Liberals Have it All Wrong June 6 2009 (posted at Literacy For all)
The core issue of our time is the relationship of rising color-coded social and economic inequality challenged by the potential of mass class-conscious resistance.
Today, the education agenda is a war agenda, and vice versa. One of the wars, unannounced, is the full scale war of the rich on the poor, intense now in the US. Six million jobs lost so far since September and more to come. This is a depression. There is no possibility of a jobless recovery as, this time, the jobless will not be able to consume, the banks will not loan, foreign war expenditures will continue--despite the real strategic loss in those wars---and given that 2/3 of the US economy is rooted in consumption, this is a very real crisis.
In de-industrialized America, schools are the central organizing point of life. The project of schools, to create the next generation of workers (Rahm Emanuel said precisely that on June 17, 2009), warriors, and war backers, all nationalists, is key.
It is likely that schools will be the next focus of not merely an ideological attack (national standards) but a practical one as well (merit pay, layoffs, speed up via class size, more exams, etc). People are going to be positioned so they must fight back, like it or not, and they probably will. Every teacher strike that I led witnessed teachers carrying signs that said, "I don't want to strike but I will."
At issue is whether or not people will be able to make sense of why they must fight, and thereby make good strategies and tactics, or whether they will fail to reason things through, thus fail to forge solidarity and militancy, and lose.
In this, reform organizations like unions and professional groups will be, not potential allies, but enemies. All are designed in various ways to preserve the system of capital---the source of the problems at hand, from war to overproduction to the giant ponzi scheme and company store that is the world's economy now. The unions do not unite, but divide people. So do the professional organizations which, worse, are steeped in careerism.
Those organizations and their leaders will all claim that we need to participate, be at the table, in order to influence what is done, just as many people said that Obama, the easily spotted demagogue, would bring hope, change and renewal, when he was clearly never anything but a southside Chicago political hack eager to take his place inside the capitalist state, the place where the rich work out their differences and then allow the people to choose which of them will oppress us best.
Those liberal backers of the demagogue failed to address what people need to know (class war) but they succeeded in becoming what they claimed to set out to oppose. Their false success in the election created a situation where nearly nobody demonstrated on the anniversary of the wars this year. The base of people, believing in Obama, stayed home. In this case, thank above all the CPUSA front group, United for Peace and Justice, now in well deserved tatters. Those on the left who feel betrayed by the demagogue, but who urged others out to vote for him, need to reassess their entire analytical frameworks, write self critiques and apologies to those who they themselves helped betray, and listen more.
This question of being at the table for national standards is a case well wrapped up by the graffitti of 1968 France: "I participate. We participate. They participate. We all participate. They profit."
Seeking the lesser evil just ratifies evil. It builds no practical nor pedagogical base for an alternative way. In the electoral world, it leads people into the equivalent of church where people seek imaginary others to interpret the world and solve problems for them. It makes people powerless, unable to see grand strategy (abolish what is bad about capitalism, retain what is not, and build a better way to live), strategy, and tactics. Lesser evil work splits these fully connected necessities into disparate parts. And lesser evil work is a lie. "It's the best we could do." It is not.
That national standards are important to a nation writhing in inequality, joblessness, and imperialist wars for oil and profits should be no surprise.
We have a good example of what happens to liberals who want a place at the table in the drive toward standards.
Gary Nash, a prominent liberal historian, was the main player in writing the national history standards. In his own words, he did that in order to prevent the right wing from doing it. His first move in bringing together historians and social studies educators to develop the standards was to throw the Marxists and feminists out of the conversation. Then he wrote the patently partisan standards, submitted them to congress.
Rush Limbaugh went nuts on Nash, claiming that there was not enough nationalism and white leadership in Nash's work. Congress shuddered. Nash, rather than sticking up for what he wrote, re-wrote his work to meet Limbaugh's approval. Limbaugh smiled on the new work--and wallah, the National History Standards approved by the addled Rush, and a vote of 99 to 1 in the Senate. The US History Standards are Limbaugh standards, via working the lesser evil angle. The standards, in place for a decade, succeeded in creating a population of young people who know so little about history they cannot connect cause and effect---though I will grant the same applies to Americans who didn't enjoy the benefit of the history standards too.
Nash never wrote a self criticism. Instead, he whined that the pols made "war" on him. In a sense, he's right, but his war was quite genteel.
Professional organizations and unions are not only enemies, though they surely are that. They are weak links in capital's chains.
It is difficult for a relatively small group of people, which is the case of the left or social justice activists everywhere, to lead a large strike of education workers when everything is lined up against the activists including most of the work force today.
That does not mean that teachins, for example, are impossible, nor that the entire educational effort for class consciousness needs to be given up in favor of some kind of "action only" project. But it does mean that small groups need to think about where they can have the most impact, and soon, as things are deteriorating quickly.
It is somewhat easier to attack the weak links, union bosses or the mis-leaders of professional organizations, than to take on, in a direct attack, the entire school system. When I say attack, I mean that. I mean seizing their offices and holding sit ins. Or attacking them at their podiums, taking over the microphones. Or disrupting their bogus polite presentations and meetings.
As a concrete example that offers a little aesthetic distance, I think it would be terrific if auto workers and supporters seized the UAW Solidarity House in Detroit and held it, opening the secret files of the UAW bosses and their books to the public. Hold the building as long as possible, and put up a good destructive fight on the way out--a twist on the Great Flint Strike Against GM of 1937 that formed the UAW in the first place. It would put the UAW bosses (who sit on a billion dollar strike fund that is probably their retirement plan) in a tough position, calling the cops on their own members, exposing the UAW hacks for what they are for all to see. And showing there is some fight in auto still.
That kind of activity requires organization. Only the Rouge Forum recognizes the reality of class war in schools and out, and only the Rouge Forum has actually done significant things about it, ranging from publications to direct action battles in conferences to assistance in leading wildcat strikes. You are welcome to join us. Take a look at Staughton Lynd's and other presentations at the recent conference at Eastern Michigan http://www.richgibson.com/rouge_forum/2009/index.html
We are in a fight, not a chat. Reason is important in addressing the pedagogical aspect of what needs to be done, but reason alone is like democracy, the new religion--a counterfeit promise.
The other side chose fascism, the corporate state in slightly new form, but all the earmarks are there from the charismatic leader hyped incessantly by the press to the corporate state mergers of finance/industrial capital and government to the real promise of perpetual war. That war is headed for the schools. I used to insist on the term, "Emergence of fascism." No more. I say this is it.
On the development of the history standards in the nineties: http://www.richgibson.com/historystandards.htm
Good luck to us, every one.