Daphna T, Steering Committee NPEC
Adapted from a talk given at the 2021 DSA National Convention, lightly edited for publication.
As socialists, we are doers. We want to change the world, so we throw ourselves into activism and organizing. But in order to be effective we need all our chapters to be hubs for political education, and here are a few reasons why.
1) We don’t get class politics in school.
That’s why we have to educate ourselves with our own socialist politics. We’re actually taught a very distorted version of history, of society and the economy, of gender and race. We’re not even taught the words “working class.” Rather, in the US, everyone is “middle class” or “poor.” Those are terms that obscure our power as a class. We use political education to educate and empower our own ranks, and the ranks of the broader working class. And we use education so we stay alert—constantly learning and analyzing the conditions of the world around us.
2) Political education builds democracy within the organization.
We are building a grassroots movement with rank-and-file leadership, so everyone has to be able to think about the big picture. This is critical for democratic participation. If we don’t have a membership that is highly educated, we have less participation in high-stakes discussions and decision-making. Education and the development of our members means the greatest number of people can shape the direction of the organization.
3) We use political education to define our politics.
Political education is about developing shared language, understanding, and a vision around definable politics, understanding the distinctions between our positions and where we disagree. When we don’t define what we do and don’t agree on, the waters are muddied, and the political culture is unclear. Our organization risks being shaped by interpersonal relationships, and less by a vision that we share, that we decide on together. And, we don’t have to agree on everything. In fact, we are unlikely to ever agree on everything. But when we don’t agree and we don’t discuss our disagreements in comradely discussions, we run the risk of toxic debates in unhelpful spaces.
4) Political education is where we learn to argue our politics and convince others to join us.
The more you feel confident in your politics, your knowledge of history, and your analysis, the more you can engage in high-level discussions. But you are also able to distill an idea to its simplest form. This is one of the most important roles of socialists: to make our political vision accessible and compelling to workers around us.
5) Political education helps build our campaigns.
Education builds the confidence and knowledge of people around specific campaigns. It allows us to analyze our campaigns, assess their challenges, and learn from them. It helps bring non-DSA members into political discussions with socialists, and is an excellent way to involve new members in campaigns and organizing. Many members who attend political education sessions first learn about a particular topic, and then get involved in it.
Above all else: political education makes us better organizers.