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Glenn Rikowski - Marx and the Education of the Future (2004)

Glenn Rikowski - Marx and the Education of the Future (2004)

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 Policy Futures in Education, Volume 2, Numbers 3 & 4, 2004
Marx and the Education of the Future
University College Northampton, United Kingdom
With reference to Karl Marx’s writings on education, this article outlines theeducation of the future as anti-capitalist education. In starting out from a conception of communism as the ‘real movement which abolishes the present state of things’ (Marx), it isargued that the anti-capitalist education of the future consists of three moments: critique,addressing human needs and realms of freedom. It is also argued that all three moments areessential for an anti-capitalist education of the future, but the emphasis on particularmoments
(a movement from moment one to three) as capitalist society andeducation are left behind through social transformation. In the light of this framework,Marx’s views on the relation between labour and education, and his views on education run by the state, are critically examined. In the light of the preceding analysis, the article endswith a consideration of two trends that are gaining strength in contemporary education inEngland: the social production of labour-power and the business takeover of education.Political responses to these are briefly explored.
From the outset it is essential to avoid misconceptions regarding the nature of this article. First, itwould be unwise to simply indicate ‘what Marx said’ about education and then seek to show therelevance (or otherwise) of his writings on education for projecting an ‘education of the future’.Some of his statements on education are anachronistic in relation to contemporary capitalistsociety. For example, Marx says that: As Robert Owen has shown us in detail, the germ of the education of the future is present inthe factory system; this education will, in the case of every child over a given age, combineproductive labour with instruction and gymnastics, not only as one of the methods of adding to the efficiency of production, but as the only method of producing fully developed human beings. (Marx, 1976c, p. 614)Yet in many developed capitalist countries today ‘the factory system’ has declined in significancesince Marx’s times, and the production of services has become the dominant sector in theeconomy. According to a recent report from the Engineering Employers’ Association in the UnitedKingdom: ‘Mass production in Britain and other developed countries is over’ (Marsh, 2004). Massproduction with huge factories has migrated to areas of the world with lower wage costs. A second potential pitfall for an article of the kind attempted here is to provide some kind of Redprint for education in the transitional epoch (the movement from capitalist society to socialism)or in socialism or in communism. There are a number of considerations here. Firstly, Marx heldthat the struggle for socialism must be based on the self-activity of the working class: the workersthemselves must
make history
. Thus, he was reluctant to provide a Redprint for socialist orcommunist society. A Redprint would contradict and negate workers’ practical solutions to themovement from capitalist to socialist society. Secondly, the practice of lone thinkers projecting the‘society of the future’ would run against the
, and
 nature of the socialist project. This is related to a third point: that those setting themselves up as‘experts’ for generating Redprints for socialism – be they leaders of left political parties, academic
Glenn Rikowski
Marxists or Marxists writing beyond the academy – would be establishing themselves as an elite of people ‘in the know’ with regard to what socialism was and could be. Marx held that this was adangerous procedure and signalled thus in the Third Thesis of his
Theses on Feuerbach
, saying that:The materialist doctrine concerning the changing of circumstances and upbringing forgetsthat circumstances are changed by men and that the educator must himself be educated.This doctrine must, therefore, divide society into two parts, one which is superior to society.(Marx, 1976a, p. 616)Thus, Marx was against people setting themselves up as superior to ‘ordinary’ workers, as if theyand only they had the ability, foresight and knowledge to discern what socialist society would belike. This elitism had no place in the socialist movement for Marx. Finally, connecting with theprevious point, Marx was keen to emphasise the creativity and spontaneity of the drive towardssocialism, and to chart and assess the practical experiments of workers in this endeavour. Thus, forexample, he enthusiastically followed the course of and wrote about the Paris Commune of 1871,where workers’ power was manifested in novel and exciting ways. Today, groups such as the LeedsMay Day Group (2004) have also emphasised the creative and spontaneous and experimentalmoments of resistance against capitalist social life, and have argued for the development of alternatives (however fleeting) to it. They call these activities and events ‘moments of excess’: thecreation of social spaces where ‘there is a real sense of subversive energy, freedom and possibility’(Leeds May Day Group, 2004, p. 4).[2] If a Redprint for socialism was framed, then these ‘momentsof excess’ could be judged regarding whether they were working towards the ‘true socialist’ designof the Redprint. This would inhibit the creative, energising and exciting moments of the strugglefor an alternative society. Furthermore, as Marx & Engels make clear in
The German Ideology
:Communism is for us not a
state of affairs
which is to be established, an
to which realitywill have to adjust itself. We call communism the
movement which abolishes thepresent state of things. (Marx & Engels, 1976, p. 57; original emphases)Thus, communism is not some end state of society that can be fixed by a Redprint and into whichcan be inserted an ideal form of education. There is no final destination. The social drive to form atruly human society is infinite, just as capital’s social drives (to create value, to enhance humanlabour-power) are also infinite (see Rikowski, 2000a).This article discusses some of the
issues that must be addressed if an ‘education againstand beyond’ capitalist education is to become a reality with growing social force and significance.Whilst not providing a Redprint, it does at least indicate issues that those struggling for an‘education of the future’, an education not tied to the development of capitalist society, mightproductively consider. In doing this it does not try to posit what the ‘classroom of the future’ might be like, but focuses instead on the
social form
of the education of the future and how this mightdevelop over time. In the first instance, and in the main throughout this article, the ‘education of the future’ will be viewed as
anti-capitalist education
: a form of education pertinent to capitalistsociety and the period of transition to socialism – the process of leaving capitalism behind throughdissolving its social relations.The following section on communism situates the way in which the education of the future isvisualised in this article: as a kind of 
, a developmental phenomenon with no fixed or endstate. The next four sections explore some prerequisites for an anti-capitalist education. It is arguedthat schooling must incorporate three aspects to be radically anti-capitalist: first, critique; second, itmust be linked to human needs; and third, it must open up realms of human freedom. On the basisof this framework there are then two sections that address some specific issues that Marx raises forthe education of the future: the relation of labour to education, and the role of the state ineducation. Both these issues are analysed through the previously established characterisation of theeducation of the future. The final section moves on to examine two prescient trends incontemporary capitalist education in the light of the preceding analyses: the social production of labour-power and the business takeover of education. These are both forms of the
capitalisation of education
, with the former implying the
capitalisation of humanity
(Rikowski, 2002c).
 Marx and the Education of the Future
Communism as a Suppressed Form of Social Life in Capitalism
If communism is not a ‘state of affairs’, as previously noted in the Marx & Engels’ quotation from
The German Ideology
(1976), then it must be a social phenomenon that potentially
already exists
. AsMichael Neary (1997; Neary & Taylor, 1998) argues, communism is a
suppressed form of life
withincapitalist society. Through the ‘law of value’, the profit motive, the separation of labourers fromthe means of production, the existence of labour-power as a commodity to be bought and sold, andmany other phenomena of capitalist society, the communist impulse is suppressed through theexercise of forms of capital’s
. Any movements to produce outside the orbit of capital run upagainst capital as a productive force, the state as a form of capital and, increasingly, global capitaland its supranational institutions: the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and WorldTrade Organization (WTO).There is a tragic element to this. As Moishe Postone (1996) indicates, it is not only the case thatlabour produces value and surplus value in the labour process – which is the lifeblood of theexistence of capital – but labour also mediates all transformations of capital into further forms of itself (e.g. state, money, rent, etc.). The tragedy of labour is that we labour to create a vast, globalsocial structure powered by capital (which depends upon us for its existence) that oppresses us, andlimits and constrains human and social possibilities. We work to build our own cages. According toNeary & Taylor (1998), the struggle for communism is both the struggle against the constraints andlimitations of capitalist social life and
a new form of human society. They stress that thisstruggle is not just against ‘institutionalised forms of capitalist power that exist as forms of capital’(e.g. the state), but also against the contemporary form of:Human life itself, institutionalised as individuated biography and personality. The strugglefor human life is not, then, only in and against these alienated forms of power, e.g. in andagainst the state (London-Edinburgh Weekend Return Group, 1979), but also in and againstlife itself as biography or personality. (Neary & Taylor, 1998, p. 10)Communism, therefore, is also the struggle to create new forms of personality and individualexistence, as well as social relations and structures – unfettered by capital and the social phenomenaneeded to sustain its social universe.On the basis of the foregoing considerations, a key task for socialist educators is to indicate howeducation might play a significant part in these struggles. The rest of the article considers
, butobviously not all, of these strategic issues. It pursues the question of what an anti-capitalisteducation might be like in terms of its
social form
– the
of education necessary for socialisttransformation. For communist science, exploring the ‘education of future’ must at the very leastaddress this question.
The First Moment: critique of capitalist society and education
If communism is the ‘real movement of society’, then what does this mean for schooling? What arethe consequences? It will be argued that there are at least three moments within this ‘realmovement of society’ as far as education is concerned. The first of these is
. This is especiallyimportant in terms of what Geraldine Thorpe & Pat Brady (forthcoming) have called thetransitional epoch – the movement from capitalist to socialist society. This moment of anti-capitalist education entails a ‘critique of capitalist society, its forms of schooling and training, itsmarkets, and so on’ (Gibson & Rikowski, 2004, p. 251). Breaking this down further, it implies acritique of all the forms of inequality in capitalist society – class inequality, sexism, racism,discrimination against gay and lesbian people, against disabled people, ageism and differentialtreatment of other social groups – and how all of these forms of inequality link to capitalaccumulation and value production. The content of the allied critical pedagogy indicates how thesedivisions, these insidious rifts, are embedded aspects of capitalist social life. But it is also indicatedhow people struggle against these divisions and how
unity in difference
can become a reality (withexamples from contemporary society and history).The critique of capitalist social life has as a crucial feature the critique of capitalist work. Issuesof alienation, boredom, the length of the working day, and so on can be key topics. Focusing oninstances of how workers have attempted to subvert the norms and practices of capitalist work 

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