Friday, 26 November 2010

Higher Education, Why We Shouldn't Advance The Merit Argument - Part 3

If we piece these ideas of Marx together, we can see what his approach to Education, including Higher Education would be today. Firstly, Marx would not raise the argument that access to Education, including Higher Education, should be restricted to those only who merit it, by their intellectual advantages i.e. rationing supply by “natural privilege” rather than price. But, nor would Marx have been arguing for raising the demand for “Free”, Universal, Higher Education for all, because it is clear, not only that Capitalism cannot meet such a demand, but under current conditions it would not in any case be “free” at all, nor would it be equal for all. That is clear from his statements above where even in respect of Elementary Education, he argues that even in a Socialist Society the Socialist principle, and “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” would apply.

We also know that the way Marx believed that payment for education should be achieved was that it should be paid by employers. “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” and “The costs of the technological a schools ought to be partly met by the sale of their products.” But, also we know that Marx believed that the combination of Education with paid employment was beneficial for workers, and progressive. “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.”

The other advantage of such an approach to Education is that it breaks down the separation of Education as an aspect of life removed from everything else, and so ends what tends to be a sort of transmission belt within Capitalist society, with those destined to be the academics carried along by it, and the rest facing an uphill battle to get back on it. There are some changes that have made this easier such as the Open University, but OU, students face the problem of having to cope with their studies in addition to the time devoted to their work, rather than the two things being combined. Such an approach might also have the benefit of moving the emphasis of education away from being merely a means of obtaining qualifications for the purpose of obtaining a higher paid job. It might also have the added benefit of injecting into the world of academia, an awareness of the outside world, as well as bringing the world of organised labour into the classroom.

Trades Unions could, here and now, make headway into negotiating with employers agreements to cover such an extension of educational provision for all workers, and a demand that such a right be enshrined in law is indeed, quite compatible with the capacity of present-day Capitalist society. But, also as I have suggested elsewhere, the current campaigns being conduced across campuses throughout the country also immediately open up other possibilities. Lecturers, and other University workers could alongside Students Unions, agree to throw open existing lectures and tutorials for all workers who wish to attend. The costs of the University already exist, the wages of lecturers are already being paid, there is in reality no additional cost to providing such a facility. It would mean workers and students refusing to accept the limits of Capitalist property, and exercising immediate control over both facilities and over the work process. This was, in fact, the kind of action that workers and lecturers in the Plebs League organised prior to establishing the National Labour Colleges.

But, the Plebs League also provides us with other lessons. If we really want education to meet our needs then ultimately, we have to bring its provision under our own direct ownership and control. The example of the Co-operative University established by the Mondragon Co-ops shows exactly what workers are capable of achieving when they set their minds to such a task. The chain of Reading Rooms, Libraries, and Schools established by the British Co-ops during the 19th century also demonstrates that even under such adverse conditions workers are capable of the kind of “self-government”, of which Marx refers.

There is also another important aspect of this. Marx never tired of pointing out that Capitalism fulfilled a revolutionary role in many different ways. One of those ways was that it swept aside the patriarchal relations of Feudal Society under which the Lord of the Manor was seen as being a benevolent provider. Of course, that was nonsense, because the other side of that benevolence was that peasants provided the lord of the manor with the resources to provide that benevolence, and the price paid by those who received it, was the most odious subservience and slavery. The breaking of those ties, the fact that Capitalism forced workers to organise and to be self-sufficient, via their collective action was one of those aspects of Capitalism that prepared the working-class for becoming the new ruling class. That is one reason that in the program of the French Socialists he raised the demand

“Prohibition of all interference by employers in the administration of workers' friendly societies, provident societies, etc., which are returned to the exclusive control of the workers;”

The bosses quickly recognised the danger of the growth of this “self-government” by workers, which is what led them to establish their own State version of the workers provision, and to force workers to pay into them. What the establishment of the Welfare State did was to undermine that workers' self-government, which Marx saw as fundamental to the development of the working-class as a revolutionary class, as its preparation to become the new rulers. The extent to which he believed that was again set out in his Critique of the Gotha Programme. Denouncing the idea put forward by the Lassalleans that the State could fulfil this function for the workers, and that socialists should demand that it did so Marx writes,

“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"...

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!..

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.”

What runs through Marx's writings that would make him completely hostile to the ideas of Welfarism, a Welfarism that reintroduces that Feudalistic, paternalism, and turns large sections of the population into serfs condemned to a dependent relation upon it, is precisely this need for workers to raise themselves up, to build their own dignity, and strength, through developing their own independence from the bourgeoisie and their State. But, also what runs through his ideas is that the last thing that we need in trying to create a working-class capable of transforming society by its own actions, is one which looks to some other institution to act on its behalf. The last thing we need is to instil in workers the idea that it is possible to get something for nothing, because that would mean encouraging workers to look to others to take responsibility for society, would encourage workers to assume that in such a society someone else would provide for their needs, or that free-riding was acceptable. Nor as Marx sets out in what he says about the limitations of what is possible in that lower stage of Communist Society, should we lead workers to believe that everything is possible, that simply getting rid of Capitalism means that no choices have to be made about how resources should be allocated.

What we need is not a series of demands about how existing bourgeois education should be provided, but a program to move beyond bourgeois education, just as we do not need demands setting out how to improve existing bourgeois production, but demands that move beyond bourgeois production, and set against it, the development of worker-owned, Co-operative property and production.

Does that mean that Marx would have opposed the current student demonstrations that do call for improvements to existing bourgeois education, that raise demands that are either inequitable or unachievable under Capitalism? Of course, not. Marx wanted workers to go beyond simply struggling for higher wages or better conditions. He wanted them to set up their own Co-operatives as an alternative to Capitalist firms, wanted them to create their own Party to struggle for political power so that those Co-operatives could be supported against the attacks of Capital upon them. But, he recognised the need to support workers where they were, in order to win their ear, and persuade them of the need to move beyond those immediate struggles. In Value, Price and Profit, he sets out at length the reasons why such Trades Union struggles were doomed to defeat, why they could never advance the workers beyond the level of what was in any case the Value of Labour Power established by the laws of Supply and Demand. But, he also wrote,

“These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement.”

And, in his famous letter to Ruge, he wrote,

“Hence, nothing prevents us from making criticism of politics, participation in politics, and therefore real struggles, the starting point of our criticism, and from identifying our criticism with them. In that case we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle: Here is the truth, kneel down before it! We develop new principles for the world out of the world’s own principles. We do not say to the world: Cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it does not want to.”

Finally, I began by relating my own experience of having to go through the 11 Plus, which at that time determined who was a winner and who a loser, who merited society lavishing more educational resources upon them. I should also mention that in that process I was a loser. I failed my 11 Plus. Fortunately, the village school I went to during the time I was there embarked on an experiment to allow some students to stay on to do 'O' levels. It was perhaps as well, because I had absolutely no aptitude for woodwork, or anything else that required manual dexterity. Obtaining a handful of 'O' Levels enabled me to get an office job, and probably the modicum of confidence to be prepared to do additional study later. In fact, it was only after I was married, and had been working for about 5 years or so, that I undertook Day Release study from work. And, in fact, I found that rather than being a loser, I was actually quite good at it. Within 2 years I not only obtained a qualification in Business Studies, but within a few months on the back of additional self-study I obtained 'O' levels in Economics, Accounting, and British Constitution, all pretty much with perfect scores. The next year I obtained, 'A' levels in Economics, Accounting and Law, passing the latter with just 6 months study. It was on the back of that that I went to University, and during all the time I was there, I maintained my relationship with my union Branch, attending every meeting, writing material for its regular Bulletin, and continuing throughout as one of its representative to the local TUC. I can recommend from this practical experience such a course of action.

Back To Part 2

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