Globalization and Writing

Exploration: Exploitation/Domination • Discovery/Liberation
4 Works • 11 Weeks

The MEP Literature Group

In this eleven-week session we will read one memoir and three novels that study the scope of empire. Written between 1899 and 2000, the authors, two sailors (Polish and American), a Jamaican social theorist, and a British Jamaican immigrant are denied privilege because of their citizenship (or lack of it), class, or color. Unwilling, or unable to conform and accept lesser positions in their societies, they remain within their marginality and write their unease in novels which give readers an alternative report of the results of colonization both abroad where the EuroAmerican capitalists have colonized and what consequences that colonization has made for life in the home countries.

Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad
The story, written at the height of the British Empire, reflects the physical and psychological shock Conrad himself experienced in 1890 when he worked briefly in the Belgian Congo. The experience left him disillusioned, questioning what it meant to be civilized in the age of colonialism

This novella is astonishingly powerful and equally enigmatic. Its condemnation of Western imperialism—of the greed, violence, and exploitation that so often accompanies ventures to bring “light” and civilization to the “dark” and needy areas of the world—and its poignant look at the destructive influence of colonization on the colonized and colonizer alike, have been widely praised. However, some postcolonial African writers, most notably Chinua Achebe, deemed the book racist for its portrayal of native African cultures.

Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands
Stuart Hall
Familiar Stranger takes us only as far as the mid-1960s, after a decade during which, for Hall, “normal” life was suspended in favour of non-stop political agitation. The book touches on his role in the New Left; his critical involvement with CND; his early exposition of the “formal” and “unwitting” variants of British racism; and the importance of Catherine, with whom he relocated to Birmingham at the start of his lifelong embrace of cultural studies. These recollections of a busy life in Britain nonetheless remain haunted by the ghostly presence of his earlier years in Jamaica. With its resonant subtitle, A Life Between Two Islands, it encourages the reader to draw such parallels as that between Jamaica’s 1938 rebellion and the Brixton riots of 1981. It was Hall’s belief that the British had never fully come to terms with colonialism and decolonization.

Dog Soldiers
Robert Stone
Dog Soldiers deals with the fall of the counterculture in America, the rise of mass cynicism and the end of the optimism of the 1960s. California has moved on from the Summer of Love to post-Manson paranoia. Converse, a once-promising writer now unable to do more than observe, waits for artistic inspiration as a correspondent in Vietnam. Symbolic of his moral corruption is his decision to traffic in heroin, which the 1960s counterculture never embraced as they did marijuana and LSD.

White Teeth
Zadie Smith
This may be the first novel ever written that truly feels at home in our borderless, globalized, intermarried, post-colonial age, populated by “children with first and last names on a direct collision course.” Published when Smith was just 24, White Teeth follows the friendship of two Londoners, a pub-going working-class bloke named Archie and a Muslim from Bangladesh named Samad. Archie marries a Jamaican; Samad has twin sons, one of whom becomes a religious militant, the other a rabid Anglophile. The overlapping fates of Smith’s characters seem to trace the new structures of 21st-century life and test their sturdiness as framework for peace and happiness. Both deeply Dickensian and playfully post-modern, White Teeth doesn’t quail before the rampantly ramifying novelistic complexities of a multicultural world. It revels in them.

The MEP LITERATURE GROUP has been meeting to discuss literature since the first days of The Marxist Education Project following a presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz on her Indigenous Peoples History of the United States and her recommendation that we take up literature with Leslie Marmon Silko’s Almanac of The Dead. The group has recently completed readings of Victor Serge’s Unforgiving Years following by Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. Our second summer of noir, considered works by Hammett, Chandler, Manchette, and others. Other studies have included novels related to World War I, the global depression of the 1930s, and novels on border politics, migrations and labor organizing.

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Introduction to Marxism for Women Only

with Juliet Ucelli

co-sponsored with Left Focus

We’ll explore some key concepts about human beings, society and history, and our relationship to the rest of nature. Readings will be short and accessible excerpts from writings by Marx and Engels or later Marxists. I believe that this theory can help us analyze the social and economic realities and structures we live in–who holds power and how–and fight more effectively for liberation.

Some of the central questions that we’ll address are:
• How did the oppression of women, and the division of societies into people who work and others who exploit them, originate and develop historically?
• What are the driving dynamics of capitalism that make it make it so productive, innovative, brutal and ecologically destructive?
• What intellectual tools can help us understand industry’s complex impacts on our bodies, our psyches and the nature around us—impacts that capitalists, and people who think like them, don’t want to see or cannot see?
• What did Marx understand—and not understand—about white supremacy and Eurocentrism, and how has that analysis been deepened and modified by later Marxists?

In a continuing attempt to increase access for those who have been historically excluded, turned off or silenced by the way this theory is often taught and discussed, we are offering an intro class this October through December for women only. Everyone who identifies as a woman is welcome.

Juliet Ucelli has taught labor economics and class/race/gender for unions and activists, and writes on Eurocentrism in Marxist theory, and Marxist understandings of human development. She also teaches Marx’s Capital, Volume One with The Marxist Education Project.

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Capital, Volume I

Class & Discussion with Capital Studies Group

Karl Marx’s Capital remains the fundamental text for understanding how capitalism works. By unraveling the commoditized forms of our interactions with nature and each other, it provides tools to understand capitalism’s astounding innovativeness and productivity, intertwined with growing inequality and misery, alienation, stunting of human potential, and ecological destruction all over the globe. In this way, Capital offers the reader a methodology for doing our own analysis of current developments.

The Capital Studies Group has been meeting on Saturdays for nearly two years. We are a diverse group of students, activists and teachers who are now dedicating themselves to a chronological reading of all three volumes of Marx’s Capital.

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Tales of the 1%: The Organizer

In turn-of-the-twentieth-century Turin, an accident in a textile factory incites workers to stage a walkout, which becomes a long strike, developing into an occupation. The capitalists summon in the army. The organizer (Marcello Mastrioanni) rallies the workers, converting fear into strength through collective action.

The Organizer is a dramatically political statement from director Mario Monicelli. More commonly known for lighter films like Big Deal on Madonna Street, Monicelli created an expression of the necessity of collective action that is both gritty and entertaining. In making this period piece about a factory strike in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Turin (the rapidly industrializing Italian city that would come to be called “Italy’s Detroit”), Monicelli strove for the utmost realism, casting the film with actual workers and shooting on location in one of the area’s huge textile factories.

“I wanted to show all of that. The truth about what happens in the working world.”
—Mario Monicelli, interviewed in 2006

Discussion with the Capital Studies Organizing Task Force, workers and allies who gather frequently to study the three volumes of Marx’s Capital, in order to be concrete in our analysis of capital and to better inform the class struggles against capitalists and their collaborators.

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Highlights of Marx’s Capital, Volume One

A 9 Session Class and Discussion with Juliet Ucelli
Wednesdays, 6:00 to 7:30 pm
October 4-December 6, 2017

Capital is the indispensable sourcebook on Marx’s method for analyzing the economy, politics and struggles. Many of us have less time to study it because, as Marx predicted, we have to work longer hours— and often more than one job—in order to survive. Fortunately, even a basic familiarity with the key concepts of Volume I offers many tools for understanding capitalism’s dynamics. With current conditions, we’ve been offering this highlights approach, breaking down key concepts and sections:

• use value, value and surplus value;
• why capitalism has needed conquest, enslavement and white supremacy;
• why capitalism drives technological innovation, overwork and unemployment and leads to ecological destruction;
• how working-class people (employed and unemployed) have historically won improvements in living and working conditions.

Participant reports and life experiences are welcome!

The course provides a basic grounding for participants to pursue further study on their own or collectively. We’ll refer to new resources such as on-line and visual aids and current articles that illustrate capitalism’s developmental tendencies, which Marx calls its laws of motion. Suggested fees are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay.

Juliet Ucelli has taught labor economics and class/race/gender for labor unions, and was a public high school social worker. She writes on Eurocentrism in Marxist theory, the politics of inner city public schooling and Marxist understandings of human development.

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The Condition of the Working Class in England

by Frederick Engels
A reading and discussion group convened with Lisa Maya Knauer
Four more Mondays, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm
June 12, 19, 26 and July 3

Everywhere barbarous indifference, hard egotism on one hand, and nameless misery on the other, everywhere social warfare, every… house in a state of siege, everywhere reciprocal plundering under the protection of the law, and all so shameless, so openly avowed that one shrinks before the consequences of our social state as they manifest themselves here undisguised, and can only wonder that the whole crazy fabric still hangs together.

This sounds like a description of our contemporary moment, when so many communities around the globe are reeling from the havoc wrought by unfettered neoliberal capitalism, from structural adjustment to cuts in social spending to “free trade” agreements to the gig economy and the loss of affordable housing on a global scale.

But this paragraph was written by Frederick Engels, in his 1845 book, The Condition of the Working Class in England. This reading group will take a close look at Engels’ master work, to help understand how the formation of industrial capital and the industrial working class in the nineteenth century has led us to the current conjuncture in contemporary capitalism — characterized by growing inequality, increasing precariousness for nearly everyone except the capitalist elite, and incessant attacks on the most vulnerable — and explore its lessons for our revolutionary politics in the twenty-first century. This class is open to those reading Marx and Engels for the first time, and would provide an excellent background for in-depth study of historical materialism. While this is a self-contained five-week session, it will also serve as a prelude to an exploration of Marx and Engels’ political writings in the fall.

Lisa Maya Knauer is a lifelong radical who came of age politically in the 1960s and 1970s. She was active in the anti-war, civil rights, women’s, farmworkers support, anti-apartheid and other movements. She moved to New York in 1977 and quickly immersed herself in the New York left. She found the School for Marxist Education in the phone book and joined the Marxist Education Collective, and has been involved with this educational undertaking through its various incarnations, including the Marxist Education Project. In her day job, she is a tenured radical at a public university and does research on indigenous resistance in Guatemala and immigrant worker organizing in the U.S.

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