Qualities of a Strong School Local

The local has a clearly defined vision and an analysis of its members surroundings. The members are aware of the goals, feeling they had an important role in their development. There is a "From the People, To the People" process in place which allows evaluation of the goals and progress toward them.

The plan of action is rooted in member-to-member surveys and focus groups and is verified regularly. 

The local grasps that power only bows to power. Hence, the local builds alliances with friends based on a clear coincidence of mutual interest, understood by all parties. The union also perceives that there are, in this flawed world, enemies who must be addressed.

The local abandons the negative aspects of the craft unionism of the past and puts kids and working class parents first. Teachers rightly disciplined for racist actions get no help from the union. Professional concerns like the curriculum are a prime topic of bargaining. 

The union melds certificated professionals and support workers in all elements of the unions' work: collective bargaining, grievances, meetings, and so on. Union leadership is drawn from all the various sectors of school workers.

Trusted governance leaders come directly from the rank and file to fill positions for limited periods of time. A sense of mentorship for new activists lends to continuity and collectivity in the governance ranks. The leaders are sufficiently confidant to be publicly self-critical when the criticism would build the union.

Meetings are widely announced and a deliberate effort is made to bolster attendance. Meetings are run, whenever possible, through consensus, not simple voting which isolates people in their positions. 

Staff is well trained and has the tools to do the job including clear guidelines for what must be done. Like governance, staff is in regular contact with the rank and file. Both staff and governance meet with the rank and file and parents in their schools and in their homes. Staff is encouraged to take risks based on their reasoned judgement and supported when they err. The pay of all union employees is tied to the average pay of the rank and file.

There is a clear design to defeat racism and sexism both in the school system and in the union local. Determination to defeat racism and sexism comes from the grasp that school workers are materially hurt by their continuance and that they must be demolished or they will be used to demolish us. Hence, there must be a willingness to discuss racism and sexism in an open atmosphere.

Racism is only defeated by the recognition of the divisive role it plays and integrated action. This means the union must consciously seek out examples of racism and sexism and determine which fights are best made. But fights must be made, whether they are carried out around the curriculum or the discipline of teachers or kids. Strong locals do not pander to the lowest common denominators in their bargaining units when addressing the questions of racism and sexism.

Strong locals understand the real meaning of solidarity, that an injury to one is an injury to all. Moreover, the union leadership does not allow bargaining, grievance handling and the legal processes of the work place tp isolate leaders from members. To the contrary, these matters are used as public forums to build the consciousness of the rank and file. 

A powerful local has close links with the community, the union is in service to the people. These local ties are obtained by guaranteeing contact with parents and citizens that stresses the importance of a partisan educators union. For example, the union office, located in the community it serves, is used for literacy projects, preparation for prison education programs, or GED classes. The union's resources are open to the community, like opening the office for community meetings or the copy machine for community activists. The union stresses the bonds of the interests of teachers, parents and kids.

Union leaders practice the notion internally that real power is power that is given away. Mass participation is encouraged around the concept of accomplishing something, not obtaining titles. Meetings are action-planning sessions, not long moments of bitterness. On the other hand, the importance of leadership, of initiating action, is recognized.

Mutual support systems allow people to raise ideas, take risks, and feel that they will be collectively supported. No small clique, easily isolated and demolished by the employer, rules.

The union is confidant enough to have fun, to meet people's social needs, and to make fun of itself. 

Training is furnished for governance and recognition is accorded to those who participate.

Even in states where laws provide for an agency shop (one must either pay dues or "fees" to the union) the local pays constant attention to membership development which is, legitimately in a good union, the vital ingredient.

Membership is always at the front of union/rank and file communication with reminders that the perception of union power is measured in membership figures, and that power is a paycheck concern. A system is in place that insures every unit member is asked to join more than once, that their issues are identified and addressed, and that they are asked by their friends and most respected colleagues.

There is full openness in dealings with the employer; no sweetheart contracts which place power in the hands of management, no trading one grievance for another, etc. The guiding understanding is that the rank and file members and their top administrators often have less, not more, in common and that an informed membership is more likely to understand this fact.

Union leaders do not become top school administrators.

Communications must be the prime source of school worker information. Communications are accurate yet partisan, professional in appearance, frequently a quick read, and draw on the experiences and life of the rank and file. For example, articles are drawn from the members, their photos are prominent, they are surveyed and their results honestly published. Logos and formats are consistent. There is specialized communication for leaders. And the community, parents and kids, is included in the communication. For example, kids' writing is given a prominent spot. Kids' cartoons highlight articles, etc.

The local must be closely linked to the state and national organizations. This does not mean the local is necessarily supportive of these bodies, but that the local is involved in their affairs, either as an oppositional force or a solid buttress, more likely the former.

The local promotes the view that it is not a vending machine but a vehicle for mass participation, a vehicle to win the vision that the educators have themselves defined at the outset.

Grunt workers, local treasures for example, are trained and specially rewarded. They do backbone work and are too often forgotten. They must be confident that their contribution is recognized and that they are contributing according to standards they understand.

There is willingness to test new techniques, from locally made videos to be shared by teachers in lounges or parents and children in their homes, to marketing techniques that aid member building.

School workers unions must support the job actions of other workers. From PATCO forward, the leadership of the AFL-CIO encouraged workers to let each other hang seperately. AFL worker solidarity is an oxymoron. More than a decade later, we can see the result of the absence of activist unity in workers' ranks. The AFL's collapse, from representing 30% of the work force to about 12%, is no particular loss. What is damaging is the cynicism, hopelessness, pervading workers ranks. There is no cure but action, unity through struggle. Workers will never believe they can win until some leaders step forward and take risks. Powerful school workers' organizations can help insure that some of the fights are won.

Mutual support from school workers can take many forms; picket line back-ups, day care assistance to parents who are involved in job actions, union hall educationals led by education employees, bail money collections, and so on.

With this understanding of a strong local, let us return to strategies for educator unions.

6) Teacher unions should especially seek ties to social service unions and recipients. The link is clear; hungry, homeless kids do not learn well. Too often teacher union leaders allow themselves to be used against social service recipients in contests for state and national funds. An injury to one only precedes an injury to all should certainly apply here. Make school funding a political issue with a class base. If cuts must come, cut the rich kids' schools. Teachers should be in the lead when the unemployed begin to march.

Let us veer a moment into the school funding debate. Admittedly, there is really no direct relationship between education spending and delivering knowledge. Students from countries like Finland, France, the U.K., Japan, West Germany, Spain, South Korea , all of which spend less per student on schools than the US, do better on standardized tests than American students. Cuba, with virtually no GNP to spend, wiped out illiteracy. Chinese kids, during periods of revolutionary upsurge, learned successfully in caves. In revolutionary societies, education, ideas, leaped ahead of the material base which usually provides for school. Perhaps it's "he who has a why to learn can bear most any how". 

Learning is especially alienated in the United States, in a society where the organization of decay is the foremost task. That may well be why North American kids do so poorly in comparison to, say, South Korean kids, whose fanatically anti-communist education, even with over 40 children in a classroom, has, at least, a reason. Never-the-less, without money there is no heat in the winter, which makes it hard to turn pages. It's easier to teach 20 kids than 40. Absent the fervor of a revolutionary upsurge, money to schools is a good demand.

7) Form a national rank and file caucus for both NEA and AFT members. Let the caucus adopt flesh out a broad statement of principals as well as specific educational/organizing goals (especially related to the curriculum) designed by its members. Such a caucus could attract dozens, if not thousands, of honest rank and file school workers who are put off by the corrupt, essentially undemocratic style unionism of NEA and AFT. Take advantage of obvious inroads. NEA, for example, allows ANY MEMBER to run for national president, gives the candidate access to the national newspaper (2 million plus circulation) and allows at least one speech to the national convention audience of more than 10,000 school workers.

Examine the "Rethinking Schools" newspaper from Milwaukee and "School Voices" from New York. Witness the move in the member base from writing to action. Start a local paper addressing a variety of issues from the "Questions of Learning" to discussions of struggles on the job, etc. Put together a committee of teachers to examine basals for racism and sexism, and publish the results. 

Prepare to take advantage of the implosion that will occur in NEA when it merges with the AFL-CIO. Let the caucus decide whether or not there is a need for an independent third school workers union, a union that grasps the linkage of professionalism and unionism.

8) Be audacious. Call mass rallies at state capitols or local board meetings and take over the functions of the legislators. Hold peoples' sessions and rearrange the tax system in an equitable fashion. Don't be deterred by convention, the highest form of internalized oppression.

Use the Freedom of Information Act in your state to get daily copies of board activities, perhaps the superintendent's calendar, expense vouchers, and so on. Research the financial ties of board members and elected officials. Look into the background of the superintendent. Let the cats out of the bags in a joint school worker/parent/student newsletter.

9)The crux of teacher-student alienation, the point where the two must part company if the teacher follows orders, the location of the ruling class' greatest needs, the spot where there is the greatest volatility, is the curriculum, the demand that teachers teach lies to students, obscure ways to seek truth, camouflage paths to test knowledge in practice, and control or bore students into submission.

In school, all is subordinate to the curriculum, the substance of what is being taught. There is no question that the form or style of instruction is important. There are liberating ways to teach which must be linked to the essence of the lesson. We know some basic things: build on student experiences, let them struggle for the answers, meet their intellectual requirements when they come forward, that is, don't impose intellectual needs on them. Unused knowledge is knowledge lost. School, community, and work are intertwined. Lessons learned with laughter are usually learned well. A sense of justice and commonly defined purpose in the classroom is the key to discipline.

But virtually every conceivable mass form of instruction has been tried in the most advanced capitalist and socialist societies, and eventually they failed. (See, "The Night is Dark and I am Far From Home", "Red and Expert", "Educational Philosophy of National Socialism") Critical thinking, in nearly every instance, was rapidly extinguished after the brief glow of revolution, after it became necessary to lie to people, to clamp down and disarm them, to insure the priveleges of the state against the citizens.

In the United States, there is a drive toward formalizing a national curriculum. Indeed, through national testing, there already is a national curriculum in place. We may expect this curriculum to be more and more authoritarian, more falsely divisive, more riddled with mysticism and claims that the U.S. won in Vietnam. If there is to be a serious drive for change and equality in schools, any educator union worth its salt must put the curriculum in its closest sights

Whatever the unions may look like, it persists that if teachers are to be truly professionals, if educators are to stick to honest standards of education, to stand on the shoulders of the courageous teachers who sustained schools in the south during reconstruction, teachers will become more and more partisan, more activist, more deeply involved in their communities. They will take sides and, in Henry Giroux's term, become "public intellectuals", promoting every facet of students' right to know and analyze society and openly analyzing the purpose of the curriculum itself.

Jean Lind-Brinkman raises very useful ways to take apart a textbook. She poses a series of questions for the instructor and the students:

"Who are the authors' sponsors? What are their interests in the issue? Find phrases, sentences. WHat images of themselves do they wish to present?

"Who is the intended audience? What are their interests in the issue? Of what does the author-sponsor wish to persuade them?

"What content does the author-sponsor focus on? What is omitted? Are biases or prejudices apparent (such as racism, sexism, ageism)?

"What alternative viewpoints or arguments exist that are not mentioned or acknowledged?

"What meaning is produced by the interaction of the formal, photo/sketches, and written content." (Jean Lind-Brinkman quoted in Giroux' "Education Under Siege" p.151)

Where does this material come from? Why is it here? Who benefits from these ideas? Who is hurt? In short, "Whose side is this stuff on?" What is problematic is that the focus of discussion remains the basal, the for-profit text. In their own partisan fashion, the stage is set by people whose first concern is profit. Do you remember detailed methods of dissection, or the dead frog stretched out in front of you? 

The ideal public intellectual will grapple with ideas of class struggle, racism, the scientific approach, the tolerance of dissent, strategic planning, even the source of values like modern fashion (which demonstrates that the fashionable have no contact with manual work) and the hidden mystery of a lost thought, dialectical materialism, the study of change in the real world, in the classroom. 

These are the factors that make school a sword and shield for kids, the elements that can give realization to parents' hopes, and unite people who should be united. Moreover the partisan school worker, will need practical ideas on how to organize and fight in a world ever more hostile. Hence, in the next three parts, we move first to a curriculum that can survive with a minimum of texts, then to theories of change and how things are learned, then insights on identifying, organizing, promoting real leaders, and action on the job, one key to the fight.

A Partisan Curriculum

Dialectical Materialism

Identifying and Building Real Leaders

Basic Organizing Tactics

Strikes and Job Actions




As we advanced at the outset, all but power is illusion. Elites keep power in several ways: by dividing people along race, sex and class lines for example, by force and the use of state power, that is, through a government that is a belligerent, not neutral. Finally, the governing class stays in power through ideological training: this is the best of all possible worlds, only external forces like God or politicians can control history, you will lose if you try to make change, you have no eternal value but that reflected by your money and things on this earth, trust no one, and, after all, you can die into a better world soon if you will only accept a profane world today. 

It's any teacher's job, and more so a partisan democratist teacher's challenge, to make change, to alter a child's vision of the world. The kind of change we want to effect occurs in the real world, now, or in our lifetimes. It's change we want to see and hope to verify.

The study of change has deep roots, going back to early Greeks over 2500 years ago. The study of change is dialectics. The study of change in the real world is dialectical materialism. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, mid-fathers of communism, braided the idea together, made it practical, a weapon for working people.

Even the most immodest of organizers couldn't claim to present dialectical materialism in all its richness in a modest book on partisan education. Still, democratist school workers must see that their efforts make a difference, there is a scheme of things, there is room for optimism. This little synopsis is presented with considerable humility but sufficient audicity to hope democratists will carry their studies much further.

Dialectical materialism is a philosophy, a world view, a vision of how things work. Everybody has one. But this is a world view that doesn't just try to explain things as they are, it is a partisan world view that insists on change. It is the only philosophy that has an interest to find truth, that says, "Verify me with your experience and don't stop at faith. Criticize everything. Test everything. Here is a useful method". Dialectical materialism is not the truth and is not a dogma. It is a working method to get at the truth which is forever stretched just slightly beyond us.

Let's break this into two parts: materialism and dialectics. 


Materialism is not the idea that you should wear as many gold chains as you can hold up. Materialism is the view that there IS a real world and events in the real world shape people's thoughts. You exist. The trees exist. The treees are not just in your mind. They will be there even if you are not. The children in the classroom are there. They are not there merely because you think they are. Ideas come from material circumstances, not vice versa. Being determines consciousness, that is, what you do and your position in society largely determines what you think. A cop will have a different view of the law than a prisoner or a judge. A teacher married to a millionaire will live in a different world and think differently from a teacher married to a custodial worker. A school superintendent sees life in a way distinct from a bus driver or a kid who has to fight her way past junkies in the corridor on the way home.

Materialism recognizes that there are social classes in direct competition and each social class has ideas peculiar to it and, indeed, serve it. For example, varying degrees of racist ideas benefit wealthy people. Rascist concepts make oppression of other people palatable, they divide workers, and racist ideas serve as a source of profit. (Minority workers are paid less and the gap between the incomes of workers of color and white workers is growing rapidly---see "Two Nations" by Andrew Hacker, Scribner, 1992) In contrast, ideas facilitating democratic equality benefit workers. Egalitarian concepts promote solidarity, freedom for the majority of citizens, and the celebration of life.

Take the dash for the truth in understanding the basic units of life. Competing societies which require war took this mastery of the atom, a wonder in itself, and devolved it into the most murderous weapons of all time. The Rosenburgs were executed because they may have shared this piece of truth with the competition. Truth, again, demonstrates its partisan nature, on one side or the other.

Not understanding the concrete circumstances around you is like buttoning the wrong button on your coat. Suddenly everything is askew. This is the way we discover the truth, even if it evolves as we discover it. We look to see if our coat is buttoned right. We observe material reality, act on it, and see what happens.

Dialectical materialism opposes the notion that says "I think, therefore I am," or the idea that mystical forces control the universe. These are IDEALIST notions, the belief that things occur first in your mind, then in your world. Our millionaire teacher doesn't create his universe in his head, his wide screen TV set is THERE, while our teacher married to the custodian may have to worry about paying extra for a Burger King mug. You aren't what you think. You think what you are. 

Racism is not just a nasty idea that mysteriously passes from one generation to another. It is a result of a social system which finds profit in racism, which requires false divisions among citizens to survive. This is the mark Andrew Hacker, in his most helpful book "Two Nations", misses altogether. Although Hacker compiles alps of data to show that the U.S. is a nation cleaved by racism, he begins his effort, and ends it, with a message that there is no hope; racism will always be with us. Hopelessness is a most marketable commodity these days, but only if one believes one is tilting with the mist. Racism can be set back, perhaps defeated, in an integrated movement that acts directly against it. This is a graphic example of materialist versus idealist thinking.

Materialism recognizes that many people have competing interests. For example, unorganized powerless school workers will not make financial gains until they unite and prepare for action. That's because they must face people whose material interests are to deny educators benefits until the threat is too great. In brief, David Duke will not fund integrated schools unless Duke fears the people in them. It is not reason that convinces David Duke, it is power; not debates but a material force.

We use a little bit of materialism every day. We study survey research on children and seek to determine what works and what doesn't. Educators try to know their school's neighborhoods and the lives kids lead before they reach the classroom. We show up, usually, on time, knowing time is a real concept that affects another very real conceept, our pay. We put gas in the car. We cannot will ourselves to work. We know hungry kids do not learn. We get kids vaccinated. We do not pray away disease. We try to confine our flying to planes. We do not leap and conjure wings. We adjust our clothes to the climate. In other words, we mold our actions and ideas around the very real world we live in . That's materialism. 

Materialism is useful in studying the development of social classes and world events. Who gained from the invasion of Grenada? Iraq? Did their gain involve their minds, their pocketbooks, or both? Can ideas be material forces? What about the idea of voting rights, jobs, and equal access in the Civil Rights Movement? How about the ideas pushed by abolitionists before the Civil War? How about the idea of democratic equality? Democratists involve the real world, materialism, with the demand for economic justice coupled to the call for political democracy.

Dialectics is the study of change. Everything always changes. Therefore, everything is always in motion. Things always change because all things are composed of contradictions. Stay with me, now. It actually gets easy. Dialectical materialism, a workers' philosophy, can be understood by workers.

People, for example, are full of contradictions, forces pulling us different ways. Physically, we all grow older every second, but at any given moment we may be young. We are usually mostly healthy but we're full of germs. We carry genes of both sexes, but one dominates over the other. Intellectually, we may want the comforts of the rich but we don't want to hurt other people to become wealthy. We believe in hard work but we play the lottery. We want to be in shape but don't like diet or exercise. We want resistance but we don't want pain. We may like democracy until we become powerful. We want steel without the mills, paper without the smells of paper plants, work without tedium. Because everyone is full of contradiction, everyone changes. 

Again, all things are composed of contradictions. All things exist in the real world. The study of change in the real world is dialectical materialism.

If we quickly link dialectics with materialism, we see that everyones' ideas reflect the struggle in social classes around them. This is how people change in the real world. Finding the key contradictions in people, grasping their levels of importance, is a useful way to put dialectical materialism to work. In the section on leadership development there are practical questions about people which will help you put this particular thought to use. 

There are three key laws of dialectics:

The First Law---The Unity and Struggle of Opposites


All things are interdependent, interrelated and all things reflect a contradiction---THE UNITY AND STRUGGLE OF OPPOSITES. All unity is temporary. Unity lasts for but a moment since everythings always changes. So struggle, the contest within a contradiction, is permanent. Struggle is, therefore, primary. Since struggle is continuous, one side of a contradiction always dominates, and ultimately destroys the other. Since struggle is the essence of contradiction, and in struggle one element of a contradiction must prevail, all struggle is ultimately antagonistic, one side conquers. 

As all things change because of contradictions, and all contradictions are initially internal, the motive force of change is internal. External factors create the conditions of change, but not the motive force.

Let's talk this through in terms of a friend, a woman, using drugs. Nobody does drugs alone. Drug usage effects everyone around her. At the longest stretch, if she's using heroin, she's connected to the farthest reaches of the CIA's old operations in the Golden Triangle near Vietnam, she's attached to the mob, she's ripping off her friends who she can trust no longer, she's ever more alone in her own mind, ever more dependant on parasitical tactics on the other. She's isolated but linked to a rotten world all at the same time. So her life is interrelated, interdependant, with many other people.

She faces a contradictory external world. Lets say her life is tough. She's laid off. Her unemployment is about to expire. The next step is welfare, perhaps eviction, homelessness. There are drug dealers all around the neighborhood. But she has a friend, you, who battles with her about being a junkie, a leech, a pawn for the police who will want to use her as an informant. You demonstrate that you love her but despise what she's become. She hates cops, wants to work, have kids and a family; but she also wants to outrun her world. You offer to get her out of the neighborhood, out of the state, and into a friend's place where she can get clean. You can set the conditions for her recovery, but you cannot recover for her. Being clean will be, every day, her choice, a question internal to her; her vote for life or death. Drugs or life will prevail, one thing will become primary over the other. She will either be a former junkie or a dead user. Her decision to be clean, her reason to exist, will finally be determined within her. But you can create conditions which will help. She may go back and forth for awhile, but over time one side of the contradiction in her will prevail.

What class is represented in her decision to be clean? Who does that behavior serve? Or what class would be served by her addiction? What impact can external struggle, your efforts, have on someone's internal contradictions? Would it matter if you spent more time with her? What should be done with that time? If she stays clean, what will the impact of her past life be?

Dialectics, the unity and struggle of opposites, is often diagramed like this:




But should be presented like a spiral:

Indeed, any one-dimensional diagram, even the spiral, fails to address the layered complexities of dialectical materialism but it is a useful visual fiction.

The first diagram is one dimensional, too simple. Change includes, at the same time, the flow of things, their sharp breaks, and the elements of the past that are carried forward within them. The synthesis of our junkie friend, once she is clean, will always include her background, the ether smell of temptation will forever be with her, a contest every momnent she considers a nod. 

Teachers can watch dialectics play out in every classroom:

In Physics--- every action -- a reaction

In Mathematics - addition, subtraction, multiplication, division

In Biology - Darwin, chromosome pairing and division

In Anatomy - grasp of things, forefinger/thumb advantage

In Music - major/minor keys, silence and notes

In English---"The best of times, the worst of times..."

In History--- social classes, production, anti-racism

In Art---the contrast of colors and their geometry

In the Lunchroom---adolescents versus food

In Athlectics- breaking down muscles to build muscles

In the Lounge---who is pro-kid and who is not

In Languages---repetition, cooperation, practice

In Reading---pressing into the unknown words

If all things are interrelated and composed of a unity and struggle of opposites, then what brings change?

The Second Law---Quantity Becomes Quality---and Around Again


All sides of every contradiction contain quantitative properties which can become qualitative change. The classic example is to add heat to water. The addition of degrees of temperaure is, for a time, almost unnoticeable. But suddenly the water is transformed, it becomes something quite different but composed of many of the same properties as before. The water leaps into steam. In the other direction, put the water in the freezer. The combination of quantitative properties, cold and time, cause a radical change. The water becomes hard: ice.

Quantity becomes quality with your body. If you exercise regularly over a period of time, you should attain a higher state of health. If you eat too little, you die. Of course, we must deal with the appropriate quantity. If you exercise too much, you will hurt yourself. For example, if you lift a 250 pound weight without training, you'll be in pain, not healthier. You can get too much oxygen. If you add chromosones, you change your heredity. Repitition is important in learning, quantity into quality.

In society, peculiar as it is, if people produce too much of something they cause an economic collapse, a crisis of over production. If they produce too little, they can affect the value of money.

Children discover walking by taking one step at a time. Children learn to read a bit at a time but eventually most of them read smoothly. It takes a lot of days in a school year, a sum of direct contacts, to move a child's development, maturity, ahead from grade to grade. Many teachers, each with particular strengths, join together to educate a child. Like walking, this is not a process that moves forward in a straight line. There are plenty of zigs and zags, spills, before the child can cross a room unaided. Dialectics compose a multi-dimensional vision.

In organizing a movement for democratic equality in the schools, it helps to understand that quantity does become quality, if the quantity is correct. If our strategy is correct, if we have a concrete grasp of the conditions we face, and we have determined what the proper quantity is, a leaflet perhaps, then each leaflet distributed lends to qualitative change. If we're organizing an action at a school board meeting, then each contact on the phone tree will build mass participation, the key element in a successful demonstration. Again, all this adding up is not without its detours. But the essence of the matter is that what you do counts, just as what you choose not to do makes a difference. 

Sometimes it takes years of distributions to strike the point when an action is possible. The mass movement against the war in Vietnam did not simply materialize. It was the result of the material work done by the Vietnamese who resisted and the quantitative educational work of what was initially just dozens of Americans who opposed the war. Eventually they became millions. But the movement was built one leaflet, one demonstration, at a time. Suddenly it appeared there were millions of marchers on the mall in Washington. None of them would have been there without quantitative work. Qualitative change appears sudden, like birth it sometimes appears violent. But it is always composed of quantitative changes.

In organizing it is easy to see this process of quantity, quality, quantity and so on. For a time you distribute informational material. Eventually you meet someone who will help. Your work leaps ahead. You are able to create an exponentially greater quantity...

So quantity becomes quality. And once the new quality, lets say a baby is delivered, new quantities within it, and without, begin to act on it to make further changes. Time passes. It grows and wants a car.

The Third Law--Negation of the Negation

When a thing has qualitatively changed, it does not stop changing. While it is new, it carries forward properties of the old. This is called the negation of the negation. It is the third law of dialectics. 

It sounds complex because its said twice, negation of the negation. But it is simple enough. Take one negation at a time. With time the baby negated the pulsing embryo; age, inherrent in the embryo, will negate the baby. The civil rights movement made remarkable legal and social advances, but problems within the movement, racism, sexism, nationalism, a reliance on government over massed people, and so on, negated the civil rights movement. The anti-war movement and the Vietnamese pushed the United States out of Vietnam. But problems in the anti-war movement, remarkably similar to problems in the civil rights movement, prevented it from implementing fundamental social change, equality, in the U.S. But there are now hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. who will not forget the lessons of the civil rights and anti-war movements and who will contribute to movements in the future. Perhaps a few of the past mistakes will not be made again. All this really means is that things keep changing, and the changes are primarily motivated by internal factors, even after a thing has changed once.

Taken together, the three laws of dialectics also demonstrate a fact that pulverizes a common American misconception: "The more things change the more things stay the same." Perhaps Willie Kennedy Smith said that.

Whoever the author, he was wrong. The more things change, the more things are forever different. A new property is entirely new and while it is in itself a contradiction, it is a completely new contradiction. Thus, things do not develop in circles. If we must rely on a diagram, again, the spiral is the most helpful. In evolution, when man became human, there was no going back. Next thing you know, shopping malls.

The three laws of dialectics are laws of development. Laws of development are primary in studying a thing because change is the main aspect of everything. But we must also study the structures and functions of things -- to capture things at a given moment and determine what they are, how they are put together.The three laws, the unity, and conflict of opposites, quantity into quality, and the negation of the negation, are critical in studying categories of dialectics which, in turn help us grasp what things are; how they're composed. 

We understand that all things are always in a process of development. Wt the same time, to grasp development we need to try to freeze things at a given moment in order to examine them. In this, we apply the useful categories of dialectics. But we engage this process with the knowledge that our object already changed, moved. That is one reason why practice remains ahead of theory. Now we turn to the categories of dialectics.

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Categories of Dialectics

Appearance and Essence

Knowledge advances from the outer to the inner aspects of a thing. To understand something, we must grasp both its appearance and its essence. This whole philospohical ground is encased by the wise saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover." 

Before we get right to this category, though, it's worth it to remember that this category is a contradiction in itself (like everything else), a unity and struggle of opposites, a joining of two elements which cannot exist without each other but in which one side dominates the other.

Imagine, for example, that you're a second baseperson. Second base can't exist, or wouldn't make sense, without first base. Nor would it make sense if you were not playing baseball. Your job is to cover the area between first and second. Most of the time, you're shaded toward second, covering the ground nearer that bag. That is the DOMINANT tilt of your position. But, in some cases, depending on the situation, you'll need to lean toward first, maybe to cover the bag on a bunt.

Like the second base job, one side of a contradiction is always more important that the other. And there is always one side that generally has more weight, more consequence than the other. But sometimes the lighter side gains importance so that it temporarily is tops, like a second baseperson leaning to first. We will return to the ballgame in a moment.

You know, in addition, that some people think and act differently than others. The main thing that underlies how those people think and act is their position in the social system, that is, whether they're a boss or a worker, whether they're rich or poor, striving or settled. Rich people think that getting rich is wonderful, no matter what the cost. Most poor people know that getting rich means hurting someone else, ripping somebody off. They're right.

Since everyone's thinking is "stamped with the brand of their class", and since some answers to questions are right and others are wrong (how many right ways are there to button your coat?), it's worth examining ways in which truth can be found, and why it is that some kinds of thinking can actually arrive at truth and others cannot.

In short, there are capitalist ways to think, to examine reality, and democratist ways of thinking, selfish ideas and democratic ideas. Capitalist ways of contemplation, and there are many of them, are all the ways tycoons might approach a problem. Egalitarian ways of thinking represent the interests and combined wisdom of workers people of good will. These two ways of approaching and solving problems have nothing in common.

Why? Because one side actually has a reason to conceal the truth while the other side has a reason to reach it. Bigwigs, in every instance, even to one another, must ultimately conceal the truth. People who live on profits must compete and grow, or die. They must conceal their strengths, demean workers, attack competitors. Is this mostly true of your school superintendant?

One of the best ways to survive in this deadly kind of competition is to make sure that your opponent is confused, doesn't know the turf. This is true in running a 7-11, in science (like professors who get caught for lying on research findings), in art, in music, in sports, in everything. It's true because this is a capitalist society and the drive to rip off other people pollutes everything.

Why do they want to do that, what can they gain? And, moreover, what's the truth anyway? 


Privileged people can stay in power as long as workers divide themselves along artificial lines like race, or sex. Executives need to hide the fact that what underlies their power is not the "natural order of things" or "human nature" but sheer force and violence. It is far more effective to make people instruments of their own oppression through a series of false ideas than to always have to pay for troops in the streets.

If we can live with the idea, at least for a moment, that truth is the struggle for that which can be tested in practice; we can conclude that most employers, including school superintendants, want nothing to do with it, and that they have developed a whole system of thinking which will distract people from ways of figuring it out.

Democratic egalitarians, in contrast, insist that people take nothing on faith, that we test or criticize everything, and that we make collective decisions, try them out, and make corrections, so we can get closer to the truth. It is the only system of thinking (philosophy) which openly takes the side of poor and working people and which can self-correct through observation of its own mistakes. Most importantly, because it is plainly partisan, it is the only world view which has a material interest in getting at what is, or can be, true.

Overseers aren't the only people who THINK like bosses. Since profits and privelege control the government, the newspapers, the movies, the record industry and so on, they are able to press some of their ideas into all of our minds. 

For example, people sticking together is an unselfish, working class idea. Every person for themself is a capitalist idea. Many working people in our society have both these ideas in them at once, a contradiction. But for our discussion, many unselfish ideas can be discovered by people just by the practice of their day to day lives.

With that in mind, we can take a look at the category, appearance and essence. 

Again, this is a contradiction. It has two sides. If what we said is true, that thought is partisan, then the big cheeses (who are by definition virtually always lying or wrong about everything) will tend to overemphasize one side of the contradiction, the wrong one, over the other. Small "d" democrats, in opposition, will emphasize the side of the contradiction that truly does carry the most weigh, but, at the same time, democrats will recognize that any contradiction always has two sides and from time to time that side which is lighter can be the more critical.

That is exactly what happens.

"You can't judge a book by its cover". In order to understand a thing, you must look at what is OUTSIDE, its surface, and what's INSIDE, is essence. While there is no book without a cover, what's inside is key.

Capitalist thinking usually overemphasizes the appearance of a thing.

Lets scrutinize how that is done.

In the case of the book, capitalist really do want you to judge it by its cover, or at least by its most superficial ideas. That's why there are so many glitzy-covered books out on the shelves---to sell them, not promote some great idea inside them. TV news appears to be news, but 15 second sound bites are not news. TV news is the filler between commercials.

Sports, professional football, baseball, hockey and so on, seem to stand above, or apart from, what happens in the real world. But, in essence they don't. Sports are a diversion, at best. Sports incorporate all that is rotten in the surrounding world, like racism, and make it appear unreal. But it's not. The real reason people sing the national anthem before baseball games is that during World War I the people who owned the baseball teams promised they'd play the song before every game in exchange for not drafting baseball players. 

In war, let's compare the appearance of Ho Chi Minh and Saddam Hussein. Saddam had the 4th largest army in the world. He had modern equipment. Ho had people on bicycles. Ho won. Saddam's fighters didn't fight. How come? Appearance and essence.

Mao, said, "If you want to understand a thing, change it".

Mao meant that to understand an apple, take a bite of it. Don't just look at the skin. (After all, Safeway probably put wax all over it).

Surely capitalist thinking that emphasizes appearance over essence builds racism. Money magnates, whose interest is to divide people, want us to believe that somebody's APPEARANCE, their skin color, is the main thing about them. That's wrong, not true.

Democratists understand that the essence of a person, their class, their political understanding, etc., is far more important than their color of skin. That does not mean, though, that skin color, and the racism that derives from it, is not important. It is. That's the nature of the CONTRADICTION in appearance and essence. Racism, race, is important, but relative to class relations it is secondary.

Minority workers are doubly ripped off in a racist, profit-driven society. But skin color is not the MAIN thing about a person. The main thing is class, the essence of their relationship with the people is power. Minority workers have more in common with white workers than they do with Marion Barry.

So democrats understand that this is a contradiction, with two sides, one heavier than the other, but both worth noting. 

Here's some other examples to work on:

1. School is supposed to be the place for education, the spot where we gain and test knowledge. Is it? What are examples of the appearance and essence sides of the contradiction when we discuss school?

2. Do doctors in a capitalist society treat the appearance or essence of disease? Is a cat-scan machine or a working sewer system a better indication of a concern about health care? 

3. When everyone has a chance to vote and rights of free speech, is it wrong to be a rebel?

4. What's the idea behind this phrase, "In our democratic society it is equally illegal for a poor man and a rich man to sleep under a bridge"?

5. When we're building a movement for deocratic schools, what's the best way to analyze our literature? Is it enough to count numbers of sales or is there more to it? What if there weren't the numbers? 

6. Does the appearance of internal flyers effect their impact? Is content more important than appearance in a flyer? Is the appearance more important than the content? How would you do it?

Appearance and essence. They're like the seed and the apple. One doesn't go far without the other. Understanding this category of contradictions can make you a better democratist.

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Form and Content

Again, these are inseparable opposites. At no level does one exist without the other. Content passes into form, form into content. Content is usually primary, but form is not always secondary. In human relations the conflict of the social content of production comes into conflict with the form of individual ownership.

1. Some examples - while , american democracy and monarchy are all political forms, they are in content the rule of the rich.

2. While quality of work life promises shop floor democracy - the boss is still in power.

3. While we use many different forms of leaflets, they're all meant to build a measure of workers' power on the job.

4. While we may have preferred to alter the content of our video speeches, the form of public speaking is clearly critical.

c. The Relative and the Absolute - Again, an inseparable pair. Things are simultaneously relative and absolute.

1. In math a number is both itself as well as either large or small in comparison to other numbers.

2. Misunderstanding that things are both relative and absolute immobilizes people. For example:

(a) To believe that civil rights are always applicable to all people means that fascists have the right to march and build .

(b) To believe that all things are only relative, leaves you adrift. In a sea of relatives - "well, this is bad but it could be worse."

(c) Does the saying "The courts, in their majestic justice, make it equally illegal for a rich man and a poor man to sleep under a bridge" mean anything?

d. The Finite and the Infinite

1. It is a contradiction that the infinite is composed of finites. It is because infinity is a contradiction that it is an infinite process.

2. We are engaged in this finite struggle today, but the struggles of people will never end - they are infinite. But our finite steps can make things infinitely better.

e. The Possible and the Actual - Things are both what they are at the moment and what they can potentially become. Everything continues to exist by ceaselessly realizing its potential to become something else.

1. The potential of anything is limited by the internal make up and the conditions around it. Despite your great expectations, you cannot fly and you cannot be a part of the ruling class.

2. On the other hand, the potential of the civil right movement, the anti-war movement, the labor movement, all outweighed what they superficially appeared to be when they were born.

3. People who undervalue themselves misunderstand both the actual value they create and their potential to control it.

f. Contingency (Chance, or Accident) and Necessity

1. It is true things necessarily change, but the means of their change, their timing, the nature of the change, can appear to be a matter of chance. Pollen landing on a seed. Sperm meeting an egg. Chance and necessity are inseparable. The moment of Rosa Parks' decision to sit in the front of the bus conditioned by the necessity of events that followed ... and preceded.

2. The fact that each individual, each of us here, has an aspect of contingency. The fact that somebody would be here is necessary.

3. This drives directly at why things happen. Necessity is usually the primary aspect of this contradiction.

(a) Can you interpret the phrase, "freedom is understanding necessity"? What about transforming necessity?

(b) For oppressed people, digging into the causes of things is often both taboo and very threatening.

(c) Events usually have many interrelated, sometimes contradictory causes. Which is primary? What was the main reason for the invasion of Grenada, Vietnam, or Panama?

(d) Because we can, with some accuracy, grasp the causes of many events, we can also reasonably predict some events. This doesn't make us prophets, more to the pint it makes us curious.

(e) We can predict, for example, that in a society divided into classes, there will be battles between the classes.

(f) We would derive laws of social change - if we understand causes of events - and if we could grasp the relative nature of freedom. What's the meaning of:

"the wolf and the lamb did not agree on the definition of freedom"


"the absolute freedom of 'me' demands the enslavement of all the other pronouns"


"free will vs necessity are the sources of societies' ills in the minds of people, or in their material surroundings?"

"none are more completely enslaved than those who falsely believed they are free"


"people in pacified areas become instruments of their own oppression."

g. Cause and Effect - a contradiction described above.

h. Likeness and Difference

1. People are both. Again, these are two inseparable sides of a contradiction.

2. All people are generally alike, but they have specific differences. If we apply the above understanding of the other categories, we can determine which side of the contradiction is primary at each moment.

(a) While all people have much in common, do American workers have more in common with Japanese workers, or with the owners of GM?

(b) While all women have much in common, do working women have more in common with Jackie Kennedy or a working man?

(c) While Filipino people have much in common, do Filipino workers have more in common with Cory Aquino or Joe Slobo?

(d) Does locality pay reflect a tilt toward likeness or difference?

(e) Why do postal workers have collective bargaining?

i. The Particular and the General

1. For example, in the course of evolutionary change, some unique aspect may become a species feature. The particular and the general are inseparable, interrelated, interpenetrating sides of a contradiction.

2. In studying a problem, we break it down into its component parts. We've studied many particular organizing campaigns to reach a general understanding of organizing.

3. Every worker in every industry has particular problems. Are the workers you represent really, generally, different from all workers? Are federal employees, teachers, nurses, custodians, each fundamentally different?

4. What does it mean to say a person "considers himself the bridegroom at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral?"

5. The particular and the general are not isolated but interrelated. Are war, racism, unemployment, poverty, overproduction, repression, actually part of a basically satisfactory, never-ending society?

6. While we must know the particulars, we must not forget the general. We must not become so enamored with meeting individual workers that we lose sight of the mass campaign. Don't miss the forest for the trees.

7. Idealists want the general without the particular. Empiricists want the particular without the general.

(a) The importance of the categories

(i) Above the others stands the last - the particular and the general because it forms the basis of understanding things, i.e., practice. We move from the particular to the general which becomes itself a more profound particular and on up the spiral.

(ii) If you wish to understand something - change it.

(iii) The categories are a compass, a checklist of helpful lines of inquiry.

(iv) The basic point is that you can understand the world as it is, you can constantly test and correct your understanding through systematic practice, and you can change the world - which will change anyway.

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