique of not just one “side” or tendency within the system, but of the system itself.
The left of our day has gotten good at saying that we want to fight the system itself, not just individuals. Thus the popularized usage of “systemic” racism and “systemic” sexism, etc. But this word “systemic” has taken on the meaning of “statistical tendencies” that people participate in reproducing through their daily habits, which are then micro-analyzed and challenged by way of appealing to the personal responsibility of individuals deemed privileged or responsible. This has nothing to do with what Marx aspired to in his systemic critique of political economy.
If “the left” keeps disavowing itself, saying “what calls itself the left is not really The Left” while nevertheless supporting the actually-existing left every time it comes around to voting season, and justifying this via appeals to “the lesser evil” where the only standard we truly hold it to is that it is not as bad as the other guys, then is anyone who wants to make change to ever rediscover what is actually possible outside of the existing institutions and frameworks of capitalism?
Chris Cutrone walks a fine line of principled critique against the actually-existing left while pushing for the formation of a left based on those best insights and motives of Marx in a way that would learn from the 20th Century. Benedict Cryptofash instead argues that the actually-existing left is The Left, that the two are not separable–that Cutrone, as well as the rest of Platypus, ultimately still serves the system and party it disavows via appeal to transcendent ideals.
It is all so much to work through. I am just some lowly pleeb without the timenergy necessary to do the work for myself any faster than I already have been doing. Something that I have hoped for, because I imagine it would accelerate my own understanding of our current situation and its deadlocks, is for a clash between Cryptofash and Cutrone. Then one day, to my delight, I saw that the former had been published in the journal founded by the latter.
Just as we transitioned from the year of our lord 2021 into 2022, The Platypus Review published a new series of articles, which included “The Left is Not A Concept” by Benedict Cryptofash.7 It was a good summary of the argument he had developed on his Substack so far, and I wondered if it would receive a direct response from someone at Platypus.
Within a month Cutrone had responded with his own article, “The Left is a concept — but social revolution is not: A response to “Benedict Cryptofash.””8 Since then Cryptofash wrote a response to Cutrone’s response, to which Cutrone responded, which thus provoked Cryptofash’s most recent Substack post titled “The Left is Not Consciousness” with the hilarious tagline “A Response to Chris Cutrone's Response to My Response to Chris Cutrone's Response to My Response to the Platypus Affiliated Society.”11
Responding responding responding responding… Can we talk though?
That’s a lot of responding. So in all of this back and forth, what, exactly, has actually been said? Without getting into the details, which would triple the size of this piece, I have been under the impression that they are both talking past one another. I proposed to them both that I MC or host a debate or discussion, live on my channel. As someone who finds this all quite fascinating and is currently unclear on some of their disagreements, I hoped that a live conversation could help those of us who are more confused by all this figure out what their significant differences are and what they think is really at stake.
Chris Cutrone agreed to the debate, but Benedict Cryptofash told me he would prefer to remain anonymous. I suggested that he use encrypted voice-changing software and then just display his avatar in the Skype call, but that was when he stopped responding to me. He has either been too busy to see my suggestion, is a coward, or is actually someone so well-known in these circles that his true identity would be obvious even with the cloak of voice-changing software.
I guess the other possibility is that he is not an individual at all, but is instead a character being written by multiple people who would not be able to make themselves available for a call to respond in real time. Who knows?
All I can say for certain is that this feels like a missed opportunity. Refusing to let this thing I have given so much attention to simply die, I suggested to Cutrone that we instead do a livestream “Responding to Benedict Cryptofash in lieu of a debate,” where we go over the back and forth. My goal in that conversation will be to understand what is even being said on both sides, what the significant differences are, if any, and to do so in a way that I feel is fair to both sides, even if one side is absent.
I could not be more delighted than I am to announce that this will not only occur soon, but that our conversation is to go live on May 5th, which is the birthday of Karl Marx. The time will be at 3pm PST, 4pm MST, 5pm CST, 6pm EST, and 10pm UTC. The following link is where the event will take place:
Stay tuned for more. In preparation I will be going back over the articles of the back and forth between Cutrone and Cryptofash, as well as to participating in the West Coast Platypus group’s Monday conversation on the topic (that’s today!).
Hopefully I will be able to lay out for you all, my dear reader (all the dearer for making it to this point in this long ass post), in as clear a way as possible, what I take to be the central points posited in each of the articles so far, including what I take to be the ways in which they are either speaking past one another or, perhaps, that one side is missing something or saying the same thing as the other.
I hope that by doing this we will clarify our understanding of where we are, what we are dealing with, and of what is to be done.
1.Woke anti-capatlist globalism trailer for Davos 2020:
My livestream where I play and then talk about that Davos 2020 video
2.“The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it.” Perhaps because it is short, sexy, and punchy, while simultaneously letting people off the hook of struggling through the history of philosophy, this line is often the only statement by Marx outside of a line from the Manifesto that a lot of self-ID’d Marxists or radicals can reference. https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm
I get into it about halfway through this stream.