Report on the First Annual Appalachian Marxist School

On Saturday, March 10, 2012, the first annual Appalachian Marxist School of the Workers International League was held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Convening in Wesley W. Posvar Hall at the University of Pittsburgh, about 20 people attended the school, mostly from Western Pennsylvania. These comrades were joined by guests from New Jersey, Eastern Pennsylvania and natives of the former deformed workers’ state of the German Democratic Republic in a day-long school. Covering the history of the 1934 Minneapolis Teamster Rebellion, Dialectical Materialism, Marxist economics, and the question of Marxism and women’s liberation, the day was full of rich lessons for the region’s Marxists.

Morning Session

The school’s opening session began a little after 11:00 am, with comrade Karl Belin presenting to the attendees the following greeting from the school to the 31st Congress of the Pakistani Marxists of The Struggle.

“Dear Comrades of Pakistan,

March 10, 2012 marks a momentous day for the forces of Marxism around the world. Not only does it mark the 31st Congress of the Pakistani section of the International Marxist Tendency, The Struggle, but it also marks the inaugural convening of the Appalachian Marxist School in the United States.

Our region, Appalachia, holds a strong tradition of militant class battles over the last 250 years. Our mountains and valleys saw the First American Revolution, the Whiskey Rebellion, the victory over slavery in the Civil War (our country’s second great revolution), and the formation of many of North America’s first trade unions. Our region was also the site of the Battle of Homestead in 1892 and the massive Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921, when the capitalist government sent bomber planes to crush the coal miners of West Virginia in their guerrilla struggle for union recognition. As we work to rebuild these great traditions, beginning with the modest step of our School, we draw courage from the history of our region.

We also draw immense courage from the history being made today in Pakistan, in the very hall in which you sit at this moment. Year after year we have seen the great strides made by our sisters and brothers in Pakistan and it has made us only more resolute in following your revolutionary example. Due to the reactionary laws of our country, we are unable to formally join with you as members of the International. However, no law can break our solidarity and no law can break our common bond in the struggle for socialism – in Pakistan, the United States, and the world! We anxiously await the reports on the Congress’ success and look forward to sharing the success of our own School. Forward to a socialist future!

Inqalab, inqalab! Socialist inqalab!

On behalf of the First Annual Appalachian Marxist School, please accept our warmest fraternal and comradely regards.”

The greeting was enthusiastically passed unanimously by the attendees.

The first topic of discussion was the history of the Minneapolis Teamster Rebellion of 1934. The talk by comrade Mark Rahman of New Jersey gave the comrades present a sense of the scale on which these class battles took place, also touching on the Toledo Autolite strike and strikes on the West Coast which took place that same year. The comrade also gave some insight into the great successes, as well as the shortcomings, of the American Trotskyists in leading that strike. He explained the need for the Marxists to work within the unions as Marxists first, not as trade unionists who happen to be Marxists. The discussion on this session of the school was rich with examples from the battle on how to build in the coming period and many comrades were introduced to an episode of American labor and Marxist history which they were previously unfamiliar with.

The second morning topic was on Dialectical Materialism, led off by comrade Karl Belin. In his talk he had the task of concentrating more than 2,000 years of philosophy and science down to a one hour discussion. He discussed the history of materialism and of dialectics and Marx’s great contribution in reconciling these two fundamental world views and unifying them into one analytical system.

As there was no time for a session at the school on Historical Materialism, the comrades paid close attention to this application of Dialectical Materialism in the discussion period. Guests at the school raised some excellent questions about the fundamentals of philosophy. Comrade Carolyn Kemp, a research scientist, also provided excellent insight into the relationship between class society, science, and dialectical method.

Afternoon Session

The comrades brought their notoriously hearty Pittsburgh lunches back to the school for a “working lunch” full of discussion on various topics, including the topics which had been raised in the morning session of the school.

Opening the afternoon session of the school, comrade Andrew Wagner gave a comprehensive talk on Marxist economics. Thanks to Andrew’s excellent introduction to topics like surplus value, the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, economic crises, etc., and having already discussed Dialectical Materialism in the morning session, this agenda item received perhaps the highest level of discussion.

The comrades connected the broader introduction to the economic crisis which began in 2007, explaining the delayed nature of the crisis due to the influx of credit into the world economy following the end of the post-WWII boom. The nature of “fictitious capital” was analyzed in the discussion and the tasks of the Marxists were highlighted, summing up the struggle for socialism as the struggle of the working class to control the surplus value which we ourselves produce.

The final topic of the school was chosen in honor of International Working Women’s Day, which fell two days before the school. In their introduction, comrades Carolyn Kemp and Jack Oliver gave a sweeping analysis of the differences between the Marxists and the bourgeois feminists, emphasizing the need to connect women’s liberation with the overall struggle for socialism, as women can never truly be freed from the extra burdens placed on them without completely overturning capitalism.

The discussion on this point was also very lively, with a number of excellent questions from the floor about women’s rights and the nature of the feminist movement over the last century.

The comrades closed the school just after 5:00 pm, announcing to the attendees that there would be a fund raiser later in the evening not far from where the school took place.

Evening Social and Fund Raiser

That evening, the comrades convened for a fund raiser and celebration for International Working Women’s Day. There was a full feast, with more than ten separate dishes, including two cakes baked by comrades themselves. The comrades also played an energized game of “Marxist Jeopardy” prepared (and hosted) by comrades Karl Belin and Mark Rahman, or “Alex” and “Trebeck,” as they were called.

The fund raiser was attended by about 30 or so people, including rank-and-file trade unionists and some trade union organizers from the Pittsburgh area. Needless to say, it was a smashing success. The comrades raised almost $200 to go toward the Pittsburgh fighting fund. With the success of this year’s Appalachian School, the comrades are already looking forward to the next one and to attendance of people interested in Marxism from the region and other parts of Appalachia.

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