The Plot to Educate. Why the Capitalist wants Brains

The clerk and the school-teacher boast that they live by their brains. The mechanic smiles in derision and claims that the real thing worth knowing is, how to do something useful. The capitalist and the slacker regard all kinds of education as worthless that do not help them to dodge work. These are personal view-points and much twaddle has been spoken and written on each, which is responsible for much of the confusion that exists on the subject of education.

The capitalist himself does not want to be troubled with education, as he understands it ; he pays someone else to acquire and use it in his interest. He does not object to some pains to obtain a smattering of general knowledge and that neurotic polish known and worshipped as culture. Some capitalists even pose as business men and indulge in vague generalities about “technical knowledge” and “the qualities that make for success.” These are the merchant princes and the qualities they laud were precisely the ones that made them such. The capitalist who soils his hands, or worries his brains over technicalities, it is almost needless to add, is the man who cannot afford to buy brains and must, perforce, use his own.

Science has become an adjunct of industry. Educated brains are as necessary to the capitalist as skilled hands and muscular are. Industry (read capitalists) needs both. Muscular energy and mechanical skill multiplies itself without much watering and manuring from the owners of capital. But the science of the business laboratory, and the knowledge necessary to organization on a large scale can only be acquired under special circumstances not attainable by the average worker.

There is no question of intelligence involved. The lad of average intellect given the opportunity to qualify could fill any post in the field of industry. There is no genius in evidence, nor is it required. High salaries are paid to the chemist and the organiser because their skill or ability is the product of many workers concentrated in one person. The opportunities to acquire this concentrated knowledge are rare, consequently those who possess it are scarce, their price on the labour market is high and their heads are swollen, not with the exercise of their brains, but with the idea that they are worth more than the mechanic or laboiner—to the capitalist.

And the latter, well, he wants more. Not like the worker who “wants more work in order to get less of it.” The capitalist wants more brain workers to get more—for less money. Hence the agitation in the Press. One writer says: “Germany did not sweep to such triumphs in the chemical world simply on the brains of one or two super-skilled men. She had armies of such men.” The capitalist wants to be quit of the Ramseys, Wallaces and Lodges who flirt with spooks and try to analyse ether. When they condescend to notice him from the heights of the Milky Way, the astral world, or a Park Lane drawing-room, their information was, to say the least, costly.

What the capitalist wants is to instal the brain-worker under his factory roof, with the rest of his workers, where he can see that his brain works—by the results. The first step to this end is to train the men. Supply of brain-workers must overtake demand. As was the case with school-teachers and clerks, competition will assert itself and the capitalist will get what he wants—cheap scientists and brain-workers.

The first move is a move in Parliament—the executive of the capitalists. Two committees are appointed, one for science, the other for languages. The terms of reference and constitution of the first are :

“To enquire into the position occupied by natural science in the educational system of Great Britain, especially in secondary schools and universities ; and to advise what measures are needed to promote its study, regard being had to the requirements of a liberal education, to the advancement of pure science, and to the interests of the trades, industries and professions which particularly depend upon applied science.

The terms of the second are :

“To enquire into the position occupied by the study of modern languages in the educational system of Great Britain, especially in secondary schools and universities, and to advise what measures are re­quired to promote their study, regard being had to the requirements of a liberal education, including an appreciation of the history, literature and civilisation of other countries and to the interests of commerce and public service”.

The unthinking one who reads the above will see nothing in it but the intention of Parliament to give facilities to the children of the poor to qualify for better jobs ; it entirely escapes his notice that the wholesale manufacture of applicants quickly robs the better job of its advantages. Capitalism by these very methods tends to reduce all workers to one dead level. Mechanical inventions eliminate skilled workers; ; lightning calculators scrap the clerk, and the man of muscle is superseded by magnetic cranes, etc.

Division of labour reduces the knowledge and skill required by each person to a minimum. Every man and woman specialises in one direction only ; and in that direction, because of the competition, must devote all his or her energies. To what end ? “The interests of trade, industry, and commerce.” All the educational roads lead to the same goal—the commercial interests of the capitalist class. If the worker wants to live he must get into one of the ruts provided, where his senses will be sharpened and his very thoughts moulded and curbed in the interest of commerce. Whether he works with his brain or his hands, or with, a combination of both—as, indeed, all forms of labour really are—he is subservient to commerce. Production and distribution, instead of being the means to satisfy his wants, enslaves him, plants him in a niche and keeps him busy with the routine of a department or the feeding of a machine.

Life for the average worker has no meaning outside the interests of commerce. The wonders of the universe, the beauties of nature, real knowledge and culture, are outside his ken : he is a mere cog in the machinery of wealth production—and remains poor. The accumulated knowledge of society built up by successive generations of workers has made possible a full and glorious life for all. Yet the life that comes to each of us but once is forced into a rut of toil that an idle class may flourish and revel in excessive luxury.

We Socialists are often accused of using strong language, but it is difficult to frame language that will convey an adequate idea of the hideous poverty of the great mass of the workers, according even to capitalist evidence. The cupidity and greed of the capitalist and the ignominy of the wage-slave have become ingrained in their respective natures. We Socialists, while not relinquishing the task of presenting to the workers a true perspective of their position, gladly welcome any capitalist writer of ability who contributes anything that will support our position, or help remove seme of the confusion prevalent on the subject of education.

The instructions given to the committee that is to investigate education reform are sufficient evidence to prove the conspiracy of the capitalist class. They plot to make all workers subservient to the interests of commerce, i.e., their interests, to prune knowledge—our common inheritance—till it, too, only serves their interests. Here, Mr. Donald Ross comes to our aid. He anticipated the Shylock character of education reform and exposed the whole plot.

According to Mr. Ross there are three aspects of education. “First,” he says,

“do we want to give our people greater culture ? Do we want to educate them in those things that make for greater personal charm and greater personal achievement purely in a social sense? I mean without any regard to utility. Naturally, we do. Culture is always worth while.”

Secondly he deals with education as it effects efficiency—the view-point of the capitalist. He says:

“In manufacture to-day the best brains directing the most capable hands will win to distinction. If we can educate all our workers in the technical sciences we shall undoubtedly produce better than our rivals and sweep the commercial field.”

But Mr. Ross does not finish there. He goes on to describe how the workers of Germany linked themselves up in association and enthusiastically set themselve to further the ends of industry by discussion and experiment.

Then he says :

“But you will notice that this did not make any difference to them financially. They improved the the machinery, increased production, took an absorbing interest in their work, and made vast profits for the manufacturer who employed them. That is one flaw in the argument for greater technical effciency of craftsmen. Under the present system the craftsman turns round and says in effect, why should I spend time and trouble on becoming a more efficient machine to produce greater wealth for another ? That is his problem. Admittedly a worker here and there may “get on” because of his knowledge, but this is simply because the others have not the same knowledge.”

Next, Mr Ross states the problem, in language almost identical to our own :

“We all know that the production of wealth in manufacturing countries is enormous. It could be enormously increased. The trouble is that it is not properly distributed. The men who make it, the men in the factory, the forge and the field, get least of it. Their first problem, then, is not how to make more, but to get more of what they already make.”

Lastly, in bold language Mr. Ross outlines the solution of the problem.

“They need education in economics. They need to learn what are the forces at work in the modern world which help a small number of men to take the largest share of wealth. They require an education that will enable them to unravel the tangled skein of modern economics ; to review industry as a whole ; to find out why there are classes and masses, and then, understanding, to apply their knowledge to the refashioning of society, so that the worker shall get a greater share of the wealth he produces. It is often objected that this would be “class” education. It would ; and it is needed, and organised labour should see that the workers get it. So the three steps in labour education should be : First, class education, which will give labour ultimate control of industry; second, technical education which will allow it to produce more wealth ; third, cultural education which will allow them to enjoy it.”

In places, Mr. Ross lays himself open to misconstruction, but there is little doubt that he points to Socialism as the only remedy. In other places he has been responsible for some confusion, but the above quotations from an article appearing in “Reynolds’s Newspaper,” Aug. 13th, shows that he is capable of independent thought ; and what is more gratifying to the Socialist, when he exercises it honestly, he finds himself admitting and asserting the principles for which we have stood so long.

True he speaks of giving “labour ultimate control of industry,” and the worker getting “a greater share” of the wealth he produces, which is no doubt due to his own limited knowledge of economics, But once a man recognises the need for education of the workers on class lines, he has surmounted the worst obstacle. The rest is easy. For what purpose education unless it is to bind the working class in an organization to take and use the means of wealth production and distribution in their own interests ? The education needed by the working class is Socialist education, that includes economics. An education that explains to them how they are robbed, why they must organise on the basis of their class, capture the political machinery of the capitalist State and establish a system wherein wealth will be produced for use, and not for profit. Then technical education will mean greater production of wealth with less expenditure of labour power, and efficiency will no longer enrich a small class of idlers. Every invention that aids in the production of wealth, instead of being a curse, because it increases unemployment, will be welcomed because it gives more leisure to enjoy the good things of life. The instruments of production, instead of enchaining those who operate them, physically and mentally, will serve them as the means to satisfy their wants.

F. F.

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