Eden and Cedar Paul 1918

Independent Working Class Education –
Thoughts and Suggestions

“He who has the school has the future”

Source: Eden and Cedar Paul, “Independent Working Class Education – Thoughts and Suggestions” WSF Pamphlet, 1918, 31pp;
Published: by The Workers’ Socialist Federation, 400, Old Ford Road, E.3., Price 6d;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


“A social revolution of some kind will be necessary in England after the declaration of peace on the Continent; for, even supposing some fair principle established by force of arms, it has still to be wrought into a living practice by right education and good government. For many of us the greater war is yet to come.” These words are quoted from the preface to Caldwell Cook’s brilliant volume on education, ‘The Play Way.’ It is possible that when Mr. Cook writes of a social revolution he is not contemplating anything very drastic, that he does not understand the phrase as it will be under stood by the more bolshevist among the readers of this pamphlet; it is possible again, that when he speaks of the greater war yet to come he is not thinking in terms of the class struggle; but even so it is significant that the thought of a prominent and successful bourgeois educationist (Mr. Cook is a teacher in the famous Perse School at Cambridge) should be so extensively permeated with the spirit of socialist criticism.

Let us quote from a yet remoter source. On March 4th, 1917, in All Souls’ Church, Winnipeg, the Rev. Horace Westwood, D.D., preached a truly remarkable sermon on ‘Our Educational Forces and the Problems of War and Peace.’ We cannot even summarise his lengthy address, and will give no more than the text upon which he preaches and, the parable with which he concludes. The text is from Aristotle, and runs: “The best laws are of no avail unless the young are trained by habit and education in the spirit of the polity.” Here is the parable: “One day a prophet of the Most High God went into the presence of one of His angels and said unto him: ‘O thou who art a servant of the Most High, I am weary with the troubles of earth and discouraged by the hopeless task of seeking to bring goodwill, peace, and justice among men. Will these things ever be or is it all a hopeless dream? Give unto me a vision so that I may return to earth and prophesy with certainty what shall come to pass among men.’ The angel pondered long and then said to him: ‘Return to-morrow at this hour and thy request shall be granted.’ As the prophet lay awake that night on his couch he wondered greatly what the vision would be. Then passed before his imagination the hosts of humanity glorious and free. He beheld fair cities in which there was nothing vile. He looked upon smiling villages untouched by the blight of poverty and upon nations freed from the curse of war. And he said to himself: ‘Surely this will be the vision that the angel of the Lord Will give.’ And then he slept. Next day at the appointed hour he went once more into the presence of the angel. But he was given no glorious vision. Instead, the angel led him a unto a child and said: ‘Here O prophet is the answer of the Most High God. For in the child there lies the solution of the riddle of destiny.’”

It is in the realist and not in the religious spirit that we quote this parable. We idealise children just as little as we are inclined to idealise their elders. But we certainly lean to the view that there is more to be hoped from the average child than from the average adult; we think that there is good ground for believing that the larger the number of those who receive a genuinely socialist education, the speedier will be the coming of the kingdom of man. The crux of socialism, and the means of its realisation, have ever seemed to us to be intimately interconnected with this question of socialist education. The active participants in the social revolution are likely to be a minority, which may be small but must not be infinitesimal. That minority must be able to count upon the active support, as soon as success looms on the horizon, of the great masses of the workers; it must not be fettered by the inertia of those whose whole education and vital experience have served to convince them that the established order is unchangeable if not positively sacrosanct. But the inevitable tendency of state systems of education – we speak, of course, of the capitalist state, without prejudice to the question whether under socialism the state as we know it will “die out” – is to turn the average proletarian into an average Henry Dubb to whom the employer is (as our German comrades phrase it) the “bread-giver.” Capitalist state education makes of the workers’ children the “ragged trousered philanthropists” of Robert Tressall’s fascinating study; people who when grow up thankfully accept what is as “good enough for the likes of us” rather than self-respecting human beings fully aware that the war against the drones must be waged to the bitter end until class rule is overthrown. It is capitalist state education which has made even avowed socialists willing to serve on governmental committees appointed “to make and consider suggestions for securing a permanent improvement in the relations between employers and workmen”!

Enheartening as has been the bolshevist revolution in Russia, we must not too readily apply its lessons to countries where capitalism is more strongly enthroned, and where state education has for a couple of generations been carried on under capitalist auspices. Russian conditions are peculiar. Four-fifths of the Russians are peasants whose grandfathers were serfs. The main interest of these peasants is in their land-holdings, and the support given by the peasants to the groups of Marxists among the operatives of the towns has assured the success of the bolshevist revolution – if its success, as we hope, be even yet assured. Russia seems likely to skip the epoch of fully fledged capitalist industry and its concomitant bourgeois parliamentarism. We need a bolshevist revolution here no less, a proletarian revolution is indispensable to all the countries of the western world, but they are not likely to get it on such easy terms. We are faced by the old problem. A socialist community, a co-operative commonwealth, needs socialists for its realisation; but capitalist society, working through capitalist state education, through militarism, through a myriad ingenious sophistications ranging from religious idealism to the Whitley report, generalises a mentality adverse to the revolutionary spirit. There are, of course, countervailing forces, both economic and political. In the end, perhaps, like the Mills of God, they will grind exceedingly small; at present they grind slowly. Is there no way of quickening the pace? We think there is. The workers must found their own educational institutions outside the framework of the capitalist state. They must provide in all big industrial centres for infant education more or less on the lines of the Montessori system. They must provide largely for elementary education to rival and ultimately to supersede capitalist state education in accordance with the principles of the “New School” movement. This carries on education op to the age of 16 to 18. Pending these developments, and during their continuance, the workers must do everything possible to promote “independent working-class education” for young adults in the way already vigorously promoted by the Labour Colleges and the Plebs League. These three branches of activity will be separately considered. But before discussing infant education let us invigorate our minds by recognising how even amid the stresses of war, our continental comrades are thinking similar thoughts and advancing along the same paths.


What have socialists hitherto done to promote the education of children in their own sense, in accordance with their own ideals and demands?

Indisputably we possess a noteworthy pedagogic literature. That literature has been fertilised, by the materialist conception of history; it has built upon the foundations established by the thoughts and the activities of the great socialists who have gone before us, whether utopian or scientific; it has further developed the best of the creative ideas on education to be found in the classic works of bourgeois literature and philosophy. Such social democratic educationists as Robert Seidel, Otto Rühle, Kate Duncker, & c., have done much valuable work. They have drawn attention to the special needs, to the physical and mental peculiarities of the proletarian child; they have recognised the importance of productive labour in relation to the training of mind and character; they have formulated the ideal of the socialist individuality, and have not failed to give practical pointers along the path of socialist education.

The literature of which we are speaking appeals to parents and teachers. It assumes that readers are not merely animated by the desire, but like wise possess power and opportunity, to form the minds of proletarian children in the spirit of socialist education. But how if power and opportunity be lacking? Who, we must ask, is to be the true educator of our children? Is it to be the proletarian father, away at work from morning till night, so that he hardly sees his children? Is it to be the proletarian mother, whose back is almost broken beneath the double burden of domestic slavery and wage labour? Can the proletarian family, whose decomposition set in long ago, become an instrument of true education? Even when the parents are exceptionally capable, difficulties arise owing to the claims made upon their time by their active participation in the work of socialist and trade union organisation, and by the need they feel for the continuance of their own education.

Far be it from us to underestimate the importance of the influence exercised by the atmosphere of the home upon the mentality of the proletarian child. Many working class parents might be much more to their children than the are to-day, and would be much more did they but recognise the supreme significance of socialist education. In this matter, ignorance, indifference and slackness are still too general among the proletariat. But making full allowance for all these things; the fact remains that neither legally nor otherwise are working-class parents in a position to train their children in their own spirit.

The evil has long been recognised, but few of us even yet are fully aware of our far-teaching responsibilities. The matter has been doubly and trebly underlined by the war. Under war conditions, the decomposition of the proletarian family has been completed, and our children have been delivered more fully than ever into the hands of capitalist society. Many a working-class mother, forced to go out to work, is delighted to know that her child is being cared for in a crêche, a school, or in some one of the many charitable institutions called into being by the war. As a hard-pushed working woman she cannot but congratulate herself, but as a convinced socialist she cannot but be heavy-hearted. No matter whether the institution be public or private, the upshot is the same. Capitalist society, garbed as an angel of light, gradually withdraws the young human being from the favourable influence of its mother, and estranges it from the outlook for which the parents have fought and perchance suffered.

As an individual mother, the proletarian woman can do little to resist this tendency. It would be a false consolation if she should say to herself, “Life, which has made me a socialist, will make my children socialists also.” Were this true, agitation and propaganda would be superfluous, for the masses would flock to our ranks with the simple inevitability of a natural law. In practice we know this does not happen. It depends upon us whether the road to socialism shall be short or long, smooth or rough; it lies with us who have become aware of the evolutionary trend, to favour that trend, and to clear obstacles out of the path.

It is no use looking on with folded arms. The diagnosis of a disease does not cure the disease. The mere voicing of complaints changes nothing. The proletarian family is powerless. Agreed; but mightier than the family is the organisation of the proletarian class. Our class organisations must enter the breach, just as long ere this the bourgeoisie has striven to secure mastery of proletarian offspring by means of the organisations it has specially provided for this purpose, by school and church, by secular and religious societies, by cadet corps and barrack life. We have given a long start to the dominant class, and for this error we have to blame, not solely the political and economic weakness of the unthinking masses, but also and largely the indifference of the organised workers in the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions.

What have we in Germany hitherto done in this field? Such trifling beginnings as have been made should shame rather than encourage us. Almost the only noteworthy work as yet has been, that of the child protection committees, but the activity of these committees has been mainly concerned with the physical and moral welfare of child workers, with attempts to put an end to the more barbarous forms of exploitation. The only endeavours made on behalf of the mental life of our children have been those of the few working-class committees to secure country holidays for children, and to promote half-holiday amusements. Here and there, too, the attention of the workers’ educational committees has been turned to the problem of child education.

Taking it all in all, however, how little has been done! Why should we be content to leave our children to the state school, to the street, to bourgeois philanthropy, and to chance? Doubtless, our organisations lack money, time, suitable places and persons. They have naturally turned their attention in the first instance to the schooling of adult members. As for young people over 14, there are various institutions to look after their interests.

Well and good. We will not stop to inquire whether these various institutions have always set to work in a genuinely socialist spirit, or whether they have not at times been unconsciously influenced by the bourgeois mentality. The main question is, why should we wait to begin our work until the mind of the proletarian child has been permeated with the outlook of capitalist imperialism? Why should our children be left for fourteen years or more to bourgeois minded teachers of both sexes, in order that then, at great cost, they should be regained on behalf of their class interests? Is this a thrifty method?

No one can, deny that a certain degree of intellectual ripeness, a certain experience of life, are requisite to the understanding of political and economic problems Those only who are mature can act with a due sense of responsibility, and with a full consciousness of their aims. But as regards the education of young children, this question does not concern us. What we desire, and rightly desire, as proletarian parents, is that our children should not be estranged from the ideals and the mentality of the class-conscious workers; we desire the creation of an adequate counterpoise to the one sided bourgeois, nationalist and imperialist influences to which they are now exposed. We wish to propagate our own convictions in the minds of our children; we desire that our children should from the first become accustomed to regard their class organisations as their true home, we desire that from early childhood upwards they should be animated with the spirit of equality, liberty and international brotherhood.

Not long ago, in a paragraph which went the round of the press, it was stated that Maxim Gorki was planning the issue of a socialist library for children, a series of booklets in which the lives, activities, struggles, and sufferings of our heroes, the heroes of liberty and humanity, would be made accessible to childhood. Are the great struggles for freedom and self-respect less comprehensible to children than the bloody battles, victories, and conquests of nobles, princes, and the bourgeoisie? Are there fewer heroes and martyrs in our camp than in the other? Is the heroism of the fighter for liberty less inspiring than the heroism of the conqueror? Is the national ideal grander, does it tend better to promote the formation of character, than the ideal of a socialist community of peoples?

No one can maintain anything of the kind. What has been lacking has been a suitable presentation of the material. We are without the proper story books, children’s newspapers, picture books, photographs. Why this lack? Because the adult workers have hitherto troubled little about the matter, because, having grown up without specific education, they still undervalue systematic educational effort.

Think of the games our children are playing to-day! The streets and the squares ring with their war games. Many a mother recognises too late with horror the brutalising influence these amusements exercise on the child mind. Could not incidents from the proletarian war of liberation be just as well represented in children’s play? Every child is a born actor; all the active games of children are played in a really living theatre. We have underestimated the importance of play in the formation of character and temperament In truth we have not troubled our minds about the question at all.

To sum up, the first essential is to take charge of the education and supervision of our own children. We must not wait until the world of capitalism has already filled their heads and their hearts with its views, is desires, and its impulses. We must not leave things to chance. We must not assign the task to parents who long since have ceased to be position to fulfil it satisfactorily. Quite apart from the want of time and opportunity, many parents lack self-culture, aptitude, and experience for teaching. Love cannot replace everything. The organised working-class must step in where the proletarian family perforce fails. Competent men and women will be found readily enough among our comrades as soon as the matter is taken seriously in hand, as soon as the importance of the question adequately recognised. This work on behalf of our children is just as important as in any other branch of the labour movement. It is not simply a question of guarding against physical and moral neglect; what we are concerned with is the positive formation of character, the filling of the child mind with the spirit of socialism. The future for our children is in socialism. Let us take them by the hand and lead them towards this future.


But it is not merely a question of taking our children by the hand and leading them towards the socialist future. The essential thought of Dr. Westwood’s parable, quoted in the first section of this essay, and the essential thought of the whole, is that our children, rightly led, will soon become the leaders, the pioneers, in the march towards the promised land. May we not say that while the guiding thought of what has been called education in the past was to fit children into the moulds shaped for them by the stereotyped and class-ridden societies of the past – to create a slave morality among the children of the masses and a master morality (which is but the obverse of slave morality) among the children of the dominant class – the guiding thought of the new education is to provide for the plastic mind of childhood an environment wherein can flower individual development which shall ensure for the young their rightful place in the fashioning of a new world? In the class state there are obvious limitations to the application of these ideas, and not until socialism has been realised can we expect them to be applied to any notable extent in state-provided schools. During the age of transition, socialist education must be mainly of an experimental character, and the schools in which it is to be carried on must be voluntary schools. Suggestions as to the economic basis of a movement for socialist education may be deferred to a later stage of the present study. For the moment we have to consider general educational principles, and the aim of this section is to examine the question of the education of very young children, from the ages, say, of three to seven.

Now many persons arbitrarily contend that for very young children, if not for children of all ages, “the best place is the home.” We differ strongly, and this not merely because the proletarian home to-day offers a very undesirable medium. Improve the home as much as you please, and still the average home will not be the most suitable place in which to leave a child for the greater part of its waking hours. Agreed that the school, certainly for very young children, and probably for older children, should be a “home school”; agreed that it should combine with the best educational facilities the qualities that characterise the good home, and that it should be free from all taint of “institutionalism.” But from the child’s point of view one of the great advantages of the self-contained homes of old times was that families were large, and that in the family circle the child had the benefit of continued association with a considerable but not excessive number of other children. Yet the children were ill-assorted in point of age, for children develop best in the company of those of much the same age as themselves, and in a large family the ages ranged from early infancy to the verge of manhood or womanhood. Moreover, these “staircase” families are happily becoming rare. The freewoman of the future will not as a rule consent to bear more than a small number of children; she will as a rule limit, her child-bearing and child-rearing activities to a definite and fairly brief period of her wedded life, and will not be content, like the wives of old, during twenty to thirty years to “suckle fools and chronicle small beer.”

But if, through birth control, the mother is set free for other social activities, and notably for self-culture, may she not best devote her expanding faculties to the education of her own limited family, at least during the earlier years of childhood? We do not think so. We contend that during these years, no less than during the second period of childhood, from seven to fourteen or fifteen, and of course less during adolescence, the unfolding of the human mind should be presided over by specialists. These will be specialists of varied training and temperament. It is not as a rule the same persons who are equally fitted to act as educators for very young children, for children of ordinary school age, and for adolescents, respectively. And if, in the case we are now considering, a mother is one of those whose aptitudes specially fit her to supervise the education of very young children, she can far more usefully, and far more interestingly to herself, combine the work of educating her own children with the education of the children of other women who do not possess these peculiar gifts. She can, for instance, be one of the teachers in a Montessori school.

“Democracy and solidarity, freedom and equality,” writes Emmy Freundlich of Vienna in a recent article in Gleichheit, “must be the fundamentals of socialist education. In contradistinction to capitalist education, which has ever been and remains education in obedience, education in serviceableness to authority, it must be our primary educational aim as socialists to create a realm of freedom and equality for children no less than for adults.” Let us quote another notable utterance on education, by Augustin and Henriette Hanlon, published, in The Socialist Review for November-December, 1917: “The aim of education is to teach the child to control himself, to be his own master. For the realisation of this end the most important thing of all is to allow the child’s activity to manifest itself freely, without any other hindrances than those applied by the nature of things. .. Personal experience is the supreme element in education.[2] The child continually attempts to imitate whatever it sees done, while trying to realise for itself the means of satisfying its needs. It is therefore necessary to allow the child to act freely. Let it exert itself quite independently ... Never punish, and never reward .... Treat a child, even a little child, as you would treat an adult.” Now none of these educationists mention the Montessori system, which is of recent growth, and, which, though widely known in Great Britain, Switzerland, and the United, States, as well as in the country of its origin, has as yet had but little vogue in Germany and in France. The Montessori school provides an environment in which all the above intentioned educational principles are realised, it provides for young children a society of the new type, a socialist and sanely libertarian society; this to our mind constitutes its supreme merit, and upon this perhaps mainly depends the extraordinary effect which Montessori training has upon the morale of young children. “Among the somewhat heterogeneous detail of the Montessori system,” writes William Boyd, lecturer on education in the University of Glasgow, in his admirable volume ‘From Locke to Montessori: a Critical Account of the Montessori Point of View,’ “two ideas stand out as more fundamental than the rest. The first is the need for freedom and spontaneity on the part of the developing child. The second is the importance of the training of the muscles and the senses in the first stages of education. By these the system stands or falls.”

It is too early, in the case of a method which even in Italy, the land of its birth, has been in full operation for barely ten years, to attempt a judgment on its enduring possibilities. We cannot yet say whether a young child receiving Montessori training is, in average cases, definitely better fitted to become a socialist citizen, than a child without such training. A study, of principles suggests that this must be so; acquaintance with Montessori trained children reinforces the preconception; but the experience of life must be the supreme test – and life to-day in an unsocialist community will, in the still pre-eminently plastic minds of children after seven, tend to efface the impressions of Montessori training. How these impressions may best be reinforced during the later years of childhood will be considered in the next section. Meanwhile let us supplement our fragmentary references to the Montessori system by a word on Montessori literature. All essential practical details of the system will be found in ‘Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook.’ For fuller information ‘The Montessori Method,’ ‘The Advanced Montessori Method,’ & c. may be consulted. ‘The Pedagogical Anthropology’ will be of great interest to anthropologists and professional educationists – but we agree with Dr. Boyd in his contention that this learned work has not much bearing on the system. A number of manuals by other Montessorians, Americans for the most part, will be found in any good educational library. For the general history and philosophy of the system no better guide can be suggested than ‘From Locke to Montessori.’


During school age the workers’ children must attend school. It is not disputed, or at any rate we do not propose to dispute, “that universal state-controlled elementary education” has been a good thing, that without it the labour movement in this country would not have advanced even to its present stage. As we wrote in the June, 1918, issue of The Plebs Magazine: “One who has been taught to read, to write, and to think after a fashion, in a public elementary school offers more promising material to the socialist propagandist than one who his remained perfectly illiterate.” But as far as the workers’ interests are concerned, state education, capitalist state education, has shot its bolt. More and more, state control of education is being used to further the ends of the dominant class for the liberal and humanitarian impulses which (to a degree) animated the founders of our system of public elementary education have long since been mastered and expelled by the more pressing needs of capitalist imperialism. Jingoism and militarism had invaded the school before the war began, during the war they have been rife; it is a familiar fact, that the state schools are to form part of the defensive armour of the modern baronage, of the lords of industrial and financial capital. We may hold conferences and protest as much as we please, but as long, as the new bourgeoisie, perforce jingo-imperialist, rules, our conferences and protests are likely to be of little avail. Even should the threatened enduring rivalry between a Central European imperialist group and a Western European cum America imperialist group be averted, even should a world-wide league of nations be established during or shortly after the peace settlement, so long as that league is a confederation of capitalist states, the primary object of state-controlled education will be to create generation after generation of servile tools of capitalism. Economic conditions, aided by independent working-class education after school age, supplemented if you will by the somewhat futile efforts of the socialist Sunday school, will continue to exercise a countervailing influence. But it is poor policy to stand idly by watching the administration of poison in the hope that we shall subsequently be able to administer a more or less effective antidote. We should here and now, as a deliberate revolutionary policy, as a chosen method of carrying on the class struggle set about the establishment of our own foci of socialist education.

Now let us make our meaning perfectly plain. When we ask for foci of socialist education, we do not mean, most emphatically we do not mean, schools in which boys and girls shall be “taught socialism,” shall be prematurely and purposely indoctrinated with the spirit of the class struggle. We would “teach” Socialism at school as little as we would “teach” religion, or any other highly abstract doctrine which the immature mind is unfitted to grasp except in the form of crude and soul-destroying dogma. But in the state elementary schools our children are in effect “taught” capitalism. Apart from the evil results of the antiquated authoritarian system of education (which prevails, of course, just as widely in most of the schools frequented by the children of the well-to-do), the general spirit of the teaching in all subjects is predominantly adapted to fit the proletarian child “to become a good citizen.” A good citizen, yes, but of what state, or, to use Aristotle’s term, of what “polity”? Of the co-operative commonwealth, in which there shall be neither master nor servant, neither gentle nor simple, neither rich nor poor? Nay, nay, the polity our state educationists have in view is e’en such a one as exists to-day. Do you wish your child to be a “good citizen” of such a polity? For our part, we are revolutionists who would fain shatter the sorry scheme to bits, and remould it nearer to the heart’s desire.

Revolutionists, no less, are many of our elementary school teachers, but they are shackled and gagged by the system under which they work. We have said that we do not want children to be prematurely indoctrinated with ideas of the class struggle. But upon many subjects “impartial education” is a figment of the imagination. In the public elementary schools, when the pupil gets beyond the first beginnings of the three Rs, all that enters his mind is weighted with the capitalist bias. Three-fourths of education is the provision of a suggestive environment. It is no use taking fright at the word “suggestion.” The suggestions of the older authoritarian educator were like the assistance given by Father O’Flynn, who had a “way” of “helping the lazy ones on, with a stick"! We may get rid of the stick (though it persists literally and figuratively in our public elementary schools); we may get rid of rewards and punishments; but we cannot get rid of suggestion. Now apart from coercion, apart from rewards and punishments, the suggestions of the elementary school (from our point of view) are largely unwholesome. And, woe to the socialist-minded teacher who when his pupils begin to show interest in the wider implications of history and economics, and to ask pertinent questions regarding the nature of the remarkable social system under which we live and regarding its antecedents, should answer these questions with the truth as he sees it! We want these socialist-minded teachers, and we want them in our own schools – not to teach socialism there, but to provide the suggestive environment that will tend to make good citizens for the co-operative commonwealth, and, pending its creation, good soldiers for “that greater war which is yet to come.” But we need not “militarise” our schools. Given the right educational environment, life will train our soldiers fast enough when the School age is over – life and the Labour Colleges.

Apart from the removal from the baneful tutelage of the class-ridden state, the essential characteristics of the schools we have in mind will be those of the New School, the invention of bourgeois educationists who, have been in many respects, inspired with the socialist mentality. The. New School System is largely an application during the ordinary school age of the principles incorporated into the Montessori System of infant education. It requires but few changes to adapt it to proletarian, needs. Typical New Schools of which many of our readers will have heard are Abbotsholme and Bedales. Two years before the war; M. Faria de Vasconcellos, a Portuguese educationist, founded the first New School in Belgium. The war-wave which flowed over that unhappy country destroyed the young enterprise and washed M. Faria to the distant land of Bolivia. But he has incorporated his experiences at Bierges in an admirable little volume, of which an English translation (by the authors of this pamphlet) is now appearing under the title of “A New School in Belgium.” In the preface to this book, thirty salient characteristics of: the New School are enumerated. We mention some of the more important, with comments.


1. The New School is a laboratory of practical pedagogy. It is to be a pioneer example for the state schools.

2. It is a boarding school. (This is because the New School provides an environment so essentially different from that of the ordinary bourgeois family that its full educational effects can only be realised away from home. But the tendency of a boarding school would be to declass the proletarian child. The main advantages of the New School can be secured in a day school.)

3. It. is in the country. (This is eminently desirable, but the condition is hardly reconcilable with the establishment of a school to be attended by day scholars residing in an industrial centre.)

4. The school has a family atmosphere different from that of an ordinary boarding school, being divided into separate “houses,” each containing no more than from ten to twelve pupils, and presided over usually by a married couple.

5. There is co-education of the sexes.

6. Manual work is engaged in for several hours daily, for its educative effect, and for its collective uses, not with an eye to the specific life-work of the adult – i.e., it is not conventional “technical training.”

7. Work in the carpenter’s shop, gardening and practical agriculture, and the care of farm stock, play a large part in the manual training.

8. Considerable scope is given for free occupations selected by the individual pupil.

9. Natural gymnastics are practised, more in the nature of Swedish body training than of ordinary drill or gymnastics with apparatus.

10. Excursions and camping out are frequent.


11. The aim is to secure general culture of the judgment rather than an accumulation of memorised facts.

12. Specialised training is mainly based on individual aptitudes and desires.

13. Instruction is derived from actual experience rather than from books.

14. It is based on the child’s personal activities, i.e., “knowledge” is not poured into him as water is poured into a jug.

15. The instruction of course varies in accordance with the variation in spontaneous desires as age advances.

18. Direct instruction is practically limited to the morning hours.

19. Not more than one or two branches of study are pursued on any one day.

20. Very few branches are studied in any one month or term.


21. The basis of moral education is that the school is a republic, is practically self-governing.

24. The only rewards are the granting of special opportunities for individual creative work.

25. The only punishments take the form of endeavours to make the child understand how it has erred and how it may do better in the future.

26. Emulation is only stimulated in the foam of encouraging the child to compare notes with its own past achievements.

27. Order and beauty must be primary characteristics of the school environment.

28. Collective musical practice, vocal or instrumental, is freely engaged in.

29 and 30 concern moral education and education of the practical reason – but to an attentive student of the system it is obvious that formal instruction under these heads is superfluous. If the social environment is right, such instruction cannot be required; if the social environment is wrong, the formal instruction can be of no avail. It will have about as much effect as the “parson’s patter” is likely to have upon the habitual criminal amid the noisome degradations of the modern jail.

“In the socialist Sunday schools of Great Britain and Switzerland,” writes Emmy Freundlich in the article we have previously quoted, “attempts have been made to work upon a method which appears to me to be utterly fallacious. One is not good because one wishes to be good and because the will, to be good has been preached at one; one becomes good when one can live in a community where this goodness can be practised. Habit and example are the only educational methods which can lead to freedom and equality. Now it cannot be denied that the scientific educational doctrines of modern educationists have smoothed the path for us, alike practically and theoretically: But these educationists have invariably failed, and their failure was inevitable, because they have attempted to institute their educational community in the class state and in a class-ridden society. For the workers there are other possibilities. The workers too, have to live in the class state, and their wills are restricted by the limitations imposed by the state; nevertheless, within their own organisations they can transcend the class state and can create then social community of democracy and of the socialist commonwealth. As things are the statement must be made with reservations, but it contains large elements of truth. One of the greatest responsibilities of the working class is here indicated, the necessity for honestly striving towards equality and liberty, the necessity for creating the new realm.

“The socialistic educational community will not preach; it will create. It will revive the family in its earlier form. Of old the family was the focus of production and of consumption; in the family, the means of life were communally created, distributed and enjoyed; in this family community of old, the child could find everything it required in the shape of practical learning and experience. The family has perished; it is nothing more than a community for sleep; it cannot be an educational organism; at most it is a union of individuals for common consumption. Nor can the present-day school, the other contracting party, be an educational organism, for it is merely a learning community, not a working community. Both family and school as they exist to-day must be replaced and perfected by the socialist educational community, which does not solely learn out of books, but creates out of daily life. The new community must not provide fragmentarily for the lives of the children, but must care for their whole lives synthetically. In this matter, too, capitalist pedagogues have led the way; but socialism alone can provide a harmonious conjuncture of education with the philosophy of life.”


We may fitly begin this section with a quotation from the Plebs League’s pamphlet, “What Does Education Mean to the Workers?” If the aim of the Labour movement is a real social reconstruction, then, in spite of all the hindrances thrown in the way by those interested in the preservation of the existing order, it must enable its members to attain a full and clear knowledge of the facts about society. Now, where are the workers to turn to for full and clear knowledge of this kind? Obviously the state will not supply it any more than it will finance the workers to overthrow the capitalist order of society. The state exists to defend the existing order; and the people who draw profit, rent, and interest, control “state” education. The state may be left to provide education in the elementary subjects although there may be ample room for improvement in the way these subjects are taught to the children of the workers. But the Labour movement will be neglecting its own vital interests if it omits to provide, and to control, its own educational institutions, in which an exact knowledge of the foundations and development of society may be taught.... A master class will not teach the truth to a subject class; it is indeed incapable of seeing the truth as that subject class sees it. Antagonism of interests between two classes of society means antagonistic views as regards the desirability or otherwise of “reconstruction”; or, at least, as regards the extent and thoroughness of that reconstruction. The Labour movement has its basis in the antagonism of interests existing between Capital and Labour. Then the education with which it is concerned must be based on a recognition of this same antagonism.”

We have shown that we do not fully agree with one proposition in this admirable passage, namely, that “the state may be left to provide education in the elementary subjects.” As is obvious from the previous sections, we are in this matter even more revolutionary than the above-quoted exponents of the Plebs League policy, and we wish to urge upon organised Labour that it is eminently desirable, in the interests of rapid progress towards what the pamphlet euphemistically terms “reconstruction,” to make a widespread effort to supersede the state in the education of very young children and of children of school age. But there are two justifications, practical and philosophical respectively, for the phrase we deprecate. In the first place, it is far easier to step in with the provision of a definitely socialist education at an age when the children of the workers have been surrendered by the state education as finished products, than it is to oust the state from the field of elementary education, a field where the capitalist regime has long been strongly entrenched. Next, until the age of fourteen or fifteen, until puberty (to use the scientific term), the aims of socialist education to-day are to a large extent identical with those which be the aims of socialist education in the co-operative commonwealth – namely, to add and guide that expansion of individuality which is the main purpose of education and of the whole art of life. During these earlier years of growth, the function of education has (in our opinion) an individual far more than a social reference; but the aim of assisting satisfactory, healthful, and happy individual development coincides to a remarkable extent with the aim of fitting the child to become a harmonious member of a social community – whether that community be of the comparatively low type that prevails to-day or of the high type that will prevail in the future. The general aptitudes and habits we encourage are desirable in a society of either type. Conversely, the habits and aptitudes we discourage and counter-suggest are those which would unfit the child to become a happy and happiness-conferring citizen whether in the republic of Plato or in the dregs of Romulus. To a degree therefore, elementary education by the capitalist state might be improved so as to render it tolerably acceptable to the workers; and we have agreed, nay insisted, that “school age” is not a period of life during which it is desirable to draw undue attention to the history or the actualities of the class struggle. But after puberty the case is vitally altered. The expanding mind is now forming its general theories, its philosophy of life. There is no possible harmony between, the outlook which a master-class must desire a servile class to have, and the outlook which it is desirable for the members of that class to have in view of the possibilities of and necessity for revolt. Nor is there any harmony between the educational needs of the young adult workers in the class state of to-day and those of the young adult workers in the co-operative Commonwealth of the future. The adult proletarian in the capitalist world of to-day has a different part from that which will be played by the adult freeman or freewoman of the polity of tomorrow. He and she (for they stand or fall together) must be made class conscious, must become fully aware of the existence and nature of the class struggle, must learn how they can employ their energies in the great movement by which class rule will ultimately be overthrown. Either that or remain in the Lumpenproletariat, dumb driven cattle, neither desiring nor deserving a better fate. There is but one more alternative – to seize one of the scant opportunities still offered the workers to climb out of the class in which they were born. We are realists, and have no grudge against those whose tastes induce them to avail themselves of such a glorious chance!

But to hammer the cold iron hot on the anvil of the first alternative; this is the function of the Plebs League, founded in 1908, which seeks “to further the interests of independent working-class education as a partisan effort to improve the position of Labour in the present, ultimately assisting the abolition of wage-slavery.” This is the object of the Central Labour College, founded in 1909 by several districts of the South Wales Miners and by the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. This is the object of the affiliated bodies and classes now being organised all over the United Kingdom. This is the object of similar organisations in various Continental countries and in the U.S. But before we give brief account of these, let us quote from the preamble of the Central Labour College – a document, we think, destined to rank in socialist history beside the Communist Manifesto and the preamble of the American Industrial Workers of the World. “To the organised Labour movement we appeal for support upon a question which lies at the very foundation of working-class organisation. We do not trust our economic security to the good intentions of the possessing class. We do not rely upon the politics of our employers for measures of progressive legislation. We establish our own economic fortifications, we have our own political weapons, we control our own literature. Why, then, should we not as independently manage our own educational affairs? Even as have a platform of our own and a press of our own, let us have educational institutions of our own .... The working class must achieve its own salvation. It must develop its own social intelligence .... Our aim is simply the ‘education of the workers in the interests of the workers.’ “

Now this movement on behalf of independent working-class education is world-wide. It is one of the new trinity of socialist methods. The old trinity, of which the present writers used to hear so much during some years spent in France before the war, was the trade union movement (old style), the parliamentary socialist movement, and the co-operative movement. Let none underrate their importance, but it is now largely historic. The new trinity consists of industrial unionism, workers committees (or soviets), and independent working-class education. The “persons” in a trinity should be co-equal, but we sometimes incline to a heretical exaltation of the importance of the third item in our list. At any rate the third item is the subject of this pamphlet, and we shall welcome any information our comrades can furnish as to the present state of the movement in other lands. Our own knowledge is extremely fragmentary, and during the temporary suspension of western civilisation we can hardly expect to increase it greatly. The reference in our second section to “the workers’ educational committees” whose “attention has here and there been turned to education,” and indeed E.H.’s whole article, shows, that something of the kind is afoot in Germany. In France, in many large industrial centres, there are Popular Universities (Universités populaires) which really deserve their name, i.e., they are genuinely working-class institutions and are run in working-class interests (as understood by those whose outlook on the class struggle is that expounded in this essay); they have nothing in common with such benevolent institutions as the University Extension movement in this country. In Russia, one may presume, it has been some such movement as ours, working more or less underground since the first revolution of 1905, which has contributed to render possible the bolshevist revolution of November, 1917. In the U.S. we believe that the Rand School of Social Science pursues kindred aims. In Austria there is an energetic body called the Friends of Children which undertakes independent working-class education, but is concerned rather with children of school age than with the teaching of economics and history from the socialist standpoint to those whose elementary education has been finished. A fuller account of the activities of this body must be deferred to the next section. Enough has been said to show that in wishing to extend, co-ordinate, and internationalise all efforts of the kind, with a view to the exalting of the powers of the third person in the new socialist trinity, our voice is by no means that of one crying in the wilderness.


Socialists of every country, writes Emmy Freundlich, in one of the issues of Gleichheit for November, 1917, have recognised that to exercise a decisive influence upon young people of all ages is of primary importance to the socialist movement. Efforts begun before the war to create socialist schools have been continued during the war. Referring to and commending attempts to give socialist education to those who have left school, she rightly contends that it is eminently desirable to influence children towards socialist thought during the school age, while their minds are plastic. But she points out it is not enough to say that socialist parents should educate their children in the socialist sense, for education, socialist education not excepted, is mainly work for specialists. The influences acting upon children in the state schools are by no means of a socialist character, and the writer says that the matter has been further complicated during the war. Owing to circumstances with which we are familiar in England, but which have been far more aggravated in Germany and Austria, owing to the continued rise in prices and to the influx of women into munition and other industries, children have been under-fed and neglected to an increasing extent. The capitalist society of the Central Powers could not look on supinely at this degradation of proletarian youth, at this impairment in the quality of the fighters and workers of the next generation, and various attempts have been made to provide a remedy, mostly in the form of institutional education for proletarian children. The results are described as unhappy, as may well be imagined in the case of war emergency measures of this character. But not as a matter of war emergency alone, nay, rather as a permanent aim, we socialists, she insists, must aspire to have our own pedagogics just as we have our own economics. Before we can fulfil this aim, much practical experimental work will be requisite.

Thus far, apart from the quotations made in previous sections, we have given no more than a brief summary of our Austrian comrade’s idea. The summary was worth making, even at the cost of some repetition, if only to show that like socialist principles and like economic and political conditions are, even in war-time, leading educational theorists in widely severed countries to enunciate like practical aims. But now that we come to actual achievements we must let Emmy Freundlich speak for herself, so that no one can suggest that we are fitting her facts to our theories. In Austria, she says, there has recently been founded an organisation known as the Friends of Children. It was initiated by a Gratz socialist named Affritsch, and its chief activities have hitherto been carried on in that city and in Vienna, furnishing practical results with which it is eminently desirable that the international proletariat should make itself acquainted. In the autumn of 1916 the society was reorganised on national lines, and for the guidance of its activities it has formulated principles which sharply distinguish it from capitalist benevolent institutions.

“In the first place,” continues the writer, “our constitution insists that the Friends of Children is not a political organisation. We do not wish to engage in political activities, and yet we wish to create a socialistic educational organisation. This is an apparent contradiction, upon which our opponents fastened before the war, and which they will not be slow to point out once more when the war is over. But no real contradiction is involved. Socialist philosophy is too comprehensive to find its whole expression in the work of a political party, for it aims at the foundation of a new world. It follows that not everything which is socialistic need necessarily be political. If we wish to lay the foundations of an organisation for socialist education, we must inquire what are the main intellectual and moral bases of socialist philosophy. We find that the chief of these bases are the concepts of democracy and solidarity. Freedom and equality are the fundamentals upon which must be upbuilded the economic organisation, the political system, and the ethic of socialism .... How can we secure a practical advance towards the goal of our desires? ....

“The Friends of Children is an association of parents. It is not a union of philanthropic individuals who want to take care of other people’s children. The parents of the children who have to be cared for must unite, so that union may effect that which is beyond the competence of the individual. The parents themselves must originate the ideas, must determine their form, and must decide how they shall be carried out in practice. For this end they must themselves be educated, just as we workers have to educate ourselves for the tasks of industrial and co-operative organisation and for political activities. This association of parents must resemble an expanded family, consisting of persons who make common cause to enable each to give of his best.

“The educational method we apply is the old and tried proletarian method – the method of joint organisation. The children are united. It matters not whether it is for country excursions, knapsack on back; for afternoons in the playground, for a visit to a museum or a monument: all who go make up a community whose members are endowed with equal rights and have equal duties. All share in the preparations and in the tidying up; to each his appropriate task; everyone has an equal right to the communal belongings. The leaders are nothing more than the bigger comrades; they consult with the rest, and such authority as they possess is based, exclusively upon wider knowledge and greater energy. Discipline is secured solely by organisation and example. With good organisation and good example, the right way of doing things comes as a matter of course.

“To promote the self-discipline of the will we divide the children into groups of ten. Each group elects its own group steward, who is merely responsible for the order of the group and for the satisfaction of its wants; like the shop steward (Werkstättenvertrauungsmann), he is a leader freely chosen by the community. Punishments can be inflicted only by the children themselves, as decided in joint sittings. With us this American system has hitherto been applied solely in certain bourgeois educational experiments and in a few kindergartens, but it has remained quite alien to the general character of bourgeois education. Solely in the educational organisation of the proletariat does it find its natural place and its intellectual meaning, for here there exists the necessary spiritual foundation.

“Our methods tend to diverge more and more from those of bourgeois education. An education that recognises no other authority than the unified will of the community, education that breaks new trail, must aim at awakening new faculties, and cannot continue to employ the ancient methods. Above all, knowledge must be secured by contact with practical life. In so far as we must have recourse to books, we find that there exist as yet few books which help us to build for the child a bridge between what it gains as it were instinctively out of the institutions of our educational organisation, and the philosophy of socialism which lies half concealed in all things. Necessity will create for us the poets and artists we need, and in due course this gap will be filled. At present we can do no more than dimly imagine what the new literature for children will be like. Every epoch has to create its own spiritual and literary embodiments, for children no less than for adults.

“In the organisations of the Friends of Children these new ideas are to an increasing extent being realised. Let me refer to one point as of especial importance. We wish the children to live as little as possible within narrow walls; we wish them for the good alike of their lungs and of their souls to make conquest of the open world, to become acquainted with all that moves and works in the open.

“In so far as is possible the workers must create what is needed, for the new educational development, relying upon their own energies and availing themselves of their previous experience in the organisation of self-help. But where these powers do not suffice, where the collaboration of the unions and the co-operatives is not competent for the task, it may be necessary to have recourse for help to the local or central government. With us the workers are gladly endeavouring to do what is requisite, for they wish to provide for the education of their own children. State and municipality already incline to hand over some of the work of education to private organisations, and the working classes wish to play their part here, to receive their share in the grants, provided always that they are given freedom to work along their own lines.

“The fashioning of our children’s realm makes vigorous progress, and hundreds of thousands are now receiving at our hands a happy upbringing, are having their health and their wills steeled for the arduous struggles and the great deeds of adult life. Our hope is that throughout the world, wherever the workers are organised, this children’s realm may be created.”


“To escape its wretched lot,” wrote Bakunin nearly half-a-century ago (‘God, and the State,’ 1871), “the populace has three ways, two imaginary and one real. The two first are drink and the church, the third is the social revolution.” And the social revolution, Bakunin was never weary of declaring, was at hand. He confidently expected it before the close of the nineteenth century. But revolutions, he said, were not made, whether by individuals or by secret societies. They were automatically brought about by the power of things – but those who foresaw the course of evolution were able to hasten and facilitate the change. Bakunin himself spent a large part of his life in an individual’s premature attempts to “make” revolutions, and in paying the penalties exacted by the protagonists of the established order. But he had glimpses, especially in old age, of a sounder method, the educational. Force, utilised or held in reserve, might be requisite in the end, but force would be frustrated unless the ground had been prepared. The people would make the revolution, but to help on the birth of the revolution we must “first spread among the masses thoughts that correspond to the instincts of the masses.” What, he asks, in the ‘Memoir of the Jurassic Federation’ (1869), “what keeps, the salvation-bringing thought from going through the labouring masses with a rush? Their ignorance, and particularly the political and religious prejudices which, thanks to the exertions of the ruling classes, to this day obscure the labourer’s natural thought and healthy feelings .... Hence we must aim at making the worker completely conscious of what he wants and evoking in him the thought that corresponds to his impulses. If once the thoughts of the labouring masses have mounted to the level of their impulses, then will their will be soon determined and their power irresistible.” Allowing for the gradual change in terminology dining five decades, and allowing for the fact that we are presenting in English the ideas of a Russian who wrote in a tongue foreign to him (French), would it be easy to find a more succinct formulation of some of the aims of what we have termed socialist education? Marx, in a famous utterance, said that force was the midwife to every old society pregnant with a new one. Does not Bakunin in effect say, and more truthfully, that socialist education will be the midwife of the social revolution?

That which to Bakunin was little more than a casual thought, or at best an old man’s half reluctant admission that the energies of his own life had been greatly misdirected, we have endeavoured to expound as a definite part of socialist philosophy. It would be premature to come forward at this stage with a finished scheme of principles and methods, or to attempt a formal statement of the means of realisation. It would be presumptuous for two isolated socialists to undertake anything of the kind. We have aimed, indeed, at synthetic treatment. We are not without hope that we may have thrown light on the correlated aspects of the Montessori system, the New School system, and Independent Working-Class Education, considered as parts of a scheme of socialist education to be carried out with a clearly conceived revolutionary aim. For sympathetic readers the strength of our arguments must assuredly have been reinforced by the evidence we have adduced in favour of the existence of an international movement along kindred lines. But these are no more than “thoughts and suggestions”; we are inquirers rather than dogmatists; we eagerly invite criticism and shall welcome fuller information. What we have to suggest concerning practical details is implicit in what has been said in previous sections.

All that we advocate is that a somewhat wider scope should be given to the telling phrase in the preamble by the founders of the Central Labour College: “Why should we not independently manage our own educational affairs?” In this case the “we” means “organised labour.” Why should not organised labour do in this and other countries what according to Emmy Freundlich it is already doing in Austria, and what E.H. appeals to it to do in Germany? Why should it not interpret Independent Working-Class Education as meaning infant education and elementary school education as well as the teaching of socialist history and socialist economics to those who have outgrown the school age. “To the organised Labour movement we appeal for support upon a question which lies at the very foundation of working-class organisation. We do not trust our economic security to the good intentions of the possessing class. We do not rely upon the politics of our employers for measures of progressive legislation. We establish our own economic fortifications, we have our own weapons, we control our own literature .... Even as we have a platform of our own and a press of our own, let us, have educational institutions of our own.” Let us have Montessori schools and New Schools founded, run, and staffed by ourselves, in or adjacent to every big industrial centre. Let us begin in infancy and childhood to liberate our children’s minds from the octopus-like tentacles of the class state. Who can venture to say that the italicised words added to the preamble are out of harmony with the spirit of the words twice quoted from that document. We know that among the workers there are many who even now dissent from the whole idea of independent working-class education. The W.E.A., with its, quaint insistence upon the need for “unbiassed” education, with its appeal to working-class students to accept the gilded pill of academic tuition, has a large measure of genuine working-class support. Nay, even some of the original supporters of the Central Labour College, may be not entirely free from alarm at the results of their bold experiment. But there are no misgivings in the Plebs League! There are no fainthearts among the students of the Labour colleges! There is a stir upon the Clyde and in South Wales; there is a stir in the industrial Midlands; there is a suspicion of movement even in fat and sleepy London; “the Daniel Lambert of cities!” To the Plebs League, and to the younger and more revolutionary spirits among the unions and the co-operatives, to the Workers’ Committees and Miners’ Lodges above all (the soviets of Great Britain; the units of the coming industrial and political organization that is to replace capitalism and parliamentary pseudodemocracy) we address a confident appeal to reconsider the whole question of independent working-class education from the wider outlook we have endeavoured to present in this essay. Till that reconsideration has been effected it would be utopian to formulate more than the outline sketch already given. The “ways and means of realisation” we had in mind when we chose the title of this concluding section were: to arouse the interest, concentrate the intelligence, stimulate the will, of class-conscious labour upon a matter which is its primary concern. Without interest, intelligence, and will, nothing can, be done. With them, all difficulties will vanish. For then, as Goethe once said, “You need only blow upon your hands.”

1. This section is epitomised from an article which recently appeared over the signature “E. H. in the Women’s Supplement of the Leipziger Volkszeitung. The article was entitled “Working Class Children and their Future.”

2. “That cannot be taught, it must be done: this, indeed, is the first and last principle of all education.” – Goethe.

Comment on Working Class Education

From an early pamphlet sometime in 1918 by Eden and Cedar Paul published by the WSF.

Their view that the schools must be boarding ones since many working class families would be unable to bring up their children properly would hardly go down well with “progressive” opinion nowadays even if their schools are in spirit, ideals and their proposed curriculum and internal ethos are part of the generally progressive movement of the time which included both Kurt Hahn’s Gordonstoun in its main stream, rather further out Dartington Hall and on the extreme anarchic fringe the Burgess Hill of A.S. Neill.

Thus they are very utopian in my view. The schools on which they model the future working class one owe a good deal, as they fully admit, to the New School movement and the Montessori system, and the ones they mention in England, are Abbotsholme, which still exists, its founder was the charismatic educationalist Dr Reddie, and Bedales! Both are of course private boarding schools and both are now mixed. I know Abbotsholme well since we lived nearby and my father was a good friend of its then Headmaster, in the 1950s, Robin Hodgkin, a Quaker, of whom I too was very fond. It appears that Tom Wintringham sent his boy there in the post war period – it was all boys then and also when I knew it a few years later. Another famous old boy was Olaf Stapledon the science fiction writer.

Bedales is of course far, far more upper class and kids of the Blood Royale went there, Princess Anne I believe, though the ethos and original beliefs of the respective founders of that and Abbotsholme were very similar. Still I suppose that Eton was originally founded for poor scholars.