Rich Gibson Speech at the Modern Transformations and the
Challenges of Inequalities in Education in India International Conference,
Delhi University, November 29th, 2014
Education For Revolutionary Class Consciousness and Action
Thanks to Vikas Gupta, the ever-patient Sandeep, Anil Sandoval, and the faculty and students of Delhi University for inviting me to this marvelous conference.
My original speech, already published, was much too long for this venue and, indeed, seemed like a nail in search of a hammer in Delhi, so I revised.
By way of introduction, my name is Rich Gibson. I am an emeritus professor from San Diego State University. But I was born in, and lived most of my adult life, in lovely downtown Detroit, not that long ago, the “arsenal of democracy.”
With nearly 2 million people when I was born, it had “the finest urban education system in the USA,” not a publicity hype, but a reality recognized by educators everywhere in the country.
Detroit offered children free dental and health care, well stocked community libraries mentored by trained librarians. The Institute of Arts was world renowned and served as a day care center for many Detroit children, like me.
Factory jobs were plentiful. One man, typically, could support a family of four, have a car, and over time, a cabin on a lake with a boat, up north.
The streets were lined with trees, in summer a tunnel-like canopy. Parks in summer filled with children and adults playing baseball, tennis, bar-b-quing.
In brief, for white people, it was idyllic.
For black people, it was one of the most segregated cities in the US with a long history of deadly race riots. Still, even within segregated auto plants, jobs were plentiful for both races.
Fast forward to today: There are less than 600 thousand people left in Detroit. It’s a 90% black city. 40% of the residents are functionally illiterate—probably more. The school system is collapsed. Once nearly 300 thousand students attended Detroit Public schools. Losing 10 thousand students a year, corrupt school boards served developers and built ten new schools. They are empty now, fully looted by “scrappers,” a recognized profession in the city. Now there are less than 90 thousand youth in two school systems. In 2012, every teacher in the system was fired. The union did nothing–but sue for the right to collect dues with no authorization from the work force.
There is no free health care, no free dental care. The community libraries are closed and looted.
Two-thirds of the buildings, public and privately owned, are empty. The roads look like they have been bombed, or converted to tank traps.
Thousands of wild dogs run the streets.
Most homicides are never investigated. The morgue is so full of bodies, trailers substitute for extra buildings.
Burned out hulks of homes and empty fields typify most of the 139 square miles of the city. Perhaps 8 square miles are re-colonized by white entrepreneurs, under constant video surveillance and marshaled by armed private security guards.
In the under-populated remainder of the city where lonely residents do live, the city seeks to force them to leave by denying services like police, lighting, and ambulances. Moreover, 60 thousand residents are scheduled for foreclosures, about the same number for water shut-offs.
The parks are fully overgrown, grass six feet high. In one: a sign that says, “DO NOT MOW,” hand-painted. Ask why, a nearby resident said, “bodies.”
It’s total social and economic collapse. In the void, barbarism of all forms rises. The churches are full every Sunday.
Why? Racism. Capitalism. Imperialism–auto jobs outsourced to areas of cheaper labor: first Japan, then Mexico, now China, South Korea, and the unorganized US South where some auto-makers and others discovered a fully cowed work force.
I left Detroit, somewhat sadly, and moved to San Diego. It’s sunny and 72 degrees nearly every day. I am fifteen minutes from beautiful beaches, a half hour to pristine pine-treed mountains.
It’s lovely, if you ignore the nuclear air-craft carriers coming and going, the submarines, SEALS–special ops–training on the beeches, or if you don’t note that the spectacular Mira Mar Air Show ends with a massive wall of fire, easily seen 25 miles to the south–napalm–while 250 thousand adults hold babies high to witness the spectacular fiery bomb.
Fifteen minutes north of downtown lives the owner of the biggest drone manufacturer in the US.
Or, just pass by the thousands of homeless vets who come to San Diego once a year for “Stand Down,”shelter, a haircut and a bath, a week concluding with a proud, staggering, pathetic march behind a huge American flag.
Today, we will criticize the processes above, ask radical question, so we can better know who we are in relation to others, world-wide, then engage–to see. Why are things as they are?
The core issue of our time is the reality of the promise of perpetual war and accelerating racist inequality met by the potential of a revolutionary mass class-conscious resistance to overturn capitalism/imperialism/racism and all their effects–and to sustain the powerful notions of reason and equality, working together dialectically with democracy in specific circumstances once a victory–years and probably decades away–is won.
As to neo-liberalism–it can be a tricky term. In the US it’s most commonly used to avoid the words, “capitalism, imperialism, racism,” and then to harken back to halcyon days when democracy ruled capitalism–or balanced it–an a-historical opportunistic delusion: the US slavers’ Constitution was written in secret to strangle democracy.
So, I will address the relationship of capitalism, imperialism, racism, and more–to schooling, rarely educational in the US, and the potential for revolutionary thought and action.
In backward times, cowardly thinking prevails, but cannot persist.
Immediately above is, nearly, the whole of the social context. Taking it part by part, deliberately or through ignorance, dodging that whole will only refashion a series of losses that Rosa Luxemburg predicted, in “Reform or Revolution,” one hundred and more years ago. https://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1900/reform-revolution/
Here’s a radical, to the root, question: What defeats men with guns? Perhaps the lone good lesson from the tragic Arab Spring–and a key lesson from our victory in Vietnam–is—what defeats men with guns?
Today, then, we will use historiography and dialectical materialism to student the social relations–class, race, nation, sex/gender, culture—that people create in their struggle with nature to produce, reproduce, know what’s true, and be free, in schools and communities.
Now, to our second radical question: Why have school? If time permitted, we could work this exercise together. It fun with teachers as so few ever thought about it. But I’ll offer some preliminary answers.
*School and it’s contradictions:
A. Skill training–reading, writing, math–Good! Literacy is life. But in the US we use reading methods that teach kids not to like to read, write, or do math. Why? More in a minute.
B. Ideological training–we teach “multi-culturalism,” tolerance; but in a completely segregated society. Add nationalism, a geographical accident of birth gives, for example, me more in common with Bill Gates than anyone of you in this room.
C. Warehousing kids–a free, unjust, tax-funded system of corporatized baby sitting–and a job market stop gap for the older youth.
D. Schools are huge markets–consider the billions in textbooks, buildings, busses, football stadiums and teams, Ipads. Every aspect of schooling is commodified. In California, every child is worth about $5,000 a year, calculated on a per-diem basis.
E. War-houses–with about 49 million in schools, the illusion mills offer about 1/3 of that population as draft eligible every year.
F. There are 4 million unionized teachers in the US’ schools, averaging about $54,000 a year, most with decent health benefits, some kind of predictable tenure, and pensions. We shall see if this is a bribe or a fair wage. But, assuredly, every one of them is a commodity, producing other commodities.
G. In addition to the next generation of warriors, schools create the next generation of workers. This is the key surplus value teachers create–loyal and obedient humanity—the ethics of slaves: workers and warriors with birth-class playing a decisive role.
H. Schools fashion hope. Some of it is real–one reason why people send their children to us, strangers.
Most of it is false. The social, economic, and political life for the vast majority of Americans is rapidly decaying–more to the point, under attack. Education will not move most people up.
I. Last–nobody with power now raises the Jeffersonian ideal: education for informed citizens in a democratic society. It’s, “You’ll get a better job.” You probably won’t.
But wait! We need to interrogate: What is a Public School?
Within capitalism, there is no such thing as a public school. Schools have always served the empire of capital and mirrored its social divisions.
In the US, now, there are four or five completely segregated—by class and race with geography as a companion–Capitalist School Systems.
1) In Detroit, there is a pre-prison program and the kids know it.
2) in San Ysidro, California, right by the Mexico border, future secretaries, or Walmart workers, or warriors.
3) In Del Cerro, California, six miles north of the border–future teachers, social workers, maybe a lawyer or two. Add athletes.
4) In LaJolla, California, incredibly rich-future doctors, lots of lawyers, low-level diplomats, and officers.
5) Last, there is an entire system of elite private schools–six kids in a class, “masters with PhD’s–like Cranbrook in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan–where Mitt Romney attended, paid by his father’s industrial auto millions, and I went too, as a scholarship boy.
In short, these are capital’s schools.
The education agenda is a war agenda–class and empire’s wars.
To demand to “Defend Public Schools,” is to defend a myth, a ruse.
Better, per Marx, “Rescue education from the ruling classes!”
What’s going on in the US schools?
1) a regimented national curriculum that focuses on “STEM,” science, technology, English, and math. History is eradicated–but for Texas where the State Board of Education adopted textbooks that claim Moses, the Christian, is a key founder of US democracy. “Look, everyone, I have these tablets and you have to do all these ten things or else!” Democracy.
2) Racist and anti-working class high stakes exams which alienate all from all, sorting kids, teachers and parents, using fake “science.” Couple this with most teachers incoherent, unsystematic, and mystical world views, and kids learn not to like to learn, not to be curious.
3) Merit Pay–for teachers, wages are linked to student test scores (loved by real estate agents who churn the housing market based on the bogus scores), and the war of all on all deepens.
4) Last, the entire system, kindergarten through college, is fully militarized with infantry and Marine recruiters targeting poorer areas, and the many spy and mercenary agencies probing the richer. Colleges are deluged with military recruiters, funding in the better schools relies on military and intelligence agency grants. Of course, many colleges and universities, in consumerized America, are mainly shopping malls—see San Diego State.
What is going on in US society that requires this kind of frantic, ultra-Taylorized, mis-education?
1) Booming color coded inequality, a world-wide phenomenon most recently described in Thomas Picketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century.” Picketty, sadly, is no red. He misses entirely the role of the capitalist state in the origins of capital’s development, the central role of exploited labor, imperialism–capital’s birth-twin, and he really believes capitalists might solve the problem of inequality by giving up their money for the common good.
Still, it is inequality. Most often, racist inequality.
2) In the US, the severe domination of finance over industrial capital means the rush to the nearest dollar in high-speed, mili-seconds as described recently in the best-seller, “Flashboys.” That fast buck creates an absence of strategic, really grand strategic, planning. Hence, rushing from moment to moment, crisis to crisis, in both the financial and political worlds, the latter largely controlled by the former.
In the 2008-2009 bailouts, $12.9 trillion, with a capital “T,” went to the banks. About $800 billion went to auto.
During one long weekend, when the white male financiers of Wall Street came together, all agreeing they faced the imminent complete collapse of the world financial system, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson went to his friend, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan, then one of the more solvent banks.
“Jamie, we need your help, money to help bail out the US banking system. We are on the verge of going over a cliff.”
“Hank, I would do anything for the US, but not at the expense of JP Morgan.” (Cited from “Too Big to Fail”)
Thus, the limits of a bankster’s patriotism.
I assert that there is a key psychological dimension to the domination of monopoly finance capital over every aspect of life.
In brief, in the US this means the economy is ruled, two to one, by consumerism over industrial production. On the one hand, this forges massive debt immiseration creating a fear and anxiety ridden populace, particularly in schools; and on the other hand the natural solidarity that is forged by industrial work–an injury to one obviously forewarning an injury to all–is trumped by consumerist, individualist, war-of-all-on-all individualism: I want the most from you while you wish to pay me the least.
That’s part of what creates, again, the hysterical conversion crisis that enwraps much of US life, and perhaps that world. Class consciousness, of course, has a psychological dimenstion–a field Wilhelm Reich initiated—and nobody has improved much. .
3) The promise of perpetual war, most recently announced by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, is real.
With 800 known bases around the world, unknown number of black torture sites, praetorian private guards from mercenaries to the CIA to the NSA; the USA invaded the world after World War II and redoubled the war plans, first after the empire’s loss in 1975 in Vietnam, and then after the billionaire’s terrorist attack on September 11, 2001.
4. The US, and much of the world, is a corporate state, a fascist state. Those who want a short, yet concise, statement of what that is can look here: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Fascism/What_Is_Fascism_Gibson.html
5. The rise of mysticism as an answer to the failures of socialism, always little more than capitalism with a purportedly benevolent party on the top, promising better days which never came, and imperialism which barbarizes the planet and nature.
Mysticism in the homelands is, for example, a reason Obama can have no grand strategy (he cannot say, “people make gods, gods don’t make people), and thus no strategy, and he’s left, along with the entire US ruling class, with a series of tactics, rushing from one crisis to the next, steadily losing ground in war and the economy.
These core elements, and more, set up the social context of school. Any society engaged in the practices above, and clearly unable to escape, will make seemingly odd demands on schools.
A Marxist analysis of schools is here: http://richgibson.com/gateways.htm
Again, the core issue of our time is the reality of perpetual war and booming capitalist inequality met by the potential of mass, integrated, internationalist, class conscious resistance with the grand strategy of a society where people can lead reasonably free, connected, creative lives. The strategy which can never be abandoned is revolution. The tactics, lining up, are locally determined.
Is it possible to teach revolutionary class consciousness?
Let’s take it from the other angle. To abandon the theory of revolution is to abandon everything:
1) In science, evolutionary leaps,
2) In philosophy, dialectics,
3) In history, the relentless struggle for freedom, to end the Master/Slave relationship,
4) In pedagogy, those transformative “aha” moments when quantities of effort become qualitatively new knowledge,
5) It is to abolish passion, the key element for any movement for social change.
To abandon even the theory of revolution is to submit, to acquiesce, to become an instrument of one’s own oppression. Following Hegel’s metaphor, it is to harmonize with the Master, as the Slave.
And, it is to abandon all of Marx, from the nature of exploitative alienation to the materialist conception of the state as a weapon of force to defend one class against another. Finally, it is to do the work of the bourgeoisie behind a “humanist” mask, while ending any possibility of reaching toward a humane society.
Terrorism is not revolutionary. It’s merely an effort to replace a mass, class conscious, movement for equality and justice with a bomb, or a plane. Typically, terrorists bring down horrific repression on the very people they claim to represent. Terrorists, when they enjoy brief success, become the new boss. They have no interest in revolutionary class consciousness.
What, then, is a revolution?
In Chinese, there are two words. I can pronounce one of them. It means to dig in the soil and turn it over. Hence, on top is something new, not entirely new, not disconnected with the past, but new. Still, below the new topsoil is the former topsoil, waiting.
And, the word I cannot pronounce: it means to “withdraw the mandate from heaven.” When this happens on a mass scale: a legitimacy crisis. “God did not put you there. Democracy didn’t put you there. You are a tyrant ruling by force and deception.”
It follows that Revolution is the crux of dialectical materialism, Marxism. Something completely new is created via a radical, to the core, change; yet what existed before, remains, no longer dominant, but capable of returning. A clear example is the Catholic Church, a remnant of feudalism, but still powerful–and within capital, holding a state and a bank and millions of trained eyes everywhere in the world.
Chalmers Johnson, a colleague who taught at the University of California Berkeley and, later, San Diego, and who was a CIA asset recruited by the better known Hannah Arendt, wrote what is the touchstone book, “Revolutionary Change,” in the sixties. This chart, which you can easily bring up later, reflects his views on Revolution: http://richgibson.com/johnsonquotes.htm
Summarizing Johnson, revolutionary change grows imminent when:
*Foreign wars are lost,
*Ruling classes are inflexible, incompetent, or completely and obviously corrupt,
*Ruling classes are openly distrusted (in California, in the last election, 28% of the eligible voters cast ballots and, in the recent presidential election, including senators and congresspeople, those who spent most won most),
*Government becomes gridlocked,
*Knowledge spreads that only the poor are imprisoned or attacked,
*Accelerators occur: the fruit vendor in Tunisia whose self-immolation began the tragedy that is the “Arab Spring,” or, perhaps, the police murders in Ferguson, Oakland, California, or New York.
Everything is in place, in much of the world, for a radical transformation of society, but there is no class conscious movement in the US and in most of the industrialized world.
School is the centripetal organizing point of North American life. Yet teacher and student resistence is minimal and in nearly every instance of push-back, it is off target.
There was a brief, and quickly sold out, teacher strike in Chicago.
The mindless Occupy Wall Street movement lasted a few months. It’s leaders denied the need for leadership ( I could spot the leaders--so could the police), rejected grand strategy, strategy, and they were left with a counterfeit tactic: they didn’t Occupy anything and were easily driven away by some relatively minor, if nationally coordinated, police violence. Add the carrot: union disorganizers invaded Occupy, turned most of it into the electoral shell game that happens from time to time, people choosing who will oppress them best.
In California and New York, there were movements against tuition hikes in colleges and universities, but they too dissolved from the same carrot and stick measures used on Occupy.
Why so little school resistance?
Well, why it is that some people are so easily turned into instruments of their own oppression, while some others choose to resist, is a question nobody has fully answered.
From the material perspective, it may have a lot to do with the imperial bribe coupled with the consumerist economy.
Internal to the movements, the labor unions are fully the empire’s unions.
Not a single labor boss in the US will say, or believes, “workers and bosses have contradictory interests.”
Instead, they urge the rank and file to be “Partners in Production,” with the Big Bosses, to “protect the national industries and interests.”
In effect, the labor tops sell the pacified labor of the people they claim to represent to employers, in exchange for guaranteed, even forced, dues income.
This, in part, leads to the fabulous salaries labor tops enjoy. For example, the past president of the largest union in the USA, the National Education Association, made $686,949 in his last year in office.
Selling out the members is one aspect of the basis of the good life for labor tops.
Empire is another.
School union bosses, indeed labor “leaders” from all the major unions, sit on the boards of CIA fronts like the National Endowment for Democracy, The Albert Shanker Institute, the American Institute for Free Labor Development, and others. They retire to good salaries at groups like Education International, the inheritor of the CIA sponsored Cold War teacher unions. They know full well their role as supporter of the deadly work of the empire.
What’s the empire’s project? Any capitalist empire, particularly an empire under the thumb of monopoly finance capital, must engage in a relentless world-wide search for cheap labor, raw materials, markets, and regional control. It’s the nature of the beast.
The US’ teaching force, most of whom see themselves as agents of the US state, government, are steeped in empire.
Proof: For four years in a row, around 10,000 low level union officials in the largest union in the US, the Natnional Education Association, nearly all of them classroom teachers, voted “Not to Discuss,” the wars by a factor of 95% to 5%. To underline; that’s “Not to Discuss,” and not “To Oppose.” The reason given from the floor? It might be disturbing to the body.
And that is the impact of the empire’s bribe I mentioned earlier. The bribe slowly evaporates, as all bribes do, but for now the teaching force is unwilling to discuss the wars and willing to conduct child abuse, racist high stakes exams, in exchange for fairly good pay, health benefits, some forms of tenure, and pensions. Whether their patriotism is similar to Jamie Dimon’s, at JP Morgan Chase, or it’s merely witless nationalism, is of no real consequence.
Moreover, for the pseudo radical left seeking to organize in education, from the Rethinking Schools group tied to the Democratic Socialists of America (akin to the old 2nd International) or the leadership of the Chicago Teachers Union, tied to the International Socialist Trotskyists, or the Detroit Federation of Teachers, now led by another Trotskyist sect–two things are taboo: empire and revolution.
That is not true of everyone. The Rouge Forum is now nearly 20 years old. There is no “line,” in the Rouge Forum, but for the most part we agree class and empire are central issues. Our classroom teachers, our professors, our students, study and teach toward revolutionary class consciousness–some fairly openly.
We have no dues. No iron system of discipline. It’s not enough.
But it is proof that class conscious education, rescuing education from the ruling classes, can be done with patience, perseverance, and a classroom ethic that says it is the students’, not the profs’, responsibility to answer the question: “Who am I in relation to others, and what shall I do?”
That is how I see why things are as they are, in schools and society.
We make our own histories, but not in circumstances we chose.
All of us are superior to our circumstances and our social inheritances.
We can comprehend and change the world!
Every school workers’ job is to enlighten many hearts of darkness.
We can upend the mass industrialized slaughterhouse.
Our ideas and actions can defeat the many forces of barbarism.
We CAN Win!
Up the rebels!