The State and Strategies for Socialism

Zones of Liberation: 2nd Session

On developing and defending areas of opposition and building a broad and lasting anti-capitalist socialist movement

A panel with Paul Christopher Gray, Rafael Khachaturian and Stephen Maher

Moderated by Caroline Sykora

At this late and moribund stage of capitalist development nothing is sacred to profit-making as the capitalists deforest the Amazon and exploit the deepest marine life of the Marianas Trench. Meanwhile, the working classes the world over are engaged of necessity in an array of movements in opposition to these life-destroying practices. Nonetheless, workers deliver through their labors—which they must sell in order to survive, losing control over the use of their labor power in this act of selling—the means by which capital is digitally speeding us towards a metabolic endgame. Each decade going forward will lead to the demise of ever more species from the microbial to fully sentient beings like ourselves, all the result of the insatiable proliferation of the capitalists pursuit for ever-greater profit and continuous expanding accumulation of their money capital even if to do so requires the end of life on this planet as we know it.

In response to this, The Marxist Education Project is continuing the Zones of Liberation series this November 9th. The Socialist Project of Canada has been publishing a series on Socialist Strategy and the State over the past year. All of the published pieces are essential for those active in the anti-capitalist movement to be reading and discussing. Stephen Maher and Rafael Khachaturian’s essay Socialist Strategy and the Democratic Capitalist State examines the the state in its liberal-democratic form, arguing that we should move beyond both vanguardist and social democratic models toward a view of the state as a contradictory site of class and social struggles.  Paul Christoher Gray’s article on Socialist Project is taken from his recently published From the Streets to the State: Changing the World by Taking Power, where he takes on the limitations of dual power and extra-parliamentarism and the flaws inherent in the electoralist approaches and where there can be some reconciliation of the best aspects of these tendencies.

Paul Christopher Gray is a professor in Brock University’s Department of Labor Studies in St. Catharines, Ontario. The link to Paul’s work is here: https://socialistproject.ca/2019/06/transforming-capitalist-power-from-streets-to-state/

Rafael Khachaturian is a Lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania and faculty at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research.

Stephen Maher is a social critic, PhD candidate at York University in Toronto and Socialist Register Assistant Editor.

The link to Rafael and Stephen’s work is here: https://socialistproject.ca/2019/05/socialist-strategy-and-capitalist-democratic-state/

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Final Friday Film: Camp de Thiaroye

Directed by Ousmane Sembène 
From a screenplay by Ousmane Sembène and Thierno Faty Sow 
(1987 Senegal 153 mins)

“In this powerful and moving film Sembène, in collaboration with Thierno Faty Sow, who co-scripted and co-directed, reclaims and tells to the world another of those fragments of history concealed by colonialism which he sees it as his task to disinter. Such stories are part of the history not only of Africa, but of the colonial powers, in this case France, as well. “You don’t know natives or the colonies”, Capt. Raymond is informed when, at a meeting at the General’s H.Q., he insists that the Army should honour its obligations to the tirailleurs. France, he argues, cannot successfully reconstruct by “robbing natives”, particularly those who have, as he outspokenly reminds the assembled officers, been fighting the war “in your place, gentlemen”, a reminder that the authorities in Senegal initially collaborated with Vichy. Ironically, it is not his ignorance of “natives or the colonies” that limits Raymond, but his naivety about his fellow Frenchmen: “An officer who does not keep his word is not worthy to wear the French uniform.” When he hears of the massacre in Diatta’s village he is quick to point out that it occurred in 1942, under Vichy. (In Sembène’s 1971 film Emitai massacres in the Diola region from which Diatta comes are shown as continuing after the liberation of France, and De Gaulle’s assumption of power.) Diatta argues that the mentality of colonial armies, be they French or Nazi, is the same, going on to point out that collaborators are surrounding the leader of the Free French and being put in charge of the colonies. Despite his greater historical awareness (Raymond is, in fact, often prepared to defer to his erudition) Diatta too is taken in when the General apparently gives in to the tirailleurs‘ demands, and offers his word “as a general officer”.

“Secondly, debate is very important in African cinema. It draws on the political rituals of traditional society, which, though feudal, had its system of checks and balances, which resulted in some degree of democratic exchange of opinion. In Camp de Thiaroye the tirailleurs use the traditional, highly rhetorical, almost theatrical, mode of debate of their various societies, but adapt this ritual form to the only language they have in common: the pidgin which the French insultingly call “petit nègre”, a language which is both a result and a tool of colonial exploitation. Here it is revealed as having a potential for eloquence, allowing it to become a moving medium for the articulation of feelings, needs, grievances and resistance, and thus ultimately for the development of the tirailleurs‘ collective political awareness and consciousness of themselves as Africans. One consequence of the latter is the decision to choose their own leaders, selecting a representative from each barracks, rather than relying on their nonetheless much loved and respected Sergeant-Major, who has been promoted by the whites. The structures they evolve grow out of their historical situation, and compare strikingly with the rigid hierarchies of colonialism and the military: “The army is discipline. Obedience to your superiors”, the General tells them. The formal pageantry of the parade-ground serves to stifle debate, mask conflict, hide betrayal and destruction, whereas the theatrical exchanges of the traditional discourse offer a forum for debate, evolution and reconciliation.”                    —James Leahy, Sense of Cinema, October, 2003

Ousmane Sembène was the son of a fisherman, born in Ziguinchor in Casamance to a Lebou family. From childhood Sembène was exposed to Serer religion especially the Tuur festival, in which he was made cult servant. Although the Tuur demands offerings of curdled milk to the ancestral spirits (Pangool), Sembène did not take his responsibility as cult servant seriously and was known for drinking the offerings made to the ancestors. Some of his adult work draws on Serer themes. His maternal grandmother reared him and greatly influenced him. Women play a major role in his works.

In 1944, Sembène was drafted into the Senegalese Tirailleurs (a corps of the French Army). His later World War II service was with the Free French Forces. After the war, he returned to his home country and in 1947 participated in a long railroad strike on which he later based his seminal novel God’s Bits of Wood.

 

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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.

 

Ticket prices are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay.

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Power of the Healthcare Wedge



Medicare for All and Working Class Consciousness

With Jenny Brown, Mark Dudzic and Christie Offenbacher

at The People’s Forum, 320 West 37th Street Street (between 8th and 9th Avenues), NYC

The working class of the United States — all those still working and all those of the class discarded, disenfranchised and deemed redundant by the capitalists — is suffering a multitude of nightmares and insecurity because the basic human right to complete healthcare is denied. Our bodies and minds have long been deemed territory to mine for profit seeking by capitalists including the health and hospital corporations, pharmaceuticals, insurance companies, financiers, and numerous other sectors.

As necessary services required by women continue to be taken away, and deaths by opioids and suicide, including children, grow larger every year, the bourgeoisie’s life expectancy extends while that of millions of working Americans declines. And now we are at a point in the US where some capitalists have laid claim to owning the DNA sequences of individuals.

Bringing together lab workers, doctors, physicians assistants, maintenance staff at hospitals, those who construct our places of treatment and recovery, mental, dental and visual health workers with the class at large, and left movement organizations — all of whom have real interests in taking on this fight — could break the lock-hold American capital has ideologically, legislatively, and juridically, and begin to open the way for further empowerment against the barbarous interests of these ruling neo-liberal capitalists. To accomplish this requires a national movement that can step up and unify us into a grand struggle. We of the MEP are just a small organization; it is the issue that is grand. We are committed to do our part through our programs to encourage dialogue, discussion and debate, and learning from each other and history, towards advancing the struggle for universal health care and movement building in the US.

Following presentations by Christie, Jenny and Mark, we can address some of the many questions facing our movement including:

  1. What are the principal opportunities and threats facing the Medicare for All movement at this time?
  2. How does our understanding of these opportunities and threats inform our work in our unions, communities and in society at large to help us realize our organizing priorities towards broadening this movement?

About the Speakers:

JENNY BROWN is a women’s liberation organizer and former editor of Labor Notes. She is co-author of the Redstockings book Women’s Liberation and National Health Care: Confronting the Myth of America. She is author of Birth Strike: The Hidden Fight over Women’s Work, forthcoming from PM Press in March. She writes, teaches, and organizes with the dues-funded feminist group National Women’s Liberation (womensliberation.org).

MARK DUDZIC has a long history in the labor movement. He has had jobs such as sanitation worker near Buffalo, NY, cannery worker in Alaska and warehouse worker and taxi driver in NYC, eventually graduation from CUNY in 1982. He became the National Organizer of the Labor Party after the death of Tony Mazzocchi in 2002. He is currently the National Coordinator for the Labor Campaign for Single Payer Healthcare.

CHRISTIE OFFENBACHER is a clinical social worker and therapist in Brooklyn. She serves on the political education committee in her branch of the NYC Democratic Socialists of America, and as a Regional Coordinator with DSA’s national Medicare for All campaign.

 

Suggested donation: $6 / $10 / $15 / sliding scale  *  No one turned away for inability to pay

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Choke Points

Logistics Workers Disrupting the Global Supply Chain
A discussion with editors Jake Alimahomed-Wilson and Immanuel Ness

Presented by The Marxist Education Project with The Left Front

An important new book from Pluto Press (plutobooks.com)

Global capitalism is always a precarious system. Relying on the steady flow of goods across the world, trans-national companies such as Wal-Mart and Amazon depend on the work of millions in docks, warehouses and logistics centers to keep goods moving. This is the global supply chain. If the chain is broken, capitalism grinds to a halt. This talk concerns the book of the same name, looking at case studies across the world to uncover a network of resistance by these workers who, despite their importance, face extreme exploitation and economic violence.

Experiencing first hand wildcat strikes, organized blockades and boycotts, the authors have explored a diverse range of organizing and related activities, from South China dockworkers to the transformation of the port of Piraeus in Greece, and from the Southern California logistics sector, to dock and logistical workers in Chile and unions in Turkey.

Join us for an evening of discussion on the potential strength our class has the ability to utilize in facing capital dominance during our period where capital has of necessity created this points that really give us the means of “choking” their power.

“This phenomenal collection is a must-read for anyone interested in the dire state of the contemporary global economy. It offers an unprecedented analysis of supply chain capitalism through case studies from around the world that are beautifully written and carefully researched.”—Deborah Cowen, University of Toronto

“Beyond analyzing logistical choke points as abstract sites for capital to route around or locations in which workers acquire untimely power, this volume takes us straight into these crucial nodes of labor struggle. Choke points in global supply chains are revealed as spaces of hazard and calculation, violence and negotiation, victory and loss, passion and organization.” —Brett Neilson, Research Professor, Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University

Jake Alimahomed-Wilson is Professor of Sociology at California State University, Long Beach. He is the author of Solidarity Forever? Race, Gender, and Unionism in the Ports of Southern California (Lexington Books, 2016) and co-author of Getting the Goods: Ports, Labor, and the Logistics Revolution (Cornell University Press, 2008).

Immanuel Ness is Professor of Political Science at City University of New York. He is author of Southern Insurgency (Pluto, 2015), Guest Workers and Resistance to U.S. Corporate Despotism (Univ. of Illinois Press, 2011), and numerous other works. He is editor of the International Encyclopaedia of Revolution and Working USA: The Journal of Labor and Society.

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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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Manuals On Organizing, Version 1

The 21st Century Anti-Capitalist Organizing Task Force presents a reading of Assembly and No Shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age

How can we develop a strong anti-capitalist movement as capitalists impose a level of austerity that the working class has not experienced since the Great Depression? Over the next several terms, this reading group will read works that help explore a spectrum of theories and methods for raising class consciousness and general organizing.

We will read these books with a critical eye, looking for what we can relate to our personal experiences and what is useful in our organizing work in the struggle for socialism and against bourgeois barbarism.

We will be reading Jane McAlevey’s No Shortcuts, and Assembly by Michael Hart and Antonio Negri. The latter is the latest entry in their series of books about how to be effective during the current conjuncture and beyond.

11 sessions remain. For January 30 read the Preface and Chapter 1 of Assembly along with the Introduction to No Shortcuts. Versions 2 (April – June), and 3 (September-December) and beyond will take up other significant works.

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Reading Capital Politically Continues

5 More Sessions: July 19, 26, & August 2, 16, 23 (no class August 9)

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of contending classes.” —Karl Marx, The Communist Manifesto

For 150 years, Karl Marx’s Das Kapital has fascinated, frustrated and or confounded readers. It is most often read as a work of political economy whose aim is to understand how the capitalist economy works or even philosophically for its method (the influence of Hegel and his method continues to be debated). However Marx himself intended Capital to serve as a “weapon” in the hands of the working class. This makes Capital first and foremost a political work. But what does it mean to read Capital politically? To answer this question, this class will examine Reading Capital Politically by Harry Cleaver (the most well known American exponent of what has come to be labelled “class struggle” or “Autonomist” Marxism after the Italian “Autonomia” movement of the 1970s). For the autonomists, Marx’s maxim that class struggle is the “motor force” of history is to be taken literally and not viewed as simply some literary metaphor. But what does this mean in the real world? How does this work? And, how should we read Capital politically?

Reading for this class will include:

Reading Capital Politically by Harry Cleaver (https://libcom.org/files/cleaver-reading_capital_politically.pdf)
Capital Volume 1, Chapter 1 (https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch01.htm)
CyberMarx by Nick Dyer-Witheford Chapter 4 (on Autonomist Marxism) https://libcom.org/library/cyber-marx-nick-dyer-witheford

Dan Karan has been studying Marxism for 40 years and was a student of John Gerassi, Jean-Paul Sartre’s official biographer.

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Marxism / Leninism • Reform / Revolution • Role of a Vanguard Party

Abhinav Sinha, India (Mazdoor Bigul- “Workers Bugle”)
Immanuel Ness, Journal of Labor and Society
Jackie Di Salvo, Baruch College

Our panelists assert that the failure of the socialist movement in the US is rooted in a binary
between the opportunism of right wing reformism and ultra-leftist utopianism. As the storm
clouds of fascism grow more ominous, and right wing reformists and their social democratic allies
join forces with the Democratic Party sectarian ultra-leftists also offer no concrete vision for the
future—leading to a dead end for any practical social transformation. Anarchists and syndicalists
may document the militancy and spontaneity of the working class, but have no sense of building
class power to counter the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Today, as most political efforts are
moribund, disciplined and principled anti-capitalist socialist organization is more urgent than at
any time in the US since the 1930s. How do we develop a political organization capable of
avoiding the same traps of the past? Are communist parties inevitably social democratic and
bureaucratic? Can existing parties in the US be saved? In this panel, Marxist organizations come
together to learn from the experience in India and elsewhere. This public event is both a
workshop and a frank and sober discussion about the road ahead.

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Working The Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centers

An author presentation & discussion with Jamie Woodcock

Co-sponsored and hosted by Interference Archive

Call centers have become synonymous with low-paid and high stress work, dictatorial supervisors and terrifyingly precarious job contracts. However, rarely do we have access to the experience of workers in this context. For Working the Phones, Jamie Woodcock spent time working undercover in a UK call center in order to provide insights into the daily experiences of call center workers, and to understand and analyze methods of control and resistance that exist within the highly regulated environment. Call center work has become emblematic of the shift towards a post-industrial service economy, and all the issues that this produces, such as the destruction of a unionized work force, isolation and alienation, loss of agency and, ominously, the proliferation of surveillance and control which affects mental and physical well-being of the workers. The talk includes three parts: first, it makes an argument for the use of workers’ inquiry as a method to study contemporary work conditions, in this case involving an undercover activist ethnography; second, it draws on heterodox and critical Marxist theory to understand the transformation of work; third, it focuses on the challenges of resistance and organization in contemporary work through a concrete example.

Jamie Woodcock completed his PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is currently a fellow at LSE. His research interests include: digital labour, technology, management, critical theory, and the sociology of work. Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres is published by Pluto Press, further information: https://t.co/O4wr47ZGF3

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