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Education? Education? Education?

Dear Editors,

Rarely does a newscast pass without mention of education. New initiatives are released like frantic hounds hunting down a headline. Examinations are or are not more stringent than ever they were. Primary school leavers enter secondary functionally illiterate and/or innumerate. Eight years on from being elected promising to solve all educational conundrums, the Labour government flounders on. Recently its education ministers turned on their own enforcers OFSTED for giving good reports on schools that subsequently appeared in the relegation zone of the league tables. If ever there was a paradigm of capitalism it is education.
When state education was established towards the end of the 19th century rote learning, lots of copying and well marshalled callisthenics was the rule. This reflected industrial processes for which those children were being prepared. Today the direct influence of capitalism is to be seen in the managerial approach; the setting and measuring of targets, a tightly controlled and prescriptive national curriculum, all inspected by the pedagogic commissars of OFSTED.

What is not considered, despite much rhetoric to the contrary, is that each child is an individual, ironic for a system that lauds individualism. In truth there is a continuum of ability in any area, not some crass equality that can be state imposed. Socialists have no difficulty with the concept of from each according to ability, an obvious recognition of difference, to each according to need, a guarantee no one can suffer or prosper due to congenital factors. Of course capitalism cannot act on this basis. The absolute need to produce for profit requires a trained workforce, why else make school attendance a legal requirement, pupils being the only members of our society forced by law into an institution without being convicted in court. Education becomes associated with a punitive regime rather than a wide variety of ways everyone, whatever their innate abilities, could enhance their lives.

At the end of the 19th century school boards were concerned about levels of truancy and poor achievement. Their answer? Industrial schools where a more vocational approach could appeal to those who were not so academic. Little changes really and cannot, until people accept that education will only be transformed along with society in general. Abolish capitalism and promote the co-operative, moneyless and worldwide common ownership that is socialism. And only then will the economic and social deprivation that is such a negative influence on so many children’s lives be done away with. Only then will education be determined by those who want to be educated, instead of it being subjected to the pet nostrums and egos of politicians.

Dave Alton, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.


Dear Editors,
I agree with most of what Adam Buick writes in "Capitalism and the quality of life" (January Socialist Standard). Just a couple of supplementary points. He mentions Lefebvre’s A Critique of Everyday Life and Debord's Society of the Spectacle as good on criticising commodity culture. I think socialists will find any of Andre Gorz's books better value on that subject.

The other point is what, if anything, we can do about the spread of money-commodity relations into all aspects of life. The article says "There's nothing that can be done to stop this within the context of capitalism ..." Unduly pessimistic and defeatist, I think. We can protest at every manifestation of capitalist culture we come across.
I remember about 30 years ago being invited to a teachers' union meeting in California. Just before the interval the chairperson introduced a guy who promptly started to sell insurance. I was amazed and voiced my displeasure. They all looked sheepish, but nobody said anything. I'm not saying the revolution took a step forward that day. But if a few hundred, then a few thousand, then a million of us publicly declare our opposition to capitalism...

Stan Parker (by-email)


Dear Editors,

In assessing Bukharin (December Socialist Standard) we must be aware he belonged to the totalitarian Bolshevik Party. He supported the Bolsheviks’ forcible dissolution of the Constituent Assembly when electors placed them in a minority. Bukharin supported the erosion of workers’ rights and use of terror against political opponents, whether right or left, including the bloody suppression by Trotsky of the Kronstadt Rebellion which was not led by right wing people, but by Socialists. The workers in Russia enjoyed less rights and freedom than the capitalist West. Bukharin was in this so-called Marxist government. The SPGB rightly calls it state capitalist. The Socialist Party existed in Britain whereas in Russia people of similar views were in labour camps or executed.

Andrew Harvey, Carlisle

Russia and capitalism

Dear Editors,

In the article on the First Russian Revolution of 1905 (Socialist Standard, December) you conclude that one of the many lessons to be learnt from that event is that “any worthwhile progress in human society must come, and can only come, from the working class”, and “relying on our rulers to initiate worthwhile change is as useless as the Russian peasants’ reliance on the Tsar.”

This is an unusual argument for a Marxist to make because all Russian (and other) Marxists regarded capitalism as a progressive force notwithstanding the fact that capitalism was introduced into Russia as a direct result of state policy, on the initiative of rulers – from Alexander II’s reforms in the 1860s, to Witte’s industrialisation program in the 1890s and Stolypin’s agrarian reform of 1906.

More surprising is the fact that you fail to mention the one institution in 1905 which was wholly and spontaneously a creation of the Russian working class.  This was the soviet or workers’ council.  Despite its relatively brief life, the Petersburg Soviet in 1905 assumed the character of an organised revolutionary authority and a rival power of government.  From that experience Lenin drew the conclusion that the dynamic power of the soviets, under the direction of a group of professional revolutionaries, could be harnessed to bring about a revolution which would change society from top to bottom and ultimately lead to socialism (subject to the victory of socialist revolutions elsewhere in Europe). 

In October 1917 Lenin’s political tactics succeeded when he wrested power from the Provisional Government and, ultimately, from the soviets themselves.  The voluntaristic strain in Marxism represented by Lenin and the Bolsheviks triumphed over the deterministic (and orthodox) strain represented by Martov and the Mensheviks.

Yet you suggest that the main lesson of 1905 is that “no force can cut short the natural development of society until it is ready for change”.  Do you believe that the Bolsheviks were not such a force?  And if not, what sort of “natural development” are you talking about?

Peter Bryant, Sydney, Australia

Reply: We were alluding to the development of capitalism in Russia, which the Bolsheviks were unable to avoid. In fact, they became its agents - Editors.

Questioning everything

Dear Editors,
Your reaction to my letter in the December issue when I said that I restrict my buying to essentials, was very guarded. That was a correct view to take for as I point out in my booklet Question Everything, (available without charge from me at 51 Newton Road, Bath BA2 1RW), one should accept nothing without asking what are its implications and whose interests are involved.
 (Note:You may also download Melvin's book here )

You point out that if it caught on employers would be able to pay us less, but they always do so anyway in order to cut costs. What they never see is that if workers have less they can only buy less. Employers see things from their own short term point of view, condemning the unemployed as layabouts and a drain on public funds until they want government support, when one reason they give for having it is to alleviate the suffering of those same unemployed.

The simple fact remains that capitalism needs that we keep buying and when I heard that  the economy was slowing I thought that socialists would want to help it to do so further so that capitalism can give way to one that was more efficient.

No system based on the competitive greed, selfishness, aggression and conflicting interests of money can be more than marginally efficient, and in this scientific and technological age in which we can produce anything that we want and send it anywhere in the world without being impeded, distracted and negated by increasing multitudes of financial complexities, the money system has become superfluous, an impediment to everything that we try to do.

Only a moneyless society could be fully efficient .

We need to differentiate between people and societies, between capitalists and capitalism,  to stop defeating our objectives by making enemies. We all are humans conditioned by and conforming to our genetic and environmental inheritance so that no one, whether fat cat or beggar can be criticised or blamed for what they are or do. We can advance that inheritance only by developing intellect and reason.

Melvin Chapman, Bath