[Marxism] Blog Post: Teaching Workers

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Fri Feb 28 11:19:14 MST 2014

I have just sent this to my sposa upstairs in her study. She taught 
creative writing and critical thinking at SF State and U of Hawaii on 
Maui for over 20 years and had the same problems. And I saw her as an 
excellent teacher. I'll send her reply if she does so and it seems 
helpful and if I have her permission.

"In your travails in teaching critical thinking did you ever work 
through any answers to this? Here Yates describes problems he 
encountered that sound very much like what you described to me. You said 
you found a few exceptions depending on background. Certainly, beginning 
as closely as possible from generalized experience and only moving from 
one place to another, questioning assumptions, as general perception is 
apparent, that I get. I have recently read Friere's book and I'm 
thinking about it. I wonder what Philip's experience is, but I hesitate 
to even ask, because he seems on overload and he doesn't seem available 

This is from michael yates <mikedjyates at msn.com 
<mailto:mikedjyates%40msn.com>>, associate editor of Monthly Review who 
taught as I recall in what was basically a working class night school 
for years in Johnstown, PA:

Full at http://cheapmotelsandahotplate.org/2014/02/28/teaching-workers/"

Parenthetically, Sandy Thompson up in Everett, WA, "Boeingville", sent 
me this last week in response to my query: How would you address a rally 
in Raleigh?

"Re A rally in Raleigh

Or anywhere else.  What to say?

Here is a passage from /The Iron Heel/, the Jack London book they never 
gave you in high school.  The protagonist is a young woman of the 
bourgeoisie, the speaker is her soon-to-be lover, given the melodramatic 
name of Ernest Everhard, and the setting is a parlor where Everhard is 
invited to address the cream of society.  His essential argument, about 
mismanagement and greed, has always stuck with me.  His threats, 
potentially credible in 1912 when the novel takes place, are less so 
today.  But that's a problem we can solve.

    "Five men," he said, "can produce bread for a thousand. One man can
    produce cotton cloth for two hundred and fifty people, woollens for
    three hundred, and boots and shoes for a thousand. One would
    conclude from this that under a capable management of society modern
    civilized man would be a great deal better off than the cave-man.
    But is he? Let us see. In the United States today there are fifteen
    million people living in poverty; and by poverty is meant that
    condition in life in which, through lack of food and adequate
    shelter, the mere standard of working efficiency cannot be
    maintained. In the United States to-day, in spite of all your
    so-called labor legislation, there are three millions of child
    laborers. In twelve years their numbers have been doubled. And in
    passing I will ask you managers of society why you did not make
    public the census figures of 1910? And I will answer for you, that
    you were afraid. The figures of misery would have precipitated the
    revolution that even now is gathering.

    "But to return to my indictment. If modern man's producing power is
    a thousand times greater than that of the cave-man, why then, in the
    United States to-day, are there fifteen million people who are not
    properly sheltered and properly fed? Why then, in the United States
    to-day, are there three million child laborers? It is a true
    indictment. The capitalist class has mismanaged. In face of the
    facts that modern man lives more wretchedly than the cave-man, and
    that his producing power is a thousand times greater than that of
    the cave-man, no other conclusion is possible than that the
    capitalist class has mismanaged, that you have mismanaged, my
    masters, that you have criminally and selfishly mismanaged. And on
    this count you cannot answer me here to-night, face to face, any
    more than can your whole class answer the million and a half of
    revolutionists in the United States. You cannot answer. I challenge
    you to answer. And furthermore, I dare to say to you now that when I
    have finished you will not answer. On that point you will be
    tongue-tied, though you will talk wordily enough about other things.

    "You have failed in your management. You have made a shambles of
    civilization. You have been blind and greedy. You have risen up (as
    you to-day rise up), shamelessly, in our legislative halls, and
    declared that profits were impossible without the toil of children
    and babes. Don't take my word for it. It is all in the records
    against you. You have lulled your conscience to sleep with prattle
    of sweet ideals and dear moralities. You are fat with power and
    possession, drunken with success; and you have no more hope against
    us than have the drones, clustered about the honey-vats, when the
    worker-bees spring upon them to end their rotund existence. You have
    failed in your management of society, and your management is to be
    taken away from you. A million and a half of the men of the working
    class say that they are going to get the rest of the working class
    to join with them and take the management away from you. This is the
    revolution, my masters. Stop it if you can."

Since the idea of speaking to a gathering was raised, I have not been 
able to get this passage out of my mind.


Someone else then responded, remarking on what a racist Jack London was, 
but that isn't responsive to what he wrote here.

Michael Yates wrote
"Karl Marx's famous dictum sums up my teaching philosophy: "The 
philosophers of the world have only interpreted the world in various 
ways; the point is to change it." As I came to see it, Marx had 
uncovered the inner workings of our society, showing both how it 
functioned and why it had to be transcended if human beings were to gain 
control over their lives and labor. Disseminating these ideas could help 
speed the process of human liberation. From a college classroom, I 
thought that I could not only interpret the world, I could indeed change it.
I welcome comments. Please pass along to anyone you think might be 
interested. If you post this to a website, please let me know.

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