Notes on hegemony and counter-narratives

ONE. Transnational activist networks for privatisation

Stephen J. Ball and Deborah Youdell, Hidden Privatisation in Public Education.

Global privatisation tendencies reflect both an orchestrated escalation on the part of dominant governments, international organisations and private companies and an unintended international policy drift towards greater levels and more diverse forms of privatisation in and of public services – privatisation as policy commonsense. Certainly however, highly influential western governments and international organisations actively promote privatisation as desirable and necessary for the economic development of the world’s poorer nations and as part of their own economic strategies.

Privatisation in its multiple forms is being taken up globally. Forms of privatisation, such as choice and per-capita funding, pave the way for further reform moves such as devolved budgets, competition between schools and the use of published performance indicators. For-profit organisations are playing a greater part in education design and delivery. However, most of the privatisations in and of education remains hidden within more general education reforms and there is an almost complete absence of public debate around these issues.

(Saltman 2000) argues that the hegemony of the market – its acceptance as self-evident common sense — and the profit incentive are displacing the struggle over values, which is an essential condition of democracy. What we are seeing here is a kind of collapse of the boundaries between moral spheres, which follows the breakdown of the demarcations between public and private provision and between social and opportunity goods.

The various approaches to education outlined above work together to make education more like a ‘commodity’ owned by and benefiting the individual and her/his employer within which ‘…everything is viewed in terms of quantities; everything is simply a sum of value realised or hoped for’ (Slater and Tonkiss 2001) rather than a public good that benefits the society as a whole. This is the displacement of use values by exchange values. While policy accounts of education matched to the needs of employment and the economy – a human capital approach — argues that this benefits society as a whole by creating a strong economy as well as individual wealth, it is difficult to see this in practice. Furthermore, there is a conceptual shift from education as an intrinsically valuable shared resource which the state owes to its citizens to a consumer product for which the individual must take first responsibility, as it is this individual who reaps the rewards of being educated. This conceptual shift changes fundamentally what it means for a society to educate its citizens.

The market in education is no longer simply a matter of choice and competition between educational institutions but rather is a diffuse, expanding, and sophisticated system of goods, services, experiences and routes – publicly and privately provided.

Endogenous privatisation, that is, privatisation in education, provides the possibilities for further policy moves towards forms of exogenous privatisation, or privatisation of education.

Education services are now ‘big business’ and an increasing number of national and international firms are looking to make profits from selling services to schools and goverments and from the delivery of state services on contract. Some countries now earn a considerable proportion of their export revenue from educational services sales. Business is also increasingly involved with local and national governments and educational institutions as ‘partners’ (PPPs). These partnerships vary widely in their form and in their effects.

One increasingly common form of ‘partnership’ are PFI schemes. Privatisation works as a policy tool in a number of ways, with a variety of ends and purposes. It is not just the state giving up its capacity to manage social problems and respond to social needs. It is a new modality of state action. The privatisation of education and social welfare involves a shift in the role of the state from that of delivering education services directly, to that of contractor, monitor and evaluator of services delivered by a range of providers.

Privatisation tendencies, both endogenous and exogenous, have profound implications for the future of teachers’ careers, pay and status, and the nature of their work and their degree of control over the educational process. The ‘flexibilisation’ of teachers work is a key component of most versions of

privatisation and this threatens to alter both the perception of teachers within society and the quality of students’ experience in schools.

TWO. Networks of transnational hegemonic power.

Vitali, Glattfelder, Battiston.The network of global corporate control.

In the first such analysis ever conducted, Swiss economic researchers have conducted a global network analysis of the most powerful transnational corporations (TNCs). Their results have revealed a core of 737 firms with control of 80% of this network, and a “super entity” comprised of 147 corporations that have a controlling interest in 40% of the network’s TNCs.

We present the first investigation of the architecture of the international ownership network, along with the computation of the control held by each global player. We find that transnational corporations form a giant bow-tie structure and that a large portion of control flows to a small tightly-knit core of financial institutions. This core can be seen as an economic “super-entity” that raises new important issues both for researchers and policy makers.”

As a result, about 3/4 of the ownership of firms in the core remains in the hands of firms of the core itself. In other words, this is a tightly-knit group of corporations that cumulatively hold the majority share of each other.

…despite its small size, the core holds collectively a large fraction of the total network control. In detail, nearly 4/10 of the control over the economic value of TNCs in the world is held, via a complicated web of ownership relations, by a group of 147 TNCs in the core, which has almost full control over itself. The top holders within the core can thus be thought of as an economic “super-entity” in the global network of corporations.”

top holders are at least in the position to exert considerable control, either formally (e.g., voting in shareholder and board meetings) or via informal negotiations.

Andrew Gavin Marshall. Global power project, part 5: banking on influence with Goldman Sachs.

There are several individuals holding leadership positions with Goldman Sachs who represent what we refer to as the global ruling class – or global plutocracy – by virtue of their multiple positions on numerous boards and advisory groups, think tanks, educational institutions, and other important institutions of influence, giving them unparalleled access to policy-makers around the world.

THREE. Hegemonic power needs hegemonic narratives

Raúl Ilargi Meijer.Debt Rattle Feb 6 2014: Remember “Uncharted Territory”?

And you might say: those guys are always pessimistic, look at how great we’re doing, and many people say exactly that, but if that were the real story, then how does one explain away the notion that the entire global QE family has lifted those markets to where they stand today, knowing QE can’t go on forever? At the end of the day, it’s still simply shoveling more debt upon a mountain of debt already easily unprecedented in history (and history’s seen a few).

The British government has grown fond of using the term “escape velocity”, which supposedly means that if they just frack the entire nation to bits, squeeze the poor till they’re all so dry no clean unfracked drinking water is needed, and sell every single home in London to Asian dieselgarchs who’ve gotten rich off of China shadow banking virtual fantasy yuan printing, the UK economy will set off for the stratosphere selling its exports to all the countries who were neither so smart nor so lucky, and don’t have a penny left to buy those exports with. Escape velocity is empty political rhetoric. And there’s plenty of that. Spin doctors must be busier and more in demand than ever before. There’s such a load of nonsense being sold on a daily basis.

You can of course wait for the markets to fall. And whether it’s 20% or 40% is immaterial. It’ll lead to absolute panic. And when the smoke clears your wealth, your pensions, everything you don’t have hidden away, will be used to once again prop up the financial system that can’t be allowed to fail “or else”. Well, you’ll already be squarely inside the “else”. How to prevent the worst of this? Open the banks, their books, their vaults. Burn everything that smells too much like it’s died. Secure people’s deposits up to a maximum. Go through the hundreds of trillions in derivatives, and clear them. At the same time, set up new banks, real small, get rid of the glass monstrosities and design some nice parks where they stood in lower Manhattan. Preferably with edible crops and lowers.

But as I said, you can also wait for things to happen, markets to plunge, and see how uncharted the territory can become.

FOUR. Transnational organisational principles to confront transnational capital

Latin America, State Power, and the Challenge to Global Capital. An Interview with William Robinson. UPPING THE ANTI, NUMBER THREE, pp. 59-75.

the key question remains how popular forces and classes can utilize  state power to transform social relations, production relations, and so forth. And once you raise that question, you have to talk about what type of political vehicle will interface between popular forces and state structures. That’s the big question raised by the current round of social and political struggle in Latin America: what’s the relation between the social movements of the left, the state, and political organizations? Previously there was a vertical model. In the last 15 or 20 years, the emphasis has been on horizontal relations, networking among different social groups, and cultivating much more democratic relations from the ground up. These shifts in emphasis have all been spearheaded by the indigenous organizations in Latin America. While I support that politically, at some point you need to talk about how vertical and horizontal intersect. This is precisely one of the problems with the autonomous movements in Argentina, among others. In attempting to overcome the old vertical model of vanguardism and bureaucratism, they’ve gone to the other extreme. But without a political vehicle you can’t actually bid for state power or synchronize the forces necessary for radical transformation.

Every time there has been a new integration or reintegration into world capitalism there has been a corresponding change in the social and class structures of Latin America, as well as a change in the leading economic activities around which social classes and groups have mobilized. [This is based on transnational accumulation and the integration of national industrial activities as component phases of global production; internationalisation of migration/service; global agribusiness; and the export of labour to the global economy and global labour arbitrage.]

What we are seeing is a total transformation of the Latin American political economy. The new dominant sectors of accumulation in Latin America are intimately integrated into global accumulation circuits. All of this represents an intensified penetration of global capital around major resources. If all national economies have been reorganized and functionally integrated as component elements of a new global capitalist economy and if all peoples experience heightened dependency on the larger global system for their very social reproduction, then I do not believe that it is viable to propose individual delinking or suggest that you can simply break off from global capitalism and create a post-capitalist alternative. Global capital has local representation everywhere and it translates into local pressure within each state in favor of global capital.

[Thus,] a permanent mobilization from below that forces the state to deepen its transformative project “at home” and its counterhegemonic transnational project “abroad” is so crucial.

Increasingly, organizing the working class means organizing informal sector workers. It means shifting from an exclusive focus on the point of production to a focus on both the point of production and reproduction. That’s what the piqueteros do. They say that if you’re unemployed you can’t organize into trade unions and withhold your labour. If you’re structurally unemployed you have to disrupt the daily functioning of the system. Similarly, if you’re an informal sector worker you can’t make demands on capital in the same way as a formal sector worker. So increasingly, the type of working class organization we need must address both production and reproduction – social movement unionism, for instance, linking neighborhood struggles to formal worker centers and so forth. We have to recognise this and work to deepen the transnational character of these struggles across the world.

FIVE. On the organisation of counter-narratives

Antonio Gramsci. Workers’ Democracy.

The labour movement is today directed by the Socialist Party and by Confederation of Labour; but the exercise of the social power of the Socialist Party and of the Confederation takes place, for the major mass of workers, indirectly, by force of prestige and of enthusiasm, by authoritarian pressure, thus by inertia. The sphere of prestige of the party expands daily, reaches working classes hitherto untouched, implants the consensus and desire to work vigorously for the coming of communism in groups and individuals up to now absent from the political struggle. It is necessary to give a political form and a permanent discipline to these disordered and chaotic energies, to absorb, assemble and empower them, to make of the proletarian and semiproletarian class an organized society which educates itself, which makes its own experience, which acquires a responsible consciousness of the duties which fall to the classes come to state power.

But the social life of the working class is rich with institutions, it articulates itself in multiple activities. Precisely these institutions and these activities need to be developed, organized together, connected in a vast and flexibly articulated system which absorbs and disciplines the whole working class.


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