Eden and Cedar Paul
[“The W.E.A. Education Year Book, 1918.” 5s. net.]

Bolshevism v. Democracy in Education

Source: The Call, 17 October 1918, p. 5 (1,458 words)
Transcribed: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

(We gladly print the following contribution from comrades Eden. and Cedar Paul. It must not be taken, however, that the B.S.P. endorse; the views expressed in the opening and closing paragraphs. We keenly appreciate the work of the Plebs League and the Central Labour College, and have never been enamoured of the W.E.A. But the B.S.P. policy aims at the assumption by the working class of control of the existing systems of elementary and higher education, either through the existing political machinery or by any other efficacious means. And that also, we may add, is the policy now being applied by the Bolshevik Administration in Russia.—Ed. Committee.)

“Fundamentally we all know the difference between education and propaganda. Propaganda is an attempt to bring others to one’s own point of view; education is an attempt to equip others with the means of making up their own minds. Both are legitimate forms of activity; the point is that they are different. The difference between the W.E.A. and the C.L.C is not the difference between education and propaganda, but the difference between an educational institution and a school for propagandists. In short, both have their place, but their places are different.” Thus G. D. H. Cole in a brief article on “Trade Unionism and Education.” But the essence of our contention is that within the framework of the class state, education considered as a whole is necessarily propagandist. The elementary schools, controlled and run by the state, and all the institutions for secondary education, controlled and run either by the state or by hangers-on of the capitalist class, are used consciously or unconsciously to inculcate the advantages of class rule. Independent working-class education, whether in the form of C.L.C. “post graduate” classes or in the wider form now in contemplation of elementary schools controlled and run by industrial organisations, must be used consciously for promoting the overthrow of the class state. Our quarrel with the W.E.A. is that it aspires to have a foot in both camps, and that while many of its supporters are still imbued with the bourgeois ethic and ideology, still, like the Minister of Labour, think the class war a “horrible doctrine,” those W.E.A.ers who, like Cole himself, are genuine revolutionists are under the belief that the effective line of educational advance will be for the workers, through the existing political machinery, to gain control of the existing systems of elementary and higher education. “If all the C.L.C. says about the W.E.A. is true, then the working class ought to take the whole educational system out of the hands of the state and run it for themselves on Socialist Sunday School lines.” Omitting the last five words, that is precisely what the present writers advocate. Cole tells us that “the education of children forms too great a burden to be borne by private enterprise, except for the richer classes.” We are not talking of private enterprise but of the collective enterprise of the organised workers. The workers have to foot the bill anyhow, whether through the state or otherwise. If they ran their own schools they might, for a time, have to pay double. But we are reminded of the advertisement of a famous typewriter, “You cannot afford to do your writing in the old way.” Well, “The workers cannot afford to have their education done for them in the old way.” They must take on the job themselves.

Despite this fundamental difference of outlook, we heartily welcome the “W.E.A. Education Year Book,” whose contents indicate that the W.E.A. has advanced so near to the standpoint of the Plebs League that it is time for the latter body “to get a move on” and to extend its conception of the nature and practical possibilities of independent working-class education. The “Year Book” contains more than five hundred closely-printed pages, and were it only as a skilfully compiled storehouse of facts it would be indispensable to any socialist who looks upon education as one of the chief instruments of revolution. But purchasers get double value for their money in that they are given an introduction of about sixty pages containing a number of essays in which each writer speaks for himself and not for the W.E.A. But the startling fact is that the W.E.A. should be willing, to publish, and, at least unofficially, to endorse, these revolutionary utterances.

G.B.S. opens with a characteristic “Preface,” characteristically long, for this one contributor monopolises one-third of the space allotted to the eight free lances. As usual, it is stuffed with brilliant paradoxes, which arrest and challenge, which provoke thought, but rarely induce conviction. In the September issue of the “Plebs Magazine” the editor admiringly quotes a paragraph beginning, “The only solution . is controversial education.” We think that the editor has failed to realise that Shaw is not committing himself to the advocacy of the “tendentious” education of the Plebs League. He is merely entering a protest against the old method wherein education was conducted with the aid of what the Germans call the Nuremberg funnel—“facts” being poured into the unfortunate infant as Strasburg geese are fed (consult the first chapter of “Hard Times”). The trouble with Shaw’s preface is that it contains practically nothing about working-class education, independent or otherwise. It is bourgeois from the first word to the last. There is much good grain, none the less, despite the “chaff.” Instance the closing paragraph: “For the rest, I can only repeat that if the advance of education is to mean nothing more than the widening of the net of the child prison and boy farm until not one of us can escape it, we had better abolish it altogether. Our main disqualifications for citizenship now are ignorance, unsociability, and terrorism. And the government of the world by people who have been longest at school has been so far an organisation of ignorance, unsociability, and terrorism, exploding from time to time in such monstrous smashes as the present war, which the belligerents can bear only by persuading themselves that it is a crusade, though it has no more ethical character than a railway collision.”

There follow articles by Clutton Brock and Galsworthy, respectively entitled “Two Views of Society—and Education” and “The Balance Sheet of the Soldier Workman.” Brock gives us no more than glimpses into the obvious and seeming truisms which ring false when tested. Minted in an “idealist” mint, they melt in the fire of Marxist criticism. We turn with relief to Galsworthy, a straightforward man with no sparkle, yet one who tries to enlighten his darkness and our own, and we quit him with astonishment that a thinker should have so much insight and yet not see—that the author of “Strife” should still contemplate the possibility that “means be found of persuading Capital and Labour that their interests and troubles are identical and of overcoming secrecy and suspicion between them.”

The most revolutionary articles in the book are perhaps J.A. Hobson’s “Thoughts on Working Class Education” and S.G. Hobson’s “Technical Training in the Social Structure.” Let us quote two or three detached sentences from the former. “Education is needed to supply direction to democratic force.” J.A.H. desires “to put workers on their guard, lest they should rush into educational grooves prepared for them by those who are not true friends of democracy and working-class culture, but who will use education to divide, divert, and render innocuous the democratic movement.” Of clericalist influence upon education he writes: “It purports to teach as facts what are not facts. Theology is not a branch of knowledge .... It is used and intended as other worldliness to keep men quiet and submissive in this world.” .... “Local millionaires who endow chairs in their university will want something tangible for their money. The prosperity of local industry they will call it. But it will be secretly visualised as abounding profits. After the war the need for ‘economic efficiency’ will be more clearly realised in order to turn out well-trained and disciplined workers.”

To conclude, when we read “A Suggested Labour Education Programme” by William Leach (ex-member Bradford Education Authority), with its reiterated insistence upon educational reform within the limits of our “national” system, it is once more borne in upon us that when the W.E.A. shall have finally shed its bourgeois supporters, the chief difference between that body and the Plebs League will be the difference between parliamentary tactics and renovated state education, on the one hand, and industrialism and independent working-class education, on the other—in a word, the difference between democracy and Bolshevism.