“"Elementary education by the state" is altogether objectionable. Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches of instruction, etc., and, as is done in the United States, supervising the fulfillment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! Government and church should rather be equally excluded from any influence on the school. Particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire (and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a "state of the future"; we have seen how matters stand in this respect) the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.
But the whole program, for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the Lassallean sect's servile belief in the state, or, what is no better, by a democratic belief in miracles; or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of belief in miracles, both equally remote from socialism.”
Marx – Critique of the Gotha Programme
Over the last few years, I have attempted to rescue Marxism from the dead hand of statism, the same statism that Marx rails against here, which has deformed the Labour Movement for the last 100 years or so. It is not an easy task. As Hal Draper demonstrated, that statism has its roots both in the Lassalleanism that Marx demolishes here, and in the Fabianism that shaped the Social Democratic Parties of the early Twentieth Century. It is deeply embedded in both the reformist and revolutionary wings of the Labour Movement. Worse, those political trends that have been associated with the Labour Movement, but which shun statism, various forms of Anarchism, Libertarianism, and Anarcho-Syndicalism, are in reality petit-bourgeois forces, whose other political weaknesses make them no better, and even worse, than the statist socialists. And even amongst these trends, in practice, statism always emerges, the experiences of the Spanish Civil War are testament to that. Another example, is the Manifesto of the Green Party, brought out today.
But, all is not despond. At an objective level, the number of Co-operatives continues to grow. Every twenty years, a new spurt of Co-operative development occurs. More people are employed in Co-operatives globally than are employed by multinational companies, and, in some areas of production, Co-operatives already dominate, in some countries. In addition, there are always some socialists who, whether by experience, or by study, break free from the dead-hand of statism. I have done so myself, and others like the Comrades at “The Commune” are in the processing of doing so. Still others like Phil at the AVPS blog, have begun to recognise the importance of real independent working class solutions, rather than dependence on the state. Even the movement within the main political parties to raise questions about the role of mutualisation, social enterprise and so on, demonstrates that this is an idea that is beginning to find resonance as an alternative to the old failed ideas of the past.
In his pamphlet, “The State and Revolution”, Lenin, himself quotes extensively from Marx’s “Critique”, in order to show that when it came to the Capitalist State, Marx himself was no statist. On the contrary, Lenin proclaims the near identity of ideas in that regard between Marx, and the Anarchists Bakunin and Proudhon. It is odd then that the staunchest defenders of statism, including the advocacy of increasing the role of the present bourgeois state, are to be found amongst those that proclaim themselves to be Leninists. What is worse, some are prepared to bowdlerise Marx, in order to maintain that position. As I have demonstrated previously the Trotskyist Movement is not short of its own “epigones” - Trotsky and the Epigones.
In an article, about Marx’s position, in relation to Education and the State, Marx and Engels On Education, the AWL write a considerable amount based upon what Marx has to say on the subject in the Communist Manifesto. That is odd, because in fact, Marx has relatively little to say on the subject in the Manifesto. It is odd, but not surprising, for anyone wanting to defend statism, and to present Marx himself as a statist, because, of course, the Manifesto IS a statist document, in large part. But, it is necessary to understand its place in history. It was written when Marx and Engels were both young men. It was written for an organisation – the Communist League - that itself was a largely petit-bourgeois organisation, and only just emerging from a period when all such organisations were small, secretive, elitist, and conspiratorial and, particularly, in the case of the German groups, suffered huge hang-overs from the tradition of the Young Hegelians. One of those traditions that comes straight from Hegel is the idea of society developing on the basis of the unfolding of the Idea, and that unfolding is manifest by “wise men” directing it via control of the State. But, of course, as Marx and Engels developed their theory of Historical Materialism, it is precisely this concept which they rejected! The beginnings of that can be glimpsed in the Manifesto, but the theory itself stands in stark contradiction to the statist positions of it. Both Marx and Engels were themselves, in later years, to declare that the Manifesto had become outdated. It was not outdated in so far as it began to elaborate the concept that society changes as a result of material changes that occur behind men’s backs – the revolution in the method of production – which in turn create new social relationships, as new classes emerge, and others decline – the social revolution. Nor was it outdated in its analysis of the role within that process of the Marxists, acting essentially as teachers of the class. But, what was outdated was precisely those statist elements – the demands for the State to take over more industry, to establish free education and so on. In reality, none of those demands were socialist, let alone Communist demands. Take a look at the Manifesto, and you will see that nearly all of those demands have in fact been introduced, and they have not been introduced as a result of the power and militancy of the working class, still less by the acts of Socialist let alone Communist Governments. They have been introduced by the Capitalist State, and largely to meet its own requirements. That is most clearly seen in relation to the establishment of Central Banks, for instance, but it is also the case with the introduction of “free” education, in order to provide itself with workers fit for its purpose, without the cost of that falling directly upon the individual capitalist.
Most people are aware that although the Attlee Labour Government introduced the main elements of the Welfare State – though Pensions and National Insurance had been introduced much earlier by the Liberals – its outline was the work of the Liberal Beveridge. Fewer people are aware that even before Beveridge, the Tory Chancellor, Neville Chamberlain, before he became Prime Minister, had put forward the basic ideas of Welfarism, to be introduced as soon as the economic conditions allowed. In short, those demands for action by the State set out in the Manifesto, have nothing in common with real Socialism or Communism, which posits the idea of a self-acting working class standing in opposition to the Capitalist State, and have everything to do with the hang-over of Radical Liberalism.
Quoting Marx’s comments in relation to Education, from the Manifesto, is all well and good – as I did myself in my Blog Marxism, Education and the State - provided those comments are put in their correct context, and that context requires that Marx’s much later comments, which reflect his mature ideas, from the Critique, are set against them. But, it is precisely here that the AWL once again resort to their frequent practice of selective quotations, and logic-chopping in order to try to make the facts fit their position.
They quote, Marx’s comments from the Critique, but, as they have done on other occasions, not in full. And, of course, as in the past, what they leave out of the quote, completely changes its meaning from that they wish to impute to it. For example, although, they refer in passing to Marx’s opening words, “"Elementary education by the state" is altogether objectionable.” they do not include them in the quote they give. Why not? It is clear that by actually quoting these words, Marx’s true position is made clear, and it is not the position they wish to uphold. Instead, they argue that what Marx means is that workers should struggle for the State, to provide such Education, but having achieved that they should continue to struggle for that Education to meet their needs, not the needs of the bourgeois state!
There are obvious problems with this besides the obvious mangling of the text, and the logic-chopping. Firstly, this approach might be rational for the AWL, but the idea that you should argue in favour of something, only to argue against it, once you have achieved it, has no echo in the rationality of Marx, or even of most rational people for that matter. Engels argued that Marxists should demand no favours of the bourgeois state, but should accept without grace anything that it provided, which benefited the workers. Lenin’s position, in relation to the Capitalist reforms that Stolypin introduced, into Russian agriculture, was not to give them any support, because the job of Marxists was not to argue for Capitalist but Socialist solutions, but, not to oppose them either, because in themselves they were progressive. There can be exceptions to that where the winning of some reform is truly a staging post on to something else, but that is not the case with Capitalist State Education. It is not a staging post to Workers Education, to education owned and controlled by workers themselves, it is an alternative to it, and indeed an impediment to its achievement. The task of Marxists is not to argue in favour of ignorance amongst the working class, by refusing Capitalist State education where it is provided, but to argue from start to finish precisely what Marx submits, “"Elementary education by the state" is altogether objectionable” and for that very reason we do not argue in favour of it, but for workers themselves to organise, through their own collective self-activity, to establish their own schools, and to provide their own education, free from the dead-hand of the State.
Moreover, the AWL can only make this argument, because they omit another key phrase from Marx’s comments. The idea that Marx was up for Capitalist education, provided the workers simply continued to struggle for its reform, and control, is simply demolished by Marx’s words when he makes clear that this objection is not just in relation to the existing state. The AWL omit Marx’s words, “(and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a "state of the future"; we have seen how matters stand in this respect)”.
What is more, that argument is further demolished by Marx’s concluding paragraph in which he spells out his contempt for the kind of statism that the AWL attempt to defend here. He writes,
“But the whole program, for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the Lassallean sect's servile belief in the state, or, what is no better, by a democratic belief in miracles; or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of belief in miracles, both equally remote from socialism.”
And what is the idea that workers can simply bring about such meaningful reforms, such control, whether it be in the classroom or in the workplace, without itself being the owner, other than such a “servile belief in the state”, and “democratic belief in miracles”, for the very basis of Marxist theory is that power, control, and the distribution of wealth and power, is directly a function of ownership!
The AWL wish to present matters as though, it is obvious that Marx meant what they claim, because, after all, what alternative could there be other than that Education is provided by the State? The only alternative would be that workers received no education wouldn’t it? But, it is as though such people have never heard of the concept of Socialism? If no Education is the only alternative to State Capitalist Education, then you may as well say that the only alternative to Capitalist ownership, and Capitalist production is no production!! That, of course, is precisely what the bourgeois apologists DO say. Every socialist has heard them say, without Capitalists who would provide the Capital, who would organise production? Yet, it is as though, the statists believe that the answer to this question - “the workers themselves”, is only an answer, at some distant date in the future, after the revolution. And, perhaps, that gives us some clue as to the real beliefs of such statists, who really do not believe that workers themselves can provide such solutions, that in the absence of Capitalists providing the Capital by the accumulation of Surplus Value, and providing the organisation of production, some other elite group must fulfil that function – that elite group, of course, being themselves and the State over which they seek to obtain political control.
The AWL might have had a chance of passing off such an argument as good coin were it not for the fact that empirical evidence itself demonstrates that workers can and have organised to provide their own schools and other forms of education. As I have set out elsewhere, not only schools, but a variety of educational organisations, including the Co-operative University of Mondragon. They might have got away with that argument in trying to bowdlerise Marx’s position were it not, of course, for everything else that Marx sets out in the Critique, where he spells out precisely that alternative to reliance on the bourgeoisie and its state – the development by the workers themselves of Co-operative enterprises and organisations!
“Instead of arising from the revolutionary process of transformation of society, the "socialist organization of the total labor" "arises" from the "state aid" that the state gives to the producers' co-operative societies and which the state, not the workers, "calls into being". It is worthy of Lassalle's imagination that with state loans one can build a new society just as well as a new railway!
From the remnants of a sense of shame, "state aid" has been put -- under the democratic control of the "toiling people"…
Second, "democratic" means in German "Volksherrschaftlich" [by the rule of the people]. But what does "control by the rule of the people of the toiling people" mean? And particularly in the case of a toiling people which, through these demands that it puts to the state, expresses its full consciousness that it neither rules nor is ripe for ruling!”
Again, Marx’s position is clear here. Remember, that what Marx is criticising here is the Programme adopted by the German socialists. He is not just criticising the idea that socialists should call on the Capitalist State to bring about these changes, but even the idea that a “Socialist” Government, should attempt to bring about these changes from above. The “revolutionary process of transformation of society” that Marx is referring to is precisely that transformation, brought about by the workers themselves, of private Capitalist property, into worker-owned, Co-operative property. Marx makes that clear when he also writes,
“That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”
It is ironic that today, it is the Tories in their proposals for enabling local communities to set up their own schools, and other organisations, who – for their own reasons – stand closer to the ideas of Marx and Engels, than do the statists and Stalinists like the AWL. In the 1960’s radical teachers such as those at William Tyndale’s attempted to break free, in some degree, of the dead-hand of the Capitalist state, from what the AWL’s mentor, Max Shachtman, called “Capitalism’s head-fixing industry”, and learned directly what Marx meant when he spoke of such a belief in democratic miracles. Such limited freedom as can be achieved by workers in the realm of education as in any other sphere, whilst Capitalism continues, can only be achieved as and where workers themselves bring such spheres under their direct ownership. That was what Marx and Engels set out to achieve, it is what we should set as our goal today.