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.
Marx and Engels are perhaps best known for their economic, historical and general theoretical writings: Capital, The Communist Manifesto, the Grundrisse. But the founders of modern socialism were also revolutionary combatants, deeply engaged–practically and journalistically–in the major events of their day. This three-semester course aims to take a closer look at their specifically political writings–about the American Civil War, the Paris Commune, the Russian and Irish questions, and more besides. We will be guided in this three-semester-long study by Marx’s Theory of Revolution, a five-volume exploration of Marx’s political thought–the magnum opus of the authoritative Marxist scholar, Hal Draper. Beginners are welcome, and even long-time Marxists may learn a thing or two and be surprised by some of what they discover in these all-too-seldom read works.
All fees are sliding scale. No one is denied participation for inability to pay.