Marxist Education On-Line

The need for Marxist education, and the opportunities for presenting it, are unprecedented

Education Matters

As capitalists become more desperate, as economic and political events move faster, everyone needs, more than ever, the tools of Marxism to keep up. There has never been a greater need for Marxist education. Fortunately, there have also never been such opportunities for education as are now at hand.

Further, there has never been so much demonstrable interest. See, for example:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=wyqJ9wxZ9L0 for two young men singing “I read some Marx and I liked it.” It may seem silly, but it had 142,029 listeners between June 29 and December 22!

Finding the tools

The internet is particularly adaptable to the educational needs of the progressive movement. Commercial interests have already developed their on-line educational programs, but their needs and resources are considerably different from those of us struggling not for professional degrees or competitive advantages, but for a better world.

Getting the word out

The most obvious educational use of the internet is to disseminate information. Progressive forces are vying with the commercial interests in this area already. www.politicalaffairs.net is an excellent example. Most progressives are familiar with www.marxists.org, which publishes hundreds of radical writings, including some of the best and the worst. Another simple and easy use of the internet for education is to send out study guides or, better, to post them on an educational web site.

Linking concepts

Strategically placed links greatly enhance one-way information dissemination programs. One article or concept can link to another, just as footnotes and indexes do in books. Even better, key words can be linked to a prepared glossary. In this regard, internet information dissemination shows one of its several advantages over linear printed or broadcast material.

Enhancing the message

Moving toward more sophisticated and effective educational methods, videos of interviews, animations, and actions can illustrate important points. www.youtube.com has hundreds if not thousands of videos purporting to advise and educate progressive activists. Their quality varies tremendously, and calls out for an ongoing project of cataloguing them as to their subject matter, quality and relative usefulness. A great many of the videos are filmed lectures, which may or may not be better than simple downloadable written materials. Even though there is probably no better approach to one-way dissemination of information, the sheer volume and randomness of the videos on you-tube diminishes their usefulness, unless someone develops an ongoing catalogue guide.

Interacting

To be really effective, education needs to be interactive. No matter how devoted students may be, they are not passive receptacles for other peoples’ information. Learning is a two-way or even multi-way process. Small groups, meeting face to face, with lots of opportunities for student feedback and questioning, remains the best model for abstract learning ever developed. Unfortunately, such encounters are difficult to organize and, on a national or international scale, an expensive proposition.

On-line learning can be somewhat interactive, and can thus overcome some of the flaws of one-way information dissemination. Blogs and listservs have a certain interactive flexibility. Telephone conferences over long distances can be very helpful. It is entirely possible to combine telephone conferences with previously prepared web pages, including videos and animations, to simulate face-to-face experiences. On a signal from the telephone facilitator, the entire group could move to a designated part of the common web site to share the same experiences. This combination of shared visual and audio experiences has been formalized by webinar services.

Holding on-line meetings with webinar services

Webinars combine visual and audio experiences for groups interacting in real time. They can use the telephone services, but there’s a downside of long distance charges in many cases. Webinar services offer voice-over-internet-protocol which provides free audio for the group as long as they are disciplined about having only one speaker at a time. Having one speaker at a time is not a downside, as it’s a good idea in any setting.

In addition to video and audio, participants have the “chat box” where they can type comments and questions at any time. Webinars, in that sense, have a slight advantage over face-to-face meetings. Another slight advantage is anonymity, which some participants want. Another advantage is convenience. I admit that I sometimes conduct on-line “classes” from my computer at home while in my pajamas! The big advantage for webinars is cost. Small group meetings can be organized free at www.vyew.com or www.dimdim.com.

I have used webinars to teach almost anything, but one use stands out. A standard “report back” from someone who attended a conference or took a tour lends itself perfectly to the webinar format. Their digital photos and audio description of the experience almost exactly copies the effect of a face-to-face slide show given by the traveler with a Q&A session during and afterward.

Automating interaction

Even though on-line webinars are the closest approximations of face-to-face group meetings, they retain the organizational disadvantage that everyone has to gather, while not at the same place, nevertheless at the same time. Fortunately, the internet offers us a way to implement 24/7 interactive learning experiences free and open to all. On http://tx.cpusa.org/school I have gathered extremely short essays, peppered with links to a glossary and other essays, and combined them with Q & A in the form known to educators as “programmed learning.” The “student” reads a short question, clicks on an answer from several offered, and gets immediate feedback.

A downside is the intrinsic rigidity of the method. Answers are generally “right” or “wrong” with little, except for links to other concepts, in-between. The upside is the tremendous convenience and absence of cost. Another is that the material can be presented in logical steps. For example, the lesson “What is a Commodity?” comes before “Labor Power is a Special Commodity.” Another upside is that virtually any set of concepts can fit the form, whether we are talking about the labor theory of value or “how to picket.” Another upside is that the method could be greatly enhanced with audio, video and animation technology.

While the on-line school, in itself, is not the end-all answer to all educational problems, it provides a framework adaptable to all the other on-line possibilities!

Bringing it together

The tools of Marxism need to be taught. It is insufficient to simply point someone toward “the classics” and expect them to assimilate. The progressive movement needs an on-line school presented in logical steps, but buttressed by links to all the growing hosts of technological presentations, on line meetings, and face-to-face experiences whenever possible.

The on-line solutions to the growing demand and need for Marxist education are not only feasible, but absolutely necessary.



--Jim Lane

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Comments

  • Very timely piece for 2011,brother Jim Lane.
    Workers and the oppressed all over the globe need this new science that is custom made for us in our ever new situations.
    Due to Marx/Engels and their fellow internationalists,like Paul Leroy Robeson and W.E.B. Du Bois,humanity has a fighting chance to win humanity for all.
    Oppressed youth and the working poor have a chance to be educated,and to see their way through the sometimes confusing prism of modern science due to the miracle of Marx/Engels'science,historical materialism,by,for and of the working class.
    As one of our many great leaders in Marx/Engels education,James E. Jackson has written of "newfangled"creations of the working class,and this new internet tool certainly qualifies.
    It will be used,with our help,for human liberation.

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 01/04/2011 12:40pm (8 years ago)

  • I can't agree more on the vital importance of a Marxist education. Without a class-conscious, fighting Communist perspective our class is lost at sea without a compass.

    The emphasis here in relying on the internet however is a grave error. Far too many of the most proletarianized do not have computers. Having a Pdf library of important articles, classics and a curricula for study can at least be printed out. Printed matter can be circulated and has a lifespan of it's own which cannot be underestimated. While online efforts are laudable, they should not be overemphasized and must accompany real, ie, non-virtual efforts.

    Posted by Al M, 01/03/2011 8:29am (8 years ago)

  • HAPPY NEW YEAR! Brothers ;))

    And good luck to all of you!

    Posted by YourGranMo, 01/03/2011 6:02am (8 years ago)

  • Thanks, Jim, for this very precise account of the urgent need for Marxist education and the new opportunities that on-line technology offers for accomplishing this task.

    In the New Year, I hope that PA will play an important role in furthering the development of an interactive internet model which will provide those newly interested in socialism (because of the dismal failure of neo-liberal capitalism) with a solid grounding in the ideas of Marxist and other leftist thinkers. A clearly articulated, pro-working class Marxist education, presented online, provides new opportunities, via interactive discussion and debate, for propelling the progressive agenda forward here in the US and around the globe.

    Posted by Peter Zerner, 01/01/2011 11:03am (8 years ago)

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