England’s Education: Anti-Capitalism is “Extreme”
The Department for Education has ordered schools to not use any anti-capitalist resources and organizations.
On September 27, 2020, Mattha Busby reported for The Guardian that the Department for Education (DfE) has “ordered schools in England not to use resources from organizations which have expressed a desire to end capitalism”. The DfE likened the political stance as identical to “opposition to freedom of speech, antisemitism and endorsement of illegal activity”, eerily similar to the policies put forth by governments in the past that sought to curtail all forms of socialist activity and dissent.
The reform was met with backlash on Twitter, featuring many people likening the action taken by the Department to that of Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, witnessing a sense of growing authoritarianism in the Conservative Party, and the development of a broadly dystopian society. This is a negative development not only with regards to understanding historical projects that have embraced socialism, but also the history of labour and struggle within England itself.
This is evident through the comments made by former shadow chancellor John McDonnell:
“On this basis it will be illegal to refer to large tracts of British history and politics including the history of British socialism, the Labour Party and trade unionism, all of which have at different times advocated the abolition of capitalism.
This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace.”
Of course, this is especially worrisome not only for principled socialists and Marxists, but even the social democratic elements of organizations like the Labour Party. The article further states that former Greek Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis, believes that this has assisted in showing just how “easy it is to lose a country, to slip surreptitiously into totalitarianism”.
Furthermore, he added the following with regards to the Conservative government’s actions and push for this type of reform:
“Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that.”
This does not even begin to go over the fact that this will not curtail students from obtaining anti-capitalist materials from the internet and other places if needed for their own activism or political developments. In the event that a student wishes to bring up the works of Karl Marx or Vladimir Lenin in the middle of a class on governance or even simply raises concern over the current economic system, what is the teacher in question supposed to do? Are they to ignore the student, or explain to the student that capitalism is actually a “force for good”?
According to the official website for the British government, the following is a description of how schools should not obtain so-called “extreme” political information from specific organizations:
Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material itself is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation. Examples of extreme political stances include, but are not limited to:
- a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections
- opposition to the right of freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly or freedom of religion and conscience
- the use or endorsement of racist, including antisemitic, language or communications
- the encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity
- a failure to condemn illegal activities done in their name or in support of their cause, particularly violent actions against people or property
While the majority of terms and conditions listed above sound relatively positive, particularly with regards to the prohibition of using racist “language or communications”, there are many elements to be critiqued.
The notion of overthrowing “democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections” being unacceptable is rooted in an understanding of British society and their structure of governance as, first of all, being democratic, having free and fair elections, and that capitalism is somehow related to these aforementioned concepts. It only takes the traditional liberal-democratic approach to governance as ‘legitimate’ and effectively throws all other forms of democracy away.
The latter portion deals with how the “encouragement or endorsement of illegal activity” is not allowed, but simultaneously fails to take into account that there are movements and figures that seek to change unjust laws that deem specific actions as ‘illegal’. Civil disobedience has long been a conception throughout the history of modern liberal democracy, and this only assists in its removal from it.
Of course, there are also issues with requiring organizations to condemn actions that are done in the name of a shared cause. If there are two organizations that seek to eliminate the dominance of capitalism in day-to-day life, one of which has done a negative action, at least in the eyes of the government, then it is a requirement for the other peaceful one to condemn the action that had nothing to do with their organization in the first place. To do otherwise would be to violate these terms and potentially lose partnership with schools across the country.
Where is the Freedom?
It is often said that the developed liberal-democratic states are bastions of freedom, especially when it comes down to expression, association, and religion. However, this new development allows for a flaw to be featured within the liberal-democratic structure, that flaw namely being the open hostility towards groups seeking to utilize these ‘freedoms’ in the name of protesting the injustices and ills of capitalism.
It is key to mention that under a government that is ruled by the capitalist class, there is little room for freedom to actually exist. The ordinary worker cannot accomplish much by working through the system that was created and developed by the ruling class in the first place. If there are organizations that actively call on the government to continue promoting capitalism, then they are perfectly eligible to be featured in schools and their curricula. However, if an organization poses even the slightest threat to the status quo — be it through violent or non-violent means— then they are at a systemic disadvantage that is inherent within the system that they are operating from.
As written by Lenin in Chapter 5 of State and Revolution:
“In capitalist society, providing it develops under the most favourable conditions, we have a more or less complete democracy in the democratic republic. But this democracy is always hemmed in by the narrow limits set by capitalist exploitation, and consequently always remains, in effect, a democracy for the minority, only for the propertied classes, only for the rich.
Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in the ancient Greek republics: freedom for the slave-owners.”