On Friday, Nov. 18, members of West Chester University’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and associate professor in the department of educational foundations and policy studies Curry Malott attended the event “The Living Legacy of the Russian Revolution.”
The event took place in the Church of the Advocate and was both organized and sponsored by three Philadelphia-based activist organizations: the Philadelphia chapter of The Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), of which Malott is a member, The Black Alliance for Peace and Philly Socialists.
The event brought together 11 speakers and performers. Some came from across the country while others were Philadelphia-based.
After an introduction by Asantewaa Nkrumah-Ture and Timour Kamran and a historical overview by Kamran, Jacquelin Garrison and Stephanie Altimari spoke on “The Revolution and Socialist Feminism.” In the joint presentation, Altimari highlighted the role and importance of women’s work inside the home. “[Women’s work] has been made invisible, and also historically unpaid,” she said, “but nonetheless society wouldn’t function if people didn’t raise the children and cook dinner. The whole thing would kind of fall apart. Still women’s labor is unvalorized.”
She also criticized the role of “Bourgeois Feminists” who “do nothing to deconstruct this system—capitalism that oppresses women, but actually fit inside it quite comfortably. They just shift the burden onto poorer women, primarily women of color.” She offered examples such as Hillary Clinton who “was secretary of state, and broke the glass ceiling, but she was also the secretary of state during an administration which dropped more bombs on the middle east than any other.” Further examples she provided included Cheryl Sandbergand and “any other female CEO of a corporation that is exploiting the labor of women and getting rich off their suffering.”
Eugene Puryear, PSL’s candidate for vice president in 2016 and host of the radio show “By Any Means Necessary,” gave the presentation “Leninism Today,” in which he emphasized “our obligation to organize the 34 percent of all Americans in general and 44 percent of millennials who said in a YouGov poll that they prefer Socialism to Capitalism.”
After an intermission, Diego Polanco performed “Zimbabwe,” two other songs by Bob Marley and “El Pueble Unido Jamas Sera Vencido” by Sergio Ortega and Quilapayun as part of the Nueva Cancion Chilena movement.
Emily Black from the Philly Tenants Union, a union which organizes tenants in Philadelphia to fight unfair practices of landlords in the city, represented her organization at the event. Black said, “we’re currently fighting for a Just Cause Eviction clause in the county of Philadelphia, because currently a landlord in Philly can choose to evict if they don’t like the color of your shoes, and this puts tenants in an unreasonably precarious position. But this is only a transitional demand. When we get that, we can fight for more ambitious projects such as rent control.”
George Ciccariello-Maher, professor of political science at Drexel University, took the stage to say he was happy to be invited to “celebrate this anniversary in a way that looks back by looking forward.” He also criticized Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party who “couldn’t even do their one job and win the election.”
Ciccariello-Maher said, “We need, of course, to avoid at all costs the Democratic Party.”
Ciccariello-Maher continued, paraphrasing Antonio Gramsci: “The economic crisis scatters the enemy troops like an artillery shot, and gives us the opportunity to advance, but it also gives the same opportunity to reactionaries and fascists. This is what’s been happening since 2008; the troops are scattered, but that does not mean we have won.”
He continued, “we must provide alternatives and embrace, as Lenin embraced, these alternative living breathing structures: councils, militias, organizations that represent an alternative space growing a new world in the shell of the old. What [Gramsci] called dual power institutions. If we want to replace that state and make much of what they do redundant and unnecessary, we need to do much of what they do today.”
Bernie Bronsberg, senior history major and SDS member, said the event discussed “an often-misunderstood period of history and keeps alive the true spirit of the Russian Revolution and its strategies of working class emancipation.”
He said he favored Ciccariello-Maher and Puyear: “I think the way they joined the theme of unity leading to change was compelling in both the historic and modern contexts.”
When reached later for comment, Malott said, “The event celebrating the legacy of the Russian Revolution is really important for teacher education not only at WCU, but throughout the U.S. and around the world, because of the major contributions and widespread influence of the Soviet Psychologist Lev Vygotsky. Employing Marx’s dialectical method to his studies of human cognitive processes, Vygotsky greatly deepened our understanding of the ever-developing relationship between mind and society.”
He continued, “while Vygotsky’s references to Marx, Engels and Lenin have been scrubbed from American translations of his work, many educators refuse to forget that, as James Wertsch said in his book Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind, ‘Vygotsky . . . entered adulthood just as his country was experiencing one of the greatest social upheavals of the twentieth century—the Russian Revolution of 1917. This event provided . . . what is perhaps the most exciting intellectual and cultural setting of our time. It was largely because of this setting that Vygotsky was able to develop his ingenious ideas and that these ideas could have a significant impact.’”
Students for a Democratic Society meets every Tuesday at 5 p.m. in the Center for Student Involvement (CSI). The organization can be reached at email@example.com.
Malott is a member of the Philadelphia branch of the ANSWER coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and a national organizer with People’s Congress of Resistance (PCOR). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aaron Gallant is a third-year student majoring in urban and environmental planning with minors in anthropology and Spanish. He can be reached at AG851503@wcupa.edu.