Revolutionary Thought and Action Against Capital and Empire
by Rich Gibson
David Harvey is, in my view, the most widely read academic taking on the core issues of our time: the reality of the promise of perpetual war and booming, color-coded, inequality, met by the potential of a mass, class conscious, integrated, activist movement for equality and justice.
Addressing issues does not mean properly analyzing them, not reaching appropriate conclusions.
In his 2005, “A Brief History of Neo-Liberalism,” he called for a new “New Deal,” to overcome the maneuvers of the George W. Bush administration.
Promotinng what he called “New Deal” imperialism, Harvey wrote: “There are, of course, far more radical solutions lurking in the wings, but the construction of a new ‘New Deal’ led by the United States and Europe, both domestically and internationally ... is surely enough to fight for in the present conjuncture” (The New Imperialism, Oxford University Press Oxford, 2003, p. 210).
“Neo-liberalism,” here means that there is something aberrant, new, about capitalism and empire, that the rush to imperialist war, capitalist exploitation, fascism in a variety of forms, and mysticism can be reversed by protecting the capitalist state, harkening back to better days–which never existed.
Later, in 2010, Harvey published “The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism.” There, he reverses himself and suggests that the masks of capital must be “unraveled,” as a step toward seizing state power (p. 256). That’s some reversal. But not quite enough.
“...not criticism but revolution is the driving force of history...” Karl Marx1
Harvey is, again in my eyes, read by the academic left and he’s one of the best.
Classroom teachers are only dimly aware of his work. Their knowledge comes though the sorting machine that is like an intellectual pyramid, sifting down to the not-so-terribly contradictory reality that is the National Education Association’s membership. I have witnessed ten thousand-plus rank and file school workers, NEA members, assembled yearly, vote again and again “not to discuss,” the empire’s wars, as such a debate might upset the body. The NEA is by far the largest union in the de-industrialized U.S.2
The smaller, more urban, U.S. teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers follows the same path.
Like every other U.S. union, the NEA and the AFT are firmly in the hands of capital (at root, exploited labor) and the empire (the requisite search for cheap labor, raw material, markets, and regional control).
As we shall see in more depth, NEA and AFT tops believe in the unity of union leaders with their education-based bosses, with the local, state, and national governments, and with imperialism as well.
It follows that the education agenda is a war agenda; class and empire’s wars. Most recently, in October 2015, NEA’s top leadership endorsed war-hawk Hillary Clinton. The American Federation of Teachers joined them in the endorsement. With about four million members, combined, they will spend millions of dollars, and tens of thousands of volunteer hours, to secure her election.
To grasp why it would be that these relatively highly educated school workers (all with bachelor’s degrees, 56% with Masters’) do not wish to debate endless wars that draw in their once-hopeful students, as today “war means work,” is to grapple with what Chalmers Johnson described as the US’ “consumerist Sparta,” or I have called a mass hysterical conversion crisis.3
To reiterate: the core issue of our times is the rise of color-coded inequality and the real promise of perpetual war met by the potential of mass class conscious organized resistance for the clarion call that has driven social movements for centuries: Equality! Revolutionary Equality!
In the absence of such a social movement, education remains snared by capital and empire, as we shall see, and resistance merely recreates ignorance and despair–Dark Ages’ barbarism--in slightly new ways.
Mine is not a utopian scheme that aims at a far distant tomorrow and refuses to address the necessity to win reforms, or to even defend what is minimally left to poor and working people today. It is, instead, to insist that the term “neo-liberalism,” is misleading, although it is adopted by much of the American and British left, and embraced by the widely read U.S. organization, Rethinking Schools, which dilutes even Harvey’s turn to a “New Deal.”
Rethinking Schools routinely targets “neo-liberalism.” 4
The upshot is that the counterfeit left within the teacher unions cannot win and suistain even short term reforms and, moreover; to split the needs of today from the requisite need to transcend capitalism is to lose both.
Or, perhaps more abstractly, to abandon both the theory and practice of revolution is to deny science (quantity into quality and leaps in, for example, evolution), philosophy (dialectics into materialism), history (revolution on revolution to end exploitation, to overcome the Master/Slave relationship, for freedom), in pedagogy, those transformative “aha” moments when quantities of effort become qualitatively new knowledge, and passion itself–a cornerstone of any movement for change.
To give up even the theory of revolution is to dump the materialist conception of history, replace it with reformist--idealist--fantasies about democracy dominating the capitalist state, to pretend that capitalism can be softened over time, that imperialism will end by ignoring it, or voting it away. It is to deny there is an economic base to today’s society, rooted in exploited labor and the unappeasable quest for cheap labor, raw materials, regional control, and markets. It is to pretend the political world is distinct from the economic, and the rich can be voted out of their money and greed.
For many people, forsaking revolutionary theory is to become what they set out to oppose. They’re instruments of their own oppression.
To give up on, at least, the theory of revolution is to guarantee the spiders will feed on our great-grandchildren–as their ever foolish flies.
Using works of Marx and Engels, Chalmers Johnson, Lenin, Lukacs, and Luxemburg, I believe it’s possible to teach revolution in theory and practice–and survive as an educator.
I am a co-founder of the Rouge Forum. We have members throughout the English-speaking world as well as in Mexico. In practice, the Rouge Forum is the only education-based organization in North America that has, for fifteen years and more, seen class struggle as central to school and society. We are not a revolutionary organization. There may be Rouge Forum members from groups who say they are–and perhaps they are. We have not, however, run from the term–revolution. Indeed, we have investigated its aspects with care.
“And your education! Is not that also social, and determined by the social conditions under which you educate, by the intervention direct or indirect, of society, by means of schools,....The Communists have not invented the intervention of society in education; they do but seek to alter the character of that intervention, and to rescue education from the influence of the ruling class.”5
Given the role of imperialist de-industrialization, school is one of the centripetal organizing points of daily US life. There are about 3.9 million school workers organized into the two US unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. If schools are missions for capitalism and empire; the vast majority of school workers-who are not professionals but workers and more so ever year-are their missionaries.
“The parson goes hand in hand with the landlord.” The parallel is clear enough. Most teachers see themselves as witting agents of the capitalist, today corporate, state.
Schools are middle class job banks, peopled by school workers full of fear.
Even so, as Marty Glaberman famously said, “as long as work sucks, there will be resistance.
In a tour of nearly every county in California in 2009, with educator and former principal Susan Harmon, and former UAW organizer Bob Apter, meeting with students, parents, administrators, school board members, and community organizations, we concluded that the primary emotional affect in schools was, and remains, fear.
At issue is whether or not resistance makes any sense, or it flails at phantoms, rushing toward mirages.
Teacher work, often wrongly described as professionalism, tracks the same avenues that any job suffers. Teachers, really school workers, are not professionals–until the employer gulls them into buying books, supplies, extending hours, “volunteering” weekend work, etc.
Teachers are alienated from the processes and products of their work.
School workers do not control the curriculum. Indeed, many of them could not operate without a pre-packaged set of textbooks.
They have, for twenty years and more, been ordered to proctor high-stakes standardized exams, It’s Taylorism in the classroom; tests which most of them know measure little more than parental income, race, and home language–and amount to child abuse.
The medical, “First do no harm,” was nearly never raised by non-professional school workers.
Teachers engage the same war of all on all that all workers face: the struggle for jobs–when jobs should be plentiful and class size less than ten. Like any factory worker, “the greatest aid to efficiency is a long line of (people) at the gate.”
In schools, teachers are estranged from students (grading, tests), from the curriculum (textbooks, regulated curricula) from parents, and administrators--and each other (competition for jobs and wages).
Kids, the focus, or 'product' of schools, are particularly alienated, distanced from meaningful struggles for what is true, from freedom, from any remote practice of democracy, from equality. For example, as James Loewen demonstrated in “Lies My Teacher Told Me,” most of the history, particularly historiography itself, isn’t true.
The unjustly structured taxes that make capitalist schooling possible pay the intellectual jailers of those who must attend.
Teachers work in segregated schools, by class first, then race, a creation of capitalist inequality in accumulated wealth, income, and geography.
School workers create surplus value in the sense that they prepare the next generation of workers, they manufacture (real or false) hope, and they participate in schools as huge markets. Imagine the costs of I-pads, Chromebooks, busses, architects for buildings, test-prep, etc Schools warehouse kids–babysit. It’s a tax funded service for low wage companies. Schooling produces labor power in more ways than one.
Teachers and students are routinely commodified. Test results, revered by real estate agents who churn the market, are one example.
Flatly, in every school, every student represents a dollar value. In California, every student is worth about $6,000 a year, carefully pro-rated hour by hour on daily attendance.
Schools are endemic with corruption. John Deasy, the holder of a fake graduate degree, was appointed superintendent of the Los Angeles School District. He quickly moved to purchase an I-pad for every child in the second largest district in the U.S. It wasn’t until more than 20,000 I-pads, with no software, had been purchased that it was discovered he had a very close relationship with Apple. He was removed but never prosecuted.
He is but one of dozens of school administrators who play musical chairs with short term jobs, earning hundreds of thousands of dollars per year, and taking their shell game of “My plan is the best education plan,” around the country.
Schools are sites of sexual exploitation: teachers to students, older students to younger, sexting, and more. As an NEA bargaining agent and organizer, I learned first hand how many teachers abuse their authoritative positions to seduce kids.
As with any capitalist relationship, behind compulsory state schooling is violence: truancy laws, threats, fines, and arrests.
Alienation, exploitation, and commodification add up to form reification–these processes seen as normal and inevitable. Test scores, again, are a glaring example, but so is the daily life of school: bell schedules, the division of labor in history versus science vs language arts, etc.
Schools, unbeknownst to most in higher education and politicians, are part of society.
They are, as we shall see in detail, embedded in capital and empire and face the crises that necessarily take place within those systems: upheavals following periodic stagnation in the economy, and war.
To suggest that these factors, then, necessarily lead to revolution, or even mass resistance, would be to mock history. They do not–as the last twenty years of life in U.S. schools demonstrates.
On the face of it, these terms could easily be applied to the majority of the US teaching force which has done little but acquiesce to their own, and their students oppression: cowardly, racist, nationalist, and superstitious.
Very few teachers would read from American patriot, Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason,” in a classroom:
“The story of the angel announcing what the church calls the immaculate conception is not so much as mentioned in the books ascribed to Mark and John; and is differently related in Matthew and Luke. The former says the angel appeared to Joseph; the latter says it was to Mary; but either Joseph or Mary was the worst evidence that could have been thought of, for it was others that should have testified for them, and not they for themselves. Were any girl that is now with child to say, and even to swear it, that she was gotten with child by a ghost, and that an angel told her so, would she be believed? Certainly she would not. Why, then, are we to believe the same thing of another girl, whom we never saw, told by nobody knows who, nor when, nor where?” 6
This could not be read for reasons: Too many teachers are mystics themselves. Administrators would hear about it and go wild. Parents would go wilder.
School workers have no conception of the materialist viewpoint in history.
They have unsystematic, often inexplicable, mystical world views.
Nor, though they are daily changing people, do they see themselves as agents of dramatic social change.
There are, certainly, many pressures from above.
In California, it is illegal to teach favorably about Karl Marx. Hence, labor history’s core is out.
Reason–against superstition–is out, in favor of “tolerance” of all available ontologies except rational ones.
Love, as a matter of sexual pleasure, it largely banned, in favor of teaching fear of sex: AIDS, STDs, etc.
Freedom is out as there is no real freedom practiced in schools.
That almost obliterates the key factors of life: Love. Work. Knowledge and the struggle for truth. Freedom.
Trained in mis-education centers, colleges of education, teachers work through a process that too often selects against rebels, even intellectuals, and forges the factors above.
Nevertheless, some fight back.
There are less than 4500 "members" on the closely-held Rouge Forum email list-with no dues, nor a line. But we have held up a beacon for school workers, veterans, parents, students, and others,
world-wide, India to Grenada, shining on the reality of class struggle. As important, we have been a community of friends.
Clearly, we are not enough--yet. In the absence of a revolutionary movement for equality and justice: savagery.
What Explains Popular Madness?
If you seek barbarized continents, nations, regions, cities, or tribes, look around you: El Salvador, Guatemala, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria, South Sahara, or Detroit inside the heart of darkness itself. Seek the centers of hydrophobic-like barbarism in Washington, D.C. or Moscow or Beijing–the beast-cooks.
What produced this reality is part of the investigation into why things are as they are-and what to do--as we are responsible for our own histories.
Taken from another side: What created the mass hysterical conversion crisis lurching around the world?
Beyond false consciousness, a conversion crisis related to hysteria, is the transference of a mental disorder to physical activity; for example, stress switched to paralysis of a limb. Taken in mass, a hysterical conversion crisis is personified by groups of people who, unable to address the whole of why things are as they are, attack distinct, idiosyncratic, symptoms and thus are unable to find a cure.
A clear, current, indicator of this disorder comes from the Pew Research Foundation:
“The share of countries with a high or very high level of social hostilities involving religion reached a six-year peak in 2012, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. A third (33%) of the 198 countries and territories included in the study had high religious hostilities in 2012, up from 29% in 2011 and 20% as of mid-2007. Religious hostilities increased in every major region of the world except the Americas. The sharpest increase was in the Middle East and North Africa, which still is feeling the effects of the 2010-11 political uprisings known as the Arab Spring. There also was a significant increase in religious hostilities in the Asia-Pacific region, where China edged into the "high" category for the first time.” 7
That’s violent, 6th century, pathological mysticism running amok. Rolling Stone reporter, Matt Taibbi, calls it, “The Great Derangement, a Terrifying Story of War, Politics, and Religion.”8
Wilhelm Reich, in “Mass Psychology of Fascism,” explored the psychological realm.
Reich located what he called an “emotional plague,” in the suppression of sexual pleasure, which sweeps across class, churches, parties, families especially, and related social organizations. I will leave it to the reader to interrogate this avenue in greater depth, although my efforts don’t show
much improvement on his too-often-ignored examinations of the emergence of fascism as a popular movement.9
One other, not alternate but additional, element of explanation:
There is no left.
Nearly all of what is in fact the bogus world "left" has abandoned revolution-except in its most hollow, even reactionary, forms: the Arab Spring; the ultraconservative farces in Egypt and Syria, the Orange revolution (and other Central Intelligence Agency sponsored color-uprisings--now in the Ukraine), and earlier--the tragedies that came of Russia and the long revolution in China, and the fictional left in the USA, etc.
In the Arab world, and elsewhere, it is reasonably clear that masses of people reject, on one hand, US imperialism (if not necessarily the draw of US consumerism and culture-not you Taliban and ISIS), and the obvious failures of Soviet and Chinese "socialism," really capitalism with a purportedly benevolent party at the top.10
They have turned, alternately to Al Queda, the Taliban, the Islamic State or ISIS (aka Daesh), savagery, or the fascist nationalism of the Ukraine phony rebel--and often fascist--leadership.11
In the US, the fake socialist left on one hand hides its politics, perhaps believing people must be led to revolution by baby steps: first a union, then a caucus, then a book club, then the party (which keeps revolution a secret--meaning the party is useless–ducking the pedagogy of class consciousness--to the people while the police are fully aware of the party and its `real' politics).
There is no proof people learn like this, and a great deal of evidence to the contrary.
On the other hand, the sectarian left stands with bullhorns shouting revolution-but refusing to detail the sacrifices and real devastation that any revolution must first create and yet transcend.
Environmentalist revolutionaries seem to dismiss the environmental devastation that any revolution would explode and, likely, will be blackmailed by this threat in the future.
Ghost Dancing Against Capitalism and Empire
In the late 1880's and 1890's, despairing Indian tribes, under assault from all angles, took leadership from a “Weather doctor,” Wokova, who promised that the Ghost Dance, a circle dance, would restore peace and prosperity for the various tribes. Some enthusiasts apparently believed that the Ghost Dance was a protection against bullets and death.12
Over time, the Ghost Dance spread to the Lakota Sioux at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The US sent federal troops to stop them, against the advice of a former Indian agent who complained
that other religious services, similar services, were not prohibited nor threatened.
Federal troops, on December 15, 1890, opened fire, killing the famous chief, Sitting Bull. Two weeks later, troops killed more than 150 Indians. The Ghost Dance lost its appeal.
The Ghost Dance misread why things were as they were, urged a mystical series of tactics disconnected from any reasonable strategy, and an occult Grand Strategy, popular yet failed for centuries–heaven will wait. They lost, were crushed, by force.
There have been at least five easily recognized Ghost Dances around the world in the last 14 years–and it is more than 100 years later. It appears to me that another one is in the works: the courageous, but headless, Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrating a notable unity of black, brown, and white people, and a recognition of uncaring, or racist, authority, but without a clearer grand strategy--the strategy and tactics will be unhinged.
Ghost Dances: Taken one at a time
1. The first Ghost Dance was, at base, two dances on the same dance floor: the outpouring for war after the superstitious billionaire’s terrorist attack of September 11, 2001—and the subsequent idiot invasion of Afghanistan–a war in response to a crime.
The flip side of that dance were the mass US demonstrations against the war on Iraq–carefully steered by the Communist Party USA and its front, United for Peace and Justice, away from any analysis of capitalism, imperialism and the rise of the corporate state: fascism.
Today, those who so favored the wars are exhausted by war–perhaps surprised and disheartened that war is hell--and unwilling to fully probe into Syria or the Ukraine, even knowing their over-stretched empire evaporates beneath their feet.
The anti-war side now barely exists. It has no notable numbers, and thanks to the CPUSA and UFPJ, few learned anything of import from their opportunist activities.
The CPUSA illustrates the kind of opportunism that sacrifices the needs and goals of real friends and allies for petty advantages about second tier issues.
Metaphorically, it is to seek to address separate parts of the organic capitalist machine, hoping this will weaken its development–which in this social situation in particular is an illusion. It’s to build on sand. The CPUSA is the leafleting wing of the Democratic Party.
Opportunists may arrive with numbers of people in their base—who know nothing truly important. Those people will be fickle at heart. Lots of people over time becomes few people, most of them vapid.
Sectarians, on the other hand, arrive with no people. Sectarians and opportunists produce, at base, very similar results.
This marriage of opportunism and sectarianism adds up to a form of liberalism that paves the way for fascism: again, the current corporate state. It’s a re-run of the Second International, but dumber.
I believe it became more than reasonable to describe the US as a fascist empire when two elements combined: The declaration of perpetual war under crusader banners in 2001 and the bank and industrial bailouts of 2008. Wars could have been ended, but now neither can be reversed. The imperfect combination of corporations, government, and militarism is complete.
Liberals seek to moderate capitalism by empowering a government that is not an ally, nor potential ally, but an enemy; the executive committee and armed weapon of the rich.
Al Szymanski, more than 35 years ago, described the duties of what is, in fact, monopoly-finance capitalism with a pretense of democratic statehood: a corporate state (bank bailouts, the takeover of the auto industry, endless war-add it up):
1. To guarantee the accumulation of capital and profit maximization and make it legitimate.
2. Preserve, form, and temper, capitalist class rule.
3. Raise money to fund the state.
4. Guarantee and regulate the labor force.
5. Facilitate commerce.
6. Ensure buying power in the economy.
7. Directly and indirectly subsidize private corporations.
8. State sanction of self-regulation of corporations.
9. Advance the overseas interests of corporations.13
Democracy does not command capital. Democracy submits, atomizes voters to individuals huddled in ballot booths asking capital's favorite question: What about Me?
Opportunism denies, or hides from the mass of people, Lenin’s thought, following Marx and Engels, that government is an armed force designed to protect the interests of one class against another. The state exists as a demonstration that irreconcilable class antagonisms exist.
Liberal opportunists want capitalism and empire, without their underpinnings in robbed labor and wars.
Rather than a bad social system–capitalism in decay–they identify bad people and ratify evil by choosing its lessers time and again, most recently the demagogue, Obama.
There are no significant differences between Republicans and Democrats on the most fundamental issues in the US: endless war and the militarization of all life; bailouts (finalizing the move to fascism); deportations; greater reliance on deception and force; racist segregation, especially private property; and greater regimentation of schooling. Of course, they’re all nationalists.
Sectarianism and opportunism combine to form the fatalistic belief that the world, matter, will surely change in ways we desire. Both finally limit or deny the significance of fully reflective human agency–grasping and changing–upending– the world at its political and economic roots.
We have seen these mis-estimations quickly turn into the opposites of their civic claims far too often.
For the philosophically minded, left Hegelianism, sectarianism, and right Hegelianism, opportunism, change happens along a line of accumulated, predictable, nearly inevitable, ingredients or change happens because we wish it so. Both reality and/or change are constructs of the mind, usually the Mind in charge. Meet the new tyrant, same as the old tyrant.14
The resolution of this is a deep probe into the intersections of mind and matter, in the construction of everyday life, in using critical–marxist–theory to make the reproductive veils of capital transparent, and to grasp what useful elements of the future are built into the present–and to look into the future.
2. The second Ghost Dance, the massive outpouring for immigrant rights that involved more than a million people marching on Mayday, 2006--perhaps the biggest one day strike in US history--was quickly demolished by flag waving nationalism, religion, Democrats, and unionites and later, Obama.
3. The third was Occupy Wall Street, a mindless yet heady adventure that claimed no Grand Strategy (distant goals like a world of sharing and freedom: communism), no strategy-meaning the strategy became the dumbest low denominator of whoever shouted loudest in the “people’s” mike-and no leaders when the leaders were easily spotted by the police, and pretended that it occupied something when it was always swept away with ease.
OWS was destroyed by unionites, Dems (hand in hand) and some carrots (ballots) and Obama led, coordinated, police violence.
4. The fourth Ghost Dance was the anti-tuition fight led by students–segregated by, mainly, class– primarily in California and New York state, but scattered all over the country (note that with minor variations, each Ghost Dance grows smaller). That was again destroyed by unionites, Democrats, and a little state violence.
The key error of this Dance was the student leaders’ failure to recognize the fact that capitalist education has never been public. Their demand, duplicated before and after their actions, “Defend Public Education,” was a call to defend the systematically segregated, stupifying, mis-education of what is now a corporate state. A similar error is made by the demand to “Stop Privatization.”
Inherent in "Save Public Schools" is the nationalist view that we all share a common goal to educate all kids in a democratic society. That's never been the case. It is, though, a good way to make a war popular.
In 1900, in “Reform or Revolution,” Rosa Luxemburg warned about this move: “the gradual reduction of capitalist exploitation (in our case, in school cost increases) and the extension of social control (the schools of the capitalist state).15
Following this common-place unionite logic: “let us return to the halcyon days of truly public education”–which never existed.
From the other angle, it again means “Defend the Corporate State,” the merger of business, the military, and government (that’s how the money moves)–in creating schools as illusion mills and
human munition factories–capitalist education.
A second anti-tuition hike error was the failure to merge the leadership from segregated systems like the University of California (the “race horse system” per a former Chancellor, Charlie Reed,) and the “work horse system” of the California State Universities, and the “Holding pens” of the Community Colleges. It was easy to see who was doing most of the “leading,” and talking, in the coordinating meetings–UC students, who had the least to lose.
5. And now, the fifth Ghost Dance as the resistance decays even more, we see the spurious school “test resistance” movement led by the likes of the vacillating reactionary (and probably police agent) Diane Ravitch, AFT president Randi Weingarten, and NEA boss, Lily Eskelsen. Ravitch is a god-blessing patriot in her own words.16
Ravitch is now joined by the unionite tops who helped write the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), the Race to the Top (Ratt), and the Common Core (CC), like the $465,000 a year NEA boss Dennis van Roekel and his successor, Lily Eskelsen-Garcia. They want the CC and tests repaired, as do all those liberal grouplets (Fairtest, on the payroll of the National Education Association, and Rethinking Schools, come to mind) who refuse to critique the source of the necessity of greater regimentation of the curriculum (always regimented by textbooks)-the wellspring being capitalism in crisis and an empire evaporating.
Together, they form the three Mother Superiors of the missions for captialism. They all live very well–off others.
They (as well as the teacher union rank and file) want less testing (warned for a decade, school workers finally caught on to the logical step of merit pay-the most grotesque opportunism). They also insist they want to “defend public schools,” which really means– “save my job-I already proved I will conduct child abuse (racist high-stakes exams) to keep it”– when (again) capitalist schooling has never been public but always segregated by class and race.
The duplicity of NEA’s leadership became glaringly clear when the NEA representative assembly of 2014, 9,000-plus members gathered in Denver, voted by a wide margin to demand the resignation of Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan.
Days later, Eskelsen-Garcia, new NEA president, met with Duncan, hugged him, and called him, “a good man.”
Duncan remains on the job.
That second-tier demand, “Save Public Schools,” worships an apparition. It’s the kind of liberalism that aspires to a new master.
It also ignores the unpleasant fact that the education agenda is a war agenda: class war and
To carry the personifications of war a bit futher: General William H. McRaven, former head of the terrorist Joint Security Operations Command (at base, an huge assassination squad that helped lose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq) is now the head of the University of Texas system.
Janet Napolitano, former immigration boss under the demagogue, Obama–the woman who made her cred off nationalism and racism–is now the boss of the University of California System.
And General Petraeus, failed general who wrote the half-witted “US CounterInsurgency Manual,” (done better 2000 years earlier by Sun Tzu in “Art of War”) and disgraced CIA top who turned over top-secret material to his paramour and was fired, prosecuted, and wrist-slapped, is now teaching at City University of New York.
Wherever We Go, We have Got
The Maxim Gun, and they have not.17
In the midst of World War I, a general demanded that the schools become "human munition factories." That capitalist schools serve a capitalist state is key to grasping the war project at hand.18
Recently the Council of Foreign Relations, led by war-hawk Condoleeza Rice ("We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,") issued its Education Task Force Report, demonstrating in clear terms that the education agenda is a war agenda.
"Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America's security. Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy."19
Harry Magdoff spelled out what should be an obvious connection years ago: “Economic theory and analysis which omit imperialism and militarism from their underlying paradigm are far removed from the reality of today’s world.”20
Imperialist war is a reality that Rouge Forum members pointed to even before 2001. In 1999 we wrote, “If you are teaching middle school children, you are teaching the soldiers in the next oil war.” We had no crystal ball, just an understanding of the necessary relationship of imperialism and war. Better than “Defend Public Education” is “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes.”
What will come of this last and smallest Ghost Dance so far?
They will lose, just like their predecessors (and the 19th century tragedy that gave rise to the term).
Even if they win; they lose. Capitalist schooling can easily appropriate John Dewey or Paulo Freire. Freire’s method, ostensibly created to oppose “banking education,” is used by banks’ training programs.
The people the reformers misled will learn nothing significant about grand strategy, strategy, tactics, nor even the most rudimentary methods of doing criticism. The last dullard to help lead the test resistance crowd, part of which is now claiming the “Patriotic” banner, derisively called the Common Core “socialistic” (not National Socialism).
Another Ghost Dance is picking up partners inside the teacher unions, the suburban and whiter NEA, and the urban American Federation of Teachers.
A self described “radical,” Alex Caputo Peal, recently won election in the second largest local in the US, Los Angeles.
In Detroit, a long-time teacher, Steve Conn, a member of By Any Means Necessary, a front for the Trotskyist Revolutionary Workers League, finally won the Detroit Federation of Teachers’ presidency, after more than five attempts. Conn courageously led the Detroit teachers’ wildcat strike of 1999, but was repeatedly cheated out of leadership positions for the remaining years.21
In a DFT recount vote, Conn won election by four ballots, 621 to 617 with about one quarter of the members voting. Conn may find himself sandbagged by a dedicated, entirely reactionary, opposition and an apathetic, despairing rank and file, accustomed only to defeat. Conn is probably the most outspoken of the new electees. We shall see how he overcomes the countless obstacles he, and the people of Detroit, face. In September, 2015 Conn was impeached, having served less than 8 months, much of that during summer vacation. He lost an internal union trial.
In the Chicago Teachers Union, a moderate posing as a radical, Karen Lewis, won election against the past notorious sellout caucus.
Lewis led a brief strike, then urged the teachers to return to work under what she posed as a good contract, a victory.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel, an Obama foot-soldier, laid off hundreds of teachers subsequently, with a good deal of noise, but no direct action, from the Chicago Teachers Union, an AFT affiliate. Now, Lewis’ health forced her to step away from her position which today is held by Jesse Sharkey, a member if the International Socialists, another Trotskyist sect.
Sharkey led CTU’s drive to back Chuy Garcia against incumbent Emanuel in a mayoral election. Garcia is a long-time Democratic Party functionary. Less than 35% of Chicagoans voted.
Nevertheless, Sharkey and the CTU helped Garcia win enough votes to cause a run-off. Sharkey declared that Garcia would win, “changing Chicago politics forever,” a fancy: win or lose. Chuy
In Milwaukee, Bob Peterson, a key leader of Rethinking Schools, closely tied to the Democratic Socialists of America, is now the president of his union.
All of these “radicals,” have everything in common with the past Ghost Dances:
*No critique of capitalism and imperialism in their organizing or publications,
*No analysis of the capitalist state, now a fascist corporate state, in favor of “our democracy,”
*A second tier analysis of the roles of racism and sexism–the former a creation of the development of capitalism and the latter a century’s old remnant, still powerful within capital,
*No open declaration of class war or opposition to imperialist war from their official union positions (and in DSA, none at all),
*”..addressing only the distinct, separate parts of a lifeless machine,” artificially isolated “facts” that are truly part of a totalizing process,
*assuredly, no critique of religion, superstition, which plays a significant role in the world’s many, endless, wars,
*All these struggles are designed to remain within parameters set by capital and empire, so any victory, temporary as it may be, is theirs,
*Hence, support for the system of capital and its decaying U.S. empire–convincing people fundamental change is impossible.
While some may openly be members of “socialist” sects, and others may be not so openly aligned, they all behave as nationalist liberals–or social nationalists.
This decision to address the reform-or-revolution contradiction by obliterating any knowledge of capitalism, imperialism, or the corporate state, follows the same path that those who, in the US and much of the UK walk when they denounce “neo-liberalism.” They seek to return to those better days of capitalism–in schools for example–when schools were not segregated by class and race, didn’t teach lies to children using methods so obscure kids learned not to like to learn. Those would be days when alienation, exploitation, commodity fetishism, reificationn and imperialism had only the smallest impact, if any, on schools–days which never existed.
Rather, the more vocal of the anti-neo-liberalists want to, again, empower a corporate state. They seek to creat more flies to dance on te spider’s web. Or, philosophically, they abolish the negation of the bourgeoisie negation. Notably, Stalin who had a similar interest in preserving a corporate state in the Soviet Union also abolished the negation of the negation in Soviet philosophy in 1938, the same year he declared the end of class struggle in the country, one maneuver buttressing the other.22
Bob Peterson is probably not the most radical of this group of opportunists, but his reach, via Rethinking Schools, is wide. Indeed, he publishes in what many call the “Voice of US intelligence,” the Washington Post.
For that reason, and the fact that the others’ public positions so closely parallel his, I will use his Washington Post piece as an example.23
In his piece, Peterson argues that teacher unions are under attack. While he focuses on the Republican assault that eliminated what I would call forced dues collection, and what Peterson
calls “collective bargaining,” that originated with a (popular) governor and legislature, he does note that Democrats have joined the fray as well.
Peterson believes a “new” (he knows his history better) kind of “social justice unionism” can revitalize the teacher unions and communities as well.
His description of social justice unionism:
“Three components of social justice unionism are like the legs of a stool. Unions need all three to be balanced and strong:
We organize around bread and butter issues.
We organize around teaching and learning issues to reclaim our profession and our classrooms.
We organize for social justice in our community and in our curriculum.”
Peterson proposes that tactical work through coalitions with parents and related community groups, a la Chicago, is key to their efforts. Among his coalition partners are the usual suspects: NAACP, ACLU, Parents For Public (sic) Schools, and others.
Peterson wants to enhance teacher “Professionalism.”24
To beat this dead horse to death, again: Teaching was never a profession; school workers don’t set their hours, wages, methods of work, the curriculum, and now not the tests. It’s a working class job–professionalism is an elitist dodge that allows, for example, principals to demand teachers buy supplies, work hundreds of unpaid hours, etc. and see themselves as educated superiors to blue collar workers–the allies they need most.
In this, Peterson managed to get his “union,” to train teachers on the districts, “student learning outcomes” a move well within the management box.
He’s proud of the union’s burgeoning electoral efforts, despite the fact that this was the key union which sought to recall Governor Scott Walker, and lost, positioning Walker today as a presidential candidate. Rather than a state-wide strike, actions similar to what gave birth to the distorted baby, collective bargaining, unionites in Wisconsin empowered their enemies.
Peterson wants to fight “privatization,” a second or third level issue, and on those grounds, he fears what amounts to fighting back too hard, speaking out of turn.
“ ...speaking out can play into the hands of the privatizers as they seek to expand privately run charters...”
The only mention of a strike is historical, about Chicago–not something that would be openly planned in Milwaukee–when it was only strikes, most of them illegal, that won the earliest rights to collective bargaining.
Not surprisingly, Peterson never gets to exactly what his hobby horse of “Social Justice,” is. And it is unsurprising that the Washington Post so easily carried his work.
It is impossible for any knowledgeable radical, set aside a revolutionary, to read this series of what are in fact but tactics, never really reaching into the respectability of a simple strike strategy, and not think, perhaps stridently, “petty bourgeoisie opportunism with a middle class core.” In this sense, per Marx, he’s both a reactionary and a utopian.
While many honest and relatively innocent people involved themselves in these Ghost Dances, it remains that each has been led by people in leftist groups who deliberately reject the notion of simply telling people about the easily seen realities of class war and failing empires.
The ruling classes see it and worry about the relationship of inequality and uprisings. See their writing at about the crises of inequality and the potential of class-consciousness in, for example, the Council on Foreign Relations. Even the French worry about inequality on behalf of Americans: Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century,” which unfortunately ends with a request for the rich to give up their riches.
At base, part of the imitation left lies to people in order to trick them into revolution: to appropriate one favorite Trotskyist term, “putting people in motion,” which will somehow make them smart.
The lies come from two poles–hiding the reality of capitalism’s failures and at the other end, the fact that any kind of social change will cause a great deal of suffering and destruction. Things will not get better fast after a revolution. Indeed, for some time they will get worse.
Perhaps this “left” wants to imitate the Bolsheviks who famously gave the bourgeoisie the rope to hang themselves with; then moved to power when the bourgeoisie couldn’t rule.. But then came the Bolshevik failure in quickly restoring capitalism with a purportedly benevolent party at the top, Bolshevism: tricked by the bourgeoisie within its own midst.
The phony US left did all it could to prevent the rise of a mass, class conscious movement. Hence, the importance of ideas–and the ideological battle.
On one hand, what defeats men with guns? On the other hand, what easily understood singular belief holds together a movement that must suffer to win a better world?
That is likely to be the only worthwhile lesson of the Arab Spring.
That is why the ideological battle is important.
The core idea? Equality–true in science and society.
What does the fake left dodge?
*The reality of the domination of capitalism and imperialism, as we have seen.
Per Rosa Luxemburg:
"...capital in its struggle against societies with a natural economy pursues the following ends: 1. To gain immediate possession of important sources of productive forces such as land, game in primeval forests, minerals, precious stones and ores, products of exotic flora such as rubber, etc. 2. To `liberate' labour power and to coerce it into service. 3. To introduce a commodity economy. 4. To separate trade and agriculture.”25
Everywhere in the world now, children of the poor kill other children of the poor on behalf of the rich in their homelands.
Militarism invades every aspect of life in the US. Empire come to ensnarl everything, as William Appleman Williams put it: “Empire as a Way of Life.” He also warned it will inevitably lead to nuclear death.26
The US military budget, if we take it at face value (and we won’t) at about $640 million in 2014 takes up about 55% of the total budget while education gets about 6%. It is more than the combined military spending of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia (yes, third), France, United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, France and India.27
The real military, “defense,” budget is now well over the one trillion dollars that Chalmers Johnson described as far back as 2008. Much of that budget is secret–black?
The 2014 “Quadrennial Defense Review,” issued by the Secretary of Defense, describes three pillars of empire:
“* Protect the homeland, to deter and defeat attacks on the United States and to support civil authorities in mitigating the effects of potential attacks and natural disasters.
*Build security globally, in order to preserve regional stability, deter adversaries, support allies and partners, and cooperate with others to address common security challenges.
*Project power and win decisively, to defeat aggression, disrupt and destroy terrorist networks, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. ...
These pillars are mutually reinforcing and interdependent, and all of the military Services play important roles in each. Our nuclear deterrent is the ultimate protection against a nuclear attack on the United States, and through extended deterrence...”28
Empire is temptation. War means work: jobs.
College and university campus are littered with military recruiters, intelligence agencies, high-tech operations that build, for example, drones. High schools and community colleges in poor and working class areas are awash with militarist hustlers in uniform distributing materials and in the classroom teaching–patriotic veterans. Now, the military poses its mission as "a job, not an adventure," as it moves to recruit women for combat because American men are too uneducated, too addicted, too convicted, and too unfit to fill the numbers needed for cannon fodder.
The deadening, “Thank you for your service,” is routinely offered to strangers in uniform. And, to beat an already dead horse, “American Sniper,” rules the culture along with baseball played in camouflage, football games with flyovers. I frequently meet educated Americans, like my Kaiser doctor, who are surprised Guantanamo is still open and reject the claims made in the brilliant and tragically funny, “Guantanamo Diary.”29
Paraphrasing Chalmers Johnson: “History is so eradicated that Americans cannot connect cause and effect.”
Today, monopolized finance capital dominates industrial capital in the US. It has for 100 years. Now, however, that domination is full-blown and especially poisonous.
Evidence: Finance capital won $12.9 trillion in the 2008-09 bailouts while industrial capital only stole about $700 billion. We’ll repeat this below, for emphasis.
One implication of this overwhelming rule of finance capital was witnessed by the billionairess Lady Astor who said (paraphrasing) “We the wealthy once looked ahead 50, even 100 years. We built industry, commerce, productive fields. We worried about the poor. Today, the newly rich just run higgidly piggidly after the nearest dollar.” Or, “after me, the deluge.”30
The recent, “Flashboys, A Wall Street Revolt,” demonstrates not only the domination of finance capital, but also shows the rush for the nearest penny, in nano-seconds, the class nature and corruption of the rigged stock exchange, and the players’ utter lack of interest in the long term, a psychological issue addressed soon on these pages.31
From time to time, greed vastly outweighs ruling class patriotism, though they know well they hide behind the national military–everywhere.
Take for example, Jamie Dimon of what was J.P Morgan and is now J.P Morgan Chase (big fish eat little fish).
In the fall of 2008, when the US’ bankers faced a watershed crisis, the collapse of the US banking system and, most likely, the world economic system; to be predictably followed by mass riots and social unrest, Hank Paulson, then head of the Treasury, approached Dimon for assistance in a bailout.
Dimon: “Hank, I would do anything for the United States, but not at the expense of JP Morgan.”32
Dimon and his cohort, white men meeting on a weekend, in secret, did win the bailout battle. There were quid pro quos.
They promised to allow for more regulation of the banks, to carefully supervise loans but to offer them to the deserving, and to stop the rampant greed made too obvious in the multi-million dollar bonuses they received in the past.
At this writing, the bankers have defeated the regulations, they are not offering loans to many solvent people but the student debt crisis is rising–more than one trillion dollars. And, in 2013, Dimon got a 70% raise to $20 million.33
With monopoly finance capital ruling the corporate state, short term views, the absence of grand strategy, combine to devastate the nation’s cities, its infrastructure, international imperial politics, and, horrifically, the world climate itself. 34
“In its pure form, fascism is the sum total of all irrational reactions of the average human character. To the narrow-minded sociologist who lacks the courage to recognize the enormous role played by the irrational in human history, the fascist race theory appears as nothing but an imperialistic interest or even a mere “prejudice.” The violence and the ubiquity of these “race prejudices” show their origin from the irrational part of the human character. The race theory is not a creation of fascism. No: fascism is a creation of race hatred and its politically organized expression. Correspondingly, there is a German, Italian, Spanish, Anglo-Saxon, Jewish and Arabian fascism.” (Wilhem Reich, Mass Psychology of Fascism).35
Another element of fascism is secrecy, on the one hand, and mass surveillance on the other. Liberal author and former New York Times reporter, James Risen, describes this pervasive reality in the US in “Pay Any Price; Greed, Power, and Endless War.” 36
In regard to secrecy and surveillance, Risen notes the New York Times’ suppression of his own work on the National Security Agency’s constant intrusions into the email and web traffic of both Americans and foreigners–the latter illegal on the face of it, but constant never the less–a fact later revealed by Edward Snowden.
Risen concludes: “In 2009, I realized...that the war on terror had become a bi-partisan enterprise. America was now locked into an endless war and its perverse and unintended (sic) consequences were spreading.”
Fascism is now a popular mass movement in the US and much of the world, taking on somewhat different forms, but in essence largely the same. Witlessly supported, passively or actively backed; that is what is.
The US is a consumerist, not industrialist, society, the result of imperialist out-sourcing and finance capital in stagnation, fashioning gargantuan debt. Between two-thirds and three-fourths of the economy is rooted in consumption.
This is not a post-Fordist argument. Fordism (an extreme division of labor, aggregative industrial production, standardization of parts and methods of production, interchangeability, Taylorism, a mass of overseers o all forms of work and life, etc.) exists world-wide; many aspects appearing in US schools.37
Industrial production shifted; did not disappear. Hence, the post-modernist turn, really the whining of the vanishing middle class intelligencia, is not mine. Culture nests in an economic base, a whole that cannot be ignored.
The mass psychological impact of this material reality, hinted above, is this: Industrial society is easily seen as a class war, not as easily recognized as a form of exploitation as slavery, but in the late 18th century, class war was widely admitted.
The obvious, conscious, solidarity of factory work: everyone must join together to create a product and, to control the processes and products of that creation, even to a degree, it’s necessary to act in solidarity–an injury to one preceding an injury to all or, in the case of a strike–“don’t scab!"
Consumerist mass psychology, however, is different. It’s truly a war of all on all. “I wish to offer you as little as possible for your product,” and vice versa. It may be the highpoint of human alienation.
A consumerist society, which must involve the individualistic thrust to the front, is an even more narcissistic society than what Drs Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell noted in “The Narcissism Epidemic,” and was played out in the “Too Big To Fail,” Wall Street inverted laissez faire greed-festival before and after the collapse of 2008.38
While class consciousness, or its absence, is not solely located in an economic base, in this case a consumer society, that undergirding reality has to be a consideration to explain this “Great Derangement.”
Consumerism is, assuredly, contradicted by booming inequality and a huge underclass. The poor can only buy so much, especially with a color-coded two million of them in prison.
In the ruling class, married to the governing class, a top-down ad hoc, make-shift, set of moment to moment tactics with plenty of pyrotechnics and little grand strategy and in the remainder of the
people, a “what about me at this moment,” mass population especially susceptible to spectacles, despair, and manufactured panics.
Mix in the formidable displays of police violence against protestors from Oakland, California, to Ferguson, Missouri–ruthless ferocity to be seen by all, tweeted, youtubed, Facebooked, and televised, probably to not too much consternation of the authorities.
In school, however, an overblown culture of fear exists.
In 2009, Susan Harman, a former school principal, and Robert Apter, Marxist scholar and retired union organizer, and I visited nearly every county in California, meeting with hundreds of school workers, parents, school board members, and community personnel. Our overarching conclusion is that the primary affect of schooling is fear, the result of increasing authoritarianism in most aspects of school life.
Nevertheless, Apter and I came to believe that much of that fear is, in fact, an overestimation of the power of school bureaucrats and a lack of courage to act.
Fear, in schools and out, has a material footing in the economy. Massive debt, calculating competition for low-wage jobs, widely televised police violence against non-violent innocents, all add up, but in most instances the worst-case scenario in schools is dismissal. Who, of any weighty consequence, has never been fired and/or jailed?
All of this begins to sum up to be a significant part of why people of the US are so easily led into, and out of, Ghost dances.
*The rise of corporate states, fascism, in varying forms worldwide.
R. Palme Dutt: “Fascism is an inevitable result of capitalism and its decay if the social revolution is delayed.. "Fascism is the logical result of the fact that the form of private ownership of the means of production can progress no further and must create violent crises, stagnation, and decay. Only the social organization of production can sanely organize production, and this can only come through social revolution.
"The world available for capitalist exploitation now contracts. Fascism is a further stage of capital in crisis. A massive world army of unemployed people grows, and as this world crisis grows, so does the need of bosses to lower the costs of production. There are but two alternatives, social revolution or destruction. The class struggle now intensifies. .” (paraphrased from “Fascism and Social Revolution).39
Here we will need, for brevity’s sake, to use a footnote for the more critical reader to enter into an expansion of precisely what fascism is, where it originates, who it serves, its backers, and hence, how to fight it and why.
*The Quisling role of the “labor movement,” as partners of the unified parties of capital, that is, the war parties. No significant labor boss in the US will state that employers and workers have contradictory interests. More, they are all steeped in nationalism and the practices of empire.40
This became glaringly clear in the National Education Association’s Representative Assembly of 2010, about 10,000 mostly rank and file practicing school workers, voted “not to discuss,” the wars as it might disturb the feelings of the attendees. This wasn’t an orchestrated parliamentary trick, it was the raised hands of more than 90% of the room. In 2011, the NEA voted to endorse Obama, despite his Race to the Top attacks on school workers and the wars that were destroying so many recent graduates.
That school workers are among the last in the US to have fairly decent wages, health benefits, some forms of tenure like “just cause,” and pensions, is indicative of the empire’s bribe. It creates what Marx and Engels called the “labor aristocracy.”
Engels wrote, “Participation in the world market was and is the economic basis of the English working class’ nullity.” He wasn’t just pointing to labor “leaders.”41
Lenin on the empire’s payoff to its junior partners:
“The receipt of high monopoly profits by the capitalists in one of the numerous branches of industry, in one of the numerous countries, etc., makes it economically possible for them to bribe certain sections of the workers, and for a time a fairly considerable minority of them, and win them to the side of the bourgeoisie of a given industry or given nation against all the others. The intensification of antagonisms between imperialist nations for the division of the world increases this urge. And so there is created that bond between imperialism and opportunism, which revealed itself first and most clearly in Great Britain, owing to the fact that certain features of imperialist development were observable there much earlier than in other countries. Some writers, L. Martov, for example, are prone to wave aside the connection between imperialism and opportunism in the working-class movement...”42
*The powerful remnants of mysticism (42% of Americans are creationists, others believe God created evolution). 43
The pretend-left is as afraid to say, “People make gods, gods don’t make people. Believe that and you will believe anything. You have fairies dancing in your head,” as the US is unwilling to say the same thing to the Taliban, Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qada, IS, Opus Dei and Israel.
No gods/no masters is the only possible response to religious barbarism. Otherwise, it is “My
God can beat up your god,” and endless religious wars: an element of today’s educated barbarians at much of the top of the US, and the Middle East, and the world.
*Nationalism, the curse of the last 2 ½ centuries. A geographical accident of births unites the slaves with the masters, often in the name of freedom. “You’re not a slave! You’re free! Your problem is the slaves of the Master over there! Kill them!”44
*The necessity of revolution and the suffering that any revolution will make, victorious or not, for some time. The failure to take on the "whole" of society, described in brief above, means movements typically lack grand strategy (an equitable just society of free people living in harmony), strategy (revolution taking place in different forms in different times in different areas), and tactics (strikes, demonstrations, propaganda, etc).
This leaves the initiative solely in the hand of capital, as the “left” chases its symptoms and false flag creations.
This means movements flail at shifting effects of capitalism, effects frequently manipulated by elites (Occupy Wall Street, union elections, educational testing opt-outs, etc).
As they leap from second tier mission to second tier mission, they also adopt utopian solutions (save “our” schools and let them return to the pristine days of the past) with no inkling of how to get from the compartmentalized and partial here, to there.
Who are other fake left's personifications?
*The various farcical political parties of the US, tracking back to the USSR’s hand-maiden CPUSA (Code Pink, UFPJ, etc), and the Trotskyist (International Socialists-Chicago Teachers Union, Labor Notes, etc) and the police infested parties like the Democratic Socialists of America (Billy Ayers, Deborah Meir, Rethinking Schools, etc).45
Meier and Ayers (once a liberal Weatherman terrorist who sought to replace class consciousness with a bomb, now a grant sucking liberal) joined to forge the farcical "Small School" movement which pretended that shrinking schools would solve key educational problems (Note that few if any rich suburban schools shrank). The effort has, today, failed, proving Jean Anyon's mantra: "Doing school reform without social and economic reform in communities is like washing the air on one side of a screen door. It won't work." It didn't work for the schools but it did help make Ayers and Meier richer. Whether they are stupid or dishonest is left to the reader.46
*Those mis-leaders of Rethinking Schools who promote bogus reforms, deliberately quashing radical critique. They toady to union bosses like Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the union which helped organize the decay of urban education (and player in the CIA sponsored National Endowment for Democracy, Meany Center, and others-and NEA's Van Roekel.)
The Rethinkers spiraled down after their early publication, “Rethinking Columbus,” and, wittingly, describe their denial of class war, capitalism, fascism, and empire, as, in their leaders' words, "strategic positioning."
*Freire Iconicizers–the little publishing industry around the work of a self declared “Catholic Marxist.” Freire rarely missed a mass. Preposterous. Freire worked for the National Council of Churches, in Geneva. Not bad. Yet he complained and complained of exile. He plagiarized much of his key work (note Critical Consciousness is not class consciousness) from the leader of Catholic base communities, Dom Halder Camara. He begged, far too much, not to be praised, while deluged with praise. He was a revolutionary wherever he wasn’t, and a liberal reformer wherever he was. He worked, at the end, for his hero,quasi-Trotskyist Lula, of Brazil, while Lula rushed forward all the forces of capital.47
* Post-postmodernists: It’s religion with an angry cloak which sought to demolish history by disconnecting the past, present, and future as well as to deny, or obscure, the labor theory of value with unintelligible language-pretending language alone is life.
*Outright police agents–Diane Ravitch, all the former presidents of the NEA and AFT, now working with the CIA backed Education International, the inheritor of the old cold war western empires’ unions.48
Leaders from both school unions retire to Education International where their salaries are not disclosed. But NEA's ex-president, Reg Weaver is there. He was paid $686,949 for his last year in office, in a union where many teachers live in house trailers. Former NEA president Mary Hatwood Futrell is at EI. Former NEA president Dennis Van Roekel ($465,000 a year and an expense account he can live on) is there. He joins Ed MCelroy who "serves on the board of directors of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Education International, and ThanksUSA. McElroy is a member of the board of directors for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED)-a private, nonprofit organization created to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts."49
*"Save ‘Our’ Schools," “United Opt Out,” and related anti-testing groups, often funded by the unions, and the Democratic Party. SOS and UOO are little more than middle class opposition to curriculum regimentation and high stakes exams, absence the reasons for these “reforms” in schooling. Indeed, their leadership actively works against class conscious interventions.
*Unionites described above.
*Liberals like Bill Moyers who pretend that capitalist democracy can be democracy.
*Those anarchists who give up on Grand Strategy–Chomsky who wants a world of small, marginally connected communities–clever but not wise.
I seek to challenge the reader, and especially school workers, to describe a revolution, how and why it might happen, to locate strategic objectives (personnel, geo-strategy, etc) and tactics that educators of all levels might adopt to transcend both the opportunist and sectarian errors of the past, and present.
What is it that might solve the mystery of creating a class conscious international social movement that can fashion revolutionary change, and sustain the life of equality in post-revolutionary, hard, times?
What is a Revolution? It’s Reasonable to Teach It.
There are two words in Chinese that describe "revolution."
One is Fanshen (see William Hinton's brilliant book on the Chinese revolution by that title). Fanshen means to dig into and turn over the soil. What is on top is new, but what is below is still there.
The other word means "to withdraw the mandate from heaven." That's a legitimacy crisis: when the people realize the emperor is a mere mortal, no better than others,, has no honor from God, and is indeed, worse, because the ruler has mis-served the people-theft, nepotism, etc.
The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and
general education, in other words it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie.50
Chalmers Johnson (author of the "Nemesis Trilogy") was a CIA asset whose work “On Revolution” is a benchmark for all similar modern studies. Of course, at the time of the writing, Johnson was seeking to oppose revolutions, but he wrote a cookbook.51
"Revolutionary violence must attack the central seat of power. Decentralized violence often leads to reform. Societies are rooted in coercion, forms of violence, applied inequitably in inequitable societies. When hope vanishes, and people are just scavenging for food, revo may be at hand.”
I paraphrase, and quote directly, from Johnson.
"The most important value system in a society is to legitimize the use of force."
Johnson: sources of change:
1. External: world wide communications system, foreign travelers returning, international communist parties, external warfare, etc.
2. Internal: changes of values brought about by intellectual activity, scientific discovery, acceptance of innovations that are not incorporated into "normal" society.
3. Ideology, an alternative value system, plus much more, is key to revolution. In this sense, ideology would mean a program of values, a coherent or at least understandable method of analysis and plans of action: Grand Strategy, strategy, and tactics.
Such an ideology will "supply intellectually and emotionally satisfying explanations of what is wrong with the social system," why, who personifies the prevention of change, promises some methods of suggesting that success of change is possible, some view of a better way to live. Revolutionary ideologies, thus, offer a method of thinking, apply it to criticism of things as they are (the existing social order), produce a culture that shows how things can change, long term goals, and, during a revolutions, these ideologies often shift in order to explain deficiencies within them as social practice tests them.
Revolutionary ideologies are, typically, imminent. That is, they do not argue for postponing change but seek to hasten it. High degrees of generality, or correctness in terms of explanation and practice, means that revolutionary ideologies can spread between and among dissident groups: solidarity grows.
*power deflation, dependence on more and more force.
*loss of authority, use of force seen as illegitimate-lost foreign wars.
*accelerators: events that make armies mutiny, revolutionary leaders decide to move, etc.
In order to retain power, elites must do two things: recognize disequilibrium and move, convincingly, to act on it.
One common method to retain power is to coopt opposition leadership.
This ends the summary of Chalmers Johnson on revolutionary change.
Revolution is an academic field that gets far too little attention.
And, in practice, everything is in place for a dramatic, revolutionary upheaval. But there is no left.
Class Consciousness to Connect Reason to Power
What, after all, is class consciousness?
Per Ron Eyerman, class consciousness is the awareness that one is, “part of a social group that, through common work activity at the same time reproduces a social system and others in it who do not have the same interests regarding that system, and who do not participate in it in the same manner…it is an orientation toward political action…an awareness of others, of those who are similar and those who are different with regard to their long-term interests, and an awareness of the social structure that makes their differences real .”52
Class consciousness implies anti-racism, anti-capitalism, as well as a vision of a better future against which today’s actions can be examined. This is not to simply reduce every question of race, sex, religion, or ethnicity immediately to greed, profits, but it is to say that the war for surplus value has, at the end of the day, decisive influence in setting up all the social relations of capital.
Capital’s schools, racism, nationalism, sexism, and religion all disguise social problems, problems of class, as problems of individual people, competing races/crafts/industries/nations, or fate. That is, capital’s schools and US forms of unionism are designed, above all, to create a veneer of limited knowledge, but to wipe out class consciousness. To date, this is succeeding.
Following Eyerman, class consciousness has been seen as:
(1) a logical and necessary result of the advance of productive forces, that is, when the world is industrialized, people will become class conscious (Kautsky, Stalin),
(2) an awareness of the whole picture of capital, through the daily bitter experiences that capital must offer the working class- and the intervention of an advanced party (Lukacs),
(3) an offering to working people from organized intellectuals and dedicated activists, especially as crises arise (Lenin),
(4) as workers' spontaneous response to their collective, persistent, problems, as work is always alienating (Marty Glaberman),53
And (5) class consciousness has been seen as the natural product of intellectuals produced by the working class itself, organic intellectuals, whose ideas can be more easily accepted, grasped (Gramsci, Freire). None of these formulas has worked well so far, or yet.
Class consciousness, then, is a pedagogical and practical problem that has not been resolved. Its absence plagues the working classes of the world as crises of capitalist inequality, imperialist war, racism, rising irrationalism, international bankruptcies, militarism, etc.-make the current situation especially menacing: urgent.
The crux of the pedagogical issue goes beyond transcending racist alienation and defeating exploitation.
At the heart of the question is the view that people can overcome the Master/Slave relationship, consciously, yet not recreate it at a new level; to forge a new society, a caring community, from the wreckage of the old, to forge reason from unreason.
Justice does demand organization. Organization requires discipline.
That, too, is a problem, a contradictory relationship of taking direction, at bottom obeying orders from those with the broadest view, to paying careful attention to those with specific knowledge of particular circumstances.
In practice, this has meant that those in relatively secret sections of revolutionary organizations, which must exist, have to operate with limited knowledge of all sorts: who is who, what the next steps will be–and they frequently cannot question directions. They must grasp the “whole,” without knowing many of its revolutionary parts.
Lukacs, in “History and Class Consciousness,” locates “imputed consciousness,” among the oppressed as taking corporeal form, bodily form, inside a Marxist party, in his case, the temporarily successful Bolsheviks. That consciousness is then transferred, through various forms of educational efforts, or propaganda, to the exploited.
Perhaps this became, primarily, a one way, top-down, message. It surely did within the CPUSA where many old members remember the main message as: “Do what you’re told.”
Class consciousness must be dialectically pressed on organizers, and from organizers back and forth to masses of people. Organization must be moral, ethical, to win the trust of the masses, and
It would be unwise to offer a prescription that could be applied to every community, detailing the old "what is to be done," question.
But direct action (control of workplaces and communities at key choke points), relentless agitation for class consciousness, and, importantly, close personal ties across all the barriers that capital creates seem key.
It is fair to ask: What has the Rouge Forum done?
We led the initial test resistance with boycotts in the early 1990's, direct action in the “professional organizations” and unions–always pointing to the war agenda that drives capitalist schooling.
We were involved at all levels in the Detroit teachers’ wildcat strike.54
We help fight the RaTT and Common Core–placing them in their social context.
We engage the battle for ideas.
We hope these ideas will defeat men with guns who fight on behalf of a tiny minority of the world’s people.
Capital has united the world via systems of production, exchange, communications, exploration and divided the world by class, race, nation, mysticism, and sexism. It is a social system that has far outlived its usefulness. Indeed, everything Chalmers Johnson described as the backdrop for the possibility of revolutionary change is well in place.
Capital has nothing left to offer masses of people. Even before the NASDAQ collapse, people with three SUV’s began to notice that such good luck was just not fulfilling.
Capital has inverted science, consider the huge scientific advances in weaponry and gas-masking, while 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 office-holders who cloak the breasts on statues. But overcoming the processes of capital is going to require a massive change of mind-an urgent change if we are going to go beyond industrialized slaughter.
Changing minds is the daily life of every school worker. School workers are situated at the centripetal organizing point of North America's de-industrialized life. They do not have to operate the school-to-war pipeline.
Indeed, if they begin to recognize the contradiction between why they think they are in capitalist
schools, and why elites want them there, perhaps those educators can rescue education from the ruling classes-then help to expose the false mandate from heaven that offers dishonest and incompetent leaders legitimacy they do not deserve.
War and more war is inevitable within the systems of capital and empire; as inevitable as the betrayal of the promises of nationalist liberals in socialist garb. If history is any kind of guide, the lessons of the Second International should be enough.55
What we do counts, more than ever. There is no guarantee we will win. But we must. 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 resistance-outfoxing the destruction of reason and wisdom.
The core issue of our times is the rise of color-coded inequality and the real promise of perpetual war met by the potential of mass class-conscious resistance for the clarion call that has driven social movements for centuries:
A single-minded aim: Equality! Revolutionary Equality!
We will not be fed willingly, witlessly, to the Spiders.
Death to the Fascists and…
Up the Rebels!
Good luck to our side.
Rich Gibson is an emeritus professor at San Diego State University and a part-time community college US history professor. He has worked as a pot and pan washer, a ambulance driver, a Ford Rouge iron foundry worker, a classroom teacher, an organizer, arbitration specialist and bargaining agent for the National Education Association and the Director of Organizing for a federal workers’ union. He was a professor of labor relations and history at Wayne State University in Detroit, and a social studies professor at SDSU. With perhaps ten others, he founded what is now the largest local in the UAW–local 6000, state employees, not auto workers. He is saddened, but not surprised, that the local became what it is–just another dues collection machine and protection racket. For seven years, he actively served on the Steering Committee of the Historians Against the War, until they could no longer handle his insistence on the reality of class war and empire in their midst. He’ll run again. He is a co-founder of the Rouge Forum. He can be reached at email@example.com