21st Century Class Struggles:
Actually Existing Capitalism and the Generalized Proletariat:
Towards Advancing Working Class Consciousness within our Social Movements
Thursday, July 23 through Sunday, July 26
The Brooklyn Commons
388 Atlantic Avenue
marxedproject.org / thecommonsbrooklyn.org
All 4 days: $50 / $75 / $100
Single days: $20 / $35
Single sessions: $6 / $10 / $15
Capitalist relations have now penetrated every inch of our planet, commodifying even the most intimate realms of our daily lives and needs. A growing proportion of the world’s population has been subjugated to the direct requirements of capitalist expansion, constituting an immense interconnected global proletariat—those who work and our families, the underemployed and unemployed, and the growing numbers who will never be employed. This proletarianization is happening even as global capital makes many individual workers redundant through the introduction of robots, automation, digitization and strategic relocation of work.
Basing production solely on the accumulation of capital and appropriation of social wealth, the capitalists expand into new areas and produce more commodities and devour more natural resources while dispossessing ever more individuals from their means of subsistence. Today, we see a continuation of processes like the enclosures that forced the peasantry off their land in medieval Europe. Throughout the global South, displaced peasants are forced to migrate to urban centers or across national borders, working in factories or informal economies, often living on the streets or in shanty-towns. Today, there are more than 300 million manual workers in China alone. The working part of today’s global proletariat is greater than the world’s entire population at the end of the Vietnam War 40 years ago.
Despite competing interests between various sectors or corporations, the global capitalist class has established an interconnected global system of accumulation, starting with extraction of raw materials and continuing through to the final sale and the return of capital back into their hands—each stage linked to the next. Now, workers from all parts of the globe often work for the same boss. Today, after more than three decades of assault on organized labor, we as workers confront the collective social power of capital. Privatization, austerity and structural adjustment regimes have gutted social programs for working people and their families that were won through more than a century of hard struggle. The combined force of these attacks coupled with the technological developments, have left many people feeling demoralized. The eight-hour workday, the right to strike, the right to form a union are becoming distant memories in some regions of the world, including the United States.
Over the four days of this Intensive, we will study the causes behind these developments, learn about the challenges facing workers in their different work places and within their communities, and look to identify obstacles within capitalist development that impede working class conscious. We will consider various left theories about social realities and the prospects for developing class consciousness in today’s struggles to help build a more unified social movement that can effectively challenge capital. Explorations will be global and trans-historical, assessing the lessons of workers’ movements from the past, and from around the world with an emphasis on the global south. Through collaborative study and discussion, we aim to provide participants with tools that can advance our organizing and movement building work to broaden opposition to capital locally, nationally and internationally.
Thursday July 23
4:30 – 6:30 pm
The Streets Are Polyphonic: Marxism and Improvisation
Kazembe Balagun and Ras Moshe (with special guest Lewis Gordon)
Ras Moshe Burnett (tenor saxophonist) and Kazembe Balagun (Marxist Education Project) will discuss the tradition and uses of improvisation in music and movement building. There may even be some improvised music during the talk!
6:30 – 7:30 pm dinner
Can the Working Classes Consciously Unite?
Features of the Generalization of the Proletariat
Silvia Federici, Jane Gordon, Lewis Gordon and Manny Ness
Silvia will report on women, gender based violence and social reproduction, drawing connections between Latin America, especially Mexico and Argentina, and gender based violence in the US. She will explore how gender violence impedes the development of political consciousness, while reproductive rights become a crucial terrain for the struggle against gender-based discrimination and exploitation.
Jane and Lewis will address race and class questions around consciousness and revolutionary ethics.
Manny will report on insurgent working class movements throughout the global south, with particular emphasis on South Africa.
Both Silvia and Manny will present in-depth workshops later during the intensive.
Friday, July 24
10 am – 12 pm
Capital and Marxist Method
What is it about Marxism that provides us with a different way of understanding society and analyzing our reality? This session is a chance to directly examine some of the Marxist concepts that underlie much of the analysis presented in this Intensive. We’ll briefly revisit Marx’s take on labor and the labor process, and how the growth of capitalism necessitates technological innovation, unemployment, depressions and speculation. While reviewing the dynamics of capital accumulation that Marx laid out, we’ll also examine how these dynamics operate somewhat differently in current reality. For example, we’ll look at the class structure of the U.S. today and some key techniques that capitalists are currently using to accrue surplus value, such as accumulation by dispossession and technological rents.
12 noon – 1 pm lunch
The Sans-Culottes: Proletarian Revolution in the French Revolution?
The class will examine the role and social makeup of the sans-culottes, the most radical segment of the French nation between 1789-1796, and pose the question, Could they have turned the Great French Revolution into the first proletarian revolution? We will also examine how the history of the French Revolution has itself been a political battlefield.
3 -3:30 Break
3:30 -5:30 pm
The Chinese Working Class in the Global Capitalist Crisis:
Revolutionary Mass Strike or a New Bureaucratic Containment?
The workshop will focus on the exhaustion of China’s former model of accumulation and China’s place in the world crisis. We will explore how it is both necessary and impossible for the state bureaucracy (that is, the Chinese Communist Party) to make the transition to a new “consumer-oriented” accumulation model without unleashing mass working-class and peasant discontent.
5:30 – 7 pm Dinner break
7 – 9 pm
Technology and the Strategy for Socialism
With powerful class movements behind it, technology can promise emancipation from work, not more misery. This session will address both the problematic consequences, and the liberatory potential, when technological developments increasingly make both manual and intellectual labor redundant.
9 pm – midnight
Bar cafe open for mingling
Saturday July 25
9 am -12 pm
Rage against the Capitalist Machine
Marie-Claire Picher and others from Theater of the Oppressed.
We will explore Freire’s, Brecht’s and Boal’s aesthetics in an interactive workshop on expressing rage and combating the abusiveness and oppressive character of capital.
12 noon – 1 pm: Lunch
1 – 3 pm
On the Move, On the Run: Capital and Labor in Contemporary Literature
Cornelius Collins and Polina Kroik
For analytic insight into how transformations in capital-labor relations are reconfiguring societies around the world we are considering works of imaginative literature especially alert to current conditions. This workshop session will explore depictions of contemporary processes of exploitation, migration, and marginalization through such leading writers as Gloria Anzaldúa, T. C. Boyle, Héctor Tobar, Thomas Pynchon, and Roberto Bolaño.
3 – 3:30 pm break
3:30 – 5:30 pm
When the Mountains Tremble
Lisa Maya Knauer
Lisa will look at the structural violence of capitalist development in Guatemala from the colonial invasion to the 36-year long armed internal conflict to most recent invasion by transnationals, exploring issues of race, gender and class formation, and the politics of resistance. Guatemala is an interesting case study for examining some key theoretical questions, since the last 500 years of its history have been shaped by the evolving capitalist world system, from mercantilism to maquiladoras to narco-capital. The majority of its population is indigenous and most are rural subsistence farmers, whose livelihoods are endangered by extractivism, hydroelectric projects, biofuels and export-oriented agriculture. She will explore the relationship between these developments and the flow of migrants northward, and also how applicable concepts like “the generalized proletariat” are to countries like Guatemala.
5:30 – 6:30 pm Dinner
6:30 – 8:30 pm
The Third World Proletariat and Capital’s Rate of Exploitation
Examination of the growth of manufacturing, the growing divisions in labor, and development of a labor solidarity strategy.
Special film showing
On Vient Pour La Visite (Coming for a Visit)
2013 • 54 Minutes • French (English subtitles)
Directed by Lucie Tourette
Paris, 2009. More than 6000 undocumented migrants (sans-papiers) go on strike to demand their legalization. Action after action, workers gain confidence in their struggles. As undocumented migrants, they constantly risk being arrested. Yet as workers they have the right to strike and occupy their work site. Assisted by unionists, over the months they learn to negotiate with canny employers and obtain from them what previously seemed out of reach. For the first time, a camera had unrestricted access to the daily life of the strike during several months. Coming for a Visit tightly follows the courage, occasional hopelessness, conflicts and camaraderie of sans-papiers who learned how to strike by doing it.
Sunday July 26
10 am-12 pm
Organizing Against the Hydra of Capitalism: Tales of Two Continents
Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis
The Zapatistas have used the concept of the “hydra of capitalism” in publicizing their encuentro, and we use it here to frame our discussion of Mexico, Argentina and Greece. We draw upon our longstanding engagements in all three places, and George will report on events in Greece including a recent gathering on the ‘social clinics’ in Crete.
12 noon -1 pm: Lunch
Breaking the Lens: Beyond Eurocentric Models of Development and Imperialism
Mike Bento, Ibrahim Diallo and Rakhee Kawada
An examination of contemporary imperialism and its effects on development, migration and class formations in different regions of Africa.
3-3:30 pm break
3:30 – 5:30 pm
Is the only choice to call for revolution or nothing? Marx consistently supported substantive reforms such as universal suffrage and the, abolition of slavery. In today’s context, what are issues and demands for reforms that would make a huge difference in the lives of millions, open up spaces to talk about transformative in ways that can reach a broad(er) audience, and, create alternative institutions that could significantly increase working class power – even if, on their own, these reforms don’t get us “beyond capitalism”?
This workshop will explore 5 such issues/demands:
• Worker-Owned Cooperative Businesses
• Public Banks
• Cut The Work Day/Week: Arguments for a 4-hour/4-day work day/week
• A Guaranteed Income For All
• A “Green New Deal”
5:30-6:30 pm Dinner
Prospects for the Working Classes in North America and Europe
Will the anti-austerity, ecological and racial justice movements become forces against actually existing capitalism?
Mitchell Abidor’s translation work and studies include anthologies of Victor Serge, the Paris Commune, the left of the French Revolution, as well as the novella A Raskolnikoff by Emmanuel Bove. He lives in Brooklyn.
Kazembe Balagun has been featured in Time Out New York, The Guardian, German Public Radio and The New York Times and contributed “We Be Reading Marx Where We From” to Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA. As a cultural activist he has sought to create intersections between Marxism, queer theory, feminism and Black liberation movements. He works as project manager at Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, New York Office.
Mike Bento is a former Brecht Forum intern, anti-fascist organizer with Unite Against Fascism in London, UK and current activist in the Black Lives Matter movement in New York City.
George Caffentzis is a political philosopher and founder of the Midnight Notes Collective. He is also a founding member of the Committee for Academic Freedom in Africa. His recent work is In Letters of Blood and Fire: Work, Machines and the Crisis of Capitalism, published by PM Press.
Cornelius Collins (Ph.D., Rutgers University) teaches in the English department at Fordham University, the Bronx. His research lies in the areas of apocalyptic literature and globalization, and his work has been published in the journal Twentieth-Century Literature. He is the current President of the Doris Lessing Society and a member of the Editorial Board of the journal Doris Lessing Studies.
Ibrahim Diallo is a native of Guinea, West Africa. He moved to Brooklyn, New York at the age of 12. Ibrahim is a graduate of Trinity College where he studied Political Science and Human Rights. He has spearheaded development projects in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Tanzania.
Silvia Federici is a feminist activist, writer, and a teacher. In 1972 she was one of the co-founders of the International Feminist Collective, the organization that launched the international campaign for Wages For Housework. From 1987 to 2005 she taught international studies, women studies, and political philosophy courses at Hofstra University in Hempstead, NY. All through these years she has written books and essays on philosophy and feminist theory, women’s history, education and culture, and more recently the worldwide struggle against capitalist globalization and for a feminist reconstruction of the commons.
Loren Goldner has been a Marxist activist and writer since the late 1960’s in Berkeley, California. He sees himself in the left/libertarian communist tradition, and is greatly influenced by Rosa Luxemburg. Most of his work is available on the Break Their Haughty Power web site (http://breaktheirhaughtypower.org). For the past five years he has been co-editor of the on-line journal Insurgent Notes (http://insurgentnotes.com).
Lewis Gordon teaches in the United States and in South Africa, where he is the Nelson Mandela Visiting Professor of Politics and International Studies, and in Toulouse, France, where he holds the European Union Visiting Chair in philosophy. He is known not only for his writings on Frantz Fanon, W.E.B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Anna Julia Cooper, Steve Bantu Biko, and many others, but also his work in philosophy, politics, and varieties of thought in the global south. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the publication of his first two books, Bad Faith and Antiblack Racism, and, Fanon and the Crisis of European Man.
Dan Karan has worked for NYC housing and community development organizations for 25 years and studied Marxism for nearly 40.
Rakhee Kewada is a Zimbabwean-born geographer, currently studying transnational investment in transport infrastructure in East Africa.
Lisa Maya Knauer has been involved in Marxist education in New York since 1977. She was a founder of the NY Marxist School, and taught classes on a variety of topics from Marx’s Capital to radical women’s fiction. Currently she is a tenured radical at a public university. In addition to her participation in the Marxist Education Project, she works with and writes about immigrant workers’ rights and indigenous resistance movements in Guatemala.
Polina Kroik holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Irvine. Her current research theorizes contemporary labor and neoliberal subject-formation through an examination of literature and film. She serves as an Associate Editor for Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society.
Ras Moshe hails from a musical and political family in Brooklyn. Ras has been playing music for 30 years and keeps the family tradition going as a life-long radical political activist. He was part of the Neues Kabarett series and founder of the Music Now series, which presented new revolutionary jazz at The New York Marxist School for 14 years, continuing today at The Brooklyn Commons. Ras believes strongly in the power of creativity involved with jazz as one of the main components of socio/poltical engagement.
Immanuel Ness is a political economist and professor of Political Science at City University of New York. He edits Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society and is the author of numerous works including Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism. He has worked and organized in the food, maintenance, and publishing industries.
Bhaskar Sunkara is the founding editor of Jacobin and a senior editor at In These Times.
Theater of the Oppressed (TO) is a methodology and set of techniques that has its origins in the popular education movement that developed in Brazil during the 1950s and 1960s. It was founded by the late Augusto Boal (1931-2009) in the early 1970s, and since then activists and organizers around the world have used it as a tool to help mobilize communities in struggle against oppression in all its forms. Long-time facilitators with the Theater of the Oppressed Laboratory (TOPLAB)—founded in 1990, and the oldest group in the US offering TO facilitation training—will teach some of the basic TO games and exercises and will talk about how they and the communities and constituencies with whom they work apply TO techniques to build solidarity, a sense of community, and a greater level of engagement with people who are actively working for social transformation.
Juliet Ucelli has taught Capital at the New York Marxist School and labor economics for labor unions, as well as adult basic education and GED preparation. Currently a high school social worker, she has written on Eurocentrism in Marxist theory, the politics of inner city public schooling and other topics.
Bibliography of relevant readings
Upcoming classes for Fall 2015
Harmony Goldberg on Gramsci
George Caffentzis on the Political Economy of Oil
Russell Dale on Hegel’s Philosophy of Right
Revolutions Study Group on the Russian Revolution
Michael Pelias on Plato’s Republic for Radicals and Revolutionaries (co-sponsored with Institute for the Radical Imagination)