Liberation School's new book Revolutionary Education is edited by Nino Brown.
Capital was a formidable book from the moment it was published in 1867. In an attempt to make the content more accessible, Capital's first French publisher published the book in multiple pieces.
Karl Marx wrote to the publisher and commended him for the new teaching method used to present Capital. "I applaud your idea of publishing the translation of Das Kapital as a serial," he wrote. "In this form the book will be more accessible to the working class, a consideration which to me outweighs everything else."
The first three chapters, however, had a unique structure that were harder to understand split apart. Despite this tradeoff, Marx approved of the approach since the most important metric for him was whether people would understand his analysis of capitalism.
So as in 1872, so today: Socialism must be understood to be accepted. Socialism is a system where the working class wields control over the productive forces of society, and the economy is planned in a scientific manner according to the needs of the people and planet. Socialism unleashes the potential of the highest creativity and flowering of the working class.
Although the demonization in recent years has faded, socialism remains a badly-misunderstood topic. Teaching, therefore, is a critical skill that socialist organizers can and must hone and master. Different situations calls for different teaching methods, or pedagogies. How do we know which method to use? How do we improve our own efficacy in presenting information?
Liberation School's fresh book, Revolutionary Education: Teaching and practice for socialist organizers, explores these questions from the viewpoints of history, theory, and practice. Edited by Nino Brown, the book compiles essays from educators, organizers, and journalists on revolutionary education and socialist educational methods.
Brown explains in his essay on building organizations and developing cadre that organizers have much to learn from the suffering, sacrifices and victories of our comrades in struggle all over the world. "We are all linked by our common oppression under imperialism," he writes. The job of a revolutionary is to help make the revolution. To do that, socialists need to make more revolutionaries.
How do socialists win people over? Socialists are actually in the most favorable moment for socialists in the U.S. in decades. Organizer Walter Smolarek explains that organizers have the opportunity to make connections with working people and build a base of support through different tactics, including provisioning direct services.
Provisioning direct services, commonly referred to as "mutual aid", can be a way to make inroads with communities. Even an inherently nonrevolutionary activity can be used as an opening to bring people into the political struggle for socialism, but the tactic itself cannot be confused with the strategy. When a current approach does not work, organizers must recalculate and find new tactics to reach people.
The goal of Revolutionary Education, after all, is the emancipation of humankind.
Guinea-Bissau's struggle for independence led by the liberator, theorist, and educator Amilcar Cabral is one such example.
Curry Mallot traces the history of how the small west African country became a world leader in decolonial education, in large part due to the leadership of revolutionary Amílcar Cabral. For more than 400 years Guinea-Bissau was a colony of the vicious Portuguese empire, Mallot writes, whose colonial mode of education was "designed to foster a sense of inferiority in the youth." Colonial educators set predetermined outcomes sought to dominate learners by treating them as if they were passive objects.
Militant historian Sónia Vaz Borges, the child of Cape Verdean immigrants, grew up in Portugal. Vaz Borges experienced firsthand the colonial education taught to the African diaspora in the colonial center. In an interview with Breaking the Chains, she recounts how the African community "does not see themselves reflected in official versions of Portuguese history." Political education is not abstract.
Socialists must be able to explain the class character of all events. Organizers know socialist revolution is the only path to survival, yet how do we convince others of its necessity? Revolutionary teaching has to give the person all of the keys needed to be able to interpret events. "Every event has an origin and a process of development," explains Frank González, director of Cuba's Prensa Latina news agency in a 2006 interview with Gloria La Riva.
Television overwhelms us with images, González notes, but the same media denies space to interpret events. The development of social media has only exacerbated these effects. In the end, bourgeois media leaves people with nothing but confusion.
In a separate essay, Mallott explores Soviet psychologist Lev Vygotsky's ground-breaking work that shows how people's development corresponds to their past and present experiences. Thought emerges from engagement with the concrete world. "While all of us have been shaped by this racist, sexist, capitalist society," Mallott writes, "we never lose the ability to grow, change and think differently."
Intelligence is an attribute but also a social construct. How do you tell children facing hunger, homelessness, and police brutality to be more "gritty", when in fact they already put in tremendous effort to survive? Organizer Jane Cutter in her essay on comradeship emphasizes that all progressive people must be willing to learn from experience and work in collaboration.
Revolutionary Education closes with two practical appendices for day-to-day organizing. "Formulating study and discussion questions" explains how to break out of a linear mode of education. The sample questions are in and of themselves instructive for the tactics they represent in addition to the thought that they provoke. Learning facts and timelines goes hand-in-hand with discussion with others, reflection on ideas and combining those with our own experiences.
Comprehension questions, for example, help distill dense texts down to their key points. Questions that focus on the identification of significance help people understand why the author themselves highlighted portions as key. For revolutionaries, perhaps the most important types of questions are those that apply and extend our knowledge of the world. How can revolutionary pedagogy sharpen our ability to educate and reach people?
The second appendix covers teaching tactics that can be applied in study groups or classrooms. Some material is best presented in a lecture form, while other situations call for more interactive engagement through having participants draw out concept maps.
How do we best reach people? How do we make sure that our message is getting across? Each situation calls for its own tactics. Revolutionaries must be flexible and adaptable according to the needs of the moment. Learning is an endeavor that requires effort on the part of both participant and teacher.
Marx closes his 1872 letter with an encouragement to work through such difficulties. "There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits."
Those in the struggle for socialism will find in Revolutionary Education a worthy climbing tool indeed.
Patricia Gorky co-hosted the podcast Reading Capital with Comrades.
This article was republished from Hampton Think.