I am dangerous, apparently. School students need protecting from me and my ilk, lest they be seduced into thinking inimical to their well-being, perhaps undermining the very fundamentals of society.
Could it be that I’m stockpiling caches of weapons for armed insurrection? Is it my intention to poison their young minds against democracy? Maybe my intention is to persuade them to adopt some extreme ideology?
Actually, perhaps rather boringly, no!
It is certainly true that I espouse the replacing of capitalism with socialism. That it seems could be enough to have my ideas banned from the classroom for, ironically, being anti-democratic.
The Department for Education has recently issued new guidelines instructing schools not to use ‘resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters’. One such ‘extreme political stance’ is advocating the abolition of capitalism. The Department for Unwitting Irony goes on to justify capitalism as protecting freedom of speech. Opposition to capitalism is, it seems, an ipso facto denial of freedom of speech.
To be accurate, discussing an alternative to capitalism in the classroom is not forbidden by this guidance. However, using an article from the Socialist Standard, advocating such a course of action would contravene the guidelines.
The basic problem is that there’s no criteria established as to what an extreme political stance means. Examples are given such as, ‘…a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism… to end free and fair elections, opposition to… freedom speech… of association, of assembly… of religion and conscience’.
The implication is that all of the above are equally culpable. So, the overthrow of democracy is identical to advocating abolishing capitalism as both are extreme.
Whereas, defending an economic system whereby the vast majority must sell their labour power for less than the value they create, simply to live, to the few who accrue to themselves the surplus value produced by that majority, is, obviously, reasonable and moderate.
Perhaps the Socialist Party is dedicated to overthrowing democracy in order to engineer a socialist society. The Mandarins of Unwitting Irony either don’t understand, or deviously obscure, the absolute necessity of democracy in achieving socialism.
No democracy – no socialism. Such a society can only be brought about by the conscious action of the working class, the vast majority, acting collectively on its own behalf to bring socialism about.
Socialists most certainly have no desire to turn young minds against democracy, rather they want to enhance it to the point where it actually becomes effective.
In his column the journalistic commentator Daniel Finkelstein (Times, 30. September) took great exception to those who found the Department for Education guidance troubling:
‘All that’s being suggested is that organisations which advocate the abolition of capitalism are not suitable providers of teaching material for schoolchildren.’
Finkelstein begins his piece by referring to how, ‘Stalin attempted to starve my father to death in Siberia.’ He goes on to list, ‘…more than two dozen attempts to build a socialist society’, from Albania to Venezuela, with all the main culprits in between.
Nor will he allow the response that none of these were real socialism. He has a point if he is referring to apologists for those regimes who find their hopes ultimately disappointed.
However, the response that none of those regimes exhibited real socialism is perfectly valid if they contravened the criteria by which socialism is defined from the outset. The Socialist Party has consistently denounced all such manifestations of supposed socialism for the travesty they’ve been from their inception.
Indeed, opposition to capitalism encompasses all examples of state capitalism and ‘free market’ capitalism no matter how barbaric or apparently liberal they may be.
It serves capitalism well to obscure what socialism actually means. Lenin and his ilk have probably been amongst the best servants to the prolongation of capitalism. As Finkelstein’s article clearly demonstrates, the popular perception of socialism is dull, poverty-inducing bureaucracy at best, homicidal totalitarianism at worst.
This allows the DfE and such state institutions to imply guilt by word association. This despite the fact that socialism is not extreme any more than capitalism was an extreme repudiation of feudalism, rather than a natural development from within it.
Socialism is not a denial of capitalism, socialists fully recognise the advances and benefits accruing from it. They also recognise that no economic system exists in perpetuity, but all must give way to the one that supersedes it.
Education has to deal with difficult issues. The transcending of capitalism by socialism is one such. Other issues around controversial topics are surely best addressed by examination and critical analysis of source material. This has to be the way democracy progresses.
It is not the origin of resources, but how they are used. As with all those elements listed as being ‘Examples of extreme political stances…’, simply excluding them, like disruptive students, does not actually deal with them or make them go away.
Democracy cannot be about banning ideas, and ‘freedom of speech’ is at best mere rhetoric if it is confined within safe guidelines. Difficult, hurtful, even dangerous ideas need to be confronted, exposed and effectively countered.
It is frequently argued that allowing what is often now referred to as hate speech, we suppose its textual corollary must be hate script, leads to acts of violence against those who are the subjects.
The point, though, must be that all acts of violence, whatever the excusing cause quoted – skin colour, gender, sexuality, sub-group, political persuasion et al – are unequivocally wrong.
It also raises the question as to when hate speech becomes patriotic speech, when the media and politicians demonise a foreign nation in order to bomb it into ‘democracy’.
Amnesty International’s Head of Policy and Government Affairs, Allan Hogarth commented:
‘The only extreme view here is the one which suggests that it’s somehow illegitimate to even consider the validity of socio-economic systems other than the prevailing one – a system that has of course only been in existence for a comparatively short period of time.’
The threat to democracy is probably from those who view it as serving the interests of capital, that it should be limited to this end. Whereas true democracy is inimical to capital in that the world’s productive resources and means need to be brought under common ownership with democratic control to serve the interests of all.
From the perspective of the Department for Education this probably does appear extreme, but prescriptive guidelines cannot deny the necessity of socialism, even if they would deny school students the knowledge, if they could.
Socialist Standard November 2020