The Imagination of the “Impossiblists” 6/6

Education is an integral part of any social system. Feudal society required little of the peasants by way of education. The Industrial Revolution demanded more – workers who could make, tend and repair machines, and some who could keep records and books. In the 20th century the process was continued – mass education was fashioned into an increasingly refined training and selection mechanism for the labour force.

There is a conventional mythology surrounding the noble ideals of education. Schools are said to be places where young minds are nurtured, where boys and girls are prepared to become responsible citizens. In the present society the main aim of education is to provide the knowledge and skills base necessary for employment in capitalism. Dominated by commodity relationships and values, education both reflects and contributes to those relationships and values. Under capitalism most people don’t get the chance to develop their capacities.

The inherent inequality between teacher and pupil has led some critics to question the value of “schooling”. The concern has been that hierarchical and autocratic teacher-pupil relationships concentrate power in the hands of teachers and lead children to acquire attitudes of docility and submission to authority. A critique of authoritarian schooling as simply preparation for employment led to a movement for “de-schooling”

So, what would education be like in a socialist society? A detailed description obviously cannot be given, however, it is very clear that, in complete contrast to capitalism, socialism will put human need first. The welfare and needs of people, both as individuals and as a community will be treated as a priority. The importance of developing to the full, the mental, physical and social abilities and talents of everyone, as individuals, will undoubtedly be recognised. Most significantly, education will inevitably be considered a lifelong process and certainly not something to be compartmentalised into time slots, like happens under the present system. As a result of this, people will be able to lead far more satisfying lives than could ever be even remotely achieved under capitalism. This satisfaction would derive from the contributions to the overall material, intellectual social and cultural wealth of society which people would be able to make and, of course, from the fact that, as individuals, they would be able to enjoy the fruits of the common store. Learning is better stimulated through a holistic and experiential approach and would be available on demand at all life stages. From the moment a baby emerges from the womb (perhaps, even before that) it begins the process of learning. “Playing” is a part of that process. We cannot visualise a socialist society where children are regimented into education, conveyor-belt style. Basic schooling would take a huge shift away from the narrow confines of a rigid, test-based curriculum. Endless possibilities would be available from an early age to stimulate children. No financial budget means more “educators, facilitators, trainers, coaches, mentors” etc. to guide young and old through a much wider educational experience. Universal education can only raise levels in all areas important to the well-being of society whether knowledge, awareness, tolerance, capabilities, wider appreciation of self and others, resulting in wealth being measured in human terms. It will take time for world socialist education to develop its own character, and there is no reason to suppose that it will take the same form for everyone everywhere.

A quotation from the Communist Manifesto sums up the situation well:
“In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.”
Here, the term “free development” can be taken to include education. In socialist society, there would be no financial constraints since the monetary system will have been abolished and production will be carried out solely for human need. The stresses and strains of cutbacks and needless austerity measures will finally have been abolished forever and at last, humanity will be able to move forward, considerably through genuine and effective education, towards real progress, both as individuals and as a community. The knowledge and skills needed to run a society which inherits the best from the past and rejects the worst will be circulated and developed among adults, and the ability to think creatively and critically transmitted from generation to generation. There will surely be different approaches to — even controversies about that task.

Large-scale sanitation in the developed world, vaccines, and even the NHS itself, must be seen as gains for the working class in some aspects. The whole process of the foundation of the NHS was a contradictory one, serving the interests of capital and, as a by-product, that of the workers. The strong empathy and support that most workers in Britain have for the National Health Service is after all support for free access, “to each according to needs”, for the idea that healthcare be freely available to all regardless of wealth. Some health and welfare services are now available to some people free at the point of delivery or consumption. In socialism the principle of free access according to reasonable need will be universally applied. Yet in socialism there won’t be such a widespread demand for health and welfare services. Very different goods could then be manufactured, possibly using alternative technologies, with work organized in different ways, so as to reduce the possibility of ill health arising in the first place. And although it would be absurd to say that all disease would be abolished, we can assume that a real concern for the health of the population would be reflected in planning and decision making. Such a society is not a pipe-dream, but the logical outcome of the working class taking control of their own struggles. The demand for a healthier society is in effect a revolutionary demand, since health-damaging aspects of production cannot be removed in response to political reform.

In an ideal world, the application of medical interventions would be guided by the criterion of scientific objectivity and driven solely by the concern to meet human needs. So would healthcare be any different if socialism were established? Yes it would. Why? Take one or two minutes out and just think how the non-existence of wages, profits and budgets would change the present situation. Then think about the end of the hierarchies that dominate healthcare at present and no more layers of useless bureaucrats skimming their share. Instead healthcare would be conceived and administered, democratically by us, the people who brought socialism about. Globally, doctors, nurses, scientists and everyone at present involved in healthcare at the human level would act as guides, informing people as to where healthcare is capable of going once the artificial barriers of money had been eliminated. The recruitment, training and deployment of committed volunteers will take much organising and administration. The emphasis will be on activities and tasks rather than on occupational labels: nursing, brain surgery, portering, scientific research, and so on, rather than nurses, brain surgeons, porters, scientific researchers. Everywhere we shall treat each other as friendly co-operators.

Although we cannot specify in advance a utopian blueprint for a socialist health policy what we can say about the likely effects on health and illness of future socialist society is that the promotion of good health and the care of the injured and sick won’t be restricted by money considerations. There will be no profit to be made out of employing people in dangerous occupations, supplying them with unhealthy substances or encouraging their harmful addictions. No sales-people will advertise items and services that at best have no good effect on health and at worst damage it. Health and injury insurance and the compensation industry won’t be necessary. The types and incidence of health problems are likely to differ in the early stage of socialism from later stages when the legacy from the money system will have receded. Also, some parts of the world today have different degrees of economic development, commonly referred to as under-developed, developing and developed. We don’t know the extent to which present trends, such as urbanization and environmental degradation, will continue, accelerate or be reversed. One thing we can say for certain is that socialism will release us from useless and harmful capitalist employment. We shall be free to take up work that will meet the needs of ourselves, others and the community, society and world in which we live. This is not to say that there won’t be problems to overcome. Natural disasters and pandemics won’t end with capitalism, although more effort will doubtless be devoted to avoiding and coping with them. Health and welfare problems resulting from natural disasters like floods or earthquakes will continue to require emergency measures. But the problems won’t be as extensive. For one thing, people living in disaster-prone areas will be offered removal to safer environments.

Socialism will be able to provide decent care for the elderly. These now take up half the beds on the orthopaedic, chest and other medical wards. They are seen as a burden. In a socialist society real care – and that takes a lot of time, a lot of people – will be possible. Also, people with learning difficulties – those currently dismissed as mentally handicapped – can be more integrated into the community. A lot of people are currently left in hospitals because the society beyond can’t be bothered, or lacks the cash, to care for them. Socialist hospitals will keep patients in for longer periods and not treat still frail and vulnerable patients as “bed-blockers”. At the moment hospitals do their best to throw patients out so that their beds can be filled. There will be also be the follow up treatment of district nurses and community psychiatric nurses engaged in home-visits. People need to be properly looked after and capitalism isn’t letting us do that as well as we can and should. There will be an increase in neighborhood medical clinics and a return to rural cottage hospitals providing care and treatment although not performing transplant surgery! Capitalism sees the unproductive disabled as a drain on profits. Socialism will promote the good life and society for all, regardless of health condition. The replacement of a society based on production for profit by one based on production for needs will not of course mean the disappearance of disabled people, but it will certainly change for the better the way they are treated. Whether someone enjoys perfect health or suffers slightly or severely from an ailment of some kind will make no difference to the free and equal access they will have to the goods and services society is able to produce. Men and women in difference states of health will be able to contribute to the work of society in different ways. They will be in a position to balance the needs of themselves, others, the community and world society with their own physical and mental abilities and tastes. In a socialist society where the capacity for wealth production, unhampered by the colossal waste endemic to this one, can be released to the full, human values will predominate and energy can be concentrated on the causes of disease and its prevention. Issues such as the need for pharmaceuticals to make billions of pounds in profit will not exist.

But is there anything to think that socialism has something to offer as an answer to the problem of human misery? In socialism we will still have some of the problems that make you feel miserable, scared, depressed or demented. Socialism is not a solution to all mental health problems, it is a solution only to those created by capitalist conditions of life, or to class conditions of life. While some of the problems are due to being human beings living within a social setting, others are due to being biological organisms, and as such will break down if we are damaged or just get old. While there could be a reduced use of medication and an increased use of social therapy, the power to detain people whose condition renders them dangerous to others will still be needed. Capitalism has long produced the potential for such individual development, the task now is to realise it, to persuade working people that there is more to living than the shit of capitalism—we are more than pigs, content with mere physical satisfaction. All the indications are that common ownership and democratic control are the best way to long life and happiness.

Minimizing costs so as to maximize profits has harmful consequences. The health and welfare of the workforce and the effects on the environment take second place. That’s what cutting costs means. This why at work we suffer speed-up, pain, stress, boredom, overwork and accidents. This is why we have to work long hours, shift-work and night-work. This is why the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe are all polluted. So in socialism there won’t be such a widespread demand for health and welfare services.

Technology and Science
Near-future science fiction frequently explores the possibilities of imminent technologies – gadgets that haven’t been designed yet, but could be given recent real advances in technology and design. Whilst its track record on such predictions – such as us getting to Mars by 1977 and everyone having flying rocket cars – have been a bit wide of the mark, others have been much closer and in fact actively conservative compared to the real historical record. Scientists can be very far-sighted but at the same time have only a very narrow field of view, like a blinkered racehorse. William Morris’s News From Nowhere famously describes a deliberately low-tech socialist society in which people have eschewed the benefits of technology and adopted simple ways of doing things, although arguably he cheats by powering his ‘force barges’ with some mysterious energy source he never explains, thus hiding his technology rather than really abolishing it. Nonetheless, this is unusual in that most portraits of the future, whether socialist or not, depict a society of advanced technological splendour in which all our needs are met by a range of technical apparatuses only a voice-command away. The amount of electronic appliances in the average household now massively outweighs that of fifty years ago, and half a century from now we may shudder at the poverty of gadgetry suffered in the early 21st century. But it is not necessarily the case that a socialist society will produce an equal amount of high-tech gadgetry. Because socialist production will meet real rather than false needs, it could be that socialism might be a low-gadget society. Although mobile phones, -, I-pads, lap-top PCs and so on can satisfy some actual needs, it is mainly sociologically- and psychologically-induced perceived needs they actually satisfy, such as the need for conforming to group norms, the desire for prestige, and the belief that a product brings contentment. And because these items are produced to satisfy manipulated needs, they can have little use value. So if socialism will be a society that relies far less on gadgets, it is only because it will be a more honest society than the present one, without artificial needs.

Most people have no direct experience of science, only of the technology that is an almost incidental by-product of it, yet capitalism pours billions into pure scientific research despite the fact that virtually none of it will ever yield a profit. Why? Because the one per cent that does make a profit will pay for the 99 per cent that doesn’t. In capitalism, science is a huge gamble that only occasionally results in a win, but bets are never placed on research that helps people who can’t pay.

Scientists do have their heroes, but they don’t worship them as infallible gurus because it is recognised that argument from authority is inferior to argument from evidence. Socialists take the same view of Marx and other revolutionary thinkers. Non-market, non-hierarchical socialism, which has no such agenda and which can therefore collectively determine the best course of action based on the available evidence. In science good ideas are not taken seriously enough when they come from people of low status in the academic world; conversely, the ideas of high-status people are often taken too seriously. The scientific method suffers because science is organised hierarchically. The problem with science in capitalism is that scientists have mortgages to pay, so they need to chase funding because they can’t afford to work for free. 

“Science uses commodities and is part of the process of commodity production. Science uses money. People earn their living by science, and as a consequence the dominant social and economic forces in society determine to a large extent what science does and how it does it.”(The Doctrine of DNA by R.C. Lewontin.)

And what will socialism do with pure research? Carry on the same way? Hardly. What we can say for sure is that curiosity is not likely to be dimmed by some inexplicable post-capitalist apathy in a society that releases scientists as well as all other workers from the compulsion to direct their efforts towards only those endeavours that the
capitalist class sees an interest in funding. So what approach would socialist society take to the great scientific project? Priorities would certainly be different. Drug research, for instance, will not occur in capitalism if the R and D cost is not likely to be recouped, thus diseases rife in poor countries are overlooked while popular research projects are based on global sales estimates such as anti-depressants. Much of the pharmaceutical industry would be obsolete or transformed anyway if one can assume, after capitalism, a dramatic fall in heart disease and obesity, two wealth-related conditions for which the present drug market is principally geared, and an even more dramatic fall in poverty and stress-related diseases which presently do not even merit scientific attention. Similarly, science would no longer be prostrate at the feet of the military where global military spending is in the trillions. While some other lines of research would probably end, for example cosmetics , including most animal testing which is for this purpose, there would be a clear need for continued work in climatology, energy, epidemiology and many others, but it is questionable whether a socialist community would have the same passion to send humans to Mars, or to build space hotels. In socialism, science will still be a gamble, but with the difference that no knowledge thus gained can ever be money lost. It may be that the huge time, resource and work investment in such esoteric projects as Atlas and the Large Hadron Collider, the LIGO gravitational wave detector or the AMANDA neutrino telescope will continue in socialism, but if they do it will be because the population understands and respects scientific enquiry for its own sake, and not because they are expecting to get a new groovy gadget out of it.

The freedom from patent and copyright restrictions, which are forms of private ownership and will thus be abolished, will almost certainly unlock a tidal wave of new development which may revolutionise areas of science which are currently at a near-standstill, for instance drug research and computing. In addition, the justifiable fear of what corporations, governments and the military might do with horizon science will no longer hold back developments in gene research and nanotechnology.

Lastly, the ending of male domination of science, in which men are four times more likely than women to be scientists will produce a vast influx of new talent and new ideas that can only advance scientific effort for the acquisition of knowledge and ultimately the betterment of humanity.

There are times, though, when even some scientists start to sound a little reactionary, self-righteous and sanctimonious on their own account. One such instance is the issue of animal rights. Scientists tend to be very defensive about animal research, but their arguments, that such research is always necessary, tightly controlled, responsible and largely painless, are at best questionable and sometimes plain wrong, depending as they do on an idealized representation of scientific research as it is supposed to be, and not as it actually exists in the dollar-hungry world of capitalist corporations. Scientists do not help their own case with simplistic no-brainer dilemmas like “your dog, or your child”, which imply that all testing is for the common good and which gloss over the large proportion of experiments done for cosmetics, food colourings, and other non-health-related products. Socialists are not unduly sentimental about animals, and consider that a human’s first loyalty should be their own species. Nevertheless, the degree to which human society is ‘civilized’ can reasonably be gauged by its treatment of animals and the natural world as well as by its treatment of humans, and socialism, in its abolition of all aspects of the appalling savagery of capitalism, will undoubtedly do its part to abolish all unnecessary suffering by non-human sentient creatures. Even in socialism, where there would be little likelihood of animal testing for non-medical purposes, e.g. cosmetics (such research today account for around three quarters of testing). Socialist science would (if it decided to do so at all) conduct animal research only under conditions of strict and peer-assessed necessity, and with attendant informed public debate, two key factors notable for their general absence today.

Technology is often seen as either the salvation or the scourge of humankind. Some of us incline to be technophiles and others techno-sceptics and others a bit of both. That is not to say, though, that the case for socialism rests on developing technology. It is neither possible nor desirable to abolish technology. Without it we would have to go back to a much harsher form of living. Few people would deny that among the changes technology has brought there have been tremendous improvements to our productive capabilities, if not always to our personal circumstances, or that in a socialist society modern technology will be vital in making sure everyone gets adequate food, housing and medical care. What is required is to change the basis of society so that technology can be developed and applied in the interests of the majority. Neither nanotechnology nor genetic modification are required for socialism. Socialism will take, adapt and use technology as it finds it. What socialism must do, however, is change our relationship with our tools, so that we can take control of our own destinies.