Class, Race & Gender

Contemporary Capitalism and the Limits of Identity Politics
Six-week session with Dan Karan

The ongoing debate between those arguing for either a class- or identity-based politics has led to a tragic split between forces that ultimately need to come together if each is to realize its goals. But should this even be an “either or” question when considered from the vantage point of trying to build an effective anti-capitalist movement struggling for the liberation of those exploited and oppressed by capital?

What may be surprising to some is that this split is not new and in the U.S. has roots that go back to the nation’s founding if not before. And, in the 19th century, while the Civil War is often referred to as the “second American Revolution” it was really during Reconstruction, the period just after the Civil War, in which a “self-emancipatory” moment opened as former slaves, working class whites and women struggled to realize the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” held out in Declaration of Independence. Yet divisions along class, race and gender lines sealed Reconstruction’s defeat. Why and how was this potentially revolutionary moment defeated and what should this history teach us about the strategies and tactics that the left needs to employ today?

To explore these issues of the intersection of class, race and gender in the US and the consequences of not being able to overcome the divisions that capitalism reinforces and exploits for its own purposes this class will read David Roediger’s recent book on Reconstruction: Seizing Freedom: Slave Emancipation and Liberty for All. This class will be the first in an ongoing series that explore questions of the relationship between class, race, gender and sexuality and how we overcome the divide between those exploited by capitalism and create a genuine anti-capitalist movement of liberation for all.

Dan Karan is a “red diaper baby” born into a communist household (his father worked as an organizer for the Communist Party and both his parents were members for roughly 25 years until leaving in 1956 along with many other comrades in response to Khrushchev’s “On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences” speech about Stalin). Dan’s political activism began at the age of 2 when his parents took him to the 1963 March on Washington. For the last 30 years he has worked for NYC nonprofit housing and community development organizations. He is a proud graduate school dropout who has been studying Marxist theory for more than 4 decades.

Dan Karan is a “red diaper baby” born into a communist household (his father worked as an organizer for the Communist Party and both his parents were members for roughly 25 years until leaving in 1956 along with many other comrades in response to Khrushchev’s “On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences” speech about Stalin). Dan’s political activism began at the age of 2 when his parents took him to the 1963 March on Washington. For the last 30 years he has worked for NYC nonprofit housing and community development organizations. He is a proud graduate school dropout who has been studying Marxist theory for more than 4 decades.

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Emergence of a New Left: Civil Rights from Reform to Revolution

We begin with Malcolm
Noble Bratton

Two more sessions prior to One-Dimensional Man: February 28 and March 7

Noble Bratton will conduct a 3-week history of the Civil Rights movement with CORE, SNCC and analyzing the growing militancy in African-American life that led to the revolutionary politics of The Black Panther Party as the 60s developed.
Noble Bratton is a graduate of Cornell University and is on the editorial board of Working USA/Labor and Society. He taught a class on the US Presidency at The Brecht Forum. He has participated with the Leo Downes Harlem Y Study Group. He is also a former member of District Council 65 of the UAW, UNITE Local 169.
Readings for the next two weeks will include chapters from Manning Marable’s Race, Reform and Rebellion.

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African Literature: Colonialism, Liberation, Disillusionment

We will meet for nine more weeks
Thursdays, February 9 through April 6, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Organized by Ibrahim Diallo of the Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group

Once you allow yourself to identify with the people in a story, then you might begin to see yourself in that story even if on the surface it’s far removed from your situation. … this is one great thing that literature can do – it can make us identify with situations and people far away. If it does that, it’s a miracle. –Chinua Achebe

With the reading of novels by Ousmane Sembene (Senegal), Tayeb Salih (Sudan), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria) and Ngugu wa Thiong’o (Kenya), we examine four different areas of Africa as the peoples there emerge from European colonization. We witness the struggles of workers on strike before their full independence, anti-colonial resistance spanning from Mount Kenya to academic circles in London. As nations become independent we discover new and recycled forms of oppression, exploitation and war. In the midst of disillusionment, we see resolve and signs of what remains possible.

Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu (God’s Bits of Wood) considered to be Ousmane Sembene’s masterpiece, rivaled only by Xala. The novel fictionalizes the real-life story of a railroad strike on the Dakar-Niger line that lasted from 1947 to 1948. Though the charismatic and brilliant union spokesman, Ibrahima Bakayoko, is the most central figure, the novel has no true hero except the community itself, which bands together in the face of hardship and oppression to assert their rights.

Season of Migration to the North (Arabic: موسم الهجرة إلى الشمال ‎‎ Mawsim al-Hiǧra ilā ash-Shamāl) is a classic post-colonial Sudanese novel by the novelist Tayeb Salih. Salih was fluent in both English and Arabic, but significantly chose to write this novel in Arabic. The novel is a counter-narrative to Heart of Darkness. It was described by Edward Said as one of the 10 great novels in Arabic literature.

Petals of Blood by Ngugu wa Thiong’o The novel largely deals with the skepticism of change after Kenya’s liberation from the British Empire, questioning to what extent free Kenya merely emulates, and subsequently perpetuates, the oppression found during its time as a colony. Other themes include the challenging of capitalism, politics, and the effects of westernization.

Half of a Yellow Sun, a novel by Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, tells the story of the Biafran War through the perspective of the characters Olanna, Ugwu, and Richard. The book jumps between events that took place during the early 1960s and the late 1960s, when the war took place, and extends until the end of the war.

Ibrahim Diallo was born in Guinea but has lived in Brooklyn, New York since his childhood. He has lived, worked, studied and/or travelled in nearly a dozen African countries. Ibrahim is one of the initiators of The Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group at The MEP.

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