Lena Morrow Lewis

The Materialist Basis of Education

Source: The Masses, March, 1912;
Transcribed: Sally Ryan for marxists.org in 2002.

AMONG the many contributions the capitalist system has made to the progress of the race, one of the most valuable was the necessity of educating the members of the working class. No right, or privilege, or opportunity is given a lower or under class unless that right or opportunity makes for the benefit and interest of the upper or dominant class.

Two hundred years ago one could find but few workingmen who could read or write. Education was the privilege of the upper class only. It was not necessary for the serf in the field to have a trained mind in order to plow a straight furrow. The skill to swing a scythe or sickle required no mental training or education. But the introduction and development of machinery and the use of steam and electricity necessitated a different type of worker from the unlettered, untutored serf in the field or the woman at the spinning wheel.

To transform the crude ore into a fine steel rail required new skill. To assemble all the various elements together into a mighty engine called for the trained and educated workman. To operate an engine demanded the skilled engineer.

In short, the new industrial processes which the capitalist system gave the world necessitated the education and mental training of the workers in order that they might be fit and efficient wealth producers. Capitalism therefore created the economic or material reasons far the need of the great mass of the workers to be educated: It "democratized" education.

While economic and material benefits have accrued to the master class through the education of the workers; while large profits were only possible through a trained and skilled laboring class, yet in this very thing which makes for the triumph of the master class financially, we see a potent and powerful factor in bringing about the political and industrial supremacy of the working class.

Knowledge is power.

Only as the workers have knowledge and intelligence can they solve the problem of their own political and industrial freedom.

The capitalist masters have educated the workers to their advantage to-day, but for their undoing tomorrow.

The thing that makes for the triumph of capitalism ultimately makes for its own downfall.

Education of the workers for the benefit of the capitalist class means gain and profit only for the few, the upper class of to-day.

Education of the workers for the benefit of the working class means gain and profit for the working class and ultimately for the whole human race.

That which has served the capitalist class will some day serve the working class.

The trained minds that create profits for the masters of to-day will create wealth for the producers to enjoy to-morrow.

The future victories of the working class lie not so much in their numbers (the workers have always been in the vast majority), but in the knowledge they possess and the ability to intelligently organize and act together on the political and economic fields.

Let us ever remember that knowledge is power!