[Marxism] Fwd: Message from Brecht Forum/NYMS Founders

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Sep 17 06:17:25 MDT 2014

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: 	Message from Brecht Forum/NYMS Founders
Date: 	Wed, 17 Sep 2014 08:01:14 -0400
From: 	Brecht Forum/NYMS Founders <archive at brechtforum.org>
Reply-To: 	Brecht Forum/NYMS Founders <archive at brechtforum.org>
To: 	<lnp3 at panix.com>

*Marxist Education Following the Closing of the Brecht Forum/New York
Marxist School*

We are writing to you as original founders of the first School for
Marxist Education (1975) and members of the regrouped collective that
organized the New York Marxist School (NYMS-1979), which was later
subsumed into the Brecht Forum. All of us have remained supporters of
the NYMS since the Brecht Forum and its board of directors were formed
in the late 1980s, and some of us, in varying degrees, continued
throughout to organize NYMS classes and events, as volunteers, teachers,
Board members or staff.

Like many of you in New York City and around the world, we were shocked
and saddened by the abrupt closure of a left institution that had
survived, even flourished, for 39 years. Our response, after absorbing
the initial shock of the dissolution, was to get in touch with each
other to discuss the situation and what we might do.

First of all, we feel that the loss of a Marxist educational project in
the country that remains both the most politically backward and the most
powerful imperialist hegemon is a defeat for the Left – not only in New
York, but nationally and globally. We are concerned that, now more than
ever, our Left needs spaces for study and reflection upon our manifold
political practice, and dialogue about the important issues, struggles
and movements of the day.

We are aware from the many responses to the closing that this need is
strongly felt and we see that there are efforts to constitute
educational activities, some of which share aspects of the work carried
out by the Brecht Forum/NYMS. These are taking place in a variety of
forms and environments. We are committed to supporting and providing
whatever help we can to those who want to continue organizing classes
and forums, and to those who are younger and more representative of the
many nationalities and colors of New York City than we are, who might
want to take up a more comprehensive Marxist educational project for today.

We, the signers of this letter, do not embody the generational breadth
and diversity, nor do we have the energy or resources, to re-constitute
a project like the Brecht Forum/NYMS. This would require the formation
of an accountable leadership body, and an adequate administrative and
financial infrastructure. In addition, the objective conditions are
dramatically different from the mid-70s when the New York Marxist School
was founded. The re-shaping of New York as a global luxury city has
raised real estate prices to a level that makes it extremely difficult
to maintain a space that is accessible citywide and doesn’t either
charge its users a lot of money, have an endowment or own the building.
The falling real wages for the working class and frequent need for
workers to work more hours or several jobs has made it harder for people
to sustain alternative institutions on a volunteer basis. The rising
cost of living makes it harder for people to work for “movement wages”
over the long-term. This is all intertwined with the need to find
appropriate organizational forms for this kind of work. Can we find
forms that allow for more dynamic and less restrictive internal
structures than the tax-exempt 501(c)(3)? Addressing these problems will
require creative initiatives from a new generation of activists that we
expect will emerge in many ways.

*So what can we do? We have identified a few areas:*


     Support in a limited way and at least for the immediate future the
     efforts to continue classes and programming at the Commons (the last
     home of the Brecht Forum/NYMS) that some of us have been involved
     in. This is now taking place under the auspices of the Marxist
     Education Project (see following section) in collaboration with new
     and former BF teachers and activists. The email address is
     marxedproject at gmail.com. Plans to set-up a MEP website are in the 


     Maintain the Brecht Forum website as an archive where people can
     listen to or view some of the lectures, forums and classes held over
     the past 39 years—including many that still need to be digitalized
     and posted. We think that this could be a rich resource for movement
     history. We would try to include internal documents on the initial
     political objectives, educational principles and orientation, and
     the formulation of its educational themes. These themes were
     developed each term through collective discussion with a broad array
     of progressive activists in which we assessed our changing
     circumstances, or what we called “the nature of the period.” These
     materials, such as the regular /History and Perspective/ articles in
     the school’s course catalogues, could be useful to others thinking
     about how to create Marxist educational spaces. For information
     about the archive contact archive at brechtforum.org
     <mailto:archive at brechtforum.org>.


     Perhaps our best contribution, as a historically forged yet informal
     grouping, could be to review and share in writing the political
     thinking behind the Brecht Forum/New York Marxist School. What
     ingredients made it a stimulating and nurturing environment for
     progressive activists from many backgrounds and perspectives for
     almost four decades? We’d like to share our take on that and invite
     your creative thinking about how the school’s mission might continue
     in forms appropriate to today’s conditions. Additionally, some of us
     are writing more detailed assessments of the project, its history,
     achievements and shortfalls and the general significance of Marxist
     education for forging an effective Left in the U.S. context, one
     that can truly advance a movement towards socialism. If these ideas
     and the work of the BF inspire others to initiate such projects for
     this era, we'll be there to help and support.

*The Marxist Education Project *

After the Brecht Forum closed, a few of us, along with other teachers
and activists from the former BF, continued offering classes and forums
in space rented from the Brooklyn Commons through the contributions of
students. These efforts are now informally organized under the rubric of
the Marxist Education Project. This work has enabled the continuation of
study groups that have been ongoing (some for several years), the
initiation of a few new classes and the maintenance of some important
elements from the work of the NYMS/Brecht Forum. We are heartened by the
response and interest to these programming efforts and perhaps the MEP
will be able to cohere and gain support from younger activists who want
to advance non-sectarian Marxist education for today. This is to be seen.

The Project's Fall 2014 offerings, for example, include key elements of
the original New York Marxist School’s core curriculum, such as the
presentation of historical materialism contained in /Capital: A Critique
of Political Economy/ by Marx, and its complement, the study of science
and method through analysis of diverse phenomena. There will be a new
/Capital /class along with three classes on science and method, one on
Engels’ /Dialectics of Nature/, another on Hegel’s /Science of Logic/,
and the third on the science and politics of our ecological crisis.
There will also be classes relating to a third premise of the NYMS core
curriculum: lessons of revolutionary struggles. Studying and assessing
critically their accomplishments, mistakes and shortfalls can, we
believe, help us think more deeply how to develop program, strategy,
tactics and organizational forms for today. Another class will study
works by Frantz Fanon, key theorist of the anti-colonial struggle and
the crucial role of the peoples of the periphery in revolution. This
class will be complemented by two critical studies of earlier
revolutionary movements that influenced politics on a global scale: one
within the center of capitalist development at its time, France, and the
other within the periphery, Russia.

Another cornerstone of the NYMS’ core curriculum related to our tasks as
socialists within the U.S. We stated in 1975 and reaffirmed in 1979 that
our “principal international responsibility” is “in clarifying and
unifying the struggle against our own capitalist class – the imperial
colossus, which is losing ground throughout the world but remains a
raging beast of destruction.” (From Statement of Principles) We put
forward that a primary theoretical task for U.S. Marxists was “to grasp
the underlying dynamics of the development of capitalism in the U.S. and
the formation of our own working class, in order to address the burning
question: Why does the U.S. working class have no mass independent
political organization?” Currently, the Precarity Taskforce, which was
active in the former Brecht Forum, has organized a reading group on
Precarious Labor/Precarious Lives and is planning other classes and
forums that address these issues and the changes taking place in the
labor process, the circulation of capital globally and its effect at
home, and the circumstances confronting organized and unorganized labor
in the US today.

*What Was Behind a Four-Decade Run?*

Of all the educational projects that originated in the 70s U.S. left,
the NY Marxist School/Brecht Forum arguably has had the greatest
longevity and a significant influence worldwide. Many theoretical
traditions enrich our struggles and strategies and our sense of the
society we’re fighting for, and were reflected in the school’s
offerings. But the school put Marxism—in the most undogmatic sense of
the word—as the place to start. We called ourselves Marxists and taught
and advocated a method of analysis that we consider crucial to
conscious, emancipatory action—while being clear that no one had to buy
into this to come to the school. In this context, we developed a *core
curriculum*—described above—that was a key to the school’s success. A
second key was the spirit of inquiry and the premise that “*nobody has
all the answers.”*

Initially, the founders did not know if this project would find
resonance within the Left. But from the more sectarian 1970s through
today, the school’s classes relating to the core curriculum were the
best attended and most requested—partly because they were hard to find
at other alternative educational spaces or within existing parties and
tendencies. Similarly, not just independent leftists have valued the
school’s independent and anti-dogmatic spirit. Many members of cadre
formations have told us that they value spaces where they can dialogue
and be challenged by others to think outside the box of their own
organizations’ formulations and lines.

A third key to the school’s longevity was its *focus on* *the issues,
struggles and movements of the day, *using Marxist theory and conscious
summation to move beyond just reacting*. *The school’s main
conceptualizer, the late Arthur Felberbaum*, *reminded us *“*the tasks
of seeking the truth and changing the world go hand in hand.”**The
school’s programs brought together activists from diverse arenas and
scholars to overcome the bourgeois dichotomy of theory and
practice,**analyze the common root causes of our many oppressions,
pinpoint the system’s vulnerabilities, figure out how to overcome the
errors and weaknesses of past movements and organizations, and explore
how diverse oppositional impulses might cohere to challenge capitalist
rule. This commitment to concrete analysis of our concrete situation,
identifying key questions and putting them on the left’s agenda, and
facilitating principled dialogue, lesson-sharing and engagement of
disagreements within the progressive movement was central to our mission.

And the fourth key to success was the *centrality of culture in the
school. *Art exhibits, music, dance, comedy and theatrical performances
and workshops like Theater of the Oppressed, often provided first
experiences of the space to newcomers. Culture helped us to voice our
outrage, mock the rich and powerful and ourselves, celebrate our
struggles and victories, make analysis accessible and give form to our
dreams and aspirations for liberation. Culture was not an after-thought
but integral.

*Legacy and Beyond*

In his June /Monthly Review/ article on /“/Popular Movements toward
Socialism,” Samir Amin articulated the same premise on which the school
was based:

“/...a rigorous scientific critical analysis of capitalism taking into
account all aspects of its historical reality. This had not been the
case with previous socialist formulations or later ones that disregarded
Marx. The formulation of capitalism’s law of value; the specification of
the long-run tendencies of capital accumulation and their
contradictions; the analysis of the relationship between class struggle
and international conflicts and likewise of the transformation in
methods for managing accumulation and governance; and analysis of the
alienated forms of social consciousness—these together define the
thought of Marx that initiated the unfolding of historic Marxisms...”/

As 2014 has brought the Brecht Forum/New York Marxist School to a close,
it has not brought to a close such ideas nor the need to address the
questions of the era, though many need to be reformulated and new
organizational forms appropriate to current conditions need to be found.
We look to all generations in all our diverse colors and cultural,
ethnic, religious and national expressions, gender identifications,
sexual orientations and commitments to particular issues and struggles
to advance the movement towards human emancipation—and we’ll stick
around for the many struggles ahead.

/Two, three many Marxist schools!/

Mary Boger
Eric Canepa
Bill Henning
Lisa Maya Knauer
Michael Lardner
Liz Mestres
Juliet Ucelli

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