Flow of Ideas
Second Time as Farce: From GM Schools to Independent Ones

Glenn Rikowski, London, 9th October 2005

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all facts and personages of great importance in world history occur, as it were, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. ... Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. ... And just when they seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something that has never existed, precisely in such periods of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle cries and costumes in order to present the new scene of world history in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language” (Karl Marx, 1852, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Loius Bonaparte, p.10).

An article by Alison Brace (2005) in the latest Times Educational Supplement is very instructive it its almost willful neglect of recent history. The article is about Sir Bob Balchin, who was former chairman of the Grant Maintained (GM) Schools Foundation under the Tories. GM schools were financed directly by the central educational administration (for non-UK readers). They were not subject to local democratic control via the local education authority (LEA), where elected members of local councils and LEA officers had a substantial role to play in organising the local school system and in distributing finance to schools.

Brace charts what has happened to Sir Bob since New Labour abolished GM schools after coming to power in 1997. However, this is not the most interesting aspect of the article. She notes Sir Bob's commitment to independent schools being in control of their own finances, and adds:

“In 1977, with New Labour's election victory, Sir Bob's empire abruptly fell apart - his dream of turning every state school into a self-governing, independent organisation in tatters.”

Well, no actually. This completely misreads recent history and current developments. Whilst Sir Bob's career might have suffered a temporary setback his ‘dream’ lived on and came to attain a new reality in New Labour's current obsession with creating strong ‘independent’ schools free from LEA control and ‘interference’. New Labour’s Academies Programme is at the forefront of realising Sir Bob’s dream, with specialist schools also in line for the 'independent' treatment in due course.

Of course, once all schools are ‘independent’, islands of educational excellence or whatever, then certain consequences follow:

1. The schools system becomes more marketised - with individual productive units becoming ever more clearly differentiated.

2. Individual schools and the schools system as a whole become more open to business takeover: they lose any form of protection of the LEA from business interests that they might have at present.

3. Schemes such as co-payment can more easily be stealthed in; charges for educational services to parents, no doubt starting at very low levels but gradually building up, as dental charges have over the years. Some maverick Head teachers may positively embrace such schemes in order to gain financial and competitive advantages - aided and encouraged by New Labour.

In sum: the trend towards establishing 'independent' schools is another way in which the schools system is becoming marketised and commodified. These processes are part of the developing totality of capital.

The notion of totality as applied to capital is a strange one where the totality is never ‘total’ (and cannot be for reasons I can’t go into here). It develops, it 'becomes' as Marx might have said (and also Nietzsche). The totality of life in capital’s social universe is not all-embracing: it has its own opposite, labour, as presupposition. It is a social universe of contradiction and change, yet has a ‘logic’ that can be discerned (where its opposite can be suspended in thought), even if never realised (due to the clash of forces – labour and capital) (Postone, 1996). When we uncover this ‘logic’ we arrive at pure horror. We must all try to become philosophers of horror, all the better to protect ourselves against the real development of the 'logic' of capital, and hence capital’s totality.

What people like Sir Bob and New Labour Education Ministers and leading people in the Department for Education and Skills are doing is that they are pushing the ‘logic’ of capital along. They are aiding the further development of a particular form of life within a particular social universe: the social universe of capital. Yet even their souls are riven, like as for all of us, as a matter of social constitution of their personhoods: labour against capital within the self.

Do they know of capital's ‘logic’? Are they happy with its paths and terrain? Do you, are you?


Brace, A. (2005) Tory godfather opts back in, Times Educational Supplement, 7th October, p.17.

Marx, K. (1852) [1954] The Eighteenth Brumaire of Loius Bonaparte, Moscow: Progress Publishers.

Postone, M. (1996) Time, Labor and Social Domination: A reinterpretation of Marx's critical theory, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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