What Is Capitalism?

Dan Karan
Mondays, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
a Nine Week Course from March 28 to May 23

Capitalism is written and talked about all the time by both its critics and defenders, yet surprisingly, the term is rarely if ever defined. Many simply assume we all know and agree on what capitalism is and so there is no need for any further description or definition. This simply isn’t true. In fact, there are huge debates and little agreement on this very question. “So what”, we hear you say? “Who cares? Does this even matter? Isn’t this just another silly armchair academic debate over how many 1-percenters can dance on the head of a pin?” Actually, it matters a lot. Why? Well, for one thing, if we don’t define what capitalism is then what does it means to be ”anti-capitalist”? Don’t we first have to know what something is to know what it is we’re against? Otherwise, how can we ever know if the movement we’re building is based on strategies, tactics, issues and demands that, even if successful, will actually move us beyond capitalism instead of once again simply reinforcing its rule?
This class will explore what capitalism is through a close and critical reading of The Origins of Capitalism by Ellen Meiksins Wood, whose range as a scholar was extraordinary, covering subjects as diverse as ancient Greece, early modern political thought, contemporary political theory, Marxism and the structure and evolution of capitalism. Sadly, Ellen Meiksins Wood died January of this year.

Some of the topics the class will cover include the relationship between capitalism and:
* Class, Race and Gender
* Waged and Unwaged Labor
* Imperialism and “Globalization”
* Money, Credit, Debt and “Financialization”
* The State
* The Environment
* Economic Crisis (Capitalism as a system of internal contradictions)
* And Many Others.

Each week we will read approximately 20-30 pages in Wood’s book along with a supplementary article on the main topic (some of those listed above) we will focus on in the upcoming session. As much as possible, the class will be participatory and discussion-based (not lecture). No prior knowledge of either Marxism or other theories of capitalism are necessary. All are welcome!

Dan Karan has been studying Marxist theory and history for more than 40 years and has been working for NYC non-profit housing and community development organizations for the last 25 years before which he worked in construction for more than a decade.

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