The Myth of Trade Unionism,
The Rule of Caprice
excerpted from the book
The Politics of Misrule in America
by Walter Karp
Franklin Square Press, 1993, paper
[originally published - 1973]
The Myth of Trade Unionism
... with only occasional and inconsequential exceptions, the trade-union
organizations put their enormous wealth and influence at the service
of Democratic machine politics, of local, state and national Democratic
bosses, and hence of the party oligarchy as a whole.
... When the party oligarchs instituted
Jim Crow in the South, Southern trade unions promptly raised the
color bar and kept it raised until the oligarchs themselves were
forced to relent. Whenever the party bosses decide upon war-from
World War I to Vietnam-the union chiefs invariably shout the loudest
The legal foundation of trade unionism ... has been established,
essentially, since 1947. That year, the Taft-Hartley Act reiterated
word for word all the fundamental pro-union provisions of the
1935 Wagner Act, including the "duty" of employers to
bargain collectively, one of the most important provisions of
all. By reiterating the Wagner Act provisions, however, the Taft-Hartley
Act went beyond them because all the key terms-the "duty"
to bargain, for example-had already been defined in thousands
of pro-union decisions of the National Labor Relations Board,
which the Wagner Act created. The Taft-Hartley Act gave statutory
legal status to these administrative decisions and thereby made
it compulsory for employers to bargain collectively with unions
to a satisfactory conclusion. With that, the legal foundation
of trade unionism was essentially complete, a Republican Congress
having established by general law all that an earlier generation
of trade unionists had hoped to win piecemeal through individual
union-management contracts. Compared to its pro-union features,
the anti-union provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act are trifles,
the prohibition against closed shops, for example, being virtually
inconsequential. Since 1947, however, the trade-union chiefs have
been, if anything, even more subservient to the party oligarchs
The machinery for setting the nation's industrial wages works
essentially as follows: by common agreement among the oligarchs,
the industrial unions and the major industrial corporations, one
industrial union is allowed to be the wage leader, just as in
setting prices for a monopoly industry one company, by common
consent, is usually allowed to be the price leader. The contracts
negotiated by the wage leader are then heralded as the standard
to which other unions and nonunion workers are supposed to aspire.
In practice, wage leadership was given to the United Automobile
Workers, the largest industrial union, in collaboration with General
Motors, the largest industrial corporation. In 1948, the UAW and
GM actually drew up a basic contract which explicitly embodies
the government's wage policy: wage increases, according to that
contract, were to be determined by the annual increase in productivity-an
estimated 3 percent-and increases in the cost of living. The government,
for its part, was supposed to ensure stable prices, which it did
until the Vietnam War. To help convince union members-the only
people not party to the agreement-that the UAW was a worthy wage
leader, the union's late president, Walter Reuther, was built
up as the one truly unblemished hero of trade unionism. So precious
a commodity was Reuther's reputation as an independent man that
the oligarchs even allowed him not to endorse the Vietnam War,
although the UAW never supported the peace movement either. It
just went into limbo for a few years, splitting with the war-hawk
AIL-CIO in 1968 in order to do so. The part which union economic
power plays in all this is nil, like that power itself.
In denying that trade unions exercise
economic power, I seem to be ignoring the notorious power 0f the
craft unions and particularly that of the two dozen unions comprising
the building trades. In many ways the craft unions are different
from the newer industrial unions. They are not, for one thing,
essential parts of the monopoly economy. Whereas four corporations
employ almost all the nation's automobile workers, literally thousands
of building contractors employ the members of the construction
unions. Yet even these unions do not wield independent economic
power. The high hourly wages which construction workers earn (when
they work) are not due to union power but to the scarcity of employable
workers. This scarcity, however, is entirely the result of state
and municipal ordinances. By means of building codes, apprenticeship
laws, licensing laws and other measures, corrupt local governments
secured for the craft unions the power to control and restrict
the number of skilled workers in the field. Corrupt local governments,
for example, compel contractors to hire only union help by prohibiting
any but licensed workers to take part in construction while giving
the licensing power to the union bosses. To protect craft-union
control of the skilled labor force further, the same municipal
governments award huge city building contracts only to companies
that hire union members, or more precisely, that commission union
business agents to do the hiring. The building trades unions-and
other craft unions-are simply government-created monopolies. They
have privileges but no independent power. The benefits which craft-union
members receive from sharing in monopoly privilege they get entirely
at government behest. Since it is a corrupt privilege granted
at the expense of the many, the craft unions have been serving
local political machines for almost a century. The real difference
between the craft unions and the later industrial unions is that
members of the former derive real benefits from union membership
(they often pay huge entry fees for the right to share in monopoly
privilege), whereas industrial union members only get what they
would have to be given anyway in order to maintain the monopoly
It is obvious, therefore, why trade-union
organizations are subservient to corrupt power. Without the constant
connivance of the party oligarchs, union members would have little
reason to belong to trade unions. Only corrupt monopoly privilege
keeps craft unionists in craft unions. Only the oligarchs' connivance
at a momentous fiction-the fiction that industrial unions win
benefits for workers by their independent economic power-keeps
industrial workers in industrial unions. The ultimate special
privilege which trade-union leaders receive from the party oligarchs
is the privilege of being trade-union leaders; the standing debt
which the AFL-CIO owes to the party bosses is payment for its
Politically speaking, however, the crucial
question is why the oligarchs have found it so useful to put millions
of workers in trade unions (including, since 1960, government-created
government employees unions). In what way, that is, does the existence
of trade unions serve the interests of oligarchic power? The answer
is-in every way possible.
Aside from political money and support,
the primary service which the industrial unions render to oligarchic
power is to disguise the political determination of industrial
wages. The oligarchs' need to disguise this is readily apparent.
If industrial workers were to recognize the political basis of
their weekly paychecks, they would press, they could not help
but press, their demands directly upon government itself. Organization
control of elected officials cannot withstand an electorate whose
interests are so visibly affected by public decisions. Party power
cannot bear too many real issues appearing in the public arena,
such issues as the share-out of total income between workers and
corporations. By siphoning wage settlements (and other benefits)
through industrial unions, the oligarchs at once remove both the
issues and the political pressure. 'Workers, persuaded that their
interests are served not through politics but through "collective
bargaining," not through the exercise of their political
power as citizens but through the economic power of an economic
organization, are to that extent shunted out of politics, like
trains switched from one track to another. The willingness of
millions of citizens to act for themselves becomes sharply impaired,
for men do not take readily to politics when politics appears
irrelevant to their most immediate concerns. This is the primary
function of industrial unions-to make politics appear irrelevant
to millions of citizens.
Although trade unions now and then talk about "trade union
democracy," the ability of union members to control union
officials is virtually nil. This is because every condition that
makes self-rule possible, let alone a reality, is lacking within
most trade unions. The essential condition of self-rule, in a
trade union as well as a political community, is that members
can act together independently of their temporary rulers. For
such acting together, however, the unions provide no mechanisms,
no forums, no necessary conditions. It is the leaders, not the
members, who control the money, the patronage, the union jobs,
the union meetings, the union press and all sources of information
about union affairs. It is they who control the union's electoral
machinery and in many unions actually appoint the committees that
nominate candidates for union office. The union chiefs, in short,
have everything an elective despot needs to secure his despotism,
including an ideology which makes opposition itself anathema,
since any serious opposition can be readily denounced as disruptive
of solidarity, injurious to union power and treachery in the face
of the enemy (the management is always vehemently "anti union"
in trade-union propaganda). The ability of trade-union members
to control trade-union officials goes counter to everything in
the trade-union creed and runs athwart everything in the trade-union
This is why trade-union democracy"
is so transparent a farce, why most union chiefs reign uncontested
for decades and readily pick their own successors. Of all the
self-perpetuating oligarchies in the world, none can so easily
perpetuate themselves as the chiefs of the trade-union organizations.
In taking industrial workers out of the hands of the monopoly
capitalists and putting them into the hands of the union chiefs,
the party oligarchs merely shifted them from one system of indirect
political control that failed to another system of control that
thus far has succeeded. That, in essence, was the "New Deal
The trade unions' usefulness to corrupt
power does not end there, however. By putting millions of citizens
into an empty economic bag, the oligarchs not only shunted them
out of politics, they put them under the control of organizations
with every interest of their own in keeping them out of politics.
Thwarting the free political activity of union members has been
the central policy of trade-union leaders since the emergence
of trade unions. This policy the trade unionists once practiced
quite openly, since it is absolutely justified by the trade-union
creed. Political activity, as the old AFL leaders rightly insisted,
was injurious to trade-union organizations. The divisive clash
of political opinions weakened union solidarity; political action
weakened loyalty to the union; political hope distracted members
from the "real" issues of trade unionism-the effort
to secure better wages and other benefits through collective bargaining
at the workplace. What a strong union requires is members who
are politically apathetic, who do not hanker after beneficial
laws, who seek only improved contracts for themselves, who are
imbued, in the argot of trade unionism, with "wage consciousness."
Although the union chiefs themselves were neck deep in machine
politics, the rank and file were exhorted to mind only union business.
Because ample leisure, too, is a prerequisite of political liberty,
trade-union chiefs' efforts to secure increased leisure for their
members have been largely negligible and pro forma. The forty-hour,
five-day factory week was achieved by the end of the 1930s. After
three decades of trade-union "leadership," the work
week for factory workers has remained exactly the same, while
the new movement for a four-day week has arisen, significantly,
among unorganized workers who do not have "powerful"
trade unions to speak for them.
[The] antipolitical policy of the trade unions-no politics for
the members, corrupt politics for the union-culminates in the
trade unions' long-standing opposition to general welfare legislation.
Every such law ... arouses political hope and undoes overnight
years of union efforts to inculcate political apathy and narrow
wage consciousness. More importantly, every beneficial law renders
union members that much more independent of their trade-union
organizations, which can only hold on to their members if they
appear to be the sole source of economic benefits.
... it is a great advantage to labor that
American citizens receive grossly inadequate old-age pensions
because this makes union members dependent upon, and grateful
for, union pension plans, many of which are outrageously corrupt.
As official members of the liberal wing
of the Democratic machine, however, trade unions cannot openly
oppose welfare legislation any longer, but such legislation remains,
unalterably, a union-busting device. The union's secret opposition
to reform, therefore, parallels that of machine liberals in the
Democratic party. They protect the power of the Southern Bourbons
who defeat the measures the unions must now pretend to favor.
... It should be glaringly obvious why
the party oligarchs created and now sustain the "trade-union
movement." Here is a vast and wealthy organization whose
interests are absolutely identical with those of the party oligarchs.
Like the oligarchs, the unions are determined to control and degrade
free citizens, to render them politically inert, divided and ignorant
to disguise from them in every way the relevance of politics to
their lives, to cripple their capacity and willingness to act
in their own behalf, to see them-and all citizens-bereft of protective
and beneficial laws and of the very hope of winning them. Here
is an organization whose leaders are so absolutely dependent on
corrupt power that they will scruple at no act 0f political corruption.
Yet they will serve corrupt power with a clear conscience-as faithful
servants of the trade-union creed. From the point of view of republican
self-government a trade-union chief is absolutely corrupt; from
the point of view of trade unionism, he is absolutely honest.
This is why, at bottom, the party oligarchs created trade unions-political
liberty is the ' enemy of both.
At this point a question properly arises.
If the trade unions are so eminently useful to the party oligarchs,
why were the latter so long reluctant to organize the major industries?
'Why did they wait until necessity forced their hand? The reason
for this lies in the very fact that industrial unions are a fraud
upon millions of citizens. The risks involved in perpetrating
such a fraud were-and still are-considerable. If the fraud ever
failed, the oligarchs would be worse off than ever. They would
have encouraged industrial workers to organize; they would have
taught them the habits of cooperation; they would have provided
them with a mechanism-dues-for amassing large sums of money. Should
union members ever clearly realize that their unions are worse
than useless, they would have no alternative but free politics,
and they could turn to it with considerable advantages-their money,
their organizations, their local union forums. This is the last
thing the party oligarchs would want. They had every reason to
be reluctant and to act as they did only when it became necessary,
that is, when they had to take responsibility for industrial wages.
As long as the oligarchs entrusted the monopolists to determine
wages, they opposed industrial unions (company unions excepted).
As long as they did so, no industry could be organized, trade
unions having no power to organize a major industry against the
wishes of the political powers.
Since trade unionism is a fraud, the essential
labor policy of the party oligarchs is aimed at keeping union
members from realizing it. This effort consists in giving support
and credence to all the fraudulent claims and pretensions of the
trade-union ideology. The oligarchs do this in great part just
by serving their own interests, which are identical with the unions.
Trade unionism claims that citizens who labor have no hope save
in unions; the oligarchs make good the claim by their constant
endeavor to blast public hope. Trade unionism claims that workers
can only win benefits through unions; the party oligarchs prove
this by constantly trying to thwart general reform. Trade unionism
claims that politics is largely futile; the oligarchs constantly
try to make politics appear futile. However, the oligarchs must
take more active steps to maintain the "trade-union movement."
The essential fiction-the fiction of union
economic power-the oligarchs perpetuate by the universal pretense
that it exists. Wage benefits are funneled through industrial
unions. The unions' claim that they win these benefits is simply
never contested by anyone in public life. It is the perfect bipartisan
lie: conservative Republicans deplore union power, liberal Democrats
extol it. It is nonexistent, like the difference between a conservative
and a liberal machine politician. To convince workers further
that the unions wield economic power, the major corporations,
at the oligarchs' behest, also play their indispensable part.
While collective bargaining goes on behind closed doors, labor
and management try their best to contrive the appearance of a
genuine tug-of-war, a real pitting of strength against strength.
Given that charade of struggle, management's ultimate "concession"
to union "demands"-which almost always matches the government's
wage policy-becomes the trophy of victory which the union chiefs
bring back to their rank and file, whose only influence in all
this consists of the genuine fear of the oligarchs, the unions
and the corporations that they will get fed up with their unions.
This fear occasionally brings industrial union members a slightly
larger wage increase than the wage policy calls for. Disgust with
their unions is the only power union members have and it is based
entirely on the oligarchs' fear of their unused power as citizens.
On the other hand, union solidarity makes the rank and file totally
powerless, exactly the reverse 0f the tradeunion creed.
To help keep union members convinced that their unions are their
best representatives, the oligarchs also help sustain a second
major trade-union pretense, that the unions actually wield independent
political power. Since it is impossible to render twenty million
Americans totally apathetic politically, the fiction of union
political power is the perfect way of diverting them from acting
on their own. Every four years organized labor submits a list
of reforms to the Democratic national convention, which duly incorporates
these "demands" in the party platform, thus demonstrating
the power of the unions in the councils of the Democratic party.
Trade-union leaders are cosseted and pampered, their influence
at the White House constantly paraded before the membership. The
AFL-CIO's rubber-stamp conventions are invariably addressed by
exalted officials. The most blatant union truckling to the Democratic
machine is invariably described as the Democrats' truckling to
unions. This is yet another perfect bipartisan lie: liberal Democrats
extol this nonexistent union influence, conservative Republicans
In our own time the essential pretext for union adherence to Democratic
party has been built on the Taft-Hartley Act and is equally spurious.
Since the Taft-Hartley Act effectively compels employers to bargain
in good faith according to the definition of good faith laid down
in thousands of administrative decisions of the National Labor
Relations Board, it is,(as I said) the culminating victory for
trade unionism, its true Magna Carta. The union chiefs have been
attacking it ever since; indeed they had to, the allegedly "crippling"
effects of the measure being their basic alibi for economic impotence.
They could scarcely admit that Taft-Hartley gave them everything
when the result is that they are nothing.
... In 1965 the heavily Democratic House
voted to repeal one provision of the Taft-Hartley Act, the hated,
though quite inconsequential, section 14(b), which authorizes
states to pass right-to-work laws. Since the Democrats had no
intention of repealing that provision (it serves as the unions'
excuse for not organizing in the West and the South), they conveniently
killed the repeal measure in the Senate. This was done by allowing
Senator Everett Dirksen to play the indispensable Republican enemy
and filibuster it to death. Though the filibuster could have been
broken easily by round-the-clock Senate sessions, Democratic Majority
Leader Mike Mansfield refused to call any as a matter of "principle."
Vehement efforts by the trade unions to punish Mansfield, the
Senate Democratic leadership, the Bourbon opponents of repeal
and machine Democrats who support Southern Bourbons are, of course,
nowhere in evidence. Repeal of Taft-Hartley would be a disaster
for the trade unions. On the other hand, Western Democratic Congressmen
who vote against repeal of 14(b) are mercilessly hounded by the
unions when the Democratic bosses give the signal. The trade unions
support legislators who pretend to oppose a law they have no intention
of repealing and attack those who oppose repealing a law which
the unions have no wish to see repealed. So much for the trade
unions' nonpartisan politics. Like everything else in the trade-union
creed, it is absolutely fraudulent.
... trade unions are absolutely corrupt, a condition which Lord
Acton attributed to absolute power but which in their case is
inseparable from absolute impotence. Beginning with the proposition-doubtless
sincerely held at first-that free politics in a free Republic
is no business of a worker, that self-government is inherently
a sham, that real power is always economic, the trade unionists
have demonstrated what happens to those who act upon ideological
fictions. They become the servants of those who strive to make
self-government the very sham which the ideology claims it to
be, namely the prevailing wielders of corrupt, usurped power.
This is the real lesson 0f trade unionism. Those who will not
fight for political liberty, who do not make the enhancement of
liberty and self-government their principle and goal, will end
up as the bulwark of the enemies of liberty and of the usurpers
of the citizens' constituted power. The trade unions did not become
stagnant. They did not betray their early promise. They were born
dead, and the only tragedy 0f trade unionism is the waste of brave
men who mistakenly believed in it.
The Rule of Caprice
The political consequence of bureaucratic rule-the rule of caprice-provides
the key to grasping its political significance. Because a bureaucracy
can, through its scope for caprice, produce results which bear
no connection to law and lawmakers, the results of bureaucratic
rule appear to be the consequence of no political deed and the
responsibility of no political actor. They will appear to just
happen or to constitute a general trend, reflecting the effect
of social forces, historic laws or the providential hand of God.
For the wielders of oligarchic power, the advantages of ruling
through bureaucracies are clear.
Perhaps the most important example of the politics of bureaucracy
is the oligarchs' creation of the major Federal bureaucracies-the
regulatory agencies and commissions, the Federal Reserve Board
and the like-to sustain and enlarge the monopoly system.
The American people's historic opposition
to monopoly is beyond all dispute. Since the birth of the Republic
they have registered that opposition in innumerable ways and in
major legislation. "The nation's commitment, embodied in
the antitrust laws, to competitive pricing," to quote former
Chief Justice Earl Warren, means that the oligarchs can only maintain
the monopoly system in defiance both of fundamental law and of
long-held republican principle. To do this openly is beyond their
political capacity. Moreover, to maintain the monopoly system
openly would destroy the central myth of Big Business, namely
that the economy we have was self-created and, in consequence,
Such being the case, virtually every regulatory
agency is charged by law not to support monopoly, but, on the
contrary, to maintain "fair competition" in the industries
they regulate. In practice, however, regulatory agencies work
to destroy price competition. As Kohlmeier demonstrates in The
Regulators "they are the nemesis of competition as defined
by the anti-trust laws and the Department of Justice." The
reason the regulatory agencies can defy the law is precisely their
scope for caprice, which was deliberately bestowed upon the agencies
by the party oligarchs to carry out their monopoly policy. The
Congressional oligarchs do this by giving the agencies the authority
to carry out the laws' stated purpose while leaving the means
to do so unspecified. Claiming that the means are merely technical,
Congress gives the agencies full discretionary power to decide
the technicalities themselves.
Since the regulatory agencies bring about their results-securing
the monopoly system-in defiance of the express purpose of law,
the link between politics and monopoly is broken. The oligarchs'
determination to maintain the monopoly system is masked; the monopolists'
very need of governmental protection is hidden, so much so that
when corporation spokesmen bluster about government "interference,"
people actually take them seriously and conclude that regulation
is anti-Big Business. So well does bureaucracy hide the political
character of monopoly that it appears to be an economic phenomenon
independent of political deeds and determinations. The monopolization
of the economy truly appears to be the result of economic laws
so imperative that the "efforts" of the lawmakers to
curb it invariably prove unavailing. Yet it is the lawmakers who
deliberately subvert their own efforts, and it is bureaucracy
which now enables them to do so-regularly, secretly and with virtual
The relation between bureaucracy and government intervention strikingly
illustrated in the case of the farm program brought into being
by Roosevelt under the Agricultural Adjustment Act. This was,
of course, a drastic intervention in the economics of farming,
carried out for the professed purpose of solving the farm problem
and rescuing the nation's farmers from their chronic plight. In
fact the New Deal farm program was-and remains-nothing of the
sort. The farm program was not an effort to save the nation's
farmers but to get rid of them. That was the oligarchs' real purpose:
to solve the farm problem by consolidating agriculture.
What the oligarchs did was embed their real, undisclosed farm
policy in the farm bureaucracy itself, which has become, by the
deliberate determination of the party oligarchs, a virtual machine
for driving small farmers from the land, which it does, in and
year out with the remorselessness of a juggernaut.
By hiding the political determination
o that expulsion, however, the farm bureaucracy completely masks
the oligarchs' responsibility for it. The expulsion of small farmers
appears to be not an expulsion but part of a long-term trend which
ideologues of one sort or another attribute to industrialization,
monopolization, mechanization or whatever plausible cause they
can concoct. So far from being blamed for the disappearance of
small farmers, the oligarchs are often lauded for their titanic,
costly but futile effort to save the farmers from their preordained
fate. Such perversions of reality breed yet more wretched perversions.
Judging by the oligarchs' alleged efforts to save small farmers,
many social commentators now write learned nonsense about "the
myth of the small farmer" in America. According to their
view, the farmers' mythical republican virtues have led to a sentimental
cherishing of the family farm. In fact the party oligarchs have
cherished the small farmers the way a tank cherishes a flower
bed and precisely because the myth is not so mythic after all.
Since the Civil War, at least, the most unruly, the most independent,
the most republican of American citizens have been the small farmers
whose fate was sealed by a law purporting to save them and by
a bureaucracy set up to kill them off.
The fundamental principle of republican education, as Thomas Jefferson
said, is "to enable every man to judge for himself what will
secure or endanger his freedom." Republican education presupposes
that schoolchildren are future citizens, no more and no less;
that republican liberty is always endangered; that the ambitions
of usurpers must always be resisted; that free politics is the
necessary business of every free man; that the fundamentals of
republican education must, in consequence, be made available to
every child. The central principle of the educational establishment
is to presuppose the very opposite - like the party oligarchs,
the educators use the republican standard their unfailing guide
to what not to do.
Since free men cannot judge for themselves what endangers their
freedom if they believe it is never in danger, it is the chief
burden of the public school curriculum to persuade children that
their liberty is always secure. This is accomplished easily enough.
The dangers to liberty to which Jefferson referred derive from
the ambition of would-be usurpers, those who would rob the citizenry
of their voice in their own government. For that reason, he insisted,
the study of political history-the history of men's deeds-must
be the heart of republican schooling. By studying the political
deeds of men, of Catiline and Cato, of Cromwell and King Charles,
the future citizens of the Republic would "know ambition
under all its shapes and [be] prompt to exert their natural powers
to defeat its purposes." Such being the case, the school
managers have virtually prevented students from studying political
history. Insofar as it is taught at all, the ambitions of usurpers
are omitted entirely; in the typical American history textbook,
every public leader is a faithful servant of the people; only
foreign rulers in the distant past had unscrupulous political
Since even gutted political history still
discusses the deeds of men, the school managers have tried to
eliminate political history entirely. Its replacement in our time
is "social studies," whose original pedagogic purpose
was to imbue students with a "socialized disposition"
and other virtues deemed necessary for industrial society.
It is ... a fundamental principle of republican education that
every future citizen, regardless of social background, must be
given a republican education and an equal opportunity for advanced
education. The very reason for free public schools, as Jefferson
said, was to help ordinary citizens overcome the natural advantages
of birth and wealth in the endless contention for political eminence.
America's professional educators have been trying to get around
this ever since it became apparent around the turn of the century
that the great mass of American children would soon be receiving
Preventing them from learning anything
once they got to high school has been the abiding endeavor of
the educators. As Woodrow Wilson himself advised: "We want
one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another
class of persons a very much larger class of necessity in every
society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit
themselves to perform specific, difficult manual tasks."
The "much larger class" to be shunted into the then
new vocational and industrial curricula were, needless to say,
the less affluent. As J. E. Russell of Columbia Teachers College
remarked in 1905: "How can we justify our practice in schooling
the masses in precisely the same manner we do those who are to
be their leaders?" Only by the republican principle of the
equality of liberty which the educational establishment was bent
on betraying. Hence, said Charles Eliot, president of Harvard,
in 1908: "we come upon a new function for the teachers in
our elementary-schools and in my judgment they have no function
more important. The teachers of the elementary schools ought to
sort the pupils; and sort them by their evident or probable destinies,"
a hypocrite's way of saying their family backgrounds. Since this
"new function" was a direct betrayal of republican principle,
the educators eagerly seized on the Frenchman Alfred Binet's Intelligence
Quotient tests, which "proved" scientifically that the
masses were congenitally incapable of acquiring a liberal education
in high school. The IQ tests not only gave the school managers
their pretext for sorting by family background, it allowed them
to blame their betrayal of future citizens on the victims themselves.
"They put themselves in the scrap heap, not us," as
a professor of education once put it.
To make sure that the children of the
poor lack every possible educational advantage, the educators
have been busy, too, denying them elementary literacy. About thirty
years ago the educators virtually abandoned one method of teaching
reading-by means of the alphabet and phonetics-which succeeded
throughout the world and replaced it with the so-called look-say
method, which was supposedly psychologically superior. Although
this new method proved a failure even before it was introduced,
it had for the school managers one irresistibly attractive property:
it failed best among those children, generally the poorest, whose
parents do not teach them the alphabet at home. Having adopted
a reading method that handicaps the impoverished, the educators
now blame illiteracy on their students' impoverished backgrounds,
just as formerly, during the reign of the now discredited IQ tests,
they blamed it on their inferior germ plasm.
)no benefits from teaching America's children
that they are chiefly future employees and jobholders, that America
is not a Republic of self-governing citizens but an industrial
society of workers, that institutions "evolve," that
political ambition is nonexistent and politics irrelevant? )no
benefits from illiteracy and semiliteracy among the mass of the
poor and oppressed, from ghetto schools so degraded that Harlem
schoolchildren think the police make the laws? )no benefits from
teaching future citizens that their liberty is never endangered
from usurpers? Who benefits, quite obviously, are the prevailing
political usurpers. Between present-day public education and the
abiding interests of the party oligarchs the identity is virtually
absolute and describes American public education even in minute
details. In a country whose people supposedly worship the Founding
Fathers, the writings of the Founders-the most masterful republican
political analyses in political literature-are not seriously studied.
In a country whose greatest man, Abraham Lincoln, said we must
love our country, not merely because it is ours but because it
is free, our schools teach flag worship and jingoism (flag ceremonies
were approved by the National Educational Association in 1896,
the year of the Populist revolt) and call that education for citizenship.
"There's richness," as Dickens' Mr. Squeers observed
while passing out watered milk to his students.
The point, I believe, is made. The close
congruence between the educators' policies and the oligarchs'
political interests is no coincidence. The educational establishment
is not autonomous; its judgments are not professional judgments;
it does not control the schools. Like every autonomous bureaucracy
and every other professional bureaucracy, it is the two-faced
lackey of the party oligarchs. It is they, not the educators,
who control the nation's schools, and the public schools we have
are the public schools they have given us. It was by bureaucratizing
education, by wresting control of education from the suffrage
of local communities through teacher-licensing laws, accreditation
laws, state education commissions and the massive consolidation
of school districts beginning after World War I that the oligarchs
gained control of the Republic's schools. It is by means of bureaucratic
caprice that the oligarchs have been able systematically to betray
longheld republican principles of education, including the most
fundamental one, that the public schools must be kept independent
0f the prevailing political powers. It is by operating the schools
behind the facade of a professional bureaucracy that the oligarchs
hide their control of the schools, for like every other bureaucracy,
the educational establishment serves to mask the political determination
of results, the results in this case being the degraded public
schools of the Republic.
"The masters of the Government of the United States are the
combined capitalists and manufacturers of the country.