02 September, 2016

Marxist Theory Today II

Leicester in the 1970s

Major Political Activity & Earning My Living

It was three of that type of Marxist student (including myself), who at the conclusion of our various degrees moved to Leicester to do a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and, together, began to build the Labour Party Young Socialist organisation there, by working exclusively upon the Working Class Council Estates - with considerable success.

Indeed, so much success that I didn't leave the city at the end of my course, but got a local teaching post, and carried on building a significant local organisation among the Working Class Youth.

Leicester was unique, for apart from a substantial indigenous Working Class, it also had a significant West Indian population, and, in the 1970s, acquired a big group of Indians from East Africa. Needless to say, we worked avidly in those populations too.

I stayed overall for 20 years, mostly totally committed to politics, but I never found anyone to discuss Marxism with, who might really direct me to the essential Dialectical Materialist Method. I'm afraid the dreaded "Activism Ruled OK", and no one was making any strides in Theory at all!

Though I fully agreed with the turn to Working Class youth, and very early on, while still at the University, I edited two issues of a Marxist magazine called Kontrast, though its philosophical content was diabolical.

So, I, in the end, put a great deal more into my professional disciplines than I was able to contribute to Marxist Theory.

And, I began to make some progress, and even some research, in Mathematics, which pressed me to learn Computer Programming - to greatly lessen the substantial weight of calculations and analyses that was demanded by my work. I was, at the time, a teacher and researcher at work, and active politically the rest of the time. I took on Modern Mathematics, and even Biology in my teaching jobs, and even researched Programmed Learning, and produced useable materials in that area.

More home-based diversions led first into Sculpture (which I have continued with ever since) and even Music (in which I sadly didn't have the talent), along with a growing and wonderful family of three daughters that certainly kept me busy.

But, the politics was fast becoming a time-and-money consuming millstone, rather than making real political or theoretical progress.


None of my expected benefits from Marxism had been fulfilled either politically, philosophically or in my professional studies either. I finally realised that I was not going to get what was needed from the colleagues and the organisation that I was associated with. I would, somehow, have to do it myself, and in my professional disciplines of Physics, Mathematics and Teaching.

So, this I commenced to do, mostly in developing new ways of teaching Modern Mathematics, and in the (then) new discipline of Computing - in Systems Analysis & Design, in which I showed great ability.

After moving to a Further Education College, I managed to acquire a Pair of obsolescent mainframe computers, from a nearby massive hosiery firm, for nothing, and was, therefore, able to build a quality "department" - serving not only the College itself, but also, via so-called Link Courses, classes coming from local schools too. Then I, along with two very hard-working and committed colleagues, set up C.U.R.E. - an organisation, which sought, acquired and distributed obsolescent mainframe computers to Schools and Colleges, entirely free of charge, who had heard about us, and asked if we could help them too. We moved 25 such machines over the existence of that Make-Do-and-Mend System.

Clearly, we were certainly more than just teachers, we were all committed socialists, and two of us were professed Marxists (though by now you will know what that meant)!

I began a Masters (M. Phil.) Degree, part-time with Lanchester Polytechnic, and by 1978 had effectively completed it, but seeing no real future with our Cheap-or-Free Computer Centre, I had begun applying for jobs in Universities.

After many, many refusals, I finally got a offer for an Higher Education post in Hong Kong, China, at the Polytechnic. I didn't hesitate, I accepted it! And, it was the correct decision. I could deliver all that was asked of me there, and even devised and delivered a high quality Postgraduate Course on Programming Operational Research tools (which I later turned into a book entitled Linear Programming).
NOTE: My two friends and colleagues at the Further Education College, soon followed my lead, and both got good posts in Higher Education: my right hand man getting a Doctorate along the way.

Nevertheless, I very soon discovered that the Hong Kong Polytechnic was purely a teaching institution: no research was possible there: no time or resources were available. But, that was precisely what I wanted to do. 

Hong Kong Island 1980

So, entirely in my own time at home, in our Hong Kong Island flat, I built a Music Synthesizer and Sequencer, based upon Moog's published circuits, and even built a working, tailor-made Computer for music composition purposes.

But, though I did a good job in Hong Kong, and was promoted to Senior Lecturer, it wasn't why I had aimed for a post in Higher Education. I really needed the environment and co-workers of proper University Research to rise above "well-informed hobby" status in such projects.

I returned to the UK after just one contract, in spite of the many perks, and began the job application marathon once more. Needless-to-say, I didn't get any of the ones that seemed ideal to me, but, I did finally get an offer from a major College of Technology in Glasgow, Scotland, and once more I was glad to get it.

But, the Department, which I was in, was not of the first rank in Research, so I applied and got another post, within the same institution, but in the Computer Services Unit, where I rapidly established myself as first port of call for all researchers in widely different disciplines, requiring Computer advice and tailor-made Programming.

Now, the reader may be wondering why I have included all this personal historical stuff.
What about the struggle to become a Marxist? Well remember, that Marx himself only really arrived at the necessary Method, by his intellectual research into Capitalist Economics. And, this individual, who wanted to be a real Marxist, was to find his answers in the research that subsequently ensued, now he had found the appropriate conditions in which real progress could be made. So bear with me a little longer, and all will be revealed!

The new post blossomed into something both substantial and fulfilling. My services were requested by researchers in a wide variety of disciplines from Engineering, Taxonomy, Test Equipment Control, Nursing, Mathematics, Ophthalmics, and Chemistry. And, the areas which were most in demand were Graphics and Computers-in-Control. In addition to my professional life at the college, I was also working with Unemployed Youth - teaching them not only to use, but also to program, Computers, in A Youth Training Initiative for the WRP.

The quality of my contributions was appreciated by my co-worker-colleagues, from many different departments in the institution, as together we published joint papers upon what we managed to achieve.

And, IBM approached me to contribute a chapter in their new international Research and Academic Users Guide, for which I (actually my employers) received a gratis, top-of-the-range IBM Desktop Computer.

As I should have guessed, it was this serious and demanding research that allowed a breakthrough upon that now very long-in-the-tooth problem of a Marxist Philosophical Stance and Methodology.

Marxism is the same kind of professional discipline as the academic areas I was serving in this post.

Indeed, it was even more basic, as it alone could deal with any mistaken and misleading assumed premises, and deliver the possibility of solving many consequent and seemingly intransigent problems.

It didn't happen immediately, of course, but as soon as I was as committed to necessary research in my own current specialism, Computing (along with my long experience in Science and Mathematics), in order to effectively to serve serious work in other disciplines, all the key questions, due to flawed premises, came up constantly, and demanded new answers. The width of the tasks, I was asked to undertake, took me into many distinctly different areas, with, clearly, NO rational bridging of any kind between them.

For, each new Subject (or even Specialism) had been artificially decided upon, when reasoning from one area, attempting to arrive in another, invariably terminated in a seemingly non-negotiable rational impasse.

The whole concept of Reductionism was clearly in question, not only vertically and historically, but, clearly, also laterally too - between the supposed disciplines and specialisms.

Calling in the "computer-man", was usually considered to be like bringing-in a technician from an alien discipline, to fix a problem that was "outside my area". As long as the served researcher could thereafter carry on in the usual way, after the "technical fix", all involved were happy. But, literally no inter-discipline revelations were apparent to either side with that kind of arrangement. Each side's paradigms remained "as before", and the richest regions of all Reality - those involving major Qualitative Changes and Developments, were avoided like the plague.

I, increasingly, realised that this was precisely where Marxism came in!

Together with my colleagues across the Institution, we managed to achieve some valuable insights, without necessarily bringing about a major change in the methodology of my co-workers.

This post is part of a blog series entitled Marxist Theory Today, which is turn, forms part of our grand Shape Journal series on Marxism & Physics.

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