Posts Tagged ‘1926 General Strike’

G.D.H. Cole and the Guild Socialist Criticism of British Schools

March 23, 2014


G.D.H. Cole: Socialist intellectual and founder of Guild Socialism

The barring of 14 academy chains from running any more schools this week reminded me of G.D.H. Cole’s criticism of the schools’ system of his time. Cole was a former member of the Fabian Society and one of the founders of Guild Socialism. This was similar to Syndicalism, in that it advocated that industries should be taken over and managed by the trade unions through a system of industrial democracy, in which the workers in the factories and other places of work would elect their managers. Unlike Syndicalism, there would be some kind of residual state institution to represent the interests of the consumers, and the economy and society as a whole would be governed by an Industrial Guilds Congress, which would take over the role of the TUC, and a National Commune. Guild Socialism effectively ended in Britain with the collapse of the 1926 General Strike, when it appeared that the trade unions and direct action could not take on the full force of the state.

In his 1920 book, Guild Socialism Restated, Cole commented on the poor quality of the British educational system. He considered it servile, staffed by poorly trained teachers and classes that were far too large. He believed that the major factor in the poor quality of British education was also the low status of the teachers themselves. This could only be improved by giving them more freedom to manage their service within the structure of Guild Socialism. Cole wrote

This servility of present educational arrangements is traced by its critics to various causes. Some dwell, quite rightly, on the inordinate size of the classes which the unfortunate teacher is called upon to teach, and point out, with perfect truth, that it is impossible to communicated education to a mob. But the size of classes, while it is a serious aggravation of the servility of the system, is not the root cause of its servility. Other critics are content to say that the system is servile because it is capitalist, and it is to the interest of capitalists to train contented wage-slaves. This is certainly true; but it only drives us back to the further problem of the means by which capitalism succeeds in imparting this servile character to what should be a great agent of spiritual enfranchisement. The fundamental answer, I think, is to be found in the present status and equipment of the teacher, who is, under existing conditions, as much a wage-slave as any hireling of the industrial system, and worse exploited than most. The teacher is afforded only a quite inadequate and often inferior training, sometimes in a University, but more often in an institution that is not quite as good as a University. He or she, with this shoddy equipment, is then pitchforked into a school, and told to teach, under the supervision of a horde of inspectors, according to Board of Education instructions, under the control of an Education Authority whose members usually know nothing about education, and in an atmosphere of jealousy created directly by the dire economic distress of the teacher, and the scarcity of promotions carrying a reasonable salary or reasonable opportunities,. It is no wonder at all that, under these conditions, very many teachers can be accused of being “narrow-minded” and not too efficient. They would be miracles if they were otherwise, and, in the circumstances, the work which many of them do is little short of miraculous. But there is a limit to miracles; and the majority of teachers are human beings, and many have come to be teachers, not because they have a vocation for teaching, but because, in the present scramble, even the worst-paid professions have some economic attractions superior to those of starvation or mercenary marriage.

The only way of changing the character of the educational system is by changing the status of the teacher; for the teachers alone can purify education, and they can do so only if the conditions enable them to make a beginning. We shall set our feet on the right road in respect of education only when we make teaching a fully self-governing profession; and we shall get a good and liberating educational system only when we have helped the teachers to use their freedom to purge education of its present capitalistic and economic taint.

G.D.H. Cole, Guild Socialism Restated (New Brunswick: Transaction Inc. 1980) 99-101.

Few would want to give teachers total freedom to manage schools, after the horrors and excesses of some of the progressive educational policies implemented in the 1960s and 1970s. Other parts of Cole’s critique of the education system still remain extremely relevant, after nearly a century: large classes, poor pay and low status have forced many people to leave the profession, who were initially drawn to it. The actual standard of professional education given to teacher is often extremely high, but even here Gove and the Tories wish to turn the clock back with the plans to remove the requirement for teaching qualifications for the privatised academies. I can remember when the teachers struck in the 1980s against Margaret Thatcher’s proposed educational reforms. They were afraid that these would not only lead to them working for lower pay with worse conditions, but also that their pupils education would also be damaged as a result. And they were right.

Unfortunately, education is very much used as a political football. It is not just local councils that know and care little about it that have damaged it, but also the major political parties, like the Tories and Tory Democrats. They seem to regard it merely as an arena in which they can gain votes through ill-thought out tinkering and appealing to popular sentiment against teachers. It’s about time this stopped. If Gove really wants to improve education, he should scrap the privatisation programme and start listening to teachers themselves.

Marx: State is Instrument Class Oppression – Now Proved by Tories

March 16, 2014

Marx pic

One of the fundamental doctrines of Marxism is that the state arose as a result of the class war, and its state structure and institutions are there to reflect and preserve the power of the ruling class. In the Middle Ages under feudalism, for example, the state represented and expressed the power of the feudal lords. With the development of capitalism and an industrial middle class, the state now serves to promote and preserve their power and interests. The Austrian Marxist, Karl Kautsky, described how this occurred, and the way competing social groups could sometimes achieve a balance of power within the state, in his 1912 remarks on the Paris Commune:

“…Because the state arose from the need to hold class antagonisms in check, but because it arose, at the same time, in the midst of the conflict of these classes, it is, as a rule, the state of the most powerful, economically dominant class, which, through the medium of the state, becomes also the politically dominant class, and thus acquires new means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class…” The ancient and feudal states were organised for the exploitation of the slaves and serfs; likewise, “the modern representative state is an instrument of wage labour by capital. By way of exception, however, periods occur in which the warring classes balance each other so nearly that the state power as ostensible mediator acquires, for the moment, a certain degree of independence of both…” Such were the absolute monarchies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Bonapartism of the First and Second Empires in France, and the Bismarck regime in Germany.

(Cited in V.I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, in Lenin: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers 1968) 270).

Marx took over this doctrine from a French Revolutionary lawyer, Antoine Barnave. Barnave had been president of the French Revolutionary Assembly in 1790. A political moderate, it was guillotined three years later because of his connection to the French monarchy. Barnave

had asserted that the difference between classes was the result of economic inequalities, that the class which was in power at any epoch not only made laws for the whole of society in order to guarantee its own hold it property but also “directed its habits and created its prejudices,”, that society was constantly changing under the pressure of economic necessities, and that the rising and triumphant bourgeoisie which had dispolaced the feudal nobility would in turn produce a new aristocracy.
(Edmund Wilson, To the Finland Station (London: W.H. Allen 1960) 147).

Owen Jones in Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, in the chapter ‘Class Warriors’ quotes some of the leading Tory politicians, who have made it explicit that they are defending the interests of the upper classes, against the poor and working class. He describes how, despite the rhetoric of class reconciliation and understanding for the marginalised spoken by the Tories when David Cameron was elected leader in 2005, Tory politicians in private will reveal attitudes that are almost completely the opposite.

But as soon as they are safely behind closed doors, away from the cameras, the cuddly PR-speak can abruptly disappear. I witnessed the mask slip myself, when in my final year as an undergraduate, an extremely prominent Tory politician from the moderate wing of the party had come to deliver an off-the-record speech to students. So that he could speak candidly, aspiring student journalists were barred from reporting on the speech and we were sworn to anonymity. It soon became clear why. As the logs crackled in the fireplace on a rainy Novemeber evening, the Tory grandee made a stunning confession.

‘What you have to realize about the Conservative Party,’ he said as though it was a trivial, throwaway comment, ‘is that it is a coalition of privileged interests. Its main purpose is to defend that privilege. And the way it wins elections is by giving just enough to just enough other people.’

Here was an analysis that could have dropped out the pages of Socialist Worker. A doyen of the Conservative Party had more or less confessed that it was the political arm of the rich and powerful. It was there to fight the corner of the people at the top. It was waging class war. (pp. 39-40).

Jones then goes on to provide a series of quotes from leading Tory politicians from the 19th century onwards to support this.

For example, when confronted with the 1831 Reform Bill that would have given one out of five adult males the vote, one Tory politico denounced it as ‘a revolution that will overturn all the natural influence of rank and property’. Lord Salisbury, the future prime minister, stated of it that ‘First class men will not canvas mobs, and mobs will not elect first class men.’

The Tory government of Salisbury and Arthur Balfour supported the 1901 Taff Value judgement, which made unions liable for company profits lost during strikes. Stanley Baldwin, who in due course became prime minister during the General Strike, later said of it ‘The Conservatives can’t talk of class war. They started it.’

When the 1926 General Strike was broken, the leading Tory Arthur Balfour exulted ‘The General Strike has taught the working class more in four days than years of talking could have done. (All the above quotes are on p. 41).

Maggie Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher: Regarded the working class as ‘idle, deceitful, inferior and bloody-minded’. Sums up her entire career in government.

Jones also expertly despatches the propaganda myth that Margaret Thatcher herself was somehow working class, and image that was used to gain popularity with part of the working class:

To understand Thatcherism’s attitude to working-class Britain, it is important to start by looking at Thatcher herself. Some of her warmest admirers have been at pains to portray her-wrongly-as a person of humble origins. As the staunchly Thatcherite Tory MP David Davis told me: ‘Margaret was always a bit more middle class than she made out.’ It is almost a cliché to describe her as a grocer’s daughter, but it was this that coloured her entire political outlook. Growing up in the Lincolnshire market town of Grantham, her father had instilled in her a deep commitment to what could be called lower-middle-class values: individual self-enrichment and enterprise, and an instinctive hostility to collective action. Her biographer, Hugo Young, noted that she had little if any contact with working-class people, let alone the trade union movement.

Her attitudes were undoubtedly cemented when in 1951 she married a wealthy businessman, Denis Thatcher, who believed that trade unions should be banned altogether. She surrounded herself with men from privileged backgrounds. In her first Cabinet, 88 per cent of ministers were former public school students, 71 per cent were company directors and 14 per cent were large landowners. No wonder, then, that one of her Cabinet ministers told a journalist just before the 1979 election: ‘She is still basically a Finchley lady … She regards the working class as idle, deceitful, inferior and bloody-minded’. (46-7). This last quote basically shows that with her contempt for them, it could be argued that many of the working class had a perfect right to celebrate her death, no matter how distasteful it may have been to everyone else.

Jones does also quote a number of other Tories today, who deny that the Tory party is determined to keep the poor and working class down. He notes that members of all the political parties feel they are doing something for the national good. Many Marxists have argued that the state does not automatically represent the interests of the ruling class, but can behave semi-independently. You could cite Tony Benn as an example of the latter. A member of the peerage, he resigned his seat in the House of Lords for a career was a brilliant and passionate Labour politician committed to improving the conditions of the working class, women and ethic minorities. Nevertheless, it is clear that the Tories, or at least of significant portion of them, have always regarded themselves as representing the interests of the ruling elite against the poor and working class.


David Cameron: Doing his best to demonstrate that under the Tories, the state really is the instrument of class oppression.

It is also abundantly confirmed by the composition and policies of the Coalition. Cameron, Osborne, Clegg and IDS are all aristos, and their policies are designed to keep the working class poor and powerless. They should be kicked out at the next election.