[Documents menu]History of world education
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Date: Tue, 14 Mar 1995 08:50:38 +0800 (WST)

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Comparative International History of Left & Labor Education

By Marvin Gettleman
14 March 1995

Having begun work several years ago on a study of the U.S. Communist Party's Labor Schools (the first published material from this study is an essay on the New York Workers School, 1923-1944 in Michael Brown et al., eds, New Studies in the Politics and Culture of U.S. Communism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1993), I also became interested in the educational work of other national Communist parties. Search of data bases and tips from other scholars turned up such works as Danielle Tartakowsky Les Premiers Communistes Francais (1980), the writing of Stuart Macintyre on British Communism, the incomparable (but brief) essays by Raphael Samuel in New Left Review (#154, 156, 165), Corrado Morgia's edition of Gramsci's Scritti, Il Rivoluzionario Qualificato (?), Ricardo Melgar Bao's essay on "Mariategui y la Autoeducacion Obrera" in the Mexican magazine Memoria (March 1994). I also found out about valuable work-in-progress, such as Jack Hammond's study of the educational work of El Salvador's left organizations.

It should be understood that while some of this educational work was (and still is) carried out for children, the bulk of it is adult education: literacy and post-literacy training for Communist cadres and those deemed promising for recruitment. Much of the international educational work focussed on how to teach Marxism -- not an easy task, and one which demanded sophisticated pedagogical approaches. (For example, in the early 1950s the U.S. Communist Party's "flagship" New York School, the Jefferson School of Social Science, issues a fascinating five-cent pamphlet on "How to Study" (i.e., how to study Marxism) full of still-relevant (or perhaps more-relevant than ever) suggestions. (Interested people can write me for a copy, which will eventually appear as an appendix to my book-in-progress, Training for the Class Struggle: U.S. Communist Educational Work, 1923-1957 [Temple University Press, to be published "whenever"]).

But this scattered work, carried out without cross-fertilization left me dissatisfied. What was needed, It seemed to me, was a major collaborative international effort to write the history of left educational efforts of the twenytieth century, not only the efforts carried out by Communist parties, but by socialist movements, by Trotskyists, anarchists, Friereists (those inspired by The Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the great book by the Brazilian educator, Paolo Friere), left feminists, etc. With the encouragement of a few good friends and comrades, and without much funding (a sitution I hope to remedy) I launched the Project on the Comparative International History of Left Education. This notice will describe what's been done so far, and ask for suggestions, support and participation from the H-Net community.

I. CONFERENCES. The first phase will be a series of Conferences, pulling together people knowledgable about left education in various areas of the world, sometimes (but not always) "their own" country. The first of these conferences will be the the next meeting of the International Congress of Historical Sciences, an international body which convenes every five years in different parts of the world. The 18th Congress will be held this summer in Montreal, Canada. In a later communication via the H-Labor network, I will describe the 16 major sessions scheduled, as well as the 36 roundtables and poster sessions.

Round table # 4 on International Communist Education is the one I organized. Pending travel arrangments it will consist of reports of 10 scholars: Danielle Tartakowky on Parti Communiste Francais schools, Geoff Andrews on the educational work of the Communist Party of Great Britain; Phan Gia Ben's report on Vietnamese clandestine educational efforts in two liberation wars (against French colonialism, and against the U.S. government); John Hammond on the schools set up by the Farabundo Marti Liberation Movement in El Salvador's liberated zones; Martin Lobigs on the educational endeavors of the Canadian Communists; Jorg Wollenberg on workers education in Germany; Norman Levy on the clandestine educational projects of the African National Congress under the apartheid regime; P.M. Parameswaran on the science education efforts in Kerala, India; and Marv Gettleman on the U.S. Communist schools of the late Popular Front era. This session will take place on Thursday, Aug 31, 2-5 PM at the Palis des Congress\Montral Convention Center. For further information, registration fees, accomodations, etc., contact the 18th International Congress of Historical ciences\P.O. Box 8888, Station Centre-Ville, Montral (Quebec) Canada H3C 3P8\E-mail: cish95@uqam.ca

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such U.S.-based organizations as the History of Education Society, the American Historical Association, etc. BUT WE NEED TO KNOW WHO'S DOING RELEVANT WORK, OR WHO CAN BE ENCOURAGED TO DO SUCH WORK. For those folk teaching at universities with graduate programs in labor history, here's a "new frontier" in research. Put your students to work on left, trade union, social movements' educational work... and tell us you're doing so, and put us into contact with your students. (One of the functions of the Project is to become a database, compile bibliographies, serve as a vehicle for interdisciplinary, cross-national communication.)

II. AMSTERDAM. Extraordinary support for this Project has come from the staff and directors of the IISG, the Internationaal Instituut voor Social Geschiedenis (International Institute for Social History) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, site of publication of the important "International Review of Social History." In fact what might be called a European Bureau of the Project on the Comparative International History of Left Education has been set up at IISG under the direction of Dr. Ursula Langkau-Alex, who can be reached @ the Instituut voor Social Gescidenis, Cruquiusweg 31, 1019 AT, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The IISG will host in or about 1998 what we hope will be the fitting initial finale (publication plans are discussed below) to our Project -- a multi-day international conference on the history of the international left's educational work. (For the purposes of this Project, and especially the Amsterdam conference, we construe "left education" in the broadest, most inclusive way.)

III. SPONSORS. Thus the IISG in Amsterdam is one of the major sponsors of the Project. Also sponsoring it is the Polytechnic University in Brooklyn New York (where Marv Gettleman teaches), which has generously supplied start-up funding. Science & Society magazine, a scholarly quarterly in New York City is also a sponsor of the Project. Some of the papers presented at the Conferences at Montreal, Amsterdam and elsewhere may be published in such journals as Science & Society, the International Review of Social History and elsewhere.

IV. PROCEEDINGS. Publishable research carried out in connection with the Project on the Comparative International History of Left Education (some of which, as mentioned, will undoubtably appear in print first in journals) will be gathered up into a volume (or, possibly several volumes) of proceedings. At an appropriate moment the Project's steering committee will appoint\transform itself\coopt members of an editorial committee to shape these book publications and\or their electronic counterparts. (If a CD-Rom disk is produced, photographs of these schools, their course listings, publications ... and even such items as reports of police agents sent to spy on them [the records of the U.S. Subversive Activities Control Board are replete with such reports of FBI "plants"] can be scanned in -- but all of this is for future consideration). the Asian rim.

But (and here's the rub) for historical reasons that will be all to obvious to most readers of this message, much of the most significant left activity in the twentieth century (educational and otherwise) has been in third world areas, many of which were under colonial rule (and many of which still labor under different forms of post-colonial oppression. This is not the occasion for delineation of this oppression, nor for the "defense" (as if any defense is really needed intellectually; politically is of course another matter) of multi-culturalism. Such a Project as described here must, by its very nature, be multi-cultural. (The U.S. Communist Party's popular front school in the Bay Area, the California Labor School, offered courses in Tagalog, Chinese, Yiddish, Spanish and Russian -- in addition to English. Boston's Samuel Adams school trained many of the top leaders of Iraq's Communist Party, the most powerful in the Middle East until its cadres were massacred by military rulers, not only Saddam Husayn.)

The problem is getting scholars from poor regions of the world to participate in the Project, come to the conferences in Montreal, Amsterdam and elsewhere, interact with scholars doing comparable work. Travel money is the issue. Some is available from Project Sponsors, but several thousand dollars are needed lest our Project be a Euro-Atlantic one only, leaving out those very areas of the world where left groups functioned most actively. (I sidestep at this point all interpretative questions of how wisely or effectively these groups were, and how admirable or reprehensible their educational efforts were. These will be issues addressed by scholars who have done the research that this Project hopes to stimulate and present.)

For further information on the Project on the Comparative International History of Left Education, please contact Dr Ursula Langkau-Alex in Amsterdam or Marvin E. Gettleman, Department of Social Sciences, Polytechnic University, 6 Metrotech Center, Brooklyn NY, USA. FAX: 718-260-3136, and\or the following e-mail addresses:

mgettlem@photon.poly.edu - or
[some reconfiguration of email is going on in Brooklyn]

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