Never mind fashion, watch the dialectic

30th October 1998 at 00:00
News reaches me in Highgate Cemetery that I am back in "fashion". A journal called Marxism Today is reappearing and the pundits proclaim that I was right all along.

What piffle! As if it matters one jot what a bunch of petit-bourgeois scribblers publish. Excuse me for treating you, dear readers, as children but I fear many of you are woefully ignorant of dialectical materialism and in need of tuition.

You must excuse my irritation at being discussed as if I were an item of clothing, in vogue one moment, out the next. I am not flattered that a professor appears on the television to announce that "Marx had a point". Or a so-called writer decrees: "Marx wasn't so wrong after all".

Of course I had a point; it is self-evident I wasn't wrong. How could I be? It was I who took to task the misguided idealist, Friedrich Hegel, and elaborated the concept of an historical dynamic operating in response to economic forces. It was I who stood Professor Hegel's dialectic on its head, discarding his ridiculous notion that it is ideas that shape society.

The economic system is the driving force of history and it was I, Karl Marx, who first understood this. But then Hegel was for a time a schoolmaster so perhaps we should not be surprised his thinking was so muddled.

The editor informs me that many of you are teachers. Yet you know so little. Most of you, no doubt without knowing it, have taken on board the ideology of the ridiculous Hegel. Poor, misguided fools. You cling to the belief that knowledge is intrinsically useful, that education is valid for its own sake. How could you be so ill-informed?

I am told that many of you have lost the habit of reading but may I suggest that you refamiliarise yourself with my work. True, Das Kapital may well be beyond most of you but even the slow-witted should be able to grasp the essence of Die Deutsche Ideologie.

I was never happy with the English translation, feeling it cramped my rather poetic style, but if that is all you can manage it will suffice. The decline of bourgeois culture is such that your local library will almost certainly be out of stock but fear not, all of my work can be found on the World-wide Web. To simplify the search procedure just type in Marx - The German Ideology.

Incidentally, what other philosopher has such a presence on the Internet? But I digress.

"Life," I wrote, "is not determined by consciousness, but consciousness by life". More recent arrivals at Highgate tell me it is no longer the custom to learn by rote. More is the pity. Had some of you been made to write out that sentence several hundred times you would not be so muddled.

Which brings me to Mr Chris Woodhead. We will meet one day and I will congratulate him. As I will Mr Blunkett and the young man with the permanent smile and the attractive wife named after the aperitif of which English ladies of a certain age are fond. Sherry I think. You must excuse me but at my age it is difficult to remember names.

They understand that the economy is the driving force of history. Well the men do; Sherry is a pretty little thing but I doubt she troubles herself with affairs of the mind - that house in Downing Street is bigger than it looks and she must have her hands full coping with the servants.

Most of my life, and all of my death, I have had to cope with people misunderstanding me. Worst of all are those who think I am a wishy-washy do-gooder. In your own National Union of Teachers are some who speak as if I favour equal opportunities; who think I care who went to what school. It is of no interest to me whether you have comprehensives, grammars or a return to dame schools, which as I recall, were quite adequate.

The history of the world is the history of class struggle. At the correct dialectical moment, the time will be ripe for revolution; the dominant ruling class will be replaced by the proletariat. What you get up to in the classroom has absolutely no significance in determining that historical moment. That will be brought about by the internal contradictions of the capitalist system. As Margaret Thatcher so accurately expressed it - it is the market that matters.

Why waste your time cramming youngsters' heads with airy-fairy nonsense? Why delude them, and yourselves, that you can enrich their lives through learning? Schooling is about satisfying market needs; providing pupils with the skills they will need to meet the requirements of the labour market.

I blame those lily-livered Tories, Butler and Macmillan who tried to create a schooling system that provided for the proletariat the sort of liberal education that their own children enjoyed. And those liberals and social democrats who believe equal opportunity to be compatible with the capitalist system. Idiots.

So well done Mr Blunkett, Mr Woodhead and Mr Sherry for restating what I made clear well over a century ago. Basic skills, basic skills and more basic skills. As for those who hanker after university - let them pay for it.

Karl Marx is a philosopher and economist. He lives in Highgate Cemetery, north London

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