An open letter to the vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield

The letter below is a response from the Sheffield Marxist society to this article written by the vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, in which he refers to Marxists as “dopey” and claims that Marxism “doesn’t work”.

An open letter to Keith Burnett from the ‘dopey’ Marxists.

We, as the ‘dopey’ Marxists that you candidly misjudge, felt it was necessary to respond to your ridiculous comments that you posted on the university website and on the Times Higher Education website. You may think that these throw away, supposedly humorous comments, about Marxists, the poor and the stereotyped people of Yorkshire will appeal to your thoroughly patronised audience and will create a convincing veil behind which hides your prejudices and lack of understanding of the lives of real people. But you are sadly mistaken.

It is unsurprising that someone who lives on a minimum of £370,000 a year in a literal red brick tower would not see the existence of the pound shop from so high above the reality of ordinary people. Hence your ridiculous and nonsensical analogy which simultaneously exposes how far removed from the lives of your own students and their families you are, whilst demonstrating your complete lack of fashion sense. The proliferation of pound shops across the country, on which many people are dependent, is a direct consequence of the ongoing crisis of capitalism and poverty wages that you pay your own staff and that many of your graduates go on to earn despite the supposed good ‘brand’ that you tout.

Currently over 58% of students who graduate go on to a non-graduate job. We don’t have the figures for the Sheffield graduates but it is surly not exceptional to this national situation despite ‘our’ exceptional brand. You clearly have no understanding of the current job market for graduates, where highly qualified young people find themselves working in unskilled jobs far below their abilities simply because there is nothing else to do. As big business cannot foresee making additional profits we have a situation of historically low investment, thus a chronically low productivity rate, which is 15% lower than expected before the 2008 financial crisis. This has in turn lead to millions of zero hour jobs, precarious living situations and attacks on the right to organise through the Tory trade union bill.

You attack the Marxists as ‘dopey’ as we uphold the labour theory of value. Unsurprising in your hatchet job of an article is your lack of attacks upon other proponents of a similar theory. Where are the attacks on Aristotle, Adam Smith and David Ricardo? You accuse us of being dopy yet the real reason for your denunciation of Marxists is because the complete opposite is true. We are the only real challenge to your privileged life and that of your class. The labour theory of value has become an anathema in bourgeois circles, not least because of its revolutionary implications. Initially, the labour theory of value was a very useful weapon to the rising bourgeoisie, when, as a progressive class, they used it to strike blows against the politically powerful landowning class. But once the battle was won, the bourgeoisie no longer had any use for such a theory. In fact, for the now dominant bourgeoisie, the theory was discredited and a quick retreat to mysticism prevailed. Value is now ultimately subjective. Bound up with the completely unquantifiable.

We agree completely with your statement that we ‘want the very best teaching to be done by the very best scholars’. But we understand that this can only be achieved if we create a society in which academic freedom is possible free from the chains of market driven research and the need to deliver education as a ‘product’. This can only be achieved through free universal access to education, with a living grant for all potential students and a huge increase in funding in schools in order to provide equal opportunities to access higher education. Through the democratic ownership of the banks and big business we could begin to achieve the funding necessary to achieve ‘the very best teaching to be done by the very best scholars.’ Capitalism offers none of these opportunities. They are only achievable through a socialist society.

The Sheffield Marxists demand:

Free education for all!
The abolition of student debt!
The introduction of a living grant for students!
The nationalisation of the banking system and major monopolies under democratic workers control to use their vast resources to invest in public services!
And an end to obscenely high pay for university management!