Report on AWL political education submitted by AWL National Commmittee to AWL conference 29-30 April 2006. Referred by conference, without debate, to incoming National Committee.
1. What the working class needs, in order to emancipate itself, is organisation and clarity of ideas. The job of a revolutionary working-class grouping like ours is to promote that organisation and clarity of ideas. In our three-word summary of what we do - "agitate, educate, organise" - education is pivotal. Agitation, if it is not to be demagogy, must be spun from, and consistent with, a well-understood programme and world-view. Organisation, if it is to make progress on a scene already full of ineffectual talk by trade union leaders about "the organising agenda", must be based on clear ideas of whom to organise, how, and for what purposes.
2. We are a small grouping. Today, as is the norm, though not the unbreakable norm, the ruling ideas are the ideas of the ruling class. Our progress necessarily depends on convincing people of a set of ideas radically different from the conventional wisdom, and refuting that conventional wisdom. We have to educate; for that, we need selfeducation.
3. Currently we are not able to operate as a faction in a lively broader political labour movement in which many activists can and do learn a great deal of working-class socialist politics, and gravitate to Marxist groupings, "on the hoof", in the process of the debates and battles within the movement. We are not surrounded by a broad looselysocialist culture. There are some sections of the trade-union movement where we can intervene in an active political life shaped by a broad loosely-socialist culture, but they are limited. There are many young people interested in our ideas, but often they know no more of "socialism" than they do of "bimetallism" or the "single-taxers". To be effective, we have to train ourselves to be effective propagandists - communicators of many ideas to small numbers of people - able to draw people towards our ideas from the most diverse starting points. People will gravitate to us if we develop a strong gravitational pull - which we can do through the clarity, confidence, vigour, and tenacity with which we "evangelise" for our ideas, and no other way.
4. In so far as there is a "left" culture around us, it is predominantly a negativist, solely anti-capitalist and antiimperialist, culture, very weak on positive working-class socialist ideas. There must be many people who, looking at the left from a distance, identify it as the "supporters of political Islam", the "boycotters of Israel", or the "anti- Europeans". We have to combat and refute not only the dominant conventional wisdoms of the ruling class, but also the dominant conventional wisdoms of the loosely-defined left.
5. All these considerations point to political education being central for us.
6. Political education requires individual reading and study. But also more. If it is to serve revolutionary politics adequately, political education must be collective, too. It is not just that the participants in a school comes away knowing more than when they arrived, as they might by spending the same time with a book. They get to learn more by way of a collective AWL political discussion. We develop a shared understanding. We know that other AWL members have taken part in the same discussion and can take the same ideas out with confidence into the world around us.
If participants come to the event as people already fairly knowledgeable on the subject treated, they come to take an active part - leading small-group discussions, for example - in spreading that knowledge, and to learn by experience how to explain issues clearly and concisely to new people.
7. This approach should lead to an increase in shared understanding. It does not imply marginalising or outlawing dissent. Dissenters take part in collective political education, putting their individual views, and get heard with respect.
They have a chance to convince - or be convinced. If they fail, at least they will know the majority view better, and the majority will know the dissenting view better. In fact, if individual dissent is to play a valuable revolutionary role, as it can, it is vital that it be integrated into a process of collective discussion, rather than left at the flabby socialdemocratic level, where there is an official "line" - and then an incoherent scattering of individual "reservations", doubts, and dissents, which generates only practical sluggishness, not the sort of intellectual friction which sharpens ideas.
8. On this basis AWL conference 2005 decided to schedule regular political day schools, nationally organised though each school is run twice, once in London and once in the North. These events are not just for newer comrades, or younger comrades, or comrades relatively free of trade-union responsibilities - but for all comrades to attend - to learn, to teach, or both.
They are organised monthly, with exceptions for the summer and Christmas periods, and for the times around AWL conference and summer school.
We have organised four schools. The attendances have been as follows:
- Marxism and the trade unions, October 2005. London 26, Sheffield 26
- Globalisation and imperialism, November 2005. London 45, Leeds 17
- AWL and SWP, December 2005. London 22, Sheffield 28
- Israel and Palestine, February 2005. London 25, Leeds 19
The schedule for the rest of 2006 is:
AWL day school on Ireland 20 May Sheffield; 3 June London
AWL summer school 1-2 July London
AWL day school on the revolutionary party 30 September London; tba North
AWL day school on the Russian Revolution 21 October Sheffield; 28 October London
AWL day school on the history of the AWL 25 November London; tba North
10. The schools have been organised not as lecture sessions - though those have their proper time and place - but primarily round small "workshop" groups with a "facilitator" limiting himself or herself to a short introduction and short summings-up or comments. This increases active participation, and enables us to draw more comrades into a "teaching" role, by them leading the small groups. The schools have been prepared for by the circulation of (short) reading material and of discussion points for the small groups.
11. They have worked well - giving comrades access to much more basic theoretical discussion, and with a richer range of contributions, than they can normally get in their labour movement work or in the smaller framework of AWL branches. We should continue with them.
12. We have a larger periphery than in 2005, though still fragile and diffuse - student contacts, contacts through work in No Sweat, and, in patches, some contacts through trade union work. With the Blair-Brown government more and more unpopular, we can recruit new socialists - so long as we can gear our members to turning out, seeking and following up contacts, acting as effective advocates of Marxist ideas.
The essential fuel for such a turn is vitality of ideas. We should continue and develop the schedule of day schools in order to develop that vitality of ideas.
13. The EC is instructed to review the following ideas for improving the schools.
a) Drawing more comrades into planning the reading and discussion points.
b) Planning the make-up of the small "workshop" groups, and lining up more knowledgeable comrades in advance to lead them, rather than leaving the groups' make-up to moreor- less random distribution on the day.
c) Having the schools "chaired" so as to hold the "facilitator" to time limits.
d) Investigating and experimenting with other educational methods.