Historically, education is a site of antagonism. This is particularly to the fore when new truths emerge, when it is time, in ME’s words, to ‘set free the elements of the new society with which the old […] society is itself pregnant’.
As I’ve demonstrated, it’s the key antagonism or contradiction that drives the recommencements at the heart of the Platonic dialogues, wherein the operative commerce between knowledge and the interests of the state is demonstrated, worked through and rejected. As Plato attests, the question of education is central but the victory announced in the dialogues is not that of Socrates, for it is in the interests of the state that the new emerging elements be foreclosed from presenting themselves as they are. Socrates’ true value is that he affirms, traces out and holds fast to the existence of an other orientation to the sophistic world. It is the life of this Idea that his death can never annul.
It is possible, then, to provide a formal description of education, one drawn from historical and discursive analysis of the several different discourses which subtend all educational thought and practice, epistemological, pastoral, psychological and political and, as such, to establish the points at which education as a form is distinct from any appearance of it as a knowledge predicated by a norm or rule. What the latter imposes as itself is a limit or an end to, or a knowledge of, what can or even must be known. At this point such a discourse exposes its anti-educational core.
This ostensibly Platonic division between what education is and its re-presentation under a rule is affirmed in ME. In what follows, the term pedagogy names this re-presentation. And as this name names the state discourse of education, it names what can be done with the all who fall under its remit. Education, as always, should rather be understood as the name for what this all can do.
Relevant to our epoch, this antagonism reasserts itself in the early 19th Century. The state starts to mobilise on this basis, seeking to contain what it sees as the problem of the moral and political ‘monster’ of the emergent working class. A predominant figure in this effort and its realisation in the UK is J.K. Shuttleworth, who goes on to become first secretary of the Committee of the Privy Council on Education.
For Shuttleworth, the key was: ‘promoting the diffusion of that knowledge among the working classes which tends beyond anything else to promote the security of property and the maintenance of public order’. This because, to rephrase another of Shuttleworth’s laments, the ignorant, discontent and suffering masses are readily misled.1 Many working class groups at the time already rejected this state mobilisation, as putative as it was, precisely on the grounds articulated by Shuttleworth. They were not against education, they just rejected that this was it.
As Marx recognises in Theses on Feuerbach, education concerns the creation of subjects. For the state, in its own words, that means individuals amenable to law, the dictates of property and the natural laws of free trade. These priorities have remained fairly constant and in recent policy it has been reiterated: ‘[The] mores or values’ intrinsic to our educational system are ‘those which contribute to our democracy’, have ‘respect for the rights of property’ that ‘actively suppor[t] economic development (and the conservation of the environment)’.
The subject of this education is marked as being flexible, having the capacity to problem solve; to adapt to new demands, new markets, new information and new strategic goals and capable of a form of ‘self-analysis that copes with this flexibility’ and possesses an ‘educability – for ‘retraining across the life-span through a range of media’.2
In the 20th century and accelerating exponentially since the 1970’s, the state has intensified its control over the education of all, which is to say, its procedures of pedagogical foreclosure. But this intensification, which is what it is, is predicated on the fact that education precisely names something that the state cannot wholly capture but can only re-present.
The consequences of this failure, inherent to the process, are this intensification and its preferred name is reform. At the ‘World Innovation Summit for Education’, WISE, hosted by the slave state Qatar, concerned with exploring the means by which pedagogy can leave no-one untouched, the French Minister for Education declaimed that ‘in this rapidly changing world education was necessarily a site of constant reform’.
This constant reform, locally and globally articulated by governments, NGO’s and multinationals alike, merely affirms the real of the division I am proposing. It’s not simply that pedagogy must continue to correlate and adapt us, make us flexible and resilient etc., to ‘the rapidly changing world’ but that the impossibility of real change – as opposed to reform – is inscribed deep in the discourse of pedagogy.
So deep in fact that this oft noted rapidly changing world apparently changes of its own accord and indeed you will have to go a long way in reading policy and the theory that underpins it to ever see notice that the ‘economy’ or the ‘knowledge economy’ is anything but a natural state of affairs.
It teaches both implicitly and explicitly that capitalist knowledge is all there is to know – thus the pedagogical imperialism of Unesco and the World Bank who offer workers around the world redemption from capitalist exploitation through schooling in capitalist knowledge. One is either included, and counted as such (that is to say, one becomes a knowing subject) or one is rendered inexistent. As education QLD puts it, merely repeating received wisdom, ‘those students who fail to gain such knowledge are a danger to the economy’.
Reform is the intensification of pedagogy for all under capitalist social conditions. Capital is the limit of what can be known, of knowledge itself insofar as the manner of ones existence is determined by this same knowledge. This is what pedagogy must teach and it’s in this manner that pedagogy actively effects a subjective incapacity. In Marx’s terms concerning this subject, ‘it happened that the active side, in opposition to materialism, was developed by idealism.’ Unlike Feuerbach, though, the state precisely does grasp the ‘significance of ‘revolutionary’, of ‘practical-critical’, [subjective] activity’. And this is why it must play the pedagogue.
If to not think capital is impossible then the necessary condition for any educated subject to come to be is foreclosed. This is the current victory of the capitalist parliamentary state form and at the same time the site of its greatest anxiety, for its monopoly on knowledge is absolutely dependent on something it cannot finally know. Alain Badiou provides a succinct formula for this pedagogical operation, which he says is a profound idea of ME: the State is not founded upon the social bond, which it would express, but rather upon un-binding, which it prohibits.3
What education names – the discourse and practice of the exception, of rejection, declaration, the discipline it enacts and the consequences it entails – is given full polemical force in the Manifesto of the Communist Party. Here and elsewhere, ME formalise both the points of resistance to pedagogical imposition – that is, bring together and render consistent the various theoretical and practical positions of resistance – and seek to take it a step further. For ME, as for Plato, education becomes one of the means by which the revolutionary project is pursued, secured and given body.
ME is an exemplary figure of education for two reasons: their work contains an ongoing critique of the use and abuse education is put to by the capitalist form of the state; secondly, and this is the more difficult path to trace out, they found an entirely new discursive configuration of the present, one that does not take its orientation from the contemporary state form, which must, necessarily, be worked through.
In other words the invention of ME – call it historical materialism, if you like, or in Engels’ phrase ‘materialist dialectic’ – certainly draws on all the knowledge available, theoretical and practical, but it orients itself to what in the situation is impossible to say and impossible to know. This is the spectre haunting Europe, ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things’ and whose subjective name is proletariat.
In fine, my claim is that education can never take a state form. Thus this is not a debate over the determination of its provision, or its curriculum, ideology and so on. It’s a question of what education is, not who determines its use – which is always a presumption with regard to the former. ‘The Communists’ ME say, ‘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.’
Let’s now look at some pertinent examples of this alteration and affirm the formal division I have asserted above. The examples resonate with our situation today.
In the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx gives a demonstration of the power of (money become) Capital to determine reality or to make known what both must and must not be known. ‘Money turns imagination into reality and reality into imagination. It appears as an inverting power’. On the one hand (I’m paraphrasing), ‘turning the lame into the able, the vice ridden into the virtuous by means of its mediating powers’. On the other hand ‘it is the seminal bond, the bond of all bonds, forging the link between the egoistic subject and human-life itself and that of the egoistic subject to society’. Likewise, by dint of an individual possessing either too much or none, money becomes the ‘agent of separation’. If the former, one has the capacity, a capacity given by the possession of money alone, to forge one bond in place of another. If the latter, one is simply in no position to escape the force of the social bond forged by those with money.
One is bound in his separation, in his incapacity, an incapacity determined as such by ones lack of proper mediation. ‘Money’, Marx says, is the ‘alienated species essence’ of man as a being for sale, a sellable being, a thing on the market and if on the market a commodity. This is to say, in money, in its transformative effect, its binding of impossible relations, and in its confusing of qualities – that the wicked, dishonest and stupid are by virtue of their possession of money, which is good, thereby themselves good – is invested the affirmative and, thinking powers of which humanity is capable. ‘It is the alienated capacity of mankind.’
Through money, the medium of exchange, virtue is convoked, knowledge is confirmed, power is conceded and anything truly incommensurable (divided at a point) can be manifestly represented as the same. Through money, what one cannot do, one can do. As such, money is ‘the truly creative power’. In ceding his essence to money, man cedes his subjectivity. Man confuses his subjective capacities with what his money can do – the essence of a meritocracy – and concomitantly those without money become known as those who lack all capacity.4
Money divides man from himself – man as an inhabitant of a situation from the subject that he is capable of becoming – as Engels reflects in his Conditions of the Working Class in England. It’s no coincidence that one of Marx’s examples of subjective incapacity is the fellow with the ‘vocation’ to study but who, without money, effectively has ‘no such vocation’. By contrast, the fellow with no desire to study but the will and the money to do so effectively has such a vocation. Real powers, the vocation to study, are turned into ‘abstract representations’ while impotent powers existing in the imagination only, become effective and ‘real essential powers and abilities’.
Marx notes the anxiety provoking effect of this power of inversion which money makes real, pointing out that the student’s true vocation can only be thought a ‘real imperfection and tormenting phantom’. Under the rule of Capital this dissociation and the anxiety it affects is the norm. Moreover, this interminable mix of this confusion of one thing with its other, coupled with the reality of their exchange, as the cement of the social relation is the effect of the lesson.
What is insisted on here is that the relation of man to what he can do, thus to a present other than that which is represented to him, be decided. Man becomes subject by his affirmation of that which is other than the ‘existing and active concept of value’, which is the same thing as his refusal of it and so when he no longer submits himself to the abstraction of exchange and the confusion of knowledges.
This subject, for ME, has an entirely other orientation to his situation, to what is there, effectively, as nothing to the bourgeois state; thus the ‘emerging truth’ of this situation. As such, the (materialist) subject forges a relation to his situation that is immediate, disjunct, non-linear and out of joint. The subject essentially is that which reverses the inversion that money makes possible between things and their representation under the rule.
The question as always is that of ‘indiscerning’ that point at which mediation fails and holding fast to it as the point by which the entire situation might be transformed; by which a new present might be constructed ‘point by point’. Education names the practice of this reversal, its discipline, logic and consistency.
What the bourgeois revolutions brought into being was ‘naked, shameless, direct and brutal exploitation’ . As contemporary education policy shows, this is the logic that conditions pedagogy in its preparing individuals to make their way in the state; to adapt, to be flexible, to train and retrain in the service of this logic and so on. It’s global, such that under the pedagogy of the new knowledge economy ‘there will be no poor countries, only ignorant ones’ so one of its sages opines.5
However, the real role of the pedagogue is not to expose this relation as it presents itself – as the bourgeois revolution did; as all revolutions do – but to re-present it. To furnish this relation of exploiter to exploited with its new rule, to make it contemporary, to describe it such that it becomes (again) natural to all eyes, to mark it as the limit of all interests and dress it up in a language of freedom and possibility.
In short, a state pedagogy seeks to re-veil this relation within which the worker is ‘enslaved by the machine, by the overlooker and above all by the individual bourgeois himself’,6 by way of new illusions; moral, political, technical and ideological. This is resonate today in the proliferation of laws against workers, the unemployed, citizens, refugees and students alike, anyone not wholly integrated into the slavery of the market and, as ME already noted, the more openly this state ‘despotism claims profit to be its end and aim the more hateful and the more embittering it is’. It’s for this that pedagogy proceeds; this it seeks to make the predicate of all knowledge; to this it conforms its subjects. Up to a point.
It is indeed from this immanent point of the vanishing of capitalist rule that Marx treats with our exemplary bourgeois pedagogue, JK Shuttleworth, in his Critical Notes on the King of Prussia. In other words, if a state education makes the figure of this rule possible, a non-state one makes it impossible, and to make the rule of capital impossible is ME’s goal. This is what makes ME an educator and not a pedagogue; for what the educator makes go – capitalist social relations and thus capitalist knowledge as its outgrowth – is, as ME insist in the Manifesto, for all. Critically, as what the all can do.
ME identifies two moves immanent to the working of the Shuttleworth style bourgeois ‘improvers of mankind’ (MCP 63). One move is to desire ‘all the advantages of modern social conditions without the struggles and dangers’ which result from them. They desire the existing state, which, naturally, the bourgeois considers the best of all possible worlds, but without the revolutionary capacity of the proletariat that this state includes as its ‘excess’ or refuse.
Thus the improver pedagogues want the worker to carry out the work of making and remaking this ‘best of all possible’ societies but to do so within the limits of the existing state and so as effectively unknown. The second move pedagogically negates all the subjective power of the proletariat through the insistence on the division of politics and economics.7
The teaching is, then, that all political change is as nothing to the necessary and ongoing reform of the economy, of ‘the material conditions of existence’. It’s the latter that is the proper concern of all (today, share markets, interest rates, job creation, life-styles etc.) and thus is the only means of advantage and social mobility.8 Politics, effectively, is what ‘gets in the way’, the teaching goes, of this ‘service of goods’.
However, as ME concludes, these reforms (apparently ‘socialist’, they note) by no means challenge or seek to have done with the bourgeois form of social relations but are mere administrative reforms, based on the continued existence of these relations: reforms, therefore, that in no respect affect the relations between capital and labour, but, at the best, ‘lessen the cost and simplify the administrative work, of bourgeois government’. As we can see, a proper ‘bourgeois socialist’ education (much beloved today) would teach the second – the primacy of capitalist economy – so as to achieve the first – the subjective incapacity of those who produce.
And indeed in the non-ideological pragmatic state of J.K. Shuttleworth’s imagination, education amounts to ‘merely the production in the worker of a correct consciousness about an existing fact’. The existing fact, of course, is ‘the natural laws of [free] trade.’ Thus, ‘reducing everything to the neglect of education’ (like so many contemporary ‘pedagogues’ of the left), Shuttleworth contends that a proper moral instruction in the necessity of these laws as the foundation of the social good will render an equivalence of consciousness or ‘equity’.
Once such a knowledge is given, the worker will have no cause to ‘rise up in rebellion’ and threaten property and bourgeois rule. This function remains key to education today such that ‘whenever it comes across evil it attributes it to its own absence, for, if it is the only good, then it alone can create the good’.
It’s worth noting that these last remarks are given in a criticism of Arnold Ruge’s belittling of the Silesian Weavers Uprising, which Marx defends for its social character and thus its implicit rejection of the state, which, he argues, is ‘incapable of removing the social roots of misery in civil life’. ‘Confronted with the initial outbreak of the Silesian revolt no man who thinks or loves the truth could regard the duty to play schoolmaster to the event as his primary task’, Marx says.9 ‘On the contrary, his duty would rather be to study it to discover its specific character. Of course’, he continues, ‘this requires scientific understanding and a certain love of mankind, while the other procedure needs only a ready-made phraseology saturated in an overweening love of oneself’.10
The question, then, is what if anything can make Capital fail? The answer is, rarely to be sure, those very qualities of man as man become conscious of itself as a subject and not merely as an individual: Man, then, as educated, as capable of truth. The problem is that one must be willing to risk this essential failure which revolutionary love entails, the failure of desire, let’s call it, against the settling for the certainty of money, security, pedagogy.
This is my take on ‘the common ruin of the contending classes’ mentioned by ME in the Manifesto. In ME’s formula, ‘an atomised competitive society in which the individual and universal are in conflict is at odds with what is specifically human’. What is specifically human, is the capacity to think, to decide, from within but without the state, for that which is not known and so to become subject to that which is true for all.11 In Lacan’s words, ‘the system fails. That is why the subject lasts’ (MT 81).12
If we are still under the pedagogical state form that Shuttleworth helped inaugurate – the form rejected by Shuttleworth’s working class contemporaries – wherein ‘education’ plays the role of individuating amelioration and social conformism, then to return to ME’s critique is worth something. For then as now the pedagogue takes his place among, and in the service of, the various social reformers: ‘economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the conditions of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies from the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole and corner reformers of every imaginable kind’. All of whom, ME claims, seek, contrary to appearances, and by these very ‘socialist’ means, to secure and conserve the continuation of the rule of capital.
Over and against this critique ME is an education: on the basis of what bourgeois democracy cannot know, it establishes a new orientation to the situation, breaking with the former’s implacable logic; it identifies the site of this break as a real existing point of the situation; that point which marks both the limits of the state form and the generic point of its possible reconfiguration; it pursues the consequences theoretically and practically of this intervention; it convokes its subject, the bearer and support of this fundamental educational process whose ‘real’ is communism. It avoids the determinations of the state form even as it works through it to go past it to what is generic to it. It constructs out of what there is, the new forms of the present.
ME is our educator such that we must educate ourselves in this form. We must affirm that education is not pedagogy, and yet find within pedagogy the educational form it expropriates. This is a difficult task. To support state pedagogy is fundamentally today a reactionary move, a participation in our own co-option but as this pedagogical co-option can only take place on the basis of the real existence of education we need to subtract this conception of education from pedagogy, affirm its existence and establish its practice as that of all.
The condition of education is not the knowledge of interest but what is subjectively and thereby truly possible, here and now. We need to be educated by ME to take the next step.
Harold Silver, English Education and the Radicals, 1780-1850
These quotes are taken from various policy documents released by various governments.
Being and Event
cf. UNESCO document cited above. In this document, the countries of what used to be called the third world and renominated as Low Development Capacity – this capacity is quantified at an average income of less than $745 per person per year. Note that any country with an income over 900 is not so classified. Note also that these LDC’s are at least partially to blame for this condition because of their ‘failure to enact ongoing public sector reform’ (11) and this why education, which this document is concerned with, has so far failed to reach all. Education here is spoken of as ‘capacity strengthening’ which ‘often focuses on support for the integration of transversal principles and subjects, such as entrepreneurship, use of information and communication technologies, science and technology, orientation towards sustainable development…’ (41). I’d love to be able to continue reading this document but the upshot is really education as humanitarian intervention in the Shuttleworth sense: thus the metaphor applicable is that of the pharmacon – wherein the poison and the cure are indiscernible.
ME of course notes that the individual bourgeois is only what he is thanks to his social position and this position is itself the result of the social power of capital and has nothing to do with his ‘personality’. As with a King, the bourgeois is powerful only so long as we think he is.
The in-division of politics and economics or polis and oikos is one of the ‘mistakes’ Aristotle berates Plato for (See Politics 1261a). What the contemporary world has made of Aristotle’s insistence on their categorical opposition is not the latter’s fault, obviously, but the division Plato/Aristotle is not insignificant to what is erroneously still named the Academy nor to a certain cultural media milieu that represents as its own the scraps that fall from the former’s table – even as they have no idea of the original point of the division they operationalise in the service of their contemporary masters.
Schools actively familiarise their students with these processes. Stock Market games, narratives of corporate investment to calculate interest and return and so on are regular features of class plans and even extra curricular activity. But why wouldn’t they?
Rosa Luxembourg will later throw this at Lenin.
Cf. Che Guevara, ‘the true revolutionary is motivated by feelings of love…’ One must understand love as that which is manifest in a praxis as it is in Saint Paul.
Badiou, Infinite Thought, p. 71.
Lacan, My Teaching, p. 81.