Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Reading Capitalism Politically

There are a number of upcoming Marxist conferences in London this year, while the Marxist economist and geographer David Harvey is also speaking about his new book The Enigma of Capital at the end of April. However, this post is just to bring to people's attention another research course and a ReD Reading group in the North East being organised by a group around May Day Politics and Books. The next meeting is at Gateshead Civic Centre, the Saltwell room, on the 26th of April. For more info, email: dr_trevorbark [at]
There is also a 'working class bookfair' organised for May 8th in Sunderland.

Reading Capitalism Politically

READING – we are seeking to learn
CAPITALISM – we need to understand it
POLITICALLY – It is not enough to accept what we are told by the authorities, we must discover for ourselves

A short course for those interested in the economic and political issues of our time. The approximately monthly meetings are to allow time between meeting to read, reflect upon issues and develop our knowledge.

Whom the course is for?

It is for women, young adults, the disabled, workers, trade unionists, the retired and pensioners, and anybody who wants to know more about the world around them. It is especially for those engaged with the political economic system in Britain, and who are involved (or have been) in struggles. This course attempts to provide a totalisation of previous experience to encourage the development of improved working class politics for our time.

You will get more out of the course if you can use the internet. 2 hour sessions are proposed, with a 5/10 minute break, to take place on Thursdays. The first on Monday 22nd March in Gateshead.

Session 1 – Origins of the present political economic crisis – Economic, Political, and Cultural;
Feudalism – what it was, the English Civil War and Cromwell, the first British Republic. The economic, social, and legal changes towards industrial capitalism, and the new social structure. The transition debate, from Feudalism to Capitalism – Brenner et al, the industrial revolution. What was necessary for capitalism to change from feudalism? The Making of the English Working Class. Foundations and development of Trade Unions and Cooperatives. The institutions of working class advance, oddfellows, death clubs, Working mens clubs and institutes, Durham Mechanics, from the Tommy shops to Cooperatives. Origins of the Labour Party; LRC and the ILP, William Morris, SDF. 1887 and the foundation of Mayday as an International Workers Day. Syndicalism and the Theory of the Party. Anarchists were excluded from the London TUC in the late 1890s, a split that was significant and still is today. Marxism as a philosophy of political economy that attempts to solve the crucial questions of the time.

This session is to lay the groundwork for the major part of this course, which seeks to rethink the Working Class and Marxist traditions.

Suggested further reading

McLellan – Karl Marx
E.P. Thompson. “The Peculiarities of the English”
M. Shoard - “A Right to Roam”.
C. Hill “From Reformation to Industrial Revolution”
C. Hill “The World Turned Upside Down”
Marx- Capital Vol. 1– Chapters on Primitive acuumulation
Rodney Hilton (ed) The Transition from feudalism to Capitalism
“The Rich at Play” www.redstarresearch
Hobsbawm “The Invention of tradition”
E.P. Thompson “Whigs and Hunters”
John Rule (ed) “Albion’s Fatal Tree”
E.P. Thompson “Threatening Letters” in “Albion’s Fatal Tree”
Linebaugh “The London Hanged”
Linebaugh and Rediker “The Many Headed Hydra”
“William Wallace – Freedom Fighter”

Session 2 – What is Marxism?

Marx – the method, by approaching Marxism as a method of research and practice it is possible to begin again. Totality, what is dialectics, different categories and the theoretical tools.

Lenin famously said Marxism was the synthesis of 3 component parts; “The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism.” We do not agree with all Lenin wrote, especially the claim to a final truth, ultimately that lead to the abuse of power, but there are many things that Lenin did contribute that should be understood and superseded;

“The first public reaction to the idea of reactualizing Lenin is, of course, an outburst of sarcastic laughter: Marx is OK, even on Wall Street, there are people who love him today — Marx the poet of commodities, who provided perfect descriptions of the capitalist dynamics, Marx of the Cultural Studies, who portrayed the alienation and reification of our daily lives -, but Lenin, no, you can’t be serious! The working class movement, revolutionary Party, and similar zombie-concepts? Doesn’t Lenin stand precisely for the FAILURE to put Marxism into practice, for the big catastrophe which left its mark on the entire XXth century world politics, for the Real Socialist experiment which culminated in an economically inefficient dictatorship? So, in the contemporary academic politics, the idea to deal with Lenin is accompanied by two qualifications: yes, why not, we live in a liberal democracy, there is freedom of thought... however, one should treat Lenin in an “objective critical and scientific way,” not in an attitude of nostalgic idolatry, and, furthermore, from the perspective firmly rooted in the democratic political order, within the horizon of human rights” Zizek.

This course will try to look at the best of Rethinking Marxism from previous attempts, and perhaps add new parts for a 21st century political synthesis.

Marx and Engels – “The Communist Manifesto”

Recent International Marxist Tendency (Militant, Socialist Party) website

Repeating Lenin - Slavoj Zizek

Session 3 – Rethinking Marxism 1 – Gramsci

The Russian revolution (1917), Lenin, and the effect on the working class left in the UK, and abroad. Marxism’s first Crisis, Italian Fascism & 1922, and Gramscis’ attempt to Rethink Marxism. Also Luxembourg’s differences with Lenin and the failed German revolution of 1919. The emergence of the Ultra left and Council communism.

As the Second International decayed at the beginning of World War I, socialists who opposed nationalism and supported proletarian internationalism regrouped. In Germany, two major communist trends emerged. First, the Spartacus League was created by the radical socialist Rosa Luxemburg. The second trend emerged amongst the German rank-and-file trade unionists who opposed their unions and organized increasingly radical strikes towards the end of 1917 and the beginning of 1918. This second trend created the German Left Communist movement that would become the KAPD after the abortive German revolution of 1918-1919. Politically of interest are the anarchists who fought the Red Army, the Macknovists, who were later to write the ‘Platform of Libertarian Communism’ as a result of the Russian experience. The anarchist equivalent of democratic centralism, a modernist piece of propaganda and action.

In Britain the period was characterised by; Henry Ford 1910 & Speedy Taylor, higher wages faster work via production line, 1916 Easter Rising, Mutinies, Syndicalism, the Miners Next Step and the land question. Pub opening hours symbolic of Fordism, The miners view of welfare to the grave socialism, housing and leisure. Pensions for all.1922 partition in Ireland. Foundation of the CP, and class against class. The general strike, the Means test, the mining diaspora, 1931 Invergordon Naval Mutiny and £ off the Gold Standard. Working class resistance to Oswald Moseley and the B.U.F, the Popular Front and the United Front. The drift to War – The Spanish Revolution 1936-39, King Edward invites Chamberlain onto the Palace balcony with his appeasement paper – ‘peace in our time’. Churchill. The Communist Party was the opposition, syndicalist influences after 1926 were marginal.

Ash Amin “Fordism”
Gramsci “Prison Notebooks”
Reed “10 Days that shook the World”
Orlando Figes
Trotsky – The Russian Revolution
Nestor Mhakno, Ida Mett, Piotr
Archinov, Valevsky, Linsky
The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists
Dielo Trouda (Workers' Cause) 1926 Workers Solidarity
Movement Feb 2001 PDF edition
Fraser - “The Battle for Spain”
Nigel Todd “In Excited Times”
John Benson (2003) “The Working Class in Britain 1850-1939”

Session 4 - Rethinking Marxism 2 – The Frankfurt School

The German experience – The Frankfurt School; The rise to power of the Nazi party was fought politically and on the streets by the German Communist Party. However, after Italian Fascism the new Nazi phenomana entailed a rethinking of Marxism by Marcuse, Adorno and others because at the heart of World Industrial Capitalism (Western Europe) a proletarian revolution had not broken out and instead the dark days of fascism had risen.

These are among the earliest and most famous of the Marxists who recognised the crucial work of the early 19th century philosopher Georg Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831) who was a German philosopher. He was one of the creators of German Idealism, and along with Immanuel Kant, one of the most influential philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment. Hegelian Marxists are those who recognise the major influence of the features of Hegelian philosophy in the ideas of Karl Marx. These include; Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Erich Fromm, Jürgen Habermas, Axel Honneth, Max Horkheimer, Siegfried Kracauer, Otto Kirchheimer, Leo Löwenthal, Herbert Marcuse, Oskar Negt, Franz L. Neumann, Franz Oppenheimer, Friedrich Pollock, Alfred Schmidt, Alfred Sohn-Rethel, & Karl A. Wittfogel. Lukacs in 1923 had observed “For the revival of Hegel’s dialectics struck a blow at the revisionist tradition… For anyone wishing to return to the revolutionary traditions of Marxism the revival of the Hegelian traditions was obligatory”.

Lukacs, Gyorgy. 1971. History and class consciousness: studies in Marxist dialectics. London: Merlin Press.
Marcuse – ‘One dimensional Man’

Session 5 – Rethinking Marxism 3 – The New Left and Humanist Marxism

Dunayevskya, and others in America (Weathermen, Black Panthers etc), and in Britain a large wave of prominent intellectuals left the Communist party in 1956 to form this new thinking and human Left, away from authoritarianism and towards liberation struggles. E.P. Thompson, Perry Anderson and others were prominent in the ‘1968 generation’. This was an international New Left with Marxist Humanism playing a leading role.

Context – WW2 and the most socialist economy ever, rationing and the black market. Beveridge, education for all. The election of a Labour Government, 1,012,000 miners in 1947. The Keynesian welfare state and the highpoint of modernism, mass production for mass consumption, full employment. 1947 Royal marriage and flouting of rationing laws. NHS – healthcare for all. The highpoint of working class incorporation into capitalism and the state. The bomb and the end of WW2, the Iron Curtain, Hungary and The New Left, Committee of 100, E.P. Thompson et al.

Suggested Further Reading

Raya Dunayevskaya, “Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre and from Marx to Mao”, 1982, Harvester press.
Lukacs, Gyorgy. 1971. History and class consciousness: studies in Marxist dialectics. London: Merlin Press.
Universities and Left Review
Kenny “The New Left”
George Orwell “1984”
Huxley “Brave New World”
Ralph Miliband “The State in Capitalist Society”

Session 6 – Rethinking Marxism 4 - Situationism and Autonomism. New currents of Libertarian Marxism.

The other prominent part of the ’68 movement was the Situationists in France, and the contribution in theory and practice of the opponents of the society of the spectacle will be outlined. Situationist ideas came from the European organisation the Situationist International, formed in 1957. While it lasted only 15 years, its ideas were deeply influential, and have been a part of Western society - and radical movements - ever since. For Situationists, their cultural ideas are important, particularly in relation to detournement (subverting elements of popular culture) and the development of punk, but the roots of Situationist ideas are in Marxism. Libertarian Marxism, closer to anarchism than authoritarian strands of traditional Marxism, with the central idea that workers are systematically exploited in capitalism and that they should organise and take control of the means of production and organise society on the basis of democratic workers' councils.

Italy, whose 1968 moment was to last 10 years, including the Years of Lead, gave birth to Operaismo, which translates literally as "workerism" - first appeared in Italy in the early 1960s and was later to become Autonomia Operaia (Workers Autonomy). This movement has had a close relationship with Autonomist Marxism in America (Cleaver) and also with British Marxism, influencing; sociology, criminology, history (the British Marxist Historians) and geography as well as economics. The participants in the ‘Years of Lead’ are still active today, and Toni Negri, together with Michael Hardt, has written some key contributions to globalisation debates recently.

On the poverty of student life, 1966
The revolution of everyday life, 1967 - Raoul Vaneigem
Society of the Spectacle, 1967 – Debord
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2000. Empire. Cambridge, Mass. and London: Harvard University Press.
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. 2004. Multitude; War and democracy in the age of empire. New York: Penguin.
Negri, Antonio. 2005. Books for Burning; Between Civil War and Democracy in 1970s Italy. London: Verso.
Steve Wright, Storming Heaven. Class composition and struggle in Italian Autonomist Marxism (Pluto Press 2002).
Texas archives of Autonomist Marxism;

Session 7 – Different Marxist outlooks – An Overview

A recap of the different currents of Marxism, and a discussion of the different political groups in Britain today. Who has learned what about the history of Marxism, and does it influence their politics today? What are the characteristics of our period, and do previous attempts to solve political issues have anything to teach us now?

Context which forms class consciousness; the attrition of industry, closing mines, shipyards, steelworks etc. Industry ships to the developing world such as China and India. 1979 Winter of Discontent and Thatcherism, riots of 1981, police landrover kills lad in Liverpool. The road to the Miners Strike 1984-85 and beyond – the Ridley report, New anti trade union legislation, Thatcher in 1981 lowest ever in Polls, tells Friedmann can’t be done in UK. Then Falklands, 1983, Maggie re-elected. Higher wages and more police, new public order legislation. The Battle of the Beanfield and travellers, Globalisation, the 1987 big bang and Info Tech revolution, Wapping, Poll tax and the demise of Margaret Thatcher. Major, Kinnock and 1992 election.

A. Sivanandan (1990) “Communities of resistance”, London: Verso.
Huw Beynon (1985) “Digging Deeper: Issues in the Miners Strike”, London: Verso.
Tony Bunyan “The Political Police in Britain”
E.P. Thompson “The Poverty of Theory”
E.P. Thompson (1978) “Writing by Candlelight”
A. Sivanandan (1982) “A Different Hunger: Writings on Black Resistance”, London: Pluto Press.

Session 8 – The New Social Movements and the Anarchist contribution.

Which political philosophy has an outlook most adapted to new conditions in the 21st century?

The crisis in political representation has been apparent for years already, however, the recent expenses scandal has made it critical. How have different social groups attempted to solve the crisis in representation? What are the new forms of political engagement? What has been the anarchist contribution to the globalisation debate in theory and practice?

"Crowned heads, wealth and privilege may well tremble should ever
again the Black and Red unite!"
Otto Von Bismarck, upon hearing of the split in the First International

Context; Globalisation, New International Division of Labour, IMF and structural adjustment, Thatcherism & the post Tory political era - 1997 & Blairism, Neo liberalism, welfare – New Deal, Sure Start, Education, war, inclusion to exclusion, the war on terror, civil liberties, the technology of political control, new colonialism, Palestine and Israel, Genoa 2001, criminal justice policy and building prisons, more crime, informal economy? Foxhunting banned? Climate change and coal. The Credit Crunch. The time of now, of particular and contingent possibilities, and the history which brought them into being.

Q. What would a 21st century Marxist synthesis involve for working class politics today?

Ian Bone “Decade of Disorder”
Ian Bone (2006) “Bash the Rich”
Dave Douglass (1998) “All Power to the Imagination”
Naomi Klein “No Logo”
Naomi Klein “The Shock Doctrine”
Mike Davis “Planet of Slums”
Mike Davis “City of Quartz”
“Blood money – Corporate greed in Iraq”

Course requirements
An Enthusiasm

The “Enthusiasm” is a short contribution (as long as you want to make it, but no more than 15 minutes) about what you are particularly interested in or want to say, what you appreciate the most, your involvement in historical and political events, and/or what best describes your experience or view of the world. This can focus on one of the session topics listed. You could do a book review, or a review of 2 or more books. This will be arranged with the tutor. If you feel unable to contribute an enthusiasm, that is OK too.

Course outcomes – a comprehensive overview of the crisis facing the economy and society will give participants many transferable ways to think about what they do (next). It encourages practical research and thinking skills. It will provide confidence and help people reassess their life and life chances, and suggest further practical engagement with the world around us. It provides an introduction to important thinkers and topics, and the context in which these ideas were generated.

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