Pontecorvo Double Feature!

Anti-Bourgeois Film Festival
9th Anniversary Double Feature

Pontecorvo Night @ The People’s Forum

Presented by The Left Academy & The Marxist Education Project

5:30 pm
The Battle of Algiers
1965, 100 minutes

The celebrated, newsreel-like film, shot in Algiers in black and white details the national war for independence as fought in Algiers against the occupying French forces. Director Gillo Pontecorvo and writer Franco Solinas created several protagonists in their screenplay, who are based on historical war figures. The story begins and ends from the perspective of Ali la Pointe (Brahim Haggiag), a petty criminal who is politically radicalized while in prison. He is recruited by FLN commander El-hadi Jafar. This character is played by Saadi Yacef, who was a veteran FLN commander.

7:45 pm
Presentation and discussion of significance of Pontecorvo’s two great films during his time and ours

8:30 pm
Quemada (Burn!)
1969, 108 minutes

A film of revolt set in the Caribbean, could be any of the colonized islands. Marlon Brando plays a British agent who advises Jose Dolores as leader of a slave revolt, to advance English colonial interests. In 1848, revolutionary Jose Dolores, disgusted by the white government’s collaboration with British interests–leads a second uprising, jeopardizing the Antilles Royal Sugar Company. After six years of the uprising, in 1854, the company brings Walker (the Brando character) back to Queimada with the consent of the British Admiralty, tasking him with suppressing the revolt and pacifying the island. Walker attempts to save Dolores’s life but the rebel leader rejects his assistance, asserting that freedom is earned, not received.

Soundtracks to both films by Ennio Morricone

From an interview with Gillo Pontecorvo by Maria Esposito for the World Socialist Web Site
June, 2004

“…About three years ago the BBC defined my work as “the dictatorship of truth”. In my cinema, when faced with the choice of distancing oneself from reality or using an effect that might be used to win the popularity with the public, I always renounce these possibilities and stay close to reality.

ME: Is this why you decided to make The Battle of Algiers in documentary style?

GP: Yes.

Let me explain how much this love for reality, the reality that surrounds us, weighed on me. I only spent four days doing the screen tests for the actors in The Battle of Algiers, but a month looking for the right kind of photography that would best convey this sense of truth.

The difficulty was to find the right sort of look that would imitate grainy photography with strong contrasts, like those of the newsreels, and yet, because it had to be shown in the cinemas where people paid to see it, it had to retain a certain formal dignity, a formal beauty. It therefore took us a month to discover the technique required. The method that finally guided us was to take the original negative and make a copy of it and then re-photograph the copy.”

From a 1999 Gerald Peary interview with Pontecorvo

Cineaste: Could you talk about your brilliant casting in Burn!, using a non-actor as the West Indian guerilla leader, Jose Dolores, opposite Marlon Brando.

Pontecorvo: It was a fight! United Artists wanted me to use Sidney Poitier. I didn’t want to, though I like him as an actor, because his face wasn’t wild. Then I went looking to off-Broadway for black actors. I didn’t find the right one.

In Colombia, during a location scout, we were searching for a forest to burn. We drove very far into the wild in a jeep. Suddenly we saw this peasant man on a horse. This is the face I’d been looking for for four months. But instead of coming to me, he ran away! It was very hot, people around me were furious when I said, “Sorry, we have to find this man.” We asked the local chief to order the playing of a drum. All the people came out, including this man, Evaristo Marquez. He’d never seen a movie but he understood money. He said, “OK.”

I called Marlon on his island. He said, “If you believe he’s right, don’t worry about me.”

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The Chinese Revolution: 1930-1949

An 11-Week session with The Revolutions Study Group

Of 20th-century revolutions, the upheaval in China that culminated in the declaration in 1949 of the People’s Republic was arguably just as significant as the Russian Revolution of 1917. We begin with the Chinese Revolution in 1930, after the nationalist party led by Chiang Kai Shek turned on the mass movement, slaughtered militant workers and peasants, and declared war on Communists. The Communist Party regrouped in remote rural areas and reoriented its activity from urban industrial working class to organizing a peasant rebellion from these rural bases. This led to a prolonged civil war, interrupted by a Japanese invasion, which in turn became part of World War Two. After the war, the struggle between the armies of Chiang Kai Shek and the Communists resumed, ending with Chiang’s fleeing to Taiwan and the final victory of the Communist army in 1949. The primary reading will be Mark Selden: China in Revolution: The Yenan Way Revisited. Check marxedproject.org for updates to the reading list.

THE REVOLUTIONS STUDY GROUP (originally at the Brecht Forum) has been meeting since 2009. Individual participants have come and gone, however the group has held together, studying in depth a wide range of history including the French Revolution, the Russian Revolutions of 1905 and 1917, the Mau-Mau Revolt in Kenya, the Haitian Revolution, the European Revolutions of 1848, the May movement in France of 1968 and the Hot Autumn of Italy the following year, the Spanish Civil War, the Mexican Revolution, the Socialist (2nd) International, and Russian Social Democracy prior to World War I.

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B. Traven’s Jungle Novels

convened with the Indigenous Peoples Reading Group

“My personal history would not be disappointing to readers, but it is my own affair which I want to keep to myself. I am in fact in no way more important than is the typesetter for my books, the man who works the mill; no more important than the man who binds my books and the woman who wraps them and the scrubwoman who cleans up the office.” —B. Traven

The writer with the pen name B. Traven appeared on the German literary scene in 1925, when the Berlin daily Vorwärts, the organ of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, published the first short story signed with this pseudonym on 28 February. Soon, it published Traven’s first novel, Die Baumwollpflücker (The Cotton Pickers), of which the first book edition was Der Wobbly, then the common name for members of the Industrial Workers of the World. Traven introduced for the first time the figure of Gerald Gales (in Traven’s other works his name is Gale, or Gerard Gales), an American sailor who looks for a job in different occupations in Mexico, often consorting with suspicious characters and witnessing capitalistic exploitation, nevertheless not losing his will to fight and striving to draw joy from life. Mexico was a good place for a European revolutionary refugee to re-make himself. The Mexican Revolution, ten years of armed conflict between 1920 and 1920, had ended the thirty-year dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz. The man to be known as the writer B. Traven, abandoned his past and immersed himself in Mexican culture, and by 1935 was receiving favorable reviews in The New York Times. He wrote The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Death Ship, and the six volume series we will read this term.

The Jungle Novels are a group of six novels published in the years 1930–1939 and set just before and during the Mexican Revolution from 1910-20. Traven’s purpose in the Jungle Novels is to describe the conditions of a people who are ripe for change, and to trace the beginnings of how consciousness changes and sometimes leads to revolt.

The Jungle Novels are:

The Carreta (1930) The hero of The Carreta is an ox-cart driver. More sophisticated than most of his companions who work in debt-slavery in the great mahogany plantations,
Government (1931) Depicts the political corruption that infected even the smallest villages in Mexico, the novel tells the story of Don Gabriel, a minor government functionary who has a virtual license to steal from every village where he is secretary―except there is nothing to steal.
March to the Montería (a.k.a. March To Caobaland) (1933) March to the Montería is the third of B. Traven’s six Jungle Novels, set in the great mahogany plantations (monterías) of Mexico in the years before the revolution. Celso works two years on a coffee finca, but when he returns home he must hand over his money to ladinos who claim his father has a debt to them.
Trozas (1936) Trozas (the word means logs) captures the origins of the rebellious spirit that slowly spread through the labor camps and haciendas, culminating in the bloody revolt that ended Porfirio Díaz’s rule.
The Rebellion of the Hanged (1936) This fifth Jungle Novel culminates in a revolt by the long-oppressed workers against the owners and overseers of the camps, and in a treacherous march through the jungles at the height of the rainy season—a human feat of epic proportions.
A General from the Jungle (1940) Juan Mendez leads an ill-equipped and hungry band against the government forces. With brilliance and cunning, Mendez brutally attacks the federally protected fincas. The sixth and last of The Jungle Novels is filled with marvelously drawn characters, yet the true hero is the army itself―illiterate, uneducated, and poor, but resourceful and dangerous.

THE INDIGENOUS PEOPLES 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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Political Writings of Marx and Engels

Lessons for Today’s Politics
A reading group convened by Lisa Maya Knauer
Saturdays from 3:30-5:30 p.m.
October 7-December 9 (no meeting November 25)
9 Session class

“It was the first time that the bourgeoisie showed to what insane cruelties of revenge it will be goaded the moment the proletariat dares to take its stand against them as a separate class, with its own interests and demands.”

This sentence was written by Karl Marx in 1871, just weeks after the French bourgeoisie crushed the Paris Commune, but it is just as applicable to today’s political situation in the U.S. and elsewhere. This reading group will delve into a selection of Marx and Engels’ political writings to gain both a better understanding of the history of working-class and socialist struggles of their times, and explore lessons for our political organizing now. This tasks takes on a special urgency in light of the events in Charlottesville and the increased visibility of racist, anti-Semitic and white supremacist ideologies.

The reading group offers a very accessible entry-point into the works of Marx and Engels, so no previous study of Marxism is necessary. But it is also a good complement to the study of Capital and other more complex theoretical works.

We will start with Marx and Engels’ writings about the Paris Commune and its aftermath, and collectively decide which other works to explore in our 10-week session.

Lisa Maya Knauer has been involved with Marxist education in New York for her entire adult life, and has taught a variety of classes at the MEP and its predecessors. Her current activist work focuses on immigrant workers’ rights and indigenous struggles for land and water. In her day job, she is a tenured radical at a public university.

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Five Explicit and Implicit Notions of Revolution in Capital, Volume I

Five Explicit and Implicit Notions of Revolution in Capital, Volume I, as Seen from a Multilinear, Peripheral Angle

It is often said that Capital, Volume I is concerned with the enfoldment of the capital form, with many dialectical twists and turns, but not with revolution. However, such a picture severs Marx the revolutionary from Marx the social theorist. In fact, Capital I can be connected to five different notions of revolution: (1) a working class uprising that rises as a form of revolutionary negation of the centralized productive apparatus of modern industrial capitalism, but posed at a high level of abstraction; (2) four other notions of revolution that connect a class uprising to race, ethnicity, colonialism, and the need to abolish the state.

Kevin B. Anderson teaches at University of California, Santa Barbara. He has worked in social and political theory, especially Marx, Hegel, Lenin, Luxemburg, Marxist humanism, the Frankfurt School, Foucault, and the Orientalism debate. Among his books are Lenin, Hegel, and Western Marxism (1995), Foucault and the Iranian Revolution: Gender and the Seductions of Islamism (with Janet Afary, 2005), and Marx at the Margins: On Nationalism, Ethnicity and Non-Western Societies (2010/2016). He has also contributed to For Humanism: Explorations in Theory and Politics (ed. D. Alderson and R. Spencer, 2017) and the Transition from Capitalism (ed. S. Rahnema, 2017), and is the coeditor of the Rosa Luxemburg Reader (with Peter Hudis, 2004), Karl Marx (with Bertell Ollman, 2012), and the Dunayevskaya-Marcuse-Fromm Correspondence (2012, with Russell Rockwell). He is a member of the International Marxist-Humanist Organization.

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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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Introduction to Marxism

An eight week course with Sudeb Mitra
February 6 through March 27

The purpose of this course is to give an introduction to some of the main ideas of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, focusing on the materialist understanding of history, and the theory of surplus value.

We will make a careful study of the following texts:
“The part played by labor in the transition from ape to man”—Frederick Engels
“Posture Maketh The Man”— Stephen Jay Gould
Socialism: Utopian and Scientific—Frederick Engels
Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy—Karl Marx
​​​​​​​Communist Manifesto—Marx and Engels
​​​​​​​“Karl Marx on Capital”—Frederick Engels
​​​​​​​Value, Price and Profit—Karl Marx

The course will consist of readings and discussions. If time permits, we will also include some documents of the First International, especially the “Inaugural Address Of The International Working Men’s Association”—drafted by Marx.

Sudeb Mitra is a professor of mathematics at the Queens College of the City University of New York, and at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He is especially interested in Marx/Engels and the Sciences.

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Day 4, Session 1—It’s Not Over: Lessons for Socialists with Pete Dolack

It’s Not Over: Lessons for Socialists from the October Revolution, Prague Spring and the Sandinistas
Pete Dolack

The transition from feudalism to capitalism spanned centuries, and although humanity does not have the luxury of waiting for a transition to socialism taking that length of time, the struggle to overcome capitalism has already spanned a century with no victory in sight. Countries as diverse as the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and Nicaragua fell back into capitalism, but that does not mean we have nothing to learn from a study of those revolutions.

This is history that was shaped by flesh-and-blood human beings — leaders of movements and uncounted men and women in the streets and in the workplaces motivated by a desire to create a better world. That the results of uprisings as diverse as the October Revolution, the Prague Spring and the Sandinista Revolution did not meet the revolutionaries’ expectations is a tragedy that requires explanation, but does not require us to deem those revolutionaries as failures.

The edifice of the Soviet Union was something akin to a statue undermined by water freezing inside it; it appears strong on the outside until the tipping point when the ice suddenly breaks it apart from within. The “ice” here were black marketeers; networks of people who used connections to obtain supplies for official and illegal operations; and the managers of enterprises who grabbed their operations for themselves. Soviet bureaucrats eventually began to privatize the economy for their own benefit (fulfilling a prediction made by Leon Trotsky half a century earlier); party officials, for all their desire to find a way out of crisis, lacked firm ideas and direction; and Soviet working people, discouraged by experiencing the reforms as coming at their expense and exhausted by perpetual struggle, were unable to intervene.

The Prague Spring and the Sandinista Revolution provide disparate examples. History has concentrated on the tragedy of Czechoslovakia’s political leaders, but much of the innovation of Prague Spring came at the grassroots level, where self-organized workers began to devise the beginnings of a system of social control over industry free of bureaucratic shackles. Grassroots creativity propelled forward a Spring begun by leaders of a monopoly party who believed that the full democratic and human potential of socialism had to be allowed to blossom, requiring dramatic changes. The Sandinista Revolution’s goal was a mixed economy, not the creation of a socialist system, but although that mixed economy created a new set of problems it also improved the lives of Nicaraguans. Nonetheless, the Sandinistas left economic power in the hands of the country’s capitalists, leaving them with the ability to undermine the revolution.

Thinking about the basic contours of a better world is a prerequisite to becoming effective in bringing it into being. The march forward of human history is not a gift from gods above nor presents handed us from benevolent rulers, governments, institutions or markets — it is the product of collective human struggle on the ground. Toward this end, an understanding of today and finding a path to the future is impossible without an understanding of the past: Erasing the past is erasing the future.

Pete Dolack is the author of It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment, which includes studies of each of these revolutions and a final chapter that looks to the future. Different nations will find different paths forward and it is impossible to apply any formula across multiple societies at differing levels of development and possessing divergent cultural traditions, so no blueprint for the future is possible. Nonetheless, with capitalism in deep crisis with no answer for working people, the time is now for us to think about the contours of a better world.

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It’s Not Over: Lessons from the Socialist Experiment

A special six session class taught by Pete Dolack from his recent book.

Pete Dolack is presenting this class over six weeks, one week to each section of his book that has been ten years in the making. Some reduced-price copies may be available here: http://www.zero-books.net/books/its-not-over

Thinking about the basic contours of a better world is a prerequisite to becoming effective in bringing about this improved world. The march forward of human history is not a gift from gods above nor presents handed us from benevolent rulers, governments, institutions or markets — it is the product of collective human struggle on the ground. It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment analyzes attempts to supplant capitalism in the past in order to draw lessons for emerging and future movements that seek to overcome the political and economic crises of today. It’s Not Over’s historical focus is on the Russian Revolution, the failed German Revolution, the early years of the Soviet Union, the Prague Spring, the Sandinista Revolution and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The concluding chapter analyzes why capitalism is a failed system for working people and offers ideas for discussion in what the contours of a better world might look like.

This history lives through the words and actions of the men and women who made these revolutions, and the everyday experiences of the millions of people who put new revolutionary ideas into practice under the pressures of enormous internal and external forces.

“As Cold War taboos on honest discussions of capitalism and socialism lose their force, important books like this are emerging. They ask why capitalism keeps provoking movements to go beyond it, why they have not yet achieved that goal, and what we must learn from them so the next efforts prove more effective. Dolack here contributes to the vital emerging answers.”
—Rick Wolff, author of Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism and host of the Economic Update radio program

Pete Dolack is an activist, writer and photographer who has worked with several organizations focusing on human rights, social justice, environmental and trade issues. He writes about the economic crisis and the political and environmental issues connected to it on the Systemic Disorder blog. His articles have appeared in popular publications including CounterPunch, ZNet, The Ecologist and Green Social Thought.

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