International Workingmen’s Association 1869
Record of Speeches by Karl Marx

On General Education

Source: MECW Volume 21, p. 398;
First published: in full in Marx and Engels, Works, 2nd Russian Edition, 1960.

Marx delivered a speech on general education at the General Council meeting of August 10, 1869 during the debate on the Basle Congress programme, and a concluding speech on August 17. Both speeches have been preserved in the Minute Book of the General Council in Eccarius’ hand. A brief account of the first speech is included in the report of the General Council meeting of August 10 printed in The Bee-Hive, August 14, 1869; a brief account of the concluding speech was published in The Bee-Hive, August 21, 1869.

A brief account of Marx’s speeches in German translation from The Bee-Hive was given in the article “Die Internationale und die Schule'’, Die Neue Zeit, 1893-1894.

From the Minutes of the General Council Meetings of August 10 and 17, 1869


Cit. Marx said there was a peculiar difficulty connected with this question. On the one hand a change of social circumstances was required to establish a proper system of education, on the other hand a proper system of education was required to bring about a change of social circumstances; we must therefore commence where we were.

The question treated at the congresses was whether education was to be national or private.[462] National education had been looked upon as governmental, but that was not necessarily the case. In Massachusetts every township was bound to provide schools for primary education for all the children. In towns of more than 5,000 inhabitants higher schools for technical education had to be provided, in larger towns still higher. The state contributed something but not much. In Massachusetts eighth of the local taxes went for education, in New York one-fifth. The school committees who administered the schools were local, they appointed the schoolmasters and selected the books. The fault of the American system was that it was too much localised, the education given depended upon the state of culture prevailing in each district. There was a cry for a central supervision. The taxation for schools was compulsory, but the attendance of children was not. Property had to pay the taxes and the people who paid the taxes wanted that the money was usefully applied.

Education might be national without being governmental. Government might appoint inspectors whose duty it was to see that the laws were obeyed, just as the factory inspectors looked after the observance of the factory acts, without any power of interfering with the course of education itself.

The Congress might without hesitation adopt that education Was to be compulsory. As to children being prevented from working, one thing was certain: it would not reduce wages and people would get used to it.

The Proudhonists maintained that gratuitous education was nonsense, because the state had to pay for it; of course somebody had to pay, but not those who could least afford it. Was not in favour of gratuitous college education.

As Prussian education had been talked so much of, he would conclude by observing that the Prussian system was only calculated to make good soldiers.


Cit. Marx said: upon certain points we were unanimous.

The discussion had started with the proposition to reaffirm the Geneva resolution which demanded that mental should be combined with bodily labour, with gymnastics and technological training; nothing had been said against that.

The technological training advocated by proletarian writers was meant to compensate for the deficiencies occasioned by the division [of] labour which prevented apprentices from acquiring a thorough knowledge of their business. This had been taken hold of and misconstructed into what the middle class understood by technical education.

As to Mrs. Law’s Church budget[463] it would be good policy for the Congress to declare against the Church.

Cit. Milner’s proposition[464] was not suitable to be introduced in connection with the schools; it was a kind of education that the young must get from the adults in the everyday struggle of life. He could not accept Warren as a bible, it was a question upon which few could agree. We might add that such education cannot be given at school, but must be given by adults.

Nothing could be introduced either in primary, or higher schools that admitted of party and class interpretation. Only, subjects such as the physical sciences, grammar, etc., were fit matter for schools. The rules of grammar, for instance, could not differ, whether explained by a religious Tory or a free thinker. Subjects that admitted of different conclusions must be excluded and left for the adults to such teachers as Mrs. Law, who gave instruction in religion.

The abolition of the army[465] had been resolved by the Brussels congress.

It was not advisable to bring it on again.

462 The question of general education was discussed at the previous congresses of the International Association-in Geneva (1866), Lausanne (1867) and Brussels (1868).

463 Harriet Law’s proposition moved at the General Council meeting of August 17, 1869 meant the transfer of the Church’s property and income to schools.

464 George Milner proposed at the Council meetings of August 10 and 17, 1869 that the children should be taught bourgeois political economy, which was unacceptable from the proletarian viewpoint and in practice would only increase the ideological influence of the ruling bourgeoisie on the rising generation. Milner particularly stressed the need to give the pupils an idea of the “value of labour” and distribution. He referred, in particular, to the American Utopian Socialist Warren who preached the theory of “just exchange”.

465 Marx mentioned the abolition of the standing army because during the debate at the General Council meetings, Eccarius and Reclus proposed increasing funds for general education by abolishing expenditures on standing armies.