31 January 2011

Proletarians and Communists

Basics, Part 3a

Proletarians and Communists

We only need one text for one discussion per week, but the Communist University always gives alternatives, which can also be used for supplementary reading. Yesterday we took the first part of the Communist Manifesto. Here is the second part, called Proletarians and Communists.

As with the first part of this highly-concentrated piece of writing, the simplest way to present it is with selected quotes. Here are some:

The Communists do not form a separate party opposed to the other working-class parties.

They have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole.

They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement.

The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only:

(1) In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality.
(2) In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.

The text then deals with property, and with marriage, in similar terms to “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and The State”, which was written 35 years later. One of the remarkable things about the “Manifesto” is that it summarises ideas which had not yet been published and knocked into shape by controversy, yet it did so very accurately, and the Manifesto still stands tall today. On ideas, and on the struggle of ideas, it says, among other things:

The ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.

When people speak of the ideas that revolutionize society, they do but express that fact that within the old society the elements of a new one have been created, and that the dissolution of the old ideas keeps even pace with the dissolution of the old conditions of existence.

The history of all past society has consisted in the development of class antagonisms, antagonisms that assumed different forms at different epochs.

But whatever form they may have taken, one fact is common to all past ages, viz., the exploitation of one part of society by the other. No wonder, then, that the social consciousness of past ages, despite all the multiplicity and variety it displays, moves within certain common forms, or general ideas, which cannot completely vanish except with the total disappearance of class antagonisms.

The communist revolution is the most radical rupture with traditional relations; no wonder that its development involved the most radical rupture with traditional ideas.

Finally, the Manifesto arrives, at the end of the second part, at the following tremendous vision of communism as the purest possible kind of human freedom:

Political power, properly so called, is merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another. If the proletariat… by means of a revolution, makes itself the ruling class, and, as such, sweeps away by force the old conditions of production, then it will, along with these conditions, have swept away the conditions for the existence of class antagonisms and of classes generally, and will thereby have abolished its own supremacy as a class.

In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

28 January 2011

Bourgeois and Proletarians

Basics, Part 3

Bourgeois and Proletarians

Bourgeois & Proletarians is the first of the three major parts of the Communist Manifesto, commissioned by the Communist League, written in London by Karl Marx, at the age of 29, with the help of his then 27-year-old friend Frederick Engels, and published in January, 1848.

Also included is the final page of the Manifesto, called “Position of the Communists in Relation to the Various Existing Opposition Parties.”

Marx and Engels were under pressure from the Communist League to get this job done quickly. The brief was as difficult as it could be: to produce a short, emphatic, unambiguous, motivational description of historic processes, and to announce a credible determination to change the world under the leadership of the most exploited class of people, the working class, also known as the proletariat.

Marx and Engels were convinced that the new masters, the capitalists, also known as burghers, or burgesses, or bourgeoisie, that had grown up in the towns under feudal rule, were sooner or later going to be overthrown by the proletariat that the bourgeoisie had brought into existence.

Marx fell behind the agreed deadline, but came through with a magnificent text just a few weeks before the February, 1848 events in Paris that brought the proletariat on to the stage of history to an extent that had not previously been seen in the world.

The timing was great, and the text turned out to be classic to the extent that every line of it is memorable, especially in this first part. It is so rich and so compressed as to be saturated with meaning, and practically impossible to summarise. Therefore let us simply quote some of the most extraordinary sentences, so as to encourage you to read the document, not once but many times:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Society as a whole is more and more splitting up into two great hostile camps, into two great classes directly facing each other - bourgeoisie and proletariat.

The executive of the modern state is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.

All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind.

The final words of the Manifesto are as follows:

In short, the Communists everywhere support every revolutionary movement against the existing social and political order of things.

In all these movements, they bring to the front, as the leading question in each, the property question, no matter what its degree of development at the time.

Finally, they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.

The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a communist revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

25 January 2011

Origin of Family, Property and State

Basics, Part 2b

Origin of Family, Property and State

The previous post introduced Chapter 32 of Karl Marx’s “Capital”, Volume 1. It is typically sweeping overview of history, placed at the end of Marx's long book as a summary, and the one before that was from “The Prince”, by Machiavelli.

Both Machiavelli and Marx, were familiar with the history of “the ancients”, and especially with the literature of the Greeks and the Romans. These ancients often wrote in similarly sweeping terms. They were humanists and generalists and not narrow-minded specialists. They were philosophers in the broad sense of the word: people who sought wisdom of all kinds, and the essence of wisdom itself.

With today's item, and once again to support the kind of historical view that Machiavelli brought back into modern historiography, and into literature, we have Chapter 9 of Frederick Engels’ “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” (download linked below).

We will return to “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” later in this Basics course when we are dealing more specifically with the State, and we will return to it again when we deal with the set called “No Woman, No Revolution”. This is because the rise of property, and the State that secured property, was also at one and the same time the cause of the fall of the women in human society.

Please ignore the first three paragraphs of today’s given chapter. These paragraphs only refer back to earlier chapters in the book. But from then onwards what you will find is a short history of human society from its beginning right up to modern times.

In the literature of Marx and Engels, as in the literature of the ancient Greeks and Romans, and as in Machiavelli, there is a constant sense of history on a grand scale, or what is sometimes called a “grand narrative” of human life - which is then projected into the future.

Engels was a pioneer in the field of prehistory (the study of the time during the development of human culture before the appearance of the written word), as he was in many other fields of learning. His ideas on prehistory, based also on work done by Henry Morgan and then by Karl Marx, have stood the test of time.

Marx had recently died when Engels wrote this book. Hence the book is also to some extent a tribute to Marx from Engels.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

24 January 2011

Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation

Basics, Part 2a

Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation

In support of “The Prince” we now go straight to the most famous work of the Communist canon: Karl Marx’s “Capital”.

The short Chapter 32 is the second last chapter in Volume 1 of “Capital”. It is a broad-brush summary of the first volume. Please use the first link below to download and read the document.

This chapter is only about 1000 words long, the same length as a newspaper “feature” article. It is one of several passages in the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin that compress world history into a single sweep, in this case from the time of slaves and serfs, through the stages of the development of capitalism, to the anticipated proletarian revolution.

Other such passages in the “classics” include Chapter 9 of “The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” by Frederick Engels”, which will be posted as the next item, and the first few pages of “The Communist Manifesto”, by Marx and Engels, which is the main text in the next part of this “Basics” course.

The “Basics” course is partly an attempt to answer the frequently-expressed desire for a “simple” explanation of the politics of the working class and of the intellectual partisans of the working class.

In attempting this task, texts have been chosen that exemplify the various original authors’ own attempts to respond to, and to satisfy, the manifest popular craving for a brief and easily-absorbed overall explanation of how politics works. This chapter from Marx is one of those.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

21 January 2011

The Prince

Basics, Part 2

The Prince

As befits a “Basic” series we now start to stretch our historical perspective with Machiavelli who like the communists of today cultivated “long experience in contemporary affairs and a continual study of antiquity”. Both Machiavelli and Marx were familiar with the politics of ancient Greece and Rome.

Machiavelli’s “Prince” was written about 500 years ago, in Florence, Italy, and published in 1512. According to Karl Marx the sixteenth century was when capitalism first arose on the earth, especially in the Netherlands and in England, but it was Italy that had the most developed political culture at that time.

Hence The Prince  appeared much earlier than the first writings on Political Economy such as those by Thomas HobbesWilliam Petty and Nicholas Barbon, which appeared between 1650 and 1700. Karl Marx was familiar with all of these, and with Machiavelli’s work, which has been foundational for politicians throughout the five centuries of its existence.

Machiavelli was needing employment when he wrote this user-friendly text for the 20-year-old Florentine prince Lorenzo di Piero De’ Medici (pictured), in the hope that the young man would give Machiavelli a job as a consultant, or something of the sort. No job resulted for Machiavelli but what he left us as a result of this attempt was a set of “short texts” of very frank and still-useful political education, not very different from a Communist University “Generic Course”.

The chapter in this selection of four that corresponds most closely to the politics of today is Chapter IX, “Concerning a Civil Principality”. All of them are very interesting and all contain advice that is still good after 500 years. Our discussion should be about this advice. If people have not read the material, one chapter could be selected and read out loud. The chapters are very short, but powerful.

Machiavelli had a good basic understanding of class politics, which is perhaps why his works were put on the Pope’s Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Index of Forbidden Books) not long after his death – thereby quickly guaranteeing their fame.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

18 January 2011

Use Your Head

Basics, Part 1b

Use Your Head

The third item in the first part of the ten-week Communist University “Basics” course is your VC’s own “conspectus” (overview) of Tony Buzan’s book, “Use Your Head” (download linked below).

One has tended in the past to be defensive about the inclusion of this book in a Communist course. The author Buzan does not propose, or proceed from, any overt political premises. If anything he appears at first sight to resemble a utilitarian bourgeois “management guru” or “motivational speaker”. What makes his work noticeably to stand out from the others of that kind is its great practical effectiveness, and not any obvious political aspect.

Yet, after all the years of forcing Buzan’s work to cohabit with Marxist texts, it becomes clearer to this VC why it fits in so well: It is dialectical! And it is intentional!

From a practical point of view, Buzan’s appeal is that he offers assistance with faster, more purposeful reading; with memorising; and with note-taking, particularly using his invention, the “mind-map” technique, of which an example is given above. These techniques are just what students need to help them get through their studies, and just what conventional education often failed to give them.

So students were obliged to learn, without having learned how to learn. Buzan filled this gap very well.

But what underlies Buzan’s approach? It is not that he was lucky to stumble upon three techniques, like a prospector discovering diamonds. No. What distinguishes the mind-map, in particular, from other forms of note-taking, characterised by lists and bullet-points, is that it begins and ends as a “unity and struggle of opposites”. It is a representation, in one glance, of the way in which any phenomenon is the product, or resultant, of many abstract dynamic forces, or vectors, pulling in different directions.

The mind-map is a very good illustration of exactly what is meant by “dialectics”.

The other main characteristic of Buzan’s approach is its “intentionality”, to borrow a term from Paulo Freire’s vocabulary. Towards the end of Chapter 1 of Freire’s “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, (download linked below) Freire quotes Alvaro Vieira Pinto saying that intentionality is “the fundamental property of consciousness”, remarking that this concept is “of great importance for the understanding of a problem-posing pedagogy”.

Buzan’s approach is full of intentionality. There is no question, for Buzan, of wandering about, learning for learning’s sake, in a random, eclectic way. Buzan says that you must be looking for a result.

Karl Marx, in the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach, said that while the philosophers have interpreted it, the point is to change the world.

Thus intentionality, as well as dialectics and dialogue, are common and basic themes in Freire, Buzan and Marx.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

17 January 2011

How to be a Good Communist

Basics, Part 1a

How to be a Good Communist

In today’s document (download linked below) Liu-Shaoqui discusses how members of a Communist Party should “cultivate and temper themselves” and “why communists must undertake self cultivation.”

Liu says “…the proletariat must conscientiously go through long periods of social revolutionary struggles and in such struggles change society and change itself.”

The linked document is the first chapter. The remainder of the book can be found on the Marxists Internet Archive.

This text is quite in demand. Let it speak for itself.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:


15 January 2011

Pedagogy According to Paulo Freire

Basics, Part 1

Pedagogy According to Paulo Freire

For the purpose of this set of studies called Basics, designed for study circles without a lecturer, it helps to have an overt theory of “pedagogy” - a simple theory of learning and teaching - as a starting point.

The great 20th-century theoretician of liberation pedagogy was Paolo Freire. It was Freire who gave us the word “conscientise”. It was Paulo Freire, more than any other, who showed how the bourgeois education system, with its “banking” theory of pedagogy (see today’s text, downloadable via the link at the bottom of this document), is not well designed to educate, in the fullest sense, but rather tends to reproduce the class relations that suit the bourgeoisie. Education, which should by nature liberate the student, is made by the bourgeoisie into a means of repression, said Freire.

How can we make sure that education is part of the building of socialism and communism? To ask such a question is to “problematise” education. To ask such a question is to begin a “dialogue” about education. Freire thought that for the political education of the oppressed, if it was not to be patronising and therefore counter-productive, by reproducing and reinforcing features of the oppressive bourgeois state, then the method for this purpose would have to be different and new.

In the dialogical method that Paulo Freire devised and called the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, or otherwise Critical Pedagogy, there is no elementary, junior, senior, matriculation, undergraduate, post-graduate, doctorate or professor level. Teachers are learners and learners are teachers; yet all are free-willing “subjects”, having “agency”, capable of leadership.

As much as there may be a room and a gathering of individuals, each known by name, and a “codification” which is the text or other object for the occasion, yet the dialogue admits no limits. The Freirean gathering is not sheltered. It is one of the essentials of Freirean Pedagogy that we refuse the fiction of the sheltered classroom, and instead recognise that the oppressor is around us and even within us, while we strive to liberate ourselves through our mutual pedagogical dialogue.

In Freirean practice, there is no such thing as a basic level, or an advanced level. All that we can do is to begin a process of “problematising”, beginning with education itself.

As a rule, we will use original authors, and not commentaries on their original texts. In that spirit, the first of the chosen building blocks is the second chapter of Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”, here supplemented with a glossary of “critical pedagogy” terms (the link to the download is below). This text provides an opportunity to reflect upon what you are trying to do by learning and teaching. You may ask each other: What is political education for?

For the late Freire (pictured above), and for the Freireans of today, all education is a political act and a social act; an act of liberation and of self-liberation.

The link given here is to the MS-Word download of the main text for this week. On this occasion, three supplementary (optional) reading texts will be given.

Please download and read this text via the following link:

Further reading:

12 January 2011

Introduction to “Basics”

Basics, Part 0

Introduction to “Basics”

CU-Africa will be running the ten-week Basics” course during the first quarter of 2011.

This course is designed to satisfy those who are impatient to acquire the fundamentals, while opening doors to, and encouraging, further studies.

The posts will be linked to a downloadable text, and will consist of an opening to a discussion of that text.

Please join in the dialogue around these posts.

Three courses running at any one time

CU-Africa has a corresponding blog at http://cuafrica.blogspot.com/, where the course posts can be read by any member of the public, and commented upon there.

Two sister forums are running simultaneous courses. You are welcome to partake, or recommend these courses to friends.

One is the SADTU Political Education Forum, with its blog at http://sadtu-pol-ed.blogspot.com/. The course running there during the first quarter of the year will be “No Woman, No Revolution”.

The other is Communist University, which has a blog at http://domza.blogspot.com/. The course running there during this quarter will be Development, Rural and Urban”.

Please share these links with friends and comrades.