Derek R. Ford, Guest Blogger
The surprise election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States in early November shocked several sectors of society, including the ruling class. In this current social and political climate, the Left is in full mobilization mode. There has been an upsurge in spontaneous actions denouncing Trump and defending the groups he has attacked—or those he has stated he plans to attack. The Left, which has taken a defensivist position over the last eight years, needs to be on the offensive again. It is to this offensive that I offer my latest book, Communist Study: Education for the Commons. It is a pedagogical offering, meaning that I hope it is able to inform and contextualize the deeply educational aspects of organizing resistance movements. When organizing we often speak of educational processes: teaching, learning, studying, testing, and so on. Yet rarely is any time allowed to inquire into what these processes mean, what they entail, what possibilities they offer, and how they—which are all grouped around the form of education—relate to politics—or the content of education.
I was an organizer before I became an educational scholar. One of the reasons I was drawn to the field of critical education was because of the ways in which I got the same types of feelings at protests and in struggles as I did when reading and thinking about and wrestling with ideas with others. When I hearken back, the best educational experiences for me have been indistinguishable from the best political experiences. The research I have done over the past several years, both in the academy and in the streets, has given me some tools, concepts, problems, and frameworks with which to theorize these feelings that I’ve had and how they relate to the social formation. The result of this process is the book, which articulates a communist pedagogical constellation. Central to this constellation is the concept of study, which can be approached first by its difference with learning.
Whereas learning is always directed by predetermined and measurable ends, studying is about pure means, exploring, getting lost, forgetting what one knows so one can see the world exists otherwise. Studying is, I think, the educational equivalent of flirting. When flirting with another, I and that other sway between “we can, we cannot.” Each gesture, touch, or phrase proposes potential as it withdraws into impotential. We're neither committed nor uncommitted; we are not-not-committed. Studying can’t be graded or measured; it’s only about use. And yet learning is an important thing, too. In the book I develop a figurative education that heterogeneously blocks learning and studying together. Moreover, insisting that we must theorize modes of educational/activist engagement in conjunction with political criteria, I turn to several instances in history when the Left has been without such criteria: Hungary 1956, Libya 2011, and Tiananmen Square 1989. In closing, I suggest that we turn to the Communist Party as a pedagogical organizational form that can navigate the heterogeneous figurative space of our present moment.