Let’s harness the power of political education

We need political education to build a confident, fighting movement writes Isaac Kneebone-Hopkins, an organiser for Bristol Transformed.

April 1, 2019 · 6 min read
The World Transformed, Liverpool 2017.

One of the criticisms of the Corbyn project has been the lack of political education within the movement. It’s a reasonable critique – for years the left has failed to really gear up to the challenges of political education, partly because we haven’t had to seriously engage with the possibility of a socialist government. All that has changed. We need to urgently engage with the political education as a tool to unlock the potential of our mass movement.As a movement, we need to ingrain the idea that getting Corbyn into number 10 is not the end of our struggle but the beginning. And if we’re going to hold any Corbyn government to account and keep it honest, we need a movement which is confident in its analysis of power, empowered in its understanding of today’s crucial issues. We need to think tactically, identify where power lies, and build coherent plans to fight back and take power.

Thinking structurally

The lack of political education shines through in our difficulties in thinking structurally about power. It’s tempting to identify a discrete series of people as saboteurs of the Corbyn project – focusing our attention on their apparent moral failures rather than critiquing the structures that they represent. One of the clearest examples of these failures is the way many of us approach the media. The media is not staffed by bad eggs who are out to get Corbyn personally. It is structurally opposed to a radical left project. It is owned by billionaires and staffed by upper middle-class Oxbridge graduates who are there because they could afford to undertake unpaid internships. It is a project of the elite classes – not simply a neutral institution incidentally staffed by hostile people.And so, we need to combat this with building new structures. We need to plan how a left-wing project can work within this media ecosystem. We also need to build our own left-wing media to grow alongside our movement, keep us informed and help us take power by drawing in new recruits. Long term, we need to have a set of policies to enact when we take power to change the structures of the media. This is how we need to be thinking in all our approaches to the challenges that the Corbyn project – and this political moment more broadly – poses for the left.

Power to the people

People already understand the inherent contradictions in society after living through 10 years of brutal austerity where the rich got richer but the rest of us were left to suffer. All across the country people are realising that something needs to change. We need to bring these people together, amplify their voices and their talents while ensuring they have the tools to create lasting change. In order to foster a tactical approach while building upon the bottom-up grassroots ethos at the heart of Corbynism, a wide-spread programme of political education is necessary. So far, we’ve only glimpsed the true potential of the biggest mass-membership party in Western Europe. Just imagine what could happen if that mass membership were empowered, emboldened and connected by political education programmes.Furthermore, laying this stable ideological and organisational groundwork will allow us to weather everything that threatens to be thrown at us. Be that media smears about how many times Corbyn personally faxed Stalin or the posturing ultra-leftists attempting to postpone their own irrelevance by howling that the Corbyn movement is dead every time there is a setback. Or much more threatening still, the punishing effects of organised capital understandably scared of a government who might pose a threat to their unquestioned power.

Bristol Transformed

The fight starts now. That’s why we are organising Bristol Transformed, to help build a the thriving political education network this country so desperately needs. It was inspired and motivated by The World Transformed (TWT), the fringe festival of socialist politics and culture that has run alongside Labour conference for the last three years. We saw the impact that the festival had not only on those that had attended but also on the conversation around socialism and socialist ideas. TWT reinforced the idea that the Corbyn movement is about more than getting Jeremy Corbyn into power. It’s about building a movement inside the state as well as against the state. It’s about moving beyond Capitalist Realism and creating new societal possibilities.

The event on April 5th-7th aims to foster a deeper more serious engagement with socialist thinking as part of a movement across the country, with Transformed events springing up from Derby to Southampton. The aim of these events is to put accessible, enjoyable, socialist education at the forefront of our movement. For those of us who’ve been involved in the radical left since before Corbyn was leader of the Labour party, this is a chance to stop discussing the minutiae of Marx in dingy basements and start building outward facing, attractive events that inspire those organising them as much as the attendees.We want Bristol Transformed to be a shining example of what the new socialist movement in Britain is capable of. We’re going to organise the biggest Socialist event the South West has seen in years, proving that these things can happen outside of London. The event brings together over 70 speakers – from MPs to activists, academics to artists, all championing ideas which promise to radically transform our future.

We aim to inspire a whole new cadre of activists to get involved in changing the country for the better. The aim is not just for people to find the event interesting but to arm them with the tools to become activists and organisers focussed on genuinely transformational change both locally and nationally.This is the start of a new phase in our socialist project. We encourage people to get involved, either with us or by organising something in their own communities. We need to be confident in our ideas and build a joyful, vibrant, powerful socialist project.Isaac Kneebone-Hopkins is an organiser for Bristol Transformed. 

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