Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
×
Home

Toward a General Theory and Global History of Workers’ Education

  • Michael Merrill (a1) and Susan J. Schurman (a1)
Abstract

Workers’ education, understood to mean the education of workers by workers for purposes they themselves determine, has always been highly contested terrain, just like work itself. If there is to be an adequate global history of workers’ education, it will need to be guided by a suitable general theory. Hegel most expansively and Durkheim most persuasively argued that societies are cognitive and moral projects, of which education is constitutive: knowing and social being are inextricably bound up with one another. In the global democratic revolutions of the last 250 years, the labor movement distinguished itself as simultaneously a social movement, an education in democracy, and a struggle for a democratic education. The history of workers’ education is a history of workers striving to remake their communities into democracies and themselves into democrats. This brief essay introduces a collection of essays representative of a new generation of scholarship on the history of workers’ education, which we hope will help both traditional and emerging labor movements understand their past and think more clearly about their future.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Toward a General Theory and Global History of Workers’ Education
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Toward a General Theory and Global History of Workers’ Education
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Toward a General Theory and Global History of Workers’ Education
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
References
Hide All

NOTES

1. See Gleason, Arthur, Workers’ Education in the United States, with some Foreign Examples (New York, 1923). For other essential classic studies on the history of workers’ education, see Hansome, Marius, World Workers’ Educational Movements: Their Social Significance (New York, 1931); Guigui, Albert, The Contribution of the ILO to Workers Education, 1919–1970 (Geneva, 1972); Hopkins, Philip G. H., ed., Workers’ Education: An International Perspective (Milton Keynes, 1985).

2. Docherty, James. C. and van der Velden, Sjaak, eds., Historical Dictionary of Organized Labor, 3rd ed. (Lanham, UK, 2012).

3. There are exceptions, most notably Thompson, E.P.'s The Making of the English Working Class (London, 1963). Thompson, of course, wrote Making while employed as a workers’ education instructor. The essays in this volume cite many of the most important contributions to this literature. Also important to consult are a few older and newer surveys of the field, including Resnick, Idrian N., ed., Tanzania: Revolution by Education (Arusha, TZ, 1968); Kane, Liam, Popular Education and Social Change in Latin America (London, 2001); Steele, Tom, Knowledge Is Power! The Rise and Fall of European Popular Education Movements, 1848–1939 (Bern, 2007); and Novelli, Mario and Ferus-Comelo, Anibel, eds., Globalization, Knowledge and Labour: Education for Solidarity within Spaces of Resistance (London and New York, 2010).

4. See, for example, Negt, Oskar, Soziologische Phantasie un exemplarisches Lernen: Zur Theorie und Praxis der Arbeiterbildung (Frankfurt am Main, 1971), 7. John Reed’s account of the “thirst for education, so long thwarted, [which] burst with the Revolution into a frenzy of expression,” clearly places the emphasis where it belongs: on reading, not rioting. “All Russia was learning to read, and reading—politics, economics, history—because the people wanted to know. … Hundreds of thousands of pamphlets were distributed by thousands of organizations, and poured into the armies, the villages, the factories, the streets.” Reed, John, Ten Days That Shook the World (New York, 1919), 14.

5. Thompson, Making, 10.

6. Negt, Oskar, “Politische bildung ist die Befreiung der Menschen,” in Positionen der Politischen Bildung 2: Ein Interviewbuch zur ausserschulischen Jugend- und Erwachsenenbildung, Hrsg. Huffer, K-P, et al. . (Schwalbach am Taurus, 2004), 197.

7. Nearly 100 years ago, Dewey, John made much the same point in The Public and Its Problems (New York, 1927), and this decisive intervention between the two world wars of the twentieth century and on the eve of the Great Depression is still very much worth pondering.

8. Thompson, Making, 12.

9. See the classic 1928 formulation by the pioneering US labor educator and activist, A. J. Muste. Trade unions, he wrote, combine within themselves “two extremely divergent social structures, that of an army and that of a democratic town meeting. The union is a fighting instrument and exhibits always more or less definitely a tendency to take on the characteristics of armed forces and warfare in its structure and activities. … [On the other hand,] the union must remain ‘a purely voluntary agency’ and … conceives itself an essential organ for carrying on industry democratically in such a way that the personalities of the worker are not obliterated in the process.” Muste, A. J., “Factional Fights in Trade Unions” in Hardman, J.B.S., ed., American Labor Dynamics in the Light of Post-War Developments (New York, 1929), 332333 .

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Labor and Working-Class History
  • ISSN: 0147-5479
  • EISSN: 1471-6445
  • URL: /core/journals/international-labor-and-working-class-history
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×

Metrics

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed