Pro-revolutionaries in academia

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tastybrain
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Oct 15 2011 17:20
Pro-revolutionaries in academia

So after reading some of Samotnaf's blog post on the whole "Dr. J" debacle and what some people were saying in this thread, I gather that there is a feeling among at least some Libcom posters that a career in academia is incompatible with being genuinely pro-revolutionary. I will put my cards on the table and say that I am in school right now and thinking about a career in academia. The reason I want to do this is because it seems like one of the few jobs under capitalism where I would be able to do something I truly enjoyed (although obviously not under ideal conditions - it will still be alienated wage labor, etc). I personally see this as no different than what a friend of mine is doing; he enjoys the outdoors, hiking, etc, and is therefore training to become a wilderness guide. I enjoy (among other things) thinking, writing, and reading, and therefore I am trying to pursue a job where I can do those things and also make a living. Here is an essay I wrote for one of my classes. I believe my output as an academic would follow in a similar vein (but with more sophistication and thoroughness) -- can one of the anti-academic people point to where my argument has been compromised by the essay's status as a piece of work produced within the context of the academy?

Now I would hate to think that succeeding in this ambition would result in me being objectively unable to truly participate in a revolutionary movement. I also don't understand why the social role of academics supposedly does this. I would be interested in people presenting arguments for or against the compatibility of a career in academia with participation in revolutionary or pro-revolutionary movements. Feel free to link me to texts on the matter, but I can't promise I will read them right away. I am more interested in posters presenting somewhat concise arguments in their own words on the issue. Also, this is not a discussion of academia (or whether we will still have academia) after the revolution; it is a discussion of whether academics can participate in the movement in a genuine, unproblematic way.

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Oct 15 2011 17:58

I was one of the people arguing for the abolition of the university on the other thread and I am an academic. I find the university system and academic careerism actually prevents me from 'realising' the very ideals academia purports to make possible. Also, the distinction between mental and manual labour in our society means it would be very hard for me to study all my life and also, say, be a carpenter or help old people at the same time, both things I would like to do more of. i.e. you are forced to specialize. It is exactly the same the other way round. People in manual jobs, or in any other job really, don't have access to the time or financial resources to do life long learning.

Other material realities of academia: Working with academics, deadlines, career choices, mortgages, publisher's demands, work politics etc. All these mean that academics are often very cut off from any actual form of struggle, being concerned with all of the above, and this translates not only into quite conservative politics (even if they don't think they are) but also separation from actual revolutionary workers. Its the ivory tower problem.

Having said all this, while "academia" cannot be, in my view, revolutionary, it can contribute in its own specialised way. Ultimately what makes us revolutionaries is precisely that we are not content to pursue 'revolution' inside the university environment or as 'academics'. Academia is a fragment of a whole that we can only grasp outside of, and against, 'academia' through revolutionary praxis. That is to say, through actually struggling.

In other words, don't worry about being an academic but realise that the really revolutionary stuff doesn't happen through giving papers to other academics or in earning their respect. (A point lost on many 'progressive intellectuals'.)

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Oct 15 2011 18:07

Speaking of academics I'm no expert on English but the whole putting 'pro-' in front of the world revolutionary seem to me to show a lack of understanding of how the word can be used.

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Oct 15 2011 18:51

I pretty much agree with Malva. I would also like to note that academia has a monopoly on information, training and scholarship that is hard to penetrate without becoming a full-fledged member, with much of what that entails. That doesn't mean that consulting for law enforcement is something that can be simply brushed off as being part of the territory, however, as it has some negative real-life consequences, not just in terms of how the police becomes more efficient at suppressing revolutionaries, but in terms of compromising other members in one's organization, as they will be put under higher scrutiny when background checks are performed, and their revolutionary work may become part of the same source material for the training of law enforcement, facilitated by someone with the exact skills necessary to translate one to the other.

tastybrain
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Oct 15 2011 19:07
nastyned wrote:
Speaking of academics I'm no expert on English but the whole putting 'pro-' in front of the world revolutionary seem to me to show a lack of understanding of how the word can be used.

Ok, could you please explain what understanding I am lacking about how the word can be used? My point in saying "pro-revolutionaries" rather than "revolutionaries" is that most of the time we radicals are not actually involved in revolutions. We want them to happen (hence "pro") but to me the term "revolutionary" more accurately describes someone who is actually engaged in the activity of revolution, as opposed to agitation/activism/what have you.

Malva, I'm sure there are a ton of limitations in academia in even the non-revolutionary goals it purports to have (intellectual freedom and what have you). I never meant to suggest that the real revolutionary activity occurs within the academy, nor that one can be a great revolutionary simply by writing papers and such. What I do think is that being an academic and participating in anti-state, anti-capitalist politics are not necessarily contradictory; I guess we agree on this point. I guess I was more reacting to Samotnaf's critique of academics in his blog post on the "J" fiasco. He seems to be implying that academics are inherently counterrevolutionary. I'm not sure what his problems are with Chomsky et al besides the obvious problems with his politics, which are independent of his social role. That he's rich? That he's not out in the street smashing things up?

whatisinevidence
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Oct 16 2011 03:52

Real question: are there any communist groups/magazines in the world that are not primarily run/edited by academics or other middle class professionals?

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Oct 16 2011 05:20

whatisevidence, if you think that academics are somehow middle class professionals you know extremely little about the current working conditions within academia.

I'm also an academic, enjoy the work itself (but not the stress and the shitty pay), but I also want to abolish the university system as it exists today for very much the same reasons as Malva and Tojijah. The pursuit of knowledge should be part and parcel of all activity, not the domain of a few so-called 'experts'.

Malva wrote:
Other material realities of academia: Working with academics, deadlines, career choices, mortgages, publisher's demands, work politics etc. All these mean that academics are often very cut off from any actual form of struggle, being concerned with all of the above, and this translates not only into quite conservative politics (even if they don't think they are) but also separation from actual revolutionary workers. Its the ivory tower problem.

While I agree with this analysis in broad terms, I think that the problem for academics is that they see themselves as academics rather than workers (in particular tenured faculty, who through the archaic master-journeyman system will convey the sentiment that you should consider yourself 'special' once you can put that Dr. or Prof. in front of your name). The separation from 'actual revolutionary workers' come from the belief that 'workers' are found in the physical plant rooms, the service staff etc. and those found beyond the boundaries of the university's walls. In other words, so-called revolutionary academics are just activists in the worst sense of that term. But academics are also workers; education workers. If academics just start to realize that we are actually workers just like any other (and I am mainly referring to non-tenured academics; sessionals, TAs and RAs) then there doesn't have to be a separation. But the organizing and 'revolutionary' activity must start in our own workplaces - not out there - with the goal being to abolish the university and our special status of being gatekeepers of knowledge. So whereas I agree, Malva, that academia can't be revolutionary, education workers because they are workers can be.

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Oct 16 2011 06:12

Indeed. I'm not normally one to post - I lurk generally - but I've been hunting all day and I'm stuck out in the middle of nowhere with little to do. Ergo, posting time.

I've also been in and out of academia. Currently, I work at the post office as a letter carrier. The simple fact is that within the academic fold, there are very few jobs. There is high competition, and little organisation. And, due to the seemingly intrinsically bifurcated nature of "tenure," the academy is a "dual contract" shop. This means that one group of workers retains a high degree of job security and pay, and another (which is in reality the vast majority) gets bupkes. We'd never allow this in the post office, as it has destroyed a massive amount of union density in North America, the auto workers especially. It's really quite disgusting, but it's sold as cultural and procedural, instead of economic. I remember one day, we were all sitting about the faculty club talking about our tax rebates. This lead to talk about pay. It turned out that I was the highest paid person at the table, as a letter-carrier. Full time professors made considerably less than I. And I'm not that well off, I make $25.79/hr (our contracts are public knowledge).

Universities are nasty corporations, and will drive down costs by whatever means, in the same manner as other profit motivated institutions within capitalism. They precarious-ize their workers, and there's little way of fighting back. This is why we have to ditch tenure and move to an industrial model of organising for university workers. Tenure does not protect one from sacking, it does not really procure any real manifestation of "academic freedom," however defined. If one desires that, it can only come about through struggle like at any other occupation, it will never be given. If one wants to be a revolutionary, be one. Organise where you're at, it doesn't matter if you're in the information industry or whatever, procure industrial power and exercise it. Educators are no different, although our position does give us much more protection than in many other industries. It's a protection that is woefully under-utilised.

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Oct 16 2011 12:03
Khawaga wrote:
whatisevidence, if you think that academics are somehow middle class professionals you know extremely little about the current working conditions within academia.

Of course people like university professors are a part of the middle class, and it has nothing to do with their working conditions whatsoever.

'Middle class' is a sociological definition not one that comes from the communist movement, and it is possible to be both middle class (according to a sociological analysis), and working class (according to a communist analysis) at the same time.

I don't think it is a problem for academics, or other middle class people, to be members of communist organisations. There is a problem though when these sort of people make up the majority of your organisation, and are running it. If that is the case then there is clearly, in my opinion, something very wrong.

Devrim

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Oct 16 2011 13:50

Hi All, I also work as an academic and when I read Samotnaf's blog post (which like so much of their stuff is always challenging) my first thoughts were 'if only!'. 60% of teaching in Australian universities is done by sessionals and the work is very casual, poorly supported, and taken for granted. Its often a major victory to get a library card. As far as I am concerned it is a job. I really enjoying the actual labour of teaching, I like strolling through campus, and I have a few interesting conversations everyday. As far was work goes ( and after 10 years of study my other options are pretty limited) its a mixed bag. Of course the illusion that there is something about any of this that is in and by itself communist is nuts. Though I find the research I do now, especially work on current welfare legislation and the crisis of labour-power in Australia. is often viewed as useful by others in the Assembly for Dignity ( a collective opposing these changes).
cheers
Dave

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Oct 16 2011 14:19
Devrim wrote:
I don't think it is a problem for academics, or other middle class people, to be members of communist organisations. There is a problem though when these sort of people make up the majority of your organisation, and are running it. If that is the case then there is clearly, in my opinion, something very wrong.
Devrim

I'm wondering if the increased access to higher education has led to a sort of 'brain drain' of the sociological working class. In my family every generation has spend more time in school and for the last generation university. People who enjoy reading and thinking about the world have for at least the last 20 years (sweden) had the "opportunity" to go to university, based on the false promise of a more independent working life, thus supposedly becoming or at least coming closer to the sociological middle class. This has also been powered by unemployment and university becoming a dept based dole with learning side effects. When this is coupled by former middle class jobs becoming proletarianized and precarious a confusing situation arise making class discourse even more tricky. Hence why I've tried to argue sticking to the basic and slightly blunt communist definitions and avoiding applying it to individuals.

From my own experience working in a paper mill (late nineties) there were more "intellectual" workers in the oldest generation still at work. Amongst my fathers generation there are a lot fewer and among the young (who never got a permanent job but worked precariously for years on and off) hardly anyone. This is very subjective but could it be that workplaces have been losing the people with the energy and interest in politics and organisation to the middle class jobs. Which are much more individualized and where it's much more difficult to make a difference? When I later worked in transport I couldn't spot the same patterns but you have much less contact with other workers there for obvious reasons.

This trend if it exists is obviously problematic and a result of the specializing and atomizing forces of capitalism. Another form of this is people moving for jobs and then losing the broad generational and occupational community they have in their home town for much more narrowly defined communities in their new location.

But what to do? I struggle to argue that people like tastybrain shouldn't pursue their interests.

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Oct 16 2011 14:31

Cooked, there is also an ever expanding part of the population that have university degrees, and we can wax lyrical about how that connects to changes in the compositions of capital and class. Now this might just be hype but the current Australian government publicly states it aims to have 40% of young people obtain a degree and education (if you include private colleges) is Australia's third largest export

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Oct 16 2011 18:19
Devrim wrote:
Of course people like university professors are a part of the middle class, and it has nothing to do with their working conditions whatsoever.

But in reality it is sessionals and TAs doing most of the teaching, students and RAs doing most of the research. It's hyper exploitative; if you're a student your work as a student is not even counted as work even when it results in lectures, talks, presentations and papers. Point being that the academy is becoming more and more proletarianized. There is a huge 'intellectual' reserve army out there which is helping to push down wages. Sociologically, if you want to go by income, education workers (sans tenure professors) would belong to the low-income wage bracket. E.g. the salary I receive as a TA is poverty line wage. Of course, if you go by 'status' or for that matter level of education, anyone in graduate school would be middle class. But all this sociological crap is actually useless IMO; it is refied for sure within the academy (subjectively), but it's quite weird that communists still seem to consider academia as some cushy gig.

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Oct 16 2011 20:39

from the OP

Quote:
it will still be alienated wage labor,

Why so? If I remember rightly, one of the most important reasons Marx gives for the alienated condition of labour undertaken during capitalism is that the worker does not own or have control of the product he produces. This is not the only definition of alienation but let me take it for the moment.

What, then, is the product of academic research and teaching? This is much more difficult to define than in the case of a factory or something similar producing commodities. One of things produced by the work of an individual academic is a degree of intellectual development in that particular individual, which is certainly something owned or controlled by that individual.

Some academics, in sciences more than humanities, will produce research which is owned by the company that provided the funding. Even so, can we entirely reduce the "product" of that research to the published results? Or is it impossible to externally quantify the personal development undergone by the individuals in the process of the research? In my opinion the latter is clearly true.

Shall we do a Lukacs and say that while capitalism exists, everything is reified, alienated? Or do we realise that because we are able to make that statement, it can't be true?

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Oct 16 2011 21:07
jongelier wrote:
Or is it impossible to externally quantify the personal development undergone by the individuals in the process of the research? In my opinion the latter is clearly true.

While it practically may be impossible it doesn't mean that capital doesn't try to. University managers, ministires of education etc. have developed all kinds of different metrics. Teaching evaluations, how much funding you can get, how many classes you teach, number of articles or books published, in what journals you published (there's an own 'impact rating' for the importance of the journal), hours of committee work, how many students you mentor or advice, conferences visited, various awards etc.

Quote:
One of things produced by the work of an individual academic is a degree of intellectual development in that particular individual, which is certainly something owned or controlled by that individual.

While this is partly correct, I do question how much an academic controls his or her own labour. First of all it depends on what type of academic you're referring to. It seems like everyone just assumes that the tenured professor is the archetype. Today that is far from the case. A TA or RA have very little control over what they teach or research; this is determined by the preofessor you work for. A sessional teacher will have more control over what to teach, but because pay is so shit that you have to teach several courses, there is little time to research and publish, which is a necessary step to get a tenure track position. And even if you're a tenured professor, if you don't get the funding to do the research you want to do, you have to adapt to the donor.

vanilla.ice.baby
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Oct 16 2011 21:22

There's a whole range of anarchist bullshit about jobs we shouldn't take.

The only jobs a Libcom or class struggle anarchist or whatever shouldn't take are;

Cop/Spy

Bailiff/Debt collector

tongueublic office holder or employee of a political party

Very senior management person

I'm sure there are others - but academics even US profs with tenure are not among them.

Why the hell shouldn't class struggle anarchists take jobs that fit their interests?

bastarx
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Oct 16 2011 22:47

Platformist in opportunism shocker.

whatisinevidence
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Oct 17 2011 03:35
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Why the hell shouldn't class struggle anarchists take jobs that fit their interests?

Sure, people ought to do whatever they want, but it's ridiculous for middle class professionals to run organizations claiming to know all about working class struggle (the fact that most people don't write about being professors/lawyers/teachers/etc in their 'radical' publications is telling).

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Oct 17 2011 03:54

whatisintheevidence, rather than blanket condemnation of those of us that have shitty jobs in academia why don't you engage with the points raised in this thread? you clearly have no clue as to the state of the academy today.

Quote:
the fact that most people don't write about being professors/lawyers/teachers/etc in their 'radical' publications is telling

yeah, I think it is telling (though I've seen plenty of articles writing about how it is working in a school or university). it's a huge problem. academics should analyse their own working conditions and start to identify as workers rather than academics/teachers. academics should write more about how fucked up things have become.

but why (as you say on the other thread) should teachers and academics stop editing journals and websites? what's the problem with that? why would they be worse at that than say a bricklayer or a factory worker?

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Oct 17 2011 05:28
whatisinevidence wrote:

Sure, people ought to do whatever they want, but it's ridiculous for middle class professionals to run organizations claiming to know all about working class struggle (the fact that most people don't write about being professors/lawyers/teachers/etc in their 'radical' publications is telling).

Loads of workers aren't going to be able to understand issues that other workers face. What do white workers know about experiencing racism? men with sexism etc. That doesn't mean they don't know anything about working class struggle though, academics still face many of the issues other workers face and are seemingly quite low down the ladder in terms of pay.

I agree that it is a problem if academics dominate a libcom group for various reasons, but not because they aren't legitimately working class.

For the record I am not an academic. I have worked in a primary school as a Teaching Assistant and been an ESL teacher as well.

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Oct 17 2011 07:55

I am involved in academic work as a TA in social sciences and it makes me laugh to read those anti-intellectualist comments about how middle class are academics. My income is right on the poverty line. I am planning to marry and me and my partner can hardly live together on a subsistence level even if both work. Right now I am incredibly under pressure for completing my individual work load which is at PhD. level nothing but a fight against academic autocracy to defend my radical politics as legitimate to carry out my research. This is a fight that communist or class struggle anarchist workers in social sciences had additionally wage because they are clearly more open to oppression on the basis of their political commitments than other workers. They are in constant struggle in the face of top level academics who have pre-capitalist privillages over the lower hierarchies. If you are an academic worker, a TA, an RA especially in social sciences-humanities, you are not only struggling to survive economically working hard every day, reading papers, grading or teaching and preparing for those but also you have to fight to get your word recognized as legitimate against the established ortodoxies of dominant class ideologies which usually one way or another define the boundaries of your individual research. *

Obviously it is no surprise that some of the workers in academia are in the forefront of the class struggle because of this mutual battle that they have to wage for intellectual and material survival. In the recent "occupy" rally in the town I live, the whole cortege was about 2000-3000 and only the grad students and profs. from my department (history) constituted around at least 10 people leaving out numerous undergrads who are mostly part time workers.

To argue that academy workers should be left from their respective responcibilities in revolutionary organisations may have been a debatable question in 19th century but now it is not only an anti-intellectualist suspicion but also against class unity.

* Maybe I need to clarify one point here: when I said that there is a fight in two fronts in academy for workers, I did not mean that other workers in factory do not have the same situation. Obviously they too have to fight against many ideological obstacles first being the very ideological organization of work and alienation itself. But this is a more open confrontation if you are in academy for obvious reasons and since it is waged alone more difficult than it is in many jobs to continue. Simply because in other jobs there is a more open unity between the development of opposition to the dominant ideology and the struggle for material interests whereas in academy the first nearly always preceedes the first which makes it so frutstrating and "alienating".

duskflesh
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Oct 17 2011 07:36

I hate to think of it this way but,

there is always that possibility that you might not stay an anarchist/socialist/revolutionary....and if you base your life decisions on an interpretation of these ideals you might very well regret it someday because you ended doing something you hate because you refused to to the thing you loves because you thought it would contract ideals that you no longer hold....oh the grief

I might add that I don't think you not becoming a part of academia is going to help the anarchist cause, it should not be the lifestyle you impose on your self that changes society but a movement from all(well ,most) walks of life trying to end suppression......we have too many Marxist here.....

haveing more anarchist is academia might make anarchism more respectable...

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Oct 17 2011 07:44

I think cooked's point is very interesting:

Quote:
From my own experience working in a paper mill (late nineties) there were more "intellectual" workers in the oldest generation still at work. Amongst my fathers generation there are a lot fewer and among the young (who never got a permanent job but worked precariously for years on and off) hardly anyone. This is very subjective but could it be that workplaces have been losing the people with the energy and interest in politics and organisation to the middle class jobs. Which are much more individualized and where it's much more difficult to make a difference? When I later worked in transport I couldn't spot the same patterns but you have much less contact with other workers there for obvious reasons.

Perhaps this may be related to the restructring of the world work force which shifted most of the manual labor to east and south asia and left in west europe, north america mostly service and other unproductive sectors. Of course the new generation of left inclined workers especially after 2000s who choosed to remain in academy after the graduation (like me) had to make a hard choice if they graduated from social sciences. Either choosing a disgusting career in some bank, advirtisement or state agency etc. which simply means working on lying or remaining in academy and waging a struggle that previous generation of workers did not have to do: to defend your politics at the same time trying to survive.

If I had a skill that could enable me earn my living I could afford better living conditions. However compared to 60s or 70s there is no more any job for an unskilled person like me in the "manual" side of the wage labor to choose except the very low income, mostly part time, higly insecure, temporary service sector jobs.

tastybrain
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Oct 17 2011 14:04

I'm enjoying the debate this thread has produced.

duskflesh wrote:
I hate to think of it this way but,

there is always that possibility that you might not stay an anarchist/socialist/revolutionary....and if you base your life decisions on an interpretation of these ideals you might very well regret it someday because you ended doing something you hate because you refused to to the thing you loves because you thought it would contract ideals that you no longer hold....oh the grief

I might add that I don't think you not becoming a part of academia is going to help the anarchist cause, it should not be the lifestyle you impose on your self that changes society but a movement from all(well ,most) walks of life trying to end suppression......we have too many Marxist here.....

haveing more anarchist is academia might make anarchism more respectable...

I agree Duskflesh. Since I have the opportunity to at least try for a career in academia, it would be silly for me not to attempt it, and not attempting it does nothing for any political ideology. I'm trying to get at why a few people (such as Samotnaf) seem to believe being an academic precludes being a (pro) revolutionary. This is not the same thing as being a "radical academic". I don't think being an academic does anything for my politics necessarily, but I don't think it makes me automatically counterrevolutionary either. Furthermore, I would love to negate my own status as an "academic" by making the pursuit of knowledge something that is available to everyone...but that doesn't answer the question of what I should do in the here and now.

And no, I'm not going to change my career plans just cause some people on Libcom think it's counterrevolutionary or something wink .

tastybrain
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Oct 17 2011 14:37
whatisinevidence wrote:
Real question: are there any communist groups/magazines in the world that are not primarily run/edited by academics or other middle class professionals?

As Devrim said, "middle class" is a sociological concept. If you define "middle class" as workers who have a comparatively high income, I don't think all, or most academics are "middle class", even including tenured professors. I know for a fact that many of the (few remaining) industrial unionized jobs in America (such as autoworkers, some people that work for Verizon, etc) pay more than "academic jobs".

R.R. Berkman wrote:
Indeed. I'm not normally one to post - I lurk generally - but I've been hunting all day and I'm stuck out in the middle of nowhere with little to do. Ergo, posting time.

I've also been in and out of academia. Currently, I work at the post office as a letter carrier. The simple fact is that within the academic fold, there are very few jobs. There is high competition, and little organisation. And, due to the seemingly intrinsically bifurcated nature of "tenure," the academy is a "dual contract" shop. This means that one group of workers retains a high degree of job security and pay, and another (which is in reality the vast majority) gets bupkes. We'd never allow this in the post office, as it has destroyed a massive amount of union density in North America, the auto workers especially. It's really quite disgusting, but it's sold as cultural and procedural, instead of economic. I remember one day, we were all sitting about the faculty club talking about our tax rebates. This lead to talk about pay. It turned out that I was the highest paid person at the table, as a letter-carrier. Full time professors made considerably less than I. And I'm not that well off, I make $25.79/hr (our contracts are public knowledge).

Universities are nasty corporations, and will drive down costs by whatever means, in the same manner as other profit motivated institutions within capitalism. They precarious-ize their workers, and there's little way of fighting back. This is why we have to ditch tenure and move to an industrial model of organising for university workers. Tenure does not protect one from sacking, it does not really procure any real manifestation of "academic freedom," however defined. If one desires that, it can only come about through struggle like at any other occupation, it will never be given. If one wants to be a revolutionary, be one. Organise where you're at, it doesn't matter if you're in the information industry or whatever, procure industrial power and exercise it. Educators are no different, although our position does give us much more protection than in many other industries. It's a protection that is woefully under-utilised.

Nice post Berkman. Thanks for the insight. I'm leaning towards your position. I also think it's silly to think "revolutionary workers" are "out there", outside of the academy, as opposed to potentially in one's own workplace. If I become some sort of academic I will definitely try to agitate where I am rather than looking for class struggle somewhere else.

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Oct 17 2011 15:48

The problem for me is that as an academic you are paid to produce ideas, so how can you separate that from your political convictions? I think there is just an inherent problem in being an academic and a revolutionary that cannot be easily dismissed. I am only saying this because I am myself both and it is something I struggle to articulate fully. How can you be an academic and not contribute to reifiying the world. It's more complicated than talking about how much people get exploited. Obviously academics are workers in that they are paid wages. But they also are paid, like advertisers and other such thought police, to contribute to the reification and specialisation, or fragmentation, of knowledge. This is the real problem with being an academic, it has nothing to do with being 'middle class'. I'm not saying that you can't get round the problem somehow but you have to recognise that there is a problem!

(N.B. I'm going to have a middle class job, I come from a middle class family and I have a middle class accent. I'm not going to let people make me feel guilty for not being as exploited as someone else. Often talk of the 'middle class' in these discussions amounts to little more than resentment. Newsflash: being middle class is shit and you can feel just as massively alienated from other middle class people and their tiny mindsets as any blue collar worker can.)

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Oct 17 2011 17:16

Malva is right to draw attention to this more fundamental structural problem associated with the division of labour between intelectual and manual labour - which is at it's most rigidly separated in the higher echelons of University academic life, (though not necessarily at every level of the now greatly extended mass university industry).

We can see that this academic approach along with the associated division of labour is often replicated within our own milieu and within particular political organisations.

Non of this is new of course and whilst it cannot be overcome alltogether by our own efforts , recognising the problem is the first step to combatting it's detrimental effects as best we can in this society.

Certainly we need to be aware of the tendency of 'pro-revolutionaries' within academia reproducing their professional function within the class struggle and potentially within any revolutionary transformation of society.

Pro-revolutionary academics may have the time and freedom to sometimes produce useful theoretical and explanatory works which we can use, but these will more often than not be based on external observation of the class struggle rather than active participation in such struggles, based on their own material interests. (My comrade who managed to get a useful book on 'Anti-parliamentary communism in Britain' out of his studies sensibly decided to become a baker when he left).

'Organise where you are at' may be good advice here but it does need to be accross the usual academic/ non-academic divide and not, again, necessarily lead by 'academics'.

vanilla.ice.baby
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Oct 17 2011 17:36
Peter wrote:
Platformist in opportunism shocker.

Who the fuck are you any you daft clown?

Have you actually got a political point to make?

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quint
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Oct 17 2011 18:53

I think Devrim's point is crucial. It's possible to be sociologically middle class, and to be working class from a communist perspective. There are a couple points I'd like to add / restate.

----- How much does capital dominate the organization and rhythm of the work?Obviously schools are capitalist enterprises exploiting the workers, but academic workers still have lot of freedom to organize the work. Teachers have a lot of internal control over the work process (unlike other common working class jobs these days like say telemarketers, or cashiers, or truck drivers or waitresses). This is not a question of whether or not academics are working class, but it is important as to how miserable to work itself is, and therefore how likely academia is to be a point of unrest.

----- I don't really think that what universities produce is ideas. Students pay for classes and for certifications and degrees. These are the commodities, not ideas. University teachers could maybe have an analogous relation to the means of production as say airplane pilots or masseurs. That is, it's part of the service industry.

----- I think the term "anti-intellectual" is a bit confusing because it has in it the idea of "being against intellectuals" and of "being against theory". This is an important distinction. An intellectual is a separate specialized person whose jobs is to think and theorize. Being against this specialization is very different from being against abstract thought or theory in general.

----- One of the problems is that the university publishing mill really pushes you towards a certain style of writing. You need lots of references and citations. Not just because facts need to be backed up, but also because there is a culture of making reference to intellectual ideas to demonstrate that you are an educated person, and of trading citations with other academics, so you can show how and where you've been cited. This style is imposed on you by writing in an academic setting. Just like various "objective" or sensationalist writing styles are imposed on different kinds of journalists.

----- In my experience, the more mind-numbing the job, the more I have wanted to try to be a part of reading groups or to read and write theory. When I was a university student years ago, I found that this elitist style that academia makes you fit your writing into, made me very anti-intellectual in both senses of the word. I find many of the most ridiculously workerist anti-intellectuals I've met, have been university students.

----- I think that the danger with academic jobs is not that people will be too comfortable in their work, but that people will want to preserve their role, and think they can make a serious contribution to radical politics _as academics_. This is a lot more prevalent in the humanities than the sciences in my experience. Again, this is not a question of individuals and career choices. This is a question of academics in general. There is a very common idea among academics that they can be radical in their official work. This is not to say that there is something wrong with academics pushing the spaces that are possible to write about working class history or something. My problem is with the identification with the job and the role of an academic that it can create. Which is part of what can create a middle class identity separate from the rest of the working class. The important question is: am I being radical by doing my job. Radical academics and teachers (not to mentions journalists, or people working for community groups or unions) can think this. It's a lot less common in other jobs, and this to me is a unique danger with these kinds of jobs.

… anyway… interesting discussion this.

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Malva
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Oct 17 2011 19:43

@quint Some really good points there. Especially about the term anti-intellectual and the last paragraph of your post.

I like the way this discussion is going.

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Cooked
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Oct 17 2011 20:17

I find it frustrating that the old "sociological definition of class" boogieman is back in action. As I've said before I wish people could have the discipline of avoiding applying class to individuals. On telly a couple of years ago some northern guy said he wasn't working class because he could afford to go on holiday abroad, he felt immigrants were the new working class as they were actually poor. He worked a manual job in industry.

Try mentioning class struggle to someone who self identifies as middle class. They might sorta agree but will be very unsure if they will be against the wall come revolution wink To clarify you have to give a 10min lecture, they still won't be sure. Then all sorts of people within the movement constantly "slip" and use the sociological definition revealing that even communists think in terms of sociological class. Really fucking annoying and leaves people hanging, waiting for the constantly moving line to be redrawn under their feet or their life to improve leaving them on the other side.

The issue I have with it is I can't really see the real dangers being a bit slack and letting some posh people in.

This is where it get really frustrating though... I find that middle class people have different attitudes and interests and I believe these will affect the movement. (my analysis could be wrong as I'm also foreign) but I just feel it's generally best to not be overly defensive. Samotnaf have on a couple of occasions argued for a more strict and defensive position.

Saying that I was paid 3hrs a week as a lecturer last year (I'm not an academic though... figure that one out wink and my attitudes might have mellowed by the high life and these strange middle class people that I have around me these days.