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

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1 comment:

  1. Forwarded (received by e-mail:

    In response to the discussion of Cde Stephen I mostly agree with his interpretation of Political Education. We are living in the world of developments and the way we do things today differ with the way things were done then. Cde Stephen lets make sure that we close gap of political illiteracy not only within the members of revolutionary movements but also to the members of the public. I want us to start on issue of having comrades those who are selective in the struggle. Workers are members of community but their participation in revolution within their community is minimum. Maybe we should agree in principle that every cadre whom participate in workers revolution should extend their participation to their community. For this we will stop this tendency of having Mayors who does not want to accept memorandum form workers because we will have influence within the branches of ANC which is our home all of us. For this I will like to say before having political education and characterizing a method, we should be part of South African working class and the poor.

    About the method of political education, my view is simple; we need to implement “know your neibourhood” campaign in real form. We are not going to ignore our people for about four years and begin to recognize them only when we approaching elections. Cde Stephen the political education will be success if we understand the need and aspiration of our community. Our struggle will have modern character and pursue interests of working class and the poor. Branches of ANC, SACP and COSATU for that matter they will be in charge with developments those are happening within the communities and being aware the problems community is facing on daily basis. I think we should add your suggestions on political education method.

    Comradely greetings

    Magoro Segoahla


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