Roderic Day

“Potato Sack” History

The usual way that people are taught to think in amerika is that each subject is in a little compartment and has no relation to any other subject. For the most part, we receive fragments of unrelated knowledge, and our education follows no logical format or pattern. It is exactly this kind of education that produces people who don’t have the ability to think for themselves and who are easily manipulated.
 — Assata Shakur, 1987. [1]

If the goal is emancipation, there’s no alternative to relentless, impeccable, fact- and trajectory-focused historical education. We all need to become decent students and able teachers of history. The teaching of history as a “sack of potatoes” is a vulnerability in capitalism that we must exploit.

Everybody already suspects that there’s something funky going on with the way history is taught. Languages, math, physics, and biology are all taught in a similar way, from the basic to the complex, whereas history is taught completely differently, as a chronological sequence of accidents and anecdotes. [2]

For example, “Stalin hungered for power, Hitler hungered for power, and Washington loved freedom” is inert trash, to be simply accepted or rejected. “The Soviet Union was forced to carry out purges because German Lebensraum was an attempt to replicate American Manifest Destiny” is history that makes sense. You can scroll forwards and backwards in time, inwards or outwards in granularity.

An impoverished and neutered conception of history is the keystone upon which the entire edifice of self-righteous liberal propaganda is built, and it is in fact very weak. If we strike at it, hard, it will crumble.

Because of dialectics, any random particular arc of history you become an expert in and study systematically should grow your expertise about the whole of history. As Lenin explains, Marx starts with a single linen coat transaction, and the unraveling of its contradictions results in a smashing indictment:

In his Capital, Marx first analyses the simplest, most common, most ordinary and fundamental everyday relation of bourgeois society, a relation encountered billions of times: the exchange of commodities. In this very simple phenomenon, in this “cell” of bourgeois society, his analysis reveals all the contradictions — or the germs of all the contradictions — of modern society. The subsequent exposition shows us the development (both growth and movement) of these contradictions and of this society in the sum of its individual parts, from its beginning to its end. This should be the method of study and presentation of dialectics in general, for Marx’s dialectics of bourgeois society is only a particular case of dialectics. [3]

There are so many histories that haven’t been told yet, or told well yet; that haven’t been studied as particular expressions of a whole even though they necessarily and logically are part of a whole. Their global relevance remains shrouded, and needs to be discovered.

All struggles are interconnected in this way.

  1. Assata Shakur, 1987. An Autobiography, Ch. 2. 

  2. In fact, we could and should go the other direction: even something as abstract math education is sabotaged by subordinating it to bourgeois needs. See Lockhart’s Lament on this score. [web] 

  3. V. I. Lenin, 1915. On the Question of Dialectics. [web]