Peter Sedgwick

Centre for Socialist Education

(Spring 1966)

Peter Sedgwick, Centre for Socialist Education, International Socialism (1st series), No.24, Spring 1966, pp.24-25. (discussion)
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Local Centres should rely in the first place on their own nearby sources as regards the provision of lecturers and speakers. The aim should be to deal in topics that are of local interest to labour movement audience; we should envisage people attending and participating because the topic engages them rather than because a particular ‘name’ is on the platform. National or her well-known lecturers can best be used for week-end schools. Left Clubs of a few years ago probably tended to wear out speakers by inviting them long distances to audiences that couldn’t be summoned.

At some point a decision will have to be made as to how far the local Centre should organise gatherings of its own (classes under its own auspices, schools, meetings) and how far try to join with the gatherings of other organisations (speakers to trade-union branches, co-ops, etc). If the latter, then as far as possible a consecutive series of attendances should be arranged, preferably with the same speaker; otherwise rapport will not be established properly, and contact will be lost. The suggestions that follow will apply in the main whether or not they are pursued at special CSE meetings.

The main areas that seem to be worth covering are: industrial topics with a social/political implication; local labour history; local civic issues with a democratic or welfare content. It may be possible to introduce sophisticated political topics; by ‘sophisticated’ is meant anything outside the personal life-experience of most workers, and Vietnam is in this sense a sophisticated issue. If you can manage this without landing up with the selfsame committed Left as you started with, good luck. If a trade union co-op requests a speaker on a political issue of this sort, you should be equipped to cope. Here are some suggestions for dealing with the more limited but more direct topics.

Industrial/Social Questions

Examples: Incomes Policy; The Apprenticeship System; Industrial Safety: Contracts and Rule-books; Industrial Unionism at Home and Abroad: Pensions and Benefits; Noise, Monotony and Vigilance in Industry; Redundancy Payments; Dispute procedures; Work-Study – for whom?; Automation and the Workers: Shop-Stewards Yesterday and Today; The Working Week Overtime and the Family; Disablement and Retraining; Health Risks in the Working Class; Wage Labour and Capital; i.e. Law and the Profits; Workers and the Law; the State and Bosses; Mergers and Takeovers; The Effects of Night Work; Mental and Manual Labour; Trade-union Democracy; The Drive to Rationalise Industry; The Right to Strike; The Cost of living – Index and Reality; White-Collar Trade-Unionism; The Stock Exchange and Industrial Finance.

In addition, functions can be organised around the problems of particular local industries. A local shop-steward and a Socialist social-scientist could make a good combination here: e.g., Men and Rails (covering the situation of railway workers, the role of railways in society, the failure of bureaucratic-capitalist nationalisation). Meetings can be held simply on a theme like: Car Workers Speak for Themselves; the discussion can be tape-recorded and edited for possible publication. Policy reports (like the Hull Anti-Devlin Report) can be produced; they will take time, but once there, form the basis for militant educational activity.

Large local disputes could be covered by personal contact between CSE and the workers concerned, as could any small ones that are of special interest (e.g., involving immigrant workers, office girls, or previously unorganised sections). The aim here must be, in all modesty, to offer servicing facilities: publicity and documentation, personal help with strike relief, welfare and legal briefing if needed, contacts with local Labour. For instance, every CSE branch could be contacting the nearest NUR in connection with the impending strike.

Though many such topics have a local or immediate origin, most of them cannot be pursued to a successful conclusion in action within the locality alone; herein lies their importance in Socialist educational work. Beginning with a direct, sense-informed, behavioural approach, we can draw conclusions that go beyond immediate reality.

It must be admitted that on many of these matters little or no reading-list can yet be provided. The CSE nationally will attempt to provide guidance as rapidly as possible; discussions are being undertaken with the Socialist Medical Association, on the invitation of the latter, with the aim of providing study material in the general area of social/industrial medicine and welfare, as well as of developing other common activities. Socialists can do much to mitigate this inevitable delay by using their own eyes and ears over the whole working-class scene.

2. Local Labour History

Working-class history will be much more appealing if it has a local connection. The work of E.P. Thompson derives its strength largely from its powerful sense of place and situation. There is a vast amount of archive material awaiting Socialist digestion in trade-union records and local history libraries. 1966 offers a specially good opportunity for examining the role of local Labour, and especially the Trades Council, in the 1926 General Strike; local ‘Bloody Sundays,’ labour heroes or villains are worth taking up. Recent labour history ought not to be overlooked; quite often there is no source available which gives a conspectus of the various industrial movements in your area. Brief but accurate essays, suitable for pamphlets of around twenty pages or less, are the format one should aim at. Nobody is going to win any academic spurs in this kind of work. This is a field in which financial sponsorship from local Labour bodies may often be available; it is also an opportunity to offer a very real service to working-class organisations which may well form the basis of cordial working relationships over a wider area.

3. Local Democratic Issues

It is almost impossible to make any generalisations here. Problems of property development and traffic flow; welfare facilities (especially conditions inside institutions of various kinds); matters of local bureaucracy and democracy – these in their particulars vary widely from town to town. It is suggested that a CSE might see its function as that of providing documentation and propaganda (for example, as evidence at public enquiries) in whatever live campaigns are waged. Members of the staffs of local government offices and other planning or welfare authorities may well have special skills to offer in such situations (even though they may have to work purely as local civil servants within their own specialism). A well-developed literature is beginning to form on many of these questions. Where it is possible to offer general guidance, national CSE should help. It would be of assistance if local members would write in with some idea of the most salient problems where research and reading is needed.

Two further points. It is strongly advisable to approach Trades Councils, either through their officers or through sympathetic delegates, to discuss the type of educational work that is likely to fit in with local demands. Good relationships with a Trades Council can be of inestimable value for a local Socialist society; some Trades Councils will enclose the circulars of ‘official unofficial’ organisations along with the material they send out to affiliates. Finally, the above comments are an attempt to break away from a style of Socialist education based upon academic subjects: Political Theory, Labour History, or Economics in a course of so many lectures. Educational aids and educational methods have to be devised afresh for our work; the experience of ‘adult education’ techniques may have little to do with the tasks of Socialist education, which has to create its own union of mental with manual labour. We need a renewed attention to the details of interpersonal behaviour in face-to-face study: the amount and distribution of the tutor’s utterances as well as their content, the physical distance separating speaker and audience, the shape of seating arrangements. We must be realistic about reading-lists and bibliographies; if we have the audiences we want, they will not have the leisure to do a lot of reading. One book per syllabus may be all we should expect (and CSE may have to write it). In general we should not think of lectures so much as of gatherings: we should begin to find it strange that a set of chairs with silent people on them should face one way, while a talkative person faces the other way. Socialist education cannot be the job of ‘providing theory:’ like scientific and technical education, it is qua education, the joining of theory with practice, in which (as William James said in his Talks to Teachers) there is no impression without a corresponding expression. Interposing himself at a particular station in the theory-practice loop, the educator himself becomes educated. Socialist studies are not simply Liberal Studies with Socialist titles.


Last updated on 19.10.2006