[OPE-L] 'Encyclopedia of Philosophy of Education': Marx

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Sat Dec 02 2006 - 09:06:57 EST



N.  Tubbs

King Alfred's College. Winchester, Britain 

In many ways  it is easier to write about the application of Marx's 
work within education  than it is to write about the educational 
import of Marx's own writing.  Regarding the former, Marxism has had 
a dramatic and powerful influence over  all aspects of education, not 
only in the West but across the world. The  Soviet Union as was and 
the Republic of China are two examples of how Marx's  critique of 
bourgeois economies and social relations were transformed, in  
different ways, into general programmes of compulsory `state' 
education  which aimed to fix new forms of social relations and new 
societies. Also,  many poorer parts of the world have used Marxism as 
an educational tool  either to promote revolutionary change or to 
maintain it. 

Of  significance in the West has been the Marxism of Brazilian 
educator Paulo  Freire. His book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1972) 
continues to be an example  of how Marxist revolutionary politics can 
be worked into educational theory  and practice. This kind of 
education has become known as critical (sometimes  dialogical) 
pedagogy and it involves teachers using classrooms for a  critique of 
bourgeois ideology or the worldviews of the oppressors. The  views of 
the oppressed themselves¾ the students¾ are given a voice and a  
legitimacy. They are not suppressed by a dominant teacher who tells 
them  `how it is' and `what they must do'. Instead teachers and 
students seek to  challenge traditional models of their relationship, 
working through together  in a mutual dialogue how the world is and 
naming it according to these  suppressed interpretations. For Freire 
this praxis is revolutionary because  the ideas, language and 
concepts of the oppressed will threaten and  potentially overcome the 
bourgeois relations of domination, both in  education and in the 
wider society. At its root, this critical education  aims to 
undermine bourgeois ideology and to transform undemocratic forms of  
society into free and democratic socialist societies. Critical 
pedagogy  has enjoyed a vitality in the West, particularly in North 
America, although  there are other strains, most notably in Europe 
from the critical theory of  Horkheimer, Adorno and Habermas. A 
particular tension in this strain of  critical pedagogy, given its 
origins, is that it concentrates very heavily  on the ideological and 
other obstacles which block revolutionary change,  offering a 
somewhat negative and pessimistic diagnosis. Habermas alone is  held 
to be one critical theorist who maintains a more optimistic vision  
(see, for example, his two volume book, The Theory of Communicative  
Action, and R.E. Young's A Critical Theory of Education: Habermas 
and  our Children's Future)

Another way in which Marxism was applied to  education in the west 
was as a theoretical perspective with its own concepts  and 
frameworks by which the theory and practice of education in  
capitalist societies could be understood. Marxist perspectives of 
this  kind were prevalent in philosophy, sociology, politics and 
economics. What  they had in common was a critique of all aspects of 
Western educational  provision, seeing it as another superstructural 
element which reproduced but  never challenged the existing order of 
inequality and exploitation. Speaking  sociologically for a moment, 
education was identified as one of the key  bourgeois institutions - 
Althusser remarked that with the decline of the  Church it was now 
the key institution - by which the bourgeoisie were able  to ensure 
their continued ownership of the means of production. The values  
which schools passed on to their students, the attitudes they  
inculcated, the behaviour and respect for authority they demanded, 
even  the time keeping and regular work practices they imposed were 
seen as both a  preparation of the next generation of labourers for 
an uncritical and docile  acceptance of the relations of production, 
and an ideological reproduction  of modern bourgeois social relations 
as `natural'. Each element of the  curriculum was identified as 
playing its part here. For example, physical  education extolled 
competition among human beings as a true representation  of human 
nature and rewarded those who were successful in overcoming the  
challenge of their rivals; history sought to ensure a new generation 
who  viewed world events from the perspective of the imperialist 
masters and not  from that of those forced into slavery; home 
economics gave the impression  that housework was the `natural' 
domain of women. Marxist feminists  developed arguments about this 
patriarchal aspect of the way schools serve  as ideological tools of 
the bourgeoisie. 

Marxism as a critical  perspective in the social sciences was perhaps 
at its weakest was in two  areas. First, many argued that its thesis 
about the structural features of  ideology¾ that ideology was built 
into the system and would corrupt all  attempts to overthrow it¾ was 
overdeterministic. It seemed to suggest that  human beings were 
somewhat helpless in the face of those structures and  particularly 
helpless against the power of capital not only to abstract all  
objects into commodities but also in a similar way all relations 
between  people. The failure of the working class in most European 
countries to mount  a revolutionary challenge was explained in this 
way. Second, and  contradicting this view, others suggested a Marxist 
critique which could see  through the process of commodification and 
its consequent effects on day to  day perception of reality, had 
already in some senses overcome these  ideological distortions, and 
that therefore the production of a different  kind of consciousness, 
one which was potentially revolutionary, was still  possible. These 
two opposing positions have, for us, an educational  relationship. If 
ideology has totally triumphed then its critique may no  longer be 
possible, reduced to mere repetition of objectified (bourgeois)  
social relations. If ideology can be overcome then those who say so 
find  themselves in a dominating, more `educated' position than those 
who remain  `unenlightened'who remain  `unenlightened'<WBR>. As with 
charged with  legitimising a hierarchy of knowledge and a 
legitimation and of a kind of  `intellectual terrorism' whereby they 
were able to justify themselves as  able to make decisions on behalf 
of those who did not yet understand the  world `correctly'.

Viewed in this way Marxism has an educational dilemma  at its very 
core. This comes into view when education is understood not as  the 
aaccumulation of facts and knowledge¾ what might be called mere  
abstract or empirical education¾ but rather as the experience of the  
oppositions and contradictions which empirical education generates. 
This  latter can be called a `philosophical' education (after Hegel). 
As such, the  dilemma of authority and legitimation which lies at the 
heart of Marxist  theory and practice is, for us, an educational 
experience born out of what  is called the `dialectic of 
enlightenment'enlightenment'<WBR>. In Marxism, `enlightened'  theory 
and practice generates experiences of failure and  repetition which 
return us again to (enlightening) theory. This aporia has  always 
been Marxism's own dialectic of enlightenment. (For details of this  
see Horkheimer and Adorno's Dialectic of Enlightenment.see Horkheim 
Marxism has been slow to theorise this dialectic of enlightenment in  
Marx's own work. I will return to this below, but in short the 
dialectic  of enlightenment in Marx is repeated as the `culture' 
which is Marxism. That  Marxism has consistently failed to recognise 
itself as a culture explains  its repeated failure to explore the 
nature of modern experience and more  significantly how we learn from 
such experiences. Using Hegel's definition  of culture, Marxism has 
not understood itself, its `subjectivity'not understood itself, its 
its predetermined relation to universality by and within  bourgeois 
social relations. This failure to learn about itself as  
representation constitutes an educational failure.

Marxism in this  sense both represents and misrepresents Marx. In 
many ways the somewhat  crude models of revolutionary consciousness 
or praxis which underpin the  intervention of Marxists in the 
educational process stem from Marx's own  problems in working through 
the relation between the theory and practice,  particularly in regard 
to subjectivity. To understand this, it is necessary  first to 
rehearse in broad terms Marx's theory of economic determinism. One  
brief summary on these ideas is found in his 1859 Preface to a  
Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. There he explains  
that how people come together in society to meet their needs for 
food,  shelter, warmth etc., is determined by the resources which are 
available to  them at the time. We do not decide from scratch each 
time how to do this. On  the contrary we inherit all of the 
achievements (or otherwise) of previous  generations. Marx says,

in the social production of their existence, men  inevitably enter 
into definite relations, which are independent of their  will, namely 
relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the  
development of their material forces of production. The totality of  
these relations of production constitute the economic structure of  
society…(1975: 425). 

At the time Marx was writing the material  forces of production were 
those left by the industrial revolution, including  machinery and 
factories. The relations of production are determined by these  
forces of production in that factories demand labourers to work the  
machines and capitalists to own both them and the products that are  
manufactured. The next step in the argument is that this totality of  
relations, capitalist and proletariat, appears `natural' and becomes 
the  (economic) base `on which arises a legal and political 
superstructure and to  which correspond definite forms of legal 
consciousness' (1975: 425). In  other words, the predetermination of 
the world as it appears to us according  to particular material 
circumstances and levels of development is hidden  from us. What we 
see we take as natural and do all our theorising and  philosophising 
from this (mistaken) starting point, including our views  about the 
law, about equality and most significantly about `human nature'.  
Thus Marx is able to conclude that 

The mode of production of  material life conditions the general 
process of social, political and  intellectual life. It is not the 
consciousness of men that determines their  existence, but their 
social existence that determines their consciousness  (1975: 425).

For Marx two things are of crucial importance here. First,  the link 
between doing and thinking, or between the production of objects  
from nature and the production of ideas about nature is already  
established. The species activity of mankind, as Marx calls it, is  
already a unity of theory and practice. Only under particular 
conditions  does this unity appear to be irreparably severed, most 
notably those  accompanying capitalist relations of production. Thus, 
secondly, when  mankind sees through these conditions it comes into 
conflict with the  current relations of production. It sees that 
private property in  particular, and the separation of labour power 
from materialist activity are  `fetters' which now prevent a 
different mode of production of material life.  `Then begins an era 
of social revolution' (1975: 425-6) or of a conflict  between a 
species alienated from itself and the bourgeois relations of  
production which predetermine that alienation. Putting these two 
aspects  together, the proletariat is now setting itself `only such 
tasks as it is  able to solve' (1975; 426) for it contains within 
itself both the  development of new forms of material production and 
new forms of social,  political and intellectual life. In taking this 
step, in realising mankind's  nature as truly `social' (or communal) 
Marx believes that `the prehistory of  human society accordingly 
closes with this social formation' (1975:  426).

In employing notions of `seeing through' and `overcoming' Marx's  
theory of social revolution can be said to involve notions 
of  `enlightenment'of  `enlightenment'<WBR>. As Kant had suggested i 
enlightenment is man's release from dependence upon another. For 
Marx  there is no doubt that revolution meant a release for the 
proletariat from  their bondage to a class of owners who represented 
(and enjoyed) the  alienated labour of the workers. In addition one 
could say that the  proletariat, in developing their own class 
consciousness and seeing through  the illusions of bourgeois 
ideology, enlightened themselves regarding their  own nature or 
species activity. But it would be wrong I think to see this  (as 
Habermas has done in his Philosophical Discourse of Modernity)  
solely as an enlightenment based on the philosophy of the rational  
subject. Marx has no theory of subjectivity precisely because of the  
difficulties posed by the dialectic of enlightenment within which  
subjectivity both is and is not. In Marx's favour, as he makes clear 
in  On the Jewish Question, the idea of the free citizen/subject is 
itself  ideological and one which will be overcome when the political 
is redefined  under new social relations. Exactly what that will look 
like Marx famously  never tells us.

The lack of a theory of subjectivity protects Marx from  slipping 
into bourgeois `natural law' theory but it also inadvertantly  
protects him from realising the actual significance 
for `subjectivity'  of the dialectic of enlightenment in which 
subjectivity is both thought and  not thought. Marx's philosophical 
education is in this sense one sided. It  has been hard for the 
modern consciousness which lives in the illusion of  modern 
subjectivity to find its own voice or expression in Marx's work. The  
imperative which subjectivity finds in Marx is to overcome all 
illusory  (bourgeois) representations of itself. The reasons that it 
has been unable  to do so have occupied many twentieth century 
critical theorists who asked  why modern subjectivity was returned 
again and again to itself in its  attempts to change social 
relations. Yet there is just such an analysis of  return in Marx with 
regard to capital. It is well known that the theory of  commodity 
fetishism reveals how commodities enjoy the social relationships  
with others that really should belong to human beings. That social  
relationship Marx argues in the Grundrisse, we carry around in our  
pockets as money. What is significant here is that when money, our  
social power, is risked or circulated in the market, the loss of its  
social nature returns as capital. The structure of Marx's analysis 
of  this economy of risk, circulation and return is Hegelian and, I 
would  further argue, the nature of this return is the philosophical 
(and  spiritual) significance of the dialectic of enlightenment. It 
is the  culture¾ the self-representation¾ of the bourgeois subject 
who is learning  about and from the experience of its own illusory 
status as a person. I sum  this up by saying that as the `culture' of 
commodities is return in the form  of capital so the culture of 
reified subjectivity is return in the form of  (speculative) 
experience. One social theorist to have forcefully argued this  case 
is Gillian Rose. She ends her book Hegel Contra Sociology by stating  

to expound capitalism as a culture is thus not to abandon the  
classical Marxist interests in political economy and in 
revolutionary  practice. On the contrary, a presentation of the 
contradictory relations  between capital and culture is the only way 
to link the analysis of the  economy to comprehension of the 
conditions for revolutionary practice (1981:  220)

In his ambivalence towards subjectivity Marx left open the space for  
this cultural and educational reading. But much of the Marxism after  
Marx became the culture which dare not speak its name, refusing or  
suppressing its own actuality as a culture, and thereby refusing its  
difficult and contradictory relation to the universal which was and  
remains its goal. Marx and Marxism without culture and education 
cannot  learn about its own part in reinforcing the forms of 
bourgeois theorising  and law which it sought to overcome. But as 
Rose concludes: `this critique  of Marxism itself yields the project 
of a critical Marxism' (1981: 220), a  project which is avowedly 


Althusser,  L. (1984) Essays on Ideology, London: Verso

Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of  the Oppressed, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Habermas, J. (1987) The  Philosophical Discourse of Modernity, 
Cambridge: Polity  Press

Habermas, J. (1989, 1991) The Theory of Communicative Action, 2  
volumes, Cambridge: Polity Press

Horkheimer, M. and Adorno, T.W.  (1979) Dialectic of Enlightenment, 
London: Verso

Marx, K. (1973)  Grundrisse, Harmondsworth: Penguin

Marx, K. ( 1975) Early Writings,  Harmondsworth: Penguin

Rose, G. (1981) Hegel Contra Sociology, London:  Athlone

Young, R.E. (1989) A Critical Theory of Education: Habermas and  our 
Children's Future, Hemel Hempstead: Harvester  Wheatsheaf.

Encyclopedia of Philosofia of Education -  20.10.99

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