Caribbean Literature: Breaking bonds before and after betrayed revolutions

10 Weeks beginning October 12 through December 21

A reading and discussion group with the Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group

During this term we will begin with Aimé Césaire’s cultural statement from the 30s, issued from the Caribbean to all those colonized by the capitalist powers, primarily of Europe. Following our discourse on his groundbreaking discourse we will consider three novels on the colonized Caribbean, long engaged in revolutionary struggle with just as long gains towards liberation and the centuries long experiences of counter-revolution, and the consequences of compromise and collaboration with former colonizers and the colossus US that treats the Caribbean like a backyard swimming pool and those of the islands, whether local agent of capital or exploited worker, as servants by that pool.

“I admit that it is a good thing to place different civilizations in contact with each other that it is an excellent thing to blend different worlds; that whatever its own particular genius may be, a civilization that withdraws into itself atrophies; that for civilizations, exchange is oxygen; that the great good fortune of Europe is to have been a crossroads, and that because it was the locus of all ideas, the receptacle of all philosophies, the meeting place of all sentiments, it was the best center for the redistribution of energy.
But then I ask the following question: has colonization really placed civilizations in contact? Or, if you prefer, of all the ways of establishing contact, was it the best?
“I answer no.
“And I say that between colonization and civilization there is an infinite distance; that out of all the colonial expeditions that have been undertaken, out of all the colonial statutes that have been drawn up, out of all the memoranda that have been dispatched by all the ministries, there could not come a single human value.”
` —Aimé Césaire, Discourse on Colonialism

Discourse on Colonialism
Aimé Fernand David Césaire
This classic work, first published in France in 1955, profoundly influenced the generation of scholars and activists at the forefront of liberation struggles in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Nearly twenty years later, when published for the first time in English, Discourse on Colonialism inspired a new generation engaged in the Civil Rights and Black Power and anti-war movements.

All Souls Rising
Madison Smartt Bell
The slave uprising in Haiti was a momentous contribution to the tide of revolution that swept over the Western world at the end of the 1700s. A brutal rebellion that strove to overturn a vicious system of slavery, the uprising successfully transformed Haiti from a European colony to the world’s first Black republic. From the center of this horrific maelstrom, the heroic figure of Toussaint Louverture–a loyal, literate slave and both a devout Catholic and Vodouisant–emerges as the man who will take the merciless fires of violence and vengeance and forge a revolutionary war fueled by liberty and equality.

A Small Place
Jamaica Kincaid
Antigua, 2000
In A Small Place, Kincaid calls attention to the fact that in many ways, conditions in Antigua worsened with the achievement of independence; she communicates her frustration with her people and capitalism. In a nation free from colonialism, Antiguans “do to [themselves] the very things [colonists] used to do to [them]”. Through her critique of colonialism and the development of an exploitative tourist industry in A Small Place, Kincaid addresses several other major themes which include the influence of homeland on identity, culture, and the desire for independence.

A Brief History of Seven Killings
Marlon James
Jamaica, 2014
Winner of the Man Booker Prize
The first part of the novel is set in Kingston, Jamaica, in the build-up to the Smile Jamaica Concert, and describes politically motivated violence between gangs associated with the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the People’s National Party (PNP), especially in the West Kingston neighborhoods of Tivoli Gardens and Mathews Lane (renamed in the novel as Copenhagen City and Eight Lanes), including involvement of the CIA in the Jamaican politics of the time. As well as Marley (who is referred to as “the Singer” throughout), other real life characters depicted or fictionalized in the book include Kingston gangsters Winston “Burry Boy” Blake and George “Feathermop” Spence, Claude Massop and Lester Lloyd Coke (Jim Brown) of the JLP and Aston Thomson (Buckie Marshall) of the PNP.

The Indigenous Peoples’s Reading Group, which has grown from the enthusiastic call for the need of greater understanding of the long history of the peoples of North America and other continents of the world who were of those continents before and remain after the European colonists came to settle and bring this capitalist relations to every corner of the globe. Our group began following a stirring presentation by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz September of 2014 where she introduced An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.

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Popular Struggles in South Africa

Popular Struggles in South Africa:
Urban Revolt: State Power and the Rise of People’s Movements in the Global South
and The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa

A report on current and future liberation movements in South Africa with
Trevor Ngwane, Luke Sinwell and Manny Ness

On 16th August 2012, thirty-four black mineworkers were gunned down by the police under the auspices of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) in what has become known as the Marikana massacre. Luke Sinwell’s The Spirit of Marikana tells the story of the uncelebrated leaders at the world’s three largest platinum mining companies who survived the barrage of state violence, intimidation, torture and murder which was being perpetrated during this tumultuous period. What began as a discussion about wage increases between two workers in the changing rooms at one mine became a rallying cry for economic freedom and basic dignity. This gripping ethnographic account is the first comprehensive study of this movement, revealing how seemingly ordinary people became heroic figures who transformed their workplace and their country.

The urban poor and working class now make up the majority of the world’s population and this segment is growing dramatically as the global population expands to 10 billion by mid-century. Much of the population growth results from the displacement of rural peasants to the urban cores, resulting in the vast expansion of mega-cities with 10 to 20 million people in the global South. The proliferation of informal settlements and slums particularly in the global south have created the conditions in which urban areas have become the principal sites of social upheaval as people seek to improve their living conditions. Drawing from case studies in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, the various chapters in Urban Revolt: State Power and the Rise of People’s Movements in the Global South map and analyze the ways in which the majority of the world exists and struggles in the contemporary urban context.

Trevor Ngwane and Luke Sinwell will discuss the current situation in South Africa where trade union militancy has spread more broadly in the five years since Marikana, the anti-austerity student movement remains strong at most universities and other schools, and socialist parties are experiencing growth and are at times uniting to fight the neoliberalism of the post-apartheid state.

Mgcineni ‘Mambush’ Noki (imagined in the wall painting wearing a green blanket) was one of the 34 mineworkers killed by the South African police on August 2016 while on strike demanding a ‘living wage’ in the most potent episode of state violence against civilians in the post-apartheid period. Mambush and the others live on as the insurgency grows broader and deeper in South African society and beyond.

Through detailed case studies, Urban Revolt unravels the potential and limitations of urban social movements on an international level.

“A superb addition to the literature on the contemporary global crisis and its micro manifestations.” —Patrick Bond, BRICS: An Anticapitalist Critique

The urban poor and working class now make up the majority of the world’s population. Much of the population growth results from the displacement of rural peasants to mega-cities. The proliferation of informal settlements and slums, particularly in the Global South, have created conditions ripe for social upheaval as people seek to improve their living conditions and win basic human rights. Drawing from case studies in Africa, Latin America, and Asia, the chapters in this book map and analyze the ways in which the majority of the world exists and struggles in the contemporary urban context.
“What emerges from this collection is a complex picture of resistance, which nevertheless provides nuanced hope for a universalist project of social transformation…. The result is often a refreshing and accessible journey into urban revolts that the reader may have less familiarity.”
—Leo Zeilig, African Struggles Today: Social Movements Since Independence

“Capitalism itself is in crisis so it means, as Marx said, the CEOs of the world, government leaders, have now become personifications of capital. They no longer have any control. They speak for capital. They are just meant to trample on our rights willy nilly. They did that in Greece until a left party took over and then now they are turning the screws on that left party. It’s harder in countries such as the USA where socialism is a swear word as it is in Eastern Europe.”
—Trevor Ngwane, Counterfire, 2015

“Fanon somewhere quotes Marx on how the social revolution “cannot draw its poetry from the past, but only from the future.” The EFF, the student movement and the working class movement has to find a way forward without going back to nationalism as an ideology of struggle. The struggle against imperialism has to break out of the discourse of colonialism without denying this history and its legacy…at its heart will be proletarian internationalism rather than bourgeois nationalism.” —Trevor Ngwane, 2016

Trevor Ngwane is a scholar-activist who is active in the Socialist Group and the United Front, organizations that seek a pro–working class pro-poor future for South Africa and the world. His PhD thesis recently awarded by the University of Johannesburg is titled “Amakomiti as democracy on the margins: Popular committees in South Africa’s informal settlements.”

Luke Sinwell is a senior researcher with the South African Research Chair in Social Change, University of Johannesburg. He has published widely on social movements and popular protest. His latest book is an ethnography called, The Spirit of Marikana: The Rise of Insurgent Trade Unionism in South Africa (Pluto Press, 2016).

Immanuel Ness is a professor of political science at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He has authored and edited of many books including: Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class (Pluto Press, 2015) and Ours to Master and to Own: Worker Control from the Commune to the Present (Haymarket Books, 2011). Ness is co-editor of the third world political economy quarterly, Journal of Labor and Society.

Copies of Urban Revolt, The Spirit of Marikana and Southern Insurgency will be available for purchase.

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