The UK Government has ruled that schools across England are not to educate children from groups that promote anti-capitalist ideas. Today sees the release of the Department for Education (DfE) guide labelled anti-capitalism as an “extreme political stance”, and equated it with denying freedom of speech, endorsement of illegal activity, and antisemitism. John McDonnell has criticised the decision, stating that it essentially removes topics from schools relating to important British history. He went on to describe it as a growing “authoritarianism” that is taking hold in Britain under the Conservative party.
As The Guardian reports, in the guide it is stated: “Schools should not under any circumstances use resources produced by organisations that take extreme political stances on matters. This is the case even if the material itself is not extreme, as the use of it could imply endorsement or support of the organisation.”
Examples of what constituted extreme political stances included “a publicly stated desire to abolish or overthrow democracy, capitalism, or to end free and fair elections”, as well as opposing freedom of speech, using racist (including antisemitic) language, condoning illegal activity, and failure to condemn any crimes committed in support of one’s cause.
“On this basis it will be illegal to refer to large tracts of British history and politics including the history of British socialism, the Labour Party and trade unionism, all of which have at different times advocated the abolition of capitalism.
“This is another step in the culture war and this drift towards extreme Conservative authoritarianism is gaining pace and should worry anyone who believes that democracy requires freedom of speech and an educated populace,” said McDonnell.
Former Greek finance minister and economist, Yanis Varoufakis, said the guidance showed “how easy it is to lose a country, to slip surreptitiously into totalitarianism”.
“Imagine an educational system that banned schools from enlisting into their curricula teaching resources dedicated to the writings of British writers like William Morris, Iris Murdoch, Thomas Paine even. Well, you don’t have to. Boris Johnson’s government has just instructed schools to do exactly that,” he added.
The guide also drew criticism from barrister Jessica Simor, who pointed out on Twitter that the Government has not obeyed its own guide. In this case, when it was admitted that the new Brexit bill breaks international law, thus breaking the rule of endorsing international activity, as well as selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, despite a court ruling which stated such an act unlawful.
Writer and activist Tariq Ali stated the new guide was a clear display of “moral and political bankruptcy”, but that the internet means these rules will be difficult to enforce. “Leaving aside the stupidity, these things don’t work. People will read what they want to read. Trying to enhance a version of the Prevent strategy, which is already in place, is quite scandalous and shocking.
“If you put things on a banned list, lots of young people can access them via the internet and read them. Banning them from schools will not work at all, aside from the fact it’s a sign of moral and political bankruptcy,” he said.
“How could both young and old people not read anti-capitalist analysis after 2008, or now with the virus going on and recessions looming all over the western world.”
Nick Gibb, the minister for school standards said: “Our new relationships, sex and health education (RHSE) guidance and training resources equip all schools to provide comprehensive teaching in these areas in an age-appropriate way.
“These materials should give schools the confidence to construct a curriculum that reflects diversity of views and backgrounds, whilst fostering all pupils’ respect for others, understanding of healthy relationships, and ability to look after their own wellbeing.”