Educational work

Education for Socialists

Those who are fighting for an alternative to capitalism require confidence in Marxism in order to overcome the pressure of the prevailing ideas in society and to allow them to challenge those ideas, whether in the workplace or the lecture theatre. Particular struggles may rise or fall. But if members are to stick with a revolutionary party through defeats as well as victories, they must be confident that Marxism can both explain the world and guide attempts to transform it.

An enormous amount can be learnt from the struggle itself; indeed, Marxism can only develop as a theory through engagement in workers’ struggles. But this does not automatically ensure that members will acquire a rounded understanding of Marxist theory—taking in the broad history of class struggle and the full range of ideas in our tradition.

That is why parties such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) also need a culture of education.

Our regular branch and district meetings are an important part of this. But they tend to focus on topical issues. They cannot go into sufficient depth on theoretical questions. Nor can it be taken from granted that newer members will speak in such meetings. Both the speaker and the experienced comrades rightly focus on winning non-members to basic socialist ideas. Newer members are often nervous about speaking, feeling that the more experienced ones will make all the points and fearing they will say things that are unclear or unhelpful.

Special educational meetings, aimed in particular at less experienced members can help give them the confidence they require. We have put together some material that can be used in educational courses, which can be downloaded from this page.

1917: Classic Texts

The Russian Revolution of 1917 remains the only instance of successful workers' revolution. To mark the centenary of the revolution, we have put together a short course based on four classic texts associated with 1917 and its legacy.

1. Lessons of October
Core text:

The Lessons of October, by Leon Trotsky

Extra reading:

Introduction to Lessons of October, by Duncan Hallas


Alex Callinicos on Trotsky's Lessons of October

2. The April Theses
Core text:

The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution (aka "The April Theses"), by Lenin

Extra reading:

"Lenin’s April Theses and the Russian Revolution", International Socialism 154, by Kevin Corr

"Lenin Rearms the Party", chapter seven of Lenin: All Power to the Soviets, by Tony Cliff

The Tasks of the Proletariat in our Revolution, by Lenin

"The case of the disappearing Lenin", International Socialism 144, by Kevin Corr and Gareth Jenkins

3. The State and Revolution
Core text:

The State and Revolution, by Lenin

Extra reading:

"State and Revolution", chapter 17 of Lenin: All Power to the Soviets, by Tony Cliff

4. How the Revolution was Lost
Core text:

How the Revolution was Lost, by Chris Harman

Extra reading:

State Capitalism, by Peter Binns

Corbyn, Reformism and the Labour Party

The rise of Jeremy Corbyn is a crucial issue for everyone on the left in Britain. The SWP has consistently supported Corbyn against the right wing in his own party, and we welcome his election as leader. We are not members of the Labour Party, as we believe an independent revolutionary socialist organisation is necessary to successful challenge the capitalist system. Nonetheless, we believe that revolutionaries do have to work alongside Labour Party members and supporters to build struggles for the kind of reforms that Corbyn advocates. For us, the attempt to wrest reforms from the system, when done through mass workers’ struggle, is not in opposition to the fight for revolution, but rather it is a part of that fight. Because of the importance of this issue, we are encouraging districts to organise a series of educational meetings for members that can discuss some of the theoretical background necessary to assess the arguments in the Labour Party. The course consists of four meetings with some reading material for each.

1. The nature of reformism
Core material:

The Economic Roots of Reformism, by Tony Cliff

Classical Marxism and the Question of Reformism, by Donny Gluckstein

Extra reading:

Reform or Revolution, by Rosa Luxemburg

2. The history of the Labour Party
Core material:

Jeremy Corbyn, Labour and the fight for socialism by Charlie Kimber. SW pamphlet available now, phone: 020 7840 5600.

The Labour Debate, by Judith Orr

Extra reading:

Revolutionaries and the Labour Party, by Duncan Hallas

The Labour Party in Perspective, by Tony Cliff

Socialists and the Origins of Labour, by Mark O’Brien

3. The challenge of left reformism in Europe
Core material:

Syriza and the Crisis, by Panos Garganas

Why did Syriza Fail, by Panos Garganas

The challenge of Podemos, by Manel Barriere, Andy Durgan and Sam Robson

Reassessing Podemos, by Andy Brown

Extra reading:

The Workers’ Government, by Chris Harman

The Stagnation of the Dutch Socialist Party, by Max van Lingen

4. Corbyn and the Labour Party
Core material:

A House Divided: Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party, by Mark Thomas

So Why not Join the Labour Party?, by Sally Campbell

Extra reading:

Two faces of reformism, by Alex Callinicos

Books for Socialists

If you're new to the politics of the Socialist Workers Party, here are some books that can help to introduce readers to our politics. Most are available from Bookmarks bookshop, or look out for second hand copies:

Basic reading
Some longer reads

The Education for Socialists course

This course is an introduction to some of our basic ideas over eight meetings. Each meeting is covered by a pamphlet containing a number of short articles introducing the topic:

Why the Working Class?

The Leninist Party

Strategy and Tactics

The State and Revolution

Introducing Marxist Economics

Imperialism and National Liberation

Labourism and the Trade Unions

Women’s Liberation and Class Struggle

The Revolutionary Classics course

This course contains a selection of basic short works by some of the founders of the Marxist tradition:

The Communist Manifesto - Karl Marx & Frederick Engels

Socialist: Utopian and Scientific - Frederick Engels

Reform or Revolution - Rosa Luxemburg

Lessons of October - Leon Trotsky

Other resources

Our theory page contains a mass of literature to supplement our educational pamphlets and to help members organise educational meetings on a broader range of topics.

Organising educational meetings

There are different kinds of educational meeting and lots of different ways to organise them. In many areas we hold occasional day-schools aimed at all members of the party to develop their understanding of a specific area of theory.

We have also begun creating a series of Education for Socialists courses, aimed primarily at newer members, that branches and districts can run in their area. We suggest that these introductory courses can be organised by one or two experienced members, with sessions running weekly or fortnightly, on an evening or Sunday afternoon when new members and student members can most easily attend.

Running a basic educational course

Here is a format that has worked well as a method of organising a basic educational course. The course convenor should enrol members who would benefit from the educationals before the course starts. Each meeting in our Education for Socialists course is supported by a pamphlet, containing three or four articles taken from our publications that illustrate the basic ideas, along with recommended further reading. The pamphlets should be distributed before the meetings so that attendees have a chance to read them in advance.

When it comes to the meeting itself, first an experienced speaker introduces the topic. While it is important to get new and inexperienced members doing branch meetings, educationals should generally be introduced by strong, tested and confident speakers.

Second, the speaker sets three or four questions. There are some suggested questions given in each of the pamphlets, but the speaker should not be afraid to change them to bring in topical issues and to pitch them at the correct level for the audience. The questions should force the audience to think creatively about the application of theory, rather than simply repeating what they have just been told.

Third, the speaker and any other experienced comrades should leave the room for half an hour or three quarters of an hour, while those attending the course ponder the questions in groups of four to eight. New members are far less likely to say things they aren’t sure about while longstanding members are in the room. While it might seem sensible in theory to keep more experienced members in the room, in practice this tends to stifle, rather than steer, discussion. Try it!

Fourth, the experienced members should return to the room and a nominated comrade from each group can report back on each question in turn. After each question, the speaker and other experienced comrades can intervene to answer questions that arose from the discussion and suggest additional points, perhaps posing additional questions to draw out key points that have been overlooked. In many ways this is the most important part of the educational meeting as it tests what the new members have understood and often highlights misconceptions or gaps in knowledge. It is also the part of the meeting that is most difficult to get right as the experienced comrades must try to correct mistakes without discouraging new members from speaking or demoralising them.