Marxism in America

History, Theory, Culture

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI). Summer 1-2, 2022

Course Title: Marxism in America: History, Theory, Culture
Duration: 12 Weeks
Course: Spring 1 and 2 of 2022
Dates: Jan 14-April 15 (with break Feb 19-March 6)
Time: Fridays 3:00pm-4:45pm

Course Description:

Contrary to popular belief, socialist ideas are not new to the American political scene. Throughout American history, there have been several left-leaning political movements who found their inspiration from Karl Marx’s writings and the philosophers and political economists who came after calling themselves Marxists. The so-called ‘red scare’s of American history reveal concerted efforts by the U.S. government to both publicly and secretly stifle left-leaning political movements that would encourage class solidarity or redistribution of wealth in America. Unfortunately, what this has meant is that the majority of people in today’s United States do not have an accurate understanding of Marxism, its philosophy of history or its politics of economy. This course attempts to right this wrong.

We will consider the economichistorical, and anthropological as well as sociological inspirations and outcomes in the American political system of Marxist thought. In short, the class will provide students with a deeper understanding of Marx, the Marxist view of history, philosophy, and political economy, and the internationalist and anti-imperialist politics that developed in the United States inspired by Marxist ideologies throughout the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. By reading the work of writer-activists like Emma Goldman, Claudia Jones, Huey P. Newton, George Jackson, Angela Y. Davis and many others, we will connect the theoretical terms Marx and other philosophers developed to different political movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. Finally, we will consider the contemporary moment: what kind of Marxist politics are developing in America in the 21st century? What version of left-leaning politics can exist in the U.S. after the supposed ‘fall’ of communism in the early 1990s? Where and how does Marxism reside in the U.S. today?  To confront these final questions, we will engage with both fictional and documentary films in the 21st century, including Bee MovieSpirited AwayChicken Run13thChildren of MenIn Time, and others.

Suggested Purchases

  • Paul Buhle, Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left (2013), ~$31
  • Michael Harrington, Socialism: Past and Future (1989), ~$16


(readings are meant to be done before the class during which they will be discussed)

May 6 – Marxism: what it is …and isn’t


  • Several small sections of Socialism 101 by Kathleen Sears
  • “The Propaganda of History” by W.E.B. DuBois
  • Ch. 2 “Gravediggers” from The Socialist Manifesto by Bhaskar Sunkara
  • Ch. 1 “The Commodification of Everything” from Historical Capitalism by Immanuel Wallerstein
  • Watch Chicken Run (film)

May 13 – Immigrant beginnings (1865-1900): Jewish Socialism in NYC 


  • Ch. 1 “Immigrant Socialism” of Paul Buhle’s Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left
  • Ch. 4 “The Creation of a Geoculture: Ideologies, Social Movements, Social Science” from World Systems Analysis: An Introduction by Immanuel Wallerstein
  • Ch. 2 “Socialisms” of Michael Harrington’s Socialism: Past and Future
  • Ch. 2 “The Politics of Accumulation: Struggle for Benefits” from Historical Capitalism by Immanuel Wallerstein
  • Introduction “Socialism in American Jewish History” from A Fire In Their Hearts: Yiddish Socialists in New York by Tony Michels
  • Watch Spirited Away (film)

May 20 – Distinctly American Socialism 


May 27 – The Debs Era


  • Ch. 3 “Marxism in the Debs Era” from Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left by Paul Buhle
  • Ch 7 “Socialism and America” from Bhaskar Sunkara’s The Socialist Manifesto

June 3 – Leninism in America


  • Ch. 4 “Leninism in America” from Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left by Paul Buhle
  • Ch 5 “‘Simply a Stupid Piece of Despotism’: How Socialists Saved the First Amendment” from The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition…Socialism by John Nichols
  • Ch. 5 “Negroes Ain’ Black-But Red!: Black Communists and the Culture of Opposition” from Hammer and Hoe: Alabama Communists During the Great Depression by Robin D.G. Kelley
  • Podcast: “History of the IWW: Militant Unionism, Wobblie Internationalism, & Class War” and “Black Bolshevik: The Life of Harry Haywood” from Revolutionary Left Radio

Break: June 4–June 23

June 24 – Authoritarian Collectivisms


  • Ch. 3 “Authoritarian Collectivisms” from Socialism: Past and Future by Michael Harrington
  • The remainder of Ch. 3 “Leninism in America” from Marxism in the United States: A History of the American Left by Paul Buhle
  • passages from Maoism and the Chinese Revolution: A Critical Introduction by Elliott Liu
  • passages from The Permanent Revolution by Leon Trotsky
  • Ch. 6, “The Third World Revolution” from The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality by Bhaskar Sunkara
  • Marxist vocab Flashcards: terminology-flash-cards/

June 30 – Rise of the Culture Critique (1925-1940)


  • Ch. 5 “Rise of the Culture Critique” in Marxism in the United States by Paul Buhle
  • Selections from Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci
  • Selections from The Oxford Handbook of Communist Visual Cultures, ed. Xiaoning Lu, Aga Skrodzka, K. Marciniak
  • Watch Children of Men (dir. Alfonso Cuarón)

July 7 – After Leninism (1940-1960)


July 14 – The New Left and Decolonization 


  • Ch. 7 “The New Left” in Marxism in the United States by Paul Buhle
  • Ch. 6 “The Third Creation of the World” from Socialism Past and Future by Michael Harrington
  • Passages from the Huey P. Newton Reader
  • 2 chapters from Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur
  • Viewings: BlacKkKlansman and The Trial of the Chicago 7

July 21 – Neoliberalism and Neocolonialism


  • Ch. 6 “The Third Creation of the World” from Socialism: Past and Future by Michael Harrington
  • Ch 14 “The Great Dismantling” from Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States by Michael Lind
  • In Time (film) and Life and Debt (film)
  • “Free Trade: Neoliberal Fantasy” from Democracy and Other Neoliberal Fantasies by Jodi Dean

July 28 – Visionary Gradualism & Battling the Era of Growing Inequality


  • Ch. 8-9 “Market and Plan” and “Visionary Gradualism” of Socialism: Past and Future by Michael Harrington
  • Ch 8-10 “Return of the Mack” “How We Win” and “Stay Fly” of The Socialist Manifesto by Bhaskar Sunkara

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