Posts Tagged ‘Fabians’

Friedrich Engels on the Difference between Socialism and Communism

June 19, 2016

Engels Communism Pamphlet

This morning I posted up a few extracts from Friedrich Engels’ Principles of Communism, published by Pluto Press. The Principles of Communism was the first draft of the Communist Manifesto. Unlike the Manifesto, it’s short – only about 20 pages or so, laying out the essence of Communism in the form of a catechism – short answers to particular questions.

Florence, one of the great commenters on this site, posted this remark in response to the piece:

Not having a copy of the Engels text to hand, I think many would be interested in his thoughts on how socialism and communism differ. It is at the heart of many misunderstandings at the moment!

This is a really big issue, and whole books have been written about the topic. Here’s what Engels says in the pamphlet:

24 How do Communists differ from Socialists?
The so-called Socialists are divided into three categories.

The first category consists of adherents of a feudal and patriarchal society which has already been destroyed, and is still daily being destroyed, by big industry and world trade and their creation, bourgeois society. This category concludes from the evils of existing society that feudal and patriarchal society must be restored because it was free of such evils. In one way or another all their proposals are directed to this end. This category of reactionary socialists, for all their seeming partisanship and their scalding tears for the misery of the proletariat, is nevertheless energetically opposed by the Communists for the following reasons:
(I) It strives for something which is entirely impossible.
(II) It seeks to establish the rule of the aristocracy, the guildmasters, the small producers, and their retinue of absolute or feudal monarchs, officials, soldiers and priests – a society which was, to be sure, free of the evils of present day society but which brought with it at least as many evils without even offering to the oppressed workers the prospect of liberation through a Communist revolution.
(III) As soon as the proletariat becomes revolutionary and Communist, these reactionary Socialists show their true colours by immediately making common cause with the bourgeoisie against the proletarians.

The second category consists of adherents of present-day society who have been frightened for its future by the evils to which it necessarily gives rise. What they want, therefore, is to maintain this society while getting rid of the evils which are an inherent part of it. To this end, some propose mere welfare measures while others come forward with grandiose systems of reform which under the pretence of reorganising society are in fact intended to preserve the foundations, and hence the life, of existing society. Communists must unremittingly struggle against these bourgeois socialists, because they work for the enemies of Communists and protect the society which Communists aim to overthrow.

Finally, the third category consists of democratic socialists who favour some of the same measures the Communists advocate, as described in question 18, not as part of the transition to Communism, however, but rather as measures which they believe will be sufficient to abolish the misery and the evils of present-day society. These democratic socialists are either proletarians who are not yet sufficiently clear about the conditions of the liberation of their class, or they are representatives of the petty bourgeoisie, a class which, prior to the achievement of democracy and the socialist measures to which it gives rise, has many interests in common with the proletariat. It follows that in moments of action the Communists will have to come to an understanding with these democratic Socialists, and in general to follow as far as possible a common policy with them, provided that these Socialists do not enter into the service of the ruling bourgeoisie and attack the Communists. It is clear that this form of co-operation in action does not exclude the discussion of differences.

From what I learned at College, there are a number of differences between Communism and Socialism, and there are a number of different forms of Socialism.
The main difference, which split the Socialist parties off from the Communists at the end of the 19th century, was over the question of whether a revolution was needed to bring about the power of the workers. Marx and Engels were part of the European revolutionary tradition, though they did not oppose fighting elections and in part of their writings looked forward to a peaceful transition to Socialism.

Reformist Socialists, such as Eduard Bernstein in the German Social Democrats, pointed out that instead of getting poorer as Marx and Engels had predicted, the European working class seemed to be becoming better off. He therefore recommended that the SPD should concentrate on fighting elections and promoting the interests of the workers that way, rather than on trying to bring down the system through revolution.

Communism also differs from Socialism generally in that it sees the essence of history as the struggle between succeeding classes. It sees the motor of history as being economic relationships, in which each classes creates in turn the class that eventually is destined to overthrow it. Thus feudalism and the rule of the aristocracy gave rise to bourgeois capitalism. This cleared away aristocratic rule and set about instituting democracy instead. The bourgeoisie in their turn created, through mechanisation and big business, the working class, who do not own the means of production, but merely work at the big machines owned by the factory masters. The working class are therefore the last class to be created by the process of Dialectal Materialism, and will overthrow the bourgeoisie and private property.

There’s also an exclusive emphasis on the role of the working class in the struggle to create a Socialist system. The working class are seen as the only genuinely progressive or revolutionary class, as opposed to the lower middle class or the peasants. This has been modified. For example, Mao based his revolution on the Chinese peasantry, and so significantly modified Marxism in this respect. As did the Russian revolutionaries, who brought about a Communist state in the Soviet Union, when most of the population were still peasants and the working class only constituted a small minority. Marx and Engels expected the first Socialist states to be in the industrialised nations of Western Europe, and were very doubtful about a Socialist revolution succeeding in the Russian Empire.

Marxists also believe in the transvaluation of values. That is, there is no objective, eternal set of moral values. Each society develops a system of morality appropriate for its time, based on the economic foundations of that society. Thus, while Marx is scathing about the exploitation of the poor, nowhere in his writing is there a moral condemnation of that exploitation.

His attitude is in marked contrast to other Socialists, who came to Socialism through religion and ethical considerations, such as some of the Fabians. Lenin and the Russian Communists were extremely sniffy about them, as Marxism considers that it gives an objective account of the origins of society and social change, in contrast to the subjective analysis based on morality of other forms of Socialism.

Communism also differs from other forms of Socialism in that it regards Socialism as merely a transitory period during which people will get so used to sharing, that eventually the state will wither away and something like anarchism will emerge instead.

Finally, Communism in practice has largely consisted in nearly total nationalisation and a one-party state, although China is now one of the major capitalist nations, and reforming, dissident Communists like Imre Nagy in Hungary and Anton Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, and also Mikhail Gorbachev, wished to replace the coercive Communist system of Stalinism with ‘Communism with a human face’, in which other parties would be permitted and the Communist party would have to fight elections like everyone else.

Tory MP David Willetts’ Defence of the Welfare State

February 13, 2016

The Tory MP, David Willetts, a member of the ‘One Nation’ group within the party, which had been set up to reconcile the Conservatives with the NHS, wrote a defence of the welfare state in his 1992 book, Modern Conservatism. This is surprising, not only because Willetts was a Tory, but also because he was Thatcher’s former adviser on social security. He wrote

Nobody is very clear why a Conservative should support a welfare state. It seems to fit in with the highmindedness of the Liberals and the egalitarianism of the Labour party. But what is conservative about it? If Conservatives do support it, is this mere political expediency? …

Why have a welfare state: efficiency and community
The are two types of argument for a welfare state. Neither is exclusively conservative, but they both tie in closely with two crucial elements of conservative philosophy – the belief in markets and the commitment to community.

The market argument for welfare state is that it contributes to the successful working of a capitalist economy … [for instance] the development of unemployment benefit and retirement pensions contributes to economic efficiency by making it easier for firms to shed labour and to recruit new workers from a pool. Health care and education both raise the quality of a nation’s ‘human capital’ …

We may have explained the need for some of the fundamental services of a welfare state, but we still need to show why the state has such a big role in financing and organising them. This is where the next stage of the efficiency argument comes in. If there are voluntary, private schemes they encounter the problem of adverse selection – the tendency to get the bad risks … Commercial insurers are trying to do the very opposite and only accept what they would regard as the good risks. The logic of this drives the government to intervene and require everyone to take out insurance at the same premium. At this point we … have, in effect, invented state-run national insurance…

The efficiency argument [can] be stated in an even more rarefied form: it is difficult for a homeless family to be fit, or for a homeless child to do well at school, and this, in the long run, is an economic cost – which makes it rational for us to step in.

Rather than develop even more ingenious economic arguments for the welfare state, there comes a point when we really have to confront a simple moral obligation towards fellow members of our community. Regardless of whether people in need have been reckless or feckless or unlucky and unfortunate there comes a point when the exact explanation of how they became destitute ceases to matter. They have a claim on us simply by virtue of being compatriots. The welfare state is an expression of solidarity with our fellow citizens.

The market and community arguments together explain the remarkable consensus in most advanced Western nations that some sort of welfare state is both necessary and desirable. They explain why a Conservative can support the welfare state and also provide grounds for criticising particular institutional arrangements if they are not living up to those principles…

Mutual Insurance
It is when one turns to the role of the welfare state in redistributing resources that political differences emerge. For socialists the welfare state is perhaps the most powerful tool available to achieve their objective of equality … And because many people think this must be the rationale for the welfare state, they assume that anti-egalitarian conservatives must also be anti-welfare state.

There is a different view of the working of a welfare state. For the conservative it is an enormous mutual insurance scheme, covering us against ill-health, unemployment and loss of earning power in old age… We think of the welfare state as redistributing resources to others. But if, instead, we think of our own relationship to the welfare state during our lives, it is clear that what it really does is to reallocate those resources through the different stages of the life cycle. In this way resources are taken from us when we are working, and we are given command over resources when we are being educated, or unemployed, or sick or retired.

In Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98 (Manchester: Manchester University Press 2002).

Willetts is right about one of the best arguments for the welfare state being the moral duty towards one’s fellow citizens. It’s one of the major distinctions between British and Continental Socialism, and particularly between the Labour and Communist parties. Lenin and the Soviet Communists tended to sneer at the moral arguments for socialism and their adherents. Economic and sociological arguments, such as those marshalled by Fabians like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, are important but ultimately not as persuasive the moral imperative to make sure the poorest and weakest in society are properly protected and receive their due share.

Willett’s statement that the welfare state allows firms to get rid of staff easier, and frees up the labour market, is to my mind repulsive, but it might convince some businesspeople of the value of the welfare state as a worthwhile social investment.

Willetts wrote this nearly a quarter of century ago, however, and despite his arguments successive right-wing administrations are busy destroying the welfare state. This was certainly the case under Thatcher, and it’s continued under Major, Bliar and New Labour, and the current Tory administration. Jeremy Hunt and the other Tories wish to privatise the NHS by stealth, and thanks to aIDS nearly 590 disabled people have died of starvation or by their own hand, and 239,000 suffered severe mental illness.

Yet the Tories continue to maintain the sham illusion that somehow they are the party of the poor, and support the welfare state.

This is a lie. And any decent people in the Tories, who genuinely believe in the welfare state have two options. They should either stand up to Cameron and force him and his vile crew of old Etonian bruisers and butchers out, and instead elect a leadership that would have horrified Maggie by being wringing ‘wet’ in mould of Harold MacMillan and Rab Butler; or they should leave. Preferably they should also either join or vote for one of the opposition parties.

If they are genuinely supporters of the welfare state, then they must realise that they have absolutely no place in Cameron’s Tory party. Cameron’s a bog-standard Neoliberal with Hayek’s contempt for the poor. And anyone genuinely on the side of the poor, the sick and disabled should want to get rid of him and his clique.

The Disgusting State of Detroit Schools

January 23, 2016

Okay, I know this is another American story, but it mirrors the way our state schools in the UK are being run down by the Conservatives. I’ve got a particular interest in teaching, as my mother was a teacher, and I took my first degree at what was an Anglican teacher training college. The school, in which Mum taught was also part of an exchange programme with an American school. As part of this exchange, one of her teachers went to the Land of the Free, while one of theirs also crossed the Pond to Blighty.

Last Wednesday school staff in Detroit went on strike because of the disgusting conditions in the schools, in which they were expected to teach. The photos from the twitter site @Detroitteach, show a very grim story: mouldy bread given to pupils for breakfast, mushrooms growing on class room walls, and cockroaches and other insects infesting the floors. These are the conditions, which the authorities want the future citizens of American brought up and educated in. As you can see, they had the support of parents and pupils. As for the last pic, which shows the gentleman responsible for this mess, there’s now a massive scandal in Flint, Michigan, after the local water company poisoned the water supply with massive amounts of lead, including water at the local hospital. This guy was also responsible for that debacle.

Detroit School 1

Detroit School 2

Detroit School 3

Detroit School Protest 1

Detroit School Protest 2

This is also an issue that has its counterpart in British politics. The Tories do not like teachers and state education, and have been trying to run down both of them since Maggie Thatcher in the 1980s. We’ve had denunciation after screamed denunciation, both in Britain and America, about left-wing teachers supposedly indoctrinating their students to be militant atheists/ Communists/ Trotskyites, and filling their heads with militant anti-racism or gay rights. Remember how Maggie sneered at one of the Tory conferences about ‘champagne Socialists’ and Fabians indoctrinating the dear kiddies with ‘anti-racist mathematics’, while the Sun claimed that schoolchildren in Brent were being made to recite ‘Ba, Ba, Green Sheep’, instead of ‘Black Sheep’ as part of a loony-left anti-racism drive? And the absolute frothing hysteria about protecting young minds from gay indoctrination? This has all provided the pre-text the Tories and Republicans have used to denigrate state education, and try to break the power of the teaching unions.

Most teachers, regardless of their personal political beliefs, aren’t motivated by a burning desire to radicalise the young and impressionable. They just want to stand in front of a class and teach, with the hopeful intent of getting the class to realise their potential. This has become increasingly difficult with the way education has become little more than a political football, and the profession has seen itself progressively starved of the support it needs from the authorities. Many teachers work in extremely challenging circumstances, including having to deal with threats of violence, including rape. And there is no support from the government, and especially not from Thickie Nikky Morgan, who can’t tell you what 7 X 8 is, or how many academies last year had to be returned to state control, but can prate about the need to privatise, or part-privatise even more.

Education on both sides of the Atlantic needs more funding, and a far more supportive attitude from the education authorities than just right-wing populist demagoguery from officially appointed morons, who have never put a foot in front of a class except as part of a very carefully scripted publicity campaign. Get the Right out of politics, and proper funding into the schools.

Fabian View of the Necessity of Press Regulation

April 20, 2014

Fabian Book Pic

I’ve posted a few quotations today from Peter Archer’s paper on ‘The Constitution’ in Ben Pimlott’s collection of papers Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought (London: Heinemann 1984). There’s another section from the same paper, which is also extremely timely, in which he advocates better regulation of the press to protect the public against propaganda and distortion. He believes this is necessary, as we needed a well-informed electorate with access to reliable, unbiased information to make democracy properly work. Archer states

The second, and converse, problem which has accompanied the expansion of the news industry is what, if anything, can be done about the abuse by large sections of the press of their opportunities for manipulating opinion. Those who wield a giant’s strength, in the absence of a saint’s conscience, are likely to endanger the very values which they helped to nurture (as the media are never tired of reminding the trade unions).

Electors cannot exercise their power of decision in a vacuum. Inevitably those who have access to presses and microphones will be in a position to control the supply of facts and ideas. And however high their standards, there are limits to the degree of detail or profundity attainable. The attention earned by any pronouncement will depend less upon its importance than upon its sensation value. Sometimes the sacred right to free speech will be invoked on behalf of the spiteful and the trivial. What is not inevitable is the veritable absence of control over standards of accuracy and fairness, which in the 1983 election probably reached an all-time low.

There is of course a whole range of inhibitions upon the right of the media to report information which has come their way. any civilised community requires rules relating to contempt of court, to defamation, to privacy and to obscenity. It is arguable that in some respects they are too restrictive, and the reports of Royal Commissions and committees accumulating dust on departmental shelves bear witness to the reluctance of successive governments to lift even a corner of the lid from this Pandora’s box. Almost certainly the subject will need to be treated as a package, but these statutory restrictions are sufficient neither to guarantee an informed electorate nor to protect the privacy of individuals. Every annual report of the Press Council offers fresh evidence of the need for a code of conduct relating to respect for privacy, the correction of inaccuracies and misleading innuendoes, and redress for unfair selectivity. There is also a need for a body with power to impose statutory sanctions. Indeed, the more responsible sections of the press (not only the ‘quality’ papers) have supported the suggestion. Of course, such a body would have to be independent of government. It would need to respect the vitally important freedom to publish facts and express opinions. But the existence of the Press Council itself demonstrates the need for restraints which go beyond the present legal categories. And in their absence, a democratic electorate is like a navigator dependent upon distorted instruments.

Well, the Mail on Sunday, along with its week-day sister and much of the rest of the press smashed its moral compass long ago. Murdoch’s journos are in the dock because of the phone hacking scandal, which has itself resulted in state regulation of the press. And today the Mail on Sunday printed a disgraceful and shameful attack on food banks, largely because their rise embarrasses the government’s claim people aren’t starving under their austerity programme. Mike over at Vox Political has expressed misgivings about the campaign on Change.org to have the journalist, who wrote the article, sacked. The man was simply given a job to do by the editor. This does not excuse him, but the real responsibility for the story lies with the newspaper itself, and it and its editor should be subject to extreme censure.

For decades the British press was allowed a large degree of freedom to print its lies and bile because both Tory and Labour administrations felt they could use its support. John Major felt that he should have moved to limit Murdoch’s power after the newspaper magnate abandoned the Tories for Tony Blair. And Blair was constantly worrying about what Murdoch and Dacre would have to say about any of his policies. As a result the power of the press has grown, and journalistic standards become even lower. And this vile, partisan attack on food banks is the result.

The Mail on Sunday should be ashamed of itself, and held to account for its lies and falsehoods for attacking the one institution that now stands between many people and starvation.

Fabian Socialist View of Democracy vs Public School Elitism

April 20, 2014

140117democracy

Peter Archer in his chapter on ‘The Constitution’ in Pimlott’s collection of Fabian Essays, stresses the importance of democracy for Socialism, and gives a few brief descriptions of its opponents, one of which sounds eerily familiar.

For Socialists, it is fundamental that every issue is decided ultimately by the wishes of the majority. For any other method of resolution entails that an elite has allocated to itself the right to pronounce the majority wrong. For the High Tory, convinced that some are born to rule; for the Platonist, proclaiming that distinguishing good from evil is a question of knowledge; for the meritocrat, persuaded that only some are intellectually fit to be entrusted with deciding the course of history, it may appear justified to exclude the many from a share in deciding the fate of all. But an essential part of the commitment to equality is the belief that the right to play a part in guiding the affairs of the community attaches to each member of that community, irrespective of the names and status of their relations, the cost and nature of their education, the size of their fortune or the letters behind their name. Even the elitism of the early Fabians, referred to by Rodney Barker, was subject to the right of the people to call the elite to account. Indeed the Fabian commitment to gradualism arises, as Shaw explained, not from satisfaction with present injustices, but from a recognition that improvement cannot come about more quickly than we succeed in persuading the people that it will really an improvement.

This doctrine continues to come under attack from two directions. First are the high priests of the classical tradition, who are prepared to concede to the masses a right to choose, provided that they choose within the frame work of beliefs established in the public schools of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

He then goes on to discuss the other source of opposition, the doctrinaire refusal of those on the Left to compromise their policies for the sake of winning elections.

But the description of the High Tories, the presumption of the moneyed elite to have the exclusive right to rule, and the limitation of democratic choice to Victorian and Edwardian Public School ideas, just about perfectly describes the attitude of Cameron, Osborne and this current government of public school toffs.

It’s time we took democracy back from them, and voted them out.

Fabian View of the Need for Freedom of Information in Government and for the People

April 20, 2014

Fabian Book Pic

Peter Archer, in his paper on ‘The Constitution’ in Fabian Essays in Socialist Thought ed. Ben Pimlott (London: Heninemann 1984) 117-131 also strongly recommends the ending of information given only on a ‘right to know’ basis to ministers in government, the removal of part of the Official Secrets Act and the passage of a Freedom of Information Act.

But this has given rise to two problems which Dicey [19th century constitutional theorist] scarcely envisaged. One relates to freedom of information. Those who are entitled, and indeed expected, to make informed judgements, need the information on which to make them. And this is true not only of electors, but of those within government itself. The circulation of documents on a ‘need-to-know’ basis sometimes denies even to Cabinet ministers information on matters which are essential if they are to be more than departmental administrators.

For the general public, the inhibitions are even greater. The time is long overdue for a repeal of section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, which in a single sentence, bursting with alternatives and disjunctions, creates over 2000 separate offences, and would render liable to prosecution anyone who passes on information about the cost of a military uniform. Even the Society of Conservative Lawyers, in evidence to the Franks Committee in 1971, did not ‘consider it appropriate, in a free society, for journalists or other interested persons to face the prospect of criminal penalties merely because their investigations in the sphere of government activity proved to successful for the comfort of the governors’. But open government requires more than freedom to disseminate information. It requires an obligation upon government to make the facts available, except where there are specific reasons for concealing them. In 1982, the Fabian contributors to Making Government Work proposed a Freedom of Information Act, providing for a Director of Open Information. There would be ‘a presumption that all information of a factual and analytical nature available to government would be disclosed’. and where it was necessary to apply a criterion, it would be decided (subject in certain cases to a final government right of refusal) by the Director.

I don’t know whether documents are still circulated amongst ministers at Westminster on a need-to-know basis. However, I got the distinct impression that under the increasingly presidential system of British politics, the independence of Cabinet ministers is still severely circumscribed and they are pretty much departmental administrators, expected to do the wishes of the Prime Minister.

As for the Freedom of Information Act, this has indeed been passed, complete with an Information Director. However, this is another pillar of open government, which the government is reforming in order to curtail the public’s right to examine the operations of government and its decisions. As for ‘the presumption that all information of a factual and analytical nature available to government would be disclosed’, the government has consistently denied this view. Researchers asking for information on the government’s Workfare programme have been refused it on the grounds that it would generate opposition, make the policy unpopular, and stop it from working. Mike over at Vox Political and other bloggers, who have requested information on the number of people, who have died after having been assessed by Atos have had their requests refused, and then been denounced as ‘vexatious’ for daring to ask them. Mike is due to have his case heard by the Information Tribunal later. We wish him the best of luck. However, the operation of the Freedom of Information Act needs to be reformed so that there is a positive presumption in favour of releasing the information, regardless of whether or not such information will make the people’s governors uncomfortable.

The Tories’ Use of ‘Red Scares’ in Teaching

September 18, 2013

privatisaOne tactic that Conservatives have frequently used against the teaching profession is to create ‘Red Scares’ about ‘loony left’ political indoctrination in schools. This generally takes the form of one or more of the Right-wing newspapers publishing a supposed expose of how the teachers in a particular area are attempting to indoctrinate their vulnerable charges with radical Left, anti-racist or gay or feminist propaganda. Under Thatcher in the 1980s there was a controversy over the inclusion of Peace Studies in the curriculum in some schools. The Conservatives also passed the notorious Clause 28, which attempted to stop schools from promoting homosexuality. In one of her speeches, Mrs Thatcher also attacked ‘anti-racist mathematics’ introduced by ‘Fabians’ and ‘champagne socialists’. The Express ran a story about teachers in Yorkshire teaching explicitly Communist propaganda. The Evening Post in Bristol followed a similar line about a Communist pamphlet that had been circulated amongst the pupils by staff in one of the city’s schools. Most notoriously, teachers in Lambeth and Brent in London were supposed to have altered the nursery rhyme ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ to ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ to remove the rhyme’s racist content. It’s been revealed since as an urban legend, though I’ve met a number of people, who came from the boroughs, who remember being taught it. These stories then get expanded into an attack on teachers as a whole. From being separate incidents in particular areas, they are then presented as being representative of all of the profession.

It has also been used to attack the funding and control of education by local councils. In the 1970s schools were financed and controlled by the Local Education Authority, which were also responsible for maintaining standards. Under successive Conservative administrations, their role has been radically reduced. This has partly been done as part of the Conservatives’ ideological commitment to the free market. The idea has been that if schools become independent from local authority control, and are able to control their own budgets, competition between schools will result in higher standards. They also claimed it would give parents greater choice in education by allowing them a variety of different schools from which to choose. It has also been promoted as a way of freeing schools from the influence of ‘loony left’ local government officers intent on promoting their ideological agenda in education.

Now some of these fears aren’t unreasonable. Before the introduction of the National Curriculum the subjects taught and the materials used could differ greatly between schools. This could be difficult for children moving between schools, such as when they moved house. Educational standards in some schools could be low due to the extremely radical political views of the staff. The most notorious of these was a school in London where the staff subscribed to an extreme form of the view that children should be encouraged to learn only what they want to learn in their own time. In this school, children simply weren’t taught at all, but encouraged to go and play under the view that this would develop their creativity. When someone told one of the teaching staff that the pupils there couldn’t read, he remarked ‘Well, neither could they in the Middle Ages, but they built cathedrals.’ Eventually the scandal became so great that there was an official inquiry and the teachers dismissed, never to teach schoolchildren again. It was partly due to this and similar, less extreme cases that the Conservatives introduced the National Curriculum. The question of how much children should be taught about sex and at what age is also a very good, and extremely important question, especially as children are becoming increasingly exposed to explicitly sexual material at younger and younger ages. In some areas, the Thatcherite Conservatives have lost the debate. Many schools now run projects for Black History week in October, as a way of correcting what they see as the White bias in the history curriculum and tackling low educational performance amongst many Black pupils. More traditional Conservatives have complained that Clause 28 has for some time been a dead letter. As Cameron himself has now backed gay marriage, it is unlikely that it will be revived although the issue has caused sharp division with his party.

It is not true, however, that teachers as a whole are intent on using their position to indoctrinate, rather than educate, their students. Indeed, current legislation explicitly prevents them from doing so. The law states that they may not promote a particular political ideology or religion, except in faith schools. If the teacher’s own religious or political views are raised during teaching in class, they cannot present their views as objective fact. They may only say that they personally believe them.

In any case, from my experience most teachers aren’t members of the hard Left. They include people with a wide range of very different views across the political spectrum. Some are Left-wing, others Conservative, some Liberal, and many aren’t terribly interested in politics at all. Most teachers have entered the profession, not because they see it as a platform for advancing a particular ideology or cause, but simply because they want to stand in front of a blackboard and teach their subject or subjects. Privately they have their own beliefs, and may, and often are, concerned about government policies and the way this affects their job and the educational achievements of their pupils. In front of their class, however, the vast majority of them are rightly very careful about what they say.

The question of whether Thatcher’s reforms have really benefited the educational system, and provided parents with genuine choice is a separate issue, and one which I hope to tackle later. In this blog post I merely want to rebut the use of scare tactics over radical teachers by the Conservatives to attack the teaching profession as a whole, and promote their own policies of an increased workload, reduction of pay and conditions, and privatisation. With a very few, notable exception, teachers simply want to teach – Maths, English, science, whatever. They aren’t interested in turning the next generation of schoolchildren into wild-eyed Che Guevara-style revolutionaries, intent on destroying the bourgeois order. Unfortunately, it is all too often ignored. I’m aware that the examples I’ve used have come from thirty years ago back in Maggie Thatcher’s administration. These were the most extreme instances of the tactic, which I particularly remember. Nevertheless, it is still being used, both here and across the Atlantic. I’ve seen it used in Conservative blogs against teachers in America and Canada. I’ve no doubt that if the Conservatives meet with further opposition from the teachers and their unions, it will be used once more against them over here. That this image of teachers is largely untrue and unrepresentative of them as a profession really needs to be remembered and brought to public attention, the next time the Mail or the Express runs a story about ‘Loony Left’ teachers pushing Communism or trying to turn them all gay.

On the Road to Serfdom with Von Hayek

August 8, 2013

The ideology of the modern Conservative Party is partly based on the Libertarian ideas of Von Hayek. Von Hayek was a refugee to America Austria after the Nazis’ Anschluss. In his books, such as The Road to Serfdom and the Constitution of Liberty Von Hayek defended ‘the freedom in economic affairs without which personal and economic freedom have never existed’. He was a bitter opponent of the extension of state interference in the economy. He argued that the extension of the welfare state would inevitably lead to the loss of freedom if it permitted no choice. The Road to Serfdom was published in 1944, and reinforced Churchill’s own doubts about post-War reconstruction. His ideas became the major force in Conservative ideology under Margaret Thatcher, who was introduced to them through her mentor, Sir Keith Joseph.

There was a piece on Thatcher’s adoption of Von Hayek about a decade ago in the Financial Times. The article repeated a story about Thatcher’s official promotion of it at a Conservative party meeting. She went to it with the book in her hand. She arrived just when a young man was on the floor making a speech supporting the middle of the road economic consensus. According to the article, it was Thatcher’s turn to speak after him. She slammed the book down on the table with the words ‘This is what we all believe in now’. Or words to that effect. The article then went on to discuss the various ways in which she actually misunderstood von Hayek, such as on the importance of central institutions, such as the monarchy and parliament in Britain. The article suggested that elements of von Hayek’s views could be adopted by a Labour government without crossing the floor.

Well, maybe, though with retrospect the article seems like a subtle piece of propaganda aimed at getting New Labour to continue von Hayek’s Liberalism but under a less extreme, slightly more socialistic guise after public discontent with the Tories increased.

Von Hayek’s influence also explains why Thatcher banged on so much about how the Tories’ represented ‘choice’, despite the contraction of individual liberty implied by her ‘strong state’ policy.

Margaret Jones and Rodney Lowe reproduce an extract from von Hayek’s 1959 work, The Constitution of Liberty, in their collection of documents, From Beveridge to Blair: The First Fifty Years of Britain’s Welfare State 1948-98. This contains the following paragraph attacking the notion of the state provision of welfare:

‘In many fields persuasive arguments based on considerations of efficiency and economy can be advanced in favour of the state’s taking sole charge of a particular service; but when the state does so, the result is usually that those advantages soon appear illusory but that the character of the services becomes entirely different from that which they would have had if they had been provided by competing agencies. If, instead of administering limited resources put under its control for a specific service, government uses its coercive powers to ensure that men are given what some expert thinks they need; if people can thus no longer exercise any choice in some of the most import5ant matters of their lives, such as health, employment, housing and provision for old age, but must accept the decisions made for them by appointed authority on the basis of its evaluation of their need; if certain services become the exclusive domain of the state, and whole professions – be it medicine, education or insurance – come to exist only as unitary bureaucratic hierarchies, it will no longer be competitive experimentation but solely the decisions of authority that will determine what me shall get’.

Now this needs very careful critiquing. More specifically, how well has this argument stood up now that it has been and is continuing to be government policy?

Actually, not very well.

Von Hayek’s assumption, that economic freedom is the basis of personal and political freedom, is flawed. As critics of the Conservative party have pointed out, private property and ideologies of economic freedom existed long before most of the European population had personal or political freedom. It was the basis of late 18th and early 19th century laissez-faire economic liberalism at a time when only the aristocracy and the upper middle class in Britain, for example, had the vote.

It also does not take into account the importance of public opinion in formulating government policy. It assumes that decisions regarding health, social insurance and so on would be taken by a bureaucratic, technocratic elite deciding what it believes the public wants and needs on their behalf. Now this certainly was the case in the former Soviet Union. In England the early Fabians, including Beatrice and Sidney Webb, certainly had this authoritarian mindset and did believe that the new socialist society should be administered by an efficient bureaucracy. It does not, however, envisage the way the public actively tries to influence government policy through public meetings, bureaucratic forums in which the public can state their objections and demands, such as patients’ groups and similar organisations, or the fact that the public can and is frequently actively involved in welfare issues through the simple process of democratic debate. Von Hayek’s simplistic view of state power is only true of monolithic, single party autocracies such as Communism, Nazi Germany and the Fascist dictatorships. It does not consider the state as a means of empowering people and granting them a freedom, which they would otherwise be denied by their economic circumstances. John Steward Mill, in his class formulation of Liberalism in the 19th century, passionately defended personal liberty. However, he was also influenced by contemporary socialist experiments, such as the French Saint-Simonians. As a result, he believed that some freedoms could only be secured through the collective action of the state.

Now let’s examine the claims for freedom made on behalf of the private provision of welfare services. This seems to assume an ideal condition in which such private organisations are able to offer service comparable to those of the state. But as we’ve seen, in recent years the privatised industries such as the railways and privatised hospital administrations are now very heavily subsidised by the state to an extent which far exceeds the amounts they received when they were directly owned and operated by the state. In the case of the railways, the service they provide is actually poorer than in the last days of British Rail.

It also does not accept that private provision may result in a lack of choice. In America, for example, 1/7th of the population cannot afford medical insurance. These people have absolutely no choice regarding their health care. They are forced to use medicare. As for those, who have the benefit of private medical insurance, these are tied very much to the demands of their insurance company. The days when Americans were free to take or leave their doctor’s advice are very much a thing of the past. Not that you’d know that from the polemic coming out of the American Right.

It also does not foresee the way private companies may also close down or alter services without consulting their customers, purely for the benefit of their shareholders. An example of this was the way one of the American firms charged with running GPs’ surgeries in London closed three of them, leaving the patients with no doctor. It does not accept the fact that certain industries are natural monopolies, which can be both more efficiently and more democratically administered by the state in the public interest.

Furthermore, von Hayke ignores the possibility of the use of state coercion to enforce and support private industry at the expense of the liberty of the individual. The use of workfare to compel the unemployed to work in selected retail venues or other industries is a prime example of this.

Von Hayek also makes the statement ‘It would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that the greatest danger to liberty today comes from the men who are most needed and most powerful in modern government, namely, the efficient expert administrators exclusively concerned with what they regard as the public good’. There’s a bitter irony here. The administration of the modern state and party political machines is now highly technocratic and corporative, using experts drawn extensively from industry, to promote the interests of those industries against the public good.