The Marxist TEFL Group

The Marxist TEFL Group’s aim is to persuade EFL teachers to fight for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of a communist world order. They pursue their mission by writing illiterate posts on a blog, where garbled bits of Marxist dogma are mixed with personal attacks on those they identify as enemies of the working class.

Bad Writing 

Here are a few examples of the texts:

Trade unions have been treated as a residual element of society based on industrial relations of the past, to be tolerated but heavilly  constrained to ensure the dominant order functions.

We do not want to disappear too far into Marxist exegesis, ….

We wish to examine the limitations which such forms offer teachers looking to find alternative ways of exercising their trade.

the framework of liberation has been replaced by a co-option to hierachical, irrational, life-threatening and savagely cruel regime of accumulation. 

If the west didn’t need to be bombed and persecuted into accepting greater equality why would other countries and communities.

Paradoxically, the money they sent home and stories of another would also encouraged growth and stimulated language learning

This is not to say that key individuals (with their particular idiosyncrasies do not  shape history, rather that history (social relations) calls them forth and they play their particular part in their own distinctive style, and that these particular nuances can themselves help to propel history in certain directions and at certain speeds.

The writing is bad not just at the sentence level; entire sections of posts collapse into incoherence, while most posts lack the cohesion needed to make the texts easy to follow. And when, despite the awful prose, the argument is understandable, it often turns out to be wrong. Below I give just one example.

Bad Scholarship 

In a discussion of the differences between Proudhon and Marx, we read:

It is wholly understandable that Proudhon would develop a different view of the remedies towards inequality when looking at the problem from a different reality to Marx. 

What was the “different reality” from which Proudhon looked at the problem of “remedies towards inequalities”? It turns out to be the difference between the workshops that the two thinkers observed, and the way they analysed them. While Proudhon, according to the group, focused on the power which “private property (the ownership of the workshop)” gave its owners “to command the workers and live off their labour”, Marx looked at the growth of “the new factory system in Manchester, and “the changes this new system brought about, particularly a growing division between mental and labour labour, the increased division in labour of particular tasks, and the growth in supervision of those tasks”. The conclusion drawn is that

It is important therefore to distinguish between private property as a means to exploit workers and private property as the driver of this this exploitation.

First, the conclusion doesn’t follow, and second, the premises are false. “Property” in both Proudhon’s and Marx’s work is a construct referring to unpaid labour, not to the ownership of workshops. Furthermore, Proudhon identified surplus value production long before Marx, arguing that the worker is hired by the capitalist, who then appropriates their product in return for a less than equivalent amount of wages. Nearly thirty years later, in 1844, Marx states the same thing: property results from the capitalist’s appropriation of the unpaid part of the labour of the workers. Marx wrote:

Proudhon was the first to draw attention to the fact that the sum of the wages of the individual workers, even if each individual labour be paid for completely, does not pay for the collective power objectified in its product, that therefore the worker is not paid as a part of the collective labour power. (Marx & Engels, 1844; Chapter 4, Section 4.)

The accounts offered in the pages of this blog of social, economic and political history and of the works of Marx, Engels, Proudhon and others not only fail to meet elementary standards of writing, they also fail to meet elementary standards of scholarship or analysis. Any proper Marxist scholar would be embarrassed to read this stuff.

Bad Arguments 

Too often, the group base their criticism on personal attacks. For example, in a comment on their Strategy Paper Three, I remarked on their bad writing, corrected what they said I’d said about Marek Kiczkowiak and defended Scott Thornbury. The group’s (anonymous!) reply consists mostly of silly insults, starting with the suggestion that I’d got hold of the wrong end of the stick by assuming that the Strategy Paper was all about me. Next, they say:

We hear from the podcast that you believe too many people (I guess you mean working class) go to university and it should be restricted to people only as intelligent as yourself.

I said no such thing.  A bit later, they say:

 We quite understand teachers have to feed and clothe themselves …. That’s why your continued hypocrisy towards Marek Kiczkowiak is so unpleasant. Marek Kiczowiak promotes a co-authored book about teaching English as a Lingua Franca and training courses around this approach ….. and you accuse him of exploiting others.

This is a reference to a single post I wrote on my blog in 2017 pointing to a conflict of interests on Marek’s website. Marek defended his actions, made adjustments to his website and I’ve said nothing about it since. I’ve never accused him of exploiting anybody. Finally, they say:

You have worked … 25 years for an elite private business school (of course rich fee paying students are welcome to go to university but lumpens not) in Barcelona from where you flogged MA TESOL courses with the then manager. Where is your campaigning for equality? It appears you have dedicated your teaching life to promoting inequality. 

Equally childish and inaccurate are the hopelessly-written posts attacking Scott Thornbury (the distinction between “Thornbury the person” and “Thornbury the phenomenon” is particularly daft), but let’s move to the more serious issue of the posts on John Haycraft.

John Haycraft 

The group dedicates four posts to John Haycraft, co-founder of the International House chain of English language schools. While the group members have every right to be as critical as they like of Haycraft’s work, they should be ashamed of themselves for the personal attacks, insulting sneers, and pompous moral outrage which characterise these posts.

This is from Part 1:

For anyone in any doubt, Haycraft’s class position is perfectly demonstrated by the fact that, after his father’s death, he and his family were able to swan around Europe for 15 years on their father’s military pension. We can imagine few widows of British soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan being afforded the same priviledge today.

After his father’s death, John Haycraft, aged 3, and his brother were brought up by their mother, on what all the obituaries refer to as “a small army pension”. The writer of the post makes no attempt to find out how much money the family lived on; all that matters is to “perfectly demonstrate” Haycraft’s “class position”.  Additionally, the comment about widows of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is tastelees and offensive.

Here are two more extracts:

John Haycraft was part of a born-to-rule elite. While he didn’t enjoy the overt state backing of his father sent out to rule Indians through military might, or quite the imperial prestige of his Uncle Sir Thomas Haycraft, he did indeed fly the flag for the “Anglo-sphere”.

It is no happy accident that Haycraft’s brother was an important publisher and part of the art elite in the UK ……. While their position within the ruling elite is not as illustrious as their ancestors, they still had access to a wide range of elite contacts which helped them to becone the “self-made” men I am sure they both believed they were.

Again, no attempt is made to give an honest description of Haycraft’s circumstances. His life bears little resemblance to his father’s or his uncle’s, or his brother’s, but never mind, the important thing is to establish his membership of a born-to-rule elite. (1)

This sets the tone for the four posts on Haycraft, which are littered with personal jibes, mostly related to his class background, and loose accusations which are not properly researched, or fairly stated. When a link to the first of these posts was put on Twitter, a teacher who read it responded:

“Wow! What an ugly read!” 

The teacher added in a second comment:

Ugly in content, tone, intention, writing, formatting and even editing /proofreading.

Amen to that.

Note

1 The group have only good things to say about George Orwell (Eric Blair), who was also born in India, twenty years before John Haycraft. Orwell’s father worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service. His great-grandfather, Charles Blair, was a wealthy country gentleman in Dorset who married Lady Mary Fane, daughter of the Earl of Westmorland, and had income as an absentee landlord of plantations in Jamaica. The Marxist Group seem in less of a hurry, when citing Orwell, to perfectly demonstrate his class position.

Reference 

Marx, K. & Englels,F. (1844) The Holy Family.  Downloable from  https://marxists.catbull.com/archive/marx/works/download/Marx_The_Holy_Family.pdf

6 thoughts on “The Marxist TEFL Group

  1. Hi Geoff
    I think maybe one of the issues with why Marxest TEFL writing style can be unclear at times is (well in my case certainly) is the amount of background knowledge of Marxism one requires and is assumed by Marxist TEFL. In my case I know very little hence I think it is informative to have a blog like Marxist TEFL (notwithstanding the criticisms you have made) to prompt me to find out more.
    I am glad that I can read debates such as this on your blog even if it is accompanied by a lot of heat!
    I gave started to read The psychopathology of American Capitalism by Thomas Bonfiiglio which attempts to use both Marxism and Freudian psychoanalysis as lenses (I can hear Popper turning in his grave :)). So far it has been most informative e.g. how the meaning of the word tip is used in US to obfuscate the fact that customers are paying the salary of waiters by contrast to the use of tip in its original sense as in say France.
    Mura

  2. You make some relevant points Geoff re: Marxist TEFL/ ELF – but haven’t we got bigger fish to fry? There are several points of interest that marxists and anarchists share – most importantly the overthrow of capitalism!- and if there’s no dialogue between the traditions then both wither on the vine and nothing will be achieved.

  3. Hi Paul,

    I’m all in favour of the dialogue you suggest. It’s not helped, in my opinion, by poor writing, misinterpreting fundamental constructs of Marxism, or making ugly personal attacks on people.

  4. Hi Mura,

    Thanks for this. I welcome the chance to discuss issues with Marxists, but I think this lot need to pull their socks up!

    I haven’t read the book you refer to; it sounds interesting. A favorite of mine is Norman O’Brown’s classic “Life against death”.

  5. Is this Paul?
    Whatever fish there is you want to fry, and whatever there is to achieve,…if indeed the wholesale restructuring of society is an achievable thing, and were it just a shared point of interest, as if we were all engaged in organizing the world, the frying, in the end, is always done on people, and the overthrowing will throw over many indiscriminately. And any system you wish to build has to take this into account, that when pushed hard enough, we are all bloody dogs.

    Cheers,
    Thom

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