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Philly DSA

Leftists are usually critical of the state. Even so, we seldom discuss the precise function of states in capitalist societies. Do they form the repressive legal arm of the capitalist class? Or, are they neutral third parties in an otherwise bitter class war?

The answer to this question is not simply of theoretical interest. Analyses of the state have profoundly shaped left political programs. Some leftists have attempted to reform capitalism from within the state, while others have called for its outright abolishment.

In this session, we will explore this question in detail. Drawing in particular on a major debate ...

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It is a truism that unions are the driving force of Leftist politics. For more than a century, organized labor was at the core of the socialist movement, a fact confirmed by the many ways capitalists attacked worker-based movements and persecuted labor organizers.

Despite this history, the rise of new information-based economies and the general decline of unionized labor in the United States has led some commentators to suggest we focus elsewhere.

This session, led by members of Philly DSA’s Labor Branch, will ask: should the labor movement still play a central role in socialist theory and politics? If ...

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Socialists picture a system beyond capitalism, but no unitary vision of such a society exists. Though often overshadowed by Soviet-style Communism, one of the most successful forms of socialism has been social democracy.

Despite frequent usage of the term by Leftistsboth as a positive articulation of a program and as a negative description of reformist politicsthe core commitments of social democracy are not always clear.

In this session, we will discuss the theoretical and historical significance of social democracy. We will look at early Marxist justifications for such a position; discuss Sweden, one of the most successful attempts ...

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The Communist Manifesto contains a suggestion that under capitalism, “all that is solid melts into air.” In saying so, Marx was suggesting that capitalism radically altered social relations, transforming structures of family, community, and nation as it progressed across the globe. 

Even so—and despite promises that free markets lead to more general freedoms— imbalances in gender relations have persisted under capitalism. This session attempts to understand why. 

We will ask: What actually is the relationship of gender to capitalism? Is gender hierarchy in its current form a result of capitalism, or does it follow its own logic? Must sexism ...

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The next meeting of the Philly DSA Night School will be held on Tuesday February, 13th from 7-9pm in Room 311 of Houston Hall (3417 Spruce St)

As debate over the socialist political project rages on, a question continues to pop up: what role does class play in radical left politics? 

Behind this question, a number of competing conceptual frameworks have emerged to explain what classes are; the function they performed historically in capitalist societies; and whether or not class structures still even exist in contemporary America. 

In this session, we will attempt to answer these questions. We will start ...

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Almost daily, leftists seem to throw around the term “Neoliberalism.” Even so, the word means different things to different people. Depending on who is using it, neoliberalism evokes not only a theory of how capitalism should work, but also a political party, a cultural attitude, and even a global economic order. 

This session of the Night School explores the many uses (and abuses) of the term neoliberalism. After discussing the theory of the concept, which emerged in economics departments decades ago, we will trace its historical impact through the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. We will also consider the utility of ...

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Karl Marx is most famous as a champion of the working class, describing history as a “history of class struggle.” But the revolutionary thinker often stepped away from his role as a political propagandist. Particularly in his unfinished text Capital, Marx set about analyzing our current society rather than simply calling for its end. 

While the resulting text is one of the most thorough accounts of capitalism ever produced, its sprawling length and fragmentary character have caused much confusion. For this reason, Capital has been as much a source of insight as controversy. Some have worried that the book reduces ...

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As early as 1844, Karl Marx observed that capitalism was not only a system of social domination, but one that also “putrefied nature” through its relentless pursuit of profit. 

More recently, the writer Naomi Klein has noted that capitalism and the climate might fundamentally stand at odds, warning that accelerating destruction of the environment “changes everything” for humanity as a species. 

With the question shifting from “what is to be done?” to “can anything be done?” debates around reform and revolution threaten to fade into the background. 

Join Philly DSA to discuss the relationship between capitalism, socialism, and the environment ...

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Since the 1948 formation of the State of Israel, the surrounding region has been plagued by war, invasion, and occupation. The most tragic aspect of this situation is the relationship between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, with daily violence constituting the norm rather than the exception. 

Though there are no easy answers about how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, there are longstanding debates among leftists about what to do. DSA has recently joined this conversation, voting at its 2017 National Convention to endorse the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). 

Join Philly DSA to discuss this complicated issue ...

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From the first moment Columbus set sail in the direction of the “New World” to the ongoing conflicts raging in the oil fields of Iraq, the entire history of the capitalist epoch has been defined by imperialist activity.

Though often associated with Europe’s industrial revolution, it could be argued that capitalism would never have developed without imperialism. Marx himself wrote that capitalism “compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production… In one word, it creates a world after its own image.”

With readings focusing on early colonialism, US imperialism during the twentieth century ...

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Despite a commonplace myth that education is the pathway to knowledge, it is often difficult to separate schooling from the anarchy of the market. Subject to privatization and budget cuts, K-12 programs often look less like a means of fostering childhood development than a business opportunity. The situation in higher education is no different. Universities have expanded administrative costs while hiring more adjunct faculty and decreasing course offerings. Despite talk of excellence and advanced learning, the decisions made by presidents in boardrooms often seem guided by budgetary rather than intellectual concerns.

Join Philly DSA to discuss the complicated relationship of ...

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Though capitalism is built on the exploitation of the working class, it does not affect everyone equally. In particular, people of color disproportionately endure a range of injustices, including poverty, mass incarceration, housing
segregation, and police violence.

From WEB Du Bois and A. Philip Randolph to Cesar Chavez and Angela Davis, people of color have also led the charge against capitalism’s ill-effects, developing theoretical writings, political programs, and social movements designed to challenge class-based oppression.

This session features a reading from Adolph Reed about the relationship between race and class; one of the founding documents of the Black Panther ...

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The United States has long sustained one of the most aggressive penal systems, and today holds the single largest prison population in the world. Our dependence on incarceration has only increased in the neoliberal present, when for-profit prisons threaten to ensnare millions of working class Americans.

There is considerable debate among leftists as to how to challenge the prison state. Some have argued that socialists should pursue a horizon based on the total abolition of prisons. Others have questioned the feasibility of such an agenda, insisting that incarceration would still be necessary under a more democratic system.

Regardless of which ...

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If any thinker answered the socialist demand for political theory rooted in real world politics, it was Vladimir Lenin. Though best known as a revolutionary leader, Lenin was also a prolific writer who carefully studied law, philosophy, and history. In fact, he was stil​l revising his famous text The State & Revolution in the weeks​ ​just ​before the October Revolution brought the Bolsheviks to power.

Today, many socialist organizations still proudly brand themselves with Lenin’s name. Even so, his thought remains a matter of controversy. For some people, Lenin’s writing endures as a model for how to ...

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This week’s discussion, titled “Red October," turns toward the complex legacy of the Russian Revolution.

The October Revolution of 1917 saw the rise of the world’s most powerful communist state, fundamentally transforming human history in the process. A hundred years later, the Soviet Union continues to cast a heavy shadow over discussions of socialism. For its defenders, the country presents an enduring model for future working class projects. For its most ardent critics, the USSR demonstrates that socialism always leads to authoritarianism, its collapse proving that capitalism is unavoidable.

With a set of readings focused on politics and ...

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For some, Karl Marx’s work remains an urgently needed alternative to dominant modes of thought. For others, the legacy of Marxism hinders the development of a truly modern social theory.

Whatever Marx’s significance, widespread confusion obscures many of his core arguments. Though he wrote prolifically on topics from politics and economics to family life and art, Marx lives on largely in sound bites and the polemics of his critics.

This meeting attempts to clarify some of Marx’s key ideas. We will begin with his infamous 1848 “Communist Manifesto,” co-authored with Friedrich Engels. What—if any —are the ...

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For the very first session of the Socialist Night School, we’ll be starting at the heart of the matter: democratic socialism!

Though socialism has experienced renewed interest in recent years, there remains much debate about what the term actually means. There are many forms of socialism, each making different theoretical and political claims. This meeting seeks to answer a number of key questions: 

  • What is socialism? And what is capitalism, really? 
  • What is the DSA? What do its members want? 
  • How does democratic socialism differ from other socialist projects?

Whether you’ve just joined DSA or are a lifelong ...

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