Category Archives: Economy

Students and Teachers! The Unasked Question: Why Have School?

Rich Gibson, guest blogger, asks Why Have School?

Dear Students and School Workers,

Perhaps you can challenge your friends, teachers, and colleagues, or maybe torment the worst one, with a little exercise I use at the beginning of every class: Why have school? Why are we here?

I ask that question in class one, advising students that I will follow it with these:

  • What are the main things going on in school?
  • What are the main things going on in society?
  • What might your answers have to do with each other?

Having done the interactive dialogue frequently, I can usually predict most of the student responses–but never all, and sometimes not the funniest ones.

Part of your task as a real student is to seek answers to the question: Who am I in relation to others, and what shall I therefore do? Asking our key question may help.

One good scenario: you will recapture the view that most very young children have, fairly quickly fogged over by much of schooling: I can understand and change the world.

You might practice the exercise with classmates before school begins.

Fair warning: very few teachers have asked this of themselves. They may be reluctant to do it, even angry you posed the question. But “why are we here?” must be posed and answered in every class. It’s the teacher’s, and your, responsibility to reasonably answer it–beyond “truancy laws.”

At this point, please take perhaps ten minutes to think through, and make some notes about your answers to those questions just above.

—————————–

Now (did you really, really do it?) I offer my thoughts which are radical, to-the-root analyses; more radical than most.

Why have school? Why are we here?

Let’s step back a moment in order to put school in its proper, social, perspective.

Schools are the key organizing point of de-industrialized North American life, and much of life elsewhere.

Evidence: There will be almost 50 million young people in k/12 schools in 2015. Nearly one-half of the youth in high school today will be draft-eligible for the next seven years. They’re just about all registered for conscription.

Numbers and positioning mean you are in a vital position to influence society–for better or worse.

Another 21 million mostly young people are in US colleges and universities.

School workers, not industrialized workers, are by far the most unionized people in the USA, more than 3.5 million union members. School unions are shrinking, but slowly, while industrial unions collapse, evaporate, because, in part, industry evaporates, and because industrial union leaders abandoned the idea at the heart of unionism—the contradictory interests of workers and employers.

The US will spend more than $629 billion on schools this year, about $12,300 per student. However, this average varies a great deal between states. California, once the finest and least expensive of state school systems, kindergarten through college, is now one of the worst, spending about half the national average. Then, as we shall see, there are remarkable disparities between districts.

What is going on in schools?

Elites sought greater control over schools since the wars on Vietnam accelerated a student-teacher-prof-veteran leftist movement that nearly upended what has always been a segregated and deceitful system of mis-education.

Once elected, the demagogue, Obama, invaded US schools with his Race to the Top (RaTT), a project personified by Chicago’s education huckster Arne Duncan. The RaTT, and later the Common Core, speeds what was already happening in capital’s schools under George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton before him–and adds a few factors for spice.

Note that the 40 year education strategy has always been bi-partisan, as with war funding, and bank bailouts.

The RaTT’s predecessor, touted by Democrats and Republicans alike called the No Child Left Behind Act had at least these key factors:

  1. The development of a regimented national curriculum to promote nationalism;
  2. High stakes standardized tests to promote segregation, indifference to learning, and ignorance with a pretense of scientific backing and;
  3. the militarization of schools in poor and working class areas.

The RaTT makes  logical extensions:

  • Sharpened demands for a national curriculum–the Common Core– in more subjects (beyond literacy and math),
  • Merit pay based on student test scores;
  • Attacks on all forms of tenure (made palatable to the public because they know through experience that there is no shortage of incompetents in schools);
  • Layoffs, hits on pay and benefits, increases in class size;
  • Tuition hikes driving youth out of college with razor-like precision, typically rooted in inherited wealth;
  • Some privatization, but hardly only privatization (the corporate state–described below–reflects both the unity and contradictions internal to the ruling classes who have different short term views of profitability);
  • Calls for national service setting up a syphon for middle class opposition to a draft;
  • Intensified moves into cities and schools in crisis, like Detroit and New Orleans, demonstrating again the contradictory goals of social control and profiteering;
  • Ruthless competition between school districts and states for limited RaTT
  • reward dollars;
  • A harsh rule of fear and intimidation sweeping across all of capitalist schooling;
  • The abolition of union contracts by fiat–administrative or government “emergency” declaration (Detroit Public Schools, and many, many, more);
  • Suspensions and expulsions of students, a race and class based maneuver that, step by step, obliterates youths’ ability to begin to achieve their potential.

Indeed, fear, from all angles, is the core emotional value in schools today.

The Jeffersonian ideal of education for enlightened citizenry is long gone, replaced by schooling for jobs and war.

What is the social context of school?

The education agenda is a class war agenda, and an imperialist war agenda. One begets the other.

In 2012, the Council of Foreign Relations, led by war-hawk Condoleeza Rice (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,”) issued its Education Task Force Report, demonstrating in clear terms that the education agenda is a war agenda: class and empire’s wars.

 Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security.Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.1

Let us tick off the emerging realities of our times; the results of the many crises of capital contradicted by the promises of democracy.

The coming and recent elections should not only be studied as how voters choose who would most charmingly oppress the majority of the people from the executive committee of the rich: the government. It should be studied, more importantly, as how an element of capitalist democracy, the spectacle of elections, speeded the emergence of fascism as a mass popular force; that is:

  • The promise of perpetual war is real;
  • The US, incapable of defining a grand strategy (for example, harmony won through equality), is dying a death by a thousand cuts and organizing social decay–unable even to target a primary foe, dashing to hot-spots while other empires rise;
  • The corporate state, the rule of the rich, a near complete merger of corporations and government (2008 bank and auto bailouts);
  • The continuation of the suspension of civil liberties (as with renditions, police murders, mass incarceration, etc.);
  • The attacks on whatever free press there is;
  • The rise of racism and segregation (in every way, but remember the immigration policies);
  • The promotion of the fear of sexuality as a question of pleasure (key to creating the inner slave), and the sharpened commodification of women (Sarah Palin to pole dancers);
  • The governmental/corporate attacks on working peoples’ wages and benefits (bailouts to merit pay to wage and benefit concessions, to multi-tier wage rates);
  • Intensification of imperialist war (wars in Afghanistan escalates war on Pakistan which provokes war on Russia, etc, and the US is NOT going to leave Iraq’s oil);
  • Promotion of nationalism (all class unity) by, among others, the union bosses;
  • Teaching people the lie that someone else should interpret reality and act for us, when no one is going to save us but us;
  • Trivializing what is supposed to be the popular will to vile gossip, thus building cynicism—especially the idea that we cannot grasp and change the world, but also debasing whatever may have been left of a national moral sense;
  • Increased mysticism (is it better to vote for a real religious fanatic or people who fake being religious fanatics?);
  • One spectacle heaped on the next (celebrity worship, narcissistic electronics, etc.) and
  • Incessant attacks on radicals, isolating, discouraging, surveilling, and in some cases jailing those who not only practice radicalism, but who theorize to-the-root analysis.

Capitalist schooling exists within these social rising circumstances

Whose schools are these? These are capital’s schools.

This is, again, a capitalist democracy in which capital dominates democracy at every turn (bankster bailout, the auto-takeover on behalf of stockholders while auto workers’ lives were gutted, empire’s endless wars, etc).

Schooling is not education, the latter a “leading out,” the former, schooling,  a fethishized form of mis-education.

The capitalist market necessarily creates pyramid-like inequality, not only in the pocketbook, but in the mind.

Is there a single public school system in the US?

Actually, there is not. There are five or six carefully segregated school systems, based mostly on class and race.

The image of education in the minds of philanthropic economists is this: “Every worker should learn as many branches of labor as possible so that if…he is thrown out of one branch, he can easily be accommodated in another.” (Marx)

There is a pre-prison school system in much of Detroit, Michigan or Compton, California; a pre-Walmart/military system in National City, California; a pre-craft worker system in City Heights, California; a pre-teacher or social worker system in Del Cero, California; a pre-med or pre-law system in Lajolla, California and Birmingham, Michigan; and a completely private school system where rich people send their kids, like George W. Bush or Mitt Romney–or the Obama children.

Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, also sends his kids to private schools.

Rich schools teach different realities using different methods from poor schools. In rich schools the outlook is: “This globe is ours; let us see how we can make it act.” In the poorest schools, the outlook is, “Tell me what to do and I will do it.”

What are schools designed to do?

Schools are huge multi-billion dollar markets where profit and loss influences nearly everything.

Consider the buses, the architects, textbook sales, consultants, the developers for the buildings, the upkeep, the grounds, the sports teams, salaries, etc. Cost is always an issue in school. This is, after all, capitalism.

It is more than fitting to use a church analogy: schools as missions for capitalism and empire, and the vast majority of school workers, its missionaries. The theology: nationalism.

The average salary for public school teachers in 2013 was $56,383. Salaries of public school teachers have generally maintained pace with inflation since 1990–91. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2009)

Multiply $56,383 by the total number of school workers, above. That’s a tidy sum.

These relatively good salaries, in comparison to the crash of industrial wages and jobs, served as an imperialist bribe to educators, winning them to conduct the child abuse that is high-stakes exams and regimented curricula–and not protesting the wars that erode their kids’ lives, for example.

But, as economic break-downs caused by overproduction and war evaporated at least some of the ability to make the pay-off—and as school workers became more and more alienated from each other, their communities and students through those same processes—the bribes and jobs began to vanish–as we witness today. School workers then begin to complain about the symptoms of their problems, as with high-stake exams, and not the core: imperialism and capitalism.

The reality of the imperialist bribe is especially evident inside the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Both unions are deeply involved with American intelligence agencies, like the Central Intelligence Agency’s front Education International (the inheritor of the Cold War CIA education fronts).

Why? For a reason parallel to the reason the American Federation of Labor was born: US workers will do better if “outside” workers do worse, thus tying the interests of US school workers with the nation’s bosses, hence their relentless support for Democrats.

It is a direct payoff. Reg Weaver, former NEA president, made $686,949 in his last single year of office. He now is on the board of EI, along with other past NEA and AFT bosses.

In 2010, about 10,000 NEA members at their Representative Assembly voted about 9,900 to 100 not to discuss the empires wars. In 2011, NEA was the first organization of any size to endorse Obama. Scratch our back with jobs and income and you can abuse kids and make war.

There is, in schools unlike most factories, a tension between elites’ desire for social control and profitability. This can be seen in the contradictions within elite groups about the privatization of schools. It’s also evident in the production and sale of textbooks: social control vs profitability.

It can also be seen in the liberal and unionite response to the current school milieu: “Defend Public Education!”

This is to defend a myth, on the one hand, to wish to harken back to non-existent halcyon days of schooling when it was not teaching lies, not segregated, and truly public.

On the other hand, the false demand is designed to treat schools like middle class job banks, to lure school workers into attempting to tax the rest of the working class to “win,” the further mis-education of their children–as did the California Teachers Association in 2009 with a ballot measure that failed, deservedly, by 2/3rds.

Better to “Transform Schooling!” or “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes!”

More answers to why have school:

Skill and ideological training. Under skill training we might list, of course, “the three r’s,” along with music, art, athletics, theater, science, etc. That list comes fast and easy.

Ideological training is another thing. Ideological grooming would include nationalism (the daily salute to the flag, school spirit, etc.) as well as the training in viewpoints established by teaching distinct curricular substance (political science, civics, has nothing to do with economics) in the segregated schools, using different methods.

Beyond nationalism, one clear purpose of most schooling is to make the system of capital natural, almost invisible, and to present it as the highest, last, stage of human development.

Further, students must become so stupefied that they see no real contradiction between nationalism and the other central tenet of capitalist thought: individualism. Me! Education, necessarily a social effort, becomes an individual commodity, often in the form of test scores, used as a weapon for merit pay and, by realtors, to fix home values.

NCLB and the RaTT eradicated history in poor and working class areas and, in other areas, eliminated any sense of resistance, even the traditional right of revolution written into the Declaration of Independence: unthinkable.

The upshot of capitalist schooling is that many students, surrounded by the unsystematic, incoherent, mystical world-views of both the curricula and most teachers, come away learning not to like to learn.

Curiosity, a birthright of all children, gets crushed. Parallel to that dubious success, children in exploited areas learn they cannot understand or alter the world. So, people in pacified areas become instruments of their own oppression.

Baby-sitting and warehousing kids.

Babysitting is a key role played by capitalist schools. One way to find out, “Why have school?” is to experiment; close them. In our case, teacher strikes serve as a good test subject.

In school strikes (no sane union shuts down a football program), the first people to begin to complain are usually merchants around middle schools–who get looted. The second group is the parents of elementary students, quickly followed by their employers. (These realities can help demonstrate to elementary educators their potential power along with setting up kids’ entire world views).

The baby-sitting role is, again, funded by an unjust tax system and serves as a giant boon to companies that refuse to provide day care for their employees–but are able to duck taxes as well. This is redoubled by the fact that unions, like the United Autoworkers, completely forgot their 70 year old demand for free day care.

Schools fashion hope: Real and false.

On one hand it is clear that societies where hope is foreclosed foster the potential of mass uprisings: France in the summer of 1968 is a good example of what can happen; uprisings starting in school and quickly involving the working classes nearly overthrew the government.

Real hope might be found in showing kids and school workers alike that we can comprehend and change the world, collectively, and teaching them how.

Ask, “Why are things as they are?” every day. Or, in demonstrating that we are responsible for our own histories, but not our birthrights. Must we be lambs among wolves? Does what we do matter?

False hope might be the typical school hype: Anyone can make it; all you must do is work hard. Trumpery. Inheritance is, more than ever, the key to understanding social mobility, or immobility.

To the contrarians: there is nothing unusual about elites picking off children of the poor, educating them, and turning them back on their birth-communities as a form of more gentle rule. Obama would be one example of such a success. Skanderberg, the Albanian rebel trained by the Turks, would be a failure.

Schools create the next generation of workers, warriors, or war supporters.

Automatons or rebels, or something in between, a process with some witting direction. Those workers need to be taught to accept hierarchy, to submit, to misread realities like class war and endorse nationalism (school spirit) or racism (segregated schooling products). They need to accept their lot, to be unable to notice why things are as they are; why some live in abundance while others have no work—when there is plenty of work to do—why drudgery is so much part of most jobs. The core project here: obliterate the possibility of class consciousness.

What Cannot be Taught in Capital’s Schools in the USA?

School workers who follow the official line in school are prevented from teaching the core issues of human life: work, rational knowledge, love (sexuality) and the struggle for freedom.

Work: it is not possible teach truthfully about work because it is illegal in California and many other states to teach favorably about Marx. Absent Marx, no grasp of the labor movement, alienation, and exploitation.

Rational knowledge: very few teachers will be able to take note of the historical fact; people make gods, gods don’t make people. While multi-culturalism, a mask for nationalism that is still in style, may promote interfaith “tolerance,” history suggests religion is the ideology of death, and current events underline that reality. Which teachers will say that in a classroom?

Love (sexuality): It is illegal in California to teach sexuality as a matter of pleasure. Rather sex education is steeped in fear of diseases, pregnancy. Teaching people to fear their own bodies is key to producing the inner slave–most religions understand that.

The struggle for freedom: While I think it may be easy to justify the importance of the three paragraphs above, this fourth is my assertion that people will persistently struggle to be free. At issue is whether or not they grasp why they are not free, a radical analysis, or they battle the phantoms that their adversaries toss in front of them.2

Students, like everyone, struggle to be free, but how much freedom exists in schools–for anyone? Not much, if any, and what there is will probably be produced by spontaneous action. School imbues the practice of un-freedom.

What of the resistance?

People will fight back because they must. But the traditional organizations of resistance failed both the pedagogical project at hand, that is, teaching people why things are as they are, how to develop strategy and tactics on their own, and the practical project of direct action, control of work places and communities.  While people must resist, it is vital they grasp: Why?

Let us make another tick-list, this time about the school unions, a reminder and details from the paragraphs above:

*No leader of any major union in the US believes that working people and employers have, in the main, contradictory interests, thus wiping out the main reason most people believe they join unions. Bosses (for that is what they are) of the two education unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-AFL-CIO–by far now the largest unions in the USA) openly believe in what former NEA president Bob Chase called “New Unionism,” the unity of labor bosses, government, and corporations, “in the national interest.” There is nothing new about company unionism, however, nor the corporate state.Company unionism produces highlights like the AFT, the smaller of the school unions, to invite Bill Gates, dead-set on capitalist schooling, to be the key-note speaker to their 2010 AFT convention.

*Union bosses recognize their own opposing interests to the rank and file. The union tops, after all, earn much more than school workers. As above, Past NEA president, Reg Weaver, took in $686, 949, in his last year of office. Current president, Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, will make at least $450,000. Power in the unions is vertical, top-down, perfectly clear in the structure of the AFT, somewhat disguised, but every bit as real in NEA.

These mis-leaders who move up fairly slowly through a hierarchy learn a variety of strategies to manipulate people and, “protect the contract.”

These maneuvers, like grievance procedures, move workers away from the locus of their power, the work place, to geographically distant spaces where “neutral” arbitrators decide on vital issues. But the unions rarely file cases to arbitration and, nevertheless, lose about 2/3 of the cases they file.

Union bosses also divert member action to the ballot box–any place away from the job site—where, in the words of one top NEA organizer, “if voting mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it.” But electoral work keeps member volunteers busy and it reinforces the false notions school workers have about professionalism (professionals set their own hours and wages, they determine the processes of work–teachers typically are called professionals by people asking the workers to buy textbooks for their kids), allowing educators to win hollow” respect,” the chance to dress up and rub elbows with Important People, away from school.

*Corruption is endemic in the AFT where a steady stream of leaders have been jailed, not only for looting the treasury (Miami, D.C.) but also for child-rape and embezzling (Broward, Florida–twice).  NEA hasn’t suffered the kind of dramatic jailings AFT suffers, but, for example, my own boss in Florida, where I worked as an NEA organizer, was convicted of embezzling about $1/4 million from the union.

*The school unions draw on a member base that is about 85% white and reflect the racism that such a base inherently creates. Rather than fight to integrate the teaching force and schools, the unions urge more and more “education” classes (typically an utter waste of time), adding on expenses for students, meaning those with the least get shaved out with razor sharp precision–by class and race.

*The unions, like all US unions, do not unite people, but divide them along lines of job, race, years of tenure, staff and leaders from rank and file, that is, down to the narrowest interest–capital’s favorite question: What about me?

*Since the mid-1970’s, union bosses have supported every measure that elites used to regain control of schools which were, in many cases out of control. The NEA and AFT bosses today support curricular regimentation, high stakes racist exams, the militarization of schooling, merit pay, and charter schools (a key new source of dues income).

*The AFT organized the decay and ruin of urban education in the US, while the mostly suburban NEA let urban schooling be devastated, failing to recognize the truth of the old union saw, “an injury to one only goes before an injury to all.” That both unions steeped themselves in volumes of forms of racism (racist exams, racist expulsions, racist segregation, etc) should not go unnoticed or excused.

*The education unions serve to peddle the wage labor of education workers as a commodity to employers and to guarantee labor peace. In this context, there is a direct trade off: no strikes or job actions in exchange for guaranteed dues income; the check-off. That is precisely the historical origin of the agency shop. It is also a big reason why union bosses obey court injunctions against job actions; threats to the union’s bank account, that is, the union staff salaries.

*School unions attack the working class as a whole. One glaring example (May 2009) of this was the support the California Teachers Association and the NEA gave to a series of ballot propositions that would have dramatically raised the taxes of poor and working people while leaving corporations and the rich off the hook, again. NEA and CTA combined spent more than $12.2 million dollars on the campaigns, and lost overwhelmingly. CTA-NEA demonstrated to poor and working families that organized teachers are enemies–yet those same people are educators’ most important allies.

*These are the empire’s unions. Top leaders are fully aware that a significant portion of their sky-high pay is made possible by the empire’s adventures. NEA and AFT bosses work with a variety of international organizations on behalf of US imperialism. These adventures are frequently deadly as with the AFT’s unwavering support for Israeli Zionism, support for the recent oil wars, and, precisely to the point, work with the National Endowment for Democracy, a Central Intelligence Agency front, in wrecking indigenous leftist worker movements. While the AFT has been the spearhead of US imperialism inside the wholly corrupt “labor movement,” NEA has also been deeply involved. There is a long history of this, back to World War I and the AFL’s support for that horrific war. Again, the flag-waving theory behind it: US workers will do better if foreign workers do worse.

Unlike the private sector where less than 10% of the people belong to unions, school workers are the most unionized people in the country. It follows that it is important for change agents to be where the people are. But one must keep one toe in and nine toes out of the unions.

There are some indications that resistance inside the unions, and out, is rising. In Chicago, a recent election threw out the past, sold-out, union leadership. The CORE caucus organized for months, inside schools but, importantly, in communities among students and parents. Many hoped that new president, Karen Lewis, would serve as a beacon for future union reformers, should she overcome the temptations of office, the hierarchical union structure, the patch-work nature of the CORE foundations, and the full-scale attack that will be surely launched on CORE over time. In 2012 CORE led a massive strike. Events in 2015 suggest, however, that Lewis and CORE will fail to build a mass class conscious movement–and become just another union. We shall have to wait and see.

Social democrats, really social nationalists, have come to power in other teacher unions as well: Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Detroit, for example. What they have in common is their determination to not point to the system of capital and imperialism, despite the fact that many of them belong to so-called “socialist” parties. Perhaps they believe that people need to be taken by baby steps to more radical realities, that is, tricked into class consciousness. In a fun-house mirror sort of way, they look like the upper echelon union bosses, despite heavy doses of militant rhetoric.

The ongoing public workers’s strike in South Africa, a true class battle that includes the entire public work force (educators too) versus the Quisling African National Congress government might serves as an inspiration, if any US media covered it. They do not. Word, however, does slip out.

On March 4th, 2010, masses of students, school workers, and community people organized under banners that said, “Educate! Agitate! Organize! Strike! Occupy! Teach-in!”  Their actions, which included building seizures, express-way sit-downs, walk-outs, rallies, marches, and freedom schooling, varied from area to area but the connection of capitalism/war/racism/class war was made in every case I saw.

The organizers then called for similar actions on October 7th and a national conference in San Francisco in late October.

In the interim, the expert dis-organizers from the unions, the Democratic Party, and the usual sects showed up. That movement veered from its radical beginnings to the reactionary call, “Defend Public Education,” and mobilizing to get out the vote–rather like urging people into church where they know their children will be raped, where they are expected to tithe, but it’s all for the common good–some day.

In 2011, NEA and AFT co-sponsored, from the background, a “Save Our Schools” rally in Washington D.C. The rally cost $150,000 dollars. Less than 5,000 people came. The quid pro quo was, “No attacks on Obama. No criticism of the wars,” In the silence, the payoff worked, but with only 5,000 people, the fake rally also showed the unions’ inability to organize anything of significance. What they do well is dis-organize, deflect, and deceive. They will fashion pacified areas where people are instruments of their own oppression.

In the 2014-2015 school year, a movement grew to “Opt-Out!” of high stakes standardized exams which are, after all, racist, anti-working class–sorting tools that are not used in the private schools where Arne Duncan sends his kids.

But few leaders of this action ever commented on the “Why?” of the exams, i.e., class and empire’s wars, so they built a movement that appealed to many upper middle class groups, but left they key questions–and answers–blank. The core matter, class consciousness, remains untaught and unlearned.

The opportunism that drives the “”Opt-Out ‘Movement’” is perhaps best exemplified in historical context.

On July 3rd, 2000, National Education Association president, Bob Chase, spoke to the delegates at the NEA representative assembly: “(I) heard from more of you about standards and high-stakes tests than any other single issue since becoming president of the NEA…In some states, testing mania is quite literally devouring whole school systems like some education-eating bacteria.”3

Chase earlier promoted what he called, “New Unionism,” that is, the unity of unions and their members, government officials, and corporations, in the “national interest.” While there is nothing whatsoever new about company unionism, corporate state unionism, and the practice wasn’t entirely new to NEA (American Federation of Teachers president, Al Shanker pursued the same plan a decade before Chase) the NEA president codified what became NEA practice ever since.

NEA officers went on to talk anti-testing while helping create all the foundations of all the tests and offering minimal surcease to school workers who tried to resist the test fetishes.

At base, it is more than possible to be racist, sexist, nationalist and brimming over with pro-war sentiment, and oppose the test which would probably make your kid even more stupid.

In the near future, the union tops will use the illusion of the importance of the presidential election to divert millions of dollars and thousands of student and teacher volunteer hours into greater support for the corporate state: what eminent political scientist Chalmers Johnson called, “fascism,” nearly a decade ago. They will do everything they can to mask the fact of class war from above.

What Value do Teachers, school workers, Create?

Working within the school industry, which is itself a multi-billion operation, teachers engage an ideological battle, wittingly or not, that fashions the methods of thought, and thus actions, of the next generation of workers, soldiers, the middle-class buffer zones, defenders of elites like lawyers and military officers, and more. Can school workers act in concert with students, parents, vets, and others, to gain greater control of the value they create? There are hints, only hints, in the near past that they can: the Chicago teachers strike. In the now-distant past: the Students for a Democratic Society.

What can be done now?

People can be told that this is capitalism, rooted in exploited labor–and crises;

  • That there is a connection between capitalism and imperialism–endless war;
  • That the key reasons for the attacks on working people and schools are rooted in those two;
  • The education agenda is a class war agenda and an imperialist war agenda;
  • That the government is an executive committee and armed weapon of the ruling class–there they work out their differences, allowing us to choose which one of them will oppress us best;
  • That the overwhelming majority of union bosses have chosen the other side in what is surely a class struggle–the union hacks gain from the wars and capital by supporting those wars, winning high pay and benefits, and betraying workers, they’re a quisling force, junior partners to a very real ruling class;
  • That students, not teachers nor profs, are the primary target of capitalist mis-education and history shows they can and will take leadership, organize, and fight back;
  • That we can build a social movement that rejects the barriers US unionism creates, from job category to industry to race and sex and beyond.

The core issue of our time is the reality of endless war and rising inequality met by the potential of mass, active class conscious resistance.

We can fight to rescue education from the ruling classes although schools may be illusion mills, human munition factories, or missions for capitalism–the vast majority of teachers its missionaries.

What upends that is a mass, class conscious social movement that shouts the words that tyrants fear most: Equality! Justice! Retribution!

Escalating direct action to control work sites, communities, and importantly, the military.

Everything negative is in place for a revolutionary transformation of society (distrust of leaders, collapse of moral suasion from the top down, financial crises, lost wars, massive unemployment, booming inequality, imprisonment of only the poor, growing reliance on force to rule, eradication of civil liberties, corruption and gridlock of government at every level, etc.) What is missing is the passion, generalization, organization, commitment, and guiding ethic to make that change.

For a beginning, how about a one day, nation-wide, rank and file school strike, uniting all school workers, students and people of the communities: Monday, the day after the International Workers’ holiday–Mayday? The idea is in the wind among some of the rank and file.

There is no reason to look around for approval. It won’t come, top down. It is after all, just us.

Time is short. Justice demands organization.

Meanwhile, try those questions at the top in and out of class.

What defeats men with guns? Ideas!

Notes

References for the student counts, costs, etc., are at http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372

More on US unionism here http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/23/counterfeit-unionism-in-the-empire/

Rich Gibson, a co-founder of the education-based Rouge Forum, is professor emeritus, San Diego State university and a former professor of labor history and social studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. He can be reached at: rg@richgibson.com 

Inconvenient Truths Concerning Human Rights Issues and the UBC/PNU Collaboration (Dr. M. K. Bryson)

The following was posted to the UBC Faculty of Education Listserv today. I am re-posting on WTBHNN with permission of the author.

Inconvenient Truths Concerning Human Rights Issues and the UBC/PNU Collaboration
by Dr. M.K. Bryson

Professor and Director, Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice (GRSJ), Faculty of Arts & Professor, Department of Language and Literacy Education (LLED), Faculty of Education, University of British Columbia

Archive: http://ubc.academia.edu/MaryKBryson

A recent Globe & Mail article “Cozying up to Saudi Arabia: How can that be ‘principled’?” raises interesting questions concerning the ethics of international development, human rights, and “for profit” post-secondary initiatives with which we are all, now, already entangled in light of the recent $23 million contractual relationship between the UBC Faculty of Education and Princess Noora University, Saudi Arabia.
http://bog2.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2014/11/4.5_2014_11_Teaching-Contract-with-PNU.pdf

Specific human rights violations (see below) related to this UBC Faculty of Education graduate courses/program being provided at PNU, by UBC faculty and graduate students, are rationalized in the contract by means of an argument about a putative “benefit” to “the advancement of women in Saudi” — an argument that finds no support from Gender and Development experts in the Arab Gulf region.

“There are some reputational risks associated with providing services in Saudi Arabia given the country’s stance on some human rights issues. However the opportunity to positively impact human rights through the education and advancement of women in Saudi Arabia outweigh these risks.” UBC/PNU Contract:
http://bog2.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2014/11/4.5_2014_11_Teaching-Contract-with-PNU.pdf

What kinds of human rights abuses and problems lurk in the UBC-PNU contract? An incomplete list includes:

UBC’s Role as a Regulatory Authority in LGB/T Discrimination. “Homosexuality” (or being identified as “transgender”) is a criminal offence punishable by the death penalty in Saudi Arabia. The proposal we have read anticipates that UBC will hire or appoint a Project Manager, Project Assistant as well as hire individual Faculty and Graduate Students to carry out work, on behalf of the UBC, on the ground at PNU. And yet the Canadian hiring at UBC must take place in such a way as to be in compliance with Provincial and Federal labour laws that govern hiring. How then, would the proposed UBC/PNU plan be executed, where, in Canada, UBC hires a Project Coordinator, or Faculty or Graduate Students, to jobs in such a manner as to exclude, up front, LGB/T applicants? UBC then, takes on the responsibilities of a Regulatory Authority in respect of its own participation in a program that can not include staff, faculty or students who are openly LGB or Transgender. How can I — for example — as an openly and emphatically queer and trans* person, participate? What kinds of conditions of speaking would be required and how do those conditions map on to Canadian Charter rights?

One of the recent Trinity Western University cases about its Law School that excludes LGB/T students and faculty took the form of a case against the BC Ministry of Advanced Education, in light of its approval, as a regulatory authority, of the Trinity Western Law School. In short order, the BC Ministry of Advanced Education stepped away from its approval of TWU and actually revoked its approval. This is an interesting case to ponder in relation to the role of UBC, in light of its approval, as a regulatory authority, of the UBC-PNU program in full knowledge of myriad forms of human rights abuses and problems.

What then, is an ethical mode of engagement with a for-profit program in Saudi Arabia? That none of these elements of participation have been to-date spelled out by the University of British Columbia is a concern.

State-based Anti-Semitism. Until very recently, both “Jewish people” and people with “An Israeli passport holder or a passport that has an Israeli arrival/departure stamp” were listed on the official Saudi Arabia Tourism website as groups of people to whom Visas would not be issued.
http://bog2.sites.olt.ubc.ca/files/2014/11/4.5_2014_11_Teaching-Contract-with-PNU.pdf

Labor Rights Violations and Abuses. It is also the case that this $23 million income for UBC will entail UBC’s knowing participation in, and enabling of, labor conditions in Saudi Arabia that are absolutely unsustainable and rife with labor rights violations and abuses concerning the migrant workers who provide almost all of the labour that makes Universities function in Saudi Arabia, and yet who have no rights and are routinely detained, and worse.

How then, can “cozying up to Saudi Arabia” be principled, “From Here” – @UBC’s Faculty of Education?

Principled Divestment @UBC. It seems very valuable to consider the argument that Divestment@UBC should be extended to “for profit” educational initiatives where the very serious human rights problems at-hand present ethical problems related to involvement — ethical problems that should give UBC cause to divest from participation in human rights violations “for profit”. The hard won freedoms we have realized in the Charter of Freedoms and related provincial Charters are not for sale.

Neoliberalism and the Degradation of Education (Alternate Routes, Vol. 26)

Alternate Routes V 26 cover

Alternate Routes: A Journal of Critical Social Research

VOL 26 (2015)

NEOLIBERALISM AND THE DEGRADATION OF EDUCATION

Edited by Carlo Fanelli, Bryan Evans

Contributors to this anthology trace how neoliberalism has impacted education. These effects range from the commercialization and quasi-privatization of pre-school to post-secondary education, to restrictions on democratic practice and research and teaching, to the casualization of labour and labour replacing technologies, and the descent of the university into the market which threatens academic freedom. The end result is a comprehensive and wide-ranging review of how neoliberalism has served to displace, if not destroy, the role of the university as a space for a broad range of perspectives. Neoliberalism stifes the university’s ability to incubate critical ideas and engage with the larger society. Entrepreneurship, however, is pursued as an ideological carrier serving to prepare students for a life of precarity just as the university itself is being penetrated and occupied by corporations. The result is an astonishing tale of transformation, de-democratization and a narrowing of vision and purpose.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

ARTICLES

Carlo Fanelli, Bryan Evans
Jamie Brownlee
Jeff Noonan, Mireille Coral
Paul Bocking
Simten Cosar, Hakan Ergul
Garry Potter
Eric Newstadt
Caitlin Hewitt-White
Mat Nelson, Lydia Dobson
Paul Orlowski
Teresa Marcias
Tanner Mirrless

INTERVENTIONS

Heather McLean
Henry Giroux
Christopher Bailey
Carl E. James
Jordy Cummings
Joel D. Harden
Jordy Cummings
Carlo Fanelli

REVIEWS

Peter Brogan
Christine Pich
Jordan Fairbairn
J.Z. Garrod
Madalena Santos
Amanda Joy
Shannon T. Speed
Aaron Henry

BC Teachers’ Strike: Analyzing the government’s bargaining strategy & its “affordability” trope

Published in Rabble.ca on Friday, September 12, 2014 as:

B.C. schools could be open Monday, if the government wanted

Public schools in British Columbia could be open Monday, if the government wanted.

On Wednesday, in nearly unanimous fashion, members of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation voted to walk from the picket lines into their classrooms, if the B.C. Liberal government would agree to binding arbitration on all issues, except the most contentious, class size and composition, which is currently before the courts.

Prior to the teachers’ vote government rejected the idea, twice. Education Minister Peter Fassbender called the teachers’ effort to get the schools open by going to binding arbitration, “absolutely silly” and “a ploy.”  The former advertising salesman who has been the face of a formidable government PR campaign seemed uncharacteristically perturbed.

In recent weeks, the government’s strategy has become increasingly transparent. Forcing teachers to choose between financial hardship, perhaps ruin, or protecting court victories over a government that stripped class size and composition language from their contract 12 years ago.

The B.C. Supreme Court ruled in 2011 that the provincial government infringed on teachers’ Charter rights when it stripped class size and composition language from their contract in 2002. Justice Susan Griffin gave the government a year to solve the problem.

In 2012, the legislature enacted new legislation that had same effect as the old and, in January 2012, Justice Griffin’s ruled in favor of the teachers again.

Former crown prosecutor Sandy Garossino told Global TV,

“Over and over and over again, [Justice Griffin] goes through a litany of examples of where the government really never intended to negotiate in good faith with the union at all. It’s very hard to get past that ruling, and it really does in my view cast a completely different view on the nature of the negotiations that are going on now. The credibility of the government is certainly in question.”

Government is appealing Justice Griffin’s decision and it is scheduled to be heard next month by the B.C. Court of Appeals.

Meantime, government wants to negotiate its way out of court losses by insisting teachers accept a contract clause, known as E80, which the union and legal experts say abrogates teachers’ court victories requiring government to restore class size and composition language to teachers’ contracts. E80 is a poison pill the union refuses to swallow.

Throughout negotiations government has argued that B.C. teachers’ demands are unaffordable. It would be more accurate to say that the B.C. Liberals have prioritized cutting taxes for the rich and corporations over providing adequate funding for public services such as education and child welfare.

The key factors in affordability are size of the economy and tax rates.

B.C. Liberals waltzed into the legislature in 2001 and started an unprecedented program of inequitable tax cuts. As a result, B.C. now has a regressive tax system. A Broadbent Institute report released this week points out that in the B.C. the poor are now paying more in all taxes as a percentage of income than the rich.

B.C. Liberals’ tax cuts over the past 10 years have benefited the richest 1 per cent of British Columbians to the tune of $41,000 per year, while the bottom 40 per cent have benefited by an average of $200 per year.

Both the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Conference Board of Canada agree that despite the elimination of the provincial deficit and the recently announced $353 million surplus, overall spending as a share of the provincial GDP is shrinking and will reach a record low in 2017.

In August, the Conference Board report “British Columbia Fiscal Snapshot: Back on Solid Groupnd” said the B.C. government will have to spend $1.6 billion more than it has budgeted on education to maintain a constant level of spending over the next three years.

With the B.C. near the bottom in provincial per student education funding and B.C. teachers near the bottom in average salary, government has budgeted 0.6 per cent increases for K-12 education the next three years. That’s not a typo.

While the provincial budget conservatively projects revenue increases at 8 percent annually, it has budgeted less than a one per cent annual increase in the budget for B.C. schools.

The current B.C. budget projects the economy to grow by almost 20 per cent over the next five years, before inflation. And the government estimates teachers’ demands for wages, class size and composition funding would add up to nearly 15 per cent over same period.

What Minister Fassbender really means when he says the province cannot afford teachers’ demands is that government has not budgeted enough to education to meet teachers’ demands.

The funding model for public education in B.C. reflects the ideological principle that more of the public’s collective wealth should be devoted to maximizing private profits rather than serving public needs.

The teachers have proven they’re serious about getting back to work. The B.C. Liberals remained intractable in their devotion to an ideology that is fundamentally anti-social.

Cultural Logic Releases Three Volumes of Critical Scholarship In One Day

Cultural Logic has just announced an epic launch of three volumes of critical scholarship addressing a wide range of issues.

Cultural Logic, which has been on-line since 1997, is a open access, non-profit, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal that publishes essays, interviews, poetry, reviews (books, films, other media), etc. by writers working within the Marxist tradition.

Volumes 2011 and 2012 were edited by David Siar.

Volume 2013 is the open access version the Education for Revolution issue that was published by Works & Days in December 2013, which I co-edited with Rich Gibson. Thanks to everyone for your contributions, to David Downing and his team for publishing the issue in Works & Days, to David Siar for his editorial and site management, and to Joe Ramsey for suggesting the WD/CL collaboration for the Education for Revolution issue.

Below are the Contents for Volumes 2011, 2012, and 2013

Cultural Logic, Volume 2011
Articles
Mathias Dapprich
“A Contribution Towards a Critical Theory of School Shootings”

Jerry Leonard
“Reading Notes on Sangeeta Ray’s Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Polemic with Digressions on a Theory of Irreducibility”

Ronald Paul
“The Politics of the Personal in Edward Upward’s The Spiral Ascent”

Spyros Sakellaropoulos
“On the Causes of the Civil War in Nepal and the Role of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)”

Larry Schwartz
“Apocalypse Then: Philip Roth’s Indignation”

Daniel Silvermintz
“Enlightenment in the Shopping Mall”

Response and Counter-Response
Mike Jones
“Some Comments on Sven-Eric Holmström’s ‘New Evidence’ Concerning the Hotel Bristol in the First Moscow Trial of 1936”

Sven-Eric Holmström
“Reply to Mike Jones”

Poetry
Christopher Barnes
(From) The Electric Chair Poems

Cultural Logic, Volume 2012
Articles
Julianne Buchsbaum
“Alienation, Reification, and Narrativity in Russell Banks’ Affliction”

Alzo David-West
“North Korea and the Theory of the Deformed Workers’ State: Definitions and First Principles of a Fourth International Theory”

Haidar Eid
“White Noise: Representations of (Post)modern Intelligentsia”

Doug Enaa Greene
“Leninism and Blanquism”

Desmond Peeples
“Toward an Anarcho-Empiricism: Integrating Precedent, Theory, and Impetus in the Anarchist Project”

E. San Juan, Jr.
“In Lieu of Saussure: A Prologue to Charles Sanders Peirce’s Theory of Signs”

Huei-ju Wang
“Becoming ‘Migrant John’: John Steinbeck and His Migrants and His (Un)conscious turn to Marx”

Poetry
George Snedeker
Selected Poems

Cultural Logic, Education for Revolution, Volume 2013
Preface
E. Wayne Ross & Rich Gibson
“Education for Revolution”

Foreword
David B. Downing, Nicholas P. Katsiadas, Tracy J. Lassiter & Reza Parchizadeh
“Forward to the Revolution” (Forward to the Works & Days Edition)

Articles
Rich Gibson
“Barbarism Rising: Detroit, Michigan and the International War of the Rich on the Poor”

E. Wayne Ross & Kevin D. Vinson
“Resisting Neoliberal Education Reform: Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenry”

Julie A. Gorlewski & Brad J. Porfilio
“Reimaging Solidarity: Hip-Hop as Revolutionary Pedagogy”

Timothy Patrick Shannon & Patrick Shannon
“Learning to Be Fast Capitalists on a Flat World”

Brian D. Lozenski, Zachary A. Casey & Shannon K. McManimon
“Contesting Production: Youth Participatory Action Research in the Struggle to Produce Knowledge”

Mike Cole
“Schooling for Capitalism or Education for Twenty-First Century Socialism?”

Curry Stephenson Malott
“Class Consciousness and Teacher Education: The Socialist Challenge and the Historical Context”

Deborah P. Kelsh
“The Pedagogy of Excess”

John Maerhofer
“Undermining Capitalist Pedagogy: Takiji Kobayashi’s Toseikatsusha and the Ideology of the World Literature Paradigm”

Grant Banfield
“Marxist Sociology of Education and the Problem of Naturalism: An Historical Sketch”

David J. Blacker
“The Illegitimacy of Student Debt”

Alan J. Singer
“Hacking Away at the Corporate Octopus”

Richard A. Brosio
“A Tale of Two Cities —— and States”

Alan Spector
“SDS, the 1960s, and Education for Revolution”

Working toward tuition free post-secondary education in BC

I was interviewed for this story in The Georgia Straight, which raises the question of free post-secondary education in British Columbia and the lack of uptake on the topic in the current BC election discourse.

In my interview with The Straight, I highlighted the staggering debt load post-secondary students currently face. In Canada, student debt (not including provincial and private loans) is over $15 billion according to the Canadian Federation of Students. The high cost of post-secondary education in BC is a significant barrier to attendance by lower and middle income students. At least one in four non-attendees identify financial issues as an obstacle to further education.

The CFS notes that “Canadian research suggests that debt levels have a direct impact on success in post-secondary education. One study found that as student debt rose from less than $1000 to $10,000 per year, program completion rates for those with only loans (and no grants) plummeted from 59% to 8%. Similar conclusions can be drawn from Statistics Canada’s Youth In Transition Survey (YITS), which found that of those who cease their studies early, 36% cited financial reasons.”

Tuition at Canadian universities is rising faster than inflation, climbing 5% in 2012 (compared 2% inflation rate).

Neoliberal social policies have exacerbated the problems with student debt and access to higher education. Christy Clark’s BC Liberal government cut higher education by $46 million this year. In Alberta, higher education took a $100 million cut at the hands of the Alison Redford’s governing Progressive Conservative Party. As budgets are cut, colleges and universities (as well as K-12 schools) are encouraged to look for market-based solutions. BC colleges and universities are now ramping up efforts to recruit international students, who will pay five times the tuition charged to BC residence, in an effort to increase revenue. These recruitment efforts further restrict access to BC residents when there are already too few seats available in colleges and universities.

The ever increasing cost of higher education ultimately threatens existence of education as a public good in Canada (and the USA) and has deleterious effects on career choices and financial futures of millions of students as they face debt bondage. And this is not a circumstance limited to young people as many baby boomers who have gone back university are now struggling to repay their loans.

Lastly, student debt works to dampen critical thought and actions aimed at resisting the status quo. Noam Chomksy argues that “students who acquire large debts putting themselves through school are unlikely to think about changing society. When you trap people in a system of debt, they can’t afford the time to think. Tuition fee increases are a disciplinary technique, and, by the time students graduate, they are not only loaded with debt, but have also internalized the disciplinarian culture. This makes them efficient components of the consumer economy.” Exactly the kind of results neoliberal education policy makers are looking for.

Read The Georgia Straight article here:

Candidates should discuss free postsecondary education, say critics

by Carlito Pablo on Apr 25, 2013 at 3:11 am

Politicians on the campaign trail always say that education is a good thing. Yet many are silent about free university and college education.

Perhaps that’s because making this suggestion inevitably invites the question about money. What would it cost?

It doesn’t seem much, really. For fiscal year 2013-14, the B.C. government expects to collect about $1.4 billion in tuition and other fees. That’s only a small fraction—three percent—of a provincial budget totalling $44 billion.

The fact that many candidates don’t talk about free postsecondary education as a goal worth pursuing—one practical step at a time—indicates two things to Enda Brophy, an assistant professor of communications at SFU.

“On the one hand, I would argue that it demonstrates a lack of vision on their part,” Brophy told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “On the other, it quite obviously underscores their lack of commitment to a genuinely public education system. In other words, they can talk the talk regarding their commitment to public education, but walking the walk would mean taking concrete steps toward a free, public postsecondary system.”

According to the academic, there is an ethical argument to be made that “education should not be a commodity that is bought and sold.”

“In other words, that education and the production of knowledge, like health care, need to be accessible to anyone who wants it,” Brophy said.

As a nation, Canada committed to this ideal when it ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in 1976. The treaty states: “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”

A study released in January 2012 by the B.C. office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives demonstrates that university-educated people pay, on average, $106,000 to $159,000 more in income taxes over their working lives than those with only a high-school diploma.

In Paid in Full: Who Pays for University Education in BC?, author and economist Iglika Ivanova notes that in contrast, a four-year degree costs $50,630, of which 40 percent is paid by students in tuition fees.

Ivanova concludes that “undergraduate education stands out as a profitable investment for the public treasury when all students’ payments for their education—both up-front tuition fees and additional income taxes paid over their careers—are compared with the costs of providing university education.”

In many countries in Europe and elsewhere, like Algeria and Cuba, free postsecondary education is more a rule rather than the exception, according to Simon Tremblay-Pepin. He is a researcher with IRIS (Institut de recherche et d’informations socio-économiques), a Quebec-based think tank that argues that the abolition of tuition fees is economically viable and socially just.

“If we’re talking about a progressive way to free education by lowering the fees year after year, it could be a good way,” Tremblay-Pepin told the Straight by phone when he was in Vancouver for a speaking engagement. “It’s not something that you need to do overnight. Still, you must have the objective in your head that you’re going to a free education and not just lowering fees for electoral reasons because you want to have the youth vote. That’s the difference between having a plan for society and trying to collect votes.”

B.C.’s Green party has declared that “universal and free” education at all levels is one of its long-term goals, promising an immediate reduction of 20 percent in tuition fees.

“The Green party is really out in front on this issue, much more so with a greater vision than either the [B.C.] NDP or the Liberals have offered at this point,” UBC education professor E. Wayne Ross told the Straight in an April 19 phone interview.

The ruling B.C. Liberals have pledged to cap tuition-fee increases at two percent. But with tuition fees having doubled since the Liberals returned to power in 2001, Ross noted that education is already “unaffordable”.

New Democrats have talked about a $100-million needs-based grant system. “That’s important because those needs-based grants have disappeared under the Liberals, but that’s a Band-Aid,” Ross said. “It doesn’t really address the overall problem that we face with student debt and the impact of the lack of access to higher education because of the tuition levels.”

Although the Greens are an “outlier” in the mainly Liberal–New Democrat contest, that’s a good thing, according to Ross. If their idea of free postsecondary education gets traction during this election campaign, the Greens may “pull parties like the NDP, in particular, maybe back towards the left side of the spectrum a little bit more”.

But Ross also noted that because neoliberalism, or the belief that the supremacy of the market trumps public good, is dominant in this age, perhaps the Greens might have a different message if their political fortunes were somewhat different: “If the Green party was more competitive, would the Green party ever say that? And I’m not trying to knock the Green party. I’m also trying to say that [as] the NDP moves towards what they see as the electable centre the closer, the better their [electoral] chances get.”

Source URL: http://www.straight.com/news/375006/candidates-should-discuss-free-postsecondary-education-say-critics

What is Capitalism Hiding?

What is Capitalism Hiding?

By Bertell Ollman

What exactly is it about capitalism that our rulers are trying to hide? The short list would have to include: (1) that the most apt label for our society-because it brings into focus how our society works (particularly in production, an area of life that most of the other labels ignore or obscure), for whom it works better, for whom it works worse, and its potential for change—is “capitalism”; (2) that the real rulers of this society are those who own the means of production, distribution and exchange, and reap the bulk of the surplus; (3) that the Government, whatever democratic foreplay goes on, serves their interests, hence is their Government and not ours; (4) that we, the rest of us who don’t live on profit, rent or interest, are workers (whether we are willing to admit it or not), because we are forced to seek work in order to live; (5) that the conditions of life and work for us workers are bad and likely to get much worse-while the wealth of the capitalists keeps growing; (6) that a qualitatively better life, a more humane, just, free, democratic, egalitarian and ecologically rational way of organizing society can be developed; (7) that those who benefit from the present order of society have consistently lied to us about all of the above; and (8) that once workers—in the broad sense of the term—break through these lies and half-truths, they/we can win.

Now the best way for the capitalists to hide all of these facts is to hide the first one, that our’s is a capitalist society, because once people learn this all of the facts that follow become easier to see and to grasp. In his book, In Praise of Folly, Erasmus tells the story of a man watching a play who all at once jumps onto the stage and tears the masks off of the actors to reveal who they really are. If you think of Marx as this man and the capitalists as the actors, you can begin to understand both what Marx does and why the capitalists are not too pleased with him for doing it.

From How to Take an Exam and Remake the World by Bertell Ollman (2001, Black Rose Books)

The Awakening in America (Analysis of the OWS movement)

THE AWAKENING IN AMERICA

(Analysis of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement)

http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/awakening.htm

__________________________________________________

THE AWAKENING IN AMERICA

“A radical situation is a collective awakening. . . . In such situations people become much more open to new perspectives, readier to question previous assumptions, quicker to see through the usual cons. . . . People learn more about society in a week than in years of academic ‘social studies’ or leftist ‘consciousness raising.’ . . . Everything seems possible — and much more IS possible. People can hardly believe what they used to put up with in ‘the old days.’ . . . Passive consumption is replaced by active communication. Strangers strike up lively discussions on street corners. Debates continue round the clock, new arrivals constantly replacing those who depart for other activities or to try to catch a few hours of sleep, though they are usually too excited to sleep very long. While some people succumb to demagogues, others start making their own proposals and taking their own initiatives. Bystanders get drawn into the vortex, and go through astonishingly rapid changes. . . . Radical situations are the rare moments when qualitative change really becomes possible. Far from being abnormal, they reveal how abnormally repressed we usually are; they make our ‘normal’ life seem like sleepwalking.”

–Ken Knabb, THE JOY OF REVOLUTION

http://www.bopsecrets.org/PS/joyrev3.htm#situation

* * *

The “Occupy” movement that has swept across the country over the last four weeks is already the most significant radical breakthrough in America since the 1960s. And it is just beginning.

It started on September 17, when some 2000 people came together in New York City to “Occupy Wall Street” in protest against the increasingly glaring domination of a tiny economic elite over the “other 99%.” The participants began an ongoing tent-city type occupation of a park near Wall Street (redubbed Liberty Plaza in a salute to the Tahrir Square occupation in Egypt) and formed a general assembly that has continued to meet every day.

Though at first almost totally ignored by the mainstream media, this action rapidly began to inspire similar occupations in hundreds of cities across the country and many others around the world.

The ruling elite don’t know what’s hit them and have suddenly been thrown on the defensive, while the clueless media pundits try to dismiss the movement for failing to articulate a coherent program or list of demands. The participants have of course expressed numerous grievances, grievances that are obvious enough to anyone who has been paying attention to what’s been going on in the world. But they have wisely avoided limiting themselves to a single demand, or even just a few demands, because it has become increasingly clear that every aspect of the system is problematic and that all the problems are interrelated. Instead, recognizing that POPULAR PARTICIPATION IS ITSELF AN ESSENTIAL PART OF ANY REAL SOLUTION, the New York assembly came up with a disarmingly simple yet eminently subversive proposal, urging the people of the world to “Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone. . . . Join us and make your voices heard!”

Almost as clueless are those doctrinaire radicals who remain on the sidelines glumly predicting that the movement will be coopted or complaining that it hasn’t instantly adopted the most radical positions. They of all people should know that the DYNAMIC of social movements is far more important than their ostensible ideological positions. Revolutions arise out of complex processes of social debate and interaction that happen to reach a critical mass and trigger a chain reaction — processes very much like what we are seeing at this moment. The “99%” slogan may not be a very precise “class analysis,” but it’s a close enough approximation for starters, an excellent meme to cut through a lot of traditional sociological jargon and make the point that the vast majority of people are subordinate to a system run by and for a tiny ruling elite. And it rightly puts the focus on theeconomic institutions rather than on the politicians who are merely their lackeys. The countless grievances may not constitute a coherent program, but taken as a whole they already imply a fundamental transformation of the system. The nature of that transformation will become clearer as the struggle develops. If the movement ends up forcing the system to come up with some sort of significant, New Deal-type reforms, so much the better — that will temporarily ease conditions so we can more easily push further. If the system proves incapable of implementing any significant reforms, that will force people to look into more radical alternatives.

As for cooption, there will indeed be many attempts to take over or manipulate the movement. But I don’t think they’ll have a very easy time of it. From the beginning the occupation movement has been resolutely antihierarchical and participatory. General assembly decisions are scrupulously democratic and most decisions are taken by consensus — a process which can sometimes be unwieldy, but which has the merit of making any manipulation practically impossible. In fact, THE REAL THREAT IS THE OTHER WAY AROUND: The example of participatory democracy ultimately threatens all hierarchies and social divisions, including those between rank-and-file workers and their union bureaucracies, and between political parties and their constituents. Which is why so many politicians and union bureaucrats are trying to jump on the bandwagon. That is a reflection of our strength, not of our weakness. (Cooption happens when we are tricked into riding in THEIR wagons.) The assemblies may of course agree to collaborate with some political group for a demonstration or with some labor union for a strike, but most of them are taking care that the distinctions remain clear, and practically all of them have sharply distanced themselves from both of the major political parties.

While the movement is eclectic and open to everyone, it is safe to say that its underlying spirit is strongly antiauthoritarian, drawing inspiration not only from recent popular movements in Argentina, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain and other countries, but from anarchist and situationist theories and tactics. As the editor of Adbusters (one of the groups that helped initiate the movement) noted:

“We are not just inspired by what happened in the Arab Spring recently, we are students of the Situationist movement. Those are the people who gave birth to what many people think was the first global revolution back in 1968 when some uprisings in Paris suddenly inspired uprisings all over the world. All of a sudden universities and cities were exploding. This was done by a small group of people, the Situationists, who were like the philosophical backbone of the movement. One of the key guys was Guy Debord, who wrote THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE. The idea is that if you have a very powerful meme — a very powerful idea — and the moment is ripe, then that is enough to ignite a revolution. This is the background that we come out of.”

The May 1968 revolt in France was in fact also an “occupation movement” — one of its most notable features was the occupation of the Sorbonne and other public buildings, which then inspired the occupation of factories all over the country by more than 10 million workers. (Needless to say, we are still very far from something like that, which can hardly happen until American workers bypass their union bureaucracies and take collective action on their own, as they did in France.)

As the movement spreads to hundreds of cities, it is important to note that each of the new occupations and assemblies remains TOTALLY AUTONOMOUS. Though inspired by the original Wall Street occupation, they have all been created by the people in their own communities. No outside person or group has the slightest control over any of these assemblies. Which is just as it should be. When the local assemblies see a practical need for coordination, they will coordinate; in the mean time, the proliferation of autonomous groups and actions is safer and more fruitful than the top-down “unity” for which bureaucrats are always appealing. Safer, because it counteracts repression: if the occupation in one city is crushed (or coopted), the movement will still be alive and well in a hundred others. More fruitful, because this diversity enables people to share and compare among a wider range of tactics and ideas.

Each assembly is working out its own procedures. Some are operating by strict consensus, others by majority vote, others with various combinations of the two (e.g. a “modified consensus” policy of requiring only 90% agreement). Some are remaining strictly within the law, others are engaging in various kinds of civil disobedience. They are establishing diverse types of committees or “working groups” to deal with particular issues, and diverse methods of ensuring the accountability of delegates or spokespeople.

They are making diverse decisions as to how to deal with media, with police and with provocateurs, and adopting diverse ways of collaborating with other groups or causes. Many types of organization are possible; what is essential is that things remain transparent, democratic and participatory, that any tendency toward hierarchy or manipulation is immediately exposed and rejected.

Another new feature of this movement is that, in contrast to previous radical movements that tended to come together around a particular issue on a particular day and then disperse, the current occupations are settling in their locations with no end date. They’re there for the long haul, with time to grow roots and experiment with all sorts of new possibilities.

YOU HAVE TO PARTICIPATE TO UNDERSTAND WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON. Not everyone will be up for joining in the overnight occupations, but practically anyone can take part in the general assemblies. At http://occupytogether.org you can find out about occupations (or planned occupations) in more than a thousand cities in the United States as well as several hundred others around the world.

The occupations are bringing together all sorts of people coming from all sorts of different backgrounds. This can be a new and perhaps unsettling experience for some people, but it’s amazing how quickly the barriers break down when you’re working together on an exciting collective project. The consensus method may at first seem tedious, especially if an assembly is using the “people’s mic” system (in which the assembly echoes each phrase of the speaker so that everybody can hear). But it has the advantage of encouraging people to speak to the point, and after a little while you get into the rhythm and begin to appreciate the effect of everyone focusing on each phrase together, and of everyone getting a chance to have their say and see their concerns get a respectful hearing from everyone else.

In this process we are already getting a taste of a new kind of life, life as it could be if we weren’t stuck in such an absurd and anachronistic social system. So much is happening so quickly that we hardly know how to express it. Feelings like: “I can’t believe it! Finally! This is it! Or at least it COULD be it — what we’ve been waiting for for so long, the sort of human awakening that we’ve dreamed of but didn’t know if it would ever actually happen in our lifetime.” Now it’s here and I know I’m not the only one with tears of joy. A woman speaking at the first Occupy Oakland general assembly said, “I came here today not just to change the world, but to change myself.” I think everyone there knew what she meant. In this brave new world we’re all beginners. We’re all going to be making lots of mistakes. That is only to be expected, and it’s okay. We’re new at this. But under these new conditions we’ll learn fast.

At that same assembly someone else had a sign that said: “There are more reasons to be excited than to be scared.”

BUREAU OF PUBLIC SECRETS

October 15, 2011

[A PDF version of this text can be found at http://www.bopsecrets.org/recent/awakening.htm ]

 

 

 

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“Making petrified conditions dance by singing them their own tune.”