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Moral considerations of teaching Marxism for A Level Lit

Discussion in 'English' started by Englishteacher7562, May 1, 2020.

  1. Englishteacher7562

    Englishteacher7562 New commenter

    Anyone else have qualms about teaching Marxism as part of the A Level English Lit. spec? Consider that Marxism, implemented in full, led to the deaths of hundreds of millions (under Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot etc.). I know that we apply a Marxist lens to literary texts and, as such, aren't explicitly advocating Marxism as a political theory but we are still filling young minds with these ideas. A cursory internet search of 'Marxism deaths of millions' throws up the expected chilling results.

    TLDR: Made uneasy by the Marxist framework used for analysing texts at A Level (English Lit). Would welcome people's thoughts. Thanks.
  2. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    Do you have similar qualms about teaching texts that laud Christianity (surely responsible for a similar number of, if not more, deaths)? Or Imperialism? Or Capitalism? And so on ad naseum...

    To answer your question, therefore, no, I have no qualms. Possibly because I've read The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital (all part of my degree course) and know that Stalin's gulags and Mao's Cultural Revolution were about as far from Marx's aims as it's possible to get. For starters, Marx envisaged his revolution in industrial societies such as Germany and the UK, not agrarian states such as Cambodia, Russia and China, where he new his ideas wouldn't work and would result in mass starvation... as indeed happened in Ukraine and China.
    Last edited: May 2, 2020
    Daredevil111, saluki and colacao17 like this.
  3. colacao17

    colacao17 Senior commenter

    The chilling results might be down to the 'deaths of millons' bit though, tbf.
    Rott Weiler likes this.
  4. Rott Weiler

    Rott Weiler Star commenter Forum guide

    Pol Pot's murderous regime had zero to do with Marxism.

    I'm not an A level English teacher so don't know what the syllabus requires but I find it hard to believe that looking at any work of literature from a Marxist perspective is likely encourage any of your pupils to set up death camps.

    Presumably you don't only look at literary works from a Marxist perspective? Don't you compare a Marxist analysis with other interpretations in some way?

    Perhaps developing a healthy scepticism about what's written on the internet might be useful for your students?
    colacao17 likes this.
  5. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Lead commenter

    OP is absoloutly correct to think about teaching teach about the consequences of Marxist doctrine. Is it possible to imagine a discussion about the doctrine and origins of Fascism whist the teacher dismisses the outcomes of its application?

    We should not hide the millions of deaths caused by communism, not pretend that Stalin was not a communist, or Pol Pot or Mao. The starvations, genocides and gulags throughout the 20th C and perpetuated to this day we're a direct result of implementation of Marxist ideals, there really is no other way to see it. Marxes attitude to the middle-classes is a case in point:

    "The lower strata of the middle class—the small tradespeople, shopkeepers, and retired tradesmen generally, the handicraftsmen and peasants—all these sink gradually into the proletariat, partly because their diminutive capital does not suffice for the scale on which Modern Industry is carried on, and is swamped in the competition with the large capitalists, partly because their specialised skill is rendered worthless by new methods of production. Thus the proletariat is recruited from all classes of the population"​

    He was quite wrong, far from diminishing wealth, the middle-classes increased wealth through their aspiration. Communists carried this belief into policy, sending "bourgeois reactionaries" to the gulag, or eliminating middle-classes in Cambodia or the cultural revoloution, seeing them not as humans with inalienable rights but as obstacles to Communism, or merely as "cogs" in Stalin's words.
    It's quite clear that Stalin saw the elimination of classes as part of the class struggle:

    "In order to oust the kulaks as a class, the resistance of this class must be smashed in open battle and it must be deprived of the productive sources of its existence and development (free use of land, instruments of production, land-renting, right to hire labour, etc.). That is a turn towards the policy of eliminating the kulaks as a class. Without it, talk about ousting the kulaks as a class is empty prattle, acceptable and profitable only to the Right deviators."

    And comparissons with capitalism are incorrect. Free market liberalism has raised more people out of absoloute poverty than any other force in history. It is responsible for the technological and scientific innovations that make modern science and technology possible. You can compare a nation that does not engage in trade, such as North Korea, with one that does, South Korea to see the differences in living standards and happiness.

    Yet Marxism requires that restrictions be placed on organisation's freedom to engage in free trade. Without trade no growth or prosperity is possible. And you can of course apply the same doctrine to developed societies, increasing the orders of magnitude of suffering. One only has to look at the consequences of Socialism in Venezuela, for example. By your reasoning, state murder, imprisonment, torture should be eliminated as communist nations industrialised fully. One only has to look at the USSR and

    Comparisons with Christianity are totally asymetrical. Christianity requires the individual to enact personal changes and beliefs in the individual, specifically that they should love God and their neighbour. Scripture does not direct individuals to make changes in others, except by example. Communism requires social progress to a utopian end. Time and again we have seen that there is no human or environmental cost too great in the means to achieve this end.

    It's not good enough to say"that wasn't real communism", or that it was not Marx's intent. We don't make excuses for Nazism or eugenicist programs.
  6. saluki

    saluki Lead commenter

    I didn't do Marxism until Uni. It didn't harm me one little bit. I'm sure it won't harm your students one little bit either. Have you got time to do a quick lesson on Animal Farm?
    tb9605 likes this.
  7. tb9605

    tb9605 Established commenter

    Yes. It also led to genocide in the Americas and Australia.

    And yet there were still the crusades, religious wars, inquisition, forced conversions, enthic cleaning carried out in the name of Christianity...

    I am not anti-free market liberalism (indeed, to be so would make me a hypocrite as I enjoy its trappings) or Religion, though I hold to none. However, it would be ridiculous to not teach Marxist perspectives because terrible things have been done in its name, as Marxism is not unique in this. Do so critically, of course.
  8. alex_teccy

    alex_teccy Lead commenter

    Surely a result of diesease and colonisation rather than genocide?
    And yet Marxist Russia tortured and murdered individuals to orders of magnitude than Christian Russia. There is no imperitive to commit murder in Christianity, but there is an imperitive to be a better individual. Evildoers will always take the docrine at hand to justify their actions.

    “Macbeth's self-justifications were feeble – and his conscience devoured him. Yes, even Iago was a little lamb, too. The imagination and spiritual strength of Shakespeare's evildoers stopped short at a dozen corpses. Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justification and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and determination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts seem good instead of bad in his own and others' eyes, so that he won't hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations.... Without evildoers there would have been no Archipelago.”
    ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956

    I agree, but OP is asking whether the colosal crimes against humanity comitted by Communists should be included in her coverage of Marxism. I think that they should, do you?
  9. VeronicAmb

    VeronicAmb Occasional commenter

    You can apply psychoanalysis to Dracula without mentioning Freud's Oedipus complex.

    You can apply post-colonial theory to The Color Purple without mentioning the East India Company.

    I'm sure you can apply Marxism without mentioning Stalin and his rhetoric.
    Lidnod likes this.
  10. roamingteacher

    roamingteacher Established commenter Forum guide

    I wouldn't have qualms. I'd look forward to the interesting discussions and debate such a study would raise. I'm thinking this is one of the aims of A-Level - to produce critical, analytical thinkers.
    Are you saying students shouldn't be made aware that Marxism ever existed? Or something else?
    Lidnod likes this.

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