ONE. Is this (consumer) capitalism?
The Royal Society’s People and Planet reportfrom 2012 argued that there is an urgent need to address issues of climate change and resource availability across the globe. The report argued:
in the most developed and the emerging economies unsustainable consumption must be urgently reduced. This will entail scaling back or radical transformation of damaging material consumption and emissions and the adoption of sustainable technologies. At present, consumption is closely linked to economic models based on growth. Decoupling economic activity from material and environmental throughputs is needed urgently. Changes to the current socio-economic model and institutions are needed to allow both people and the planet to flourish by collaboration as well as competition during this and subsequent centuries. This requires farsighted political leadership concentrating on long term goals.
The relationships between growth and profitability, work and technology have to be addressed unless we are simply aiming to become more efficiently unsustainable. This has ramifications for individuals, institutions, the State, and transnational corporations.
This is more critical given a recent UK Ministry of Defence Strategic Trends Programme report, which highlighted a series of tensions that are likely to emerge around cyber-terrorism, access to resources and the economic impact of increased demand for fossil fuels, climate change, and a normalisation of global GDP. The report argues:
The western ‘way of life’ is often associated with ready access to a wide variety of consumer choice and relatively cheap energy. This is likely to be increasingly challenged as lifestyles follow GDP levels and ‘normalise’ across the globe. This trend will have significant impact within the US and the UK, where the way of life for the bulk of their populations may be challenged by rising energy and resource. prices, and the declining availability of finance to sustain discretionary spending.
Moreover, the report’s authors make a case for rebalancing the economy and using the relationship between education and technology as a driver in that process.
Across the West, it is possible that enrolment on science, technology, engineering and mathematics educational courses will remain low relative to South Asia … Graduates from India and China, will become more visible and lead trans-national companies, particularly in technical and engineering fields. The implementation of long-term strategies to educate the UK population and revive these technical disciplines may be of increasing importance to maintain an innovation base and a competitive national economy. Key-skilled workers, scientists and researchers who develop the complex technologies which underpin cyber security, space, nuclear, stealth and bio-medical technologies will be increasingly prized.
This ties into the recent Institute for Public Policy Research report, A critical path: Securing the future of higher education in England, which highlighted the importance of specific technologically-driven strategies that are designed to rebalance the economy as productive and resilient. In terms of higher education, a much more diverse experience is signalled, for instance through universities embracing “the potential of new technologies by recognising credit from low-cost online courses so that these may count, in part, towards degree programmes.”
Rebalancing the economy. Rebalancing the State. Rebalancing business-as-usual.
TWO. The tensions between capitalism, education and the State.
What is increasingly clear is that the rush to embrace innovation in services, technologies and cultures has ramifications beyond the maintenance of the rate of profit. For sure, there are important issues of data security and privacy, cyber-terrorism and snooping, alongside matters of outsourcing and raising the digital literacy of citizens. However, these cannot be divorced from the tensions that surround the real-world realities of: sustainability and climate change; the scarcity of resource availability, including rare earth metals, liquid fuel, and water; and maintaining current standards of living in a world of energy scarcity and increased energy costs.
How individuals, institutions and corporations react to these tensions and seek co-operative solutions is of crucial importance moving forward. Increasingly we need to politicise our use of technology inside and beyond education, and to involve students and teachers in discovering or remembering alternative ways of living and creating the world. At issue is where we create/liberate spaces in which debates can take root. In an interesting set of tweets this month Jehu has argued the following:
If you want to fight capital, your cannot fight it on its own terms; you must force it to fight on terrain it does not control.
The capitalists control money; they control production; and they control the state — why would you choose to fight there?
What the capitalists do not control is your free time. They have no way to convert this free time into capitalist profits.
Jehu then reiterates Marx and Engels’ points around the need for association that:
In labor theory the interest of a class, “achieves an independent existence over against the individuals”.
Since the proletariat has no class interest, it can put an end to all classes.
This argument is absolutely critical to Engels’ and Marx’s argument. because it means they have no choice but to enter into a voluntary …
… association to control their conditions of life together.
You can read Jehu’s longer position on the difference between association and the State. However, he makes the important points that:
The critical concept [is]the relation of the state to the class whose interest the state represents in an ideal form… The ideal expression of the interest of the bourgeois class, its general representative, is the bourgeois state… the proletariat have no choice but to enter into a voluntary association to control their conditions of life together. No state can give them this control, only their association… [the proletariat] is incapable of acting as a class and must act as individuals, these individuals must abolish class politics itself — they must overthrow the state.
In a later post, Jehu quotes Zilbersheid reminder that “the abolition of labor [is] one of Marx’s most important ideas:
At the core of the highest phase of communist society, as described in Marx’s early writings, is the abolition of labour. The more famous abolition of private property, the well-known abolition of the state, and the lesser-known abolition of the division of labour are all conditional upon the abolition of labour itself.
At issue then are the mechanisms through which education is recalibrated to reduce free-time and to maintain the legitimacy and hegemony of the bourgeois state. Joss Winn’s points about the University as a means of production feel important here in addressing what might be done.
THREE. Protest against the State and its institutions.
We might then reflect on Dan McQuillan’s point about the anti-austerity protests that have dominated Turkish life for weeks:
We might also reflect on the role of the State in monitoring both free and working-time through surveillance and data infringements, and the mechanisms through which Domestic Networks [are used] to Spy on the World.
We might also acknowledge that academics and universities are complicit both in the enclosure of higher education as a free or public space, and in the research that underpins the State’s hegemony. Moreover in the UK that hegemony threatens to be restructured through at least two further “austerity elections”.
A question then becomes what is the role of the University in the process of legitimising protest or in carving-out the terrain that Capital does not control, including widening unproductive time or creating non-value driven social relationships? Inside the secular crisis, what is the relationship between the University, the State and democratic protest? Is it possible to rethink the idea that the University might be other than means of production? That it might contribute liberated knowledge and alternative, counter-hegemonic histories, or curricula infused with praxis, to the co-operative art of protest and dissent?