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Norah Carlin

Letter on Education

(Winter 1966/67)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.27, Winter 1966/67, p.9.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

It is strange indeed to find Peter Ibbotson (IS 26), who would presumably call himself a Marxist, advocating educational reforms which ‘would not create a classless society, but ... would abolish class consciousness based on criteria other than pure and realised ability,’ a situation in which the office messenger ‘would have only his own shortcomings to blame’ for his place in society. Of course all Marxists must support the demand for comprehensive education – to do otherwise would be, as Comrade Ibbotson points out, lunatic – but we must not suppose that such reforms within a capitalist framework necessarily point in the direction of social revolution. It is now being claimed by some sociologists that the reverse is possible: the elimination of class consciousness and the reconciliation of members of the exploited class to their plight, on the lines described by Comrade Ibbotson. If substantial reforms in housing, slum schools, etc, could also be achieved, so much the better – we could have a happy capitalist meritocracy in which everyone would know his place, and

the company director could feel as confident that he exploits the workers as the natural reward of his own ability, as the workers are convinced that they deserve to be exploited. In a socialist society, education will be ‘comprehensive;’ that is, everyone will have an equal opportunity to develop his own abilities and initiative. But it will not be socialist education until the proletarian revolution has been achieved and the socialist society established. Education has a large part to play in the development of working-class confidence and the training of revolutionaries, but so long as it is education within a capitalist society it will be capitalist education. The greatest educational reforms may be expected to follow the revolution, not precede it: for example, a vast extension and rationalisation of higher education is necessary in this country, but is inconceivable within the present system. (Even in nineteenth-century England, the extension of primary education followed the successive extensions of the franchise.) It is a great temptation for Marxists in the teaching profession to concentrate on educational reform and feel that they are getting somewhere by this activity alone. But without working-class power educational advance will be totally inadequate, perhaps even pernicious, as the above arguments seem to suggest. Marxist teachers must play their direct part in the revolutionary movement in other ways.

Lenin’s father did a great deal to improve education in the province of Simbirsk; but it was his son, developing Marxist theory and fighting alongside the Russian proletariat, who was the revolutionary.

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