Monday, August 8, 2022

Sting in the Tail: Spot the Difference (1991)

The Sting in the Tail column from the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Spot the Difference

A typical piece of left-wing mythology is that it is only the Labour Party leaders who are opportunists and obsessed with "image” while the rank and file are concerned with principles.

This fallacy was exposed once again when The Guardian (July 8) published a selection of letters from readers advising Neil Kinnock on how to win the next election.

One Labour activist suggested:
Learn how to hold your hands when strolling on camera. Look grave on suitable occasions.
Another suggested:
Open the door to electoral reform. Not too wide: that would expose the divisions on the subject within the Labour Party the wrong side of a general election.
A third told him to keep Labour voters happy by being:
. . . less lenient and understanding to criminals.
The thinking of Labour leaders and the rank and file is not nearly as different as the left-wing imagines.

Good Morning Blues

Should any of our readers have the misfortune to be rising for work at 6.30am take our advice — don't switch on the TV.

It's bad enough being a wage slave, who has to rise in the middle of the night to go to work, without being greeted by the mindless pap of breakfast TV. The item that grates with this writer is the Stock Market News.

Some earnest young whiz kid prattles on about the Nikkei Index and the Dow Jones Index, the Balance of Payments Deficit and exciting news — the Weakening Pound.

Who is this stuff aimed at? Do they imagine the working class are interested in the Stock Market? Surely all members of the capitalist class are snugly tucked up at this unearthly hour?

The other morning, after yawning through this drivel, Scorpion phoned in sick; switched off the Bright Young Thing in mid-sentence as he enthused over Invisible Earnings (a reference to Scorpion's wage packet?): and returned to bed to contemplate the intricacies of Supply Side Economics —- it's all good sleep-inducing stuff.

Deep Thinker (1)

The mental bankruptcy of Militant is well demonstrated by Derek Hatton in his book "Inside Left".
Even in a totally socialist society there will always be the need for independent trade unionists.
So here's a "Marxist" who thinks there will still be trade unions when capitalism, the system which spawned them, has been abolished!

And what makes a Liverpudlian? According to Hatton:
It's that philosophy which produced the Beatles, the Cilia Blacks, the Jimmy Tarbucks . . . It's a natural spirit of competition coupled with a belief that you're not simply as good as anyone else. You are better.

Deep Thinker (2)

Speaking of mental bankruptcy, the news that Yorkshire County cricket club are to hire players who are not "pure bred Yorkshiremen" has provoked a Yorkshire Labour MP, Roland Boyes, to table a Commons motion regretting this move.
It is my beloved Yorkshire that I am concerned about. We have a proud tradition and I feel a little part of me has been destroyed.
(BBC Ceefax July 12)
Obviously the "little part" Boyes is referring to is his brain.

Up the Poll

If you are baffled by the ups and downs of recent opinion polls then spare a thought for the Labour Party.

No matter how many problems face the Tories — rising unemployment, big rows over Europe, public distrust over their NHS policies, etc., somehow they are doing well in the polls.

Many weird and wonderful reasons are offered for this. The Tories put it down to their "sound policies", some pollsters say that many voters are simply rewarding John Major for not being Mrs Thatcher, while Labour can only gulp and stare at the polls like a rabbit hypnotised by a stoat.

Whatever the reasons for the topsy-turvy polls may be, the voters' fickleness is not caused by any doubts about the ability of politicians to solve capitalism's problems, only about which bunch of tricksters to entrust with the job.

That's Entertainment? (Part 1)

The news that a supremely talented artist like Woody Allen is to produce TV commercials for an Italian supermarket for a reported $2 million fee would depress any of his admirers who have enjoyed such films as 'Take the Money and Run" and 'The Sleeper'; so it is heartening to know that capitalism has not yet completely ruined artistic integrity.
Advertising signs that con you 
Into thinking you're the one 
That can do what's never been done 
That can win what's never been won 
Meanwhile life outside goes on 
All around you
Sang Bob Dylan in the sixties and it would seem that after all the trappings of commercial success he can still take a rational view about the phoniness of capitalism:
You know things go better with Coke because Aretha Franklin told you so and Maxwell House coffee must be OK because Ray Charles is singing about it . . . I'm not gonna live or die behind that — I’m not selling breakfast cereal or razor blades . . . Everything is just too commercial, like a sprouting octopus, too much part of the system. Sometimes you feel you're walking around in that movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers and you wonder if it's got you yet, if you're still one of the few or are you "them" now. You never know do you?
The Guardian (July 2)
Well, how about it? Has the system got to you? Have you become an orthodox unthinking zombie? Or is there still the spark of human individualism and criticism burning out there?

That's Entertainment? (Part 2)

In discussing the suicide of Nick Massey, a Public Relations man in the Pop business, The Independent on Sunday (July 7) revealed some of the deceits that go on in the business that is cynically called Entertainment
Dusty record columns, titled Disc or Parade, became Bizarre or the White Hot Club and sparkled with increasingly malicious rumours. Elton John had connections with rent boys; Andrew Ridgely broke his nose in a nightclub brawl; the Beastie Boys swore at disabled kids — all were untrue.

Elton John sued The Sun for £1 million. Andrew Ridgely had actually had a nose job; the "brawl" story explained the dressing. And the Beastie Boys? Well, that story was just too good not to use. . . "You might bend or curve or shape something, but what is fact?" Rick Sky said to Q magazine. "What is truth? Everbody around you, PRs and stars, is lying".
Yes indeed, there is no business like show business — and there is no system like capitalism for deceit, hype and cheating.

This is Socialism (1991)

From the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Socialism means common ownership

The means of production will no longer belong to a privileged minority class, whether private capitalists (as in the West) or state bureaucrats (as in the East). Both private capitalism and state capitalism will be replaced by a system in which all natural and industrial resources will be held in common by the whole community. This is the basis of socialism.

Socialism means social equality

With the establishment of common ownership, the existing division of society into a privileged ruling class and a majority class of wage and salary workers will come to an end. Instead, every member of society will stand equal with respect to the means of production and have an equal say in the way social affairs are run.

Socialism means cooperation

With the disappearance of classes, a common social interest really will exist. People will no longer be alienated, isolated individuals competing in the marketplace, but will be members of a real community of free and equal men and women cooperating for their mutual benefit and for the common good. In line with the nature of humans as social beings, cooperation, not today’s competitive individualism, will be the prevalent social ethos, transforming all aspects of social life — work, play, education, the family and personal relationships generally.

Socialism means democratic control

The existing political structures where a government rules over people on behalf of the class that owns the means of production will give way to a fully democratic system of decision-making and administration. Decisions will flow upwards from the broadest possible base rather than from the top downwards as at present. Delegates, subject to the full range of democratic checks and controls, wall carry out and supervise the purely administrative tasks that will remain once the political state with its machinery of coercion has been dismantled.

Socialism means production for use

Production for sale with its profit motive will come to an end; goods and services will be produced to directly supply needs without the intervention of buying and selling. The mechanisms of the market will be replaced by a self-adjusting system of production for use. The productive and distributive network will be geared to respond in a flexible way to information about needs, communicated to it directly as required amounts of specific goods and materials.

Socialism means free access

With the abolition of market mechanisms, people will be able to obtain the food, clothes and other articles they need for their personal consumption by going into a store or distribution centre and taking according to their own self-defined needs. Houses and flats will be rent-free, with heating, lighting and water supplied free of charge. Transport, health care, communications, education, restaurants and laundries will be organised as free public services. There will be no admission charges to museums, parks, libraries and other places of entertainment and recreation. Money will become redundant.

Socialism means the abolition of the wages system

Since people will have free access to what they need, productive work will no longer be performed for an employer in return for a wage or salary but will become a voluntary service organised on a democratic basis. The factories, farms, offices, schools, hospitals and other places of work will be administered democratically by those working in them. People will undertake this work service as their contribution to the necessary social tasks of producing the goods to keep the stores stocked with the things for people to take for their personal consumption and of running the free public services and the administration.

Socialism means a world community

Because capitalism itself is already a world system which, either in its private or in its state form, dominates the whole globe, socialism too can only be a world system. This means that socialism could not be established in just one country but only as a world community without frontiers, in which the natural and industrial resources of the Earth will be the common heritage of present and future generations. The world will be regarded as one country and humanity as one people.

Caught In The Act: Relief for the Rich (1991)

The Caught In The Act Column from the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

Relief for the Rich

Uncaring dole queues did not riot in sympathy with the Names at Lloyd's, even though the media tore at our heart-strings with sad stories of some of them being down to their last Rolls Royce, yacht and country estate. The same stories revealed the existence of something called the Lloyd's Hardship Committee (yes, the word is hardship) of which the chair is Mary Archer — she who had some grovelling judge at her millionaire husband's libel case drooling gormlessly about her "fragrance". In fact Names are people; in the world of insurance they are where the buck stops. Their status is rather beyond Social Security claimants because a Name has to be able to get their hands on £250,000 without delay and their obligation to slump up for insurance claims is unlimited. In good times they rake in a lot of profit but in bad — like the present — they stand to make heavy losses.

This sounds pretty perilous except that nobody will invest in a business which continually makes losses. Lloyd's has been very profitable for the last twenty years; in 1983 they made £509 million. Recent times have not been so good; in 1988 they lost about £500 million and the figure for 1989 is expected to be double that, as the bills come in for pollution claims, oil spills, natural disasters and unnatural ones like the Piper Alpha fire. Some Names have suffered more severely because they specialised in the high profit but high risk business of reinsurance. Some people may call them adventurous, the spirit that built the British Empire and so on. Others — especially if they are on the dole queue — are more likely to think it greedy, an opinion confirmed when the Names squealed for government help in financing their failed gambles.

What the Names suggested was a sort of rich person's outdoor relief — tax concessions. But this had implications which were what might be called delicate because about 60 Tory MPs are Names; what would the dole queues have thought if MPs were caught in the act of giving themselves a handout?

A factor with a more direct political interest was the Labour Party's "broad sympathy" (according to The Guardian) towards Lloyds's long-term problems, which did more than hint that there would be support from the opposition for tax concessions. Well naturally, Labour's Treasury team have been chomping their way through numerous heavy meals with the City's bankers, merchants and insurers in the cause of assuring them that they have nothing to fear from a Labour government. But even the present cowed and grovelling Labour Party thought this would be going too far so the idea had to be disowned, blamed onto the indiscretions of a very junior shadow minister whose career is thereby now uninsurable.

In theory the Names, whose history is rooted in the romance of the coffee houses of 17th century London, should be the very essence of free market dare-devilry, contemptuous of state intervention. In theory, too, the Labour Party should be the sworn enemy of an exclusive club for rich people who produce nothing and who have the nerve to say that social parasites can only be found in places like the dole queues.

Caught out

Not many people expected the England cricket team to make a fight of it against the West Indies, let alone actually pull off a victory. So when England won the first test at Headingley there was naturally some excited analysis of how and why it had happened and whether it was likely to happen again.

All rational observers agreed that it had something to do with batting (like Gooch's century), bowling (like DeFreitas taking eight wickets) and fielding (like Ramprakash's catches and run out). But rational thinking does not always guide every contribution to the deliberations of the House of Commons so there was only mild amusement when the stubbornly Thatcherite MP Gerald Howarth suggested that the House gave their thanks for the victory to not only the England team but also to John Major and sports minister Robert Atkins for the "inspiration". This sort of speech is called Making Political Capital Out Of Sport (it can also be made out of Religion. Human Suffering. Dumb Animals and the Royal Family, which is not to suggest that there are any links between them) but even at that Howarth was going a bit too far. It is not unusual for creeps in the House to attempt to ingratiate themselves with their leaders through grovelling interventions, dummy questions and the like. But to comment on Major's "inspiration" just when he is under a continuous battering from the media, his own party and the last occupant of Number Ten over his grey personality, disastrous speeches and policy dithering is evidence of a remarkable talent for bad timing.

Of course no one should take seriously an ambitious buffoon like Howarth. except that his motion caricatured a fact of life about parliament and those who occupy its benches. Honourable members live under the delusion that when they are in session they are doing something worthwhile. It seems to escape them, that they are at most scratching at the inconsequential superficialities of this society when there is a crying need to decide how to organise a basically different system. Fun and games on the green benches are all very well but they deny parliament's potential role in a change of society. So capitalism grinds on with its misery and destruction and its legislators who can be less relevant to our lives than a game of cricket.

If you have tears . . .

Real wet tears were shed in Finchley — and probably Tunbridge Wells and Bournemouth and the like — when Margaret Thatcher let it be known that she will not again stand for parliament. There may well have been some weeping among the House of Lords too, when she announced that she expects to be practising her verbal bludgeoning on their lordships. There seemed to be widespread agreement that of the many qualities for which she will be missed the most prominent were her staunch principles. All the more puzzling then, that someone so confident of their own correctness should have been so reluctant to face any disagreement or to allow even free discussion. In her prime the word was that Thatcher Rules and if that’s not OK by you then you have a one way ticket to the back benches followed by a re-assessment of your ministerial career and feeble political talent by the Bernard Ingham School of Character Assassination.

But it seems that Thatcher, who never had to change her mind because she was always right, has had second thoughts. On her recent lecture tour of America she informed an audience of New York's business élite that she now believes in open debate, that a bit of healthy difference of opinion is good for you. Of course the fee she was getting for each appearance élite variously put at £18.000 or £30,000 élite may have induced her to be what she would once have regarded as wildly controversial. But did she have to make so radical a U-turn as this:
I think that the decisions which have to be made on Europe are of enormous moment to the British people, to the whole future of our parliament, and the more openly we discuss them and the more thoroughly we discuss them the better.
It will be remembered that when she was Prime Minister her view was that the more important a decision the less discussion there should be. No excessively analytical mind is needed to perceive that Thatcher applied one set of rules when she is in command and another when she is in the ranks. Nor does it require a hugely retentive memory to recall the many other politicians who behaved in the same way. So what does it need for the electors to draw the obvious conclusion from this — that leaders are not to be trusted and that we should therefore trust ourselves to take our own decisions, solve our own problems and re arrange society in our own interests.

Education for wage-slavery (1991)

From the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard
In recent months the sensationalist press has been full of horror stories about child abuse. These stories prompt a question. How would we react to parents who repeatedly threatened to burn their children alive, injuring and killing them with the aid of the most fearsome technology conceivable? What would we say to parents who sat back while their children went hungry, leaving some of them under-nourished and others starving to death while there was plenty of food in the house? What would we think of parents who contaminated the air that their children breathed, adulterated with chemicals the cheap food that their children ate, and allowed their children to dwell in wretched homes? What would we say about parents who denied their children the best possible health care when they were sick? What would we, as human beings with a consciousness that enables us to care for the weak and the innocent, think of such barbarous parental policies? Would we for one minute entrust the the safety of little children to such beasts?
The harsh reality is that the systematic abuse of children which has been described is exactly what happens every day as a normal and inherent feature of the capitalist profit system. Capitalism threatens to burn children alive. This policy is not called child murder, but military defence. War is not about Kate Adie dressing up in an Action Man outfit on the BBC or "Storming Norman" doing his impression of John Wayne: war is the legalised threat to frighten and injure and maim those who stand in the way of the onward march of profit. The babies who were killed in Baghdad were victims of child abuse.

Capitalism allows children to starve. Not just one child in a headline-making case who is mercilessly underfed, but millions of children are malnourished because of poverty. According to the United Nations Food anti Agricultural Organisation, 15 million children under the age of five die of starvation each year. But you do not need to be a child in Africa to go hungry. A report published last month by the National Children’s Home suggested that one in ten under-five-year-olds from British families on low incomes (and there are 2.5 million families on income support) go without enough to eat at least once a month because their parents could not afford to buy food:
Time and time again, families in the survey told us that they would go into debt in order to provide food for their children. yet despite this, many often did not have the money to buy enough, the fact that parents and children are going hungry every week, because the cupboard is quite literally bare, is a damning indictment of Britain in the 90s. (Quote from the Report, Guardian, 4 June)
The profit system, in its relentless drive for profits, ruins the environment for the next generation who are growing up into a polluted, unhealthy world. Capitalism regards it as economically rational to let kids sleep on the streets or in hopelessly unacceptable hostels for the homeless. The system denies decent health care to vast numbers of children who are in need, but too poor to push to the front of the health queue. In short, this worldwide profit-mad system under which we live looks upon children with all the compassion of a bank manager and all the support of a casino owner offering life membership to those who can never win because they were born with the cards stacked against them.

The record of the capitalist system in relation to the care of children is one of grotesque neglect. The corpses and wasted lives, which are proof of that record, are constantly available for inspection by those who doubt the inhumanity of the profit system. So, how does our society respond to this persistent and systematic child abuse? It says. “Thanks very much, Mr. Capitalist, here are our children for you to look after. Please take them into your schools and do with them what you will and teach them to become the right sort of people: adults created in the image of the profit system”. The system which persistently offends against the needs of children is given the task of telling them how and what to think. What could be more staggeringly perverse and offensive?

The capitalist view of kids
Capitalism needs children. It does not need them because they are playful and impulsive and innocent and full of creative potentialities. In fact, it needs to knock those childish inclinations out of them. How often do we hear children being chastised for acting childishly? They are told to “grow up" and stop behaving "like kids". It is like telling a ninety-year-old man to become youthful and stop pretending to be worn out. The Victorian age, the values of which are so revered by our rulers, was one which despised childhood and forced kids to repress their natural enthusiasm and zest for life. But, for all that, capitalists are pleased to see children being bor.

The principal and overriding objective of the capitalist is to accumulate profit. Labour power is the source of all profit. And children are the source of tomorrow's labour power. They are growing labour power. To the capitalists, children are what the fields of opium are to the drugs baron: the basis of future riches, profits in the making. So, just as the drug barons take care to look after their precious crops, treating them with the finest fertilisers, so do the capitalists in general take care to ensure the proper cultivation of children They too are treated with the best educational manure available, as a scrutiny of the crap taught in most schools will reveal.

It is no accident that the one item of expenditure on which the British capitalists spend more than the military-murder industry is education. If you want profit-churning wage slaves you have to train them. The function of schools is to train children to become skilled enough and socially passive enough and politically ignorant enough to take on the jobs of running capitalism from top to bottom whilst leaving the ownership and control of wealth production in the hands of a parasitical, capitalist minority.

What are schools for?
The earliest schools in Britain, in the 6th century, were set up to train priests. In a Church-run, totalitarian theocracy the only people who needed to be trained in special skills were the religious men. The agricultural peasants learned their useful skills as they grew up. They did not need schools to know what was useful. By the time of the Reformation in the 16th century the schools were under attack by the Church hierarchy because they were straying from pure religious dogma and teaching other subjects, including grammar which enabled children to read from other sources than the Bible. (These were the first grammar schools). As early, mercantile, capitalism emerged the schools started to teach new subjects, such as law and medicine. Oxford and Cambridge Universities, set up in the 11th and 12th centuries respectively, were originally monastic colleges for the study of Biblical nonsense, but as the range of skills demanded by the economy increased so were the tasks of Oxbridge teaching. From the start education reflected the needs of the economy.

The industrial revolution of the 18th century saw the emergence of a large, untrained working class with nothing to sell but their labour power. Many of them objected to the harsh exploitation and regimentation of factory existence and rebelled. morally if not politically, against the commercial age of which they were victims. It was quite clear to the bosses that these workers needed to be properly schooled for wage slavery. Bell, the inventor of a method for teaching the poor, called education "the steam engine of the moral world”. The task of organising education for wage slavery was given to the Church, both Anglican and dissenting. Who better to drive ideas of freedom out of the minds of workers, and train them for obedience to the market, than the Church which had spent the last thousand years frightening peasants into fearing their masters and upholding the deferential feudal hierarchy?

The Church went to work with eagerness: as Southey testifies, the Methodists were in no doubt what they were going to do to the children:
Break their wills betimes. Begin this work before they can run alone, before they can speak plain, perhaps before they can speak at all. Whatever pain it costs, break the will if you would not damn the child. Let a child from a year old be taught to fear the rod and to cry softly; from that age make him do as he is bid. if you whip him ten times running to effect it . . . (R Southey. Life of Wesley and Rise and Progress of Methodism, London. 1890. p.561).
The Methodists even brought out special hymn books for children containing such verses as:
There's not a sin that we commit.
Nor wicked word we say.
But in thy dreadful book 'tis writ.
Against the judgement day.
At the same time there were text-books written for teachers on how to “bring up" children:
Just as soon as children develop awareness, it is essential to demonstrate to them by word and deed that they must submit to the will of their parents. Obedience requires children to 1) willingly do as they are told. 2) willingly refrain from doing what is forbidden, and 3) accept the rules made for their sake. (J Suizer. 1791)
Note the totalitarian aims of this cruel attitude to schooling. Not only must children submit, but they must learn to do so "willingly”; not only must they follow the rules of property society, but they must accept that such rules are "made for their sake". The principal objective of teaching working-class children to read was moral: as one Justice of the Peace put it in 1807:
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.
Teaching in the early elementary schools, where the average working-class child would spend at most two years, was limited to preparing the children for the tasks of wage slavery. The educational methods were cruel in the extreme: indoctrination through fear. As one pupil recalled:
I never remember seeing my headmaster in school when he had not a cane hanging by the crook over his left wrist. Every assistant master had a cane and so had the pupil teachers . . . There were no backs to the desks and back of boys were straightened by means of a stroke of the cane. (G.A.N. Lowndes, The Silent Social Revolution, London. 1937. pp.16-17)
In the 19th century the state began to recognise the importance of education for the protection of the capitalist class. In fact, they regarded it as being too important to be left to the Churches. So began the long process by which control of education was taken over by the state. It is interesting to note that parliament's first entry into the field of educational control was a committee set up in 1816, under the chairmanship of Henry Brougham, called the Parliamentary Committee on the Education of the Lower Orders. They knew very well that education was a class matter. There were several attempts to set up a system of state education—which the advanced rulers of Prussia had already established—but there were early doubts as to whether state-run education would be seen as a means of government-controlled indoctrination. Brougham (by then the Lord Chancellor! told the 1834 parliamentary committee on education:
Suppose the people of England were taught to accept (state education), and were forced to educate their children by penalties, education would be made absolutely hateful in their eyes, and would speedily cease to be endured. They who have argued in favour of such a scheme . . . have betrayed . , , great ignorance of the nature of Englishmen . . . I do not well perceive how such a system can be established without placing in the hands of the Government, that is of the Ministers of the day. the means of dictating opinions and principles to the people.
Such dictating is precisely what the capitalists wanted, and still do, as the government manipulation of the newly-enforced National Curriculum has shown. In 1839 the Prime Minister. Russell, outlined the objectives of state education if it was to come:
In any Normal or Model School to be established by the Board, four principal objects should be kept in view: 1. Religious Instruction. 2. General Instruction. 3. Moral Training. 4. Habits of Industry.
Apart from the vaguely worded “General Instruction", by which was meant those basic skills required to keep wage slaves literate and numerate enough to work the machinery of production, this was a menu for moral control of the workers. That has always been the chief aim of state schooling. This was put clearly by Sir James Graham who was Home Secretary in 1843. Graham moved a Factory Bill (which became law) which included a provision for compulsory' elementary education for working-class children (which parliament threw out). Graham moved the Bill in response to the rise of the Chartist movement (workers demanding the vote) which he saw as a dangerous drift towards rebellious immorality on the part of wage slaves. Said Graham as he commended the Bill to parliament:
The police and the soldiers have done their duty, the time has arrived when moral and religious instructors must go forth and reclaim the people from the error of their ways.
This notion of the teacher as state trooper is at the heart of the capitalist view of education. When compulsory state education was introduced in the 1870s it was because workers had been given the vote by the 1867 Reform Act and it was considered politically necessary to educate them into acting as responsible citizens, i.e. passive slaves who would hand power to their bosses.

The phoney education debate
Ever since schooling has been compulsory a heated debate has gone on about how best to run it. Liberal reformers have made various proposals for making schools more effective. What none of them have asked themselves is what it is that schools are supposed to be effective at doing. The fact is that the liberal-humanitarian concern of producing well-rounded, creative, critical, thoughtful adults is almost entirely at odds with the capitalist concern to produce well-trained, unquestioning wage and salary slaves.

The liberal reformers have argued against the public schools where rich people send their children to learn how to be superior. What this misses is that under capitalism the children of the rich are superior: they will end up in the top social positions; they will inherit great fortunes. Public schools are an effect of class privilege, not its cause. The public schools provided 92 percent of the current top company directors, 89 percent of the Law Lords, 83 percent of the high court Judges, 69 percent of ambassadors and still over 50 percent of current MPs. Of course these institutions of class arrogance must go, but not unless the class which they serve is removed from power will this make any difference.

Again, the liberal reformers sought to end educational segregation on the basis of state-defined intelligence and to put all children into comprehensive schools. This reform came about, but children are still put into higher and lower streams on the basis of what sort of future jobs they are likely to be suitable for. and in 1991, after the “success” of the Comprehensive Schools reform, there is now more testing of children going on than ever, including the notorious seven-plus tests whereby children are being classified as successes or failures four years earlier than they were in the pre-comprehensive days.

Liberal reformers have attempted to abolish corporal punishment, which has always been one of the main means by which socially ignorant adults have been able to bully vulnerable children. Even though beating children is now illegal (which certainly does not mean it that does not go on, with children too scared to report it), new forms of punishment have been brought in: teacher sarcasm, detentions, suspensions, sin bins, statementing—not to mention the worst excesses of the liberal school. the friendly educational psychologists who see every happy child as a potential mind disease.

In the years after the Second World war the liberal educationalists saw scope for changing society by reforming schools.The idea was that the harsh ethos of the capitalist market could be countered by the benign principles of welfare-based education. Some well-intentioned teachers worked hard to bring about this utopian transcendence of the law of the capitalist jungle within the confines of the school gates. It was, of course, a rather authoritarian concept of reform: it was to come about from the top, with enlightened educationalists as the social improvers and children as the inactive beneficiaries.

By the mid-1960s this new model of schooling was dominant in most of Europe and the USA. Children were allowed to organise their own repression via Summerhill-based school councils; instead of fear of the cane there was a new moral orthodoxy whereby wage slaves were not beaten but talked into co-operation by trendy headmasters—who were still the masters. Rioting became unnecessary: everyone could talk about anything—even masturbation, if not revolution. Long-haired art teachers let the students call them Bob and in school assemblies folk songs were sung about peace and sermons were given about respect for Hindu traditions. The Victorian gaol had given way to the “progressive" open prison. All you need was love. O-leveIs and a job at the end of it all.

The problem was that the capitalists were paying for all this through taxation and they were not happy with a schooling system which was not delivering obedient enough wage slaves. Out of all the multicultural dance and “free debates” about The Bomb were coming students who were thinking too much, not deferential enough, inordinately critical, articulate enough to cause trouble. By the late Seventies capitalism was in an economic crisis and the government was getting worried. Callaghan, the Labour Prime Minister who was later to be given a peerage in return for his cringing support for the ruling class, announced that what was needed was a “Great Education Debate". The schooling of the working class was to be re-assessed. This was a preparation for the tighter state control of young workers’ minds. After all, the early Eighties were witnessing some important acts of resistance (usually futile) by the workers: there were strikes, anti-racist demonstrations and then riots in such places as Brixton and Toxteth. As one Department of Education official has been reported as saying:
We are in a period of considerable social change. There may be social unrest but we can cope with the Toxteths. But if we have a highly educated and idle population we may possibly anticipate more serious social conflict. People must be educated once more to know their place.
Once again the teachers were being brought in to finish the job of the cops. The case for what is ridiculously called "good old-fashioned schooling" was trumpeted by well-funded advocates. Capitalism has taken a bite at the idea of freer education and found it non-cost-effective. So we have seen the backward-looking education reforms of recent years. This is not a new phenomenon, but capitalism returning to its normal service.

Schools in crisis
British schools are currently in a state of crisis. Teacher morale is low after years of relatively low pay and being treated as the cause of educational failure. A recent report from the Association for Science Education stated that one in four science teachers do not feel qualified to teach the subject they are teaching: they are forced to do so because properly qualified teachers are not being appointed. The bogus anti-statists of the Tory right have shown just how pro-state they really are by introducing all kinds of centralised educational policies which place the curriculum in the hands of government-appointed ideologues rather than teachers, and less still students.

The National Curriculum is a detested method of forcing teachers to follow the state's line—and more importantly, to exclude from the timetable those aspects of free expression which are contrary to the capitalists interest. The Labour Party has no brighter ambition than to turn schools into industrial training centres churning out masses of well-oiled robotic wealth-creators. Labour admires the German model for producing well-trained victims for industry. Pity the budding poet or critical historian in the educational future being mapped out by John Smith and his utilitarian mob.

The new emphasis throughout education is upon facts (come back Gradgrind, all is forgiven and there is a job waiting for you in the Ministry of Education). Even the universities, once the homes of critical learning and research, are being turned into factories for facts: academics for the study of increasing the profit accumulation of the parasite class. Teachers are fed up; school students are less interested and more regimented than they have been for years; and a poll in The Independent (3 June) showed that a majority of parents think that their children are getting a bad deal from school.

In fact, the bad deal in question is the capitalist system. Under the profit system it would be crazy to hope for education for a creative and free life. Children of the working class will not be leading creative or free lives. Children are not polled in the womb as to whether they will be born rich or poor: threatened with nuclear extinction or destined to live in a peaceful world; free to be exploited or free to have access to all of the abundant goods and services of this rich planet. Children do not elect the impotence of childhood; it is a cultural role which is imposed upon the young. In a society where workers will only be respected if they are producing profit (and the respect given to the wage slave is nothing to write home about) those who are too old or too sick or too young to work will be treated like dirt. This is the position of children under capitalism.

A secure, non-repressed or non-repressive society could learn a lot from children. Their lives are spontaneous and unawkward as ours should be. They have the capacity to be individualistic and also to co-operate. They do not think of money; they are far to childishly wise for that. The social order which reveres City thieves will never properly comprehend the mysteries of the adventure playground. The school sirens sound the start of a new term of confinement and those to be taught will be schooled more than educated. But the rulers have a problem: the raw material of tomorrow’s profit have minds of their own which they might just use for their own interests.
Steve Coleman

SPGB Meetings (1991)

Party News from the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard

50 Years Ago: Who Will Do the Unpleasant
 Tasks? (1991)

The 50 Years Ago column from the August 1991 issue of the Socialist Standard 

One of the most frequent objections to Socialist ideas is that under Socialism most people will want to do the pleasant tasks. The present war provides an irrefutable answer to this objection Numerous instances have been recorded in the Press of how not only men. but women and youths, have, without reward, risked their lives in extinguishing incendiary bombs, putting out fires, rescuing people from falling debris, driving ambulances while bombs are falling, and so on The motive for these acts of heroism is the belief that the war is a just one—for freedom and the stamping out of fascism and Nazism. Just as willingly will people be ready to take part in all the tasks of the community when they have assured knowledge that all these tasks are indeed directed towards the common weal.

[From Socialist Standard, August 1941.]