Universities all across the world are considered to be the bastions of dissidence and resistance. Their extraordinary capacity to bring about a qualitative transformation in the institutional framework of a particular country is democratically advantageous. The convivial environment of universities is conducive to the cultivation of a critically charged political mindset. The fecundity and imaginative power of this kind of democratic mindset can greatly facilitate the development of society.
The recent attempts to depoliticise universities is extremely disturbing. There are two causal factors behind this attempt to evict universities from the body politic. First, the advent of neoliberal education has necessitated the obliteration of critically conscious universities. In lieu of these universities, new commercialistic institutions are being set up, which, like business barons, want to make money by promoting the sale of commodified knowledge. This commodification of knowledge has very neatly mopped up the complete idea of free education. Earlier, it was incumbent upon the welfare state to properly manage the equitable distribution of education and its ultimate aim in the educational domain was to democratise. But, with the introduction of neoliberal education, the whole concept of a welfare state has been rendered fatuous and anarchic, which can only be recommended by a socialistic cretin. Now everything is dependent on market forces, which act as the ‘magical invisible hand of the market’. This ‘liberalisation of education’ has certainly liberated education from knowledge.
Second, the authoritarian rightwing coloration, which the democracies of the world have acquired, has certainly helped in the comprehensive destruction of public education. The interrelationship between rightwing populism and neoliberalism has been appropriately analyzed in the paper, Neoliberalism and rightwing populism: conceptual analogies, written by Stephan Pühringer and Walter O Ötsch. By reading this, one can comprehend the accelerated pace of destruction of public education.
The depoliticisation of universities is essentially a well-thought-out, despotic strategy to slice off education from politics. A critical and knowledgeable citizen always presents an existential threat to any fascistic regime. Constructive criticism originates from this sense of criticality, with which the educated citizen is equipped. Education inculcates political, social and economic consciousness and this consciousness is a deadly, ruthless tool, which can make conspicuous chinks in the majoritarian edifice. An educated citizen is also a democratic citizen who tries to materialise the constitutional rights which have been conferred upon him/her by the democracy in which he/she is living. Educated citizens also try to establish democratic equilibrium by constantly questioning the ruling dispensation.
In a nutshell, an educated populace initiates the ‘Gramscian ideological war’, in which the continuous disarticulation/rearticulation of the ‘organic ideology’ presented by the governmental machinery as the general worldview results in the debilitation of its ‘consensual hegemony’. The construal of public opprobrium as an ideological war may seem a gratuitous amplification of its magnitude, but in today’s world of ‘informational autocracy’, I think the usage of that term in this context is justified.
In informational autocracies, the efficient manipulation of information serves the utility of carefully constructing the majoritarian consensus, which demagogic populists require to perpetuate their rule. This heavy dependence on informational manipulation accentuates the role of what Louis Althusser called “ideological state apparatuses”. These help in the creation of a “mediated experience of the world”, in which the ubiquity of state power is established through the dissemination of its ideological material. So in an informational autocracy there is the predominance of consensual rule rather than coercive rule.
Due to this consensual rule, the importance of the educated citizens - and the universities which produce them - increases greatly. An effective counter-narrative made by the conscious citizens can easily facilitate mass mobilisations, because the falseness of governmental propaganda is exposed when these conscious citizens make a concerted effort to dissect the propagandist platforms of the government.
The possibility of weakening the authority of the government emanates from the universities, which pedagogically reconfigure the students to teach them the grammar of protests and democracy. So governments all across the world have decided to segregate the educational territory from the democratic fiefdom. An extremely efficient organisational structure has been provided by neoliberal education, through which this complex operation can be carried out. Neoliberal education has done this surgery by rapidly privatising education and gradually transforming it into an elitist privilege.
The universities, in contradistinction to the newfangled neoliberal markets of education, are the only remaining beacons of hope for democracy. Their atmosphere has still not been vitiated by the crassness of consuming knowledge. These universities still have the power to comprehend and question the authoritarian mechanisms. Those studying in these universities try to associate themselves with the socio-cultural complexities of their country. These students have chosen to transcend the vacuous dialogue about jobs and have instead engaged themselves in democratic conversations about their country. The government is hellbent on destroying these creative wellsprings of dissent and discourse.
Andrew Northall makes some very good points about the need for a mass Communist Party with hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of members, which can lead the working class across Europe in a socialist revolution (Letters, January 16).
Meanwhile, the inquest into the Labour’s general election debacle continues and will continue at least until the new leader and deputy leader of the Labour Party are announced on April 4. Labour leadership candidate Lisa Nandy has made some interesting points gained from face-to-face discussion with working class people in and around her Wigan constituency. She has pointed out that, whilst Labour did well in the university cities of the north and west Midlands, including Liverpool, Manchester, York, Newcastle, Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham, in the small to middle-sized towns surrounding these cities, Labour was wiped out. Here many of the young have left and gone to live in the university cities. This has left these small to middle-sized town devoid of young people and composed of elderly, retired working class men who voted ‘leave’ in 2016.
Whilst my hometown of Wisbech in North East Cambridgeshire is not located in the north or west Midlands, it does have similar characteristics to the 52 ‘leave’-voting constituencies which were won by the Tories. Most young people who can go to university, never to return to Wisbech, apart from when they visit relatives. Those young people who don’t leave Wisbech are usually in receipt of disability or sickness benefit, the employment and support allowance. Many of these young people smoke cannabis and are petty dealers of the drug.
Whilst Wisbech is only 40 miles north of the ‘booming’ university city of Cambridge, it could be on a different planet. Wisbech is part of the North East Cambridgeshire constituency of Tory Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay. In December his majority increased and his vote topped 38,000, with Labour coming a poor second with 8,000 votes, the Lib Dems third with 4,000 and the Greens on 1,850.
At the same time, the Labour Party in North East Cambridgeshire, just like in the small to middle-sized towns of the north and west Midlands, is almost dead. The few activists in North East Cambridgeshire Labour Party are some of the worst kinds of middle class liberals who commute each weekday to well-paid jobs in Cambridge.
The only bright spots in North East Cambridgeshire are the Unite Community branch and Wisbech, March and District Trades Council. Both organisations, of which I am a member, are involved in various campaigns, including anti-racism, and universal credit, and support for the local food banks and the homeless, and have a joint stall once a month at the weekly Job Club. We also plan to leaflet the local McDonald’s amongst many other workplaces.
Whilst the Unite Community branch and trades council don’t have the manpower and womanpower of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or the resources to organise breakfast clubs like the Black Panther Party did in 1960s USA, we do have an effect far greater than our numbers, including a good rapport with the editors of the Fenland Citizen and the Wisbech Standard/Cambs Times, and often have reports of activities printed in those papers.
Leadership candidate Sir Keir Starmer has emphasised the need for Labour to be do something to end homelessness, including those living rough and the hidden homeless living in bed and breakfasts or hostels and those sofa-surfing. This is something the Unite Community branch and trades council are campaigning on, with pressure being put on Fenland District Council, especially when its ‘local authority trading company’ is launched this April.
Socialist activists should take every opportunity to get involved with their local Unite Community branch and their local trades council. The fightback against the Tories will start in the workplaces and on the streets. Unite Community and the trades councils will play a crucial role here.
On the streets?
Andrew Northall says that the whole of the left, whatever that might be, “bet the entire farm on a Corbyn victory”. I joined the Labour Party, from no party, to vote for Corbyn in the leadership election, but I don’t know why that would be betting any farm at all (Letters December 19 2019). So he, and the Labour Party, lost the election - so what? That’s hardly the end of the world, or the struggle.
Most socialists I know, in and out of the party (Labour, that is) are disappointed, but not lying on the ground in tears. Yes, it is a “bourgeois workers’ party”, but that is no reason to just ignore it. Labour still got over 10 million votes and still has over half a million members - that’s more people than you will find on the average “street”.
Turning “to work … on the streets”, this for some reason reminded me of the Mothers of Invention lyric: “Gotta do a few things to make my life complete. I gotta live my life out on the street.” Coincidently this was released around the same time that I used to be demonstrating “on the streets” myself - over Vietnam, South Africa, Ireland … and I would march with friends and comrades and then we’d go to the pub. There we would talk, including with members of the then International Socialists (now Socialist Workers Party). Today there are still hundreds of posters on marches with ‘Socialist Workers Party’ carefully torn off the top.
After a few years of this I started to ask myself what the point was. We might feel good and righteous, but what was being achieved? I’m not opposed to demonstrations by the way, but they are limited. There are demands; are they met? If yes, that’s good. If not, what? Another demo. Unfortunately, for me, I subsequently joined the Workers Revolutionary Party - probably the biggest Trotskyist grouping of the time.
There was a printshop, a school, bookshops and an apparent end in view. T’was not to be, however. So where next? Obviously communists work with and within unions; they also join protests and seek to influence aims. But unions negotiate to win concessions from capitalists, not to overthrow capitalism. People on the streets want things to change: eg, withdrawal from wars, ‘green new deals’ and the like. Both unions and demonstrators are in general content with concessions, but concessions can be quietly withdrawn over time and both employers and governments tell lies - well, there’s a surprise!
German workers won “the streets” in 1919, but with no clear idea as to what to do next. With no real organisation or leadership they were bloodily crushed. In 2003 we had one (two? three?) million people on the streets of London and it made no difference whatsoever to the government’s determination to join an illegal war - except possibly a rather useless ‘I told you so’ a few years later.
The point is not to fight for changes or concessions, not to scream anger and defiance, but to win power and that will not be done by unions or “on the streets” - necessary as they may be - but by overthrowing capitalism. A Labour government obviously isn’t going to do that, but it is where many workers, including some pretty conscious ones, are.
As the Weekly Worker reiterates every week, “There exists no real Communist Party today”. Absolutely right. Meanwhile, the absolute necessity of overthrowing capitalism has never been more urgent and neither has the necessity of a global Communist Party. The Labour Party isn’t going to do it, but then neither are the unions or “the streets”. We have to fight with what we’ve got and that includes the Labour Party.
Meanwhile, Andrew Northall castigates the “Weekly Worker group” for the “effort and resources diverted from the task of building a Communist Party”. There is clearly advice and guidance needed from those having more success in this task. Ah, if only.
I recently pointed out that Marxism teaches that socialism comes from dictatorship - an idea which has had negative consequences for socialism. Alan Johnstone tries to make out that I misunderstand the phrase of Marx about the dictatorship of the proletariat, and attempts to divert the issue into one about the state in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism (Letters, January 16). But the question of the state must not be confused with the issue of dictatorship. The state can be controlled by people who believe in democratic accountability, or people who believe in dictatorship.
Marx never invented the term ‘dictatorship’, but he certainly managed, like the German socialist, Joseph Weydemeyer, to misrepresent its meaning. Marx argues in the ‘Critique of the Gotha programme’ (1875) that between the abolition of the bourgeois state and the establishment of a communist society there lies a transition stage. This stage he called the “dictatorship of the proletariat”. At times Marx referred to the rule of the working class, but it is the former term that came to define Marxism, and even before ‘Critique of the Gotha programme’ he stated that one of his contributions to political science was the view that the class struggle necessarily leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat (1852). Later, Lenin even argued that a Marxist was someone who recognised that the class struggle leads to the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The problem here is that the Marxist use of ‘dictatorship’ is a misrepresentation of the meaning of the term, which originates in the time of the Roman republic. Dictatorship relates to an individual, or office. In other words, it is a form of government, where the dictator - be it an individual or collegiate body - is not subject to the rule of law. The two characteristics of a dictatorship are that it not only dispenses with democracy, but it is also above the law. Lenin categorically stated that dictatorship was rule untrammelled by any law, which, of course, opens the door to the abuse of political power, regardless of which class the dictatorship represents, as we saw under Leninism, and which later led to Khrushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1956. The problem is that like Trotsky, Khrushchev and his team, and later Gorbachev, never saw any connection between Marx’s teaching about dictatorship and the abuse of political power in the Soviet Union.
Clearly Marx, Engels, and their followers have misrepresented the term ‘dictatorship’, applying it to the rule of a whole class, when in fact the term refers to the rule of an individual or group, which is above the law and which dispenses with democracy. Marxism confuses the need for state coercion in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism, with the idea of dictatorship, but the two are not the same thing. A dictatorship in the Roman sense may be necessary as an emergency measure, but this is not the same as needing a ‘dictatorship of the working class’ to bring about socialism. Such terminology is the fiction behind which an individual or group arrogates all power to itself, usually in the service of a bureaucratic elite.