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Leon Trotsky 19380710 For Freedom in Education

Leon Trotsky: For Freedom in Education

July 10, 1938

[Writings of Leon Trotsky 1937-1938, New York ²1976, p. 379 f.]

I sincerely thank the editors of Vida for having asked me to express my opinion on the tasks of Mexican educators. My knowledge of the life of this country is still insufficient for me to formulate concrete judgments. But there is a general consideration which I can state here:

In backward countries, which include not only Mexico but to a certain extent the USSR as well, the activity of schoolteachers is not simply a profession but an exalted mission. The task of cultural education consists in awakening and developing the critical personality among the oppressed and downtrodden masses. The indispensable condition for this is that the educator himself must possess a personality developed in the critical sense. A person who does not have seriously worked-out convictions cannot be a leader of the people. That is why a regime that is totalitarian in all its forms – in the state, in the trade union, in the party – strikes irreparable blows at culture and education. Where convictions are imposed from above like a military command, the educator loses his mental individuality and cannot inspire either children or adults with respect or trust in the profession he exercises.

This is at present happening not only in the fascist countries, but also in the USSR. The bases created by the October Revolution are still – fortunately – not completely destroyed. But the political system has already definitively assumed a totalitarian character. The Soviet bureaucracy which has done violence to the revolution wants the people to consider it infallible. It is to the schoolteacher that it has entrusted this task of deceiving the people as priests do. To stifle the voice of criticism, it has introduced the totalitarian system into the education workers' trade unions. The police functionaries put at the head of the unions wage a furious campaign of slanders and repression against educators with a critical mind, accusing them of being counterrevolutionaries, "Trotskyists," and "fascists." Those who do not yield, the GPU suppresses. What is more, the Soviet bureaucracy is striving to extend the same system to the whole world. In every nation it has its agents who are seeking to establish the totalitarian system inside the trade unions of those countries. This is the terrible danger which is threatening the cause of revolution and threatening culture, particularly in the young, backward countries, where the population is all too ready, even as it is, to bend the knee to feudalism, clericalism, and imperialism.

The most fervent wish I can express is for Mexican education not to be subjected to a totalitarian system in its trade unions, with the lies, slanders, repressions, and strangling of critical thought this brings in its train. Only an honorable and tenacious ideological struggle can secure the elaboration of firmly rooted, serious convictions. Only education armed with these convictions is capable of winning unshakable authority and completing its great historical mission.