Yes, it is our job to educate people.
Socialists have a duty to explain.
Sadly, it’s not uncommon to hear the phrase “it’s not my job to educate you” or some variation of it.
The logic goes that oppressed people shouldn’t have to explain their humanity to people who may not exactly agree or see eye-to-eye with them, so the rebuttal is often “Google is free.” There’s a reason why this has become such a common response: whether they know it or not, most people who say it don’t have a commitment to educating the working class because they lack a materialist theory of political change.
The quip “Google it” is a common sentiment, but it’s a moral signifier, not a strategic answer to someone who wants to learn more (or is in need of a materialist analysis). Any possibility of creating new, organized socialists ends there — it’s an opportunity willingly surrendered to capitalist society.
But there’s a better answer. We shouldn’t just engage in the same shallow cultural politics that breeds apathy towards working-class organization. Our answer should be that we actually need to educate people, because without an educated, united, and organized working class, there won’t be socialism.
If we want to understand how to combat the popular ideas of capitalist society, let us look to Marx. In The German Ideology, Marx wrote that
>“the ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it.”
If we understand this, we can see how and why so many people adopt a liberal worldview through no fault of their own. This generally manifests as poor or misinformed ideas, but that doesn’t mean that workers are stupid, nor should we treat them as such. If that were the case, we wouldn’t talk so much about the working class or believe it is a class that has the power to emancipate itself and bring about socialism
If we truly believe in the principle of class self-emancipation, then there is a better response than “google it.” When someone is curious, misinformed, or otherwise, we should gauge where they are and how open they are to socialist ideas. If they aren’t hostile, it’s our job to invite them to political education events and, more importantly, to participate in campaigns that involve conflict with capital. There’s no better school of war than the experience of class struggle itself, and in our workplaces especially. Then, through our political education, we can refine our experiences of class struggle with a Marxist analysis and theory of change.
These conversations and long-term education will require resources — time and energy above all — but if we want to win socialism, it’s on us to put the work in. We’ve learned from the 20th and 21st centuries so far that capitalism will not willingly succumb to its contradictions and socialism will not be given to us ready-made. It’s daunting, but the task of socialists is to educate the unaware, to develop leadership within the working-class, and to merge the class with socialism.
While we’re still standing near the foot of a mountain, to start climbing and eventually reach its summit, we have to change how (and who) we bring people into socialist organizing by providing examples of deep engagement with politics. All of our great work in DSA could also be better able to provide this deep engagement for new recruits if we end the tyranny of siloed-off working groups, provide an inspiring and comprehensive vision for rebuilding organized labor, and agree on an organizational program that coheres our short-term goals for the next 5-10 years with our ultimate vision of how we win socialism.
If we’re serious about posing a socialist counterhegemony to the dominant ideas of capitalist society, this also means that we take jobs in unions to strategically confront this issue, among many others, to aid the process of class formation in rebuilding the organized working class, realizing a class for itself, and not simply of itself.
This work is never easy, but there are bright spots and hopeful optimism in all of this — look at the past five years and how far we’ve come. The alternative class education that we can receive and spread today simply didn’t exist before; even questioning the logic of “it’s not my job to educate you” was heresy back then. Now, we stand with many in trade unions, with new elected tribunes for socialism, and many more comrades in our organization committed to spread our ideas far and wide for the rest of their lives.
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