Friday, September 10, 2010

Provisional Questions Around Organizing

      I vaguely recall Gramsci's self-description of his intellectual process.  He stated that in order to begin working he needed something to respond, an idea to contrast his own with, to disagree with.  Despite my suspicion of the dialectical process that he was so invested in, I often find myself in the same position.  Irritation provides the spark for the creative process, breaking my lethargy, and bringing me to the practice of writing.  The comments in the link above created that impetus.

       Obviously, the broad sentiment of the statement is agreeable to me, but at the same time, it's approach feels all too familiar.  If one were to cut out the specific references to Oscar Grant, 1070, and October 7th, there's no reason that this couldn't have been written at any point in the past thirty to forty years.  Perhaps more significantly, one could interchange those particular references (Grant, the legislation, etc.) with any number of other events, creating a kind of marxist mad-lib template.  We can define the expectations fairly easily, the call for the participants of a variety of different struggles to join together in common cause, the gesture towards an inter-sectional analysis, and the demand that we recognize a common enemy in capitalism.  At the same time, we're left without much information about how to reach a point where can 'unite and fight' against this common enemy.

        The article attempts to gesture towards some of the factors that create the current situation, there's a reference to the economic crisis, the declining economic opportunities of the college educated, and cuts to education and social programs.  These are certainly relevant factors to understand the current situation, but the explanation of why these things are occurring doesn't move very far beyond gesturing toward the vague and malevolent force of "the capitalist system."  Why is the system of public education, which is supposed to play such an important role of indoctrination, being defunded?  Why are the skilled jobs offered to the privileged sector of workers now scarce?  Approaching these questions would demand a different kind of analysis, one that would pose these questions in relation to the neo-liberal regime of accumulation, and its current crisis.  In addition, the crisis in the California system can only be understood within the context of the revisions to the tax system created by Prop 13 in 1978.

      The same points can be made about the analysis of the systems of gender and racial domination provided by the posting, and that analysis lacks even the gesture towards historicity provided by the analysis of the economic system.  The article repeatedly gestures towards the need for a 'holistic' approach, but this 'holism' seems to erase any analysis of why we are in the situation that we are in.  That would demand a more concrete materialist analysis.  The inter-sectional triumvirate, class, race, and gender, would certainly come into the picture, but looking at the university, or public schools, or the prison system would provide a much richer understanding of those systems.  The whole, as Adorno has pointed out to us, is false.

      A criticism could be leveled at me that at this point that I am demanding the impossible out of this article.  After all, the most notable attempt to understand social totality were overwhelmingly large operations, often lasting the lifetimes of their authors.  (Both the incomplete analysis of Capital produced by Marx and Benjamin's incomplete Arcades Project come to mind.)  I would agree to an extent, but an analysis, even a polemical one such as this, should provide some new analysis of why we are here, where the crisis is moving, or how we should act in response to the injustices producing and produced by the crisis.  This material really accomplishes none of these.  From a basic rhetorical perspective, the post neither allows for this analysis to be accessed by new audiences, nor does it contribute to that perspective to those who already accept and understand it.  Perhaps, this wouldn't be so frustrating if I hadn't read it repeatedly over the past seventeen years in my experience as an activist.

     To move out of the process of producing an equally abstract polemical response to an abstract polemic, I want to think through the question of expanding the struggle that the article poses.  The article aptly points to the need for the fight to expand beyond the educational sector.  The article expresses it in the following manner, "We don’t need a budget cut movement confined to defending education. We need a budget cut movement that defends the people while resisting all forms of state violence."  The article makes this concrete through the need to connect the struggle through the particular fights around the murder of Oscar Grant and the attacks on illegal immigration symbolized by, but not limited to the Arizona anti-immigration law.  The question becomes, how do we link those struggles?  I don't think that its an immediately obvious question.

     At this point, the movement is often internally divided, along the very same lines of class, gender, and race discussed in the article.  How can we work through those divisions?  In addition, the movement in the universities have only limited connections to the state college system, and the connection to K-12 is even more tenuous.  We also need to post the question of how to create alliances with those aspects of the educational sector.  The most obvious connection would be with the teacher's unions, but there is a double problem with that alliance, the conservatism of the unions, and the conflicting views of our movement on whether we should ally ourselves with the teachers or the students.  Transforming our movement into a broad movement of workers and students in the public education system is a fairly substantial task in and of itself.

       Moving beyond that, the task becomes more difficult.  The devaluation of education has been institutionalized from the Reagan administration to the present.  The hostility towards funding these institutions is palpable, particularly when one looks at the invariably vicious comments in articles on either University protests or public funding.  The logic of privatization is not simply a logic from above at this point, but it operates on the level of common sense as well.  How do we challenge that logic?  Perhaps, re-establishing the social necessity of public education could be the common project that we take up with K-12 teachers, although I see some difficulty in that route.  As Professor Robert Meister has noted, the university system has largely abandoned the egalitarian function it previously took (although, as I have noted, we shouldn't get to nostalgic for this institution) and now operates as a system for creating inequality.  In order to overcome this, we will need really concrete proposals to make the university a genuinely public institution, which will have implications for enrollment, classes etc.  (yes, this really needs to be worked out in more detail.  I don't have the capacity to do it here.  It needs to be a real collective political project.)

       In addition, I could see potential links that could be formed with other public sector unions in order to defend spending for public resources.  In broader, theoretical terms, we could think about this as a strategy to challenge the privatization of social reproduction.  The ideological implications that the post that originated this response point out the very real ideological function of many of these institutions, but our ability to have an impact on how they work and who they benefit is profoundly stronger than in the brutal dictatorship of the private sector.  Beyond this, I'm not sure.  The linkages with private sector workers becomes increasingly abstract, and at this point, I don't see a meaningful way of connecting to them.  I'd love to hear such a strategy.  Feel free to post up here. Similarly, I'm not sure what can practically be done to support struggles against police violence beyond education and fundraising within the space of the university.

     Finally, you'll notice that nothing that I have proposed here could be called 'revolutionary.'  These are bluntly reformist measures, but they may actually be measures that outstrip our organizing resources and capacities.  There have been very little in the way of attempts to create these alliances.  In addition, many of the institutions involved, viz. the trade unions, are actively hostile towards these sorts of political alliances, particularly with radicals such as ourselves.  The formation of a popular front from below strikes me as even more difficult.  There is real dissent in these structures, but that dissent is fragmented, overwhelmed, and often isolated.  If that is the case, certainly revolution is off the table.  We can only be as radical as reality allows.

No comments:

Post a Comment