Marx and Engels: Political and Historical Works, Part 1

On January 8 and 9 of this year, 150 million workers went on a general strike in India, the biggest work stoppage in history. This strike marked another first when agricultural workers and small farmers calling for a solidarity shutdown of rural India joined the striking workers from many sectors including manufacturing, mining, energy, transportation, banking, public services, construction, and many more. These 150 million striking Indian workers corresponds roughly to the total working population of the United States. Here in the U.S. during 2018 a record number of workers went on strike or stopped working because of labor disputes—485,000 workers from major sectors were involved over that year. This was the largest number of workers on strike or work stoppages since 1986, when flight attendants, garbage collectors, and steelworkers walked off the job. Although the international rumblings of a wakening proletariat are of greater or smaller magnitude they indicate the possibility of the workers of all lands to unite on a scale like never before, and in numbers Marx and Engels could only dream of when they wrote these closing words to The Communist Manifesto in 1848. “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to gain. Working Men of All Countries, Unite!”

During their lives working together, Marx and Engels kept abreast of all working class movements and developments within all societies that they could get news from. Their work in doing so predates their partnership as anti-capitalist revolutionaries, but flourished especially upon meeting and thereafter. As Engels stated at the grave of Marx in 1883:

“…Marx was before all else a revolutionist. His real mission in life was to contribute, in one way or another, to the overthrow of capitalist society and of the state institutions which it had brought into being, to contribute to the liberation of the modern proletariat, which he was the first to make conscious of its own position and its needs, conscious of the conditions of its emancipation. Fighting was his element. And he fought with a passion, a tenacity and a success such as few could rival. His work on the first Rheinische Zeitung (1842), the Paris Vorwarts (1844), the Deutsche Brusseler Zeitung (1847), the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (1848-49), the New York Tribune (1852-61), and, in addition to these, a host of militant pamphlets, work in organizations in Paris, Brussels and London, and finally, crowning all, the formation of the great International Working Men’s Association — this was indeed an achievement of which its founder might well have been proud even if he had done nothing else.

“And, consequently, Marx was the best hated and most calumniated man of his time. Governments, both absolutist and republican, deported him from their territories. Bourgeois, whether conservative or ultra-democratic, vied with one another in heaping slanders upon him. All this he brushed aside as though it were a cobweb, ignoring it, answering only when extreme necessity compelled him. And he died beloved, revered and mourned by millions of revolutionary fellow workers….”

This term we begin the careful reading of the investigative journalism, political works, and organizational correspondence within the revolutionary movements by both Marx and Engels. We will begin with early works. As we begin, we shall read Frederich Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England which as Eric Hobsbawm stated “is the first book in Britain or any other country which dealt with the working class as a whole and not merely with particular sections and industries. Secondly, and more important, it was not merely a survey of working class conditions, but a general analysis of the evolution of industrial capitalism, of the social impact of industrialization and its political and social consequences — including the rise of the labor movement. In fact, it was the first large-scale attempt to apply the Marxist method to the concrete study of society, and probably the first work by either Marx or Engels which the founders of Marxism regarded as sufficiently valuable to merit permanent preservation.

As a guide to our readings over several terms of study, we shall read from the Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution series written over many years by Hal Draper. As Draper states in his introduction to the work:

“…the answer to pseudodemocracy is real democracy; the abuses of “scientism” can be countered only by a genuinely scientific attitude; and the obfuscations of various contemporary ‘Marxisms’ can be understood only with the help of Marx’s Marxism…”

Between this May and through our spring and summer terms of this study the plan is the read The Condition of the English Working Class, The German Ideology, and selections of works by the young Marx and Engels leading up to the revolutions of 1848. We will begin the fall term continuing with the works of Draper and a careful reading of The Communist Manifesto, followed by Class Struggles in France and The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, along with selections from Marx and Engels journalism and reports of various activities throughout the world at the time of this revolutionary wave, including their beginning assessments of anarchism, utopian socialists and more.

All fees are sliding scale. No one is denied participation for inability to pay.

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Can the Working Class Change the World?

5 Sessions

Can the Working Class Change the World?
By Michael D. Yates
A new book from Monthly Review Press

Session 1
Thursday, February 7, 5:30 to 7:15
A discussion with author Michael D. Yates

Sessions 2-5
Mondays, February 11 through March 4
Analysis and discussion of the book

The first 10 registered participants in this group will receive a free copy of the book. Contributions to Monthly Review Press are appreciated.

From Monthly Review:

One of the horrors of the capitalist system is that slave labor, which was central to the formation and growth of capitalism itself, is still fully able to coexist alongside wage labor. But, as Karl Marx pointed out, it is the fact of being paid for one’s work that validates capitalism as a viable socio-economic structure. Beneath this veil of “free commerce”—where workers are paid only for a portion of their workday, and buyers and sellers in the marketplace face each other as “equals”—lies a foundation of immense inequality. Yet workers have always rebelled. They’ve organized unions, struck, picketed, boycotted, formed political organizations and parties—sometimes they have actually won and improved their lives. But, Marx argued, because capitalism is the apotheosis of class society, it must be the last class society: it must, therefore, be destroyed. And only the working class, said Marx, is capable of doing that.

In his timely and innovative book, Michael D. Yates asks if the working class can, indeed, change the world. Deftly factoring in such contemporary elements as sharp changes in the rise of identity politics and the nature of work, itself, Yates wonders if there can, in fact, be a thing called the working class. If so, how might it overcome inherent divisions of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, location—to become a cohesive and radical force for change? Forcefully and without illusions, Yates supports his arguments with relevant, clearly explained data, historical examples, and his own personal experiences. This book is a sophisticated and prescient understanding of the working class, and what all of us might do to change the world.

“Michael Yates’s passion and respect for the class he came out of delivers a book that is especially accessible without retreating from the complexities and internal contradictions of working class life and organization—a book committed not only to defending workers, but also to building on their potentials to transform society.”      —Sam Gindin, former chief economist, Canadian Auto Workers Union; Packer Visitor in Social Justice, Political Science, York University, Toronto

On Thursday, February 7, Michael Yates will teleconference with us for a preview and discussion of his important new book. On the four Mondays that follow, we will read, analyze and Michael’s book.

Michael D. Yates is Editorial Director of Monthly Review Press. For more than three decades, he was a labor educator, teaching working people across the United States. Among his books are The Great Inequality, Why Unions Matter, A Freedom Budget for All Americans (with Paul Le Blanc), and The ABCs of the Economic Crisis (with Fred Magdoff).

The Capital Studies Group has been meeting on Saturdays for nearly two years. We are a diverse group of students, activists and teachers who are now dedicating themselves to a chronological reading of all three volumes of Marx’s Capital.

 

The stated fees are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay., or

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Introduction to Marxism for Women Only

with Juliet Ucelli

co-sponsored with Left Focus

We’ll explore some key concepts about human beings, society and history, and our relationship to the rest of nature. Readings will be short and accessible excerpts from writings by Marx and Engels or later Marxists. I believe that this theory can help us analyze the social and economic realities and structures we live in–who holds power and how–and fight more effectively for liberation.

Some of the central questions that we’ll address are:
• How did the oppression of women, and the division of societies into people who work and others who exploit them, originate and develop historically?
• What are the driving dynamics of capitalism that make it make it so productive, innovative, brutal and ecologically destructive?
• What intellectual tools can help us understand industry’s complex impacts on our bodies, our psyches and the nature around us—impacts that capitalists, and people who think like them, don’t want to see or cannot see?
• What did Marx understand—and not understand—about white supremacy and Eurocentrism, and how has that analysis been deepened and modified by later Marxists?

In a continuing attempt to increase access for those who have been historically excluded, turned off or silenced by the way this theory is often taught and discussed, we are offering an intro class this October through December for women only. Everyone who identifies as a woman is welcome.

Juliet Ucelli has taught labor economics and class/race/gender for unions and activists, and writes on Eurocentrism in Marxist theory, and Marxist understandings of human development. She also teaches Marx’s Capital, Volume One with The Marxist Education Project.

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Prague Spring: 50 Years Later

with Pete Dolack

Histories of the 1968 Prague Spring tend to focus exclusively on the drama inside the leadership of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and the personality of reformer Alexander Dubček. The fuller story of the Prague Spring is the grassroots movement for workers’ control of industry and economic democracy.

Although reformers within the Communist Party sought significant reforms to the overly centralized system copied from the Soviet Union, including advocacy of workers’ councils, there were significant differences between the more modest reforms put forth by Czechoslovak economists and the more thorough-going concepts of activists and workers themselves.

This was a true grassroots effort, mostly organized by trade union officials and rank-and-file Communist Party members. One interesting wrinkle is that unions, representing members as individuals and freed from state control, would continue to exist alongside the workers’ councils. All this was to happen in a socialized economy in which formal ownership would continue to reside with the state but in which state and party control would be drastically curtailed.

In this conception, which began to be implemented in some of the country’s biggest enterprises, the workforce as a whole would meet in assemblies to decide broad policies and freely elect a council from their ranks that would coordinate management. Each worker would be a part of the enterprise assembly and be members of independent unions that would represent workers as individuals in disputes with the collective or with higher administrative bodies. Thus each half of the duality would be represented through separate institutions.

Statutes had been developed in several factories across the country, and a national conference that sought to codify a system of workers’ control took place in which approximately one-sixth of the country’s workers were represented, before the experiment began to be shut down. Naturally, such a well-developed movement did not spring into being spontaneously, but rather was the product of earlier experiments, years of debate, and memories of councils established in the 1940s. In part, it was also an attempt at reversing several years of economic stagnation, a stagnation that signaled that the model imposed by the Soviet Union had reached its limits.

Pete Dolack is the author of It’s Not Over: Learning From the Socialist Experiment, a study of the 20th century’s attempts to transcend capitalism that includes a chapter analyzing the Prague Spring and the workers’ control movement. He is at work on his second book, focused on economic democracy, and writes the Systemic Disorder blog, which discusses the ongoing economic crisis of capitalism and the environmental and political issues connected to it. His writings also appear in popular outlets including CounterPunch and ZNet.

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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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Women’s Liberation Movement: The Power of History

The Power of History: This class will analyze what made the 1960s Women’s Liberation Movement spread fast and win victories, and also what made it vulnerable to watering down and liberal takeover. We will read analyses from Women’s Liberation Movement organizers written after the height of the movement’s power.

Jenny Brown is an organizer with National Women’s Liberation and has been involved in feminist theory and organizing since 1988, first with Gainesville Women’s Liberation in Gainesville, Florida and then with the Redstockings Women’s Liberation Archives for Action, a movement think-tank and archive based in New York. She co-authored the Redstockings book, Women’s Liberation and National Healthcare: Confronting the Myth of America and the Labor Notes book How to Jump Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers along with numerous essays and articles. She was also a co-chair of a Labor Party Local Organizing Committee in Gainesville, Florida and is a former editor of Labor Notes.

Readings provided by Jenny for this series: https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B_eXN8wqn-HgaEpVaVlLOU1UTVk

Those who have enrolled in the ongoing New Left series are already registered for this event.

Prices below are sliding scale. No one is turned away for inability to pay.

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African Literature: Post-Colonial Struggles

A 9-week reading group
Thursdays, April 27 through June 22, 7:30 to 9:30 pm
Organized with the Indigenous People’s History and Literature Group

“Real misfortune is not just a matter of being hungry and thirsty; it is a matter of knowing that there are people who want you to be hungry and thirsty.” ― Ousmane Sembène

During this term we will begin with Egypt with Mahfouz, visit West Africa with Chris Abani then travel south to South Africa with Zakes Mda then conclude in June with NoViolet Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Again we examine four different areas of Africa as the peoples there emerge first from European colonization, then face the forces of global domination in the long neoliberal phase we yet endure.

Respected Sir
Naguib Mahfouz
Egypt, 1975
With this portrait of a misanthropic civil servant, Mahfouz devises a cunning send-up of egregious ambition, stodgy bureaucracy and cloying piety. The novel’s overblown language mirrors the grandiose aspirations of protagonist Othman Bayyumi, an archives clerk who schemes for a lofty appointment as Director General, expounding that “a government position is a brick in the edifice of the state, and the state is an exhalation of the spirit of God, incarnate on earth.”

Song for Night
Chris Abani
Nigeria, 2007
Song for Night is the story of a West African boy soldier’s lyrical, terrifying, yet beautiful journey through the nightmare landscape of a brutal war in search of his lost platoon. Our guide is a voiceless protagonist who, as part of a land mine-clearing platoon, had his vocal chords cut, a move to keep these children from screaming when blown up, and thereby distracting the other minesweepers. The book is written in a ghostly voice, with each chapter headed by a line of the unique sign language these children invented.

The Heart of Redness
Zakes Mda
South Africa, 2007
In Mda’s novel, there is Camugu, who left for America during apartheid, and has now returned to Johannesburg. Disillusioned by the problems of the new democracy, he follows his “famous lust” to Qolorha on the remote Eastern Cape. There in the nineteenth century a teenage prophetess named Nonqawuse commanded the Xhosa people to kill their cattle and burn their crops, promising that once they did so the spirits of their ancestors would rise and drive the occupying English into the ocean. A failed prophecy split the Xhosa into Believers and Unbelievers, dividing brother from brother, wife from husband, with devastating consequences. 150 years later, the two groups’ decendants are at odds over plans to build a vast casino and tourist resort in the village, and Camugu is soon drawn into their heritage and their struggles for a future worth living for.

We Need New Names
NoViolet Bulawayo
Zimbabwe, 2012
Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few.

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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Highlights of Capital, Volume 1

A 10 Session Class and Discussion with Juliet Ucelli
Thursdays, 5:30 to 7:30 pm
February 9-April 6, 2017

Capital is the indispensable sourcebook on Marx’s method for analyzing the economy, politics and struggles. Many of us have less time to study it because, as Marx predicted, we have to work longer hours— and often more than one job—in order to survive. Fortunately, even a basic familiarity with the key concepts of Volume I offers many tools for understanding capitalism’s dynamics. With current conditions, we’ve been offering this highlights approach, breaking down key concepts and sections:

• use value, value and surplus value;
• why capitalism has needed conquest, enslavement and white supremacy;
• why capitalism drives technological innovation, overwork and unemployment and leads to ecological destruction;
• how working-class people (employed and unemployed) have historically won improvements in living and working conditions.

Participant reports and life experiences are welcome!

The course provides a basic grounding for participants to pursue further study on their own or collectively. We’ll refer to new resources such as on-line and visual aids and current articles that illustrate capitalism’s developmental tendencies, which Marx calls its laws of motion.

Juliet Ucelli has taught labor economics and class/race/gender for labor unions, and was a public high school social worker. She writes on Eurocentrism in Marxist theory, the politics of inner city public schooling and Marxist understandings of human development.

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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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