Lessons in class
Thanks for Paul Blackledge's impressive article on Karl Marx's theories of how the working class can overthrow capitalism and create a new world (Feature, Socialist Review, December 2011).
While Paul made some very good points about how mass education under modern capitalism equips workers to run society he overemphasised its positive role.
Pressure from the working class has won the right to education for all, which is constantly being chipped away at and must be defended. But under capitalism, education is double-edged.
People are educated to fill the jobs in the labour market, (or not as the case may be) so that society runs as smoothly as possible for our rulers. This means that education has an economic role in preparing people for the market, and an ideological one in ensuring they know their place and accept the system.
Many teachers reject this role and do very good work in helping students become critical and rounded human beings. But we should not forget that the education system has an ideological purpose, and is a hierarchical and brutal place for many working class students who are deemed failures because they don't fit in.
Last month's article by Rehad Desai (Column, Socialist Review, December 2011) about the Durban conference on climate change, painted a frightening picture of the realities of global warming. Without urgent action, millions more people will join those already suffering from drought and famine caused by climate change.
South African activists have begun to build an important movement that unites the struggles for social justice with questions of environmental disaster. In difficult circumstances, some 12,000 protested outside the Durban conference, calling for climate justice.
But what of the conference itself? Overshadowed by the continuing economic crisis the media's coverage mostly limited itself to the inability of the delegates to come to an agreement. Representatives of the richest nations effectively held the rest of the world to ransom. Even John Prescott was moved to declare that the rich nations were scuppering a new deal, calling it a "conspiracy against the poor". There is truth in this. Many developing countries felt that the nations which have been most responsible for historic emissions, and continue to be the largest polluters were trying to put the blame elsewhere.
When compromise was reached, officials declared that the agreement had "saved tomorrow". But the truth is the Durban conference should be remembered for its utter failure to agree major action on climate change.
All that has been agreed is that ministers will agree emissions cuts by 2015. But these cuts will not become binding until 2020 - almost a decade away. There is nothing new here. The UN process agreed that this action was essential as far back as 2007, but time and again deals have been scuppered by the vested interests of the most powerful economies.
Delaying for this long will, as Kumi Naidoo, a leading member of Greenpeace International, points out, "amount to nothing more than a voluntary deal that's put off for a decade. This could take us over the 2C threshold where we pass from danger to potential catastrophe."
Other commentators argued that the agreement demanded more from the poorest, and while there had been agreement on setting up a "Green Climate Fund" to help poor countries fight climate change, there was little indication where the money for this would come from. Emphasis is once again on expanding carbon markets to reduce emissions through trading schemes - a strategy that has failed time and again.
The disaster at Durban should not surprise us. Politicians' inability to solve climate change or deal with economic crisis stems from the same root cause - their need to protect their economic interests. The fight against climate change cannot be separated from the struggle against capitalism.
Missing the message
I very much enjoyed Jeff Jackson's review of the Royal Academy exhibition, Building the Revolution (Reviews, Socialist Review, December 2011). He highlighted exactly what the exhibition lacked: an understanding of the aesthetic confusion that comes out of a country in an unfolding revolutionary process. This is particularly the case with the Russian Revolution that promised so much and resulted in Stalinism.
The exhibition goes into interesting detail about Liubov Popova and the Constructivists - especially how they dissolved the boundaries between art and industrial production. Ten years after Popova painted Spacial Force Construction, Socialist Realism became state policy, but the exhibition failed to fully address the shift that this represented in the art world.
Interestingly the constructivist and avant-garde architecture from the period have prompted major campaigns calling for their preservation. Could this be signs of a revolutionary spirit stirring in Russia again?