Maybe this seems obvious to some of you; maybe it seems overstated to others. But I believe that political education is one of the most vital tasks we face, and one which must constantly hone. No one is born a socialist, any more than they are born a capitalist, and even those of us who have embraced socialist teachings must constantly work to build our understanding (theory) and execution (practice) of the Marxist ideology. Our ideas may be in everybody’s heads, but it takes a dedicated effort by comrades focused on political education to bring them out and to focus them on real-world developments.
Our organizing does not take place in a vacuum, but must respond to conditions on the ground and to changing political and social events of the moment. So, too, our political education, while based on a firm understanding of Marxism, must not be stagnant. Our efforts to educate ourselves to the moment in which we find ourselves – and thus to be ready to respond to that moment through outward-facing organizing campaigns – must be grounded in an understanding of how our ideology applies to the immediate situations in which we, as socialists, find ourselves every day.
My own political education journey was uncharacteristic, to say the least. I was raised by two parents who were both union members – my father, a lifelong member of the glaziers & glassworkers union and my mother, originally an aerospace worker and later a member of AFSCME. Other relatives were in the Teamsters, HERE, the United Auto Workers, and the United Mine Workers; from childhood, I was taught in no uncertain terms the value of unions, the importance of solidarity, and the stark divide between working people and the bosses. A working-class upbringing leaves you with few illusions about what the class struggle really means.
Although I was drawn to communism from a young age, when the Cold War was still raging, I didn’t fully understand it until a handful of mentors – many of them educators – encouraged me to seek out the books that would give me my first real exposure to socialist theory and history. Reading Marx, Lenin, and Mao; André Gorz, Guy Debord, and Richard Rorty; and Rosa Luxemburg, Angela Davis, and Tariq Ali: This was my political education. I had neither the money or the grades to get through college, but working my way through these books, and the histories of the times and places that produced them, gave me my first true education in socialism.
At the same time, I knew it was important to live the values I was learning. I put all this theory into practice in any way I could; I did local organizing and activism around housing and hunger, engaged in anti-fascist work when Nazi skinheads surged in my community, learned about first-hand about unions when I tried to organized workers in the factory where I was employed, and experienced hard lessons about street protests and police brutality at the Battle of Seattle in 1999. From the reactionary Reagan era to the ‘post-history’ ‘90s to the Occupy era through the uprisings of the 2010s, I’ve tried to apply what I read on the pages from these great socialist thinkers to the reality of living in a capitalist empire in its decline.
It took me far too long to find my true political home, but when I finally did – in the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America – I knew I’d made the right choice. No other organization I’d been in offered such a big tent, so much opportunity to grow as an organizer in so many ways, and so clear-eyed a vision of creating change by mass organization of the multi-racial working class. They considered political education important enough to have an entire section of the organization devoted to it, but understood that it should be used to bring people in and channel them into the campaigns we were using to change our city for the better.
I’d always felt intimidated by the academic attainment of many of my peers on the left. I was a working-class high school dropout; what did I know about theory? But in CDSA, I was encouraged by supportive comrades every step of the way, and it was these comrades who have built the structure that I hope to inherit as Political Education Coordinator. We are fortunate indeed that, while there is always room for expansion and improvement, we have all the infrastructure in place that we need to do truly essential political education. Our 101 series, on which I hope to expand in the coming year, combines easy-to-understand and practical theory and history with relevant connections to current events, and our Socialist Night School program is one of the best tools we have for bringing people into CDSA and preparing them to understand the work that we do and why we do it.
But I wouldn’t ask for anyone’s vote if all I intended to do was be a caretaker of the excellent work of those who preceded me in the position. I’m fully committed to building on that work, improving and expanding the Political Education Subcommittee and developing new initiatives for the coming year. I want to increase CDSA’s press profile, cultivating ties to local media outlets and delivering weekly poli-ed articles to Midwest Socialist and other publications. I’d like to see us move forward with a comprehensive leadership development program based on DSA’s national mentorship committee. I intend to expand and increase our 101 programs to address more socialist basics, and to tie them in to current events to draw more people in from our support base into active work in the org. I’d love to infuse our Socialist Night Schools with fresh perspectives and topics, as well as develop a comprehensive curriculum we can collect and replicate. And I hope I can cultivate a direct pipeline from our membership into poli-ed and from there into campaigns, so that our members feel more sense of purpose, direction, and unity with CDSA.
When you’ve been on the left for a long time, you learn to see the bad things about political organizations as well as the good ones. Without praxis, political education can lead them to become nothing more than book clubs, with members doing little more than preaching to the choir; and without political education, praxis becomes rudderless and misguided. CDSA has the tools, the talent, and the membership to make a real difference in this city’s future at a time when right-wing reaction is growing everywhere; I know that we are well placed to combine theory and practice and become more effective than ever. There has never been a time when we need a strong socialist movement than right now, and political education is one of the most important factors in building that movement. I’m asking for your trust and confidence in helping expand that political education throughout the city.