22 June 2008

People's Education for People's Power

The Communist University meets tonight (Monday 23 June 2008) at 17h00, in the SACP Boardroom, 3rd Floor, COSATU House, 1 Leyds Street, Braamfontein.

We offer for discussion a compilation of SACP GS Dr Blade Nzimande’s Red Alert from the latest Umsebenzi Online (18 June 2008), and COSATU President Sdumo Dlamini’s speech given at the YCL Youth Day Rally on 21 June 2008.

Click on the link below to read the document.

The key phrase in Cde Nzimande’s text, “People's education for people's power”, is music to the ears of the Communist University.

So are the concluding paragraphs of Cde Dlamini’s address, as follows:

“We must go back to organize in our communities because it is through mobilization that people become actors in the stage of revolution. Without organization, despair, disillusionment and disgruntlement will creep in. This creates fertile ground, as we have seen recently with the xenophobic attacks, for reactionary forces to take advantage of the situation.

“The key message that I want to leave with you today comrades is that we must mobilize, organize and educate. Further, we need a Plan to take forward the transformation of our society.

“On behalf of COSATU I wish you success in all your work and pledge our unwavering support to the cause of organizing young people. Equally we expect from you to encourage your members to belong to COSATU unions in the workplace. We must rebuild the workers-student-and youth alliance of the 1980s. We must rebuild the all-round cadres of the movement of the 1980s.”

Comrades, Asikhulume!!

Click on this link:

16 June 2008, Education for People's Power, Blade Nzimande & Sdumo Dlamini (3177 words)

16 June 2008

Youth, Google Earth, GIS, Street Committees, Study Circles, and more

How are Street Committees to be organised? Street committees are public structures and do not belong to any party, but organising is still organising. The generic name “Street Committee” includes Block and Village Committees, and perhaps more varieties than that, as we shall see.

This Youth Day CU post, marking the Anniversary of the organised township youth uprisings that started in Soweto 32 years ago, is the beginning of an investigation into the technical means that can assist young people to conceptualise, and then to execute, a systematic approach to organising Street Committees. The work of organising the people must once again largely fall upon young shoulders.

To the title above this post we could add “Know Your Neighbourhood”, “Door To Door”, Red October Campaign, Imvuselelo Campaign, Voter Registration Campaign, 2009 Election Campaign, and all kinds of public things, not excluding business, that involve people as they are found, socially organised on the ground.

It helps to see this social organisation in various ways, including in the “plan” view, meaning the vertical view, as if from an eye in the sky. The first document linked below is a view of a part of Johannesburg where one of the Communist University’s participants lives. It is taken from the Johannesburg Metro’s free “GIS” map service which is at
http://eservices.joburg.org.za/joburg/eservices/#clkCntrl (or go to the “Joburg” site and click “e-Services”).

The GIS online image can be zoomed down to the level of individual stands and it shows street names and stand numbers, as well as political ward boundaries and many other things besides. This example has been scaled and sized for demonstration purposes. A bigger scale would show more detail.

The second linked document is made from images generated by Google Earth, a free service that you can get by first downloading free software from
http://earth.google.com/. It is much more spectacular than the GIS map. It shows buildings, trees, sports fields, the true extent of the roads, paved and unpaved, and many other interesting things. It shows the inequality of South African society. It is sharp from a height of 2 kilometres or more (try zooming the image in Word) but gets grainy when you magnify it too much. It does not show street names, stand numbers, and political boundaries.

With these two kinds of imaging, one can start to literally “plan” possible street committee territories. Immediately, different possibilities are visible. One can imagine centring a “street committee” on a café, community hall, crossroads or open space, to give just a few examples.

The third linked document is a simple Excel spreadsheet (which can be modified, and which is sortable by any category of data) for listing the details of the residents in a chosen area for a “street committee. (All these documents will be made downloadable from the linked web pages, or if you want,
by e-mail.)

If you have people’s cell numbers in a locality you can SMS them all at once when there is an event, or if a baby is born, or if somebody is in distress, or to invite them to “umrabulo”. Likewise with e-mail. Communication, education and organisation are inseparable. They make the fabric of the kind of popular socialisation that can break free of the imposed social framework that oppresses the people.

The last two items are Jacob Zuma’s remarks today about Joe Gqabi, which are relevant to the above, as you will see if you read it; and the current reading from Karl Marx, which we may discuss next Monday, unless there is a new Umsebenzi Online by that time. There being no available image of the great Joe Gqabi, the ANC logo must stand for him.

Click on these links:

Johannesburg Ward 81, River Park and LE Extension, Jhb Metro GIS map (1 page)

Johannesburg Ward 81, River Park and LE Extension, Google Earth image (1 page)

Draft Street Committee contact list form (Excel Spreadsheet)

Remarks at renaming of a region after Joe Gqabi, ANC President (1153 words)

Capital Volume 1, Chapter 10, The Working Day, parts 5 to 7, Karl Marx, 1867 (11734 words)

10 June 2008


From SAMWU's Stephen Faulkner:

By way of wishing the Communist University a happy fifth birthday, I would like to respond to the points that Comrade Dominic has raised in relation to political education, because I think they are important issues.

The notion that political education (or any form of education for that matter) can be ‘given’ like development aid to solve problems is an extremely helpful analogy. Using a little of Paulo Freire’s approach, let’s reflect upon what is happening around us to explore this further.

The emergency development aid that we are witnessing in relation to the recent violence in poor communities is mostly aimed at relieving a very desperate situation, but one that has been almost exclusively and expediently defined by aid agencies and disaster managers. This is especially visible in the accommodation that is being provided for internal refugees. The professional agencies make clear that the provision of safe shelter is the overwhelming need at this time. And surely they must know best? If we can also relocate refugees out of police stations and municipal buildings while we are at it, then fine say some.

So what has been their response? Tents. Tents by the hundred. The fact that it is Winter, that there are no mattresses to keep out the cold, or any form of heating allowed, and that the tents are erected in places that are windswept and exposed to the weather, and where basic services are mostly absent, and which will incidentally make a more permanent relocation/reintegration strategy more difficult not less to achieve, are considerations that seem not to have featured in the rush to make an immediate response. But be warned. If you challenge this particular ‘camp orthodoxy’ as I have, you will be accused of being impractical, or cynical, or worse, super critical of anything that good people are trying to do.

Meanwhile, last Sunday, I simply asked five refugees what might be an alternative, and in ten minutes they suggested that the thousands of square metres of perfectly solid building space that is not in use in most urban areas could be made available, and at comparable costs could be utilized to safely house refugees like themselves. Over a short time, electricity, clean water, safe forms of heating, services and security could have been developed. After all this is what is being (slowly) made available at the camping sites. But with the added advantage of being close to transport hubs, schools and community life that are essential prerequisites to any form of integration. Ahhh but this is impractical, and unrealistic I hear the professionals say. Well, comrades, that’s what they say about socialism!

It’s a similar pattern in politics. When there is a crisis, the leadership calls for more political education, (like some form of emergency development aid!) as if the problem is that the masses are not sophisticated enough, are not ‘political’ enough to understand what the leadership is trying to achieve on their behalf. I am reminded of the brilliant poem by Bertolt Brecht where the leadership decide to re-elect the masses because they have failed and disappointed the leadership!

Of all strands of education, political education in particular, (supposedly an education to help make sense of power relations in society in order to challenge them), must empower the learners! When I hear leaderships call for more political education, (like the disaster managers and aid agencies mentioned above), they are trying to solve a complex series of problems through short cuts. It is as if they want to put up a tent that the membership must pass through, and at the other end they emerge enlightened, politically conscious, and ready to appreciate what the leadership is trying to do on their behalf! The membership once politically educated, will no longer be displaced! Ahhh, if it was only that simple.

A few years ago, I asked a veteran left politician in London what he thought members of a progressive political party needed to know in terms of political education, and he said first and foremost, they must know how to hold their own leaders to account, and secondly, how to replace them if need be! In other words, how to take control of their own struggles, their own organizations. How to build membership power, how to build active (as opposed to passive) relationships between memberships and leaderships. And that is why Dominic’s reference to Freire is so helpful. Political education is not simply about appreciating what the leadership are trying to do! It is not even about understanding the main ideas of Comrades Marx, Lenin, Luxembourg etc. Important though they are. Being able to quote Comrade Fidel at a branch meeting should not be central aim of political education however impressive!

So what is political education? Well, it certainly seems easier to define what it is not than what it is, but here goes….I would argue that it must be a dialectical process. Firstly it must be about creating the space for learners to critically engage with the challenges that they face, on every level, and as they themselves define them, including the type and character of the revolutionary organization needed to take the struggle forward. Secondly, it must be about accessing, engaging with, and drawing upon the lessons of all those revolutionaries who have gone before, and who are struggling now, alongside us, even in other countries. And at its core must be opportunities to talk/listen/connect/discuss with one another. Thirdly, to arrive at a place where learnings can be applied in practice, and learners feel sufficiently empowered to act together for change. And finally, to reflect on what has been done in order to inform further deliberations, in other words to use the collective experience as an on-going educational resource. Of course a process like this will be flexible, unpredictable even, and cannot be applied rigidly without being itself subject to change.

This is a process that is very different to a top down approach, and helping to facilitate such a space is amongst the greatest challenges for all those who subscribe to democratic popular education ethos. It seems to me that a leadership that could embrace such an approach would be signaling its maturity, and willingness to be held accountable.

Political education must be a liberating learning experience, and not simply be a conveyor belt for conformity, or complacency or for calming the frustrations of the leadership! Effective political education will produce uncomfortable questions and demands and require an engaged leadership. That’s how movements are built!

What do other comrades think?

With these few thoughts, I would like to congratulate the Communist University for emerging as one of the vital spaces where political education can begin to take place.

Comradely Greetings,

Stephen Faulkner
SAMWU Education Officer

You can comment on this article below, or debate it on the
YCLSA Discussion Forum

9 June 2008

Organise by streets, blocks and villages!

The Communist University meets this evening (Monday) at 17h00 in the SACP boardroom, 3rd floor, COSATU House, 1 Leyds Street, Braamfontein. Instead of the second part of Chapter 10, of Karl Marx's Capital, "The Working Day", we will offer the latest Umsebenzi Online, with SACP GS Dr Blade Nzimande’s Red Alert on the subject of street committees, which is linked below. This Red Alert was also reproduced in The ANC's weekly online newsletter, ANC Today.

Comrades, the Communist University is five years old; it started in June, 2003. Have we made a difference? Who knows? Revolutionaries seldom, if ever, have the pleasure of knowing the measure of their success. The fruits of their labours are spread wide, and not hoarded up in closed places where they can be counted, as if by a miser like Scrooge McDuck (pictured).

Revolutionaries must also not take themselves, as individuals, too seriously.

One thing seems very clear: The message of Paulo Freire is not well received in high places. Although “political education” is all the rage at the moment throughout the Alliance, what exactly is meant by the phrase is not spelled out. “Political education” is recited like a mantra (a prayer).

When the time comes for practical application, the would-be political educators all too often reach for what they know, and what they know is unfortunately no better, most times, than what Freire called “the banking theory of education”.

So, one by one, the different parts of the alliance are approaching the Communist University and asking for help to compile school-books. Deposits of prescribed “nollidge” is what they are seeking, such as can be “delivered” to the masses like development aid, so as to produce a predictable “outcome”.

Education is not charitable food-aid, comrades. Education is a revolutionary action of the learners, who are at the same time teachers. Nobody must be willingly permitted to be a Scrooge McDuck of education. A miser’s idea of education is not education at all.

In the Communist University’s humble view, there is as yet one crucial ingredient that is absent from the preconception of street committees. We cannot see where their dynamism will come from, unless they are first-and-foremost organised for learning, in the Freirean fashion. Who will champion this view? No-one will, unless the comrades at street level do it, themselves, and not because they are told, but because there is not other way.

Once, long ago, there was a popular movement for parks and gardens at street level in this country. It was a matter of respect and self-respect. It was powerful in its way: ideologically powerful.

This time round we must cultivate the human garden: The garden of the popular soul. Do communists have soul? You bet they do!

Another time, long ago, there was a famous film of a joint concert of African-American and African Music, in Ghana. It was called “Soul to Soul”. Now, we need a new “Soul to Soul” thing, between South Africans and other Africans, right here and now. All the ingredients are available. Nobody needs to go far.

Comrades, the Communist University apologises for the reduced service level (but we are not a bank!). There has been a lot of very strong material, especially about the people displaced by the May pogroms, and more material continues to come through. Follow it on the YCL Discussion Forum, or come to our class this evening, or both.

Click on this link:

Umsebenzi Online, Volume 7, No. 9, 4 June 2008 (2285 words)

2 June 2008

Afrophobia, Out, Out, Out!

The Communist University meets this afternoon (Monday, 2 June 2008) at 17h00, in the SACP boardroom, 3rd floor, COSATU House, 1 Leyds Street, Braamfontein. We are scheduled to discuss parts 1 to 4 of Chapter 10 of Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, called The Working Day. This text has already been distributed, because last week we suspended the programme so as to discuss the latest Umsebenzi Online.

The first item linked below is the declaration of the SACP Central Committee meeting that took place over the weekend. Among other important things, it says: “While there is not yet support from our allies in this regard, the SACP continues to believe that the President of the country should be recalled… our country and our region cannot afford to persist with the current blend of directionless absenteeism, and meddling factionalism and general irresoluteness. All of this has poisoned the security and intelligence forces of our country, the functioning of our public broadcaster, and much more.” This SACP announcement concerning the president, Thabo Mbeki, has already made headlines in at least one London newspaper, as well as South African media outlets of all kinds.

Among the growing body of South African opinion that the SACP refers to as favouring Cde Mbeki’s recall is the Business Day newspaper, which carried a serious but also highly humorous piece by Aubrey Matshiqi (pictured) on Friday, that got noticed everywhere.

Humour is something we all need. It’s hard to see a funny side to the next item, though. This is the situation is Soetwater, near Cape Town, and a very sad situation. The people behind
eMzantsi Ubuntu Coalition seem to be doing a lot of good things and reporting other good work of material aid, but it needs more than this to reverse the consequences of the unforgivable Afrophobia of the last three weeks.

On the political side, COSATU has made a full-colour three-language pamphlet in PDF format. Click on the link below and download it. The Onica Mashego Branch (Johannesburg Ward 81) of the ANC has made a draft flyer, also in three languages. Click to read it and to download it in MS-Word format.

The sixth item is last week’s COSATU Central Executive Committee statement, essential reading for communists. Not only does it have a great deal to say about the recent Afrophobic pogroms, but also about the coming national elections and the very much enhanced position of the working class in the Alliance and the consequently even more crucial part that the organised working class can and must play in ensuring a massive ANC victory.

Lastly, the abolition of a monarchy is generally cause for jubilation, and the case of Nepal this week was no exception. See the last item. Long live the Nepali communists, long live!

Click on these links:

SACP Central Committee, 30-31 May 2008, declaration (1020 words)

SA must carry on without Mbeki, Aubrey Matshiqi, Business Day (689 words)

eMzantsi Ubuntu Coalition, Soetwater latest (465 words)

COSATU appeals to workers - say NO to Xenophibia, pamphlet (942 KB PDF download)

Masihlanganeni – Ha re kopaneng, draft ANC Onica Mashego branch flyer (2-sided flyer)

COSATU Central Executive Committee statement (3788 words)

Nepal abolishes monarchy (637 words)

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