Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Learning History and Conservative Government Censorship

Marx, in most history books on the Twentieth Century, is misleadingly associated with the seizure of power in Russia by the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the Cold War which took place after the end of the Second World War. When students studying GCSE and "A" level history, for example, take the Russian Revolution component of the course, Marx's name often comes up for discussion.

What is written by instructors in guide books for students about Marx's ideas and the appropriation and distortion of his ideas by Lenin and the Bolsheviks is often poorly researched, facile and shallow. Sometimes there is evidence of the dead hand of a Left wing political party, sometimes a conservative hostile to Marx but mainly someone who appears to have no interest at all in what Marx thought and wrote, and it quite happy to write-down any old rubbish about him.
" The School History web site is indicative of the type of "resource" offered to school children

In an entry on 'Karl Marx and Marxism Facts and Worksheets' the reader is told:

"Karl Marx can be considered to have inspired the Russian Revolution through Vladimir Lenin"

In what way did Marx "inspire" the Russian revolution? For a start the revolution was followed by a coup d'etat by Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Marx also held the fundamental political principle that the establishment of socialism was to be the work of the working class itself (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO and opening pre-amble of the rules of the First International). Lenin repudiated this political principle and believed socialism could be established by the actions of a professional elite (See What is to be Done?, 1903).

The work sheet is politically illiterate. Marx is said to have held to a collapse theory of capitalism. In one work sheet school children are taught:

"Marx believed that capitalism would produce internal tensions and this would lead to its self-destruction".

Marx never said capitalism would collapse. In THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE he said that "there were no permanent crises" (VOL. II Part 2 p 269). Marx held to a cyclical theory of the trade cycle - crisis, depression, up turn and boom to crisis again. He said:

"...capitalist production moves through certain periodical cycles. It moves through a state of quiescence, growing animation, prosperity, overtrade, crises and stagnation" (WAGES PRICE AND PROFIT in Selected Works, p.44).

In another learning resource site for "A" level history students we are told, for example, in a section on Marx that:

"The COMMUNIST MANIFESTO stated that all men were born free but that society had got to such a state that the majority were in chains"

In fact it was J.J. Rousseau, in the SOCIAL CONTRACT, who said:

"Man is born free and everywhere is in chains."

Marx opened up The COMMUNIST MANIFESTO with a much more revolutionary proposition. He wrote (in association with Engels in 1848):

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles"

Men and women are not born free. We are born into a class system consisting of a capitalist minority who own the means of production and distribution and a working class majority who a forced into employment and have to sell their ability to work in exchange for a wage or salary.

We work and they exploit us. Workers and capitalists are in a constant class struggle over the extent and intensity of class exploitation. We, the working class, produce all the social wealth in society and the capitalist class live off our labour in the form of the unearned income of rent, interest and profit.

What we and our families need as goods and services to live worthwhile lives is rationed by the wages system. We are in chains. It does not matter whether the chains that bind the worker to capital are cast in iron or in gold. Wage slavery it is called; a destination for most students studying history.

So, who will teach the teachers?

Suppose a teacher is found to point history students to the primary sources on Lenin and the Russian coup d'etat published by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. We are thinking of someone like the Marxist history master - played by the late Graham Crowden - in the film IF...., who teaches history to the children of the rich and privileged at a fictional public school.

What if an enlightened student, answering a question on the influence of Marx on the Russian Revolution, argued that Marx's ideas had nothing to do with Lenin and that the latter distorted the former for political ends? And what if the student went on to show that Lenin's Russia, after 1917, once the Bolsheviks had consolidated power, established state capitalism not socialism? And what if the student backed up their arguments with primary sources drawn from the SPGB?

We will never know. History students look like they will be prevented from having direct access to socialist literature. According to the INDEPENDENT, the Tories have banned from the school curriculum any material that calls for the abolition of capitalism. And we presume, that would include primary sources about Russia and the Soviet Union from the pages of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.

This will still not prevent access to primary material through the internet but will access be denied through school social media outlets?

Here are the instructions from the department of education which could be used to prevent students of history reading primary sources from the SOCIALIST STANDARD repudiating the claim that Marx's ideas had a positive influence on Lenin and the Bolsheviks in the establishment of socialism in Russia in 1917. The guidance reads:

"Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters".

And then goes on to say:

"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."

These instructions are supposed to apply just to one section of the curriculum but schools do not work that way. What would happen at a meeting of departmental heads when a history teacher proposed distributing material from the SPGB's RUSSIA SINCE 1917 to their GCSE and "A" level classes?

When the state wants to impose censorship it usually means that they have lost the argument. Here is Marx on censorship in 1842. He wrote sarcastically that for the censor:

"true education consists in keeping a person swaddled in a cradle all his life, for as soon as he learns to walk he also learns to fall, and it is only through falling that he learns to walk. But if we all remain children in swaddling-clothes, who is to swaddle us? If we all lie in a cradle, who is to cradle us? If we are all in jail, who is to be the jail warden?"

The student of history should ask the Secretary of State for Education, Mr Williamson, the self appointed "jail warden" at the department of Education, whether he should be "swaddled in a cradle all his life" or be allowed to think for himself. Conservatism: the highest form of ignorance and the lowest form of thought.

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