[OPE-L:5877] Re: communism

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Sat, 20 Dec 1997 18:27:53 -0500 (EST)

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Allin wrote on Sat, 20 Dec:

> > Is public education also a communist institution?
> It was one of the proposals of the Manifesto: "Free education
> for all children in public schools".

As you know, Marx and Engels advocated 10 measures that communist parties
are urged to put in place immediately after the insurrection. No. 10 (of
10) began "Free education for all children in public schools" (the rest
reads "Abolition of children's factory labour in its present form.
Combination of education with industrial production, etc., etc.").

Bertell Ollman discusses this in "Marx's Vision of Communism: A
Reconstruction" (_Critique_, 8, Summer 1977, pp. 4-41):

"In 1848, even elementary education had to be paid for in most
countries, so we can easily understand why education was a major
By 'public schools' Marx did not mean 'state schools' as this
expression is commonly understood. In his 'Criticism of the
Gotha Program', Marx opposes the Socialist Party's demand for
control of 'elementary education by the state'. He says.
'Defining by a general law the expenditure on the elementary
schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches
of instruction, etc., and, as is done in the United States,
supervising the fulfillments of these legal specifications by
state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing
the state as the educator of the people. Government and church
should be totally excluded from any influence on the schools."
The people themselves, directly or through social organs still
unspecified, will supply the guidelines of their educational
In Marx's time, working class children spent the greater part
of each day slaving in factories. Clearly, this had to cease
immediately. However, Marx did not believe that all this time
was better devoted to classroom learning. This, too, would
stunt the child's development. Instead he favors an education
that 'will in the case of every child over a given age, combine
productive labor 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.'"
[p. 14]

Thus, it would seem that (at least according to Ollman's interpretation)
this demand for "free education for all children in public schools" has
still not been met in any capitalist nation that I know of since "public
schools" are now commonly understood differently, i.e. as state-funded and
directed schools.

> But there's room for
> debate, since one can argue that a lot of what goes on during
> school hours has more to do with learning obedience than with
> the acquisition of knowledge and the development of talents.

Yes, that's an important characteristic of what we today call "public

But, let's be clear: what we now know as "public schools" was advocated in
many capitalist nations by the liberal bourgeoisie. Indeed, "public
schools" seem to me to be a component part of the liberal bourgeoisie's
concept of "freedom" and "democracy." Thus, I see these institutions as
specifically bourgeois rather than "communist". Of course, in today's
capitalist nations one can even be a reactionary bourgeois and still
identify with public schools (although, public schools are coming under
attack in many countries, e.g. in the US by the proposed "voucher

In solidarity, Jerry