Spring 2017 Course Descriptions

Critical Thought in the Face of the Capitalist Hydra by the Zapatista Army for National Liberation

February – May 2017

hydra-imageWhat unites the grave situation of Greece with that of the tens of thousands of killed and disappeared in Mexico? What might explain the recurring failure and seeming betrayal, in country after country, of the electoral left? How might gentrification of urban centers across the world be inextricably connected to the pipelines of an unhinged extractivism (from Bolivia to Standing Rock)? How can we explain that on a daily basis, an ever-greater proportion of humanity is expelled from production and abandoned to its fate as simple surplus? This seminar will engage in an intensive study of the recent text published by the EZLN on the need for collective analysis and the construction of critical theories and conceptual tools in order to understand this moment. We will follow the EZLN in an effort to together rescue critical thought from both the trendy relativism of contemporary academia and the tweets and facebook posts that now stand in for thinking, and search for the inner connection of these phenomena in the historically unprecedented crisis of capitalism that today gathers steam and in the near future promises to engulf all of humanity in a perfect storm. Note that while in this text the EZLN outlines both the contours of this crisis as well as the innovative practices of politics that have allowed Zapatismo to survive and constitute one of the few large-scale anti-capitalist struggles in the world today, the Zapatistas don’t offer themselves as a model to be followed. Rather, they insist that each of us analyze this crisis from our own locations in order to adequately confront the monumental task before us. We believe this book is a must-study for current times, and a task that can only be taken on collectively!

Marx, Race, and Capitalist Involution

February – May 2017

marx-imageCapitalist civilization is crumbling. The social system that began to form some 500 years ago and which would eventually become dominant across the globe is today rapidly unraveling and threatens to take all of us along with it. This course will set out to demonstrate that the work of Karl Marx is indispensable for understanding the dynamics that have brought us to this point, and therefore what it might take for us to move beyond it.

Nevertheless, the fact that today even publications such as The Financial Times, Time Magazine, and The Economist have all made reluctant peace with the idea that “Marx was right,” should alert us to the fact that any ‘return’ to Marx will certainly be fraught with dangers. In fact, this course will begin with an examination of the dominant frame of 20th century “Marxism” (a caricature of which often serves as the basis for the newly minted Marxist converts just mentioned) and how it was and remains an obstacle rather than an aid for social transformation on three interrelated accounts: 1) it misconstrues the specificity of Marx’s critique of capital;      2) as a result, it has little understanding of the objective dynamics of capital and thus very little to say regarding today’s capitalist implosion; and 3) its understanding of capitalism as an economy and Marx as an economist constitutes an extension rather than a critique of colonialism and European racial domination over the rest of the planet. In order to more carefully examine the limitations of this “Marxism,” we will turn to the often unacknowledged but rather definitive critiques of “Marxism” made by Black and Indigenous theorists (Cedric Robinson and Ward Churchill, to name just two).

So, what are we to do? Given these limitations and the role that variants of this Marxism have played in the formation of radical movements across the globe, are we to simply abandon, as certainly many have done, the legacy of these movements and the critique of capitalist civilization tout court, instead limiting ourselves to working for the success of “our people” within this order? Through a close examination of Marx’s key texts and with the aid of additional theorists, this course will seek to show that these are entirely false options. These texts and authors will help us to see that beyond the shibboleths of traditional Marxism, there remains a vibrant theoretical legacy in Marx that will be indispensable not only in seeking to move beyond capitalism’s contemporary dead end, but also for understanding the internal and inextricable relation between the birth and legacy of “race” and the formation and dynamic movement of capital. In other words, in these texts we will find a Marx that might serve as a point of clarity regarding the historically transient nature of capitalist civilization, the necessity of destroying the racial order it requires, and thus, the possible birth of an as yet unseen self-conscious humanity.