Marx and education

marx-engelsWhat did the classical Marxists actually say on the subject of education? James Tansey has been finding out, and draws some lessons for communist work today.

In February 1865, at the age of 24, Paul Lafargue first met Karl Marx in a visit to report on the progress of the International Workingmen’s Association in France. Marx was apparently enthusiastic about being visited by someone as young as Lafargue, since he was keen to train people to carry on communist work after himself.1 Liebknecht’s account of his time spent with Marx in exile in London strongly reinforces Lafargue’s assertion, with Liebknecht recounting Marx’s drive to teach the young émigrés in every field of learning, from political economy to philology.2 In addition to his apparent enthusiasm for educating young socialists, Marx’s work also contains various brief pieces of commentary on education in a political context. In spite of this, the issue of education policy is not one issue that gets much attention in Marxist orthodoxy.

The reasons for this neglect are probably manifold. Firstly, and mainly, because there were simply much more immediate and pressing problems to be worked out on the issues of imperialism, commercial crisis, the betrayal of social democracy, the degeneration of the Russian Revolution and the ‘official communist’ parties etc. With such immediate and world-historic issues weighing on the minds of revolutionaries, it can perhaps justifiably be said that an attempt to move into a realm such as that of education while the Comintern, for example, was pursuing its disastrous policy of alliance with the Kuomintang in China, would have represented a retreat away from the world of the concrete to the halls of abstract theory.

With the current government’s raising of university tuition fees however, and the fight back that has occurred, it can hardly be said at this point that questions of education are abstract, or not immediately practical. At some level they are now directly concrete. Of course, we should note that a focus on the concrete does not mean the repudiation of theory, but on the contrary: it is through mediation at the level of the concrete that world-historic outlooks find their battleground. In this connection Marx’s comments on the programme of the Gotha unity congress, through which he opposes his practical-materialist outlook to the legalistic philosophy of Lassalle, are particularly demonstrative.3

A second issue when writing about education policy is that it invariably brings up the question of education in a socialist society, and this in turn presents us with the danger of falling back into the errors of the old utopians, ie of devising a fantastic blueprint of how society should be, and then holding this up to existing society. In contrast to this, Marx and Engels attempted to consistently apply Hegel’s dictum that “what is rational is real and what is real is rational”.4 The task of theory is not to tell the world what it should be like, and how it fails to conform to the designs of abstract reason, but to show those tendencies immanent within existing society that drive it towards a socialist future. Only when it has learned this lesson does social science cease to be doctrinaire, and become revolutionary.

In this sense there is an unbridgeable divide between science and utopia. But we must be clear that science, understood along with Hegel to be the theoretical reflection of the self-movement of the object of study, can still show us an outline of the future. This future is now no longer conceived in the manner of the utopians as a blueprint, but rather the inevitable result of the movement. In this connection, Marx remarks in a letter to Arnold Ruge that “it is precisely the advantage of the new trend that we do not dogmatically anticipate the world, but only want to find the new world through criticism of the old one.”5 Critique in Marx is thus not conceived merely as a pure negation of existing conditions, but as negation through the programme of the positive movement which is brought into existence by the conditions of the existing society.

It might be immediately objected that attempting to draw out the views of ‘the masters’ is a useless endeavour that reveals a sort of semi-religious mentality, according to which the works of Marx and Engels contain some kind of revealed truth which can be brought out through correct interpretation. This is a valid objection to merely assuming that what Marx and Engels have written on a particular subject must be correct, but nevertheless it is still instructive to look at their views on certain subjects. They were, after all, the founding fathers of Marxism, and as such their views on any particular subject must be integrated somehow into their larger worldview.

A simple interpretation of Marx and Engels cannot therefore present us with revealed truth, but it can give us insights. It can act as a guide, a signpost towards further research and critique. With this proper attitude to the material established, it is possible to go forward. Marx’s writings on the subject coincide with the two periods in his life in which he was directly involved in the politics of his day. The first was from 1848-52 as a member of the Communist League and a critical commentator on the revolutionary upheavals of the time, as well as the reaction incurred at the end of the period. The second was from 1864 to 1871, the period from the formation of the International Workingmen‘s Association up to the crushing of the Paris Commune.

The Communist League and European Revolutions of 1848

We can start the investigation by analysing two interrelated documents. The first is Engels’ draft programme for the Communist League, The Principles of Communism. This document was the basis for the Communist Manifesto, and itself based on Engels’ earlier Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith. The second text is of course the Manifesto of the Communist Party itself, which Marx and Engels were commissioned to write after sweeping all before them whilst arguing their positions at the League’s second congress. Given that Engels was in France at the time, this document was almost certainly written entirely by Marx’s own hand. (It should be emphasised, however, that this does not imply a split between Marx and Engels. On the contrary, Marx‘s document is based to a large degree on Engels’s Principles).

Engels’s original Confession of Faith6 contains only three demands to be implemented after the conquest of political power by the working-class to advance the transition to communism. The third of these concerns education, and is a very basic demand for education to be funded by the state and carried out in state-owned establishments. By contrast, the Principles7 contains a greatly expanded list of ten demands. The eighth demand, concerning education, reiterates the demand of the Confession for “national establishments at national cost.”8 However, added to this is the new demand for “Education and production together.”9

This demand of Engels’, repeated later by Marx in his writings for the IWMA, has often been called a demand for ‘polytechnic’ education10. However, Engels further comments in section twenty of the Principles give us a first glimpse as to why the interpretation of this demand as a demand for what we currently understand by ‘polytechnic’ education is highly dubious. Here, Engels remarks on the role of education in the breakdown of the division of labour, stating that it will allow “young people … to pass from one branch of production to another in response to the needs of society or their own inclinations.”11

In the final paragraph of the section he further cites “industrial education” as one of the means by which to achieve “the rounded development of the capacities of all members of society”12. As can be plainly seen then, far from the limited scope of modern ‘polytechnic’ education, Engels in the Principles is proposing the development of an education system which will allow for the full flourishing of each individual, a key aspect of which would be to train children in both mental and practical spheres. Indeed, this would also imply the abolition of education as a separate sphere of society – an education to which the youth are confined until they come of age and are permitted to enter the world of work.

Marx’s Manifesto13 contains as it’s tenth demand the same demand as Engels’ Principles for public education, the combination of education with production as well as an additional note demanding the “Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form.” Unlike the Principles however, the Manifesto does not mention the character of education in feeding into the rounded development of individuals and thus the overcoming of the division of labour. The document’s comments on education are found in the section which deals with the family. In this context, Marx slams the narrow parochial viewpoint which views the relation between children and their parents as sacred, giving the parents the divine right to control the education of the child.

In the same breath he notes that in actual fact bourgeois society itself tends even more towards the socialisation of education. Communists, he says, “have not invented the intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the character of that intervention, and to rescue education from the influence of the ruling class.”14 From this there may appear to arise something of a contradiction in Marx’s position. Marx and Engels both support universal education by the state, however they also recognise the role which state institutions play in perpetuating the domination of the ruling class. In this passage of the Manifesto Marx explicitly recognises the role which educational institutions play in the perpetuation of the ideology of the ruling classes.

In opposition to this apparent contradiction, it could be pointed out that up to this point the only positive demands Marx and Engels have made pertain either to what will happen after the proletariat has seized power, or to a society in which capitalist property relations have been abolished. However, the repetition of the demand for universal education in the Demands of the Communist Party in Germany15 would suggest that it was not only intended as a demand to be postponed long into the future, but also as an immediate demand around which the working class (with the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie in tow) could rally.

To answer this question of the apparently contradictory nature of this demand, it is thus not sufficient to look at Marx’s writings of the period. We must move forward in our investigation onto the politics of the First International Workingmen’s Association, where Marx’s conflict with the Proudhonists will allow the issue to shine in it’s proper light.

The First International

After the revolutions of 1848, the revolutionary movements were driven underground, their leaders exiled, imprisoned and executed, and a period of reaction set in on the European continent. Marx and Engels came to the conclusion that the period was no longer favourable to involvement practical involvement16 in mass politics, and confined themselves to their studies. Direct writing by Marx on the subject of education thus dwindles in this period. He starts his intervention on the subject anew in his writings for the First International.

The first piece to observe in this context would be his instructions to the delegates of the IWMA’s 1866 congress. Specifically the section on Juvenile and children’s labour (both sexes)17. Marx begins by discussing how the apparently rational tendency of modern society to allow children to participate in the social production process had been “distorted into an abomination”18 by capitalism (Here, obviously, given the title of the section, child labour is meant). He then begins to deal with how it would be possible for the working class to save its youth from the deleterious effects of capital. It will be instructive to pay close attention to this section.

He writes that such can only be done “by converting social reason into social force” and this can only be achieved by “general laws, enforced by the power of the state.” Marx then writes that “In enforcing such laws, the working class do not fortify governmental power. On the contrary, they transform that power, now used against them, into their own agency. They effect by a general act what they would vainly attempt by a multitude of isolated individual efforts.”19

I previously posed the question of how Marx and Engels could posit demands such as universal education by the state as immediate demands for the working class to rally around. I think this quote demonstrates the reasons quite well. For there is an unspoken assumption in the question I have posed, namely an anarchist theory of the state as an institution of straightforward domination over its subjects tout court.20 By contrast, for Marx and Engels the state has its origins in the functions of collective governance that naturally arise in any society. However, in a society divided into classes, these functions become usurped and take on a state character. This state is characterised by having the outward form of a normal institution of social administration (particularly in more modern state regimes with universal suffrage), but its content is nonetheless determined by class interests.

Large territorial institutions of governmental administration are not in themselves problematic. What is problematic is the role that these institutions assume in bourgeois society, where their functions are usurped by the interests of the dominant class. But despite this appropriation of these functions by the bourgeoisie – and precisely because these functions remain rooted in necessary social functions rather than an orchestrated conspiracy to dominate the masses – it is possible to wage a struggle to recapture them, expel the representatives of the bourgeoisie and refashion the state machinery in such a way as to make it accountable and controllable by the working class21.

For Marx and Engels, the state thus does not constitute an instrument of pure class domination which the working-class must stand outside at all costs. This would make their polemics against the Proudhonists and the Bakuninists both superfluous and incomprehensible. For them, the state in fact constitutes an arena in which class struggle can be conducted. More than this, it constitutes the highest arena in which class struggle can be conducted. As the previously quoted statement by Marx suggests, struggle over political issues has the potential to unite the struggles of the working class as individuals, or as members of a particular industrial sector, and to constitute it into a political class – ie, ‘for itself’.

In the capitalist epoch, states are organised on the basis of large national territories with administration centralised over these areas, as opposed to the decentralised feudal states with manifold local customs and laws. As such, state policy has the potential to effect, and gain opposition from, the entire working class – or at least a large section of it – within those particular national boundaries. Moreover, state policy cannot be fought against by the working class acting as members of a particular industrial sector, or as private individuals but only as a class and a class which is organised into a political party.

As we leave behind Marx in his IWMA era. It would be worthwhile to note a couple of telling passages from his magnum opus, Das Kapital, which clearly demonstrate his way of thinking on these issues. The first is from the chapter on machinery and notes approvingly the schemes of Robert Owen:

“From the Factory system budded, as Robert Owen has shown us in detail, the germ of the education of the future, an education that will, in the case of every child over a given age, combine productive 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.”

The second makes essentially the same point only now with reference to the Quaker John Bellers:

“John Bellers, a very phenomenon in the history of political economy, saw most clearly at the end of the 17th century, the necessity for abolishing the present system of education and division of labour, which beget hypertrophy and atrophy at the two opposite extremities of society.”

These quotes demonstrate how, far from being incidental, Marx’s views on education were central to his overall scheme, a part of his life’s work. They also underline how far Marx was from repudiating the basic vision of the organisation of the future society offered by certain of the pre-Marxian utopian theorists.

Education and communism

We may summarise the whole of the above somewhat as follows. The basic feature of communist society in all phases of its development is that the labour of the individual directly forms a component part of the total social labour, rather than the social character of the individual’s labour being affirmed and mediated through its exchange against money. This regulation of the social division of labour, which is really the abolition of the social division of labour as such will – so the theory goes22 – abolish the tendency of capitalist society to restrict the individual to a single branch of production, and allow them more time to develop themselves in numerous directions. This tendency towards rounded development is already present within capitalist society when the working class, through its struggles and through the slight increase in prosperity afforded to it in boom periods, gains a certain amount of leisure time to dispose of in it’s chosen way.23 However, this is continually counteracted by the opposing tendency for workers to be treated merely as the incarnation of a certain number of hours of labour, as mere machines for the valorisation of capital.

This tendency is also complemented in communist society in the sphere of education, which will no longer be subordinated to developing the workers as instruments of production, but rather as a means of furthering their own personal development in many directions. This is again partially the case under the existing capitalist education system,24 but is constantly curbed by various means. Only through the abolition of capitalism and, correspondingly, of abstract labour can this tendency of society be brought into the centre of development rather than being anterior and even hostile to it.

The reader will note that what Marx and Engels never provided in this sphere was a blueprint. A detailed plan of the organisation of the education of the future. Indeed, when the German intellectual Eugen Dühring presented a similar scheme, Engels mocked his nonsense, which pretended to gain insight into all the problems of social organisation and human life. (This is the basis of Engels’s Anti-Dühring.) This lack of a detailed scheme is not problematic, but is in fact a distinct advantage. Adherence to ready-made schemas always leaves the adherents stuck when they come across problems not foreseen by their schemas. Those who avoid schemas and take a dynamic approach to the problems of organisation of everyday life are better suited to creatively deal with problems when they arise, and indeed this lack of adherence to pre-set schemas is essential if the emancipation of the workers is really to be an act of the workers themselves.

Throughout this piece I have tried to emphasise Marx and Engels’s hostility to two closely interrelated trends – utopianism and sectarianism25.

On the other hand I have also tried to emphasise that Marx and Engels’s criticisms of the utopians in no way meant an abandonment of the basic goals for which they worked, but rather a new way of working towards these goals which – drawing at least implicitly on Hegel’s critique of utopian politics and the French revolutionaries – saw it as the product of the workers’ movement, a movement which is called in to being by the very basis of existing society. Despite the slander of ‘ultra-left’, ‘sectarian’ etc which is usually afforded to him, Amadeo Bordiga once made the point in a highly evocative way by pointing out that the continuity of the party ‘in space’ established by the principle of centralism is complemented by it’s continuity ‘in time’, the connection it draws between the immediate movement and the final goal.

The sphere of educational policy is no exception to the general rule. In their own time Marx and Engels exhorted the class to fight for universal free education. Since then this demand has been met to at least some degree in the western world. This was a generally progressive gain on the part of the class – after all it is difficult to seek the elimination of capitalism when you don’t even have basic literacy or numeracy skills. Nevertheless, attempts to roll back the gains we have made – as with all reforms we win under capitalism – constantly reassert themselves.

The immediate struggle to defend education is not a struggle for communism, or carried out under its banner. This is generally in the nature of things. But it does nobody any good to stand on the sidelines propagating communist doctrine in the hope that eventually enough people will have been convinced via propaganda to take up the struggle against capital. It is a superficial mode of thought to think in terms of irreconcilable antithesis like ‘reform’ and ‘revolution’, ‘immediate movement’ and ‘final goal’ or ‘defend access to education’ and ‘build an education system capable of developing the capacities of individuals in all directions’. In the communist, ie the dialectical materialist way of reasoning the two are not seen as opposites, but as moments of the whole process of communism’s becoming.


1. Paul Lafargue Reminiscences of Marx.

2. Wilhelm Liebknecht Karl Marx: Biographical Memoirs.

3. cf Karl Korsch Introduction to the Critique of the Gotha Programme.

4. G W F Hegel Philosophy of Right. Preface:

5. Marx to Ruge, September 1843.

6. Friedrich Engels Draft of a Communist Confession of Faith.

7. Friedrich Engels The Principles of Communism.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. For example by Glenn Rikowski in his article ‘Marxism and the Education of the Future’, which also cites other examples of this usage: Rikowski uses this as an example of why Marx and Engels’s writings on education cannot be straightforwardly applied to present day conditions, citing existing work experience programmes as an example of the neat integration of such ‘polytechnic’ education into capitalist society. However, as I shall show, I believe the interpretation of this demand as a straightforward demand for ‘polytechnic’ education to be somewhat misleading.

11. See footnote 3.

12. Ibid.

13. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels Manifesto of the Communist Party. The specific section relevant to the present discussion is ‘Chapter II. Proletarians and Communists’.

14. Ibid.

15. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Demands of the Communist Party in Germany.

16. I do not claim, of course, that they completely abstained from politics in this period. Evidence to the contrary could easily be found in, for example, Marx’s writings on the Sepoy uprising in India or the Taiping rebellion in China. However he was no longer involved as a member and contributor of a political organisation, as was the case with the Communist League and IWMA.

17. Karl Marx Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council on the Different Questions.

18. Ibid.

19. Ibid.

20. For example, Bakunin in his second letter To the Comrades of the International Workingmen’s Association of Locle and Chaux-De-Fonds: “The State has always been the patrimony of some privileged class, whether sacerdotal, noble, or bourgeois, and, in the end, when all the other classes have been used up, of a bureaucratic class… It is absolutely necessary for its [the state’s] welfare that there be some privileged class interested in its existence.”

21. To avoid misunderstanding, I do not necessarily believe that the working class can take power by peaceful and parliamentary methods. However, even an armed insurrection would not destroy the major part of the state infrastructure, as can be seen in part by the example of the Russian Revolution.

22 I believe what I present here is correct but I do not have the time or the space of this piece to develop it.

23. In this we can also partially see the reactionary nature of ‘anti-consumerism’, which wants the spheres of activity open to the workers to a certain extent to be closed off again and which sees in the workers’ enrichment of himself, rather than of capital, nothing but blind self-interest and hedonism. Of course, under capitalist society, since society opposes itself to the individual in the form of capital, this tendency must manifest itself in a certain kind of individualism. The opposite will be the case in communist society, when this tendency is not an accidental product of social development, but the end of development in itself.

24. Which, incidentally, is another reason why the abstract opposition of ‘universal education’ vs. ‘communist education’ is a false one. The former already contains tendencies towards the latter, hence the need for its defence.

25. Sectarianism in the sense of putting eternal principles above the immediate struggles of the movement. Not in the facile sense in which this word is used by those whom Engels’ derided as the ‘unity shouters’ who seek to avoid all criticism by accusations of ‘sectarianism’, and to throw manifold opposed trends together in one nondescript brew.


  • I must say, this was really good. I liked the writing style, which is more or less what one would hope for from a theoretical text, and, unsurprisingly perhaps, am quite impressed by the content as well.

    It may also be interesting to look at how the educational system is shaped by the needs of capital, by the fact that students are being prepared for a capitalist world, and hence subjects students to the needs of capital through the dual means of atomization and subjugation. However, this kind of thing would be outside the scope of this article, given that Marx and Engels did not quite undergo a detailed analysis of the matter (although I doubt that they would have seen education as independent of economic condition, as for example with the rise of mainstream centralized education in capitalism as opposed to the often decentralized education of peasants in feudalism, paralleling the centralization of production itself), and in any case would probably require a more historical treatment if one were to be exhaustive. Marx’s reference to schools as ‘teaching factories’ on multiple occasions may be worth referencing, though.

    In any case, educational cuts also seem to form a prominent manner for capitalism to sustain itself in a crisis without any immediate risks of harm to itself (students are not yet workers, and apres moi le deluge). The only way to abolish this is, of course, to abolish the crisis tendency itself, and hence opposition to the state’s attempts to encroach on this matter (and not a penny for this government) are ‘progressive’ in character, and would perhaps form one facet of a broader workers’ movement. In addition, student debt carries on to afflict people when they are members of the working class, and hence retains its significance as a form of deduction from income. Of course, a successful movement against the cuts would mean that capitalism cannot thus abate the crisis tendency, and hence would also be productive when it comes to the development of the workers’ movement itself. While capitalism will sacrifice students, in universities and schools, for short-term gain, it needs a working class in the future whether or not it neglects it.

    I do agree with you when it comes to the focus being not on constructing ideal educational systems, but on attempting to map out the tendencies immanent in society itself as far as the development of education is concerned. Marx, for example, almost always referred to the education of the future in the context of the education of the present, generally referring to how the tendencies manifested in the present conceal a progressive undertone despite their degrading appearance. Of course, the actual development of educational systems will doubtless be shaped by the progress of research into education, rather than by the imposition of utopian educational systems dictated by universal moral principles, in the same way that medicinal practice will develop as we further discover how best to heal people from debilities; the common factor being that research would have to be based on the interests of the people involved. Nonetheless, in the first place capitalist education is not in fact based simply on these interests (even in state education and such, this is manifested in the state debt, where the state essentially acts as an embodiment of the national capital and, taking on capital’s burden, must hence be as ‘greedy’ as the most money-grubbing capitalist), and hence education will only take the form of the conscious application of social knowledge in a direct manner in a socialist society, although even here the knowledge must progress.

    Historically, one can hardly doubt that capital has acted, unconsciously, in the interests of society through its development of centralized production and education, although at the same time it is now revealed to be a fetter to the same by crises. What was rational becomes irrational, and unnecessary. Just as science discards paradigms which were once necessary in practice (rather than simply mistakes), and medicine discards prior cures, it’s about time that capitalism met its maker; this is not the end of history, as indeed rational practice has quite some way to go, and discoveries to make, but it is its proper beginning, and a qualitative change birthed of the quantitative progression.

    The main aspects of Marx and Engels’ views on education seem to be on the one hand its end as the development of the human being, and on the other hand the supercession of the division of mental and physical labour and thereby also the subjugation of dependent students to adults, and indeed the breaking down of this same division. Indeed, I do recall Marx having commented on the subjection of the child to the parent in its modern form as something which would be superceded in a rational society, presumably due to the child being established as a practical, active human being who not only has knowledge, but also feels this knowledge as their own power, rather than being disempowered and dependent on the basis of their own exclusion from the practical sphere as such.

    Insofar as children are to be treated as human, “A being only considers himself independent when he stands on his own feet; and he only stands on his own feet when he owes his existence to himself. A man who lives by the grace of another regards himself as a dependent being. But I live completely by the grace of another if I owe him not only the maintenance of my life, but if he has, moreover, created my life – if he is the source of my life.” The fact that society presents itself as an alien being, and this is perhaps carried over into the educational system, means that the student’s education by society appears not as their own self-creation but as an external creation of themselves in capital’s image. On the other side of things, child labour does not take the form of their own manifestation of their subjective powers, but rather one has a separation of social and individual knowledge, between the active individual and their bodily labour and the social knowledge represented by capital.

    In any case, though, the point here is that insofar as the end of education is to be the human being, this end of the division between mind and body in education is essentially implied, as the human being is conceived of by Marx not simply as the owner of ‘consciousness’ in the abstract, the Cartesian ‘I’, but rather consciousness is conscious life and action, and while in capitalism child labour simply reduces the child to a piece of capitalist machinery, and hence cannot be realized as such on a widespread scale without becoming something which must be opposed in the interests of the working class, in socialism this opportunity actually presents itself as something co-existent with and indeed a part of the child’s continual formation into a developed human being by their own action. In this connection, perhaps Marx’s comparison of the Greeks with childhood is significant; human civilization must develop just as much as the child, the difference being that in class society this development takes an alien purpose, despite its being in actuality still self-creation, rather than the alienated powers having an actually autonomous existence, while in socialism it is self-directed and conscious action.

  • @Zero Nowhere: many thanks for the extended comments.

    When I was looking over this article it struck me that it would also be invaluable to delve into some of the educational endeavours, post-Marx, which came from the workers’ movement itself. The South Wales libraries’ movement, the schools and universities run by the SPD (where Luxemburg once taught economics) and the educational efforts of the early Soviet Union would be a start, I suppose.

    You should write for the website, by the way. Send us an email at


    [Sorry for the unformatted text below, but the link above puts better emphasis on certain points]

    Critique of Growing Wage Inequality: Educational Training Income Beyond Zero Tuitions

    “Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.” (Karl Marx and Frederick Engels)

    In June 2009, the National Union of Students in the UK called for the government to replace tuition fees with a graduate tax spread out over a number of years after graduates receive their degrees, based on progressive taxation. The Guardian called this move “a radical departure from decades of opposition to any form of payment for tuition.” A little over a year later, members of the new coalition government of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, most notably the Business Secretary John Cable expressed support for this. Traditionally, student politics has been bankrupt, ranging from post-modernist activism to mere identity politics to zero-tuition agitation (calling upon individual universities or colleges to scrap tuitions, not society at large), and it is this demographic that has the lowest voter turnout.

    What follows is an alternative analysis and brief policy that dispels illusions in graduate taxes being “a radical departure from decades of opposition to any form of payment for tuition” – courtesy of Paul Cockshott:

    Now the question is whether people who have had more education should be paid more. Now, in a capitalist economy, they get paid more if there is a shortage of that particular skill, particularly, for example, if you look at doctors in the United States. They’re paid extremely highly because the American Medical Association acts to restrict the supply of doctors. If, on the other hand, you have in a capitalist economy a profession which requires education, but there’s a lot of people being educated for it like Media Studies, for example. A lot of people are being educated to do Media Studies at the moment, and the salaries that they get from that are not above what you’d get as an average manual worker. The reason is supply and demand, in that case, but more generally if you take professions which are paid highly in the capitalist world, it tends to be the case that the education is expensive and only rich families can afford to send their children to get that education, and therefore the supply is restricted. If the education is paid for by the state, and people are paid a salary whilst they’re students, then there is no particular reason why the individual should benefit from that. The costs of education haven’t been met by the individual. They’ve been met by the taxpayer, and if the restriction and entry due to lack of wealth is removed, one would expect to see that the shortage of supply is removed, as well. If one compares the situation of doctors in the United States with the doctors in the Soviet Union, doctors in the United States are relative scarce and highly paid, [while] doctors in the Soviet Union or Cuba are plentiful and not particularly highly paid, but it doesn’t stop people wanting to become doctors because many people want to become doctors for humanitarian reasons.

    It should be noted that, with the expansion of consumer credit, more than just rich students can afford education in highly paid professions. Nevertheless, there are immediate and future costs associated with student debts and similar “efforts” that are “given up” for higher income later on. Also, the analysis above – as opposed to any of the analyses leading to the graduate tax scheme – actually addresses both supply and demand and the structural role played by privately controlled, mostly private-sector, and monopolistic or oligopolistic guilds-in-all-but-name (legally controlling the “professional labour” supply at the national and regional levels with their pre-entry closed shop modus operandi and petit-bourgeois apprenticeship requirements) – be they in medicine, securities trading, real estate brokerage, public accounting, law, engineering, or elsewhere.

    To be sure, a few demands were raised earlier to address the problem of growing wage inequality itself:

    1) The March 2010 draft party program of Die Linke (The Left party in Germany) called for limiting manager salaries to “20 times the earnings of the lowest wage group in an enterprise” (again, an economistic measure by virtue of indicating a single relative limit legislated into law);
    2) An intermediate or threshold demand was raised for fuller socio-income democracy through direct proposals and rejections – at the national level and above – regarding the creation and adjustment of income multiples limits in all industries, for all major working-class and other professions, and across all types of income; and
    3) A new meaning was given to “sliding scale of wages” whereby wages under the suggested, multi-factor “sliding scale” would fluctuate in accordance with rising real costs of living, with limits on high-wage incomes based on productivity growth in effect due to priority given to zero non-frictional unemployment (and the related public employment program of last resort for consumer services), and with income multiples limits in all industries, for all major working-class and other professions, and across all types of income.

    However, in the here and now, there needs to be a policy that goes beyond the scope of the first demand above but can be implemented before the latter two demands. For the purposes of this discussion and elsewhere, this policy, as outlined by Cockshott above, will be called Educational Training Income.

    The first concern is how Educational Training Income – most likely at living-wage levels – should be funded from society at large. The primary funding can operate just like employers’ portions of unemployment insurance and national pension plan contributions. In this case, employers would have to pay a special tax, the proceeds of which would then be allocated towards post-secondary students as Educational Training Income. It would then be easier for employers to limit high-wage incomes based on the special taxation costs.

    [Note: Some will undoubtedly rush to say that this proposal is a limited implementation of the post-modernist call for unconditional basic income as discussed in Chapter 2. Unlike the implementation of that scheme under bourgeois society, there is no monetization of social benefits through their privatization, and as mentioned above, the downward shift in wages is limited to high-wage incomes.]

    Meanwhile, the secondary funding should have an underlying aim that is more difficult but nonetheless possible to attain: lowering the incomes of the ever-unproductive and self-employed service providers with mainly middle incomes at the present time due to guild organization. Consider once more their pre-entry closed shop modus operandi and petit-bourgeois apprenticeship requirements. One of the forms this funding could manifest itself is the elimination of tax deductions for membership dues paid to these guilds and perhaps even a progressive income surtax (not mere “tax”) levied on the guilds collectively but based on individual members’ incomes.

    The second concern is one of abuse. Without proper measures, there will undoubtedly be students taking degree programs their entire lives just for the sake of receiving Educational Training Income. Naturally, there should be a limit on the number of degrees one can pursue while receiving Educational Training Income.

    The third concern is one of career availability: degree programs with career paths vs. those without. For example, career paths in philosophy only present themselves at the PhD level. Therefore, students in degree programs with career paths should be eligible to receive Educational Training Income, while students elsewhere, even in a zero-tuition education regime, wouldn’t. Since in between are individual mixes of career-related courses and otherwise, a minimum level of credit hours taken in career-related courses is necessary to get the full income, below which income would be received on a pro-rated basis.

    There are two more concerns: full-time vs. part-time study, and pure supply and demand. For the former, part-time students with jobs should not be eligible to receive the full amount of Educational Training Income (or should at least reimburse the public for income received) that they would otherwise be eligible to receive as full-time students. For the latter, there are degree programs whose career choices are in demand, and there are those whose career choices are not, and therefore funding might have to be granted only to the former in order to prevent over-saturation in degree programs whose career choices are not in demand.

    Now, does this reform facilitate the issuance of either intermediate or threshold demands? Like with mandatory private- and public-sector recognition in full of professional education, other higher education, and related work experience “from abroad,” Educational Training Income is meant to pose at least intermediate questions about the continued existence of the “professional” guilds.

    Does this reform enable the basic principles to be “kept consciously in view”? The most obvious principle addressed here is class strugglism, since historically the guild is a petit-bourgeois and not working-class form of economic organization. Why give free passes especially to anti-union politics encouraged by guild membership? On the question of social labour, the divide between productive and unproductive labour will have to be addressed explicitly later on, since career paths in areas like law and luxury fashion design, while covered initially under the Educational Training Income policy, are ultimately unproductive.

    The most difficult principle is that of transnational politics. As noted by Martin Wolf of the Financial Times on the graduate tax scheme mentioned earlier:

    As a tax, it would not cover non-residents and so would shift the burden from emigrants and students who come from the European Union (more than 100,000) on to those who remained in the UK. It would, presumably, not apply to those who obtained degrees abroad.

    Like with parochial “stolen jobs” sentiments, there can be increased sentiments against international students. Already, they pay higher tuitions than immigrant or citizen students, since the parents of international students do not remit taxes to the country of study. To what extent, if at all, should international students be eligible for Educational Training Income?


    Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels […esto/index.htm]

    Student leaders call for graduate tax to replace tuition fees by Jessica Shepherd, Guardian […s-graduate-tax]

    Vince Cable announces ‘graduate tax’ plan by Alison Kershaw, Press Association […s-2027088.html]

    Towards a New Socialism (video) by Paul Cockshott []

    Program of the Left Party (First Draft) by Oskar Lafontaine and Lothar Bisky […ogramme_en.pdf]

    Why Britain does not need a graduate tax by Martin Wolf, Financial Times […44feab49a.html]

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