Crises and Uprisings in Latin America Today

Four Thursdays with Gerardo Rénique and Fred Murphy

Join us for a closer look at the political and economic background to dramatic recent events in Latin America, where a tremendous struggle is taking place between popular movements opposed to neoliberalism and authoritarianism, and capitalist elites determined to defend their profits and privileges. Recent months have seen enormous uprisings by popular movements in Ecuador and Chile, a violent right-wing coup in Bolivia, the rise of a massive feminist movement in Argentina, and in Haiti prolonged protests against President Jovenel Moïse. These developments come in the wake of crises and setbacks experienced by so-called “pink tide” governments that had sought to redistribute wealth and challenge decades of domination by US imperialism, the IMF, and local elites.

Gerardo Rénique teaches history at the City College of the City University of New York. He is a frequent contributor to Socialism and Democracy and NACLA: Report on the Americas. His research interests include the political traditions of popular movements in Latin America, and race, national identity and state formation in Mexico.

Fred Murphy has led numerous study groups at the Marxist Education Project since 2015. He studied and taught Latin American history at the New School for Social Research. In the 1980s he traveled in Latin America as a journalist for several socialist publications.

All fees are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay

Final Friday Film: American Dream by Barbara Kopple

Directed by Barbara Kopple
USA, 1990, 100 min

 In 1984 the Hormel meat-packing company offered the union workers in Austin, Minnesota a new contract, cutting their wages from $10.69 per hour to $8.25 per hour—benefits would be cut by 30 percent. The workers were not filled with joy. The company had just declared an annual profit of $29 million, the cuts were inspired by owners wanting to maximize profits beyond that on the backs and cuts in health and life spans of the workers and their families.

American Dream chronicles the six-month strike that followed during 1985 and 1986 at the Hormel meatpacking plant in Austin, Minnesota. The local union, P-9 of the Food and Commercial Workers, overwhelmingly rejected a contract offer with a $2/hour wage cut. Following this the meat workers strike and hire a New York consultant to manage a national media campaign against Hormel. Despite support from P-9’s rank and file, FCWU’s international disagrees with the strategy. In addition to union-company tension, there’s union-union in-fighting. Hormel holds firm; scabs, replacement workers, brothers on opposite sides, a union coup d’état, and a new contract materialize. The film asks, was it worth it, or was the strike a long-term disaster for organized labor?

In many ways, the Hormel plant in bucolic Minnesota seemed like the least likely site for a labor-management inferno. The company’s founders had been of a paternalistic bent, and Austin’s hourly wage of $10.69 was the industry standard. But in 1984, despite profits of $29 million, Hormel announced plans to cut that wage by 23%. “What are we going to have to give up,” one worker worried, “when they show a loss for the quarter?”—Kenneth Turan, Los Angeles Times, March 1992

Barbara Kopple, who had previously covered an extended miner’s strike in the acclaimed 1976 documentary Harlan County, USA, focuses on the personalities and emotions behind the strike, creating a highly charged portrait of labor that is sympathetic to the workers’ distress without ignoring the strike’s greater ambiguities.


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2008 Capitalist Crisis: McNally’s Global Slump

A 3 Session Mini-class

In the first paragraph of the Introduction to his book, The Global Slump, David McNally wrote as follows: “We find it difficult to view our current moment as profoundly historical. Yet, the present is invariably saturated with elements of the future, with possibilities that have not yet come to fruition, and may not do so—as the road to the future is always contested. That is why, if we wish to make history, we ‘must be able to comprehend the present as a becoming.’ [Georg Lukács, History and Class Consciousness]. One would think that it should be easier to see things this way during moments of profound crisis in our social and economic system, like that which broke out in 2008. As the tectonic plates of the global economy shifted, financial shocks rocked the world’s banks, leveling many of them. Panic gripped money markets, stocks plunged, factories shut down. Tens of millions of people were thrown out of work; millions lost their homes. An extraordinary uncertainty shook the world’s ruling class. The mood of the moment was captured in the confession by senior writers with the Financial Times that, “The world of the past three decades is gone. Within a year or so, however, candid statements like this disappeared from the mainstream press. The ruling class regrouped and regained its arrogance….

A decade has passed but the crisis is not over. Indeed we might even say that we are only beginning to see the effects of this greatest crisis of capitalism: the rise of anti neo-liberal populism of the right and left in Trump and Sanders, Brexit, extreme austerity, all the labor and social movements such as the teachers movement in the US and the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) in France and the deepening crisis in the Middle East. The ruling class has regrouped and regained its arrogance, continuing their political and economic assault imposing ever deeper social wage cuts while ideologically taking aim at hard won democratic and civil rights. It remains important for us to understand the underlying causes within this late stage of capitalist development that led to the 2008 crisis so that we of the working classes develop our capacity to effectively take on the political, ideological and economic challenges we are facing now and in the struggles ahead for a better life for all.

All of this to say that to become more effective it is reasonable to turn to a social theory that see crises as an inherent aspect of the capitalist mode of production, that is Marxist theory. McNally’s Global Slump is an impressive attempt to provide such a Marxist understanding for the crisis and a good example to see the explanatory power of Marx’s social theory as laid out in the three volumes of Capital.

The CAPITAL STUDIES GROUP has been meeting on Saturdays for more than two years. We are a group of workers, students, activists and teachers who have dedicated themselves to a chronological reading of all three volumes of Marx’s Capital. We begin a close reading Volume 2 on May 11. Newcomers are encouraged to join when your schedule permits.

Listed fees are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay.


Nicaragua in Crisis

A Forum with Father Octavio Altamirano • Jorge Blass •
Dan La Botz • Lisa Maya Knauer • Nicaraguan Students

co-sponsored with Haymarket Books, NACLA, New Politics and Democratic Socialists of America, NYC Chapter
Since late April the Nicaraguan Sandinista government of President Daniel Ortega has been challenged first by a popular uprising in which dozens were killed by the government and then by mass demonstrations demanding peace and justice. Now the Catholic Church is attempting to mediate between the Ortega government and the movement, but so far without success. What is the source of Nicaragua’s crisis today? And what are the roots of the problem in the experience of the last forty years? How does it affect Nicaraguan immigrants to the United States? What stand should progressive Americans take on the Nicaraguan crisis?


A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things

with Jason W. Moore

Nature, money, work, care, food, energy, and lives: these are the seven things that have made our world and will shape its future. In making these things cheap, modern commerce has transformed, governed, and devastated Earth. Jason W. Moore presents a new book authored with Raj Patel, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things.

Bringing the latest ecological research together with histories of colonialism, indigenous struggles, slave revolts, and other rebellions and uprisings, Moore and Patel demonstrate that throughout the history of capitalism, crises have always prompted fresh efforts to restore the seven cheap things – regardless of the cost to working people and the environment. At a time of crisis in all seven cheap things, they propose radical new ways of understanding—and reclaiming—the planet in the turbulent twenty-first century.

Jason W. Moore teaches world history and world-ecology at Binghamton University, and is coordinator of the World-Ecology Research Network. He is the author of Capitalism in the Web of Life and numerous award-winning essays in environmental history, political economy, and social theory.

Whose Cities? Our Cities!

10 sessions
Organized with the Urban Class Struggles group by Thomas Wensing
October 3 to December 12—no session November 21

In New York City, the self-proclaimed ‘real estate capital of the world’, working class housing has become either unaffordable or as cramped as 19th century conditions. The class that built, and continues to build New York and metropolises around the globe can no longer afford to live near where they work, while an international bourgeoisie of hyper-capital accumulation perch themselves in luxurious, multi-roomed occasional real estate. Whether it be New York, Tokyo, Paris, London, Rome or Lagos, the pattern repeats itself worldwide. Interconnectedness of global markets, deregulation of capital and mortgage markets, increased financialization of society, have all led to real estate in the metro centers serving as a prime instrument in the accumulation of global capital. Joining the mobile elite of hedge fund investors, Russian and Chinese oligarchs, oil sheiks, and billionaires are their criminal partners engaged in laundering, smuggling and multiple other illicit activities, all united hiding their identities and the source of their wealth through shell companies. These market forces that push the working classes out of the city and some into the ultimate austerity of homelessness are being met with growing resistance.

Our group will read Friedrich Engels’ “The Housing Question”, David Harvey’s Rebel Cities, David Madden and Peter Marcuse’s In Defense of Housing, Fear City by Kim Phillips-Fein and conclude with Zoned Out, edited by Tom Angotti and Sylvia Morse.

Our aim is to gain the historical and theoretical understanding that can inform our fight to wrest control of our cities from the capitalist class, and to discuss how cities can be reorganized to meet our human needs with a sustainable urban ecology.

Thomas Wensing works on residential and commercial projects at Morris Adjmi Architects. He holds licenses as an architect in both the UK and the Netherlands. He grew up in Den Helder, The Netherlands, and graduated from Delft University and Columbia University. His teaching experience includes the AA in London, Eindhoven University, and the University of Kent, in Canterbury. Thomas is a regular contributor to Blueprint Magazine and other publications.

Fascism: Then and Now

Fascism Then and Now: A Community Roundtable

Friends of the MEP and the Left community at large are invited to discuss the meaning and signficance of fascism and how to recognize it and struggle against it in world politics today. We hope to debate questions such as: What is the nature of fascism in relation to nationalism/racism, misogyny, social/community dissolution? Is or is not the Trump phenomenon an example or at least a precursor of fascism in the USA? Are there important political movements in other countries that could be called fascist? Is the social psychology of fascism the same today as it was in the 20th century? Are theAre there other forms of authoritarian capitalism that are not fascism, and why might it matter? Current facilitators are Peter Bratsis, Michael Pelias, Dan Karan, Alex Steinberg, David Worley (moderator).

Others are welcome to join as facilitators; each facilitator will offer a three minute (no longer) opening statement, after which the floor will be open for general discussion.

The image is from a deck of anti-fascist playing cards created during the Siege of Leningrad in 1943

The Three Worlds of Social Democracy

A book-launch and discussion with Ingo Schmidt (editor) and Mariano Féliz (contributor)

Capitalists’ permanent pressure on the working and living conditions of the popular classes guarantees an equally permanent demand for social protections. Curiously enough, around the same time capitalists turned from class compromise to an all-out offensive against Western European welfare states, until then the showcase of social democratic success, popular classes in a number of post-colonial and post-communist countries turned to social democracy. Though the 1990s are usually seen as nothing but an age of neoliberal globalization, it is more accurate to say that the same decade also saw the globalization of social democracy. With Third Worldism in retreat under the pressure of the international debt crises and counterinsurgency measures and Soviet communism finally collapsing after an extended period of stagnation, social democracy was the last remaining project of the 20th century left.

The ANC in South Africa, the Workers Party in Brazil, Communists in India and the former ruling parties in Eastern Europe eventually turned onto the social democratic road. But they did that at a time when social democracy in Western Europe was relabeled as a Third Way somewhere between the redistributive welfare state of the past and the present of unfettered global competition. However, the globalization of this Third Way turned out to be a dead-end. Wherever parties were elected on a moderately social democratic platform, soon after taking office the same parties would tell their voters that it was belt-tightening time. Ensuing anger, disappointment and frustrations opened the way for left- and right-wing alternatives to social democracy but also a quest for social democracy before the Third Way.

The Three Worlds of Social Democracy presents the experiences of parties and governments of social democracy from Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America, India, and South Africa. The book offers cutting-edge case studies to present a truly global exploration of the methods, meanings, and limits of social democracy. It also explores the potential for left alternatives to social democracy and the dangers of surging right-wing populism.

Mariano Féliz is an economist at the Instituto de Investigaciones en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales and the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Cient.ficas y Técnicas, Universidad Nacional de La Plata, Argentina.

Ingo Schmidt is the coordinator of the Labour Studies Programme at Athabasca University, Canada.