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Gramsci: the bits Gove left out

I once drew attention to a passage from a book by Malcolm X, in which the legendary African-American activist demanded black community control of black educational institutions, and jokingly suggested that Michael Gove could use the reference when next speaking in support of free schools.

Now the Tory education secretary has gone one step further, and invoked the name of the great Italian revolutionary socialist Antonio Gramsci in support of coalition education policy.

This has been bugging me ever since I read about it online at work, and the first thing I did when I got back home was to dust off my Gramsci books and remind myself what the great man actually said about education. I suspect Gove would not approve:

In a parliamentary-democratic state there can be no technical or political solution to the problem of the school. Ministers of education are placed in office because they belong to a political party, not because they know how to administer and direct the educational function of the state.

Mmmm. I see, Antonio. Do go on.

The bourgeoisie, as the class which controls the state, takes no interest in the school. It lets the bureaucrats make or destroy it as they are able and allows the education ministers to be chosen according to the caprice of political competition, through partisan intrigue, so as to attain a happy balance of parties in the cabinet.

Gosh, spooky. It’s almost as if Gramsci is looking on from beyond the grave. I’m sure he did not have any particular contemporary British politicians in mind. But what positive programme did comrade G actually advocate? How did he see the future?

In the state of the [workers’] councils, the school will represent one of the most important and essential of public activities. Indeed, to the development and success of the school is linked the development of the communist state …

Hey! Gove left that bit out!

The school will have the task of rearing the new generations … those who will reap, after the transitional period of national proletarian dictatorships, the fullness of life and development of international communist democracy.

But let’s be reasonable. It would be churlish not to welcome Gove’s conversion to these ideals. I don’t half look forward to the next education white paper, which must now surely embody a Gramscist perspective.

One Comment

  1. Jade Goody, I can believe. But Michael Gove has been influenced by Antonio Gramsci?

    The thing about Gramsci is that we have never really needed him Britain. The insistence on the unity of theory and practice, the rejection of economic determinism and of metaphysical materialism, the celebration of the “national-popular”, an organic working-class culture and self-organisation including worker-intellectuals: we already had them all.

    At least, we did have them. Until Gove’s political heroine, whom no one has ever accused of being either a worker or an intellectual, came along and destroyed their economic base. As Education Secretary, she closed so many grammar schools that there were not enough left for her record ever to be equalled. As Prime Minister, she replaced O-levels with GCSEs.

    But there remained heirs to the organic worker-intellectual tradition, often very left-wing people indeed, who tried as best they could to maintain in their own classrooms, until they themselves retired, whatever they could of the best that had been known and thought, in the midst of her enforcement upon everyone else of her own utter philistinism and of her own total lack of even the slightest intellectual curiosity. Truly, her natural successor was Tony Blair. And truly, contrary to what has often been asserted in the absence of the slightest evidence, his natural successors are David Cameron and George Osborne.

    There had been some grounds for hoping that Michael Gove was different. But he is clearly oblivious to these facts. He knows nothing of the trade union, co-operative and mutual, Radical Liberal, Tory populist, Guild Socialist, Christian Socialist, Social Catholic and Distributist, and many other roots of the British, Irish and Commonwealth Labour Movements, predating Marx and long predating Gramsci.

    He knows nothing of their roots, which are in the anti-Whig subcultures disaffected by the events of 1688, subcultures predating any Counterrevolutionary movement on the Continent because predating any Revolution there or in North America, and emphasising the indispensable role of the State in protecting against the market everything that conservatives seek to conserve, while offering perennial critiques of individualism, capitalism, imperialism, militarism, bourgeois triumphalism, and the fallacy of inevitable historical progress. As an ardent neoconservative, Gove is fully signed up to all of those.

    Does he even, as we had been led to imagine, know anything of their roots, which are in Early Modernity and in the Middle Ages, in the Classics that he purports to promote and in the Bible that he ostentatiously sends out to schools with a preface by himself, together with a reference to himself on the very cover? Or is the entirety of this Government exactly as it would appear to be: intellectually unequipped to be the Government of the United Kingdom, or, at root, to be the Government of any other country on earth?

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