Friday, 26 November 2010

Higher Education, Why We Shouldn't Advance The Merit Argument - Part 2

If we are to make the case for free access to Higher Education or any other form of provision then it can only be on the basis of access for all, not on the basis of rationing that access on the basis of some other criteria that inevitably favours one section of society over another. But, the question then arises about the practicability of such a demand. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx makes the point that even in a Socialist Society – that is a society two stages away from where we are now (society will have to overcome Capitalist Society and pass through a transitional phase of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat before even arriving at Socialism), and one stage below Communism – productive capacity will not have advanced sufficiently to make everything available in such abundance that these kinds of choices and dilemmas will have been eradicated. He says,

“ What we have to deal with here is a communist society, not as it has developed on its own foundations, but, on the contrary, just as it emerges from capitalist society; which is thus in every respect, economically, morally, and intellectually, still stamped with the birthmarks of the old society from whose womb it emerges. Accordingly, the individual producer receives back from society -- after the deductions have been made -- exactly what he gives to it. What he has given to it is his individual quantum of labor. For example, the social working day consists of the sum of the individual hours of work; the individual labor time of the individual producer is the part of the social working day contributed by him, his share in it. He receives a certificate from society that he has furnished such-and-such an amount of labor (after deducting his labor for the common funds); and with this certificate, he draws from the social stock of means of consumption as much as the same amount of labor cost. The same amount of labor which he has given to society in one form, he receives back in another.

Here, obviously, the same principle prevails as that which regulates the exchange of commodities, as far as this is exchange of equal values. Content and form are changed, because under the altered circumstances no one can give anything except his labor, and because, on the other hand, nothing can pass to the ownership of individuals, except individual means of consumption. But as far as the distribution of the latter among the individual producers is concerned, the same principle prevails as in the exchange of commodity equivalents: a given amount of labor in one form is exchanged for an equal amount of labor in another form.

Hence, equal right here is still in principle -- bourgeois right, although principle and practice are no longer at loggerheads, while the exchange of equivalents in commodity exchange exists only on the average and not in the individual case.
In spite of this advance, this equal right is still constantly stigmatized by a bourgeois limitation. The right of the producers is proportional to the labor they supply; the equality consists in the fact that measurement is made with an equal standard, labor.

But one man is superior to another physically, or mentally, and supplies more labor in the same time, or can labor for a longer time; and labor, to serve as a measure, must be defined by its duration or intensity, otherwise it ceases to be a standard of measurement. This equal right is an unequal right for unequal labor. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal individual endowment, and thus productive capacity, as a natural privilege. It is, therefore, a right of inequality, in its content, like every right. Right, by its very nature, can consist only in the application of an equal standard; but unequal individuals (and they would not be different individuals if they were not unequal) are measurable only by an equal standard insofar as they are brought under an equal point of view, are taken from one definite side only -- for instance, in the present case, are regarded only as workers and nothing more is seen in them, everything else being ignored. Further, one worker is married, another is not; one has more children than another, and so on and so forth. Thus, with an equal performance of labor, and hence an equal in the social consumption fund, one will in fact receive more than another, one will be richer than another, and so on. To avoid all these defects, right, instead of being equal, would have to be unequal.

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase of communist society as it is when it has just emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby. (emphasis added)

In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs!”

The emphasised sentence is most significant here. In criticising the demand for Equal Elementary Education raised by the Lassalleans, Marx, wrote,

""Equal elementary education"? What idea lies behind these words? Is it believed that in present-day society (and it is only with this one has to deal) education can be equal for all classes? Or is it demanded that the upper classes also shall be compulsorily reduced to the modicum of education — the elementary school — that alone is compatible with the economic conditions not only of the wage-workers but of the peasants as well?”

Today, with the general and significant development of the productive forces, and to meet its needs, we take for granted that Elementary Education should be free for all, and that this is quite compatible with Capitalism. Yet, in reality, even now, and even in respect of Elementary Education, Marx's point holds. Can we really say that this Elementary Education is, in any real sense, equal. Do the kids in the run down inner city areas REALLY get an equal, even Elementary, education with the kids living in the leafy suburbs of Esher? And, if that applies to Elementary Education, how much more does it apply to Higher Education?

The idea of free, equal access to Higher Education is one to which we should aspire, but just as Marx makes clear here in relation to Elementary Education, it is one that is simply incompatible with Capitalism. To raise such a demand of Capitalism is, therefore, to raise a demand that sows illusions in the capability of Capitalism and of its State, or else amounts effectively to a demand for Socialism Now, or else are to use Marx's phrase nothing more than revolutionary phrase-mongering. Marx was highly critical of such an approach. Together with the French Socialist Guesde, Marx and Engels wrote the Program of the French Socialist Party, much of which echoes the ideas Marx had outlined in the Program of the First International. However, after the programme was published Marx came into disagreement with Guesde and his supporters over the nature of the programme. Rather like many of today's Trotskyists who raise demands against the State, which they know are not achievable, but which they believe, for that very reason will lead the workers to shed their illusions in that State – various versions of “We should not let the State off the hook” - Guesde argued, that raising impossible demands would,

“free the proletariat of its last reformist illusions and convince it of the impossibility of avoiding a workers ’89.”

It was in responding to this approach that Marx made his famous remark that, if their politics represented Marxism,

“ce qu'il y a de certain c'est que moi, je ne suis pas Marxiste” (“what is certain is that I myself am not a Marxist”).

Instead of limiting ourselves to raising such demands of Capital, we should follow Marx's example of pointing out that Capitalism simply is not capable of meeting such needs. And we should follow his example, of, therefore, dealing with these questions by other means that are capable of being implemented now, and which at the same time strengthen the position of workers as against Capital and its State. Looking at Marx's views are again instructive here, and stand in contrast to the Liberal views that have become absorbed into the consciousness of workers and socialists over the last century. Take the idea of the form of Education. We take it for granted that Education is essentially something to be engaged in as a separate activity. But, logically this is a very strange idea. In most societies, the process of learning has not been a separate activity from the rest of life, but merely an integral part of it. The Liberal view has dominated much of the Left's attitude to such questions when looking at things such as child labour in poor countries. The picture is painted as though the alternative facing children in such countries is the same as that in developed economies i.e. that if children were not working they would, and should be in school. In reality, of course, for most of these kids, if they were not working, they would not be in school, but would be begging on the streets, or employed in prostitution etc. Marx had no truck with such Liberal, Moralistic and Utopian notions. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, he said of its demand for the abolition of child labour,

“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.”

In Section 4 of the program of the First International, Marx sets out how the question could be addressed within current conditions.

“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.”

Back To Part 1

Forward To Part 3

1 comment:

Jacob Richter said...

While we have already stated our disagreements re. Lassalle and Guesde, I should also say that it's unfair you lump those two together with Trotsky (and I'll add Krichevskii).

Neither Lassalle nor Guesde advocated the false road of growing political struggles out of low-level economic ones.