200 years on has Karl Marx anything to say about Youth Work?


This week it’s the 200th anniversary of the birth of Karl Marx, a much honoured, much-reviled giant of history. As someone deeply influenced by his legacy I’ve been messing about with writing something about the extent to which Marx has influenced youth work thinking and practice over the last 50 years.  I hope to post something of interest on my blog in the next few weeks. In the interim, I think it’s appropriate to draw your attention to a number of contemporary interventions, which seek to weigh up more generally whether Marx has anything fruitful to say about the present crisis of meaning in society, the present uncertainty about the future, at the centre of which are young people.


K is for Karl – Series of 5 Films by Paul Mason about the meaning of Marx today

“Why does Marx matter today?” is the question posed by British journalist and filmmaker Paul Mason in five short films produced by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung to commemorate Karl Marx’s 200th birthday. Through Marx, Mason explores the topics of “Alienation”, “Communism”, “Revolution”, “Exploitation” and “The Future of Machines” in order to demonstrate how Marx, who Mason describes as the most influential thinker of the modern world, remains deeply relevant to understanding our contemporary world.

In the first of a series of five short films, British journalist and filmmaker Paul Mason searches for the roots of Marx’s thinking in Berlin, where he began his university studies in 1836. “For Marx, alienation doesn’t just mean we get depressed, we hate our jobs, or that we feel bad about the world. It means we’re constantly using our creative powers in the wrong way. We make things, but the things we make – machines, states, religions, rules – end up controlling us.”



Paul Mason again, after all, he hails from the same Lancashire town, Leigh, as me and we stood together on picket lines during the 1984/85 Miners’ Strike.  Friendship aside, disagreements aside, he’s always challenging.

On the bicentenary of his birth, Marx continues to be a key thinker thanks to his surprising faith in the individual.

Why Marx is more relevant than ever in the age of automation

If I could speak across time to the people frozen in the above photograph [the blurry snapshot catches Leon Trotsky in mid-sentence, in Frida Kahlo’s house sometime in 1937. To the left of the frame is Natalia Sedova, Trotsky’s wife. To the right is Kahlo and, half hidden behind her, a young woman listening intently: Trotsky’s secretary Raya Dunayevskaya],  I would say, after congratulating them for their magnificent lives of resistance and suffering: “That inner desire you are suppressing, for Marxism to be humanistic? That impulse towards individual liberation? It’s already there in Marx, just waiting to be discovered. So paint what you want, love whom you want. Fuck the vanguard party. The revolutionary subject is the self.”


Yanis Varoufakis has composed a new introduction to the Communist Manifesto of 1848.

Marx predicted our present crisis – and points the way out

For a manifesto to succeed, it must speak to our hearts like a poem while infecting the mind with images and ideas that are dazzlingly new. It needs to open our eyes to the true causes of the bewildering, disturbing, exciting changes occurring around us, exposing the possibilities with which our current reality is pregnant. It should make us feel hopelessly inadequate for not having recognised these truths ourselves, and it must lift the curtain on the unsettling realisation that we have been acting as petty accomplices, reproducing a dead-end past. Lastly, it needs to have the power of a Beethoven symphony, urging us to become agents of a future that ends unnecessary mass suffering and to inspire humanity to realise its potential for authentic freedom.

No manifesto has better succeeded in doing all this than the one published in February 1848 at 46 Liverpool Street, London. Commissioned by English revolutionaries, The Communist Manifesto (or the Manifesto of the Communist Party, as it was first published) was authored by two young Germans – Karl Marx, a 29-year-old philosopher with a taste for epicurean hedonism and Hegelian rationality, and Friedrich Engels, a 28-year-old heir to a Manchester mill.


As a work of political literature, the manifesto remains unsurpassed. Its most infamous lines, including the opening one (“A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of communism”), have a Shakespearean quality. Like Hamlet confronted by the ghost of his slain father, the reader is compelled to wonder: “Should I conform to the prevailing order, suffering the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune bestowed upon me by history’s irresistible forces? Or should I join these forces, taking up arms against the status quo and, by opposing it, usher in a brave new world?”


Perhaps the tide is turning, but the struggle to stay afloat continues

I’ll resist sliding into what seems the standard ‘youth sector’ account of anything it does, namely somehow that it’s always overwhelmingly new, innovative and inspiring. My caution aside the reports from the medley of ‘Is the tide turning’ events and discussions held in the last week or so do give grounds for a measure of hope and optimism. Here are a few quotes and photos to back up a collective sense that the struggle to reclaim and reimagine a youth work freed from the shackles of neoliberal dogma is alive and even flourishing.


Chris Warren leading off the Derby debate


A great IDYW Turning the Tide Event hosted by the D2N2 Youth Work Alliance at the University of Derby today. Over 65 practitioners and youth work students in attendance. A constructive discussion took place about the political responsibility for valuing young people and professional youth work… ideas for what youth work needs to address and look like in the future.


Part of the audience in Derby


Is The Tide Turning? Event in Birmingham today. Should Youth Work be statutory is a question being asked a lot at the moment!


Much pondering in Birmingham


Thank you In Defence of Youth Work and to Bernard Davies who led our discussions on the future of youth work. Brilliant to get together and imagine what we want from the future. We’re inspired and motivated to make it happen. The young people enjoyed it and said they were proud to contribute to making change happen 😃


Bernard Davies still going strong


At this moment we are in the middle of receiving feedback from events/workshops in Brighton, Cardiff, Cumbria, Derby, Doncaster, London, Northampton and Manchester. The task now is to draft a discussion paper based on the rich range of material emerging from the gatherings. Given that the Christmas midwinter break is relatively close we’ll aim to circulate this early in the New Year. From there all being well we’d like to put what we might call a position paper to our national conference on March 9 in Birmingham.

In the meantime, we must pay tribute to everyone for their part in making happen the ‘Is the tide turning’ debate. Thanks collectively for raising all our spirits.

Is the tide turning? An IDYW initiative that means little without you.



Is the tide turning?

Policy proposals for youth work: A discussion paper.

                                         In Defence of Youth Work, Summer 2017


It is likely that local authority youth services will have disappeared by 2020. Yet in the aftermath of the 2017 general election, there are renewed possibilities for state-supported open youth work. This discussion paper will argue that progressive, political parties, focused on the common good rather than private interest, should make an explicit commitment to open, universal, all year round youth work. In order to put this commitment into practice, the following questions need further discussion:

  • Should local authority youth services be reopened, or are there different ways that state-supported youth work can be organised?
  • What principles should underpin the revival of open youth work?
  • How can these changes be made feasible in terms of funding, infrastructure and staffing?

We encourage you to discuss these questions informally and in organised groups, with young people, colleagues, students, friends, policy makers, decision makers, campaigners and activists. We are conscious that our thinking relates most directly to youth work in England and Wales, but hope that its argument will have resonance for practitioners in Scotland and Northern Ireland. All feedback will be greatly valued.


isthetideturningfinal – the discussion paper in full {WORD}

isthe tideturningfinal – the discussion paper in full {PDF}

A Provisional Timetable of Activity

We are looking to use the National Youth Work Week, November 6 – 12, as a point of reference, especially as its theme is:

Youth Services: youth work for today and tomorrow

Our hope is that a diversity of local and regional meetings will take place in and around this week, although not necessarily so. For the moment we are not envisaging an explicitly national event. Thus, from now, we are taking a two-pronged approach.

  1. We are approaching specific people to act as organisers of regional gatherings.
  2. We are hoping very much that this initiative will resonate with our readers/supporters and that you will feel moved to organise meetings at a local level, however small or large. To repeat, please feel free to get your act together as you think fit.

On Wednesday we will post a proposal offering a possible template based on the discussion paper, which might be useful as you get your head around planning a meeting.

In some ways, our ‘Is the tide turning?’ initiative is a test of our collective energy and sense of purpose. We believe together we can rise to the challenge. We hope you agree.

‘The idea of an educated public’: ‘One can only think for oneself if one does not think by oneself’ [Alasdair McIntyre (1987)]

For more information and to let us know you are throwing your questioning hat into the ring of critical debate, contact isthetideturning@gmail.com







Apologies to folk, who have seen the following a number of times, but just to keep everyone in the picture.

For a Democratic and Emancipatory Education

Inline images 1
We are only just a week away from our fifth national conference to be held on Thursday, April 10 in Leeds, its theme ‘The Future of Youth Work? The Future of the Campaign?’. Thanks to the good offices of the Youth and Community Department at the Leeds Metropolitan University the venue is spacious so there are plenty of places left. Therefore don’t hesitate to get in touch to ensure that you can be with us for what is always a lively and challenging debate.
Our keynote speakers, Janet Batsleer and Howard Sercombe are confirmed, alongside an array of contributors in the afternoon, who will be exploring such themes as ‘youth work managers and the cuts’, ‘social action not social philanthropy’, ‘surviving on the streets : a faith perspective’, ‘from young volunteers to young workers’, ‘the contradictions of a voluntary youth project’ and ‘making European links’. In one way or another everyone will be grappling with the dilemmas of the present and the concerns of the future.
In this context we are asking all participants to come prepared for an opening session, where in small groups we will share our hopes and fears for the future of the distinctive practice we continue to defend.Throughout the proceedings we will be making notes for the final session, which will assess the usefulness and appropriateness of our draft Statement of Purpose.
If you can’t get to conference we would welcome your thoughts via e-mail on the issue of ‘hopes and fears’ and on the Statement for inclusion on the site as a part of the ongoing discussion.
It’s necessary to let you know that we have had to add £2.50 to cover some of the costs of providing tea and coffee on arrival and at lunch. We hope this will not deter you from attending. Our conference fees at  £7.50 Students/Unwaged, £12.50 Waged remain low. As ever  we should confirm that you need to bring your own lunch and indeed bottled water if required.
Directions for what is described as the Headingley experience, well known to the sprinkling of rugby league fans in our ranks, can be found at:
We have free car parking at car parks D and F which are situated behind the South Stand on St Michaels Lane at the stadium.
Immediately after our event some of us are attending and contributing to the Social Work Action Network conference in Durham, April 11/12, at both a plenary and workshop level. Reports and photos to follow.
Meanwhile keep visiting our site and Facebook, where there’s a lot going on. Indeed we’ve got a backlog of material, including a fascinating excerpt from a Times interview with Wayne Bulpitt, the Scout Chief Commissioner on the damage being done to the voluntary principle, a Gilbert and Sullivan spoof, new editions of CONCEPT and Youth & Policy and much more.
Contact Tony at tonymtaylor@gmail.com to book conference places or for any further information.
Hoping to see you soon. If not enjoy your Easter break, providing you get one!

Concept Youth Work Reader – Standing at the Crossroads: What future for Youth Work?

Regular readers will know that we hold in high regard the Scottish Community Education journal, CONCEPT. Thus we must draw to your attention the timely appearance on-line of a new Reader, Standing at the Crossroads, focused on the present condition and future of youth work, rich in the diversity of its contributions. The editors, Ian Fyfe and Stuart Moir comment :

This second youth work reader brings together some of the published work from
Concept over the past decade, together with new writing that reflects current thinking, challenges and concerns for practice. The publication of these contemporary pieces of work is in part the culmination of collaboration between Concept and youth work colleagues engaged in face
to face practice. Also, the republished archived papers have in most cases been
updated by the respective authors, bringing fresh meaning to topics explored in the original
work. The result is a snapshot of the dominant ideas pervading policy and the field of

Table of Contents


Ian Fyfe & Stuart Moir
Standing at the Crossroads – What future for Youth Work?
Ian Fyfe & Stuart Moir
Whatever happened to radical youth work?
Tony Jeffs
Being critical, creative and collective: Renewing radical Youth Work
Tony Taylor
An Empowering Approach to Working with Young People.
Dod Forrest
Young People, Social Inclusion & Social Action
Ian Fyfe
Without conditions attached: Towards making participation rights a reality for all Scotland’s children and young people.
Lynne Tammi
The Democracy Challenge: Young people and voter registration.
Stuart Moir
Does youth have a future?
Stuart Waiton
Are we really moving forward? Evaluating the impact of the national youth work strategy.
Mike Bell 13
Ready, Steady, Race to the bottom! The dangers of youth work serving as a sector of the economy.
Lynn Hill
Poverty and Youth Transition
Alan Mackie
Notes on Contributors
Ian Fyfe & Stuart Moir

Towards an Open conference on the Future of Youth Work – positive progress

Further to our proposal that an open and pluralist conference be held under the banner of ChooseYouth, we are pleased to say that a working group is to meet this Wednesday, May 30 at noon in the British Youth Council offices, Old Street, London to explore what might be possible. At this point representatives from the NYA, NCVYS, BYC, UNISON, UNITE and ourselves will be in attendance. This is heartening as it does bring together in a purposeful atmosphere organisations with sometimes very contrasting perspectives on what the future might hold – which is all to the good.

More news to follow.

Towards an Open Conference on the Future of Youth Work

The following self-explanatory letter has been circulated on behalf of our Campaign.  Already there have been positive responses, tempered sometimes with caution. Certainly we stand by our concern that significant sections of those involved in youth work seem to be sleepwalking into the suffocating clutches of the market, mumbling monotonously that there is no alternative. However it may be that we are the comatose ones, failing to wake up to today’s new dawn.  Time therefore for all of us to heed the alarm and join in a serious exchange of opinion about the future of youth work.

To Choose Youth Partners, NCVYS, NCIA and Youth & Policy,

The first half of this year has seen our Campaign continuing its commitment to critical debate about the state of youth work today. Our defence of youth work leads inexorably to questioning the future of youth work. Thus we have made a number of informal overtures to leading players within youth work about the possibility of organising a pluralist and accessible conference, which grapples with the issues facing all of us.

To take but one example, we are concerned deeply about what we view as the uncritical embrace of the business model in the so-called ‘youth sector market’. In response we are criticised for failing to engage with ‘new ways’ and ‘new thinking’. At the very least this clash of opinion needs to be out in the open – not least because there is a growing wider argument about whether there is ‘a common good’, which cannot and should not be calculated by the market.

At a minimum, if we are true to the critical and democratic tradition within youth work, we ought to engage together with the contradictions of our differing perspectives. With this in mind we are suggesting that under the banner of Choose Youth such a conference comes to pass and that a working group, reflecting our differences, is charged with its organisation.

Your responses, hopefully supportive, would be appreciated and we trust that this proposal will be discussed at the next Choose Youth meeting on May 16.


Tony Taylor [Coordinator IDYW] at tonymtaylor@gmail.com