“Where my offspring spent every day of the week being trained to serve capitalism.” So Heather Ball describes her daughter’s school in the December Socialist Standard. This recalls the words of Pik Smeet in the August issue in his article on Labour’s education policy, “a vast factory for turning out workers tuned to our masters’ requirements”.
I don’t deny that our education system has many faults, most notably the existence of private schools, but the case for socialism is strong enough to make exaggerated attacks on the system both unnecessary and off-putting for many potential socialists. Any society needs its members to have a thorough grasp of “the three R’s” plus an appreciation of history, geography, science, the arts, and so on. At present these are taught by the majority of teachers in a politically biased way. But these subjects would be required in a socialist society, or is it to consist of ignoramuses?
It would be useful to have a major article setting out positively what education would be like in a socialist society. Which subjects would be taught and how would teaching differ from that which operates now?
BRYAN J. FAIR, Dorchester, Dorset
Reply: We will try to publish an article on what education might be like in a socialist society. In the meantime see the letter which follows – Editors.
If Bryan Fair does not think children are being “trained for capitalism” in our schools, then what does he think they are being trained for? What about the stock market, banks, building societies, retailing—the endless sales of endless crap because the system cannot survive without it; a system which insists on showing us inane little stories (called advertisements) over and over again and again on television so as to persuade us to spend our earnings on stuff that most of us have no use for and could do without. Undeniably we need builders, doctors, scientists, teachers, and it says something about humanity that, despite the ethos of capitalism, it yet still has within it, compassion, albeit a sentiment constantly eroded by manipulation for profit.
From the moment a baby emerges from the womb (and even before that) it begins the process of learning. “Playing” is a part of that process. I cannot myself visualise a socialist society where children are regimented into education, conveyor-belt style. It is my belief that the competitive atmosphere of the classroom can make kids resentful and anxious, and those who do not, for various reasons, come up to scratch, are sometimes made to feel worthless and insignificant, whereas if their latent talents were to be encouraged to burgeon without coercion, then I can only think that this would make for a better world. What do we say to the thousands who the education system fails? I don’t imagine young people selling the Big Issue on every corner of every street in towns and cities in a socialist society, anymore than I would expect there to be homeless people. I am not blaming teachers for this. We each of us are forced to make a living whilst at the same time deal with our own sorrows and problems, but if I was a teacher I would feel it incumbent upon me to explain to my pupils how the system works, and that one day some of them may be jobless, surplus to requirement, or press-ganged into a sort of slavery in order to have food and a roof over their heads. And, is history really taught in a politically unbiased way? Think about it.
The radical educationalist, A.S. Neill, proved that most children desire to learn. His school, Summerhill, made lessons available, but voluntary. Children who wished to become engineers, doctors, teachers, etc, used their self-discipline to attend appropriate classes and many of them achieved their goals. So to me a socialist society would include places of learning without compulsion.
You say that “our education system has many faults most notably the existence of private schools”. To me that is rather like saying that the coal mines, water, and the railways should not be privatised. I don’t think it makes much difference whether they’re privatised or state-owned. As a radical socialist I no longer support reforms.
You say “it would be useful to have a major article setting out positively what education would be like in a socialist society”. We cannot predict, but this socialist, for one, has her dreams.
HEATHER BALL, Norwich
I feel the article “Pinochet and Socialism”, (Socialist Standard, December 1998) contains a familiar inconsistency as regards your view of the role of political democracy in abolishing capitalism.
The fact that the working class on the eve of socialism will be a world-wide self-conscious organised socialist majority will itself constitute a powerful material force and it is this force which is the basis of the principle that the emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working class.
How does it then follow that this movement needs to use, or should use, capitalist political democracy to abolish capitalism? Capitalist democracy is a capitalist institution created in the interests of the capitalist class to ensure a smoother running of the capitalist system. What is so special about sending a group of Socialist MPs into a parliament to declare the abolition of capitalism when the material force for actually delivering this abolition is the Mass Socialist Movement outside?
Why cannot this declaration be made by the Movement itself through its own representative democratic structures, which will have been created by the working class itself, specifically for the purpose of developing and furthering the mass movement for socialism?
I know you say using capitalist political democracy is essential in order to gain control the state. But in response to “Leninist” claims this would invite a “Pinochet style” response, you argue that the state apparatus is staffed by workers who will inevitably be won to the Mass Socialist Movement. The armed forces would in effect be a broken reed in the face of the MSM, literally generals without troops. Again, you confirm the key to effect change, to gain control of the state apparatus, is the Mass Socialist Movement, not the comparative handful of Socialist MPs sent into a Parliament.
So why the continued emphasis on the importance and need for (capitalist) political democracy to secure the transition to socialism?
The importance of a representative institution to demonstrate a majority for socialism and to ensure the abolition of capitalism is done in as peaceable and co-ordinated manner as possible is not denied. But isn’t it far preferable to use structures and tools created by the working class itself, and for itself, to achieve this more effectively?
We cannot guarantee capitalist democracy will always be available to use for the purpose yet by definition we know for sure a Mass Socialist Movement will be based on organs of working class democracy which are certain to be available to us and better fashioned for the purpose.
ANDREW NORTHALL, Kettering, Northants
Reply: You are right. Once what you call “the Mass Socialist Movement” has come into existence capitalism’s days are numbered and there is nothing supporters of capitalism can then do to stop socialism coming. Even if they were to try armed resistance they would lose and, after a period of chaos and bloodshed, socialism would still end up being established.
You are also right that, if the Mass Socialist Movement so chose, it could simply go ahead and seize power. This too would result in a period of chaos and perhaps bloodshed (it would give the opponents of socialism a perfect excuse to resist) but the end result would still be the establishment of socialism.
But what’s the inconsistency in conceding that this is theoretically possible but not advocating that it should be tried? Using existing representative and elective institutions would be the best way to proceed for the reasons you yourself mention: “to demonstrate a majority for socialism and to ensure the abolition of capitalism is done in as peaceable and co-ordinated manner as possible”.
We don’t agree either that it makes sense for the socialist movement to duplicate existing representative and elective structures. Obviously, the socialist movement will have to have its own democratic structures, but what would be the point of drawing up registers of electors, rules for nominating candidates, counting procedures, etc when these already exist for political elections? Why not use those that exist? Admittedly, new democratic structures will have to be developed at the workplace, where none exist at present, and we have always envisaged this happening through workers’ unions of one sort or another, but this does not have to be done as far as geographically-based local and national elections are concerned.
So, all in all, using existing institutions is the best option which is why we have always advocated it.—Editors.
It is no coincidence that every year many thousands are struck down with influenza in the wake of the so-called “Christmas festivities”. Having indulged in just about everything that we know is not good for us our resistance to disease is at its usual annual all-time low. Little wonder that the old ‘flu bug jumps down so many throats and hey ho! A few thousand more get their come-uppance before they have had time to put their baubles away.
The ‘flu epidemic post-Christmas 1999 promises to be the biggest ever. The Christmas binge will of course be dragged on into the 21st Century as countless millions make themselves ill while celebrating and having a “good time”, little doubt the millennium bug will strike . . . but it won’t be computers catching cold.
So why are so many people hell-bent on making themselves ill in order to “celebrate”? And what is there to celebrate? What difference will there be in the world a minute before midnight and a minute after midnight? Disregarding the millions who will have made themselves ill in the attempt to bring some joy into their hapless lives there will be no difference whatsoever. There will still be people living in cardboard boxes while others have several homes to live in. There will still be millions dying for the want of a bowl of rice while others die of obesity. There will still be one million children in this country alone being supported by others than the people who brought them into the world.
The bugs of deceit, corruption, greed, sleaze and dishonesty will continue to flourish and permeate every strand of our society and will continue to do so till the demeaning values upon which world society is based are replaced by values of a higher intrinsic worth . . . when that happens we will truly have something to celebrate.
JOHN PHAZEY, Sutton Coldfield