AWL week school July 2007

Submitted by martin on 23 June, 2007 - 12:24

Sessions: 1. Skills
2. Why the working class?/ How to do educationals
3. Marxism and Economism
4. Marxism, Anarchism, and Zapatism
5. The National Question and Israel-Palestine in Particular
6. Debating and arguing

This 88-page pdf includes not all the reading, but enough of the core texts listed below to serve as reference during the school.
AWL members only: click here for venue and detailed timetable

SESSION 1: SKILLS

A) Public speaking.
Preliminary reading.

Brainstorm on dos and don'ts.

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 nominating Gordon Brown for Labour leader

De-brief.

B) Contact work. Ask comrades to recall their experiences as "contacts", and to draw out dos and don'ts from that.
Review some types of contact (see below) and brainstorm on how to talk with them.

Then divide into pairs. In each pair, one "plays" a contact, and the other "plays" AWL. Then swap.
Types of contact to "play":
(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.

Debrief.

SESSION 2: WHY THE WORKING CLASS?/ HOW TO DO EDUCATIONALS

Preliminary reading: "Why the working class?", by Hal Draper; "The return of the labour aristocracy".

Brainstorm the main points from the reading.

Brainstorm answers to the following points:
(a) Define the working class.
(b) 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.
(c) Geoff 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.
(d) 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".
(e) Maggie 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?

Practise drafting and delivering speeches, as if you are introducing a Workers' Liberty summer school session on "Why the working class?"

Debrief.

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.

SESSION 3: MARXISM AND ECONOMISM

Preliminary reading: Lenin, What Is To Be Done?. Shachtman, Trotsky's "prophecy" and Lenin's party; Jack Cleary, summary of What Is To Be Done?, part 1 and part 2.

Short introduction on historical background to What Is To Be Done?

Brainstorm on:
(a) Lenin complains that the Economists' model of a Marxist activist is that of a good trade-union secretary who would strive “as far as possible to lend the economic struggle itself a political character” and would be well able “to submit to the government concrete demands promising certain palpable results”. What's wrong with that model?
(b) Martynov wrote: "By propaganda we would understand the revolutionary explanation of the present social system, entire or in its partial manifestations, whether that be done in a form intelligible to individuals or to broad masses. By agitation, in the strict sense of the word, we would understand the call upon the masses to undertake definite, concrete actions...". What's wrong with those definitions?
(c) Dozens of writers claim that Lenin's views that "socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without, and not something that arose within it spontaneously" is a blueprint for self-decreed "socialist" bureaucrats to tyrannise over the working class. Shachtman argues the exact contrary, that "workers' democracy [is] not only inseparate from Lenin's ideas on socialist consciousness, but, without them, become[s] empty words, unattainable hopes, illusions..."
(d) "Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement". This thought from Lenin (originally in fact from Plekhanov) is, on the contrary, widely approved of. But why? Why should you have to theorise before making a revolution? Wasn't the Russian Revolution made on very simple slogans ("Bread, Land, Peace", etc.), not theoretical lectures?
(e) Lenin states both that “the working class gravitates spontaneously towards socialism" and that "a fierce struggle against spontaneity" is necessary. Is he just contradicting himself, or is there a consistent underlying thought?

Write 200 words on each of (a) to (e).

Debrief.

Practise drafting and delivering a short speech to explain the main points of What Is To Be Done? to an AWL meeting (of younger members who are unfamiliar with it, or older ones who have forgotten it).

Debrief.

SESSION 4: MARXISM, ANARCHISM, AND ZAPATISM

Preliminary reading: Plekhanov, Anarchism and Socialism. Lenin's criticism of that pamphlet. A summary of John Holloway's "Zapatista" book, "Change The World Without Seizing Power". Comments on the book by Paul Hampton and Daniel Bensaid. Murray Bookchin, "Anarchism Past and Present".

Brainstorm session: main common threads in the various versions of anarchism; main Marxist arguments against anarchism.

Write:
(i) A critical review of Holloway's argument (as summarised);
(ii) A critical review of Bookchin's advocacy of anarchism.

Debrief.

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.

SESSION 5: THE NATIONAL QUESTION AND ISRAEL-PALESTINE IN PARTICULAR

Preliminary reading: Trotsky on the national question. Socialists and the national question, part 1 and part 2 and part 3. Foot-Matgamna-Higgins debate on Israel-Palestine.

Brainstorm:

(a) What is a nation?
(b) Why are we for the right of nations to self-determination?
(c) What arguments are used against the right to self-determination of the Israeli Jews?

Write down what you think are the six most important dates in the development of the Israeli-Palestine conflict. (Use our pamphlet Two Nations Two States as reference material for this).

Practise drafting and delivering a short speech on the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict for an AWL meeting (of younger members who are unfamiliar with the subject, or older ones who have forgotten it).

Practise drafting and delivering a short speech on the case for a "Two States" policy for a union branch meeting (at which there are SWPers, or people on their wavelength on this question, present).

SESSION 6: DEBATING AND ARGUING

Each participant to choose one line of argument they have difficulty dealing with (SWP, anarchist, "absolute anti-Zionist", "all-parties-are-sectarian" trade-unionist, whatever). We organise into pairs so each person A is paired with someone B who is (relatively) more confident in dealing with the particular line of argument they have difficulty with. A poses questions and arguments to B. Then swap round: B poses questions and arguments to A.

Debrief.

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.

Debrief.

Run again with different people as main speakers.