Ep 13 – The Workers’ University: adult education in the Communist Party of Australia

In the 1940s, the Communist Party of Australia was approaching the peak of its power as the largest and most influential left-wing organisation in Australian history.

The Communist Party of Australia demanded far more of its members than an average political organisation. To be a communist, you were expected not just to become an activist and an organiser, but to read and study deeply, and to understand often complex theoretical texts. And so with thousands of new members flocking to it, the Communist Party established one of the most ambitious systems of adult education ever seen in Australia – the Marx Schools.

Based in several capital cities, the Marx Schools ran from 10am to 10pm every day of the week, and offered CPA members and sympathisers extensive, in-depth courses in socialist and Marxist theory, in the practicalities of union organising, in how to chair meetings and give public speeches, in anti-fascism and women’s rights, and in art, economics, philosophy and literature. With a pedagogy far more advanced and participatory than most universities, and in an era when most Australians had no formal education beyond age 13 or 14, the Marx Schools taught thousands of workers how to both understand the world and how to change it.

To discuss this remarkable experiment in Australian adult education, we’re joined in this episode by Bob Boughton, a former academic and social worker who’s done extensive research on the Marx Schools.

You can read Bob’s PhD about adult education in the Communist Party of Australia here, and Bob has also recently helped edit and publish Comrades!, a book which tells the life stories of over 100 Australian communists, which you can find here.

Opening and closing music courtesy of Glitter Rats. People’s History of Australia logo design courtesy of Nissenbaum Design.