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Future Socialist Society

John Molyneux

The Future Socialist Society

9. Learning for the future

The socialist revolution will awaken in the working class and in all the oppressed an enormous thirst for knowledge and education. We know this from past experience: from the Russian Revolution where workers crowded into great stadiums to hear lectures on Greek drama, from the Portuguese Revolution of 1974 when, for a period, Lenin’s book The State and Revolution topped the bestsellers list, and from many other examples.

Millions of people, over generations, have become convinced that sophisticated knowledge about the world is pointless because ‘there is nothing you can do’ and ‘things will never change’. But suddenly, in a revolution, they find themselves in the saddle. Workers are called upon to control and direct everything in society. Everything seems possible and they want to know everything.

The task of the workers’ state will be to create an education system that will foster and develop this desire to learn. That system will be the opposite of the present capitalist education system which absorbs eager and curious five-year-olds and spews them out 11 years later, bitter and cynical.

What really devastates and distorts education at present is not just the lack of funding, serious though that is, but the state of war ‘now hidden, now open’ that exists between teachers and pupils. This in turn derives from the role of schools under capitalism which is to reproduce the class structure of society. Schools progressively sift out those destined for middle class and ruling class positions (this is the real function of examinations) and prepare the rest for exploitation and alienated labour. A system whose structure inevitably condemns the majority to failure cannot possibly retain the enthusiasm and cooperation of its victims-no matter how well-meaning individual teachers may be. The only way it can operate is by authoritarian imposition.

In contrast socialist education will be equipping everyone, not just the select few, to take an active, planning and administrative role. Its goal will be the all round development of the human personality.

Schools will be collaborative, not competitive. It will no longer be ‘cheating’ for one student to help another. And they will be democratic and not autocratic. The dictatorial rule of the head will give way to the elected school council made up of representatives of the students, staff and the workers’ councils. Teachers will be the helpers, in a sense the servants, of their students. Discipline will be collective rather than imposed.

Those who imagine this will lead to a breakdown of all order are ignorant of what goes on in most contemporary classrooms and totally underestimate the power of peer group pressure which wins out over detention and the cane any day.

As the working week is steadily reduced and the more arduous jobs are increasingly automated, so education will become something that does not cease at 16, 18 or 21.

It will continue as a lifelong process, ever more closely linked to the solution of practical tasks and problems thrown up by the new society.

What is true of education will also be true of culture generally.

Post-revolutionary society will produce a great flowering of the arts by providing artists with a multitude of new and inspiring themes. It will also throw up a new audience for art as a part of the overall awakening of personality that will occur when the working class moves from the wings of society to the centre of the stage.

Undoubtedly music, painting, poetry, drama, cinema and the rest will all have a role to play both in the revolutionary struggle itself and in the building of socialism. But neither the workers’ state nor the revolutionary party will attempt to dictate to or control the creative arts. There will be no repetition of the disastrous Stalinist policy of proscribing particular artistic forms or claiming that only one style of art – either so called ‘socialist realism’ or any other – has validity. Apart from reserving the right to prohibit direct counter-revolutionary propaganda, the revolutionary government will promote the maximum freedom in this area. Without vigorous criticism, debate, experiment and the rivalry of different schools, artistic development is impossible.

Obviously it is impossible to predict or lay down in advance the precise nature of the art of the future. However, I think it is possible to forecast in general terms a fundamental change in the relationship between art and society.

Capitalist society, with its division of mental and manual labour, its fragmentation and alienation, gives rise to a separation of art and the artist from the mass of people on the one hand, and from productive work on the other. Moreover, both these separations reinforce each other. Art becomes a privileged arena in which the minority express themselves creatively while the majority are condemned to mechanical, non-expressive, non-creative labour. Art, reflecting society’s division into classes, divides into ‘high art’ and low art’. The ‘high’ artist becomes a member of an elite, administering to an elite.

Socialism will overcome these separations, not by forcing artists to be ‘popular’, or even simply by raising the cultural level of the majority – though this will happen of course. Rather socialism will make all work a creative activity, so that every producer becomes in a sense an artist. Likewise the skills of painting, design, architecture, writing – of all the art forms – will become integral elements in the collective work of shaping the human environment.

Just as the producer becomes an artist, so the artist will become a producer.

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Last updated: 15 November 2015