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The First International; or, The Red and the Black: A Bad Romance? (History for Anticapitalists)
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The Red and the Black: A Bad Romance? The First International is more or less synonymous today with the bad breakup between Marx and Bakunin. This has all the allure of historical romance; it has been duly eulogized as the “red/black split.” After Marx kicked Bakunin out, we are told, anarchists aligned with Bakunin, communists aligned with Marx, and that was that: Anarchists and Marxists were twentieth century frienemies. But things were not so simple, of course. Bakunin’s crew were known as “collectivists” at the time; there were no Marxists yet. Capital, the work with which Marxisms rise and fall, was not published until 1867. In 1864, what we know as the First International was the little-known International Working Men’s Association (IWMA), founded by forty-odd trade unionists in the basement of a labor weekly called Beehive, in support of Polish workers whose rebellion against the Russian Tsar had been brutally crushed. In the wake of the revolutionary wave of 1848, the IWMA was an uncertain attempt to gather broken threads of resistance. How it came to occupy a pivotal place in the lore of the revolutionary Left is more than a simple matter of two great men, and the books and parties they bequeathed social agitators. This class seeks to learn from that story, and the history behind it. Let us be frank: We are not experts. This is in part an attempt to better come to grips with divisions in our own milieu. It is not our hope to heal all rifts; but we do hope to provoke heated mutual aid. We want to make space not to decide between anarchist or Marxist forms of thought and action, but to ask how this choice came to occupy such a tense hold—sometimes loving, often fraught—over our own forms of thought and action. So let us be still more frank: the M and the W in IWMA stand for Working Men, where men means straight white men and work equals a wage. IWMA members were a homogenous bunch. We see this as a problem we can’t fix, but one that we must confront. One line of inquiry will perforce be to query the role of the International, and its bad breakup, in securing the fallacy of the proletariat as the sole preserve of straight white male industrial laborers. To these and hopefully other ends, we will pursue two more or less simultaneous but parallel courses. We will read and discuss some texts; each meeting will feature brief primary works by Marx and Bakunin and/or IWMA documents, paired with still briefer secondary materials for historical context. But we want to reserve as much time as possible to discuss the relevance (or not) of the contentious historical matters therein for us, today; each session will feature 1-3 guest presenters, who will offer brief (10 minute) takes on the assigned materials. Afterwards the floor will be open. We envision this occurring on four consecutive Saturdays in April. At that point we will gauge where we are, assess whether to continue and, if so, decide together in what direction. 4/6 Origins and Context of the First International 4/13 The Life and Debates of the First International (1864-70) 4/20 The Paris Commune and the First International (1870-72) 4/27 The Bad Breakup and the End of the First International
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Reading list? NYC: http://thepublicschool.org/node/3881

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