27 June 2011

Value, Price and Profit

Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 1b

Value, Price and Profit

This is a course on Marx’s “Capital”, Volume 1 (to be followed immediately by a course on Volumes 2 & 3). In the next part we begin the book itself, with Chapter 1 of Volume 1.

“Wage Labour and Capital” gave us notice of the “problematic” faced by Karl Marx in 1847. By 1863 Marx had a sketch plan that was beginning to resemble the shape of the full work that was published four years later in 1867. By 1865 when he did “Value, Price and Profit” (see the download linked below), Marx had no doubt solved most of the theoretical as well as the literary problems of the work.

This short work has served various purposes. It debunks the argument, still used by employers today, that wage rises will cause unemployment. Hence “Value, Price and Profit” has been a mainstay for generations of shop stewards and union negotiators.

Secondly, and prefiguring Lenin’s argument against “Economism” four decades later in “What is to be Done?”, it states clearly that trade unionism, without political organisation, will never succeed in throwing off the yoke of capital (see the excerpt from Chapter 14 on the last page of our download).

This abridged version of “Value, Price and Profit” can to some extent serve as a “mini-Capital” or in other words as the short version of “Capital” that many people crave. It will at least help us to get a better grip on some of the key concepts such as Labour, Value, Labour-Power, Surplus-Value and Profit.

The two quoted paragraphs that follow are particularly instructive. Hobbes’ 1651 book “Leviathan” was a tremendous groundbreaker; Karl Marx noticed that Hobbes had “instinctively hit upon this point overlooked by all his successors”, namely the distinction between Labour-Power and Labour, which Marx had worked so hard and so long to see clearly (see the remarks about the hunt for surplus value in our earlier post on Wage Labour and Capital)

What the working man sells is not directly his labour, but his labouring power, the temporary disposal of which he makes over to the capitalist. This is so much the case that I do not know whether by the English Laws, but certainly by some Continental Laws, the maximum time is fixed for which a man is allowed to sell his labouring power. If allowed to do so for any indefinite period whatever, slavery would be immediately restored. Such a sale, if it comprised his lifetime, for example, would make him at once the lifelong slave of his employer.

‘One of the oldest economists and most original philosophers of England — Thomas Hobbes — has already, in his “Leviathan”, instinctively hit upon this point overlooked by all his successors. He says: "the value or worth of a man is, as in all other things, his price: that is so much as would be given for the use of his power." Proceeding from this basis, we shall be able to determine the value of labour as that of all other commodities.’

“Value, Price and Profit” includes a counter-intuitive surprise in Marx’s statement that: “Profit is made by Selling a Commodity at its Value” (top of page 8 in our download version). Capitalism would still exist, even if it could shed its nasty price-gouging habits. Because capitalism is not a simple swindle, but is a system and a class relationship.

Capitalism would also still exist if Labour Power was always paid for at its full value.

The source of the “self-increase of capital” is located in the workplace, and not in the marketplace.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

25 June 2011

Bourgeois, Proletarians and Communists

Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 1a

 Various editions of the Communist Manifesto

Bourgeois, Proletarians and Communists

The Communist Manifesto was written in London by Dr Karl Marx when he was 29, with the help of his 27-year-old friend Frederick Engels, and it was published in January or February of 1848. It has been a “best-seller” ever since, is constantly republished, and is always in print.

Bourgeois and Proletarians

Marx and Engels were convinced that the new masters, the formerly slave-owning but now capitalist bourgeoisie, also known as burghers, or burgesses, that had originally grown up in the towns under feudal rule, and had then in some places taken over from the feudal lords by revolution, were themselves sooner or later going to be overthrown by the working proletariat (i.e. free citizens owning nothing but their Labour-Power) that the bourgeoisie had brought into existence.

Commissioned to write the Manifesto by the Communist League, Marx and Engels fell behind the agreed deadline, but came through with a magnificent text published just prior to the February, 1848 events in Paris - events which brought the proletariat as actors on to the stage of history to an extent that had never been seen before, thoroughly vindicating Engels and Marx.

The timing was great. The text turned out to be a classic to such an extent that every line of it is memorable, especially in the first two parts (“Bourgeois and Proletarians”, and “Proletarians and Communists”) given in the downloadable file, linked below.

Short as it is, the Manifesto is so rich and so compressed as to be saturated with meaning and practically impossible to summarise. Here are some of the most extraordinary sentences of the first section of the Manifesto:

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 need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connections everywhere.

Proletarians and Communists

The second part of the Communist Manifesto contains statements about the Communist Party, about the family, about religion, and frank statements about the bourgeoisie.

It is included here with this set of readings of Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, particularly because it shows, within the broadest possible context, the centrality of the relations of production that create and sustain the effect known as capital, which then in turn defines everything else in bourgeois society.

It also looks forward to the way that society can be changed yet again, and thus serves to remind us that Marx’s work is always intentional, and is never merely empirical, descriptive or disinterested.

“The average price of wage labour is the minimum wage, i.e., that quantum of the means of subsistence which is absolutely requisite to keep the labourer in bare existence as a labourer,” wrote Marx and Engels, already making a great step forward from Marx’s “Wage Labour and Capital” that had been published in the previous year, 1847.  

“But does wage labour create any property for the labourer? Not a bit. It creates capital, i.e., that kind of property which exploits wage labour, and which cannot increase except upon conditions of begetting a new supply of wage labour for fresh exploitation.”

“…a vast association of the whole nation… 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:

24 June 2011

Wage Labour and Capital

Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 1

Wage Labour and Capital

“Wage Labour and Capital” and the hunt for Surplus Value

Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 is a great work of literature and it contains many things. But more than any other thing it is about Surplus Value. This week’s main work, “Wage Labour and Capital”, and especially Engels’ remarks about it, demonstrate that in 1847 Karl Marx was not able to explain Surplus Value in terms of commodity Labour Power as distinct from Labour itself.

“Wage Labour and Capital” was given as a lecture to the German Workingmen's Club of Brussels (Belgium) in 1847. Karl Marx had clearly not yet begun, at that stage, to make a clear distinction between the act of Labour and its prior potential, called Labour-Power. The latter is the commodity that the worker sells each day to the capitalist in exchange for the privilege of staying alive.

The capitalist makes the worker work and takes all the product of the worker’s Labour, giving back only just enough for the worker to survive as commodity Labour Power, and so to be up for sale again on the next working day.

This is the reason for Frederick Engels’ apologetic 5-page 1891 Introduction to the present (download linked below) edition of “Wage Labour and Capital”. This is the reason why Karl Marx had to press on for another 20 years until Capital Volume 1 was published in 1867 (and beyond). Only in 1867 was the true theory of Surplus Value fully published and in the public realm.

Hence the main thing to read here, for the purposes of our series, is Engels’ Introduction. The Introduction is the reason for including this text in the series. It provides our starting point and it defines the theme which will serve us throughout all the remaining parts of the series on Capital, Volume 1.

If you do go on from the Introduction to read the full text of “Wage Labour and Capital”, then please remember that this is not Marx’s original version. It is the one doctored by Engels, as he confesses in his Introduction.

The distinction between Labour and Labour-Power is the necessary basis upon which an understanding of Surplus Value can be built, and Surplus Value is the key to the whole project that Marx worked on for about forty years from at latest 1844 until his death in 1883.

Said Engels: “Classical political economy had run itself into a blind alley. The man who discovered the way out of this blind alley was Karl Marx.”

In hindsight, this is true, but in 1847 it was not yet fully true. Engels’ Introduction to “Wage Labour and Capital” reveals Karl Marx’s quest. From this point on in this series, side-by-side with Marx, we are going in search of the mysterious beast called “Surplus Value” and all of its implications.

To sum up: Labour-Power is what you bring to your employer’s front gate in the morning. The employer normally pays you for it, in full (as Marx points out in “Value, Price and Profit”). After that, the entire product of any Labour you may do during the working day belongs to the employer.

“The secret of the self-expansion of capital resolves itself into having the disposal of a definite quantity of other people's unpaid labour” wrote Marx, later, in Capital, Volume 1 (Chapter 18).

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

22 June 2011

Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 - A Quest for a Secret

Marx’s Capital Volume 1, Part 0

First Edition, 1867

Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1

Introduction: A Quest for a Secret

Capital, Volume 1

Karl Marx’s “Capital, Volume 1”, published in 1867, is the most outstanding product of a long project that Marx begun in the 1840s, when he was still a young man in his twenties.

Volume 2, edited by Marx’s lifelong comrade and intellectual collaborator Frederick Engels, was published two years after Marx’s death, in 1885. Volume 3 was published in 1894, one year before Engels’ death.

The entire project is a quest for a full explanation of what Marx called, at the end of Chapter 18 of Volume 1: The secret of the self-expansion of capital.”

This secret is what Marx called Surplus-Value, gained by purchasing the commodity Labour-Power at its full value, and then putting it to work and expropriating the entire product of the actual Labour expended. This constantly-repeated process sustains the otherwise unstable thing called Capital, rather as a table-tennis ball may be kept in the air by a fountain of water or of air.

In studying this book, it helps to be able to follow the development of Marx’s quest for “the secret of the self-expansion of capital” consciously.

Karl Marx’s thought did not spring forth fully-elaborated in one moment. Especially in the early years, Marx had to work very hard, and his quest was still work-in-progress when he died. All this is apparent from works produced prior to 1867, as much as from Volume 1 itself, and from the papers he left for Engels to put together for publication, up to the very last page the last chapter of Volume 3, which ends: “[Here the manuscript breaks off.]”.

Reading it as a quest, which it was, makes it more understandable.

The size of Capital, Volume 1

One challenge presented by Volume 1 is its uneven shape and large size. The Communist University’s method, strongly influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, relies on certain simple principles and practices. We discuss original texts. We use extracts from books to create “Short Texts” that can be used as Freirean “codifications”. The point is not to learn the work, but to have a discussion.

In the case of “Capital”, this principle of discussion is no less crucial; but the huge size of the project made the search for “Short Texts” difficult. Please note that the source of all our texts for this series on Capital Volume 1 has been Marxists Internet Archive. You can consult that text to fill in any omissions you may find in the material presented. But these are quite few, as it turns out.

The shape of Capital, Volume 1
Capital, Volume 1 contains 33 chapters. Most of them are short, but there are five long ones, starting with Chapter 1 (Commodities).  Chapter 3 (Money) is also long, as is Chapter 10 (The Working Day), Chapter 15 (Machinery and Modern Industry), and Chapter 25 (General Law of Capital Accumulation).

The structure of the book is deliberate, not accidental. Commodity is the right point of departure, and together with the subsequent two chapters on Exchange, and Money, it sets the scene for Chapters 4 and 5 which give the outline “General Formula for Capital”.

The remaining 28 chapters are, broadly, a carefully-paced rolling out of the idea of Surplus-Value, with all its implications, in short, easy, and sometimes repetitive steps. Exceptions are Chapters 10, 15 and 25, which are “books within the book”. Yet these inner books are also part of the quest for “the secret of the self-expansion of capital”.

Consequent design of the CU series on “Karl Marx’s Capital, Volume 1”

The above considerations led to the following decisions (which will be explained further in the introductions to the individual texts):

  • The series begins with Marx’s 1848 study-circle text called “Wage Labour and Capital”, and specifically with Engels’ 1891 Introduction to the first publication of that text, because it explains why Karl Marx worked for so many years on the question of Surplus-Value, a question that had not been fully answered in 1848, by anyone.
  • There are also two other texts showing the development of Marx’s work in the two decades prior to 1867. These help to get an overview of the main work, and should assist the reader/student to get a grasp of Karl Marx’s overall intention. One of these consists of parts from the 1848 “Communist Manifesto”. The other is extracts from Marx’s 1865 talk to workers called “Value, Price and Profit”.

The above three instalments constitute the first part of our ten-part course.

Capital Volume 1 itself is reduced, where necessary, in the following ways:

  • Some text is left out (i.e. “redacted”). This has been done with the third section of Chapter 1, with six of the ten sections in Chapter 15, and with part of Chapter 25.
  • Footnotes are sometimes left out. This is regrettable! The footnotes to “Capital” are a treasury of great worth. For this reason, wherever there is spare space in terms of working to multiples of four pages for printing purposes, footnotes have been retained.

Capital Volume 1 is then re-divided in the following ways:

  • Short Chapters are combined together.
  • Long Chapters are divided.
  • In one situation (Chapters 2 and 3) a chapter is divided and part of it is added to the previous chapter

The above results in a division of Capital Volume 1 into 20 parts, which are than divided in an appropriate way among the remaining 9 parts (weeks), with one main text in each part and the others given as alternative or additional reading.

So that we end up with a ten-week course – our standard CU course length.

After completing Volume 1, we will follow on with a ten-week combined treatment of Capital, Volumes 2 and 3.

In this SADTU Political Education Edition, we will complete all three volumes before the end of 2011.

By completing this collective, co-operative reading of Marx’s Capital, you will join a rather small group of people in this world who have actually read it. You will know by then that it is an enjoyable work and not at all the terrifying thing that may at first appear to be.

Please contribute your comments and reactions comrades. It will make the learning go better.

Previous editions of the courses on “Capital” can be found here.

20 June 2011

Power to the People!

Philosophy and Religion, Part 10b

Power to the People!

The late South African revolutionary Ron Press provides a very good stepping-off point from our course because he shows clearly where the open end of this study is located. In the next proletarian revolution we must have what the Bolsheviks did not have, which is a clear philosophical theory of how society is going to work without a state. We are still looking for such a theory.

In “New Tools for Marxists” (download linked below), Ron Press wrote:

‘“…the standard Marxist idea that society passes in a linear manner from primitive communism via class struggle to the ultimate victory when the working class replaces capitalism with a classless society is an unattainable myth. Especially when a classless society was taken to mean the establishment of order and stability, in fact stasis. The theories [outlined above] indicate that stasis means the inevitable sudden crossover into chaos and collapse.

‘Lenin in “State and Revolution” continued the work of Engels and Marx in outlining the parameters which form the basis for the definition of systems indicated by points (a) and (b). It is interesting that they did not define the form or structure which socialism will have. Lenin recognised these new structures when they emerged. He initiated the slogan “all power to the soviets”.’

Ron Press is saying that the theory of the State, and of the “withering away” of the State, in Marx, Engels and Lenin is not wrong, yet these three revolutionaries did not have the full theoretical means to appreciate in full how “stateless” systems can, and already do, work in nature and in human society.

A “stateless” self-balancing system

The revolutionaries of today have an advantage over those of a century ago. That being the case, we might imagine a “State and Revolution” for today, that would include not only the material that Lenin would have included in 1917 if he had had the time, but also material that Lenin would have included in the intervening period up to the present time, if he had had the knowledge of it.

Ron Press’s article gives a good start for that work. Please download it and read it. The diagrams above, relating to the “Strange Attractor” of Chaos Theory, and to the stability-anarchy self-correcting system, are from the article.

The matter sits like this: In the past, “stateless” ungoverned systems could be postulated but not described or fully imagined. The “withering away of the state” remained a somewhat mystical and to its opponents, ridiculous concept. But now, because of the theoretical advances that Ron Press shows us, it can be seen that most systems (both human and natural) operate in fact without a “state” (or king, for that matter) and that the “state” is the exception, not the rule. Further, the imposition of a “state”, far from being the guarantee of order, is, according to chaos theory, the certain harbinger, not of stasis, but of disorder.

This is an unexpected vindication of Marxism, but a highly useful one. It means that future revolutionaries will have the possibility to see much further forward than was the case in Lenin’s time.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

19 June 2011

Cuba, Khrushchev and the 20th CPSU Congress

Philosophy and Religion, Part 10a

Fidel Castro with Nikita Kruschev

Cuba, Kruschev and the 20th CPSU Congress

This Communist University has constantly upheld the central idea within Marx’s “Capital” and within Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. That idea is the full restoration of the human Subject as an individual, within human society, making humanity out of a material world.

This dialectic of the individual and the collective was most succinctly expressed by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in the following famous words, which we have quoted more than once before, from the Communist Manifesto of 1848:

“… the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”

The Communist University has also upheld the SACP’s constitutional stricture to “Educate, Organise and Mobilise”. We do so in the conviction that our mission is not to Influence, or to Guide. Such words are used when education is abandoned by those who have no faith in it. “Influence” and “Guide” are only stalking-horses for “Command” and “Control” when the latter two tyrants are too ashamed to raise their heads.

In its Freirean educational practice, the Communist University has never sought to preach. It has opened doors to dialogue and never closed them. The Communist University codifies, but it does not prescribe.

When education succeeds, and the working class is restored to its full humanity as a Subject of History, then why would any of these insecure and furtive options (Influence, Guiding, Command and Control) be required? None of them will be required.

Hence we say as Communist University: Education is the means by which organising and mobilising are done. Education is more than a preparation for politics. Education is the method of politics and the very substance of politics, which, when considered broadly, excludes all other substances. Education is the essence of humanism.

This message is simple, and the Freirean method of carrying it out is clear. For now, the best illustration of the idea of education as the substance of political practice is Cuba, a country that has become one big university - a “society of knowledge”. Please see the article (download linked below) by Cliff DuRand for an exposition of this concept, including the “Universalization of the University”.

In addition, and to make the same point in a different way, we give a (downloadable below) example and a warning of the manner in which a previous revolutionary upsurge faced the problem of the revolutionary Historical Subject, and failed to solve it, with disastrous consequences.

The All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Short Course (a.k.a. simply “Short Course” was an attempt to create, from the history of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union up to 1937, a totalised theory, free of error, for the Soviet Union itself and for the world communist movement as a whole. We came across it while studying Christopher Caudwell through Helena Sheehan, and finding material on J D Bernal and J B S Haldane on Sheehan’s web site. This material mentions the Short Course and the failure of the latter two otherwise outstandingly independent-minded communist scientists to oppose it.

The physical torture and elimination of comrades in the Soviet Union were shrouded in secrecy and obscurity, and even the “show trials” that took place were to the Western communist observers problematic because of the confessions of the accused. Yet the CPSU of the day did have to “lay out its stall” in public, as all political organisations are forced to do. The CPSU did so in the form of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Short Course, and this document gave their game away completely, to anyone with eyes to see. Yet leading Western communists preferred not to see what was in front of their eyes.

The Marxists Internet Archive in 2008 put up the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks), Short Course in full for all to read. In addition it has Khrushchev’s 1956 speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU, denouncing both Stalin and the Short Course. An extract from that speech pertaining to the Short Course is linked below.

With the Short Course, the core reversal or perversion of the CPSU in the Stalin period is laid bare. For a quick grasp of this inversion of communism see the work’s Conclusion. Interrogate it with the Fundamental Question of Philosophy, with which we began this 10-part course: How stands the relation between Subject and Object? In the Short Course, the Subject of History is not educated, but is “guided”. Herein lies the whole disaster.

It was a practical certainty that the leadership of our South African Revolution would again at some point make the same error of attempting to demolish the popular Subject. Under President Mbeki, that is what happened. It is bound to be the case that another such revolutionary crisis will arrive, perhaps soon. This Communist University course, and the whole of the Communist University initiative, is dedicated to the victory of popular agency in that struggle, and in all such struggles thereafter.

Power to the People!

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

16 June 2011

Philosophical Battlefield

Philosophy and Religion, Part 10

Philosophical Battlefield

This week brings the last of the ten parts of our CU Generic Course called “Philosophy, Religion, and Revolution”. There will be three items, of which this is the first. The suggested item for discussion is the last one: Ron Press’s “New Tools for Marxists”, linked below; but if you can at least skim the other two, the discussion will be more complete. Hence the change of order.

The question of the collective human subject has been most concisely and forcefully expressed in this series by Cyril Smith in the section of “The Communist Manifesto after 150 Years” called “The Subject of History”.

The first linked download for this final part is “Postmodernism & Hindu Nationalism” by the philosopher Meera Nanda [pictured]. This work is given because it shows how several pathological, anti-human strands of philosophy can play out in concert, mutually reinforcing and amplifying each other. In the case of India as shown in this article, these were Postmodernism, Hindu Nationalism (“Hindutva”), “Vedic Science” and reactionary feminism.

Time has passed since the CU first began using this text. Five years ago it was cutting-edge, and it is still useful to South Africans because the question of rational science, of feminism and of “Congress” politics and potential successors to “Congress” have meaning for us. But Postmodernism has receded. It is no longer so sure of itself or so hegemonic as in the past.

Meera Nanda described her purpose thus:

“This essay is more about the left wing-counterpart of [Yankee] Hindutva: a set of postmodernist ideas, mostly (but not entirely) exported from the West, which unintentionally ends up supporting Hindutva's propaganda regarding Vedic science. Over the last couple of decades, a set of very fashionable, supposedly "radical" critiques of modern science have dominated the Western universities. These critical theories of science go under the label of "postmodernism" or "social constructivism". These theories see modern science as an essentially Western, masculine and imperialistic way of acquiring knowledge. Intellectuals of Indian origin, many of them living and working in the West, have played a lead role in development of postmodernist critiques of modern science as a source of colonial "violence" against non-Western ways of knowing.”

The Indian case is not altogether different to what was, and could again be, the situation in South Africa, where under President Thabo Mbeki we had Postmodernism (bourgeois “normality” following the liberation struggle); pseudo-science around HIV/AIDS (Virodene, African potato, beetroot et cetera); Africanism; and again, reactionary feminism.

What is common to all of these aspects, whether in India or in South Africa, is the evacuation of popular agency and refusal of the mass Subject of History following the liberation struggle, which in both cases had promised this above all other things. In India the promise was “Swaraj and in South Africa, “Power to the People”.

Independence and national sovereignty were supposed to be inseparable from mass popular agency. In practice political independence co-existed with bourgeois dictatorship and neo-colonialism, and these latter factors trumped and negated mass popular power. The flight from mass popular agency was a middle-class and bourgeois betrayal of the workers and the poor.

Revolutionary organs of people’s power were dismantled in each case. Golden Calves were raised up for worship, in substitution for the slogans of popular power. The substitutes were the slogans of bourgeois nationalism and of national mystique.

Postmodernism is the hopeless, degenerate philosophy of the hopeless, degenerate thing called Imperialism. The fight for full freedom in a world dominated by Imperialism was unavoidably a fight against Postmodernism. It is a revolutionary necessity. The purpose of this CU Generic Course called “Philosophy, Religion, and Revolution” has been to arm the communists for such battles. Above all what is needed is devotion to and priority for the human Subject - Power to the People!

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

11 June 2011

Organic Intellectuals

Philosophy and Religion, Part 9a

Organic Intellectuals

Father Joe Falkiner (featured in the previous course post) also mentions Gramsci, and organic intellectuals. The main item today in this penultimate part of our current course has the long title: “Rethinking Critical Pedagogy and the Gramscian and Freirean Legacies: From Organic to Committed Intellectuals or Critical Pedagogy, Commitment, and Praxis”. It is by Gustavo Fischman and Peter McLaren, who are present-day exponents of Critical Pedagogy, or in other words what is referred to by Joe Falkiner as “the educational methods of Paulo Friere”.

The McLaren/Fischman article immediately starts to grapple with “the notion of teachers as transformative intellectuals”. We are back with Cyril Smith’s problem with Lenin – the problem of the legitimacy or otherwise of “outside agitators” – and the problem of Marx's aim of “development of communist consciousness on a mass scale” (which Cyril Smith somehow managed to simultaneously approve of).

How are you going to make revolution, if the maker of revolution must be the masses, and not yourself?

Alternatively, if you had a method of educating the masses, what else would you need in the way of revolution? Is there any difference between politics and political education? Or is it a trinity that is at the same time a unity, namely: Educate, Organise, Mobilise?

Paulo Freire concentrated his intellectual fire on the single most practical priority, which at the same time requires the deepest philosophical clarity, and called it “The Pedagogy of the Oppressed”.

Fischman and McLaren make clear, by reference to Gramsci, that such a Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a direct form of class struggle. It is a direct confrontation with the interests of the bourgeois state. It is an open contradiction of the bourgeois class dictatorship as applied through state-led education as well as through the instructive function of the judiciary.

The authors note that Gramsci is often misappropriated (see also CU). They write: “Because Gramsci identified civil society as an arena used by the ruling class to exert its hegemony over the society, the struggle for Gramsci was not to transform civil society but rather, as Holst points out, ‘to build proletarian hegemony’.” That is, proletarian ascendancy, also known as the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Fischman and McLaren are rejecting the view of “hegemony” as a “Third Way” that could by-pass revolutionary confrontation.

After discussing Gramsci’s organic intellectuals, and as if to answer Cyril Smith’s doubts, they quote Gramsci as follows:

“Critical self-consciousness means, historically and politically, the construction of an elite of intellectuals. A human mass does not ‘distinguish’ itself, does not become independent in its own right without, in the widest sense, organizing itself; and there is no organization without intellectuals, that is without organizers and leaders, in other words, without the theoretical aspect of the theory-practice nexus being distinguished concretely by the existence of a group of ‘specialized’ in conceptual and philosophical elaboration of ideas.”

Fischman and McLaren go on to argue for the “committed intellectual”, with “an unwavering commitment to the struggle against injustice”. What is the difference between a committed intellectual and a communist cadre? No difference at all! In that sense, what McLaren and Fischman have managed to do is to compose a very elegant justification of the vanguard party, rooted in the most profound philosophy.

Illustration: “Question Everything!” – the sometime logo of the Communist University of London

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading:

10 June 2011

Liberation Theology

Philosophy and Religion, Part 9

Liberation Theology

In the last third of the 20th Century a phenomenon arose that recalled Marx’s “Introduction to a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right”, where Marx said:

“…the criticism of religion is the prerequisite of all criticism.”


“The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo.”

In other words, the criticism of religion was only a starting-point and not the main business. The main business is the restoration of humanity to itself, not so much from out of the clutches of the religious clerics, but more so from the under the boot of the bourgeoisie. The struggle begins, not against religion, but within religion.

And so it came to pass that in the 1960s there arose, within and among the ranks of the religious, a movement which had the same essential aims that Marx had. This was Liberation Theology. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in particular recognised it for what it was, and suppressed it. The hierarchy of the Protestant denominations saw it for what it was, and co-opted and neutered its remnants, revising Liberation Theology’s “base community” idea into the sectarian “basic Christian community”, and thereby reversing the liberation that Liberation Theology had brought.

But in the mean time Liberation Theology had a life, and it left a legacy.

Father Joe Falkiner used sometimes to attend the Communist University. The main attached/linked item today begins with an article of Father Joe’s from 2006 on Liberation Theology and Scripture, and continues with a short history of Liberation Theology from two more of its well-known practitioners, Leonardo and Clodovis Boff.

Father Joe quickly mentions that Liberation Theology “often used the educational methods of Paulo Friere”, and that they used original scriptural texts, just as the Communist University uses mainly original texts, and preferably not second-hand commentary or analysis.  Father Joe writes: “… the theology was done jointly by these people in the shantytowns and their priests, not solely by traditional theologians based in seminaries and universities.”

This is what we as the CU do with politics, as well as religion, using Paulo Freire’s methods.

We do not have a good picture of Father Joe Falkiner. Instead, the picture above is of Bartolomé de las Casas, a member of the same order (the Order of Preachers, a.k.a. Dominicans) as Father Joe.

Please download and read the text via the following link:

Further reading: