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Academia - harmful to the revolutionary cause?

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boomerang
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Apr 26 2015 03:33
Academia - harmful to the revolutionary cause?

Many people here have probably heard of the book "The Revolution Will Not Be Funded" (an anthology edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence). It looks at the harmful effects that non-profits (charities, NGOs) have had on social justice movements and class struggle.

One of the criticisms is that nonprofits suck up generations of young idealists who might have been revolutionaries, and instead sets them down a path of providing charity/services or "fighting" for reforms through lobbying, the courts, and other channels of the state.

It seems to me that academia plays a similar role. I've known many anti-capitalists who are going through years and years of graduate school and want to become professors. They believe that being a radical professor will be their contribution to the revolutionary project, because they will pass on revolutionary ideas to their students, publish papers from a revolutionary perspective, present at conferences, etc. That's not how revolutions are built. Sure, probably some people will become radicals from this, but what's the point if they just go on to become academics, too?

I'm not saying all anti-capitalist academics are like this. I know those who are also involved in organizing, and those who see academia is just another job without having any revolutionary illusions about it. Even then, I worry that the time demands and isolation of an academic career could get in the way if they ever do become professors.

Anyways, wondering does anyone know if anything has been written about this? Maybe something in the libcom library? And what are people's thoughts? Am I being too cynical about this?

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Josh...
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Apr 26 2015 11:47

I don't know, I've had similar thoughts myself. I don't think academia is counter-revolutionary or owt. I mean I had a communist (he was SWP, ewww) teacher in High School and while its different to academia he certainly helped form my political opinions.
Likewise with Anarchy-Dad himself, Mr David Graeber, for all his flaws he does produce some quality pieces of propaganda, journalism and academic text, like his work that has been produced for STRIKE magazine, the 'Bullshit Jobs' campaign that got anarchism into the media in a positive light without breaking any windows...

Also fundamentally teachers and lecturers are still workers...
Although you are right to say that the working class will never liberate itself if anarchists do nowt but write lots of fancy papers for uni library's. I think that Academics do not play a counter-revolutionary role as long as they recogonise their role within class struggle and not separate too it - Or worse see themselves as part of the 'boss classes'.

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plasmatelly
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Apr 26 2015 14:57

Good post boomerang. Your mates seem to be assuming that the revolutionary politics of a professor, reader, lecturer or anyone else involved in universities play a role in helping forming the political minds of those being taught. I can't speak with first hand experience, but I would assume this is not the case, or certainly not the case if it is discourse completely remote from anything practical. Perhaps if students bear witness to militant workplace organising carried out by workers of the university, then this would have something more of a lasting impact than being taught geography by someone who is nominally a revolutionary, but does fuck all in the workplace.
Also, there is an assumption that all is eternally well for education workers - my understanding is that things are far from being ok for many zero hours lecturers who may be overworked, underpaid, pissed off and some working in precarious circumstances.
Boomerang - maybe you want to ask these future dons just where they think they are going to find these full time contracts from? wink

boomerang
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Apr 26 2015 15:34

I did both high school and undergrad and my political ideas were actually quite shaped by what I learned there. (Sometimes for the better, sometimes not!) Problem is they never gave me any damn clue about what to do about all the fucked up things in the world they were helping me understand. I expect it's because they didn't know, either. For a long while I thought just spreading awareness was all we could really do, or going in the streets together and shouting angrily. I never learned a thing about how to fight back.

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Auld-bod
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Apr 26 2015 17:12

For what it is worth, I have not found it impedes the development of a revolutionary perspective. Some higher educational types I’ve met have helped me expand or rethink my ideas and others were so pompous that it was hard to take their views seriously.

In secondary school my history teacher was a Scot Nat, who was so open about her views she dispelled any nonsense about the impartial eye. She organized a class debate about nuclear weapons, after the headmaster had banned the wearing of CND badges. The class voted for ‘representative debaters’. The sides of the debate were then picked out of a hat. I remember this so clearly, as I had to oppose the motion that ‘all nuclear weapons should be banned’. At the time I hated it, now I see she wished everyone to see/understand the opposing point of view. In my option this is good teaching.

Later I uncovered, to myself and I think my classmates, a lecturer in Social Studies, at Anniesland Engineering College, who had several times professed an admiration for George Orwell. We were asked to propose an author to study. I proposed James Baldwin. He pretended not to hear. I repeated the suggestion. He told me, “He’s black, he cannot write”. I was so shocked I could not reply. Excuse the expression, but sometimes it is so obvious the shit sticks to the blanket.

Scallywag
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Apr 26 2015 21:55
boomerang wrote:
They believe that being a radical professor will be their contribution to the revolutionary project, because they will pass on revolutionary ideas to their students, publish papers from a revolutionary perspective, present at conferences, etc. That's not how revolutions are built. Sure, probably some people will become radicals from this, but what's the point if they just go on to become academics, too?

Fuck that's like the only thing that motivates me to get through uni, although I agree its a total fantasy! sad

boomerang
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Apr 27 2015 02:30
Scallywag wrote:

Fuck that's like the only thing that motivates me to get through uni, although I agree its a total fantasy! :(

Aw damn I didn't mean to make you sad. Well we've seen some stories here about how teachers or professors can be influential. I guess as long as they (the profs) realize that teaching radical ideas in classrooms isn't going to build a revolution, that other things need to be done. I'm not saying it can't be a part of it. What really concerns me is that so many anticapitalists (it's almost always the Marxists) seem to go down this road. It becomes a problem because it's like, "Um, hello? we need people doing other things, too!"

Edit:
I also think it's important to learn to talk about radical ideas in the most accessible and down to earth way, and academia seems to want to teach people to do the opposite.

wojtek
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Apr 27 2015 02:28

*draws a knife to an academic in a back alley*
Cough up your jstor articles! wink

boomerang
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Apr 27 2015 02:33

LOL. That made me laugh even tho I don't get it! I asked my bf what it means, he said: "That's a joke about how the academy hoards knowledge, because you gotta pay for jstor articles."

Scallywag
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Apr 27 2015 10:06
boomerang wrote:

Edit:
I also think it's important to learn to talk about radical ideas in the most accessible and down to earth way, and academia seems to want to teach people to do the opposite.

Yeah agree, but it would be good if there were anarchist professors who had a broad understanding of politics, history, psychology, sociology, economics and anthropology as well as biology, geography and ecology, and where able connect all these fields together and explain things clearly and concisely from an anarchist perspective. They would also be able to refute reactionary elements in those fields.

Spikymike
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Apr 27 2015 10:28

We can all make an effort as individuals to resist the worst impact of the division of labour on our thinking and attitudes to those around us but .....most of our everyday life outside of strikes, occupations, riots, and other acts of collective rebellion involves practically helping in the reproduction of capitalist social relationships and of capitalism irrespective of the pro-revolutionary ideas we may hold. But clearly some jobs involve a greater contibution to that process and compromise with the system than others which we must be aware of, and academia is a particularly problematical area. The political lefts approach to working 'inside and against the state' tends to predispose them towards incorporation as academics in the primary capitalist purpose of the education industry even if they may ocassionaly produce the odd text critical of capitalism which is useful to others. Witness most recently the role of left academia in the SYRIZA administration. This area was also discussed extensively, if not always usefully, on the back of 'Aufhebengate' (see the Widcat text on 'Profession and Movement for instance) A liberal education industry can tolerate and benefit from allowing some critical voices without it undermining it's basic function in the reproduction of the capitalist ideology and the division of labour. The test of any radicals credentialls at the end of the day is less what they have written or even their participation in supporting others in class struggle as how they relate to efforts to undermine the function of the institutions they are part of esspecially when there are strikes, occupations and other rebellions.

So on a more personal note I have valued for instance the articles and a book written by an old comrade of mine on 'Anti-parliamentary communism' as a result of their post-graduate work and under the influence of another comrade who was a university lecturer, but then that post-graduate then chose to become a baker rather than pursue a carreer in academia which must say something.

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Serge Forward
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Apr 27 2015 12:59

I don't think academia or being an academic in itself is necessarily harmful to the revolutionary project. However, if an academic with revolutionary politics were to see their academic activity as revolutionary in any way, then that would be a problem, because it's not, it's just a job.

One thing that is problematic, I think, is the current high number of people in revolutionary circles who have an academic background or work in academia. When I was younger, while marxist-leninists were ten-a-penny in UK academia, (whether as lecturers or students), the average anarchist seemed to have a "regular job" like shop, warehouse, public sector, transport or factory worker and the university educated anarchist and libertarian communists were fewer in numbers. These days, revolutionaries seem to have filled the shoes of the marxist-leninist academics.

Now, there's nowt wrong with working in academia and I'm not having a pop at anyone for this state of affairs - in fact, if I did it'd make me a big hypocrite as I work in education myself. That said, there is definitely an imbalance these days that really needs addressing.

I don't think there are any easy answers but maybe it's partly to do with the way modern revolutionaries pitch their propaganda. If our propaganda is written by academics in an academic or more complex "register", then it's will attract those most familiar with that style. Okay, before anyone says it, I'm not advocating dumbing down; I just think we need to be aware of our audience. Write for academics, we'll get academics. Write for shop, warehouse, public sector, transport or factory workers (this last would probably be replaced with call-centre or IT workers these days), then we'll possibly get more interested from those sectors.

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jef costello
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Apr 27 2015 16:35

I don't think that it generally 'sucks up' people, I think it's more likely that people of a radical mind-set tend to be dran to caring professions, teaching nursing etc. And obviously some of them choose academia. I'm not sure how much effect teachers have in the sense of transmitting their politics, I have no iea of the politics of the teachers who most opened my eyes, it was the use of knowledge that was good.

To be honest the most influential teacher I've heard of is the 'Atheist professor' in all those ridiculous stories american christians post on facebook or send in emails, I think there's also a film as well.

In short I don't think it's drawing radicals into a dead end, but I do think radicals heading into an over-intellectualising dead end could easily end up as academics.

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Mr. Jolly
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Apr 27 2015 17:04

Most activists and politicos are idlers with poor social skills academia is thus the perfect hideaway.

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Auld-bod
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Apr 27 2015 19:08

Jef Costello #13

I agree, it is not important the politics of the teachers who have influence you.
Some time ago I attended an academic lecture in Birmingham and it was emphasized the impotence of the head teacher. I agreed, though my head teacher in Levern Primary School, in Nitshill, Glasgow, was jailed for embezzling the school funds.

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plasmatelly
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Apr 27 2015 18:59
jef costello wrote:
I think it's more likely that people of a radical mind-set tend to be dran to caring professions, teaching nursing etc. And obviously some of them choose academia.

I suppose its about peoples experience - or maybe you're just spot on here - but personally I've seen little evidence of this!
But back to the OP - I didn't go to university, though the seeds of revolutionary politics were sown long before I was old enough to ever go. It was through the day-to-day class struggle of the 1970's and later the '80's that done it for me. Witnessing my dad in the weekly wildcat strikes of the '70's all the way up to the breaking of the miners in the '80's, before becoming an apprentice and being part unofficial action at the pointy end. This was all years before I even thought of any revolutionary ideas and years before I even used the term 'class struggle'. If I had become an apprentice to someone who talked about revolution but didn't participate in workplace agitation - or if I went to university (which had an almost zero chance of happening) and found the same of a tutor there, I'd have wasted no time in concluding that person to be a bit of a gob shite.

wojtek
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Apr 28 2015 00:34

#14 sorry if i've misread your comment as a snide one rather than just an observation, but i'm not sure dumping on insecure/shy folk will turn them into social butterflies.

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mikail firtinaci
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Apr 28 2015 06:30

I think academics who think that they can use academia for revolutionary purposes are few, marginal and not to be taken seriously. Nobody does. The most dangerous academics are the ones who are leftists or liberals rejecting revolution and devote their time to discredit it. These types know some marx and anarchism. If they can't kill the inspiration in radical thought while teaching it, they at least slander it in front of young people who respect academia or have other more pressing concerns and hence are ready to accept whatever the profs tell - just to do the requirements for a good grade. Not all profs are doing this with negative intentions though. Some are under too hard pressed to teach lots of courses that they just can't spare time and patience necessary to ignite students' interests and arouse their humane passions. So today academia creates a sense of boredom in intellectual work, obscurity about theory and a provincial sense of pragmatic ignorance towards radical thought and tradition. This is much more dangerous than the subjective politics of the profs.

For serious radicals seeking a career in academia there can only be two problems; first it is becoming harder and harder to find jobs and fellowships for studying and research. Hence many people are pulled to the mainstream of irrelevant topics and evanescent intellectuals fashions where the narrowing financial sources are retreating to. In order to avoid scaring funders, other academics, editors etc a moderate language is sometimes forced upon. If you are a radical this is painful.

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Apr 28 2015 10:35

I think the role of that minority who make it across the precarious short-term contract barrier to become if not tenured, then at least permanent contract academics, is less of a threat than the more insidious Phd-ization of activism.

Back in 1990 in the Trafalgar Square Defendants Campaign, there was maybe 2-3 people (our of a core of 30-40 people, plus additional defendants who participated intermittently) who were doing Phd's (Clifford Stott being one - grrr). Nowadays, especially in NorthAm, but increasingly in Western Europe as well, you are starting to get the "Occupy Wall St" phenonema that after the initial flurry, the stable active core is majority wannabe-academics doing their Phds on the activity that they are not just doing "participant research" in, but actually running. This is the alternative careerism to the old school left careerism of people aiming to get an elected position (whether local govt or union) out of their activism. With the additional problem that an assembly dominated by Phd students is quickly going to make the dialogue incomprehensible to high school drop-outs and non-intelligentsia class fractions (aka the majority).

boomerang
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Apr 28 2015 12:59

I found a thread that relates somewhat to this topic.
http://libcom.org/forums/general/intellectual-snobs-posers-ruin-left-win...
"Intellectual snobs and posers ruin left-wing politics"

To be clear, I think you find "intellectual snobs" both in and out of academia, and you also find really down to earth and non-snobby people in academia.

wojtek wrote:
#14 sorry if i've misread your comment as a snide one rather than just an observation, but i'm not sure dumping on insecure/shy folk will turn them into social butterflies.

I love Mr. Jolly, but I have to agree that was a mean comment... if taken seriously. But I think he was just making a jolly joke.

Spikymike
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May 1 2015 12:14

And now it seems we can add not just the standard leftist academics to the list of SYRIZA's tribe of politicians and bureacrats but sadly one 'Woland' - an individual until recently associated with one of the 'Communiser' tendencies (see comments added to SIC journal).

boomerang
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May 1 2015 15:54

I got a PM about this thread with some links.
The articles are quite long and I haven't begun to read them yet but I thought I'd share them here.

Quote:
You can find critiques of academics here:

http://dialectical-delinquents.com/uncategorised/cop-out-the-significanc...
(section: academia, sociology, and the muddle class)

http://dialectical-delinquents.com/uncategorised/the-strange-case-of-dr-...
(section: Academia: Product & Producer of The Division of Labour)

here: http://madlib.anarchyplanet.org/2011/10/17/how-many-orwells-per-minute/

and probably if you follow links in any of those 3 articles, you'll find some interesting takes on it all.

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May 1 2015 15:58
boomerang wrote:
I love Mr. Jolly, but I have to agree that was a mean comment... if taken seriously. But I think he was just making a jolly joke.

I downed myself btw.

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Khawaga
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May 1 2015 16:09

You're about to tumble down the rabbit hole, boomerang.

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May 1 2015 16:18
boomerang wrote:
I got a PM about this thread with some links.
The articles are quite long and I haven't begun to read them yet but I thought I'd share them here.

Quote:
You can find critiques of academics here:

http://dialectical-delinquents.com/uncategorised/cop-out-the-significanc...
(section: academia, sociology, and the muddle class)

http://dialectical-delinquents.com/uncategorised/the-strange-case-of-dr-...
(section: Academia: Product & Producer of The Division of Labour)

here: http://madlib.anarchyplanet.org/2011/10/17/how-many-orwells-per-minute/

and probably if you follow links in any of those 3 articles, you'll find some interesting takes on it all.

2nd one led to one hell of a lot of arguments on here a while back.
Can't actually remember what my opinion was in the end.

ChumpChange
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May 1 2015 17:29

Karl Marx was an academic in a practical way. His academia got things done and is an impulse to action (Theses of Feuerbach). The same may be said of Bakunin but I do not know his work.

boomerang
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May 1 2015 17:58

Hey everyone, it's May Day! red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star red n black star

I don't really have time to read long articles these days, and there are other readings I'm prioritizing, so I'm not sure when or even if I'll be reading these. This thread was enough to sort my thoughts out on the issue. But I wanted to share in case it interests others. Sorry if it starts any arguments!

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May 1 2015 18:18

I recommed the madlib one http://madlib.anarchyplanet.org/2011/10/17/how-many-orwells-per-minute/ even if your time is limited.