John Maclean Internet Archive
Transcribed by the John Maclean Internet Archive

Independence in Working Class Education

by John Maclean

Source: The Call 6th September 1917, p.5
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Copyleft: John Maclean Internet Archive ( 2007. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.

Everyone now admits that Germany’s marvellous resistance of overwhelming odds is due to her mighty powers of organisation, and that her ability to organise follows from her superior education. Everyone as readily admits that the remarkable output of the workshops of the United States depends on minute and thorough organisation, and that this results from widespread technical education. Hence we have a renewed interest in education, finding concrete expression in Fisher’s Education Bill, in the scientific research departments of the Government, and in the funds now in process of allocation towards research in the cotton, woollen and other industries. Very soon the work of technical colleges will be vastly expanded.

Just as the Boer War revealed in the clearest manner the economic hostility of the German and the American capitalist class to the British capitalist class, and led to the Education Act of 1902, and the raising of scientific and commercial education to a position above that of the old classical education, so the economic antagonisms that led to the present war, and will revive fiercer than ever after the conclusion of “Peace,” is fundamentally responsible for these so-called “educational reconstruction” schemes already commenced or mooted.

The underlying motive in all the re-organisation and development of education is “increased efficiency,” and this capitalist phrase simply means better wage-slaves or better producers of commodities. The test of the value of education is its power of increasing output in the workshop, and consequently its power of adding to that part of each year’s total taken from the workers by the capitalists. Yet we would be foolish reactionaries to oppose the schemes over which we as voters have a slight control—just as foolish as those who resist improved machinery and methods in the workshop: We, as Socialists, must be intensely interested in improved education along technical and commercial lines, but it is our special business to see that all public educational institutions be used for the creation of intelligent, class conscious workers.

In this respect we differ from the W.E.A., which simply has for its object the creation of intelligent workers. Personally, I wish to see all opportunities far self-development opened up to the working class. But I am specially interested in such education as will make revolutionists.

Such an education will not be given in our public schools, colleges, and universities if the capitalist class can prevent it. Part of the working-class fight must be for absolute control of all educational agencies; but in the meantime the education of the workers themselves cannot be left in abeyance.

The very antagonisms in society that called into being the Co-operative organisation in production and distribution, the Trade Union movement, the Socialist parties, and the Labour Party, make it equally urgent that the workers should forge their own educational machine for their own class ends. It was for this supposed end that Ruskin College was for a time supported by the working class; it was explicitly for this end that the Central Labour College was established. The war has closed down both those institutions. Fortunately, their temporary cessation did not mean the demise of independent working-class education (assuming that Ruskin College was independent). Marxian classes increased in number and membership in South Wales, Glasgow, Sheffield, and elsewhere as a very consequence of the war; it was in these centres that the greatest resistance was put up against the profiteering patriots. In August a Plebs League was formed in London, and various agencies are at work to establish an organised network of classes in our benighted imperial capital. Yorkshire will soon outstrip Lancashire if Fred Shaw and others carry out their ambitious plans. The Scottish Labour College Committee, supported by the B.S.P. and I.L.P., will be responsible for at least a dozen large classes in Lanarkshire, Glasgow, and the Clydeside. The S.L.P. are holding a conference in Glasgow for the establishment of further classes in the West of Scotland. Where classes cannot be held it is to be hoped that groups will be formed in workshops at meal-times, and in houses or halls after work-time to read together and discuss the smaller works at Marx and Engels, and those of well-known Marxian scholars. The Russian Revolution was buttressed by city workers thoroughly educated in Marxism. Marxian education, that is independent working-class education, must be the supreme concern of the workers this winter.

The greatest “crime” I have committed in the eyes of the British Government and the Scottish capitalist class has been the teaching of Marxian economics to Scottish workers. That was evident at my “trial”; that dictated Lord Strathclyde’s sentence of three years. Nevertheless, I mean to spend every evening this winter in teaching economics. And every reader should either push ahead as a teacher or as a student, and in the active organising of classes. Comrades, a long pull and a strong pull for the creation of intelligent, class-conscious workers.