Education: the future of an illusion

Article looking at 1989 attacks by the government on the higher education system in the UK.

Despite the rhetoric about reducing "state interference" the government has a unified social policy that seeks to restructure all areas of social life in line with the changing needs of capital. Examples of the breadth of this policy include the dismantling of the NHS, the increase in the size of the British prison population and a number of changes in the education system. Anything which stands in the way of economic efficiency, i.e. profitable exploitation, faces sacrificial destruction on the altar of British capital’s best interests, a "greater good" which political parties and unions have always recognised as paramount.

We can identify at least three strands in the government’s policy on "education": a cutback in the social wage, a reduced role for those academics whose contribution to social control isn’t adequately up-to-date, and a restructuring of syllabuses and "educational" ideology in line with traditionalist morality.

Cutting the social wage
The social wage is that part of the price paid to the dispossessed class in return for the expropriation of our creative power, in addition to individual pay packets. At present the whole social wage is being attacked, with cuts in social security, the provision of health care, etc.

In the context of education, an assault on the social wage means clamping down on those students who go into higher "education" solely to get hold of the best it has to offer, namely grants. The introduction of "top-up loans" to gradually replace grants will put pressure on everyone at college to collaborate with the aim that lay behind the expansion of the higher "education" system in the ‘5Os and ‘60s: the efficient inflow of people into managerial positions, both in private industry and the State sector. Those who don’t take such jobs will find it difficult to afford to pay back their loans.

As capitalist competition increases, the British response is to raise industrial productivity whilst expanding financial services in readiness for the single EEC market in 1992. The rulers have a growing need for highly-trained managers, bankers, union hacks and other professionals, and in this sense the government really does want to target State money to the areas of greatest need: their need.

Of course many students do go to college so as to become managers after they graduate, in firms, unions, or government departments. (We should make it clear here that this includes some people from working class backgrounds and that a few people from "middle class" backgrounds resolutely refuse to do so. Contrary to advertising propaganda, class does not depend on cultural background.) Others however will end up doing the same boring, badly-paid work as everybody else. After all there are plenty of jobs available in the South: young people can always clean hotel rooms or go on training schemes (i.e. work for their dole-money).

Streamlining social control
Universities and colleges are currently being made more "economic" with cuts in social sciences and humanities funding and an increase in business studies and direct co-operation between science departments and industry. Academics in the threatened departments may bleat about education being taken over by business, but the fact is that education has always been geared to the needs of capitalism. All that has changed is its political usefulness to the state. In the past the buffer-zone of "community leaders", lefty councillors and other experts at defusing radical efforts has largely been recruited from the universities and polytechnics, and has been strongly influenced by the ideas of left academics.

Sociologists who think getting rid of alienation means integrating people more effectively into the existing society might not be taken seriously by urban rioters, but in less harsh times their knowledge has proved useful in various soft-cop "community" ventures. Nowadays, Ridley’s centralism (the curtailment of local government) and the politicians’ "moral offensive" against "wickedness" and in favour of citizenship makes a lot of this look quite old-fashioned.

The functions of the buffer-zone are today being taken over by central government, the police and charities. For instance an increasing number of "community" groups are being set up with a more direct involvement of the police than used to be the case in the 1970s. The London Labour Party talks of "community watch" while the Tories speak of "neighbourhood watch". Either way, we doubt whether any of the cops involved carry sociology degrees in their pockets! Other examples of this process can be found in fields further away from the sharp end of social control.

Sometimes big business gets involved too. For example, we know of at least one tenants’ group set up in Sutton by a Democrat council with the Prudential assurance company lurking in the background on the lookout for a bit of real estate speculation. What need do they have of ‘60s-style research into delinquency or divorce? How many of their managers have degrees in "peace studies"?

At Bristol University, researchers at the School of Veterinary Science are threatening to resign rather than accept a grant from the Ministry of Defence, who want them to investigate the conditions under which a pneumonia-type bacterium is most active, with obvious applications in biological warfare. Our bet is that the University authorities will try to kick them out, as a prelude to handing the research over to direct (although probably covert) control by the military.

One nation, one faith, one people
At the Tory party conference in October, the "Education" Secretary Kenneth Baker spoke of how "steps to ensure that religious education and daily acts of worship in all schools meant that the Government had reaffirmed the commitment to reflect the country’s history and traditions, which were based on Christian beliefs." (The Guardian, 14/10/88). What these Christian beliefs involve was recently shown by Thatcher, whose death-threat to work-resisters among the poor took the form of a quotation from the bible: "If a man will not work, he shall not eat". Seventy years ago the same message was posted on the walls after the Bolshevik counterrevolution in Russia.

The new national curriculum for schools will ensure that the correct moral message gets across. History for instance will have to show "how a free and democratic society has developed over the centuries" (Baker). It has also been suggested that a GCSE in Active Citizenship should be introduced.

It has long been known that the ruling ideas are the rulers’ ideas, and the education system has always reflected this. Thus wage-labour, private property, the State and the commodity economy (buying and selling) appear to be natural and eternal. So does the existence of nations, hierarchy and the war of each against all ("human nature"). Alienation is presented as being merely one of "society’s problems". The totality of "alternatives" is painted as being a set of ways of organising what already exists, and this is why capitalism on a world scale has been totalitarian ever since the defeat of the revolutionary movements after the World War One.

It is nothing new for submission to the dominant order, and various compensations (including "alternative" ones), to be portrayed as the only imaginable forms of sanity. Rebels are always portrayed by the State as being anti-social. In Britain official propaganda is conflating class-conscious rioters with nationalist football fans, squatters with drug-pushers, strikers with child-molesters ("liberty" infringers).

What is relatively new in "peacetime" is that the government is trying to rally a majority of the working class around the State in opposition to the "problem" presented by those who refuse to play the game, who choose to be the Enemy Within rather than Active Citizens. Cut half your brain out and Big Brother will protect you...

The rulers want to gain all the benefits of a war without having to fight one. Increasing State despotism and national unity, plus a greater encouragement of competition within the (world) working class, plus an attack on our health standards and life expectancy, and the violent elimination of the "losers" (either in prisons or US-style "mercy hospitals") - these are the offshoots of the national rulers’ need to regain international competitiveness.

The uniformisation of official "education" along traditional Christian, moronic, pro-family, pro-careerist lines is part of a reactionary social mobilisation that, taken in its totality, could lead the dispossessed of Europe into the bleakest period since the massacres of World War Two. Unless, of course, revolution smashes the whole show. Whilst most people’s idea of revolution is a coup d’etat by manipulators and leaders specialising in strong language, worldwide social revolution would mean the armed destruction of this civilisation’s foundations and its replacement with a better one. Such a revolution, proletarian and self-organised, would permanently change life by abolishing the foundations of capitalism and inaugurating a world where time is lived and not merely survived through being sold.

* Since this article was written, there have been strikes by Muslim school-kids organised by the mosques. The British state overcame its historic antagonism with catholicism in the nineteenth century, and introduced state-funded catholic schools. Muslim leaders are seeking a similar arrangement as regards state funding for Islamic schools. The mosques have even gained confidence from the Rushdie affair. One thing that we can be sure of - whether it is Christian or Islamic lies, it is the kids who directly suffer through this re-inforcement of religious indoctrination.

The Red Menace, Number Two, March 1989. Taken from the Practical History website.