Monday, August 29, 2016

Why socialism? (1980)

From the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Socialist Party of Great Britain argues that present-day society is not organised in the interests of the majority of people. We do not say this because we are a bunch of ever- complaining discontents or because we expect perfection in human affairs. We say it because of the plain, undeniable fact that the vast majority of the world’s wealth is owned by a tiny minority of the world’s population.

If we take the example of this country, we find (according to Royal Commission statistics) that 7 per cent of the population owns over 80 per cent of the wealth. And all productive activity that takes place does so to perpetuate this inequality. The single-figure owning minority we refer to as the “capitalist class”. We do not call them this for emotive reasons, but quite simply to describe their function, that of accumulating and investing capital with a view to producing goods and services the sale of which will realise a profit.

The large majority who own virtually nothing except their ability to work and the few (usually shoddy) personal possessions (car, furniture, TV, washing machine) which that ability has enabled them to buy we call the “working class”. And here we are not just referring to people who work with their hands, but to all those whose living depends on a wage or salary. In other words teachers, civil servants, doctors, journalists as well as miners, steelworkers dockers, postmen.

The working class too has a function, that of being exploited by the capitalist class. Once again “exploitation” is not a term we use loosely. By it we mean quite specifically that workers are always worth more to their employers than what they receive as wages or salary. What follows from this furthermore is that no matter how much workers receive for the job they do, they are only kept in that job so long as their work continues to be a source of profit to their employer. The iron law of the capitalist system is no profit, no production and the practical application of this equation is the unemployment caused at times of economic loss or recession, such as at present.

So members of the working class are in a permanently insecure situation. They never know, and neither do employers or governments or economists, when recession will come and quite what the effects will be. At the present time therefore, as the world recession grows deeper, many manual workers (steel, car making) are finding they are superfluous to their employers’ profit-making capacity and many workers in non-manual jobs (civil servants, college lecturers) which were formerly thought “secure” are also finding that shrinking markets at the end of the production line mean fewer jobs in their field—the servicing and administration of that production line.

Some would say that economic recession isn’t much fun for the capitalists either. And this is quite true. Their profits usually come down and hence their stock of capital is reduced. But unless they are so small as to be squeezed out of business (which does happen on a large scale and causes capital to be concentrated into fewer and fewer hands), recession makes little difference to their life style, for the material benefits they enjoy are derived from only a tiny fraction of their profits. The rest is ploughed back into maintenance of what they own and reinvestment and they simply have less to play with for these purposes.

Economic inequality, mass job insecurity and unemployment are fairly powerful indictments of the capitalist system but they are not our only arguments against it. The working class faces hosts of other problems, all caused by its unquestioning acceptance of capitalism. War arises from the rivalry for markets, raw materials, trade routes and strategic positions between the capitalist class of different countries. Wars are declared by governments, democratically elected or otherwise, in the interest of their national capitalist class and are fought by workers who unthinkingly suffer pain and death on a vast scale for “gains” which always prove illusory. That other scourge, racism, is a consequence of workers’ insecure, precarious existence under capitalism. The housing problem does not stem from the fact that there are insufficient houses or not enough bricks to build them but from the fact that people who need houses have not got the money to buy them. Under capitalism the equation is not demand = need, but demand = need + ready cash. The list of working-class problems is endless and all of them, when examined closely, can be seen to be bound up with the workings of a system that produces not to satisfy human needs but to make profits.

The alternative to all this we call socialism. And by socialism we do not mean the way of administering capitalism practised by the Labour Party and its equivalents in other countries, nor do we mean the brutal state capitalist dictatorships that exist in countries like Russia, China and Cuba, that like to call themselves socialist. We mean one thing and only one thing: a world society in which all production will take place exclusively to satisfy human needs. This may at first sight seem a far-fetched proposition, but when one considers that, with modern technology, the world’s resources are sufficient to assure a comfortable life for the whole of humanity, it is no more than a logical conclusion of seeing things as they are.

You may well ask how we are going to bring all this about. But the answer is that we are not. It can only be brought about when members of that vast majority of the population in the economically advanced countries of the world, the working class, decide they want to bring it about and then take conscious political action to do so. And by “conscious political action” we mean going to the ballot box and voting for candidates with a revolutionary mandate to dissolve capitalism and establish socialism. This democratically established society will itself be fully democratic and in it the means of life will be produced in abundance and used freely by everyone.

In the meantime we in the Socialist Party of Great Britain will continue to do everything in our power to persuade the world’s working class that their interest is not served, and can never be served by support for a system that treats them as inferior, dispensable beings and puts a permanent barrier between themselves and the fruits of their labour.
Howard Moss

Technology for people, not profit (1998)

From the May 1998 issue of the Socialist Standard
We hear a lot these days about technologyit is often seen as either the salvation or the scourge of humankind. At the outset it should be made clear that socialists do not have an agreed attitude to technology, which, strictly speaking, is only a means to an end. Some of us incline to be technophiles and others technosceptics. Some of us love looking at screens and are adept at handling electronic mice; others refuse to be parted from our faithful (and to us highly efficient) typewritersor even just biros.
Technology, like everything else, has a political dimension. What we have today are machines and processes that have been developed largely in the service of the profit system. Most computing and other electronic gadgetry is for business, war or leisure industry purposes. If a new technology is used to save lives or improve health, it is largely a by-product. Even computer-based "leisure" products are often teaching children and adults to zap the baddies and conquer aliens, activities that sit comfortably with the competition and aggression that is such a large part of the culture of capitalism.
A few years ago Theodor Roszak, in a book on The Cult of Information, wrote critically of technophilia, our love affair with the machines in our lives, the current fascination with the computer and its principal product, information. Socialists, of course, do not decry information, and anything which helps to spread information more widely. But we are concerned with what kind of information. In the present capitalist world most information and communication is controlled by multinational corporations and national governments that favour information which promotes capitalist values of competition, marketing and private property. In a socialist world information and communication will be oriented directly to meeting human need, to facilitate production and distribution and education, not class domination, privilege and exploitation.
An exponent of new and futuristic technology may reasonably ask: do you want the good news first or the bad? The good news is mostly about the marvels that are likely to result from ongoing and future telecoms development. Stephen Hoare, writing in the Times (17 November), promises "Telephone today, telebrooch tomorrow." Apparently, 30 years from now the phone could look like a watch, a shirt button, or a brooch, an immensely powerful voice-activated PC based on an evolved microchip. There will be no distinction between phones, computers, television sets, calculators or any electronic machine you care to name. The developing technology will be cheap, readily available and (so it is claimed) incredibly easy to use.
Now for the bad news. Writing in the same issue of the Times, Annie Turner suggests that the communications revolution has simply replaced one unsatisfactory regime with another. The spread of electronic mail, fax, voice mail and mobile phones, added to post, pagers and the phone, is producing a morass of messages. An excess of information is not only strangling "business" but also causing "human resources" (as they now call workers) to suffer mental anguish and physical illness. There is much time-wasting, stress, job dissatisfaction, and even breakdown of personal relationships. One pathetic example of profit-seeking technology is that children are being encouraged to adopt screen-based "cyberpets" instead of real live animals. Sometimes they even abandon their real pets to spend time vicariously "looking after" their synthetic pets.
The technology of money has a much-discussed future within capitalism. Hoare believes that "money--or rather cash transactions--will be fading away". The head of BT's research is quoted as saying "When I want a shirt I will go into a shop and pick one off the rack. When I walk out the chip in my phone will identify me and deduct cash from my account. Money will be reduced to digits on a database." An interesting prospect. Will the databases that we shall all presumably wear like watches also act as virtual employers, telling us when, where and how we can earn digits? Will a privileged section of the community (multinational corporations?) own and control the master databases?
The further technological development of capitalism is something which supporters of that system can devote their time and energies to. Socialists have a different agenda. We can put two of our digits up to the profit system and use the rest of them to organise for production solely for use. Some of us may be technophiles, some may be technosceptics, and others a bit of both. But we shall all use machines and processes, engage in relationships and procedures, to enhance our lives and the world we live in, not to exploit or be exploited, not to buy or sell, least of all ourselves, as most of us have to do now.
Stan Parker

The Open University (1980)

The Briefing Column from the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

The Open University offers home-based higher education for adults. It demands no entry qualifications and offers places on a first come-first served principle. Since 1971 it has admitted roughly 20,000 undergraduate students each January, and a growing number of associate and short course students. It has a total student body of over 70,000; and over 40,000 still apply each year for places.

Undergraduate students build their degrees on the ‘credit’ system, choosing almost any combination from over a hundred courses to gain six credits for an ordinary BA and eight for honours. Courses are offered in the Arts, Social Sciences, Mathematics, Science, Technology and Education. The average student can manage the work of about one credit a year by doing about fifteen hours study a week. The bulk of the reading is from well prepared correspondence texts which are also on sale in bookshops. This is supplemented on most courses by radio and television broadcasts or tapes, tutorials at a local study centre, and a week’s summer school held at one of the campus universities in the long vacation. Examination is by a combination of continuous assessment and a final three-hour paper for each course.

Undergraduate fees are government subsidised but still cost the student £67 for a full credit course. The cost of set books varies, but is additional, as is postage, travel, and some items of equipment such as calculators. The expensive home experiment kits used in some courses are loaned to students. Summer school costs £62 this year but many local education authorities and some employers pay this plus travelling expenses. The University itself has a financial assistance fund for students who cannot afford the fees.

The headquarters of the Open University is in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. This is largely a course production and administrative centre, despatching about 62,500 packages a week to students. There are thirteen regional offices in the country providing local services and personal contact. Tutorial and counselling support in the regions is provided by more than 5,000 teachers employed part-time.

Of the students who sit the end-of-year examinations, around 90 per cent pass; but a gradually increasing percentage are failing to get as far as the examination on post foundation level courses. In 1979 only about 60 per cent of those who paid their fees for these courses gained credits. There may be a number of reasons for this: decreasing educational preparedness in the people now applying to the OU; increasing economic pressures affecting workers’ jobs and family life; or the decreasing level of personal support provided by the University as government economies bite deeper.

The Open University is not expected to show a profit, but it is expected to be ‘cost effective’—cheap to run. Those workers who had an inadequate school education; who have great difficulty in sparing the time and the money for courses; whose family problems, shift work and short holidays make them too tired and harrassed to devote their minds to study, and who lack the nerve and the know-how to demand their money’s worth when they do—these are the ones who ‘drop out’.

About 40,000 students have now obtained degrees through OU part-time study, in spite of the difficulties. This is an indication, not only of the amount of enthusiasm that exists among workers for rigorous intellectual effort, but also of the amount of unrecognised brain power that still lies dormant in a class which seems to think that it does not have the intelligence to set up and run a social system in its own interests.
Ron Cook

Universities today (1980)

From the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

Universities today are not what they were. But then what would you expect of institutions which have existed in Europe for six or seven centuries?

Originally, universities were scholastic guilds, similar to trade guilds in protecting the interests of their members. These were often foreigners who had come together to study in a particular place and were in need of protection from the extortion of the townspeople. Towards the end of the fourteenth century the guilds came to be recognised by civil and church authorities and to receive licences to teach. Today, universities are huge institutions, often employing several thousand workers, which take millions of pounds to run, find their place in a whole network of other social institutions, and ultimately serve the interests of the ruling class in capitalist society.

The extent to which universities are bound up with the wider capitalist society (in contradiction to the ivory tower image so firmly set in popular imagination) can be gauged by the statements of influential members of the ruling class. Stuart Sexton, political adviser to the Secretary of State for Education, recently said that over the next decade there would be a reassertion of the obligation of higher education to meet national needs. But these are hard times, and the chairman of IBM (UK), said more bluntly (and more threateningly) that unless the relation between education and industry improved, industry would not be successful and there would be no money to fund education. While the need to make things and to sell them has become the cornerstone of survival, he complained, incense had been burned at the altar of scholarship.

He obviously knows a thing or two about what makes capitalism tick. But the present Prime Minister is not noted for soft-heartedness and she does profess to have a zeal for cutting public expenditure. Readers may judge for themselves, therefore, whether it is likely that she would sanction the spending of £987m (the total grant to universities for the current year) to make a nice smell at the altar.

The government expect a return on this money and they will get it. First, in the shape of the production of skilled manpower—doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers, and others whose mental training will have made them adaptable to the needs of capitalist society in a variety of roles such as civil servant, personnel officer, social worker. In this regard the universities of British capitalism are (for the moment) among the most cost-effective in the world, since they produce qualified graduates in a shorter time than most (usually three years) and with a lower failure and drop-out rate. Most of these graduates (over 60 per cent) go directly into industry and commerce.

The second return on government money comes from the fact that universities exist not only to teach but also to engage in research. It is here that there is a slim connection with the origin of universities and a grain of truth in the ivory tower image. “Research” covers many different types of activity in widely varying areas, from ancient history to nuclear physics. Some research will be merely scholarly, and if it has any worth it will have it simply as an addition to the culture in which we live. Some will involve work to find a definite solution to a definite problem. And some may or may not have any practical application, but it will not be possible to tell in advance.

This last point is important. There is research currently going on at Glasgow University into hepatitis and cirrhosis, and at Hull into liquid crystal displays which may replace cathode ray tubes in televisions. Much other research may turn out to be useful in these ways or it may be “useless”. But one never knows which. Florey and Chain investigated penicillin out of curiosity, not expecting to find a systemic antibiotic, and Rutherford was criticised for bothering about neutrons only fourteen years before the first atomic bombs were exploded. Now any businessman knows that a certain amount of speculative investment of resources is inevitable, and consequently funds are made available not only for research on some definite problem but also for speculative and possibly “useless” research. That is, it pays to have work going on in an environment where people are not asked at every turn “Does it pay?” (It has been estimated that the immediate financial profit produced by universities is of the order of £500m.) This in its turn makes for a climate where, by the standards of capitalism, there is relatively free discussion.

As one would expect with institutions closely bound up with society in this way, their recent history has broadly followed the fortunes of British capitalism. In the boom years of the 1960s, when demand for skilled manpower was very high, the number of universities increased from 23 to 44, with a particular increase in those chiefly concerned with technological subjects. The Robbins Report proclaimed that higher education should be available to anyone qualified to pursue it, and student numbers rose rapidly. Along with this went a change in the undergraduate image, from a pipe-smoking, tweed-jacketed “chap” to a long-haired, jean-wearing hippy. The majority of students were probably never either.

But booms are followed by slumps, and this era of rapid expansion has come to an end with a vengeance. The CBI has given notice that the proportion of national resources for higher education in the last 20 years cannot be sustained in the 1980s. The government has responded to the piper’s calling of the tune by cutting £17½m off the universities’ recurrent grant for 1979/80, which was itself based on the laughable underestimate of an inflation rate of 8½ per cent. The number of qualified 18-year-olds continues to rise, but universities have been ordered no longer to increase their intake. A discussion paper prepared under the chairmanship of the Vice-Chancellor of Sussex University has spoken of the possibility of losing 60 staff posts in two years and needing to find £lm- £2m from somewhere. These are bare facts and figures which have to be translated into human experience. All universities over the last few years have been affected by frozen posts and the policy of leaving vacancies unfilled. This means that at all levels-teaching, secretarial, maintenance, technicians and kitchen staff-workers have had to do more work and, given inflation, for a smaller real wage or salary. This is, quite simply, increased exploitation, increased extraction of surplus-value from a section of the working class.

Effects on students are more varied, since not all students are members of the working class. The ruling class have to educate their offspring somewhere, and the more prestigious universities are one of the places they choose. Sons and daughters of industrialists and cabinet ministers and the like, can be found quite easily at Oxford and Cambridge (though not, say, at Strathclyde or Essex). Perhaps this is what led one academic to refer to Oxford as at once a centre of high-powered thought and a finishing school. Which role it has for any particular student becomes apparent when the time comes to leave. At Bristol University (one of the more prestigious) 3 per cent of graduates from one faculty declared themselves “not available for employment’’. For them, the garden parties held to celebrate their obtaining a degree can go on for the rest of the summer and the rest of their lives. For the rest, it will be the basic, inescapable condition of being a worker: they will have to find someone prepared to buy their labour power, and their fear is likely to be the opposite one of employment not being available for them. Being a highly educated worker is no proof against the dole queue, and this was illustrated by a recent report in The Times. Five hundred young people turned up for eight jobs in a clothes shop in Sheffield at £32.50 per week, and they included several with degrees.

In 1968 the year of phoney revolutions, universities in Britain and elsewhere were headline news. Though some thought the end of capitalism was at hand, the upheavals in them amounted only to civil disturbances, since they involved questioning only some aspects of capitalist society. They also fed the pernicious belief to be found in some left-wing circles that an intellectual elite is needed to produce a socialist revolution. Intellectuals, and especially left-wing intellectuals, should never be encouraged in their vice of exaggerating their own importance in that way. High intelligence and a brilliant mind can and do coexist with pathetic ignorance of the true nature of our political and social system. The workers by brain have no special insight, but they have no special immunity from social conditions either, and they will join forces with other workers when all finally realise where their class interest lies.
Bill Valinas

Secondary schools: educating for conformity (1980)

From the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

At the time of writing, a by no means insignificant proportion of the nation’s young, along with their parents, friends and relations, are holding their breath. The cause of this trauma, which occurs annually, is the impending announcement of the ‘O’ and ‘A’ level examination results.

Ever since the examination answers were written, markers drawn from the ranks of the teaching profession — retired and active — have been busily scratching away with their black and red pencils. Their job is to sort out the relative merits or demerits of the scripts they have been given and to deliver the ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ as the occasion warrants.

And a great deal hangs in the balance. Some students wish to enter their sixth-forms to attempt the next hurdle. Others have a conditional offer of a place at a university or a polytechnic. Many more hope to enter industry or commerce, or the “public” services. All, however, share an overriding concern: the nature and quality of the meal-ticket they must, if they are to live, acquire at the end of it all. For this is what the exercise is all about. Put another way; what, in effect, is happening is the ‘intellectual’ classification of the working class for and on behalf of the only other class—the capitalists.

It is important to remember also that by far the larger proportion of working class youngsters have already been weeded out. They are now performing the intellectually less-demanding—and usually lower paid—tasks imposed upon them by their capitalist masters and by their own circumstances. Or—more likely—they are unemployed.

From the foregoing it is evident that it is at examination time that education most clearly reveals itself in its true guise—as a transparent device for facilitating the grading and selection of wealth-producing units (sometimes described as ‘hands’) in the capitalist machine. We can forget all that cant about a ‘broadening of the intellect’; or the ‘widening of one’s cultural awareness’; or the ‘ability to express oneself; or ‘the flowering of one’s personality’. Teachers may sincerely believe that such inflated and plainly hypocritical claptrap is the prime purpose of their ministrations: it’s a dead certainty that the employers and their executive committee, the government, do not.

And if it appears that the three r’s are receiving less attention than, in the eyes of the prospective employers, they ought, then we can confidently expect some political hack at the Department of Education and Science to launch a campaign to put matters right. (Under Labour this duty was enthusiastically prosecuted by that darling of the media and doyenne of the Labour Party’s right wing, Shirley Williams).

It is no accident that the practice of, and instruction in, religion is compulsory in schools. This has been and remains a bare-faced and utterly cynical attempt on the part of the master-class to inculcate in the minds of young people a suitably docile and submissive attitude towards life under capitalism. Usury; exploitation; power-seeking and corruption in high places; culminating in the conditioning of the working class to accept war, with its possibility of a nuclear holocaust: such things require a foundation in ‘morality’ if our masters are going to get away with it. The Church and its handmaidens, the educators, have always proved ready and willing to perform the useful task of supplying it. It is relatively unimportant that the vast majority of young people reject out of hand the ridiculous incantations of the ‘lay brethren’ in their schools; (most of whom don’t believe a word of it themselves anyway); the fact remains that capitalism will have been provided with a mask of respectability, however superficial.

Another necessary pre-condition in the process of training the workforce of the future is an unquestioning acceptance. of competition as an essential fact of life. In the majority of schools this is taken for granted. There have to be winners and losers no matter what the consequences. The humiliation and sense of failure which afflicts so many of ‘education’s’ victims, so often expressed in belligerence or apathy, are accepted as unfortunate but unavoidable side-effects.

In fact, this state of affairs constitutes the beginning of a deliberate process which is essential to capitalism's survival—the division and sub-division of the working class against itself. (And what could be more dangerous and alarming to the capitalist class than a workforce which stands united in a common interest and understanding, alert to its conditions as a class and ready and willing to subject that condition to critical scrutiny?).

Schools, then, can be compared to the nurseryman's greenhouse; by the time the seedlings have reached the stage where they are ready to be introduced to the harsher environment of the garden a great deal of thinning out will have been achieved. The tougher plants will have been suitably conditioned to face their new circumstances. Likewise the products of our schools, moulded into shape and unquestioning in their acceptance of the society into which they were born, are ready to join the bigger rat-race of the world of work. Those who enter the institutions of ‘higher learning’ are as yet one stage removed from this world; the remainder, compliant and unrebellious, are only too ready to sell their labour power to the highest bidder—or to don the uniforms of capitalism’s forces of oppression and repression.

It is clear that this is possible only up to a certain point: the capitalists may have no call for the services of the school-leaver. This is the case at the present time. Capitalism is in the latest of a lengthening line of periodic crises. Unable to find markets for its increasingly uncompetitive commodities it reduces production or closes it down altogether, throwing workers on the dole. And if there is less demand for ‘educated’ workers there is clearly less need to spend as much as hitherto on schools and schooling; hence the harshness of the education cuts. (No doubt when boom time comes around once more, new cash will be forthcoming to pay for the higher standards which will then be demanded).

So what do the employers get for their money? (and it is their money which, in the form of taxation, pays the educators to do their preparatory work for them).

The first thing they get is choice. They are now able to select from the available pool of suitably sieved and classified labour and brain power those qualities and skills which, following a further period of training and conditioning (but minus the religious bunkum, of course) are best calculated to provide them with the highest return. Or they can, if they happen to be, say, the Home Office or the Ministry of Defence, select potential policemen or soldiers or whatever, from among those who by background, inclination and malleability are most likely to prove reliable in their determination to conform to and co-operate with the status quo.

Another quality the employers can be confident of commanding is a fair degree of punctuality and endurance. The school day is deliberately designed to match, more or less, the normal working day its charges will later experience. Children who have ‘clocked on’ at their school for many years are conditioned to accept without query clocking on at their future place of employment. And having arrived they are unlikely to abscond especially if the result of any such absenteeism is a loss of earnings and/or the receipt of their cards.

Again, young people who have been subjected to the approved interpretation of economic and social life under capitalism, and who have been carefully shielded from any objective and free discussion of possible alternatives, are hog-tied. With no basis upon which to challenge the existing order of society they are neutered before they are even able to begin the inevitable struggle with their future exploiters. (The unemployed will have received the same conditioning and, provided they can be kept sweet, they offer the capitalists a fine opportunity to keep down wage-costs in the scramble for jobs).

What, then, must we learn from our school-days? It is that compulsory secondary education, contrary to what we are frequently led to believe, is not primarily intended to benefit its recipients. Its main purpose is to provide the capitalists with a docile work-force, trained and conditioned up to a level necessary to achieve the highest possible rate of profit. Alternatively, the ‘educators’ must supply the ruling class with the obedient and conformist policemen, soldiers, civil servants, and so on, essential to its surviving as a class. These conditions are obtainable only given a thorough grounding in competition, doctored history and phoney moral rectitude, backed up by coercion—with or without corporal punishment. Success can be achieved only given the absence of a proper examination of alternatives, and in circumstances which preclude truly hostile or analytical questioning in open debate. Such a regime is amply exemplified by our secondary schools.
Richard Cooper

The classroom struggle (1980)

From the September 1980 issue of the Socialist Standard

My schooldays were recent enough to remember and they were not the happiest days of my life. The compulsion to pay attention to pompous lectures about what is “right” and what is “wrong”; the competitive tension of examinations whereby friends become rivals for an advanced position in the employment queue; the deceit and ignorance upon which much of modern learning is based. I learnt three important things while at school how to hide from authority; how to read a good book while pretending to be listening to the teacher; and above all, how to rejoice in the abnormality which is officially scorned by the system of mass education.

The message of the Socialist Party of Great Britain is for all members of the class which owns little more than its ability to work and is therefore forced to sell its labour power to an employer in order to live. We do not discriminate between young members of the working class who are still being trained for wage slavery and those who have graduated from education into full-time exploitation. It is your common class position to which we appeal, not your age or your experience. To become a socialist does not require grey hairs or five “O” levels, but an understanding of the society you live in and a commitment to change it. If you are still at school, you can contribute towards making a better future for yourself no less valuably than any other worker; you will find no discrimination on the basis of age in the socialist movement.

Schools are not there so that young people can freely learn and be turned into informed, mature human beings. Only the liberal educationalists who earn their bread and butter out of the blackboard jungle perpetuate the myth that education is about freedom and fulfilment. Schools exist to train you for your class role. Because the vast majority of people are destined to be wage or salary workers the job of schools is to give us training in working class skills and values. Boys are taught how to make things from wood and repair cars; girls are given a basic training in domestic skills. They teach us to read (good for machine instructions and understanding the lies of the newspapers), to count, add and subtract (necessary for industrial workers), to know about geography (through the nationalist eyes of the British ruling class) and history (where content is selected and, by careful emphasis and omission, the past becomes the story of kings, lords and war victories instead of workers, peasants, strikes and revolutions). They teach us to keep fit in a competitive form of warfare called sport. And they are legally bound to teach us religion (the only compulsory subject) so that we will accept their class morality.

Schools have always been the property of the ruling class and they have always served to inculcate into the mass of people the ideas of the rulers. The first schools in England were in the sixth century and their purpose was to train monks and priests to spread propaganda about those parts of the Bible of use to the feudal ruling class. The Roman Catholic Church, which controlled European education in the Middle Ages, was so fearful that literacy might be used to examine any ideas but its own that it officially supported a policy of mass illiteracy. The following extract from a letter from Pope Gregory to Bishop Desiderina of Gaul illustrates such fear of the power of literacy:
“A circumstance came to our notice which cannot be mentioned without shame, namely that you, our brother, give lessons in [Latin] grammar. This news caused us such annoyance and disgust that all our joy at the good we had heard earlier was turned to sorrow and distress, since' the same lips cannot sing the praise of Jove as the praise of Christ. Consider yourself how serious and shocking it is that a bishop should pursue an activity unthinkable even for a pious layman. We have already in hand the granting of your request, easy in mind and untroubled by doubts, provided that this information which has come to us shall have been proved manifestly untrue, and you shall not be shown to spend your time on the follies of secular literature.”
The Pope was right to fear the consequences of mass literacy, for it was the invention of the printing press and the growth of literature in the vernacular which contributed greatly to the popular dismissal of Catholicism in the sixteenth century.

The growth of industrial capitalism in the late eighteenth century produced a requirement for a workforce educated in the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic). At first, the ruling class was slow to perceive its economic needs and some of them had a medieval fear of educating the poor:
“It is doubtless desirable that the poor should be instructed in reading, if it were only for the best of purposes that they may read the Scriptures. As to writing and arithmetic, it may be apprehended that such a degree of knowledge would produce in them a derelish for the laborious occupations of life.”
(Justice of the Peace, 1807. Quoted by R. Williams in The Long Revolution)
Robert Lowe MP, Vice President of the government’s Education Department in the 1860s, was in favour of educating the poor, but not for philanthropic motives:
“The lower classes ought to be educated to discharge the duties cast upon them. They should also be educated that they may appreciate and defer to a higher cultivation when they meet it, and the higher classes ought to be educated in a very different manner, in order that they may exhibit to the lower classes that higher education to which, if it were shown to them, they would bow down. . . ."
(Primary and Classical Education)
The modern comprehensive school fulfils this role admirably. Young workers are taught practical skills to enable us to 'discharge the duties cast upon’ us. The importance of punctuality (getting to work on time), not talking while working, passive obedience to authority, ability to memorise so-called facts, and repetition of dogma are all part of the preparation for wage slavery. They teach us history, but not our history from our angle. State education is an attempt to nationalise the minds of the working class.

It is not only in Britain and the West that education serves the needs of the ruling class. In Russia, China and the other state capitalist countries young workers are taught the virtues of employment, deference and nationalism, the only difference being that it is all done in the name of socialism. In Russian schools, where the boring memoirs of Tsar Brezhnev are now compulsory reading (like the Bible in Britain), many students have become cynical towards the elite bureaucracy that dictates over them—a cynicism they share with many young members of the working class throughout the world. Even in South Africa, where the racist system of apartheid has tended to blind capitalists to their economic needs, there is growing recognition by the ruling class that their overriding objective must be to produce profitable wage slaves, regardless of colour. Harry Oppenheimer, South Africa’s leading industrialist (he is head of De Beers diamond and Anglo-American gold mining combines) is reported to have urged the Botha government to get rid of apartheid in education:
“. . .  Mr. Botha must bring the electorate to recognise that racial discrimination and free enterprise are basically incompatible . . .  the education issue threatens to prevent the rapid and peaceful development of the country because it creates an ‘acute and growing shortage’ of skilled workers.”
(Guardian, 14th July, 1980)
This is not to say that the existence of schools is a bad thing for the working class. If you use your brain to serve your own material interests, some of what you learn at school can help you. It depends on what you study, what conclusions you draw and how far you are able to sort out the prejudices from the facts. Literacy can be a powerful weapon, opening a path to the study of the world around you, but it can also be a path to a lifetime of Daily Express editorials and Harold Robbins paperbacks.

Capitalist education is unequal and the introduction of comprehensive education has not eradicated that inequality. In the days when male children were divided up at eleven into manual workers-to-be who were sent to secondary modern schools to learn woodwork and arithmetic, and the potential managers and professionals who went to the grammar schools to learn Latin and Chaucer, it was the claim of liberal reformers that comprehensive education would remove such inequality. This idea was based on the popular illusion that education determines class, whereas in fact education tends to reflect class. Inequality still exists in comprehensive schools between the poorest sections of the working class and the less poor (who often imagine themselves to be middle class). In many areas two-level schooling has continued, with the better-off parents sending their children to the better equipped, less rowdy schools near to where they live, while the children of the slums and the council estates end up in the worst schools.
The real division in education is not within the working class, but between the state education provided for the workers and the paid public schools for the sons and daughters of the parasites who own the means of living. Still Crabbe’s dictum applies:
To every class we have a school assign’d;
Rules for all ranks and food for every mind.
We have described the purpose of working class education, but what about the public schools with their spacious grounds, academic excellence and conditioned snobbery? They teach young capitalists the exact opposite to what we learn in the comprehensives: we learn to follow, they learn to lead; we learn to save money, they learn to invest and spend it; we learn how to be brave soldiers, they learn how to be distant Generals; we learn to respect property, they learn to own and control it. The public schools teach people to be superior to those not in their class. Entry to the capitalist class is not determined by competitive examination, by having better minds or working harder or having more initiative than anyone else—it is simply determined by the ownership of inherited wealth. Eton and Harrow contain some of the biggest morons on the face of the earth, but they are morons with fancy clothes, big family homes, posh accents, daddies in the City and, above all, plenty of money to invest in the labour power of the working class.

One in five members of the present Conservative government went to one of three of the top fee-paying schools in Britain. An analysis conducted by C. S. Wilson and T. Lupton in the 1950s showed that Eton alone produced 30 per cent of Conservative Ministers, of the directors of large banks, of the directors of City firms, and of the directors of insurance companies. Eton, Winchester, Harrow, Rugby, Charterhouse and Marlborough between them produced between two-fifths and half of the holders of the above-mentioned posts. Jean Blondel, in his study of Voters, Parties and Leaders, points out that:
“The 25 to 30 per cent of old Etonians whom one finds in a Conservative cabinet, in banks, in the insurance companies, have greater influence than their numbers warrant, because, being old Etonians, they have more contacts. They supply information about other old Etonians who are influential in other walks of life; they are go-betweens, they are instruments of compromises in the sector of British political, social and economic life in which they are numerous.”
(P. 24)
While capitalists spend millions of pounds on getting their children a superior education, the government tells us that it must cut expenditure on schooling because it stands to reason that nuclear bombs must be a higher social priority than school books. In the present economic recession, which is an endemic feature of capitalism, you can expect your standard of schooling to markedly drop. The June 1979 budget cut £55 million from central government spending on education and the November 1979 White Paper on public spending announced a cut in real terms of £240 million for education. This will amount to the loss of 18,000 teachers in England and Wales and increased charges for—or the withdrawal of—school meals, milk and transport. This is happening at a time when, according to the Department of Education, there is a shortage of 4,000 mathematics teachers, 2,000 physical science teachers, 2,000 craft, design and technology teachers and 1,600 language teachers.
Revolution is a mysterious term. Most of us are taught at school to understand it in relation to the capitalist revolutions of the past. The French Revolution of 1789 is most people’s idea of what revolution is all about: barricades, bayonets, blood, slogans, heroic leaders and a new regime, not much different from the old one. That is not what socialists mean by revolution.

By social revolution we mean a conscious change in social relationships from those based upon private or state ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution to common ownership and democratic control of the world around us. The socialist revolution will mean the instant abolition of class divisions, the wages system, private property, and the need for money. It is a big aim, but it presents the only alternative to the present world system of capitalism.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain states as a matter of principle that the establishment of the new social order can only be possible when a majority of the world’s workers consciously understand and want it. Once majority consciousness arises, nothing can stop the conquest of power by the working class.

The tensions and contradictions of working class life under capitalism tend to lead more and more workers to question the status quo. This critical thought is essential, for once you start to formulate questions, you are half way to knowing the answers. But capitalism has an immense capacity for accommodating working class discontent and dissent and it is often able to convert challenging resistance into sterile rebelliousness.

The Labour Party Young Socialists, the left wing romanticists and campaigns for reforms have wasted the political energies of millions of working class youths. They have grown weary trying to do what none has done before them—to make the slaughter house fit for the cattle. In their late twenties the participants in the reformist movement grow tired and drop their radical poses, claiming to have grown out of such youthful fancies as wishing for a better world to live in. The system has converted them into regular channels of dissent and they end up as conservative, acquiescent workers.

It is not only into overtly political blind allies that young workers can be led. The so-called ‘alternative culture' is, on the whole, just another capitalist rip-off. You drop out of one oppressive way of life and into another. Escape via rock music or art is often at best merely pretentious and at worst an excuse for someone to get rich quick. Escape through drugs or alcohol is a boost to those who profit from human self-destruction, but ultimately serves to stupify workers and blind them to their condition. Youth cults have been used to make money out of despair, while regimenting youths into easily identifiable mass fashions: while the hippies sang of peace and love, the drug pushers dreamed of dollars; skinhead culture, with its frustrated racism and know-nothing nationalism, did its recruits little good in the dole queue; and as for the punk ‘New Wave’—what’s the use of walking around with a safety pin up your nose if you still face all the poverty and degradation of being a wage slave? Some young workers still turn in frustration to the empty skies and the empty churches for an answer, often ending up on the wrong end of the exploitation game in the Moonies, the scientologists or in a temple devoted to a guru. To really challenge the conservatism of this system, it’s not new cults we need, but liberated minds.

Mind liberation is not the same as women’s liberation (women wage slaves being exploited on the same terms as men). It means thinking about what is in your own material interest and joining with those in a common social position to do something about it. Punks, junkies and lefties can be well accommodated within the capitalist system. Socialist consciousness cannot be accommodated within capitalism: not until we have a system of society run in the human interest will socialists be content.

What, then, will be the position of young people in a socialist society? Of course, the social revolution will not alter human biology and make young humans look the same as older ones. Neither will it remove the need for those who are young to learn certain skills and acquire certain information as part of their development into adulthood. The difference in socialism will be that the young will no longer be conditioned from birth for class roles; no longer will those who are old have power over those who are young because they pay for them; no longer will education be only for the young, but instead will be seen as a lifelong process for all to enjoy the constant quest for knowledge; no longer will authoritarian discipline exist in schools, for the basis of socialism will be cooperative self-discipline; no longer will those being educated be forced to accept dogma in an uncritical fashion, for the need to inculcate norms into children will have disappeared.

Socialism will open up one new possibility which has hitherto been denied to the sons and daughters of the wealth-producing class: the right to be different, to assert individuality, to be eccentric and to be visionaries.
Steve Coleman