What Is It That People
Need to Know,
and How Do We Need
What Is It That People Need to Know, and How Do We Need
In May 2003, United Airlines
in New York City in a demonstration against their bosses, and their
which they felt betrayed them. The bosses had demanded and won huge
benefit, and working condition concessions from the union leaders, who
gave them, all under the banner that, "we are all in this
One day later the United
that they were taking, off the top, prodigious pension pay-outs,
of dollars, in a tradition going back at least three decades in the US,
proving once more that giving concessions to bosses is like giving
to sharks: They only want more.
At the New York demonstration,
was featured in the New York Times, holding a sign, "Hey, I thought we
were all in this together." We are not, and the IWW probably captured
best in the graphic of 1919, showing the arrangements of the system of
capital. The IWW in the preamble to their constitution, written nearly
100 years ago, understood what most North Americans still cannot grasp,
"The working class and the employing class have nothing in
They might have better said
that the working
class and the employing class have only contradiction in common. But
were clear in taking up where Marx left off: "..the emancipation of the
working class must be the act of the working class itself" (Marx,
But how do we get from where we
where we must go? What is it that people need to know, and how do they
need to come to know it, in order to lead reasonably free, connected,
These are epic times when
and irreversible changes are taking place. People are defining
and, in a world which can offer its children only perpetual war, it is
a period when despair and confusion can seize the outlook of masses of
people. These epic times call for a new form of epic heroism, rooted in
notions of the common good, community and equality, which remembers the
wisdom that says where there is oppression, there is resistance,
muted, sometimes not taking forms that we approve of, but there is
resistance, and it is in this interaction that change is made, change
will happen-for the better--- if we can outfox the destruction of
There is no alternative. It will be either barbarism, or
friendship or endless war.
By Marxist-humanism I mean, on
the one hand, not socialism,
which I think has clearly failed, and I explain why below. I do not
reform, piecemeal tinkering, or reform. On the other hand, I mean a
and total overcoming, transformation, of social, intellectual, and
relations, the abolition of the wage system, and of labor as we know
unbounded change open to yet more change. I mean revolution for a
society, based on the notion, from each according to their commitment,
to each according to their need-a notion which goes beyond the position
of the Manifesto, and harks back to ACTS 4. 4, in the christian bible,
which calls for sharing all with all.
Part of understanding that
is remembering how rational knowledge is constructed. My former
was a shrink. I once interrupted his lawn-mowing to ask him, "Just
what is it, Roger, that you do?" Roger raised his left hand high over
head, out to the side, and wiggled his fingers. "I get them to watch
he said, "While I do this," and he lowered his right hand to below his
waist and wiggled those right fingers, and he chuckled.
Part of the construction of
understanding how knowledge moves from what appears to be, to what is,
or from appearance to essence. Appearances are important, surely. No
will admit to wanting to buid an ugly bridge. But what counts is the
of the bridge. Appearance to essence. Of course, we can never know
there is to know about bridge-building. Each time we do it, we learn.
we can know enough not to be paralyzed into inaction. What we know can
always be deepened. When do we know enough to act?
We should by now be quite aware
social surroundings. What is
is capitalism. The challenge is to find the potential in the
paper about transcending overcoming capitalism and imperialist war,
for epic heroism and revolutionary ideas rising not out of the mists,
from a careful analysis of what is.
My thesis is that schools are central to this struggle in North
and in much of the world. The interacting striving of school workers,
and community people could reverberate into the working class
In this, ideas are vital today. The data is in on our social
recent attempts to change them. Now, it is not the experiment, but the
ideas about the experiment, that decide what is to be done, or, in
way, the theory sets up what is observed, and acted upon.
This is as good as it gets with capitalism. This is all capitalism has to offer: endless war, irrationalism, racism, massive unemployment, the ruin of our natural resources, the assault on reason--all in the name of profits. Today, every local tin-pot warlord has learned he needs a nuke, as the US may come, and every big state feels empowered to strike first, just in case.
Even so, at the same time,
has produced the social relations, the technology, and the knowledge
allow us to understand it at it fullest, especially those of us in this
privileged sector of the world, which like Great Britain in the 19th
century, has stolen the resources of the world and placed them at our
and since we can nearly know it in its totality, we may be able to
what to do about it (Lukacs, 1982).
In 1999, I wrote in the social
journal, TRSE, "if you are teaching middle school now, you are looking
at the soldiers in the next oil war." It was easy to see this war
but not THESE wars. Nobody could predict the vile terrorist attacks on
September 11. And I make no crystal ball claims now. Only Cassandra had
Even so, there are tendencies
rooted in history, and present-day circumstances, that we can use to
into what is to come. In January, 2002, four months after the
terrorist attack, in the midst of the initial stages of the massive
on civil liberties in the US, the Rouge Forum News editorialized,
will be resistance, and that resistance will likely rise initially from
poor and working class black people, people who have historically taken
the lead in the US. It may break out in Detroit, or in smaller
areas, but it will break out, as people cannot take much more--they
fight back because they must." Now, in June this year, we can see black
rebels in Benton Harbor Michigan, rising up, their town ablaze, in
to the steady stream of police repression that has accelerated under
Their extraordinary and courageous rebellion in Benton Harbor took place within the most repressive period in the history of the US. I list these as interrelated international and national social and economic tendencies, all existing before September 11 2001:
*Booming inequality within the US, and between the US and the world (Johnson, 1999), even the World Bank Report of 2002 says ½ of the world's population lives on less than $2 a day, and 1/5 live on less than $1 per day. Inequality has accelerated since September 11, 2001, the billionaire irrationalist's terrorist attack, and poor people have suffered the most, (World Bank Report 2002 online, chapter 0100),
*Segregation deepening within
and schools (Orfield, G., Yun, J. !999),
*Irrationalism-rising power of
fundamentalism in school and out (Jenkins, 2002; Ohio Plan, 2002),
*Regimentation of society via
surveillance, and the suspension of common civil liberties (Foner,
*Rising authoritarianism on the
off, as the vertical discipline of society sharpened. This was
easy to see in schools (Bayot, 2002),
*An equally transparent
of mental and manual labor, again easy to spot in schools, where elites
tried to replace the minds of teachers with the minds of for-profit
regulators and testing agencies (Ross 2000),
*Militarization of the schools
*Technology leading not to better lives for all but to massive worldwide unemployment and overproduction, meaningless jobs repetitive jobs dominating the future for most kids (Feaster, 2002),
*A mystical economy built on
like Enron, an economy that was unraveling with the NASDAQ
the interwoven collaboration of auditing firms and banks so steeped in
greed that they lost sight of concern about investment for production,
their leaders so fearful of the future that they just stole the money
*A deepening divide of town and
with masses of people being driven off the land and arriving in cities,
homeless and hopeless,
*A cultural attack in North
to heorize the military and to eradicate memories of Vietnam (Franklin,
*The privatization of the
leadership and dependence on mercenaries, secret companies, while
operations forces work under the guidance of corporate leaders (Wayne,
*The incarceration of two
in the US, inordinately black people. (NYTimes April 11 2003)
*Government less and less as a
arbiter of disputes, more and more a weapon in the hands of the
September 11, the despicable terrorist attacks and what followed , was both a qualitative shift in our social context, and a bright light illuminating what was already going on that went often unnoticed.
September 11 and the events that followed confirmed at least two related contradictions:
1. The contradiction between
and the national base of capital's personifications, the people who
to ride the process. Capital, a system that rules people, is ever on
prowl for the highest forms of exploitation, of raw materials and
of markets, and of labor, people. Capital, as an international system
has now invaded the entire planet, knows no boundaries, but its history
is bound to a national base, countries. The capital system requires the
protection of national armies-which come at odds with one another in an
almost infinite variety of ways. Within countries, capital is
personified, by people who, from time to time, possess capital and ride
it, until someone else does a better job at exploitation. At every
all are at odds with all and, in some areas, this chronic war results
either kakistocracy, the rule of the worst conceivable leaders, or
the rule of the most irrational and depraved.
Oil is now central to
events and this contradiction. Oil wars play out with the battles
Unocal, Chevron, of the US; Bridas from Argentina, Russia, the
of the Middle East oil fields, the new central Asian nations, Nigeria,
Indonesia, Colombia, Venezuela, Japan, and China, among many others.
capital, as a system, is in discord both with pure individual
and the need for a national army (Klare, 2001, p90; Yergin, 1991 p.722,
753; Rashid, 2001 p45; Lindquist, 1991, p77).
It appears that US leaders (who
ties with oil interests) now seek to resolve that contradiction by
the world, everywhere from the Philippines to Central Asia, Iraq, and
and unannounced more to come. So, the U.S. seeks to resolve the
contradiction by extending its global rule, by invading the world, with
permanent bases everywhere, under its national base. Positioning
China has to be seen as a significant part of this effort to construct
uninterrupted hegemony (Meszaros, 2002, p29).
As an aside, we may have seen
of the counterfeit wars of national liberation, which have so
the left for nearly a century. One such war after the next, while
forms of imperialism, never led to either a Marxist-humanist ethic, nor
practice. Now, perhaps the snake oil will no longer sell, maybe the
will only fight for something much more than a new boss--or maybe not.
Surely the Columbian FARC is running a successful guerilla campaign
the National Liberation rubric, but should they succeed (and best of
to them), perhaps their rank and file will quickly demand more than a
job. Clearly, the question to all now is: How to truly abolish the wage
system-root it out hook, line, and sinker? Or, in converse, how do we
freedom, what Marx suggested in Capital (Volume 3 p. 329), "begins only
when labor which is determined by necessity and mundane considerations
ceases; thus in the very nature of things it lies beyond the sphere of
actual material production."
2. Secondly, the invasion of
will create another contradiction, the deepening inequality that the
costs will lead to intensified suffering among the poorest section of
society and the poorest people in the world. As the economy and efforts
to reify a Master /Slave relationship grind on the daily lives of poor
and working people, they will fight back, developing wisdom as they go,
as they always have-and must.
Nevertheless, in the US and
world there was an outpouring of witless nationalism following the
billionaire's attacks that has to be troublesome, even if it was in
superficial. There was, for example, no rush to enlist in the military,
even though hundreds of thousands of people waived flags at baseball
There was no patriotic purchase of stocks, and there has been no
outpouring of enlistments for Iraq, even though that was urged by the
House corps. But appearances are important, superficial as they may be,
as they can be transformed into something else.
Capital invaded the world,
untouched. The most recent century was the first time in history when
was nowhere to run, as the residents of the Falklands/Malvinas
when British jump-jets began to bomb their hide-away sheep farms. Now,
it may be that capital, if we can take it as a personification of
could not tolerate areas and people which it created, debased, and
that is, barbarized, to a point where they were briefly out of its
as in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Congo, etc., and capital felt compelled to
recapture them to rationalize them into systems of its accepted
wage slavery. In South Africa, the processes of capital, tailed by the
white neo-fascist apartheid government, moved to a peaceful transition,
and self-preservation, by inveigling the Mandela, and Communist Party,
wings of the African National Congress to abandon their promises of
and democracy, to get with the program of neo-liberalism, and to
the traditional passive-aggressive forms of capitalist violence
landlessness, epidemics, starvation, drugs, rape, etc.) on the masses
people-many of whom still thing this was a victory--while others are
the ANC leadership in the squatter settlements.
This is, then, an international
society, steeped in inequality, segregation, irrationalism, heading for
a sharp financial crisis, with the most powerful of the nations
the citizens of the world perpetual preemptive war-- the highest stage
of what is fairly called capitalist development.
In sum, what is afoot now can
understood in the context of an intensified international war of the
on the poor. There is a word for the direct rule of the rich, coupled
the promise of war, the suspension of civil liberties, racism as public
policy, irrationalism assaulting reason, a culture writhing in
I will leave it to the reader to name the combination of these chilling
tendencies. No, I must name it: Fascism. (See Gibson, What is Fascism? http://www.pipeline.com/~rgibson/fascism.html)
Such a world, such a nation, is
to make peculiar demands on its schools. No external curricula
and no high-stakes test, can stand outside this social context.
One tendency is worth examining
deeper in regard to the changing role of school. That tendency is
Basic industrial production is indeed taking place, and in connection
agricultural labor and the struggle for knowledge, social and
industrial labor makes our lives possible. But industrial production
been nearly obliterated in North America. It has been shipped mostly
Since 1970, more than one
million US auto
workers lost their jobs, probably forever. Another million steel
and miners, and in rubber and feeder plants were permanently laid off.
Labor analyst Doug Henwood estimates that there are 700,000 industrial
jobs left in the US. I think he is wrong by about one-third, but let us
take that figure as it is (Henwood, 2002).
I offer four postulates which I
are firmly grounded:
1.Factories, once central to
in the US are closed, for the most part.
2.The numbers of industrial
the US have been slashed to strip the industrial working class of their
potential, for the time being, of being serious agents for social
though some industrial workers, dock-workers for example, occupy vital
crossroads of capital and can shut them off if they choose.
3. Since the industrial
those in the Congress of Industrial Organizations were the people who
in the 1930's what we take for granted as civilized life, things like
Security, the 40 hour week, rights to organize, form unions, exercise
speech and assembly, and child labor laws; the absence of their jobs is
4. The remaining industrial
one hand, belong to unions so corrupt, undemocratic, racist, and
with nationalism that there is no reason to believe that they will soon
be leaders for social justice. This has been true for decades (Adamic,
Brecher, Serrin). On the other hand, the remaining industrial workers
North America are remarkably privileged, in a relative sense (not to
their dangerous jobs), and they know it--indeed many of them have been
steeped in the AFL-CIO culture which suggests that American workers do
better because other workers do worse. Lastly, this work force is
and has done nearly nothing at all while hundreds of thousands of their
comrades lost their jobs. The only real experience of the key
sectors of the AFL-CIO is retreat and loss, a habit which will be hard
for them to break, even though they will be more and more cornered as
costs and production demands crunch on their lives.
From that I submit this:
Schools are now the central
places of North American life. More people organize their lives around
school than any other force in North American society. While schools do
not garner even 1/10th of the federal military budget, schools are in
community, everywhere, offering food, knowledge, free space, medical
and hope-real or false. The military is isolated, deliberately, and
none of that. The tax system is widely distrusted, and social security
still directly influences only a small portion of the population.
are also able to exert the most creative control over their jobs, more
than any other group of workers with medical benefits in the US.
also work with children, future soldiers or fighters for a better
Reflecting the social shift,
are now the most unionized people in the United States. With 3.9
members the school workers unions are nearly three times the size of
next largest unions, SEIU and the Teamsters. Educators in the National
Education Association have some union democracy available to them,
most unionized people, as indicated by their 1999 rejection of NEA's
plans to merge them into the AFT-AFL-CIO (Diegmueller, 2002; Gibson, R.
1999). This is not true of the American Federation of Teachers, one of
the most corrupt, co-opted, and undemocratic unions in the western
but the AFT represents less than 1/3 of US school workers.
The school worker unions are
in the midst of deep crises. The NEA's internal surveys, released only
to select staff, show that more than ½ the membership would quit
if given the opportunity. The union leaders, like their counterparts in
industry, are profoundly alienated from the rank and file, both via
(the union bosses make about $450,000 per year at the top), and in
the union leaders created, wrote, and participated in the sharpest
on the teaching force in the last decade: the standards and the
tests that were born from the regulations. With the Bush-Gore "No Child
Left Behind Act," supported by Democrats and Republicans alike, and
the aka of "No Corporation Left Behind," the NEA leaders may have
their own list of betrayals. NEA stood silent on the bill.
The NEA has, for years, banked
growth, using that fund to pay extraordinarily generous staff benefits
(most NEA staff earn well over 100,000 per year, with generous expense
accounts). But membership growth is rather like a Ponzi scheme; when it
stops, the plan begins to unravel. Such is the case for many NEA groups
now. They face real financial crisis. Key NEA states like Texas and
are losing members. In addition, corruption has run amok in school
for years. Now, some top AFT bosses are being caught, and imprisoned.
top leaders of the Washington DC local of AFT embezzled more than $3
from the treasury (and rode in limos in full view of all), and is
off to jail soon. Similar events area playing out in Dade County
funds topping $200,000 per year, for years and Broward County Florida
executive director of NEA jailed for attempted child rape).
Very few school workers trust
even their local union leaders-for good reason. This, however, does not
translate into oppositional action in the form of caucuses, or clear
challenges--except from the right. There is a rise of Christian
in the south challenging NEA. A quasi-Christian union is the largest
union in Texas. Instead, for the most part, it only means school
are more alienated from their jobs, more despairing--other than those
with groups like the Rouge Forum, which offer them chances to make
of their circumstances, and to change them. Nevertheless, the gap in
means the field is relatively open to creative action.
This means that what teachers
school workers do now counts more than ever before. This is true not
because their jobs are located in the central organizing point of North
American life, jobs which
cannot be outsourced, but because most of those teachers are
with those sectors of society which are most exploited, most oppressed;
communities of color and immigrant communities. It should not be lost
us that these communities are likely to be both explosive, and,
in the case of recent immigrants, experienced in the powerful social
in their earlier homes.
This is not to say that
are forever hopeless, or that school workers are solely position to be
revolutionary forces in North America. On the contrary, most teachers
been, throughout history, conservative, even reactionary. The first
to join the Nazi Party was the teachers' union. Most teachers will not
be revolutionaries, but some will--and they matter.
Industry in the US could be
the processes of capital show that will be profitable again. The Ford
Plant, where I once worked, was once the largest industrial work place
in the world, with more than 100,000 workers. It was the site of
unionism. Today, less than 9,000 people work at the Rouge, and the UAW
local there is one of the most unscrupulous in the nation. It was, in
in recognition of that shift away from industrialization and real
that we named our group the Rouge Forum-as a counterpoint.
Even so, the Ford family now
will rebuild the Rouge, with a $2 billion investment(Detroit News, June
21 2003). We shall see, and we shall see if the re-industrialization
revitalizes the UAW. Frankly, I doubt re-industrialization will happen,
nor will the rebirth of the UAW . And, whatever comes of the Rouge,
jobs in Mexico's maquiladora plants have been lost to China in the last
three years. The main tendency is outsourcing, capital in search of
cheaper surplus labor.
It is true that the working
the plants, in the military, on the docks, remains as a key lever for
around the world, but not in the US, not now. The question we face is
where can we best send our limited resources for the greatest impact,
I think that place is school-where the youths of the working class are,
and where the class struggle is raging.
Nevertheless, while the world
to be more divided than ever by the wars of all on all, it remains that
the revolutionary processes of capitalism have united us in
ways through systems of exchange, production, technology,
and communication. How can we make that unity dominate the disunity
The last fifty years witnessed
time in history when every man, woman, and child could live fairly
if we shared, if we could build a society based on inclusion and
Yet that possibility today is strangled by an interaction of a fascist
few and the voluntary servitude of those who cannot see a way out.
Again, the beginning point of
today is a massive change of mind, consciousness. From the other end,
last great Chinese Wall ruling classes have, when only ruthless
will save them, is the system of ideas that causes a sizeable group of
the oppressed to serve as the army of the oppressors. When those ideas
begin to crack up, when the troops refuse to obey, shoot their
mutiny, things crack up.
Critical thinking is, in most
the order of the day. Just how critical can we get people to be?
As Jean Anyon has demonstrated,
school reform without doing simultaneous economic and social reform is
like washing the air on one side of a screen door. It will not work.
doing social and economic reform also requires a context, a goal, and
us that goal must be to overcome, go beyond, transform, metamorphasize,
capitalism. This is as good as capitalism gets, characterized by, above
all, sharpening inequality and violence, and it is unacceptable.
The main things taking place in
besides the intensified invasion of market forces (a frontal assault on
space and thought), commonplace segregation and the destruction of
are standardization and testing. There is a direct line from standards
to tests to deepened segregation to mindless nationalism and the
to die for Exxon. Resisting those tests is resisting fascism--if test
is taken as anti-capitalist resistance; and often it is not. Test
who, today, refuse to be capital resisters, are simply choosing not to
live in the world, and, should they win, they will win segregated,
anti-intellectual, fascist, pro-war schools that do not give a lot of
which is quite possible. Henry Ford, who ran quite a few progressive,
based, integrated, private schools in his day, probably would have
Reformers, test resisters who want nice capitalist schools just lay the
ground for great betrayals in the future.
Real school reform, which will
to transcend irrationalism built into the social structure, and also
equality to overcome inequality, democracy to go past authoritarianism,
necessitates deep social transformation-the interaction of struggles in
school, communities, in the military, and on other jobs. There is
new about this, from Soweto to Mississippi to Paris, it is
for students and youth to point the way, to grasp that direct mass
is superior to any set of textbook lessons. Combined with some form of
radical schooling in the context of direct action, that kind of
is indeed critical-practical activity.
Beyond resistance, schools at
to struggle for what is true, and the key question facing humanity now
is the question I began with: What is it that people need to know, and
how do they need to come to know it, in order to be free, creative,
communal, inclusive, and unafraid? The substantive side, and the
side, surely cannot be split apart, as 90 years of sham socialism
teach us--whatever it was that masses of people should have known was
not learned as they hardly resisted socialism, and they hardly burst
of its capitalist veneer (socialism was never much beyond the
of the working class) when it fell apart. No one learns to ride a horse
in one sitting, and falling in learning is a process of practice and
Still, at issue here is a massive international change of mind, coupled
of course with huge upheavals, but a change of mind that will outlast
uprisings and transcend into something worth the fight. And such is the
task of schools: massive changes of minds-through the interaction of
and substance, the latter always guiding the former, but recognizing
decisive impact of the processes of gaining and testing ideas.
What can we do in schools
as they are, to build a better world? We can do at least four things
that will not be built into external educational regulations or their
the Big Tests-but they can be built into everyday lesson plans:
1. The Critique of Tyranny and
is ages old, but the metaphor of the Master and the Slaves (nicely
by the IWW in the "Pyramid of the Capitalist System") is a lighthouse
understanding what it is people need to know, and how they need to come
to know it, in order for all to be free. This is not only a study of
opposition (though it most assuredly is that, exploding notions that
are all in this together, partners in production"), but a study of
transcending, transforming, that is, how we can start with what is and
get to what ought to be.
At base, the Master-Slave
show, graphically, this simple thing that people must know, at the
of how we can become free: Things
We can see that the mass of
considerable time, have not, and will not, be ruled forever by a
tiny minority--especially since we now have all at hand that we need to
be reasonably free and comfortable--if strife did not go with
This goes to the question of how we keep our ideals and still teach
a society that suggests that may be impossible (Strauss, 2000; Gibson,
2002 ). Persevere! The fact that things
change can sustain good teaching, even under fascism, when we must
ask ourselves fifth columnist questions, like, "What would Kim Philby
2. Wisdom: the grasp of the
and the potentially profound understanding of the relations of people
each other and their universe-the vast possibilities when people's
are mainly friendly, cooperative. Wisdom is understanding the system,
relations to the composite parts, and humbling action. Knowing the
is, at the same time, partial knowledge, as every form of engagement
enlightens us about the whole, and changes it. But the partiality of
about the whole must not be paralyzing, no more than we could allow our
partial knowledge about the complex forces of gravity stop us from
out the door, reasonably confident that we will not lift off and away.
Put simply, wisdom is internationalism over nationalism.
The whole relates to education
another way. Anatol Lunacharsky, leader of the revolutionary Soviet
system in a brief period before Stalin acceded to power, suggested that
a good Soviet citizen would be one who could "play one instrument very
well, but who could hear and understand the whole orchestra too." The
of intellectuals has, for too long, been to only construct reason. Now
we must consciously connect reason to power. But in daily life, making
friends and keeping them over time is a radical notion as well.
In the Master/Slave
relationship, in that
contradiction, little but power is illusion. Wisdom, then, seeks to
reason, ideas, not simply with some more reason, but with power, in
for wisdom to survive. This goes to the next thing that can be done,
3. Courageous action. Fear,
yoked to opportunism,
is commonplace in schools now. It is reasonable to be afraid of job
the impact of tests, mindless popular nationalism, professional
etc. How can we get beyond this fear?
Courage is not standing in the
house door, berating the tests and the regulations--and getting fired.
Courage is not merely making an ethical point, but getting enough
and then using it, to make change. Part of the answer to the question
faces so many educators now, "How do I keep my ideals and still teach?"
is found in gathering the power found in competent teaching, close ties
with colleagues, parents, and students, and the courage of returning to
work another day. Part of courageous action is the patience and
that makes the action side possible.
Ideas should be a key product
New ideas, which we sorely need, require some freedom to have them.
freedom to students takes courage. Promises of freedom won by the
of freedom, typical of oppressive curricula, have blown hollow in the
That history, which is really world-wide, is available in the US, and
be pointed to. (Shannon 1980). Even so, freedom is the process toward
if we consider freedom in its present moment. It is not simply
freedom, but using freedom as part of the process to win more freedom,
freedom of inquiry for example to have better ideas about how to be
Courage is developing the
tyranny and wisdom to the point of understanding what it takes to win,
and then acting--in conjunction with the people who are losing most
the system of capital, and thus are likely to understand it best.
Courage is recognizing that
need to know and how they need to know it, in order to be free, is a
not a dogma. We all have a lot to learn-and we need to try to learn
good humor. Courage, then, is also grounded in the humble practice of
Courage could mean taking a
like making several lifelong friends, or leaving a subversive flyer in
a lunchroom, or teaching well , or concluding that one is always too
to resist and resisting anyway, or visiting a kid's home to see a
or grandparent. Courage can indeed be refusing to give the test--en
or denouncing a tyrannical law, or ridiculing an enforcement bureaucrat
who deserves to be mocked, or simply being patient with a colleague who
has run out of patience. Courage can surely be leading a wildcat strike
matched with freedom schooling to discover what forms of education can
thrive in the midst of civil strife-as members of the Rouge Forum
to do during the Oil Invasion of Iraq.
Courage also involves the sharp
grab the right link of the chain at the right moment, and then to act.
For example, in Chicago, George Schmidt of Substance Magazine, and a 28
year veteran Chicago teacher, was fired for publishing sections of the
hated high-stakes CASE test in Substance in 1999. Schmidt did not do
recklessly. He had studied the opposition, his resources (legal,
etc) and the terrain, which he knew well. He guessed his action could
Four years later, in January 2003, twelve Chicago teachers signed a
saying they would not give the CASE to their students. The CASE
Exposed as a bogus exam, through the persistent efforts of hundreds of
educators who listened to the test resistance over time, the CASE exam
was cancelled for Chicago kids and school workers. It all began with a
few educators grabbing the right link.
4. Leaders in this movement need a practical education and action ethic, drawn from the historical experience of the Master-Slave metaphor, rooted in the reasonable supposition about human nature that people are imaginative, curious, and creative, architects of their circumstances when they adopt a practical-critical stance, and that, given some freedom and criticism, they can learn, comprehend, and transform their world. Again, the beginning point of this is simple: Things change. They change in part because of techonological advance, in part because of deepening cleavages between harmony (a united world) and disharmony (class struggle, imperialism, etc), but also because people must embody struggle in their every day lives, in all the key sectors of life and history. Let me list four:
1. At work people struggle not only for pay, benefits, and working conditions, but for freedom and creativity in the processes of the work, and control over what is done with the product. They engage this struggle, in varying forms and with differing intensity, because they must struggle in these arenas, and others, in order to live.
2. In the centerpiece of reproduction, sexual relations, people continue to press for greater freedom, crossing boundaries firmly established. The history of human development demonstrates that sexuality(as a matter of pleasure or reproduction) , over time, wins over racism, nationalism, even homophobia.
3. People struggle for what is
in the world, people are recognizing that their governments are lying
them, about nearly everything--and the struggle for what is true, the
battle to defeat prejudice and habit, is as necessary and relentless as
the fight for food-indeed in many instances it is the same thing. Take
US troops, for example. They know their government provides them with
materials, so they buy their own equipment, some spending as much as 5%
of their income on supplies. This plays interestingly against the fact
that US teachers spend about $3,000 per year on books and materials, or
about 6% of their average income. In each case, the struggle for what
true is significant, perhaps more vital in the case of the
Now let us look back to the key
of the Master-Slave metaphor which Marx addressed in his Theses on
"...circumstances are changed by people and it is essential to educate
the educators. This
must therefore divide society in two parts, one of which is superior to
society. The coincidence of the changing circumstances and of human
or self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as
practice" (my emphasis from Marx, 4th
Thesis. See also David Harvey, Spaces
of Hope, p200-203). The concluding two sentences here usually get
least notice, but for my purposes it is key to grasp (a) The
metaphor in play as the cleavage of society into two parts, (b) with
Master side as self-limiting, a cul-de-sac, in which only domination is
in the interest of the powerful (c) and the side of the masses of
as containing the seeds of a new world of freedom, (d) obtainable only
by a complete overturning of the existing relationship.
The path to that overturning is
with history. We can learn from what went wrong in the past. Socialism,
I think must be admitted, failed. While a key part of that failure
stems from the incessant attacks launched against socialist states from
the imperialist world, the failure of socialism was nevertheless mainly
internal. I have eight interrelated thoughts about why socialism
and a few ideas about what we can learn from that.
1. Socialism began with a
of Marxism (now best represented in G. A. Cohen's, Karl
Marx's Theory of History but deeply rooted in past
The Theory of Productive Forces. This view suggested that equality
only be won from abundance. To gain abundance, the productive forces of
machinery, technology, and industrial organization must be maximized.
achieve that, technicians, experts, administrators must come to the
To entice them, there had to be rewards, privileges--to the party
as well--which, through benevolence, would share out the treasure---
and then later still, and then never.
The theory of productive
up by Lenin in a description of the New Economic Policy (which openly
a return to capitalist productive relations in the USSR) was this:
plus the party. The work of F. W. Taylor, designed to make machines of
people, to strip the minds of the work force and to diminish working
in their lives to make them cheap at work, was preeminent to socialist
practice. A humane work place was seen as a utopian frolic (Taylor,
Decades later, this theory made
for a top leader of the African National Congress to say to me, in an
on May 20 2003: "Our economy is simply the NEP (New Economic Policy of
the USSR) updated. We have learned that we must have capitalist,
relations of production. Now we know that sometimes you must stand over
the people with guns to gain that production, to get their minds right,
to build our modern NEP."
This idea, adopted both by
and corrupt opportunists, ignores Marx's vital emphasis, "The greatest
productive force is the understanding, wisdom, of the revolutionary
itself." (Poverty of Philosophy, p196). The wisdom of the people is
with the management of the party leadership.
The theory of productive forces
many people, distracted them from their initial projects of community,
democracy, and equality: Marxist-humanism-and became an excuse to
under the nationalist disguise of, "we are all in this together,"
indistinguishable from the viewpoint of the owners of United Airlines
above. Production became the sole ethic, and the sole aesthetic as
Such is the case in South Africa today, where inequality, epidemics
and cholera), and ignorance reign over the failed promises of the South
African Communist Party and the ANC.
Abundance will not be the basis
next human society. More likely, for some time, we will have to learn
share misery--nothing new to millions now. The old Masters will not
up without a horrific fight. Their wars over the last century cost, at
minimum, 150 million lives. Should we pretend they will not, in their
gasps, bomb their own cities, poison their own water supplies?
will not be waves just lapping on the shore. It will be many waves,
a good deal of time, followed by a series of huge waves, collapsing the
walls of what has been, crashing into a difficult period, in order to
on to a better world. This interim period, rising from the ghoulish
of the old powers, will be one of sacrifice--but sacrifice built on our
knowledge of the betrayed sacrifices of the past.
2. Nationalism: often a
response to imperialist
intervention, or to racism, nationalism swept over the internationalism
of the world's workers--who do all occupy space that is going to always
be unevenly developed, and who must, because they are propertyless,
for jobs and life. Material conditions, and propaganda, kept
alive long after it served any reasonable purpose for most people.
Internationalism of the world's
is first, an idea, leaping beyond experience, that must become a
force--a signal of the creativity of the architect who can foresee the
structure or a building, or the social architect who can envision a
world. Nationalism, as Fredy Perlman pointed out long ago, has enjoyed
a continuing appeal, even among socialists. It at once then aligned
workers with local despots, and shattered pretenses of
setting up endless wars and economic battles, turning workers into
of their own oppression. Now, for example, the African National
of South Africa, has demolished its fifty-year stance on equality,
mineral wealth and industrial wealth shall be transferred to the
under the dual the shelter of nationalism as a response to globalism,
is, "We are all in this together, in the 'big church' of the ANC, and
must adopt globalist strategies to hold together in the nation." Daily
life is exploding the ANC's betrayal, as I took early reports when
of people drove off an ANC official (come in a Mercedes to conduct a
changing the name of an essentially-closed-by-privatization- hospital)
by mass action in Soweto in May 2003. Nationalism, any pretense that
is some form of unity for poor and working people other than the unity
of our class, our position in the Master/Slave relationship, whether
is set up as racial nationalism, sex/gender nationalism, or
nationalism, is a murderous form of ambush.
3. Male chauvinism/sexism: the
non-exploitive sexual relations on the one hand, and the outright
of women, coupled with a complex variety of sex/gender biases on the
hand. Sexual oppression, the oldest division of labor and the oldest
of oppression, may be our biggest mystery.....so hidden in our history
that we cannot see its complexities. Even so, in my experience, in the
two revolutions, or upheavals that I have the most experience with, in
Grenada and South Africa, the exploitation of women as sexual objects,
and as the workforce of the revolution, quickly became big reasons why
the revolutionary effort was shipwrecked. The women were, literally,
the serious work; the men doing the women.
4. Related to the theory of
forces are several multi-stage theories of social change. China and the
USSR set the pattern (despite Lenin's insistence, at the watershed
of the Russian revolution, that social change could leap stages). First
there had to be an advanced form of capitalism, under the party, then
under the party, then the end of the class struggle (again under the
in contradiction to all previous claims--this a pure fiction) (Gibson,
1994 p363 ,see also footnote 433).
Hence, mass movements rooted in
equality, Marxist-humanist democracy, that is, revolutionary movements
the freedom and creativity of a new world, movements that were, while
revolution was in progress, more democratic and egalitarian than any
in history, when victorious, the leadership turned back on the people
the name of the theory of productive forces and declared that freedom
showing up at work on time in a Taylorized factory, or, in some cases
South Africa, the freedom to become an individual entrepreneur-with no
start-up capital. Today, the ANC is using armed force against miners
community organizers who seek to interfere with their NEP-like project,
and it is reasonable to suggest that the levels of the ANC betrayal
result in ruthlessness at least as vile as that of the apartheid
Throughout socialism's history (and the parallel histories of unionism,
liberalism, and reform), there has been nothing unusual about leaders
that the people were betraying the revolution--an upside-down analysis
of who was betraying whom.
5. Iconization and
are two folds in the same cloth, creating new false gods--Lenin,
Mao, Maurice Bishop, Mandela, Che, Cabral, Martin Luther King, Caesar
etc.--which places their work beyond criticism, and thus ritually kills
any life that was ever in them, and demonization, set up by vicious
uncomradely debate among people who should, or could, have been
at least learned from one another. S.P. Bunting of South Africa, Lewis
Corey (a.k.a. Farina), of the US, Bernard Coard in Grenada, and many,
others suffered this fate, and their contributions to the movements
Iconization makes palatable the
of leaders and followers, or the continued divide of thinking active
and objects of their desires, which Freire warned about early in his
(Freire, 1972). Elites, like the Botha's of South Africa, learned long
ago about creating a buffer class to protect themselves from the
a classes of the slightly privileged, rising out of and above the
of masses of people--like Mandela--who can be used to betray the
(particularly equality and democracy) of the struggles they once
The other side of this coin is leadership treating the mass of people
"tap-water," the ANC term for the masses, whose demonstrations were
on and off in order to bolster negotiation positions at capital's
ANC leaders had no interest in a mass, critically conscious base. They
wanted tap-water, flowing or shut down, on the whims of a few-not
witting agents of their own histories who could analyze conditions on
own, and act, without instructions from the ANC bosses. And, combined
processes make the grotesque betrayal of Nelson Mandela, possible,
popular (Saul, 2001).
The fact that the
process usually flows from the top down, is instigated by elites, does
not mean that mis-leaders, or agent provocateurs, should not be called
out. They should. Mandela deserved criticism from inside the ANC and
He got only a very little. But history seems to demonstrate that
on the right get a much fairer hearing, and more wiggle room, than
voices from the left--fair warning to all of us. In the ex-USSR, all of
the old Bolsheviks were killed by Stalin, with the agreement of the
committee, by the mid-1930's. While it may be that none of them had an
internationalist, egalitarian, democratic, Marxist-humanist world-view,
together some of their ideas might have righted Soviet practice. Dead,
they could not, which meant that struggle inside the party was simply
off, hence the party killed off other than as a weapon of capital. A
that seeks to ride capitalist relations is a capitalist party, and
6. The reification of violence:
who seeks to overcome the Master-Slave relationship must address the
of violence, unleashing the anger of centuries-and every petty dispute
that might gain vent. Yet those who do not want to merely replicate the
past in new ways must teach abhorrence of violence, attach both sorrow
and respect to it, and if necessary only to employ violence with the
care. I have seen how violence can contaminate an entire society, and a
movement for social justice, in Grenada, and now in South Africa("Class
hatred is good--necklace him!"), and I do not want to see the horror
again. However, change is, at the end of the day, an either-or process,
not and-both. If the ruling classes refuse to renounce violence (and
is no reason to believe that they will adopt the ethics of the Slaves)
then violence it will be; but never violence with joy--only with
respect for life itself, and the extinguishing of hope each death
In practical terms, the whole
movement of 2003 serves as a good example of a largely unorganized
that completely misunderstood that violence takes many forms, from
to encirclement to surveillance and pounding upon the head as well.
no solid organization, believing they could reason with powerful elites
via letters to the editor of choice journals, the whole language
has overseen the destruction of whatever base they once had. More, they
have allowed their brightest lights to come under attack, and done
nothing but make appeals to logic. Now, as Marx predicted of utopians
the Manifesto 150 years ago, the whole language movement, which once
as a lighthouse beacon of what freedom might look like in a better
has abandoned hope for a shift in the oppressive class relations that
today, and they grow reactionary, seeking to build uncritical reading
in a society devoted to permanent warfare. No one opposes reading, or
learning to share toys, but in this social context, failing to oppose
in some form is simply supporting it.
In response to violence, in all
the old saw, "An injury to one is an injury to all," makes good sense.
Taken in another form, in the words of the fictional western bandit
the Jackal, "Those who double-cross Tuco, and let Tuco live, they know
nothing, nothing, about Tuco." When we link an understanding of
which begins with the accumulation of property and the exploitation of
labor-and thus emanates from the Masters--with an organization sense of
solidarity, we can send fair warning to elites who would seek to harm
of the Rouge Forum and our friends-and defend our own so no wounded are
left behind. Such is our task, for example, with the case of the
attack on Chicago's Substance editor George Schmidt, fired and sued for
publishing the Chicago CASE exam. We must not let George, or any other
comrade, down (Tuco, from the film, "Good, The Bad, and The
Violence, then, must be
examined not only
in its form, but in its substance. Did the violent revolutionary action
of the Vietnamese in response to French, Japanese, US, and Chinese
deserve ethical condemnation; or the violent resistance of the
I think not. But again, because I think their ultimate aim was off
neither did it get them where they wanted to go. If, however, ends are
related to means (if not determinative), violence must be
7. Front Groups: commonly
and controlled by the party (though sometimes the tail does wag the
turning all concerned into alienated objects, as distinguished from the
slow process of building an organization, a mass class-conscious
where each can see that collectively, with solidarity, equality, and
democracy, we can understand and change the world. Front groups carry
pretense, but rarely the substance, of democracy, in self-defeating
Examples of Fronts? The CIO in the US, the African National Congress,
phony 'socialist' governments in the USSR, the satellites in Eastern
Reasoned democracy is, I think,
posed these days as Marxist-humanist democracy, to distinguish the
from what is now everyday capitalist democracy: the right to be alone,
one person one vote, as if an isolated vote, taken with others, is
a measure of freedom of being correct. Inside the market's world-wide
store which snares everyone, democratic voting is more like being first
in line at a sale, grabbing stuff, and howling, "Mine.!" Voting,
which millionaire will oppress one least, is perhaps the most
of all activities inside capitalist democracies (other than going to
creating all kinds of illusions about ballot-box majority rule, when
rule can never apply in a workplace. The people of the US surely
in their poles and votes the invasion of Iraq. But that democracy was
extended to people in the US, while the invasion, from which there is
retreat, hit the entire world, and those people are clearly
no one notices they have no vote.
In philosophy, this bogus idea
is form absent content. In universities, which now seek to position
as consumers, it is considered undemocratic to believe that there might
be a reason that some ideas, even professors ideas, might be superior
others. This is nonsense, perhaps the result of years of postmodernist
probes on campuses, but it strips theory from science and
Educators in the US are
the National Education Association's yearly representative assembly as
an example of the, "largest democratic gathering in North America."
than 10,000 school workers from around the US (and the world) join
in this yearly convention, perhaps the highest form of union democracy
in the US (any pretense of democracy fully extinguished in the rival
Federation of Teachers, and all of the AFL-CIO). The NEA school workers
all have the right to run for top offices, to vote, debate, participate
in caucuses from their states and in issue-based groups like the Peace
and Justice Caucus.
This may indeed be the
of US democratic activity in the early 21st
century. It is counterfeit. The NEA represents the apartheid nature of
the teaching profession, more than 90% white. On the face of it, it is
structurally a racist institution. Taken with its racist history (only
desegregating in the 1970's) it is deeply racist. Meaningful democracy
cannot thrive swimming in a racist pool. NEA is controlled, for the
part, by a cabal of well-paid staff (averaging well over $100,000 per
and even more well-paid and carefully vetted leaders (averaging about
yearly). Never in the classroom, always able to devote full attention
the inner workings of the organization, these people are in charge.
their own hubris may lead them to make serious errors (as they did in
when the NEA leaders completely misread the members, and their own
and lost a role-call vote to merge with AFT and the AFL-CIO), nothing
going to cause the NEA to consider overturning their slavish
with elites in the US. Examples from recent moments: the NEA remained
on the US oil-invasion of Iraq, and stayed neutral as the No Child Left
Behind Act (a vicious Taylorist attack on NEA members and students),
jointly by Democrats and Republicans, sailed through Congress.
What we have lived with is not
We need to imagine beyond our experiences to find new ways to relate to
one another, through new ways of organizing. Marxist-humanist democracy
in community. How can we best make decisions that not only get us from
here to there, but leave us all fully witting of how and why we made
decision, and how we can best carry it out, even if we must shift jobs.
This deep kind of democracy has some history.To make a leap, this is
the egalitarian democracy of the Chinese Red Army proved so superior at
nearly every turn. It is how they worked, and how they could suffer so,
yet still win.
8. The use of democratic
wrongly locate truth within the central committee-when truth is in fact
a social relationship of testing for evidence and reflection, a
form of praxis, an interaction between leaders and the mass of
closed the ears of the leadership and set them apart. This reification
of what may be an organizational necessity, democratic centralism, led
to wild shifts in party policies, but exhibited the simultaneous
of (a) sectarianism, ordering things to happen and people to change,
(b) opportunism, tailing behind social and economic processes which are
declared to be natural laws, or, importantly, failing to attack the
of oppressive relations, choosing instead to address them piecemeal.
Lukacs, A Defense of
and Class Consciousness, Tailism and the Dialectic p70-72).
This, then, turned democratic
inside out, rather than from the people-to the people, the line became:
In the realm of theory,
the dialectic. Stalin banished the key aspect of dialectics, the
of the negation (that is, things change), from Soviet philosophy-and
from the world socialist movement, even before he declared the end of
struggle in the USSR in the mid-thirties (Wetter, p312,355).
This meant that Stalin could fairly say, philosophically, that there
no way to transcend what really was Soviet capitalism, or Soviet social
fascism. Stalin declared, in the strife-ridden 1930's, that class
had ended in the USSR.
In practice, socialism quickly
the always-Marxist project of developing a mass conscious base of
who were subjects of their own history. Alienation was
along with exploitation--and the legalized tyranny typical of capital's
governmental systems. More, the truth of production, in that people
a right to control the process and products of their labor, was
by the pretense that truth was inside the central committee, which
that the truth of production was in capitalist-developed abundance,
the exploitation of surplus labor.
Every aspect of every failure
played out in socialist schools where, as quickly as inequality became
policy, the methods and substance of teaching were stripped of freedom,
replaced by surveillance and restrictions. In most schools, socialist
not, teachers have no idea about what value they create, or the surplus
value they create. People who do not understand the value of their
are unlikely to act with conviction in trying to control it.
In Grenada, Freirian literacy
once flocked with volunteers, became mandated by the party (whose
had moved into the best houses on the island). The curricula was made
of uncritically praising the party programs ("first we create abundance
under the party, then the benevolent leaders will share,"), and
stood over reluctant adult-literacy learners with AK-47's, making sure
they learned properly.
In South Africa, where the
more prolonged, and the education system under a boycott that declared,
"liberation before education," the upshot was a generation of youths
never went to school at all, and who now are subject to believe the
claims of the ANC leadership that AIDS is not caused by a virus, but is
a 'white-mans' disease, or a disease of poverty, and hence it is not
to release the anti-retrival drugs in the possession of ANC's leaders.
But, with time, even this predominantly illiterate population is
"Well, if it is not a virus, but poverty, why not release food so we
Outside South Africa, in the
the armed wing of the ANC, the MK, camps of nearly 10,000 people were
in Angola and Zimbabwe. Since the camps were filled with displaced
the plan was to fashion a fascinating system of education, revolving
schooling, industrial production, and agricultural production, in which
all would participate in all. After a year, though, the ANC decided
the youths really needed to learn to pass the traditional English exit
exams. This decision, in part, reflected pressure from both students
faculty, who saw the new form of schooling as tendentious. So, on
of about four days a week, the students got tradition English exit exam
training, using largely traditional methods. In the remaining time,
got lessons in Marxism, led by the East German Stasi.
Just as no society has been
and socialism was little more than a party nationalizing the working
promising future benevolence, so has there never been an egalitarian
free educational system, despite the reality of some utopian beacons.
may be good classes, good teachers, good librarians and media
good counselors, aides and other support personnel, inside capitalist
largely fascist) schools, but there is ,with very, very few exceptions,
no such thing as a good, open, capitalist school. To suggest that there
are good capitalist schools is to misunderstand the social context of
and the role of capitalist governments. Good capitalist schools, I
would be schools that are in the midst of serious social upheavals,
closed by boycotts, and replaced by external freedom schools.
Education for overcoming
education, must be revolutionary education, probably going on inside
and out. Again, it may well be that the best schooling in the near
will take place inside freedom schools, established during periods of
strife. And could we not learn the lesson from the ANC that boycotting
alone will not do, that we must conduct real education for freedom and
critical consciousness elsewhere? What would our transitional freedom
Do we want to abolish
education? No. Of
course not. We want to abolish the social relations that set up an
system which only educates for voluntary servitude. The Master/Slave
which traces through all of written history, everywhere, means that
sides, and all in between, are imbued with one another, not just in a
of labor and exploitation, but in domination and subservience as well.
Transforming that will require an epochal change of mind, one that our
times demand (Meszaros, 1998).
I underline: The path to a
a community where people can live creatively, consciously,
and not merely democratically, is probably only possible through great
suffering. We should not play that down, or pretend that the overcoming
of capital's ruthless processes can be mild--as in the deception of the
ANC. If freedom is the overcoming of necessity, we will have to use
history and our imaginations to use processes of expanding freedom,
the existing realm of a decaying, and destructive, society. We should
despair in that, because suffering is the home of hope. People who have
suffered and struggled, in that process, they define themselves and
a standing that is unavailable to others. People who have suffered can
transcend fear, the host of hate, because they will have had to truly
in understanding from what appears to be, to what is, to what can
the processes of their suffering gives them a better understanding of
is essentially a Master-Slave relationship than the Masers can ever
and because their daily lives serve as proof to the Masters lies--- and
in doing that they may be able to fashion a society that lives by the
which will require a massive international change of mind (and a
off of the massive scientific industrialized slaughter), an idea whose
time has come: From each according to their commitment, to each
to their need. This stands in clear opposition to what the zenith of
today, summed up in two related ways; by a current mall advertisement
San Diego, "Don't suffer: Shop!", and by Conrad in Heart of Darkness as
the ultimate declaration of imperialism: Exterminate all the
This however, can only be
overcoming, suffering, resisting, revolutionizing, with truly mass
class-consciousness: that is, with an eye on the Whole of the
relationship, understanding that practice deepens limited knowledge of
what that Whole is. Suffering, though, is particular. It is me, hungry,
and it cannot be transcended without a conscious link to something
greater, even if that is merely a link to a trusted friend, also
struggling for a reason.
Love, work, and the struggle
knowledge are the motive forces of history. Toward what end? As above,
Engels described it as, "the leap from necessity into the realm of
But where to begin? Practically, I have suggested that we begin in
and more practically, the question of social justice necessarily
a question of organization, which I will address later. But as an
not a rule from on high ; an ethic born in historical understanding,
step of the process toward freedom must also include freedom, against
To make an undialectical break of the two is to merely invert the
For critically conscious poor
people, freedom is the truth of freedom in social practice, it is won,
not given, won through struggle, connectedness, discipline, perhaps
deception, solidarity, equality, community, engagement, action----as in
science, as in good schooling, and in the struggle for control of any
which goes on every day, and in the love of partners, neighbors, and
taken with responsibility and restrictions self-imposed.
Freedom, then, is a process,
and in the
context of our society today, it demands organization. This is the
question that is posed to us this week at the Summer Institute of the
Forum, the only organization in North America that has consistently
an analysis of class struggle, internationalism, anti-racist action, to
a fascist society, pointing to the schools as the
starting point for serious cadre. How shall we improve our organizing,
sharpen our work internally and externally? Our web site now attracts
visitors per month. We are internationally recognized, as my recent
in South Africa and the presence of friends from 8 countries around the
world demonstrates. But we also are penniless, without clear lines of
What may be a majority of our activists, today, are young people. The
thing is that this bodes well for the future. The bad thing is that it
means our people are required to lay low, to dissimilate, sometimes for
years in order to survive, to get tenure. Since they were born in times
of little struggle, their experience with on-the-job battles is already
limited. How long can they wait, or how long do we have before fascism
is almost irretrievably entrenched?
It may be, on the other hand,
appearances of our social moment (and the limitations of our social
foster despair, hopelessness. We can easily see the sheer power and
of elites. We can see many people apparently participating in their own
servility, but this only focuses on what appears to be-and misses what
is happening every day, the ineluctable processes of life.
On every job, in every
in every school, the motive forces of history are at work. People fight
back, perhaps unaware that the less the fight back, the more they
those who exploit them, perhaps not recognizing the connectedness of
daily lives to the world-wide system of capital AND their brothers and
sisters in distant lands. But every day workers and lovers and thinkers
resist, because they must to survive and be human. They follow their
because they must, even when every message of society is to hide,
Sometimes these little struggles can become big, as in Benton Harbor's
uprising, which I believe is a hint of things to come. Neither smart
nor mercs, nor community sellouts and mystics could stop that rebellion
from bursting forth.
One more thing people need to
be free: it is right to rebel against unfreedom.
Love. Work. Knowledge. The
battle for freedom, creativity, beauty--these real forces move history
every day. That comprises what is, as much as what is is imprisoned by
what is, in essence, a vast international company store. These
toward a human society, ready to burst forward inside the old society,
burrow steadily beneath what appears to be. This is the potential
the actual, the evidence that an idea can actually leap ahead of human
experience, and grow fast with critical practice.
In every human relationship
to reconcile authentic love, genuine un-exploitive human connections,
exploitative alliances (the mode of friendliness of the middle and
classes, and most of the professorate), perhaps not recognizing that
friendly connections, real love, is not merely the beacon for human
but the most successful method, already demonstrated, for human
The task of critical educators,
educators, located in the centripetal organizing point of many
societies, is to make possible situations in which we all learn, in
of students, school workers, and community people, that we can
comprehend and change the world. recognizing alienation, exploitation,
commodification, reification of false permanence, are the way things
to be, but also recognizing that the hope and truth of the world lies
the potential power of the unity of those whose physical and
labor creates all value, and that we can be angry because we are
in the midst of systematic organized decay, to rediscover our
to intuit our intellectual and practical connections, to love. This is
why the truth of the new society, and the Masters, is in the Slaves.
It follows that hope is a
more profound outlook for our times, if we struggle to make sense of
is going on, if we grasp that the lesson of history is that things
and if we apply our critical-practical consciousness to what has been,
and to the process of what ought to be. A better world is at hand not
because we must have it, but because all of history has positioned us
see beyond our experience, to use the imagination of the architect, to
see what can be, made from what is-because we are not merely builders,
but we are also rule breakers, in our struggle to be human and
Besides, look at our
opposition. If arrogant,
unread, sneering, fundamentalist, puffed-up little rich boys like
Bush, or drooling, snake-handling, sexually intimidated fundamentalists
like Aschcroft, and the criminal executives of Enron, WorldCom, and the
top banks of the US, and the racketeer union leaders like the thief Pat
Tornillo of the United Teachers of Dade County who stole hundreds of
of dollars from the union treasury of school workers who must live in
parks, Tornillo father of New Unionism (Partners in Production), and
child rapist New Unionism protege, Tony Gentile of Broward Teachers
now serving time in a Florida jail for molesting kids; if these petty
are the best the other side can produce, then we could not choose
But, again, justice demands
The ideas of transformation, overcoming the whole, that I have
here will only become lost in the thicket of reformist activity, from
to trade unionism, if there is no organizational base for those ideas,
a place where activists can return to, a group they can build, in order
to move masses of people to action for fundamental change. If we have
toe in the system, then our best foot must be in an organization worth
There is a huge gap between
the masses of people, and organizations set out for social justice. Our
Rouge Forum publications must be improved. Our online network must
more interactive. Our actions on the job and off, improved, as well as
our social contacts deepened. We need to find out, better, how to keep
our best foot out of the system, while the other toe remains in. But
will be no movement, no praxis that will count much toward social
if all we are is in. The break, the rupture, that I am hoping for
come solely from within. Without a thorough-going and true theoretical
break-through of the encirclement of capital's processes, which can
come by gaining and testing collective knowledge, which requires an
base; all we will do is reproduce the stale and rotten trade unions and
reform groups that we witness today, at best easily divided and
at worst, corrupt, opportunist, and cowering, diverting people in the
of a monstrous attack.
So, what is it that people need
and how do they need to come to know it, in order to be free?
Things change. This means
seen on our horizon. Perhaps a counter-question might offer a benchmark
to test: Do masses of people, individually and collectively, understand
that things change, and how, and why, better, because of a given action
or even a lesson plan? Did people become, in shorthand, more
Or did they learn better to do what they are told to do? Did we have to
trick them to get them to the meeting (by building a meeting on famous
speakers, or by disguising our ideas about getting rid of capitalism,
by uncritically urging them into some union action)? If we tricked
did they not learn, once again and above all, to be tricked and to not
complain or even notice?
There is also an ethic behind
social change, an ethic that can give it a vision, a body, a
and a practice:
We can, as a class-community, understand and change our world;
Reason, to gain and test knowledge--over mysticism and fear;
Equality: from each per commitment to each per need;
All Must Rise: we have a right to rebel with deepening wisdom, and under every social system to demand control over the products and processes of our work, meaning, class struggle does not end;
Freedom--for curiosity, radical criticism, sensual inquiry, and the right to err;
Solidarity, An Injury to One is an Injury to All;
Aesthetics, beauty...the right to art, pleasure, music, dance;
Marxist-humanist democracy, related to mass critical consciousness;
Resistance and direct action in the least alienating ways possible;
Education, to raise our understanding of the whole, and its parts;
Courage, the ethic that says: You Are What You Do;
Internationalism, Anti-Racism, Anti-Sexism:
Revolution, struggle: we are not all in this together;
To overcome capitalism in total,
For survival, inclusion, and love-Harmony for the first time ruling disharmony.
We will win. Over time, we will
the Master/Slave relationship, it is too easy to see defeat after
We need to remember that in our struggle, we win by defining ourselves
and remaining sane, but in the long term, we win as well.
At issue is the depth of the
that will take place before we choose to make the massive change of
and revolution, that will bring the new world into being. But we shall
win because.........we are human and struggle we must, unite we must,
such is the process we swim within.
Capital has nothing left to
Even before the NASDAQ collapse, people with three SUV's began to
that such good luck was just not fulfilling. Capital has inverted
consider the huge scientific advances in weaponry and gas-masking,
25% of the kids in parts of New York City are cursed with environmental
asthma. Capital is attacking all that is beautiful, from rationality to
aesthetics---the drooling fundamentalist snake-handling top
who cloak the breasts on statues. But overcoming the processes of
is going to require a massive change of mind-an urgent change if we are
going to go beyond industrialized slaughter.
Should we not panic, if this is
a fascist society? Probably. A sense of urgency should certainly be
of our outlook. But social change will not come by demanding it. It
come by persevering, by being patient with people, and by listening,
just what it is within them that can help them to hear us--over
Changing minds is the daily
life of every
school worker. Changing minds can happen one-to-one, through close
relationships, friendships, which we have always set up as a key
for the Rouge Forum, and through more impersonal mass work, as through
our on-line Rouge Forum News, and all in between. Most likely, close
relationships will be decisive over time. What we do counts, more than
We will win. That will not
happen by simple
reasoning. The Masters will not adopt the ethics of the slaves. We will
win by resisting, with a plan to overcome, and by learning from our
the destruction of reason and wisdom. Our resistance must be
conscious to ward off the structural and personal betrayals that have
every movement for social justice to date. Remember, at the outset,
I asked my friend the shrink what he does, and his response? "I get
to watch this, while I do this." We need to watch both, fit those moves
into our social context, and ask what we have done to build a more
movement for equality today. If we have failed on that count, and
from time to time we will, then we might ask, "Did we make friendships
that can serve as the basis for mutual learning over time, in order to
create the ground for social change?" Actually, we might want to ask
of these related questions, over and over.
Just what is to be done will be
of this Rouge Forum Summer Institute in Louisville, June 26 to 29
time and place for us to take on our epic, and change it. We do not get
to choose the times we live in. But we, especially those of us in the
do get to choose what we do inside those times. Now, we define
I urge you to join us. Help.
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