The Importance of Political Education and Class Analysis

What does organizing look like when Black radicals are being pushed out of spaces for ‘progressiveness’ that makes uncontested room for the centrist, right-wing and fascists narratives driving most platforms?  When examining the conflicts between those fighting oppression under capitalism and the capitalist state’s ruling class alongside those who subscribe to “success” and riches obtained at the expense of the oppressed, few things strike me as obvious disconnects and contradictions.

I am often asked about my relationship with the analytical science of Marxism- Leninism as it pertains to my studies, teachings, and praxis because it’s somehow shocking that a Black woman would align herself with a political ideology that’s been presented as predominantly white and male. I once used these moments as opportunities to flex my knowledge on the historical relationship between socialism/ communism and Black people (particularly Black women) as if I were a fact sheet. While it is important to highlight how many of those we’ve come to know as simply “civil rights activists” were politically and ideologically aligned with socialism/communism, what does that mean? Furthermore, why is that important? 

“Knowledge is power” is a familiar mantra. The Marxist Theory of Knowledge describes knowledge, or the idea of it, as socially constructed. Karl Marx details “power” (economic, intellectual and political) as something that stems from the ownership of the means of production. Simply put, a lot of what we *know* is predicated on the interests of the ruling class. It is in this country’s best interest to keep us ignorant. 

One way we combat ignorance is through active study and dialogue. One of the more frustrating things is the way reading is discussed as a pastime of the elite. That, in itself, highlights how comfortably ahistorical we’ve all become. We discuss accessibility and ability to study —-and by extension, obtain knowledge—- in bad faith. We fail to admit to our own intellectual laziness. It also highlights a misunderstanding of how knowledge and education should be used. 

Marx’s Dialectics of Theory and Practice assumes that none of us are “all-knowing”, but the practice of becoming politically educated, both understanding theories and using them in praxis to better conditions, ultimately improve and transform our conditions. One of the more famous examples of having done this can be found by studying members of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. 

The BPP implemented collective actions that not only included providing much-needed resources but, more importantly, a political education. They believed in active study and debate and with that belief, went on to educate others enough to advocate for themselves. 

When communities advocate for themselves through breakfast programs, liberation schools and providing healthcare (the more prominent examples of the BPP’s work), ‘the group’ is prioritized over the individual. These small actions that result in transforming realities (material conditions) are what the practice and principle of collectivism are rooted in.

This differs from individualism, which is dependent solely on the best interest of the individual. Black people, in mass, seem to be engulfed in a state of individualism. Many have actively disconnected from our history of collectivism (and other tenets of socialism/ communism). This is made obvious with ‘celebrity culture’, the fixation on Black Capitalism as liberation and blatant misrepresentations of our “ancestors wildest dreams”. 

The lack of implementing class analysis (recognizing the significance of class) to understand our material conditions are major factors of the collective distortion of our material realities. I am not speaking on the problematic and dangerous ways white leftists ignore “whiteness” as a class issue to generically state “race and class” and ignore their innate racial prejudices. I am speaking on how our confrontations with racism, as Black people, have disallowed us to interrogate the Black people that exist within different class statuses. 

We live in a white supremacist capitalist imperialist patriarchy so Black people are, undoubtedly, confronted with how oppressions manifest, particularly racism. Unfortunately, we do not leave room to have any introspection on how oppressions manifest through class. All Black people may experience racism, but not all Black people experience poverty. When overwhelming many experience poverty, combatting racism, solely, causes us to turn a blind eye to capitalism, imperialism, and colonialism.That “blind eye” results in a failure to [not want to] understand or implement a class analysis.

The purpose of class analysis is to clarify the agendas between classes. When we discuss the class structure of capitalism in Marxist theory, the capitalist stage of production consists of two main classes: the bourgeoisie (the capitalists who own the means of production) and the proletariat ( the working class who must sell their own labor power). If we are applying class analysis to our material conditions we are acknowledging how these class groups work and function within our realities. When applying it to our communities it is evident that the [almost non-existent] middle class would much rather align with the bourgeoisie (the rich) than the working class. This presents huge contradictions. Not just in organizing, but the way that we view liberation. 

In order for the bourgeois class to thrive, there must be an oppressed working class to exploit. If there are Black people who would much rather align with the rich, what does that mean for the Black people under the thumb of economic oppression? How does that manifest when we are talking about Black political power? 

Capitalist state ruling classes resist change. They disguise their arbitrary privileges and power behind lies, dogma, half-truths, and fallacies. This is most evident through the use of celebrity-driven and identity reductionist activism that uses “socialist” rhetoric to push neoliberal agendas that don’t seek to transform realities but make them easier to digest and not disrupt the status quo. 

In a society plagued by communities of individualists, how can we approach collectivism in substantial ways? We must have a principled commitment to political education, cooperation, and concern for the welfare of each other. 

Workers Unite. 

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Erica Caines is a poet, writer and organizer in Baltimore and the DMV. She is an organizing committee member of the anti war coalition, the Black Alliance For Peace as well as an outreach member of the Black centered Ujima People’s Progress Party. Caines founded Liberation Through Reading in 2017 as a way to provide Black children with books that represent them and created the extension, a book club entitled Liberation Through Reading BC, to strengthen political education online and in our communities.

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