Convention Discussion: Request for an Educational Program

BY: K.D.| May 4, 2014

Submitted by Katelyn Driskill, Washington State

This past summer, our club decided to study Dialectical Materialism. We’ve been reading Maurice Cornforth’s “Materialism and the Dialectical Method”. Now, I am not a student of philosophy-I took one class by mistake while in college, as it was cleverly disguised as a French literature course. So when Cornforth said “Hegel” I wasn’t completely lost, but I spent a good month scribbling in the margins of my little book. Question marks were a major theme.

I also ended up reading that book three times.

I asked for a study guide of Dialectical Materialism. Certainly the CPUSA, having lived the “World Outlook of the Communist Party”, would have some good study guides and outlines on the subject. I was told there was none. I became perplexed.

Reading Dialectical Materialism, and internalizing the analytical tools it gave me, sparked a new interest in the philosophical side of Marxism. I wanted to read more. I asked around for the Party’s political education program. Blank looks. “Maybe a new member suggests reading list?” I was directed to the CPUSA website where I found some old study guides from 2006. With our own party club experimenting with education formats and subjects, I expected the CP national would have some of this already figured out. At this point, perplexity was becoming concern.

I searched the internet for materials to help me continue my learning. A myriad of podcasts, lectures, and talks popped up from the ISO, SA, and other acronyms in the radical left alphabet soup, on a broad range of topics. But no CPUSA. 


I began listening to the podcast lectures from the ISO. I listened to Marxist analysis of fascism, domestic violence, and critiques of Marxism. But I had to ask myself: why was I, a member of the largest communist party in the United States, outsourcing my education to the internet at large?

Why was our party club reinventing the wheel when it came to our political education discussions, with experimental formats and curriculum? Why didn’t our national have advice, or a database, or, anything? If such a thing does exist, why isn’t it shared?

As far as Dialectical Materialism is concerned, I understand there is some fear about turning away our comrades who are believers. I would argue that Dialectical Materialism could even do the exact opposite. It allows us to engage with religious ideas without punishing them for being religious.

Our local club recently got involved in a local coalition to raise the minimum wage. Naturally, we have been doing a lot of outreach, to workers, small business owners, and churches. During one of these outreach days, I had a conversation with a church pastor about what raising the minimum wage in his area meant. He said something very interesting: 

“I agree with what you are doing in principle, but I think that people need to look within themselves, to their soul, and learn to be more careful with their money. That would solve at least some of their struggle.” 

Now, that statement is two fold. It expresses the bourgeoise idea that working full time will automatically give you enough money to survive, and that poverty is an affect of frivolity or poor choices. It also expresses the idea that is right in the first chapter of Cornforth’s book-the idealist concept that workers need not rise up to better their situation, because the real truth is internal. Before, I would have been stuck at this point. One of my few options would have been to attack the idea of the soul, because I did not have the philosophical construct ready made in my mind to separate idealist and materialist conceptions, and how to examine each in kind. Dialectical Materialism made it easy for me to not only recognize his argument, but how to talk about it with him in terms that meant something to both of us. The tools of Dialectics are not just for argument, but also for understanding.

Nowhere in the educational guidelines would it say that all cadre must believe Dialectical Materialism as the gospel truth-but learning it, at least to use as a tool for identifying rhetoric and as a roadmap for decision making is not too much to ask.

And that is why I write to you today. I think our party needs an education program that serves all new members of the Party and I think Dialectics and Materialism need to be part of it.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


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