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Sabotage: Violence, Theory, and Protest

at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Course Details
Start Date:

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Online Classroom
Class Level: All levels
Age Requirements: 21 and older
Average Class Size: 14
System Requirements:

You will need a reliable Internet connection as well as a computer or device with which you can access your virtual class. We recommend you arrive to class 5-10 minutes early to ensure you're able to set up your device and connection.

Class Delivery:

Classes will be held via Zoom.

Teacher: R.H. Lossin

Flexible Reschedule Policy: This provider has flexible, free rescheduling for any-in person workshop. Please see the cancellation policy for more details

What you'll learn in this lecture class:

The landscape of early 20th-century U.S. capitalism often resembled, quite literally, a battlefield. Before the widespread recognition of the right to strike and collectively bargain, when employers routinely sicced police and armed Pinkertons on gathering workers, labor activism took a form that, to contemporary eyes, perhaps appears irrational, hidebound, or disorganized: sabotage. Yet, far from a random series of impulsive acts, sabotage was—and can be—a systematic concept, containing within it a sophisticated analysis of class, property, power, and law.

Alongside physical acts of sabotage, there emerged a vast literature of books, pamphlets, songs, and images that not only helped explicate sabotage theoretically, but also challenged the very ideals of capitalism’s “cult of productivity.” How can we understand the meaning and power of sabotage, not merely in the context of early 20th-century American capitalism, but also as a form and theory of protest? What can a study of sabotage teach us about changing norms surrounding private property, free markets, state power, and violence as a legitimate mode of protest and political practice?

In this course, we will explore the historical, philosophical, and political importance of sabotage. We will try to determine what sabotage is and how (or if) it can be distinguished from mere vandalism and other forms of violence; consider the relationship between coercion and worker control; critically examine the sanctity of private property; reflect on the role that immigration played in the formation and repression of the I.W.W. (the Wobblies); and use the I.W.W.’s philosophy of sabotage to think about the relationship between theory and practice.

Readings will be drawn from an array of primary sources—from songs, images, and sabotage pamphlets to texts by progressive intellectuals such as Thorstein Veblen and Walter Lippmann and political socialists such as Eugene V. Debs—as well as from a number of historical accounts of progressive-era labor conflict. And, as we examine the ongoing use and importance of sabotage by workers and activists, we will ask: Why has sabotage disappeared from the twin discourses of worker organizing and labor history?

Remote Learning

This course is available for "remote" learning and will be available to anyone with access to an internet device with a microphone (this includes most models of computers, tablets). Classes will take place with a "Live" instructor at the date/times listed below.

Upon registration, the instructor will send along additional information about how to log-on and participate in the class.

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Refund Policy

Upon request, we will refund the entire cost of a class up until 1 week before its start date. Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to a 75% refund. After the first class: 50%. After the second: 25%. No refunds will be given after the third class.

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Reviews of Classes at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research (28)

School: Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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