Ideas to Change the World

Four organisers of a recent weekend of radical education reflect on the spaces and situations where we can grow anti-capitalist culture.

In February this year, at Crianlarich youth hostel, over 20 people from different backgrounds, generations and political outlooks came together at a residential weekend hosted by the Popular Education Network (PEN). The aim of PEN is threefold. First, to give a space to activists from different political traditions to develop perspectives and analyse real-time issues together in a reflective and non-judgemental space. Second, to introduce those who are new to campaigns to an anti-capitalist, theoretical understanding of the world. Thirdly, to facilitate a programme of work for activists to challenge our own limitations and restrictions in order to ensure our movements are as healthy and strong as they can be.

The residential weekend took place against the backdrop of a period of high levels of industrial action, campaigns against energy price hikes, the growth of Living Rent as a tenants’ union, and a varied picture of grassroots organising around issues of race, feminism and LGBTQ*. In contrast to previous years, the PEN weekend took place without an ‘anchor’ Left party or organisation. The past six years have seen a weakening of the independence movement, a pandemic without an organised Left response, the destruction of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics in Westminster, the continued rightward shift of the Tories, and attacks on working class people through a variety of means. As such, while there is no anchor organisation of PEN, organisers believe it is becoming more and more imperative to create space for the Left in Scotland to discuss, analyse and debate ideas.

The weekend gave space to people from trade unions and anarchist traditions, people with backgrounds from Latin America to the Kurdish movement, people from Marxist organisations, Labour, the Greens, and a variety of campaigns, to reflect together on the state of the world today and Scotland’s place in it. There was a particular focus on analysing state power in the UK and Scotland, in the context of a broader overview of how our economic system works.

We debated climate change, roleplaying the stereotypes of ‘the right’ and ‘the left’, of energy companies, of social democrats and capitalists. Through the process of debate, as each participant played a certain character, the group began to realise how well energy companies and governments can tell a ‘common sense’ story while right and left simply shout over each other.

Another of the problems we sought to explore was how to challenge the corrosive ideas we all hold. Representatives of the Kurdish women’s movement facilitated a session on the capitalist ideas which hold back our movement and drive competition amongst activists.

There was a recognition that we cannot simply hope to solve the problems of the world. We must also do some puzzling of ourselves too. As Noam Chomsky said, “the world is a very puzzling place. If you are not willing to be puzzled, you just become a replica of someone else’s mind”. There was also a lesson on the history of work through lenses looking at different characters – the weaver, the artisan, the factory-worker, the globalised worker, and the future worker. Lastly, we looked at protest movements in Ecuador and turned our minds to lessons of the culture of political education which inspires action across Latin America.

Organisers of the weekend are keen to see workshops take place throughout the year, as in previous years, before another residential weekend next year. This is truly a network for all those interested in developing political education and will work to complement and facilitate other education taking place, such as the STUC’s cost of living training, organising networks, reading groups, studies from the Kurdish movement, and any other political education taking place or needing to take place. One of the main, underpinning, priorities for PEN organisers is that the workshops and the residential weekend provide a space to debate ideas on the Left, with an understanding that whilst the learning happens through a lens of anti-capitalist concepts, organisers are not precious about particular ideological theories. Given the seismic events which have taken place in Scotland,and across the world in the past few years, and the heightened pace of activity more recently,  it is important to preserve and create spaces for the Left to discuss and debate. This is not a talking-shop. When energies begin to flag, these places provide time for activists to recover a sense of purpose.

We hope this is as organic a process as possible. If you want more information, have ideas you want to share, or would like to join the network, please email

The Popular Education Network ( hosted ‘Ideas to Change the World: Political Education Residential Weekend’ in February this year.

Frances Curran, Sarah Collins, David Green, Suki Sangha are organisers with the Popular Education Network (PEN) which hosted “Ideas to Change the World: Political Education Residential Weekend” in February this year.