Friday, 23 July 2010

The Politics And Programme Of The First International - Part 3

Juvenile and children's labour (both sexes)

We consider the tendency of modern industry to make children and juvenile persons of both sexes co-operate in the great work of social production, as a progressive, sound and legitimate tendency, although under capital it was distorted into an abomination. In a rational state of society every child whatever, from the age of 9 years, ought to become a productive labourer in the same way that no able-bodied adult person ought to be exempted from the general law of nature, viz.: to work in order to be able to eat, and work not only with the brain but with the hands too.

However, for the present, we have only to deal with the children and young persons of both sexes divided into three classes, to be treated differently [a]; the first class to range from 9 to 12; the second, from 13 to 15 years; and the third, to comprise the ages of 16 and 17 years. We propose that the employment of the first class in any workshop or housework be legally restricted to two; that of the second, to four; and that of the third, to six hours. For the third class, there must be a break of at least one hour for meals or relaxation.

It may be desirable to begin elementary school instruction before the age of 9 years; but we deal here only with the most indispensable antidotes against the tendencies of a social system which degrades the working man into a mere instrument for the accumulation of capital, and transforms parents by their necessities into slave-holders, sellers of their own children. The right of children and juvenile persons must be vindicated. They are unable to act for themselves. It is, therefore, the duty of society to act on their behalf.

If the middle and higher classes neglect their duties toward their offspring, it is their own fault. Sharing the privileges of these classes, the child is condemned to suffer from their prejudices.

The case of the working class stands quite different. The working man is no free agent. In too many cases, he is even too ignorant to understand the true interest of his child, or the normal conditions of human development. However, the more enlightened part of the working class fully understands that the future of its class, and, therefore, of mankind, altogether depends upon the formation of the rising working generation. They know that, before everything else, the children and juvenile workers must be saved from the crushing effects of the present system. This can only be effected by converting social reason into social force, and, under given circumstances, there exists no other method of doing so, than through general laws, enforced by the power of the state. In enforcing such laws, the working class do not fortify governmental power. On the contrary, they transform that power, now used against them, into their own agency. They effect by a general act what they would vainly attempt by a multitude of isolated individual efforts.

Proceeding from this standpoint, we say that no parent and no employer ought to be allowed to use juvenile labour, except when combined with education.

By education we understand three things.

Firstly: Mental education.

Secondly: Bodily education, such as is given in schools of gymnastics, and by military exercise.

Thirdly: Technological training, which imparts the general principles of all processes of production, and, simultaneously initiates the child and young person in the practical use and handling of the elementary instruments of all trades. [The German text calls this "polytechnical training." -- Ed]

A gradual and progressive course of mental, gymnastic, and technological training ought to correspond to the classification of the juvenile labourers. The costs of the technological a schools ought to be partly met by the sale of their products.

The combination of paid productive labour, mental education bodily exercise and polytechnic training, will raise the working class far above the level of the higher and middle classes.

It is self-understood that the employment of all persons from 9 and to 17 years (inclusively) in nightwork and all health-injuring trades must be strictly prohibited by law.

Marx's views here would no doubt be abhorrent to those Liberals who today masquerade as socialists, and can only see in the use of child labour something that offends their petit-bouregois sensibilities. Still worse that they are so much more opposed to child labour in those developing Capitalist economies where it is that much more inevitable, that much more the only available means of subsistence for so many. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx wrote,

“A general prohibition of child labor is incompatible with the existence of large-scale industry and hence an empty, pious wish. Its realization -- if it were possible -- would be reactionary, since, with a strict regulation of the working time according to the different age groups and other safety measures for the protection of children, an early combination of productive labor with education is one of the most potent means for the transformation of present-day society.”

Marx's method rather was to start from his position in relation to general wage struggles. Wage struggles could only succeed within certain limits to prevent the working-class sinking down. Workers had to engage in these struggles to prevent that, and the general rise in the accumulation of Capital would facilitate it. Similarly, workers could struggle for reduced hours or better conditions rather than higher wages. A struggle to place limits on the hours and conditions under which women, or children could work was no different than that. But, for the reasons set out earlier, as to why competition between employers over working hours, meant that it was better to have a general law that defined this, so it was better to have a general law that defined the conditions under which children could labour. Introducing such a law did not mean relying on the State,

“In enforcing such laws, the working class do not fortify governmental power. On the contrary, they transform that power, now used against them, into their own agency.”

In other words, Marx is not seeking to grant further power to the State, least still to give it a role in education, he is merely using it as a more rational means of making an agreement between workers and bosses than having to reach separate agreements, but like any other agreement, he sees it as the role of the working class to “enforce” it, to make sure that it is implemented by all employers. Far from wanting to give the State a role in Education, he wrote in the Critique of the Gotha Programme.

"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.”

In fact, in dismissing those who asked workers to put their faith in this State, or their ability to exercise any kind of democratic control over it, Marx goes on,

“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.”

In the 1850's, the Co-op had started to set aside a proportion of its surplus for workers education. The first stores had established libraries and reading rooms above them. Part of the idea of developing Co-operative Communities was that the members of the Co-ops would be able to find employment where they faced unemployment or repeated reductions of wages, and they would be able to obtain education and training. In fact, the Co-op was at this point the only source of workers' education. This is the model that Marx appears to see as desirable. The State sets general laws about how long children could work, the working-class through the Trades Unions enforce those laws, part of which is the requirement to provide education and training.

But, Marx was also very circumspect about what children should be taught. He was well aware of the possibility that employers in providing education, could use it to indoctrinate the workers. In a speech to the IWA, Marx made the following points,

“The question treated at the congresses was whether education was to be national or private. National education had been looked upon as governmental, but that was not necessarily the case.”

There was general agreement that the Church and government had to be kept out of Education.

“Education might be national without being governmental. Government might appoint inspectors whose duty it was to see that the laws were obeyed, just as the factory inspectors looked after the observance of the factory acts, without any power of interfering with the course of education itself.”

In response to a proposal by Citizen Milner that children be educated in bourgeois political economy Marx said it,

“was not suitable to be introduced in connection with the schools; it was a kind of education that the young must get from the adults in the everyday struggle of life.”

In fact,

“Nothing could be introduced either in primary, or higher schools that admitted of party and class interpretation. Only, subjects such as the physical sciences, grammar, etc., were fit matter for schools. The rules of grammar, for instance, could not differ, whether explained by a religious Tory or a free thinker. Subjects that admitted of different conclusions must be excluded...”

Speech To IWA 1869.

The bourgeoisie understood as clearly as Marx and the First International the power of education as a tool for socialisation, and political indoctrination. In place of the development of the kind of Education that Marx envisaged here, it was not long before employers shuffled moff the responsibility for providing education on to the State, and, therefore, on to General taxation, and off their Profit and Loss Accounts. Instead, of the State and Church being kept out of educating the working-class, it was a combination of Church and State that took on that role. The US socialist Max Shachtman described it as, “Capitalism's headfixing industry”.

As with much of the expansion of the Welfare State at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Capitalist State simply intervened to cut off the potential for independent workers education just as it cut off the potential for workers to develop their own funds for their pensions, sickness, etc. As Eric Hobsbawm states in “Industry and Empire”, this did not, as Social democracy has tried to portray it, mean a transfer of resources from Capital or the rich to pay for these basic necessities of the working class. Capital largely avoids the payment of taxes, as does the properly rich. The resources for paying for the Welfare State fall almost exclusively on workers and the middle class, amounting today in most Capitalist countries to around 40% of workers earnings. To the extent that any transfer takes place at all, it is merely a transfer WITHIN the working-class, from better paid to worse paid workers or the unemployed. That transfer can only be made with huge administrative cost, which represents a huge waste of workers resources, compared to if they simply controlled those things themselves. It also means that a division is created between those workers who pay the tax, and those that receive the benefits.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Co-operative education was still important for workers. The bourgeoisie responded here too. Ruskin College was established as the result of a donation from two American bourgeois who had studied at Oxford, Walter and Anne L. Vrooman, in 1899. The workers at the College began to demand control over the curriculum, and were supported by some of the lecturers. The workers wanted courses based on Marx's Capital. Ultimately, the conflict led to students establishing thePlebs League, which split away and developed the Central Labour College, and National Council of Labour Colleges, through which courses were run in many working class districts, often using Co-op facilities. The Plebs asserted no compromise with bourgeois education. Even then the bourgeoisie had its own response, establishing the Workers Educational Association in competition, which offered professional, but bourgeois, lecturers as a means of trying to win the backing of the TUC.

In the first part of his speech above Marx said,

“there was a peculiar difficulty connected with this question. On the one hand a change of social circumstances was required to establish a proper system of education, on the other hand a proper system of education was required to bring about a change of social circumstances; we must therefore commence where we were.”

The same applies today. It is the Capitalist State's “headfixing industry”, which dominates workers education, and unfortunately, unlike Marx, large sections of the left see it as their responsibility to defend it, rather than seek to replace it. But, we do have to start from where we are. In the same way that the Plebs first had to wage a struggle for control over the curriculum, before they were led to the conclusion that they needed to establish their own educational facilities, so today it is necessary for workers to wage a struggle for democratic control over the State's schools. The development of Co-operative communities, or the extension of organisations such as Tenants and Residents Associations, could be one base of working class power from which to wage such a struggle, combining with the teaching unions, though teachers have a vested interest in defending the existing state capitalist organisations. It is also necessary to develop democratic school students unions to struggle for democratic control within the school.

But, as the Plebs found, ultimately democratic control can only arise if you have ownership of the school. To that extent the Tories proposals to allow communities to set up their own schools is an opening through which workers can push their own interests. The best arrangement would be for local communities to establish the school buildings in their community under their ownership and control, and to act as commissioning agents buying in Education from a Teaching Co-operative, owned and controlled by the teachers within it, as a producer co-op. In this way, the latter would have an incentive to provide the best quality education in the most efficient manner, whilst the local community would exercise effective control over it. It would in this way end the hierarchical arrangement that exists within the school, making teachers, students and parents equal participants and partners, and would be a step towards ending the alienation of labour.

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