AWL week school, 31 August-4 September 2010

Submitted by AWL on 23 July, 2010 - 2:31

Workers’ Liberty will be running a five day long educational school in London, in the afternoons between Tuesday 31 August and Saturday 4 September (roughly 3-7.30 each day). The aim of the school is to help comrades educate themselves and encourage reading and discussion on a number of related political themes, as well as developing public speaking and arguing skills (the latter is part of each session, not just the first day).

The topics covered will be:

Day 1: Why the working class?
Day 2: Practical skills – public speaking and winning people to revolutionary activism
Day 3: Marxists and the Labour Party
Day 4: The revolutionary party
Day 5: Marxism and anarchism

Previous “week schools” of this sort have been extremely valuable, and we urge as many comrades as possible to participate, particularly young and new activists. (It’s possible to attend individual sessions, but we’d encourage people to attend the whole school if possible.) If you’d like to take part, or have any questions or suggestions, please get in touch: sacha@workersliberty.org.

Reading for the school is at the bottom of this article.

***

Day 1: WHY THE WORKING CLASS?/ HOW TO DO EDUCATIONALS

1. Brainstorm the main points from the reading.
2. Break into groups and brainstorm answers to the following points:
(i) Define the working class.
(ii) Dan has been active on the left for a while. He tells you that Marx was quite right in his day, but now the traditional working class is vanishing, most people don't consider their "class" identity as very important, and we should look instead to new social movements.
(iii) Nasser is a postal worker. He reads a lot, goes to evening classes, and plans to go to university. He tells you that there is no point looking to the working class as people to get involved in politics, because they're not educated. All they're interested in is sport and TV and tabloid gossip. Mostly they are racist and sexist. To find people to involve in politics, you need to look to educated people instead.
(iv) Bernie is a building contractor. He does manual work on the sites, but owns his own business and employs one or two people. He considers himself working-class. Lucy is a teacher. She considers herself not working-class but "a professional".
(v) Sally is a socialist, but she has a supervisory job. She is worried about whether managers or supervisors are really working-class. Where do you draw the line?
3. Practise drafting and delivering speeches, as if you are introducing a Workers' Liberty 'Introduction to Marxism' summer school session on "Why the working class?"
De-brief.
4. You are to do an educational with a new young activist on the article by Draper. Write down a list of four or five questions for discussion you can present to her or him to think about in advance. For each question, write down the main points you would hope to have come out in answering it. Remember, you want questions which bring out basic ideas. They must be neither obscure, nor so obvious that they call forth parrot answers. Anyone who has read the text at all should be able to give some answer to them; but there should be a good chance of any answer having enough doubt or incompleteness in it that it can lead into further discussion.

Day 2: PRACTICAL SKILLS

a) Public speaking
1. Brainstorm on dos and don'ts.
2. Practise drafting and delivering speeches on the following points:
(i) A lefty teacher has invited you to speak to a sixth form class on the case for socialism;
(ii) You're moving a motion in your union branch to condemn the Union Executive for failing to fight job and service cuts effectively.
De-brief.

b) Contact work - winning people to revolutionary activism
1. Ask comrades to recall their experiences as "contacts", and to draw out dos and don'ts from that.
2. Review some types of contact (including, but not necessarily limited to those below) and brainstorm on how to talk with them.
3. Then divide into pairs. In each pair, one "plays" a contact, and the other "plays" AWL. Then swap.
Types of contact:
(i) Young person who is broadly speaking left-wing but doesn't know what the word "socialist" means - comes up to you on a street sale or stall and asks: "What is this for? Is it a charity thing, or what?"
(ii) Young person who considers themselves left-wing but doesn't know much about it, and is shy. They have been sitting quietly at the back of a meeting and buy a paper when you go round to them after the meeting.
(iii) Young person who has come across the SWP or SP, quite likes what they have heard from SWP/SP about socialism, doesn't know anything about their more detailed politics, and is curious to know what all these different groups on the left are.
iv) Person who is close to us, works with us on many things, agrees with us on many things, but is very reluctant to join, or perhaps even make a sustained commitment, to a group.
De-brief.

Day 3: MARXISTS AND THE LABOUR PARTY

1. Divide into groups and, each taking a period of Labour Party history, list the main events/turning points/developments. Then report back.
The periods are: 1900-18; 1918-31; 1931-51; 1951-74; 1974-92; 1992-present
2. Brainstorm the arguments for and against socialist involvement in the Labour Party.
3. Break into groups and discuss three of the following arguments:
i) By joining the Labour Party we can only hide our politics, blunt our message and confuse people.
ii) The Labour Party is like a trade union in politics. It’s therefore pretty much always right to join, just as it’s pretty much always right to join a trade union.
iii) The Labour Party is no longer a “bourgeois workers’ party”. It’s more like the Democratic Party in the US.
iv) The Labour Party is still a bourgeois workers’ party, and nothing fundamental has changed.
v) Whatever the character of the Labour Party, the unions should disaffiliate and found a better party!
vi) At least in the past, revolutionaries in Britain didn’t need a separate party to win socialism. Transforming the Labour Party would have done the job.
vii) You can't stand/support candidates against Labour and work in the Labour Party.
viii) Discuss why the AWL adopted a position of critical support for Diane Abbott in the current Labour leadership election.
4. Practice drafting and delivering speeches on socialist involvement in the Labour Party. You can argue your real position or an adopted position.

Day 4: THE REVOLUTIONARY PARTY

1. "Zinoviev/ Trotsky"
Break into groups and discuss
i) Trotsky refers to revolutionaries active in the trade unions who said that they needed not to organise a political party but instead to work in the broad trade unions to imbue them with a revolutionary spirit. How did Trotsky answer that? Today, how would we answer similar arguments, or arguments like those of the Russian "Economists" who said that Lenin "floated in the sphere of theory while they, the 'Economists', proposed leading the concrete labour movement"?
ii) Zinoviev implicitly proposes a different answer. What is it? What do you think of it?
iii) The most common argument on the left today on "the need for a party", from the SWP for example, is an adaptation of Zinoviev's. It says the working class needs a disciplined, centralised party because it has to confront a bourgeoisie which has a disciplined, centralised state. What do you think of that argument? What connection or relation does it have with what's wrong with the SWP?
Come back together and discuss.
2. "Bordiga/ Gramsci"
Break into groups and discuss
i) In what ways are Bordiga's ideas on the revolutionary party similar to Zinoviev's, and in what way different?
ii) Bordiga argues for a party which rejects any common activity with other parties, and emphasises that the party must not chase after temporary popularity at the expense of its long-term aims. This seems like an "élitist" view. But then Bordiga argues against requiring a high level of "theoretical preparation" for party members, because this will "reduce" the party "to an elite, distinct and superior to the rest of the elements that compose the working class". By contrast, Lenin and Trotsky emphasise the importance of the vast amount of "theoretical preparation" in the early years of the Russian Marxist movement, and Gramsci argues that the party must make its worker members into "worker-intellectuals". Is there a paradox here? What, in general, is the answer to the argument that a revolutionary party is undesirable because it is "élitist"; it means a special group of people giving themselves the status of commanders of the working class?
iii). Is there a difference between arguing the need to build a revolutionary party, and proposing "build the revolutionary party" as the slogan which answers current political problems?
Come back together and discuss.
3. "Lenin/ Luxemburg"
Break into groups and discuss:
What is, or has been, "Luxemburgism" on the question of the revolutionary party?
Come back together and discuss.

Day 5: MARXISM AND ANARCHISM

1. Brainstorm session: main common threads in the various versions of anarchism; main Marxist arguments against anarchism; main commonalities between Marxism and anarchism (or some versions of anarchism).
2. Write:
(i) A critical review of Holloway's argument (as summarised);
(ii) A critical review of Bookchin's advocacy of anarchism.
Debrief.
3. Practise drafting and delivering a short speech on "Marxism and Anarchism" for an AWL meeting (of younger members who are unfamiliar with the subject, or older ones who have forgotten it).
Debrief.
If there's time:
4. Set up a practice debate on Marxism and anarchism. We will select two main speakers, one for Marxism and one for anarchism. The pro-anarchist speaker has free choice of which variant of anarchism they wish to speak for. The rest of us will divide into "audience", half anarchist, half Marxist.
We then run a debate: five-minute opening speeches, two-minute speeches from the floor, three-minute summings-up.
De-brief.

***

READING

Day 1: Why the working class?

Why the working class? By Hal Draper (US Marxist from 30s to 1990, Third Camp socialist)
archive.workersliberty.org/publications/eduprog/draper.htm
The return of the labour aristocracy, by Martin Thomas
www.workersliberty.org/node/4093

Day 2: Public speaking

Some notes
www.workersliberty.org/node/8711

Day 3: The Labour Party

Various reading from previous dayschool on the Labour Party
www.workersliberty.org/files/lp_290907_1.pdf

Day 4: The revolutionary party

General intro:
The class, the party and the leadership, by Trotsky
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1940/xx/party.htm
The party we need, by Max Shachtman (US Communist leader in 20s, Trotskyist leader in 30s, leader of US Third Camp Trotskyists in 40s and 50s, before moving right)
archive.workersliberty.org/wlmags/wl52/party.htm

Zinoviev/ Trotsky
Theses of the 2nd Congress of the Communist International on the Role of the Communist Party – Gregory Zinoviev
www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch03a.htm
Trotsky's speech at the 2nd Congress
www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/2nd-congress/ch02.htm
The Lessons of October, by Trotsky
http://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1924/lessons/index.htm
An Open Letter to Comrade Burnham, by Leon Trotsky (James Burnham was an intellectual and leader of the Third Camp Trotskyist minority in the US; he abandoned Marxism soon after the split; only one section is particularly relevant to the Economism question above)
www2.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/archive/trotsky/idom/dm/14-burnham.htm

Bordiga/ Gramsci
The Lyons Theses, by Amadeo Bordiga (leader of the Italian Communist Party in the 1920s, sectarian and often opposed to Gramsci)
www.marxists.org/archive/bordiga/works/1926/lyons-theses.htm
Left-wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, by Lenin (written in 1920 against anarchists and ultra-lefts in the Communist International)
http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/index.htm
From Gramsci Prison Notebooks:
Analysis of Situations: Relations of Forces
www2.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/archive/gramsci/editions/spn/modern_prince/ch10.htm
Some Theoretical and Practical Aspects of "Economism"
www2.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/archive/gramsci/editions/spn/modern_prince/ch07.htm
The Study of Philosophy
www2.cddc.vt.edu/marxists/archive/gramsci/editions/spn/study_philosophy/index.htm

Lenin/ Luxemburg
Luxemburg and the Fourth International, by Trotsky
www.marxists.org/rchive/trotsky/1935/06/lux.htm

Day 5: Marxism and anarchism

Anarchism and socialism, by Georgi Plekhanov (the founder of Russian Marxism)
www.marxists.org/archive/plekhanov/1895/anarch/index.htm
Lenin’s critique of Plekhanov
www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1917/staterev/ch06.htm#s1

A summary of John Holloway’s ‘Zapatista’ book Change the World Without Taking Power
http://www.republicart.net/disc/aeas/holloway01_en.htm
Comments on the book by Paul Hampton and Daniel Bensaid (Bensaid was a leader of the French LCR and then NPA, who died earlier this year)
www.workersliberty.org/node/2494

Anachism Past and Present, by Murray Bookchin (broadly anarchist writer and activist who passed through many strands of political thinking, died in 2006)
dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/bookchin/pastandpresent.html