Creating Alternative Social Movements: Working Class Studies

by Rich Gibson

Proposals for "alternative movements" need to recognize, on one hand, the broad system of capitalism, the international war of the rich on the poor that it has engendered, its current intensity, and, on the other hand, the specifics of conditions from nation to nation, even city to city.

In the US, which is more likely to produce the ideas for coming uprisings, moreso than the social practice, conditions are such that there seem to be three choke points in society: the military, prisons, and schools-- from which change is most likely to be initiated.

The industrial working class in the US is not positioned to initiate change, and while it is possible change will emanate out from the working class (no one has a crystal ball), that is unlikely. It is something of a tragic reality that serious change can only be preserved by industrial workers, who may or may not come along at critical moments.

Of the three choke points noted (military, prisons, and schools) schools appear to be key, though, again, any of these choke points could be vital from time to time. However, capital prefers to rely on the carrot to the stick (tho not one without the other), ie, schools over the military and prisons. In addition, work in schools is far more free than work, or presence, in the military or jails.

In addition, schools claim to produce one thing that is key to the coming era, ideas, and though most of what goes on in schools amounts to soldiering through the day, teaching lies to kids using methods so incoherent that the lies become almost impossible to decode, and kids learn not to like to learn---capital's great achievement---it is also true that some school workers swim upstream, trying to teach reason and ethical social activism.

One blocked artery of past, failed, socialist and anarchist efforts has been the question of mass class consciousness, ie, what is it that people need to know, and how do people need to come to know it, in order to wage a fight for a reasonably caring, connected, communal society where people can be creative and fairly free---and what do we need to know to sustain that should we somehow prevail? The methods of analysis, and the substance, are the crux of a lot of schooling---contrary to the military and prisons. Schools also claim to promote an ethic that the military and prisons scoff at.

There is no reason to believe that most school workers will be agents for social change or justice. History suggests that the vast majority of the apartheid k12 and university work force (over 90 percent white) will be fascists, and in an era of emerging fascism, that is a concern. The dominant trends in schools now are opportunism, racism, ignorance, and cowardice--true of the university world as well.

However, this fascist current is really of no consequence, nor are its personifications. Neither fascism nor its fascists can solve the problems we are presented with now. Those who fight for equality and democracy will count.

This is not to say that emerging fascism can be discounted. Email, however, may not be the best way to discuss specifics about how to combat it, should efforts toward an alternative mass movement not pan out.

Organizing in schools must have a clear strategy and tactics. Organizing for serious change must go far beyond school reform, but point toward revolutionary change in society. Those who want to do school reform without doing social and economic change, and beyond that revolution, either are so stupid that they deserve to be ignored, or they are dishonest.

For those who have the room to move, k12 and college of education teaching seems to place people in vital places, today, in the US.
Beginning a movement that sees schools as a key choke point requires, at the start, a method of communication to defend activists, to help us recognize the commonalities of problems, to initiate struggle, to offer analysis, and to create room for people to build organizations that can be at once free yet disciplined.

In addition, a new movement needs a clearly stated ethic, one drawn from the lessons of history--not one fallen from the sky---to which all can aspire, and leaders be held.

There are two groups that see, to one degree or another, class struggle is central to schools and society---that are working in schools now: The Rouge Forum, ( and Substance News from Chicago. Neither has a clear line, both organize people and publish from a wide range of views. Both have seen a predictable ebb and flow of work over the last decade or so. Both have united, again in limited ways, students, parents, community people, and school workers. Both have a lot of publications on line, worth a glance.

For an expansion, see this


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