What Should School Workers Do Before World War Three?

A Rouge Forum Broadside

May 2004

The path of knowledge that walks from the fabricated dainty-yet-tough heroic image of blond freedom-fighter Jessica Lynch, to the degenerate thumbs-up reality of Christian crucifer Lynndie England, was made possible by the interaction of the inherent weakness of the US military, and the perseverance of violent Iraqi resistance. Reality was shot into the open by a non-existent military that faced down, paralyzed, and exposed the counterfeit superpower.

The task at hand is to examine what is, and to look for who can change it, and how. The issue is easy to see: community or barbarism.

The mirror of the US that is portrayed in the photos of torture in Iraq is not held up by reformers, but by the hands on the guns of Iraqi fighters. If the Iraqis had been exterminated easily, none of this would be known. In resistance, even mis-guided resistance, there is truth and hope. In passivity, nothing.

Lynndie England is what the US is. She is the logical working out of the war of all on all. The US is, briefly, holding the high-ground in that war, and thus demonstrating its lowest ethic, because that it what it is. Its personifications, like England and her compatriots, make sense. This is not new. From the US bombing of prisons in Afghanistan last year, to My Lai's Lt Calley there is abundant evidence. Conrad's century-old, "Exterminate all the brutes," from Heart of Darkness is just on point. England is no fluke, nor is she proof that people are just no good; the choice that much of the US media offers. England just demonstrates that a nation that jails 2.1 million of its citizens is likely to produce some peculiar jailers.

There have been many instances in the past when an ethic of community was established that made systematic torture (recognized within the interesting division of thinking that capital can set apart as different from the mass murder of commonplace warfare) largely unacceptable. That ethic of community was not necessarily dropped from the sky (though sometimes it was), but based on the notion that the troops were surviving because of the support of the people, that troops on the other side were a vital potential part of that support, and torturing them would not only make it difficult to turn them around, but make their buddies fight harder. Moreover, this ethic was established by looking back from the future, what people hoped they were building, a real commune where people could be free and creative and caring---and knowing from this vantage point looking back, that they could poison their own well.

Now at hand, perhaps, is the mid-point of the end of the empire, begun by the real heroism of Vietnamese freedom fighters who chased the US out of their country in 1975. The US government has nothing anymore, no splendid ideas, no steady civilian support, no productive activity, nothing but debt, consumerism, a debased culture; it's last card an outpouring of techno-violence that can maintain its fever, but cannot cure its ill.

The US government can no longer make friends with anyone. It's one-eyed drones in the sky cannot substitute for close human connections or the experience which underpins real knowledge of terrain. Not even petty local tyrants can trust the US to serve as a reliable puppet-master, as Diem of Vietnam discovered, as the Saudi Kingdom may soon learn.

With no weapons of mass destruction discovered, no hints of democracy, and photographic proof of the barbarity of the US military and its mercenaries, "the whole logic of the war is gone," says former Sen. Gary Hart.

Hart is wrong. The logic of the war is there. The logic is imperialist social control, now focused on oil. The logic of the war will persist because the thirst for oil persists in industry and in the military. The US will control the oil fields, but US social control is evaporating everywhere. Recent experience now shows that people can be more powerful than even oil. Oil control is not enough. The US will win the war, and the oil, lose the people and lose the larger wars.

The post-September 11th invasions which treat a crime as a war, rushed the US effort to invade the world. The struggle to overwhelm imperialist competition, masked by an opportunity created by the Saudi billionaire's terrorism, threw into motion processes that may have hurried WW3.

Comparisons to 1968 and Vietnam are inviting. The US public turned on Lyndon Johnson when they saw they were losing the war, if not the battles. But much is different. Iraq is not Vietnam. Iraq has no supply lines to the USSR or China, no strategic or tactical assistance, no formal state -based restraints on potential US viciousness. The better comparison is to the period before WWI, when potential imperial contenders began to leer at the prizes, and to pick sides.

The US has drawn, and is now trapped within, its own closed circle in world affairs. The US military is stretched thin, unmasked as inept. US allies are no longer allies, but frequently rivals for limited resources. In each instance, the US is overturned by its own creations, unable to break out.

The processes of capital, ever fickle, are now in search of better suitors. Capital's unquenchable demands for more (profits, cheap labor, raw materials, speedier technology, communication and exchange, etc.), and capital's inherent destructiveness, crises of overproduction and war, now prepare to leave the self-surrounded failure in the US, and to move elsewhere to survive and prosper.

The US has already lost the war in the world, though it will have to win the war in Iraq, and perhaps in Afghanistan. US ruling classes cannot afford to withdraw for military and economic reasons.

The US cannot withdraw for military reasons, since a withdrawal would clearly expose the US as what Mao Tse Tung once called a "paper tiger."

Touted as the greatest superpower in the history of the world, the US military has been fought to a standstill by non-existent states with unsupplied phantom non-troops. Crack Army Rangers, Seals, Delta Force, Green Berets, and their privatized counterparts, mercenaries from the dregs of the worlds failed fascist regimes like South Africa and Rhodesia, fully outfitted, well-fed, in science's finest bullet-proof kevlar outfits, protected by silent drones in the skies, and mile-high B52's raining terror from above, entered strange territory and lost the fight.

Walking in their own filth of depleted uranium, US specialized goon squads were unable to make friends, close connections, and all of the highest technology of human development could not match the power of deep human ties and knowledge of the ground. People in rags, accustomed to privation, halted US might in their cities and on their mountain ranges.

There are officially 137,000 US troops in Iraq, not including more than 20,000 mercenaries (NYTimes April 19 2004) and an untold number of paramilitary "supply" personnel, back-up troops serving the war machine on the payroll of private companies like Haliburton-Brown and Root. Extending the tour of duty by three months for nearly 20,000 troops on April 15 means that the real numbers of fighting forces are close to 175,000--this to control a country with a population of about 27 million, less than California, with no military and no air force, people fighting with small arms.

It is impossible to estimate the mercenary and formal military forces in Afghanistan, largely a secret war. However, the US controls only Kabul, another strategic failure in the making.

Trapped by greed and hubris, for the US to withdraw now would concede US domination of the world's natural resources, peoples' markets, cheap human labor: the sources of profits which sate those in power, the rich.

The US cannot withdraw from Iraq or Afghanistan for economic reasons. Iraq holds the world's second richest oil fields. Afghanistan's grounds form the base for every projected oil and natural gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea region, potentially the fourth richest range.

In 2001, the dollar traded against the euro at $.80 to 1.00 euro. Prior to the wars on the Iraqi and Afghan oil centers, middle-eastern oil barons toyed with the idea of a shift to a euro-based economy, as a wedge against the US. Now the dollar trades against the euro at $1.00/.80 euro, a shift of dramatic consequence in terms of both money and power. Should the US lose the Iraqi oil fields, and military bases in the middle east, the switch to the euro would demolish the US economy--teetering on the brink anyway as the Chinese consider a euro-based yen.

The relationship of oil and military power is clear. The military cannot move without oil, petroleum, and petroleum based products. This is true of every military in the world, and all the conservation of consumer petrol will not override that fact in the coming decades.

In addition, no military can sustain itself without massive industrial might behind the lines. Oil moves the machinery. Conservation on highways will do nothing about that as competing imperial powers, like China, Japan, Russia, Germany, all must itch for a limited supply of oil-and enter the game.

Despite claims that there are openings for the UN and "coalition partners," The US ruling classes cannot allow armies from potential competitors to get too close to the oil fields in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, even if the other powers operate under NATO or UN flags.

Trapped economically and militarily, hung on its own petard, the US can only respond to escalating Iraqi resistance with massacres-the logical outcome of racist, religious, imperial warfare: annihilate them.

All of this rebounds on US might, now organizing its own decay. Billions in war spending, which creates nothing of value, fuels inflation-likely to be in part a reason for an increase in interest rates which in turn will cut back consumer spending, and cut off margin purchases in stocks. The US economy, based 67% in consumer spending with working class debt exceeding the annual income of families, will spiral downward--especially against productive industrializing China. The message of these wars, learned by every imperial rival, but misread by US citizens is this: The US ruling classes are weak.

The US cannot retreat from its 732 military bases around the world, not from any one of them; yet it cannot afford to keep them and cannot sustain the myth that the troop on the bases are not raping the locals, but are comrades. It is hard to imagine a regime like the US growing to be more hated than it is, but such is the circumstance.

The military budget (40% secret) will escalate, the US economy will decline, but capitalism itself which cares nothing about who is running it, as long as it is producing profits from labor, must be fully elated. For the US, this is a terminal circle, no escape. For capital's processes, a vast company store, an international casino hiding its key tenet--you lose--nourished by destruction and running amok; it's an orgy.

Generals from imperial competitors, especially Chinese war-gamers, must be tempted by US strategic and tactical failures in Iraq, perhaps whispering to their masters that the next battle can be theirs.

All the major players are headed toward the oil fields--China, Russia, Germany, France, England, etc. China in particular has a deep craving for the oil which must be satisfied in order to continue the frantic industrial production which, by extension, eats up its grain fields and threatens Chinese food production. Meanwhile, Venezuela, Colombia, S. Africa, are all in flux, forcing the US to watch events in some places that the US just does not have the resources to invade anymore. The US-led coup in Venezuela fell flat.

Wild-card states, like Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, or India, all with nuclear power, could easily enter the fray, by design or accident, and throw into motion events that would go at the double, more unpredictably, but more deadly.

All of this takes place in the context of an international war of the rich on the poor, escalating everywhere. Poor and working class people of all lands and religions fighting what Marx called the "enemies of their enemies." These people are drawn together-and thrown apart-- in battle, largely because they have no capital. The bulk of US soldiers dying in Iraq are youth from dead-end cities, facing dead end jobs. Their spouses at home are on food stamps and in expensive cities like San Diego, they cannot find homes. In the volunteer army, even the military's marquee player, Jessica Lynch, said she enlisted because there was nothing else for her to do.

Now the US has little left to motivate its citizens or troops beyond sheer opportunism, or fear. Most grunts are no longer even presented with the legend that they are fighting for democracy, or even god. They are told, "shoot them or they will shoot your buddy, and if your buddy goes, you go." The promise held out to special ops troops, of being a well-paid mercenary someday, may wear thin as mercenaries are ground up in Iraq.

US citizens, once so fearful of Marx and put off by ideas about class struggle, now cannot but witness class war. Even conservative communities applaud denunciation of the US as a "fascist state," and calls for revolution (San Diego speech of author Chalmers Johnson, SDSU, 4/24/04).

Still, habit, selfishness, greed, racism, mysticism, racism, sexism, nationalism, every requisite element of capital that divides people in its deadly service, and enforces its centrifugal pull, remain more powerful than polite applause at a university. The death throes of empire still have the prongs of seduction and barbarity-often united in mass rape.

What changes this? What marks the path of what is to what may be? No one has a crystal ball. Nor is there a world social movement that can issue calls to arms and action. Instead, as each individual defines her or himself in an unforgiving crisis which does not allow for mistakes, it is vital to seek the choke points of barbarism and to go at them.

Schools in the US are now centers of power, and social control. In de-industrialized North America, no institution is more influential than schools, none more vital to elites' boundless needs for bodies and minds. Three million school workers in unions represent the largest organized force left in the de-industrialized, de-unionized, US.

This is the primary reason for the intense regimentation of what is taught, and how it is taught--what youth know and how they come to know it. And it is the reason that the key regulation, the federal No Child Left Behind Act, contains provisions that open the schools to incessant military recruitment.

The NCLB is to US schools what the International Monetary Fund is to nations, an invasion of PhD's backed by a mystified form of science (bourgeois economics or Skinnerian pedagogy) sweeping aside humanity and culture in the blood lust for profits.

NCLB and state regulations nearly eliminate the study of history in schools, redoubling a movement in place since the US military fled Vietnam. Eliminating history means students become unable to locate themselves in their historical moment. Unable to abstract how things change, imagination of a better future, and the courage to fight for it, are extinguished. Unable to abstract a sense of history into the future, students are then unable to look back from the possibility of a humane and equitable society, and judge their own times. Nor are they encouraged to test their own society from with the obvious test of any society: How does it treat the majority of people-its working people and its poor? Instead, students are trained as technicians, whose ethics vacillate with their incoherent world views.

Students are taught two lies, which cause intellectual suicide. They learn that they cannot comprehend the world, but are victims within it. They learn they cannot act on the world, and if they try, they will be tormented. They then conclude that they do not like to learn, that it is self-defeating and unpleasureable.

The bulk of their tenured teachers, now the second generation turned back into schools who have had little or no sustained comprehension of history, are now propelled by cowardice (proctoring vicious exams, which are clearly little more than child abuse, without complaint), ignorance (inability to recognize their own potential organized power), racism (ignorance or support for the deepening systematic segregation of every aspect of school--by class and race), and opportunism (dancing for the smallest carrots, allowing the layoff of masses of comrades, accepting bonuses for test scores, making concessions to "save jobs," --clearly like giving blood to sharks).

Unethical compliance is not the sole trend, but it is the main one. Among teachers, there is little reason to be found in history to think that most teachers will not be fascists. In early Nazi Germany, the teachers' union was one of the first to volunteer to sign up in mass. These people, clogs in history, are of little consequence.

Some educational workers resist. They matter. There is hope in resistance, as Iraq shows. These school workers seek to mobilize students, whose world views are not necessarily set up by their class backgrounds but as much by their prospects for the future--now quite grim-in actions against the regimentation of school life, against the military, instilling in theory and practice a renewed sense of class consciousness. The fact that this is now a small movement ricochets back onto the students who have seen no labor or political uprisings in their lifetimes.

The crux of the resistance must, in our epic, address the personal and social crises of capitalism. In the personal sense, capitalism does not have room for forgiveness anymore. People who do not understand their circumstances take actions that define them, irretrievably. There is no wiggle-room for miscues. This is true in schools, and out.

On the social level, those who seek a more humane way to live with caring connected communities where people can extend their creative lives must go right at the issue of capitalism; overturning it. Fighting for reforms at this date, seeking to make what is really a Master and Slave relationship more humane, when it cannot be humane, simply leads to the lowest forms of opportunism.

Overturning capitalism is not immediately at hand. However, that does not mean that the relentless bloody hand of capitalism, imperialism, cannot be exposed while, at the same time for example, urging people to boycott high-stakes standardized tests--which can only be understood within the processes of capitalism anyway.

Key to capitalism is the use of the government as a weapon of those who hold power, that is, the rich. Social inequality is the reason for the existence of government, to enforce privilege. It follows, that, as in the pedagogical linkage of testing and capitalism, exposing the maneuvers of government, as an enemy of masses of people, would be significant.

For example, to urge people to organize action on the job, where the geography of power favors working people who create all value in any work place, makes better sense than to urge people, like education workers, to vote for John Kerry, who openly says he will betray them by investing in larger wars, attacking schools with deepened NCLB measures, like pay for performance plans, and who says he supports some vouchers for private schools. In other words, to demonstrate that the state is a partisan state, and that the two parties of the rich are not parties of the working class is an urgent task at hand.

The three million members of the combined National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers represent the largest unionized group of people in North America. They occupy centripetal positions in the society, where deindustrialization has decimated the industrial working class. School workers are also directly linked to the people who are mostly likely to take active roles in social change, students of color and from immigrant groups whose hopes are dashed-and who are met at the school house door by military recruiters, ghouls armed with lies, invited in by the NCLB's regulations.

Students, moreover, are less tied to specific social classes in a material sense than adults, as students class notions are set up as much by what might come of them as what is. They are open to classroom struggle, which should have something to do with constructing reason, and connecting it to power.

There is no single public school system in the US. There are, maybe, five or six, ranging from pre-Stanford prep, to pre-teacher and social worker, to pre-Walmart, to pre-prison. Curricula and teaching methods differ from system to system; with greater educational freedom commonly located at the extreme ends of the spectrum.

This segregated system is the result of social relations in the US, based on exploitation (always tied to racism and sexism) and resulting inequality--and, now, perpetual imperialist war.

To support the "public school system" is to support the substance of that social system, capitalism, and the vicious social relations that create it. It is to support a government that now stands clearly exposed as a weapon of the rich. Those "public schools" are not Our schools, though we do play a significant role in them, and could play an even bigger role. At the end of the day, those schools are still Their schools.

On the other hand, to struggle each day within their schools to demonstrate to students that they can comprehend and change the world, to connect that to pleasure and the struggle for what is true, has always made sense, and does especially now.

At the same time, however, it is vital to envision the civil strife that could close those schools, to recognize that at some point closed schools in the midst of civil strife, buttressed by a planned system of freedom schooling, are better than open schools. No sane educator wants to end education, but it is exceedingly difficult to wish to preserve the social relations that make schooling rotten.

If, for example, school workers had taken the initiative in the California grocery strike, had poured educators and students onto the picket lines, established free-wheeling schools for students and strikers alike, had set up organizing classes on how to control work places, or the history of grocery worker struggles, that strike might have won--and the students would have won a fine education at the same time.

Justice demands organization. It is correct to believe that the actions of one dissenter can change a great deal. One student openly declaring a test boycott can trigger a mass boycott. One school worker refusing to proctor an exam could start and avalanche of refusals. However, both in terms of social action, and in terms of individual consciousness, organization is key.

Any organization that seeks to go beyond capital, must go beyond the organizations it created, including the trade unions (as the AFT and the NEA). The unions exist to preserve capitalism, not overturn it. The unions do not criticize the bases of capitalism, as in exploited labor and imperialism. They seek to make it more pleasant for the locals. The unions just echo the processes of capital. This is why the NEA and AFT, for example, are shutting down any hint of struggle in their quest to elect John Kerry, who has already denounced nearly every significant thing the union leaders claim to stand for, especially in his support for vouchers and merit pay schemes.

The unions divide people. They do not unite workers. People are divided along lines of job, race, class, industry, etc, each acting on their own, each division in their ranks used to demolish them. And the unions openly declare their ideology: the unity of business, labor, government (school workers), in the national interest. Those who join the unions thinking that they have contradictory interests with their bosses find their unions do not agree. So, the unions will only be useful to social change in that there are people in them who can learn to go beyond them.

While it may be that the world's ruling classes are poised for war with one another, they know full well that their greatest enemy is those who are under their feet: poor and working people. The ruling classes are organized, and clearly deadly.

Educators do not have to be missionaries for capitalism. The Rouge Forum was organized in the search for answers to real problems of school workers, students, community people, and society. Here is what we wrote seven years ago:

"The Rouge Forum is a group of educators, students, and parents seeking a democratic society. We are concerned about questions like these: How can we teach against racism, national chauvinism and sexism in an increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic society? How can we gain enough real power to keep our ideals and still teach--or learn? Whose interests shall school serve in a society that is ever more unequal? We are both research and action oriented. We want to learn about equality, democracy and social justice as we simultaneously struggle to bring into practice our present understanding of what that is. We seek to build a caring inclusive community which understands that an injury to one is an injury to all. At the same time, our caring community is going to need to deal decisively with an opposition that is sometimes ruthless. "

Written before the US invasion of the world, and before September 11, that statement stands as a continuing challenge. What we do counts, more than ever before.


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