Communique from an Absent Future

Pamphlet associated with the occupation movement at universities in the state of California.

Submitted by spaceattack on November 3, 2009

An introduction was included in some versions of the pamphlet, and not in others.


WE LIVE AS A DEAD CIVILIZATION. We can no longer imagine the good life except as a series of spectacles preselected for our bemusement: a shimmering menu of illusions. Both the full-filled life and our own imaginations have been systematically replaced by a set of images more lavish and inhumane than anything we ourselves would conceive, and equally beyond reach. No one believes in such outcomes anymore.

The truth of life after the university is mean and petty competition for resources with our friends and strangers: the hustle for a lower-management position that will last (with luck) for a couple years rifted with anxiety, fear, and increasing exploitation—until the firm crumbles and we mutter about “plan B.” But this is an exact description of university life today; that mean and petty life has already arrived.

Just to survive, we are compelled to adopt various attitudes toward this fissure between bankrupt promises and the actuality on offer. Some take a naïve romantic stance toward education for its own sake, telling themselves they expect nothing further. Some proceed with iron cynicism and scorn, racing through the ludicrous charade toward the last wad of cash in the airless vault of the future. And some remain committed to the antique faith that their ascendingly hard labor will surely be rewarded some day if they just act as one who believes, just show up, take on more degrees and more debt, work harder.

Time, the actual material of our being, disappears: the hours of our daily life. The future is seized from us in advance, given over to the servicing of debt and to beggaring our neighbors. Maybe we will earn the rent on our boredom, more likely not. There will be no 77 virgins, not even a plasma monitor on which to watch the death throes of the United States as a global power. Capitalism has finally become a true religion,wherein the riches of heaven are everywhere promised and nowhere delivered. The only difference is that every manner of crassness and cruelty is actively encouraged in the unending meantime. We live as a dead civilization, the last residents of Pompeii.

Romantic naïvete, iron cynicism, scorn, commitment. The university and the life it reproduces have depended on these things. They have counted on our human capacities to endure, and to prop up that world’s catastrophic failure for just a few more years. But why not hasten its collapse? The university has rotted itself from the inside: the “human capital” of staff, teachers, and students would now no more defend it than they would defend a city of the dead.

Romantic naïvete, iron cynicism, scorn, commitment: these need not be abandoned. The university forced us to learn them as tools; they will return as weapons. The university that makes us mute and dull instruments of its own reproduction must be destroyed so that we can produce our own lives. Romantic naïvete about possibilities; iron cynicism about methods; scorn for the university’s humiliating lies about its situation and its good intentions; commitment to absolute transformation — not of the university, but of our own lives. This is the beginning of imagination’s return. We must begin to move again, release ourselves from frozen history, from the igneous frieze of this buried life.

We must live our own time, our own possibilities. These are the only true justifications for the university’s existence, though it has never fulfilled them. On its side: bureaucracy, inertia, incompetence. On our side: everything else.


Like the society to which it has played the faithful servant, the university is bankrupt. This bankruptcy is not only financial. It is the index of a more fundamental insolvency, one both political and economic, which has been a long time in the making. No one knows what the university is for anymore. We feel this intuitively. Gone is the old project of creating a cultured and educated citizenry; gone, too, the special advantage the degree-holder once held on the job market. These are now fantasies, spectral residues that cling to the poorly maintained halls.

Incongruous architecture, the ghosts of vanished ideals, the vista of a dead future: these are the remains of the university. Among these remains, most of us are little more than a collection of querulous habits and duties. We go through the motions of our tests and assignments with a kind of thoughtless and immutable obedience propped up by subvocalized resentments. Nothing is interesting, nothing can make itself felt. The world-historical with its pageant of catastrophe is no more real than the windows in which it appears.

For those whose adolescence was poisoned by the nationalist hysteria following September 11th, public speech is nothing but a series of lies and public space a place where things might explode (though they never do). Afflicted by the vague desire for something to happen—without ever imagining we could make it happen ourselves—we were rescued by the bland homogeneity of the internet, finding refuge among friends we never see, whose entire existence is a series of exclamations and silly pictures, whose only discourse is the gossip of commodities. Safety, then, and comfort have been our watchwords. We slide through the flesh world without being touched or moved. We shepherd our emptiness from place to place.

But we can be grateful for our destitution: demystification is now a condition, not a project. University life finally appears as just what it has always been: a machine for producing compliant producers and consumers. Even leisure is a form of job training. The idiot crew of the frat houses drink themselves into a stupor with all the dedication of lawyers working late at the office. Kids who smoked weed and cut class in high-school now pop Adderall and get to work. We power the diploma factory on the treadmills in the gym. We run tirelessly in elliptical circles.

It makes little sense, then, to think of the university as an ivory tower in Arcadia, as either idyllic or idle. “Work hard, play hard” has been the over-eager motto of a generation in training for…what?—drawing hearts in cappuccino foam or plugging names and numbers into databases. The gleaming techno-future of American capitalism was long ago packed up and sold to China for a few more years of borrowed junk. A university diploma is now worth no more than a share in General Motors.

We work and we borrow in order to work and to borrow. And the jobs we work toward are the jobs we already have. Close to three quarters of students work while in school, many full-time; for most, the level of employment we obtain while students is the same that awaits after graduation. Meanwhile, what we acquire isn’t education; it’s debt. We work to make money we have already spent, and our future labor has already been sold on the worst market around. Average student loan debt rose 20 percent in the first five years of the twenty-first century—80-100 percent for students of color. Student loan volume—a figure inversely proportional to state funding for education—rose by nearly 800 percent from 1977 to 2003. What our borrowed tuition buys is the privilege of making monthly payments for the rest of our lives. What we learn is the choreography of credit: you can’t walk to class without being offered another piece of plastic charging 20 percent interest. Yesterday’s finance majors buy their summer homes with the bleak futures of today’s humanities majors.

This is the prospect for which we have been preparing since grade-school. Those of us who came here to have our privilege notarized surrendered our youth to a barrage of tutors, a battery of psychological tests, obligatory public service ops—the cynical compilation of half-truths toward a well-rounded application profile. No wonder we set about destroying ourselves the second we escape the cattle prod of parental admonition. On the other hand, those of us who came here to transcend the economic and social disadvantages of our families know that for every one of us who “makes it,” ten more take our place—that the logic here is zero-sum. And anyway, socioeconomic status remains the best predictor of student achievement. Those of us the demographics call “immigrants,” “minorities,” and “people of color” have been told to believe in the aristocracy of merit. But we know we are hated not despite our achievements, but precisely because of them. And we know that the circuits through which we might free ourselves from the violence of our origins only reproduce the misery of the past in the present for others, elsewhere.

If the university teaches us primarily how to be in debt, how to waste our labor power, how to fall prey to petty anxieties, it thereby teaches us how to be consumers. Education is a commodity like everything else that we want without caring for. It is a thing, and it makes its purchasers into things. One’s future position in the system, one’s relation to others, is purchased first with money and then with the demonstration of obedience. First we pay, then we “work hard.” And there is the split: one is both the commander and the commanded, consumer and consumed. It is the system itself which one obeys, the cold buildings that enforce subservience. Those who teach are treated with all the respect of an automated messaging system. Only the logic of customer satisfaction obtains here: was the course easy? Was the teacher hot? Could any stupid asshole get an A? What’s the point of acquiring knowledge when it can be called up with a few keystokes? Who needs memory when we have the internet? A training in thought? You can’t be serious. A moral preparation? There are anti-depressants for that.

Meanwhile the graduate students, supposedly the most politically enlightened among us, are also the most obedient. The “vocation” for which they labor is nothing other than a fantasy of falling off the grid, or out of the labor market. Every grad student is a would be Robinson Crusoe, dreaming of an island economy subtracted from the exigencies of the market. But this fantasy is itself sustained through an unremitting submission to the market. There is no longer the least felt contradiction in teaching a totalizing critique of capitalism by day and polishing one’s job talk by night. That our pleasure is our labor only makes our symptoms more manageable. Aesthetics and politics collapse courtesy of the substitution of ideology for history: booze and beaux arts and another seminar on the question of being, the steady blur of typeface, each pixel paid for by somebody somewhere, some not-me, not-here, where all that appears is good and all goods appear attainable by credit.

Graduate school is simply the faded remnant of a feudal system adapted to the logic of capitalism—from the commanding heights of the star professors to the serried ranks of teaching assistants and adjuncts paid mostly in bad faith. A kind of monasticism predominates here, with all the Gothic rituals of a Benedictine abbey, and all the strange theological claims for the nobility of this work, its essential altruism. The underlings are only too happy to play apprentice to the masters, unable to do the math indicating that nine-tenths of us will teach 4 courses every semester to pad the paychecks of the one-tenth who sustain the fiction that we can all be the one. Of course I will be the star, I will get the tenure-track job in a large city and move into a newly gentrified neighborhood.

We end up interpreting Marx’s 11th thesis on Feuerbach: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it.” At best, we learn the phoenix-like skill of coming to the very limits of critique and perishing there, only to begin again at the seemingly ineradicable root. We admire the first part of this performance: it lights our way. But we want the tools to break through that point of suicidal thought, its hinge in practice.

The same people who practice “critique” are also the most susceptible to cynicism. But if cynicism is simply the inverted form of enthusiasm, then beneath every frustrated leftist academic is a latent radical. The shoulder shrug, the dulled face, the squirm of embarrassment when discussing the fact that the US murdered a million Iraqis between 2003 and 2006, that every last dime squeezed from America’s poorest citizens is fed to the banking industry, that the seas will rise, billions will die and there’s nothing we can do about it—this discomfited posture comes from feeling oneself pulled between the is and the ought of current left thought. One feels that there is no alternative, and yet, on the other hand, that another world is possible.

We will not be so petulant. The synthesis of these positions is right in front of us: another world is not possible; it is necessary. The ought and the is are one. The collapse of the global economy is here and now.


The university has no history of its own; its history is the history of capital. Its essential function is the reproduction of the relationship between capital and labor. Though not a proper corporation that can be bought and sold, that pays revenue to its investors, the public university nonetheless carries out this function as efficiently as possible by approximating ever more closely the corporate form of its bedfellows. What we are witnessing now is the endgame of this process, whereby the façade of the educational institution gives way altogether to corporate streamlining.

Even in the golden age of capitalism that followed after World War II and lasted until the late 1960s, the liberal university was already subordinated to capital. At the apex of public funding for higher education, in the 1950s, the university was already being redesigned to produce technocrats with the skill-sets necessary to defeat “communism” and sustain US hegemony. Its role during the Cold War was to legitimate liberal democracy and to reproduce an imaginary society of free and equal citizens—precisely because no one was free and no one was equal.

But if this ideological function of the public university was at least well-funded after the Second World War, that situation changed irreversibly in the 1960s, and no amount of social-democratic heel-clicking will bring back the dead world of the post-war boom. Between 1965 and 1980 profit rates began to fall, first in the US, then in the rest of the industrializing world. Capitalism, it turned out, could not sustain the good life it made possible. For capital, abundance appears as overproduction, freedom from work as unemployment. Beginning in the 1970s, capitalism entered into a terminal downturn in which permanent work was casualized and working-class wages stagnated, while those at the top were temporarily rewarded for their obscure financial necromancy, which has itself proved unsustainable.

For public education, the long downturn meant the decline of tax revenues due to both declining rates of economic growth and the prioritization of tax-breaks for beleaguered corporations. The raiding of the public purse struck California and the rest of the nation in the 1970s. It has continued to strike with each downward declension of the business cycle. Though it is not directly beholden to the market, the university and its corollaries are subject to the same cost-cutting logic as other industries: declining tax revenues have made inevitable the casualization of work. Retiring professors make way not for tenure-track jobs but for precariously employed teaching assistants, adjuncts, and lecturers who do the same work for much less pay. Tuition increases compensate for cuts while the jobs students pay to be trained for evaporate.

In the midst of the current crisis, which will be long and protracted, many on the left want to return to the golden age of public education. They naïvely imagine that the crisis of the present is an opportunity to demand the return of the past. But social programs that depended upon high profit rates and vigorous economic growth are gone. We cannot be tempted to make futile grabs at the irretrievable while ignoring the obvious fact that there can be no autonomous “public university” in a capitalist society. The university is subject to the real crisis of capitalism, and capital does not require liberal education programs. The function of the university has always been to reproduce the working class by training future workers according to the changing needs of capital. The crisis of the university today is the crisis of the reproduction of the working class, the crisis of a period in which capital no longer needs us as workers. We cannot free the university from the exigencies of the market by calling for the return of the public education system. We live out the terminus of the very market logic upon which that system was founded. The only autonomy we can hope to attain exists beyond capitalism.

What this means for our struggle is that we can’t go backward. The old student struggles are the relics of a vanished world. In the 1960s, as the post-war boom was just beginning to unravel, radicals within the confines of the university understood that another world was possible. Fed up with technocratic management, wanting to break the chains of a conformist society, and rejecting alienated work as unnecessary in an age of abundance, students tried to align themselves with radical sections of the working class. But their mode of radicalization, too tenuously connected to the economic logic of capitalism, prevented that alignment from taking hold. Because their resistance to the Vietnam war focalized critique upon capitalism as a colonial war-machine, but insufficiently upon its exploitation of domestic labor, students were easily split off from a working class facing different problems. In the twilight era of the post-war boom, the university was not subsumed by capital to the degree that it is now, and students were not as intensively proletarianized by debt and a devastated labor market.

That is why our struggle is fundamentally different. The poverty of student life has become terminal: there is no promised exit. If the economic crisis of the 1970s emerged to break the back of the political crisis of the 1960s, the fact that today the economic crisis precedes the coming political uprising means we may finally supersede the cooptation and neutralization of those past struggles. There will be no return to normal.


We seek to push the university struggle to its limits.

Though we denounce the privatization of the university and its authoritarian system of governance, we do not seek structural reforms. We demand not a free university but a free society. A free university in the midst of a capitalist society is like a reading room in a prison; it serves only as a distraction from the misery of daily life. Instead we seek to channel the anger of the dispossessed students and workers into a declaration of war.

We must begin by preventing the university from functioning. We must interrupt the normal flow of bodies and things and bring work and class to a halt. We will blockade, occupy, and take what’s ours. Rather than viewing such disruptions as obstacles to dialogue and mutual understanding, we see them as what we have to say, as how we are to be understood. This is the only meaningful position to take when crises lay bare the opposing interests at the foundation of society. Calls for unity are fundamentally empty. There is no common ground between those who uphold the status quo and those who seek to destroy it.

The university struggle is one among many, one sector where a new cycle of refusal and insurrection has begun – in workplaces, neighborhoods, and slums. All of our futures are linked, and so our movement will have to join with these others, breeching the walls of the university compounds and spilling into the streets. In recent weeks Bay Area public school teachers, BART employees, and unemployed have threatened demonstrations and strikes. Each of these movements responds to a different facet of capitalism’s reinvigorated attack on the working class in a moment of crisis. Viewed separately, each appears small, near-sighted, without hope of success. Taken together, however, they suggest the possibility of widespread refusal and resistance. Our task is to make plain the common conditions that, like a hidden water table, feed each struggle.

We have seen this kind of upsurge in the recent past, a rebellion that starts in the classrooms and radiates outward to encompass the whole of society. Just two years ago the anti-CPE movement in France, combating a new law that enabled employers to fire young workers without cause, brought huge numbers into the streets. High school and university students, teachers, parents, rank and file union members, and unemployed youth from the banlieues found themselves together on the same side of the barricades. (This solidarity was often fragile, however. The riots of immigrant youth in the suburbs and university students in the city centers never merged, and at times tensions flared between the two groups.) French students saw through the illusion of the university as a place of refuge and enlightenment and acknowledged that they were merely being trained to work. They took to the streets as workers, protesting their precarious futures. Their position tore down the partitions between the schools and the workplaces and immediately elicited the support of many wage workers and unemployed people in a mass gesture of proletarian refusal.

As the movement developed it manifested a growing tension between revolution and reform. Its form was more radical than its content. While the rhetoric of the student leaders focused merely on a return to the status quo, the actions of the youth – the riots, the cars overturned and set on fire, the blockades of roads and railways, and the waves of occupations that shut down high schools and universities – announced the extent of the new generation’s disillusionment and rage. Despite all of this, however, the movement quickly disintegrated when the CPE law was eventually dropped. While the most radical segment of the movement sought to expand the rebellion into a general revolt against capitalism, they could not secure significant support and the demonstrations, occupations, and blockades dwindled and soon died. Ultimately the movement was unable to transcend the limitations of reformism.

The Greek uprising of December 2008 broke through many of these limitations and marked the beginning of a new cycle of class struggle. Initiated by students in response to the murder of an Athens youth by police, the uprising consisted of weeks of rioting, looting, and occupations of universities, union offices, and television stations. Entire financial and shopping districts burned, and what the movement lacked in numbers it made up in its geographical breadth, spreading from city to city to encompass the whole of Greece. As in France it was an uprising of youth, for whom the economic crisis represented a total negation of the future. Students, precarious workers, and immigrants were the protagonists, and they were able to achieve a level of unity that far surpassed the fragile solidarities of the anti-CPE movement.

Just as significantly, they made almost no demands. While of course some demonstrators sought to reform the police system or to critique specific government policies, in general they asked for nothing at all from the government, the university, the workplaces, or the police. Not because they considered this a better strategy, but because they wanted nothing that any of these institutions could offer. Here content aligned with form; whereas the optimistic slogans that appeared everywhere in French demonstrations jarred with the images of burning cars and broken glass, in Greece the rioting was the obvious means to begin to enact the destruction of an entire political and economic system.

Ultimately the dynamics that created the uprising also established its limit. It was made possible by the existence of a sizeable radical infrastructure in urban areas, in particular the Exarchia neighborhood in Athens. The squats, bars, cafes, and social centers, frequented by students and immigrant youth, created the milieu out of which the uprising emerged. However, this milieu was alien to most middle-aged wage workers, who did not see the struggle as their own. Though many expressed solidarity with the rioting youth, they perceived it as a movement of entrants – that is, of that portion of the proletariat that sought entrance to the labor market but was not formally employed in full-time jobs. The uprising, strong in the schools and the immigrant suburbs, did not spread to the workplaces.

Our task in the current struggle will be to make clear the contradiction between form and content and to create the conditions for the transcendence of reformist demands and the implementation of a truly communist content. As the unions and student and faculty groups push their various “issues,” we must increase the tension until it is clear that we want something else entirely. We must constantly expose the incoherence of demands for democratization and transparency. What good is it to have the right to see how intolerable things are, or to elect those who will screw us over? We must leave behind the culture of student activism, with its moralistic mantras of non-violence and its fixation on single-issue causes. The only success with which we can be content is the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the certain immiseration and death which it promises for the 21st century. All of our actions must push us towards communization; that is, the reorganization of society according to a logic of free giving and receiving, and the immediate abolition of the wage, the value-form, compulsory labor, and exchange. Occupation will be a critical tactic in our struggle, but we must resist the tendency to use it in a reformist way. The different strategic uses of occupation became clear this past January when students occupied a building at the New School in New York. A group of friends, mostly graduate students, decided to take over the Student Center and claim it as a liberated space for students and the public. Soon others joined in, but many of them preferred to use the action as leverage to win reforms, in particular to oust the school’s president. These differences came to a head as the occupation unfolded. While the student reformers were focused on leaving the building with a tangible concession from the administration, others shunned demands entirely. They saw the point of occupation as the creation of a momentary opening in capitalist time and space, a rearrangement that sketched the contours of a new society. We side with this anti-reformist position. While we know these free zones will be partial and transitory, the tensions they expose between the real and the possible can push the struggle in a more radical direction.

We intend to employ this tactic until it becomes generalized. In 2001 the first Argentine piqueteros suggested the form the people’s struggle there should take: road blockades which brought to a halt the circulation of goods from place to place. Within months this tactic spread across the country without any formal coordination between groups. In the same way repetition can establish occupation as an instinctive and immediate method of revolt taken up both inside and outside the university. We have seen a new wave of takeovers in the U.S. over the last year, both at universities and workplaces: New School and NYU, as well as the workers at Republic Windows Factory in Chicago, who fought the closure of their factory by taking it over. Now it is our turn.

To accomplish our goals we cannot rely on those groups which position themselves as our representatives. We are willing to work with unions and student associations when we find it useful, but we do not recognize their authority. We must act on our own behalf directly, without mediation. We must break with any groups that seek to limit the struggle by telling us to go back to work or class, to negotiate, to reconcile. This was also the case in France. The original calls for protest were made by the national high school and university student associations and by some of the trade unions. Eventually, as the representative groups urged calm, others forged ahead. And in Greece the unions revealed their counter-revolutionary character by cancelling strikes and calling for restraint.

As an alternative to being herded by representatives, we call on students and workers to organize themselves across trade lines. We urge undergraduates, teaching assistants, lecturers, faculty, service workers, and staff to begin meeting together to discuss their situation. The more we begin talking to one another and finding our common interests, the more difficult it becomes for the administration to pit us against each other in a hopeless competition for dwindling resources. The recent struggles at NYU and the New School suffered from the absence of these deep bonds, and if there is a lesson to be learned from them it is that we must build dense networks of solidarity based upon the recognition of a shared enemy. These networks not only make us resistant to recuperation and neutralization, but also allow us to establish new kinds of collective bonds. These bonds are the real basis of our struggle.

We’ll see you at the barricades.

Research and Destroy




14 years 7 months ago

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Submitted by renegado on November 5, 2009

Communiqué from an Absent Future — Further Discussion (Round One)
(repost from AK Press:

Communiqué from an Absent Future — Further Discussion (Round One)

By charles | November 4, 2009

I recently posted Research & Destroy’s Communiqué from an Absent Future on this blog. The manifesto, circulated during the recent University of California walkout, has been generating a lot of online discussion.

I thought it might be useful to try to continue that discussion in a more, uh, “organized” manner…one that would free it from the sort of tit-for-tat exchanges that happen in listserv debates and within the confines of blog/Facebook comment boxes (though, of course, I encourage comments to this post).

I talked to one of the Communiqué’s authors, and to Brian Holmes (who wrote, I thought, a very interesting response to the manifesto), and to folks involved with the New School occupation. Together, we came up with three questions, based on reservations about and critiques of the Communiqué we’d seen circulated online.

So, here’s how the discussion will happen:

Round One, below, will be three sets of responses to the questions we came up with: one a collective response from Research and Destroy, one a collective response from Dead Labor (the aforementioned New School occupiers), and an individual response from Brian Holmes (who is one of the organizers of the “Continental Drift Seminar”).

Round Two, which will be posted in a week or two, will be everyone’s responses to the first round of responses.

These are the three questions folks were asked to answer:

1) Whaddya mean the management class is being proletarianized!?! Isn’t this somehow an insult/misrecognition regarding the REAL proletariat?

2) Does addressing the university student as the potential revolutionary subject get us closer to revolution? How? How not?

3) What would a non-reformist goal for a university be, if one exists?

Let the games begin! [Oh, by the way, it's a long post. If you prefer a printable PDF, click here.]





1) Whaddya mean the management class is being proletarianized!?! Isn’t this somehow an insult/misrecognition regarding the REAL proletariat?

The R&D communiqué seems to have provoked skepticism with the brief passage, “The crisis of the university today is the crisis of the reproduction of the working class, the crisis of a period in which capital no longer needs us as workers.” Against misreading, perhaps we should say that the crisis of the university is the crisis of the reproduction of the capital-labor relationship. Classes are a relation; when we talk about capital and labor we mean the poles of this relation in motion, not a series of rigid sociological categories with, say, the right amount or right kind of immiseration. The current crisis of profitability, for example, is not just a crisis of and for capitalists; it goes to every point in the social grid.

Whether or not one thinks of the places traditionally reserved for university graduates—the professional, the technician, the manager—as middle-class or some privileged fraction of the working-class, the university has no existence save by relationship to work and future work prospects. Even if one thinks narrowly of the true proletariat as unskilled manual laborers, such a group still remains the other of the university: the truth of class society from which university entrants seek immunity or escape. By serving as a real or imagined sorting system, the university (and like organs of class reproduction) assists in the perpetuation not only of the working-class but all classes.

This is precisely what has begun to decompose. Close to half of university graduates work in unskilled and service-sector occupations for which their degrees are entirely unnecessary. Those who do find employment in the technical, professional, and managerial occupation discover that decades of routinization and labor-market oversupply have nullified the advantage of these positions. Computer programming becomes data-entry, so-called “middle”-management positions nothing more than routinized clerical work. As manufacturing jobs departed with the high industrial era, it was precisely these other positions to which capital shifted its attention, attempting, rather desperately, to save on labor costs in a local-global competition—managing the managers so that they, in turn, might hector and superexploit the inferiors they were made to fear becoming. No doubt the university continues to reproduce a (shrinking) class of elites. The broad lines, however, are clear: a university degree is now as mythical a form of security as the value of a home in 2006. This myth forms, in part, the object of our researches, of our destructions.

There’s no need to overread “capital no longer needs us as workers.” We understand that there is no capital without the extraction of surplus-value from workers: capitalism is nothing but this extraction in motion. But capital now casts about wildly in its attempts to find new pools of accumulation: it cannot valorize itself to the degree it would like, and many workers find themselves without the dubious but nonetheless necessary benefits of such exploitation. The annihilation visited on the manufacturing sectors has leapt to the fields of work that can’t be compressed through labor-saving mechanization. There is nowhere for capital to turn but to the intensification of labor, the harrying of workers, managerial mechanics. Yes, capital will find use for some of us; many will find little or no employment. This is not to say that the college graduates inhabit the same place in the structure as the most immiserated workers—in both objective and subjective terms the composition of the working-class exhibits great variety. Solidarity means recognizing these differences in relation; it means a revolutionary program with the will to destroy them. . .

2) Does addressing the university student as the potential revolutionary subject get us closer to revolution? How? How not?

It remains opaque to us why one would not address the student as a potential revolutionary subject. The exploitation on which the current relations of production depend is immanent: it passes through walls and hours. If there is some idea, within or without the porous borders of the university, that life there is in some way exempt from the logic of capital, that the university is not indeed a forcing house for that logic, well, this is an illusion that should be directly confronted. That’s likely the best reason to address the university student—as recognition of capital’s true success in the recent epoch, which is to have successfully insinuated itself into every minute, every conversation and every dream.

The university with its ceremonial robes still holds on to something of the medieval—a distant whiff of the guild, with its masters, apprentices, stock boys. It is no doubt a challenge to persuade professors, graduate and undergraduate students to identify themselves as part of a larger class of labor. No doubt this is in part because each occupies a visibly different place in the matrix of the exploited, and some are more rewarded than others for their participation. This failure of class consciousness, this blindness to base material conditions, is a description of the problem that exists at all strata—not a reason to look elsewhere for problems.

Do students have a peculiar or novel position in this problem of consciousness, of self-identification within the matrix of capital and its possible overcoming? Yes and no—an answer that goes for almost every group among the exploited. Let us imagine the student who indeed goes four years entirely free from wage labor: that nearly extinct case, the pure student, who exists largely in the idealizations of the idiot bourgeois, and in the resentment of some few representatives of the immiserated industrial proletariat of North America whom, having failed to realize themselves as a revolutionary class, now would bar the doors of their historic defeat.

The novel role of these “pure students” (as representatives of the problem at hand) is not that they are free from wage exploitation for four idyllic years. It is that they are the subject of an epochal historical bargain. No mass of surplus value will be extracted for these four years—on promise that the training received therein will allow correspondingly greater value extraction over the following fifty. They are, in short, a personification (complete with skateboard and laptop) of capital’s widespread wager on relative as against absolute surplus value. Allowing greater historical specificity, they are the burgeoning subclass conjured by late capital’s increasing dependence on technologies of management—including managerial bodies—to defer its own crisis.

So what is not novel, not peculiar? That, en route to refusal and insurrection, students are easily bought off. Less easily than unions, in some formal sense of negotiation (if there is one lesson to learn from 1968, it is this); more easily, in that it is easier to purchase a student with an abstraction like democracy or peace. Everyone has their price. Correspondingly, everyone is a potential subject of the logic of price, and of its undoing —

3) What would a non-reformist goal for a university be, if one exists?

This question is hard to answer, because we can’t extract universities from the world around them. We can’t take individual universities and re-make them along communist lines, as though they could function as oases in the desert. This is a bit like trying to “free” workers by re-making individual workplaces into workers’ cooperatives. While businesses that are co-managed on a democratic basis by workers, who also divide the profits, may have certain advantages for those who work there, they are in no meaningful way moving beyond capitalism—they must make a profit in order to survive, they must pay for rent and equipment, and all the workers must make a wage that allows them to pay for all of the costs of survival. In a society in which the vast majority of people must spend most of their lives selling their labor for a wage, educational institutions will necessarily be places of social reproduction, places that train people to work. None of the possibilities for transforming the university within capitalism are able to overcome this problem.

The most commonly heard goal on the left for the university is the goal of accessibility—that is, making higher education free and available to all people. While we certainly agree that this kind of transformation would allow people from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds to compete more easily against wealthier people in the job market, it does not change the basic fact that people would still be forced to compete for the ability to work. In fact as more people get bachelors’ degrees, what we find is not a decrease in wealth inequality but a decrease in the worth of the degree, to the point where now to compete for many jobs degree holders must go back to school for more training.

The other goal for the university sometimes discussed in radical circles is the goal of a space where “real” learning can take place, in a mode that is either explicitly radical or at least in opposition to the values of a society based on wage labor. Those who take this position usually cite the importance of the Arts and Humanities as disciplines that play a central role in fostering human creativity, teaching critical thinking, and transmitting knowledge about the world. They point out that these disciplines are under attack and sometimes call for the creation of an autonomous “people’s” university operated by teachers and students, where learning will trump profit as a guiding principle. Of course we agree about the value of creativity and critical thought. However, any university that operated along these lines would quickly become irrelevant to the vast majority of people who need an education that provides them with a better chance of finding work. It would be useful only to those who aim to translate the cultural capital acquired through training in the Arts and Humanities into jobs in the culture industry or to those who are independently wealthy.

The honest answer to the question about a non-reformist goal for a university is that our world is structured in such a way as to make radical change within one sphere impossible. Only by dismantling the whole can we hope to produce institutions that actually provide for people’s needs in a meaningful way. In other words, focusing on the university as a site of radical transformation is a mistake. The real value of university struggles is not their ability to transform the university, but their potential to draw attention to the interrelations between the reproductive and productive spheres. As students begin to articulate themselves as workers and future workers, the mythology around the university starts to dissipate and the separation between students and workers begins to disappear.

A non-reformist approach to the university must expose what universities really are: institutions that reproduce the workforce, that is, that train and educate people to become workers, depending upon the particular needs of the economy at any given moment; and workplaces in their own right, employing teachers, staff, and service workers. We must also demonstrate that movements for university reform take the wrong position at a critical historical moment, a moment of capitalist crisis. Hearkening back to a time of generous government spending on public needs is the wrong strategy when the public purse is shrinking rapidly. Instead of trying desperately to show how the government can meet our needs, we should use the opportunity to show how it can’t meet our needs—to demonstrate capitalism’s inherent instability and its inability to provide for people. The system is faltering, and instead of trying to get it working smoothly again we need to aid its demise.

Instead of thinking of the university as our goal, we should see it as the means to an end: a useful place that can help us in our struggle against capitalism by exposing many of the contradictions inherent in the system as a whole. The university is simply one of many sites where these contradictions become concentrated—like workplaces, schools, prisons, and neighborhoods. We analyze a part to shed light on the whole. The most important thing is to demonstrate the university’s relationship to all of these other sites. Once these connections are made then university struggles blend more easily into other struggles in workplaces and communities. Strikes and expropriations (such as occupations) can be ways of demonstrating these connections. Taking over a university is really just taking over private property and collectivizing it—just like any property anywhere else in society. The point is to show that the university doesn’t belong just to the students who attend classes there or the individual workers who are employed there, but to all of the working class.

As for the role of universities in a free society, I think most of us at R&D agree that they will not exist. Learning and teaching will take place in very different modes, based on people’s varied needs and desires. But we think these modes will emerge through the process of communisation, as people begin to experiment with new social forms, and can’t be prescribed now.


I want to take these questions in a different order, or all at once. To address students as revolutionaries is to address them as equals, right now not later. It’s the best way of recognizing the long implosion of middle-class status that the financial crisis has suddenly thrust in our faces: “We are all going bankrupt,” says the communiqué from the second Santa Cruz occupation. Addressing students as revolutionaries asks the question, it possible to depose the people who run things this way?

Bankruptcy is a powerful word. It drains the belief from an institution the way news of an accident drains the blood from your face. At last, some disbelief. With tuition practically doubling, job markets plunging, health care non-existent for huge amounts of people, and flexible contracts getting more coercive by the day, it’s right to say that proletarianization is haunting the student population, and that’s what comes off clearest in the Communiqué from an Absent Future. I especially like the cynical realism: it hits people where they are, it’s perfect. But words like “proletarian” or “working class” will never catch the aspirations of people going to school, they have a lot more to lose than their chains. What they have to lose are the potentials, the life chances, offered by the social state. Face it, people want something from the state! The budget cuts break the promise, that’s what hurts, that’s what makes people angry. “Occupy everything” is a great response, not because it’s the total appropriation of everyday life here and now—that’s overblown and it’s an illusion—but because occupation is a political “No!” that draws a line and proves that a fight is essential. What’s needed is to stop the neoliberal machine from privatizing everything, which can only be done by a break, a frontal opposition that wrenches everyone out of their ruts and opens up new chances, puts the whole social deal back on the table. The bankruptcy of the system reveals its potential value, and at the same time, its actual ruin by the elites who are creating a society that no one else wants to live in.

The question is, how to make the break? The radical point of the Communiqué is to avoid useless negotiation that only delays the inevitable. And it’s effective. But you better also avoid empty radicalism that only touches a small and easily neutralizable group. Here’s the paradox: passion is essential, the rhetoric of insurrection is good for sparking it, the experience of revolt is fundamental and it changes your life—but the riot never lasts for more than a few days. And the problems are immensely bigger than the rhetoric can encompass. No one should forget that the management plans that are being imposed, and the financial engineering behind them, are typical products of the university itself, which is the laboratory of neoliberalism and one of its most powerful institutions, it’s hardly slated to disappear in some catastrophic collapse. To oppose those techniques and to depose the people behind them is going to require, not the abandonment of the institution, but its complete refashioning, which would have to be done by strong currents of internal and external subversion. The aim is rational and affective reshaping, changing the feel and the very logic of the place. It’s not about reform, it’s about transforming the institution that fabricates social beings, with their subjectivity and their knowledge and their technical skills. If we don’t transform it, the current brand of dominant subjectivity is gonna stay in power and set up lots more police. But the question is how to get people to make the change, when in fact, so many interest groups are profiting from the situation as it is, while others are trying to hang on to their status quo, and still others are too scared or just too dazed to mobilize. Invocations of early twentieth-century struggles are not going to do the trick. Marx did not live through the 1930s and there is no analysis in Capital of the class structure produced by the social state, let alone the perverse twists that neoliberalism has given it. ‘68 already failed on outdated schemas and slogans. With the same starting points, this time will be no different. You have to begin with all the complexity of real life, and get the people living it to push it much further.

The specter of bankruptcy has shocked the ones who thought they could hang on to their current positions, the professors I mean. What they need to do—and to be forced to do—is publicly recognize that that they are losing their old liberal dream of the university, even while the students are slipping massively towards a precarious existence that has nothing to do with the subjects they came to study. I would say, the revolutionary strategy is getting a fraction of the profs to radicalize. That will send a lot more students over the line, don’t you think? It will take a three-sector alliance—the precarious students and contract faculty, the service workers of the university, and the full professors threatened in both their pocketbook and their sense of mission—to stand up to all the other interest groups who, so far, have been the winners. The Communiqué pushes mainly towards the affects of fear and refusal of exclusion, it doesn’t show how knowledge and cooperation become a weapon. I’d say, go for critique in action, occupy everything you can, but start opening up perspectives for a more complex resistance.

After the RNC protests in St Paul in ‘08 and similar paramilitary abuses at the recent G20 meeting in Pittsburgh, what’s missing are ideas about how to develop a radical struggle in a country that’s set up such an extreme repressive apparatus. We need non-violent techniques for direct action, fresh arguments for the right to dissent by professors and political figures, a mobilization of legal support, and, at the same time as all that, a refusal of the procedural limits that make the repressive system into its own tautology, allowing only the kinds of debates that insure its own reproduction. Movements are strong when they have lots of openings. In France these days, small coteries of people whisper about what’s happening in the countryside, in Tarnac, the coming insurrection. But the huge social movements of which those people form one interesting part require cooperation among many different levels of society. They are based in a continuous analysis of legislative, legal, and economic changes, along with a cultural production of counter-values and ways of reimagining the common, the public sphere, solidarity and social rights. In America we lack outbursts of revolt and sustained movements in order to overcome the enforced paralysis that has kept such ideas from getting anywhere near the mainstream over the last thirty years. For that we have to radicalize the universities, which is why I think this movement is so important.

Nothing is gonna happen in a day, or in one single social situation either. The rot in the system is deep and the neoliberal rationality is still convincing for large numbers of people. If we are lucky and some initial battles are won at UC, still there is going to be a need for longer-term strategies that can give intellectuals—read: revolutionaries—a role in society again. That also requires forming serious groups off campus, and outside the career fixation that sucks away most of the time and energy of people getting their degrees, publishing their papers, and looking at their navels in the complicated and submissive ways that people are trained for in the universities, and particularly in the humanities. It’s amazing how effective that training is, to the point where nobody seems to have any materialist curiosity anymore. Few intellectuals today have much of a grasp of how society functions in its deadly complexity. Neither outdated Marxist categories nor even brilliant riffs on Situationist insurrectionalism are gonna give anyone that understanding, the knowledge of how to subvert the system. How does a revolutionary go about changing the wills of engineers, scientists, accountants, doctors, entertainers, politicians—or at least, of young people who aspire to become those things, but also see the dead-ends of society as it is?

Some answers to that question were already learned in the counter-globalization movements, and the existence of free-software networks is proof of the possibility to transform the technical basis of life in the overdeveloped societies. Now the reality of climate change is making larger numbers of people aspire to that kind of transformation. By studying how things work, by going out to other groups in society and getting their perspectives, by finding out their economic and technical problems as well as their cultural and affective ones, we could build a capacity to bring new agendas into the university system and also out into the population at large. This process points a way out of the bubble, a way to live outside the incredible complacency that has been the inflexible rule in America in these past years and decades. Continental Drift and the other groups I am collaborating with are made to do that, it’s an anti-zombification strategy, a way to prolong the autonomy of thought and emotion that’s gained in struggles and street demonstrations. The point is to create social sites where that kind of autonomy can root and ramify and gain resistance over time, to form a real common sense in the face of decay and deepening problems. That’s why I came back to America from Europe, because there seems to be some possibility to do that here, now that the major swindles of the last thirty years are finally bankrupt. So anyway, there’s my two bits on the three questions, hope there was something useful.


1) Whaddya mean the management class is being proletarianized!?! Isn’t this somehow an insult/misrecognition regarding the REAL proletariat?”

To speak of a distinct class of managers, whose function may arguably be facilitating the integration of the proletariat in response to its periodic intensified contradictions, is to run the risk of reducing the dynamic processes of proletarianization and mediation into fixed, sociological categories. Undoubetdly, this obscures the historical development, qualitative diffusion and generalization of the compulsion to sell one’s labor power.

What cannot be ignored however is the fact that the great bureaucracies of the 20th century have had their final gasps of air, both with the lucidity of their illusions, as well as their prominence in neutralizing and circumscribing class struggle. Their only recourse has been to recede into an image of themselves for the vultures of empirical analysis.

Thus, what is lost in such a point of departure is the understanding that the process of proletarianization is precisely that of mediation; the mediation between subject and object, individual and social, thought and practice, all of which become mangled and reconfigured through the intermediate of capital.

The superior question would be to inquire into the methods by which the proletariat itself produces generalized self-management as the object of capital. It is here that the proletariat emerges strictly as a form, the drive to sell labor power, with varying content, to the ultimate evasion of the metaphysician. Immediately, the notion of a more authentic or “real” proletariat dissolves upon an abstract equalization in which its only “real” expression derives from the contradiction between self-valorizing value and labor power. Archaic questions and inquiries into the “real” proletariat only divert analysis of proletarianization into a petrified and glorified object, finding refuge in its preservation that aims for an emancipation without self-abolition, ultimately deepening class society.

However, in order for the proletariat to combat its own existence as a class, and thus dissolve existing conditions in general, its only recourse is to proceed from its particular relation to both the productive and reproductive processes, and from the social categories to which these processes provide expression. This entails calling into question all fractions of proletarian existence, from the circuits of both the production and reproduction of capital. The latter, defined with a particular relation to the production process whereby capital is not necessarily generated, but rather provided social lubrication and logical adherence for global production processes, still demonstrates the qualities of the productive proletariat merely in the exchange of their labor power with a capital engaged in the sphere of production. Thus, the notion of the proletariat is not limited to those who toil strictly within the productive process or exist as a uniform assemblage without its own specified mediums, features, or echelons. Instead, the proletariat resides precisely in the contradictions of productive labor that structure society as a whole.

This perspective further renders the proletariat as an a priori socioeconomic category stale and useful only to the extent that its specified categorical forms are utilized for its further integration with capital. If one were to pay recognition to the proletarianization of what may vulgarly be identified as a “management class,” it is only in the hope of elucidating the contradictions between labor and capital as diffuse and without regard to traditional class narratives, instead constituting various modes and dynamics of exploitation both within the productive and reproductive spheres. Anything less perpetuates the notion of class as an exterior constraint to the proletariat’s self-abolition.

2) Does addressing the university student as the potential revolutionary subject get us closer to revolution? How? How not?

No. The only revolutionary subject we acknowledge in the present is capital. Capital constantly revolutionizes our activities, our wants, our needs. The revolution within and against the revolution of capital will be done by its objects. The name given to that particular object of capital which produces value through its living labor has historically been called the proletariat. This object, because its activity is the most direct expression of capital, has the potential to negate it. Why? Because the proletariat is a function of capital, and hence, in interrupting itself, it interrupts the function of capital as well. This does not produce revolution or communism, only insurrection, the gap in which the possibility of nonalienated life can be asked meaningfully, truthfully. Insurrection, the horizon and limit of our potential antagonistic activity today, poses the material possibilities in which communism can be achieved. But from insurrection to communism, there is no common term. We do not impose our view of how that rupture between the two will take place, we can only narrate the history of its attempted failures.

In the present moment, the question of the proletariat wanders aimlessly amongst the population. Neither here nor there, its nominal absence reveals its material omnipresence. Only that which can no longer be identified has been fully diffused. The great potential to valorize all activities is the common project of humanity today; it is our collective identity, our global home. From the standpoint of capital, there is no longer any difference between making a television show and watching a television show. They are both congealed modes of dead labor which offer up statistics to be interpreted for the further intensification of capital into life. In other words, objective proletarian functions have been extended to the population at large, and along with it, subjective proletarian conditions attach themselves. The former case means we are always working, and the latter means we are always alienated. From the proletariat to proletarianized life, this is the history of our present.

Granted such a situation, the university student is in no way outside the circuits of exploitation and alienation. But neither is the video artist, the drug dealer, the internet addict, the zine maker, the dumpster diver, the guerrilla gardener, the social critic, the radical publisher, the anti-capitalist organizer, the train hopper, the bank robber, the co-op manager. All these jobs of modern life are exactly that, jobs. A job is no longer what is done in return for a wage, it is rather what is done to acquire the means of existence, and this is exactly what capital seeks to incorporate into its accounting books.

The need of a constantly emerging revolutionary subject for its theories chases the Marxist ideologue over the entire surface of the globe: the French communards, the German industrial working class, the Russian soviets, the white American machinist, the black American urbanite, the nationalist revolutionary in the third world, the postcolonial subaltern, the unwaged female, ad infinitum.

Never has addressing any of these as the potential revolutionary subject gotten us any closer to revolution. In fact, by ignoring the totalizing nature of capitalism as a social system, attempts to concentrate on particular social actors have served only to fracture the coherency of revolutionary critique and impede its negative function.

The university student does not exist in isolation. What is higher education if not training for a life of wage labor? Gone are the days when attendance at university was an ascetic phase for the sons of the ruling class, an initiation into the upper echelons of capitalist society. Nowadays, students often work before and during their college years. After school they will be ejected into the “free market” for labor power to toil their lives away, gifted with a hefty debt burden. Even the process of learning, such as it exists today, is steeped in neoliberal ideology and geared towards fostering docility and compliance.

To separate the university student from the worker is to separate the what-is-becoming from the what-will-be. This wholly ignores the ways in which capitalist social relations are reproduced. In this era, our enemy has subsumed the greater parts of our lives. The prevailing mode of production requires a social factory where all sectors of society are enlisted (often unpaid) in reproducing capitalist social relations. The university student is no exception.

When workers withdraw their labor, when students block their universities, when the unemployed loot their stores, when the youth burn their neighborhoods—and when this is done all in relation to each other—we call them the the proletariat. Nothing unites them but a collective disgust with their lives under capital, a disgust expressed not in political terms, but in practical refusal. The proletariat is the anti-political subject that knows itself by destroying itself. Destroying itself, it clears away all the shit of a society built on its labor and consumption.

This name, proletariat, must be divorced from its usual, narrow definition. How can we talk seriously of revolutionary potential without including unions of the unemployed in revolutionary Spain, militant communist women’s groups during Italy’s Hot Autumn, or the revolutionary students of May 1968? It is not up to us to address them. It is the entirety of the expropriated, inside and outside the workplace, that must address itself.

The university student is not the potential revolutionary subject. It is but a reflection of its own future and, like the whole of the proletariat, it is a subject that can only reach its potential through self-abolition. This is our goal, this is our struggle.

#3: What is a non-reformist goal for a University?

There is no non-reformist goal for a university. Until capital ends, all our goals become means of furthering its value. This does not, however, make the process of achieving them less worthwhile.

An alternative to having reformist or non-reformist goals is to have revolution. But if 1) revolution is understood as a violent resolution of the historic contradictions in a given society, 2) the revolution of the global proletariat entails the final struggle of humans against themselves as alienated beings, then a struggle which aims at overcoming reformism must seek to reveal the conditions in which the contradictions of history culminate such that any further goal is impossible outside of ending alienated life in its totality. In this explosive situation any reformist goal of détente is impossible. This situation sets up the ultimate “goal”, though we have surely been forced down this path more so than we would like to admit.

Furthermore, universities are not revolutionary subjects. Universities are ancient hierarchical institutions which are symptomatic of class society and have preserved themselves with great success for centuries. The university is so entrenched in the past and separated from the outside world that it is only in the past 60 years or so that it has taken on the aspects of a bourgeois revolution. Only recently have universities, at least in the most advanced sectors of capitalist society, been open to workers; the privatization process is a part of this revolution, the turn towards training and craft and the proletarianization of professors and students alike are mature products of this historic change. Any revolutionary path at this stage must lead outside of the university.

As we mentioned in our response to question #2, only the totality of the proletariat, the vast majority of humanity, has revolutionary potential, certainly not an alienated institution like a university. University students however can initiate the expansion of struggle and help proliferate the revolutionary condition.

The ultimate “goal,” if we must assume a normative stance, or better, the result which can lead from this particular decadent historical situation of the proletariat’s university students is best characterized as the will of living labor to abolish itself in the struggle for a liberated social totality.

Talk of reformist and non-reformist goals are uninteresting and blind to the fluidity of resistance. The question is not of this binary, but of the tactical and strategic moves which may bring us closer to the abolition of the university, the destruction of that which divides us, and the integration of all that remains.

Given our “goal,” it is simple to presume that the authorities, ipso facto, have zero legitimacy. What will be won in the final analysis must be taken. Taken with a combination of force and cunning.

Yes, our ultimate “goal” is presupposed in this conversation. For reasons of tactics and strategy, what may crudely be termed as reformist positions may be taken up—indeed, even with great enthusiasm—for reasons of delay and relationship-building. But instead of the old Leftist strategy of winning reforms so as to strengthen ourselves, we know that the most advanced struggles today are those in which we win without winning anything commensurable within the system; we win but realize there really are no victors in this game. So long as the final “aim” is neither cast aside nor given secondary status, this method is acceptable.

What is interesting is how this can be done. A singularity of unflinching force is beyond our present means and conditions, so standing toe-to-toe with those against whom we are positioned is not the immediate solution. While passion and honesty would have us occupy everything right now without a single demand to authorities, the generalized situation of immanent crisis is not as urgent among all our fellow proletarians, so this cannot be our only move.

Delay: in both New School occupations, negotiations, issue-driven banners and liberalisms were embraced in order to feign cooperation and moderation while more endgoal-appropriate methods were explored. This delay led to the realization of the situation as unsustainable without the expansion of our occupation or the intensification of social conflict.

Coordination: resistance is nothing if not fluid. Those who begin the fight as liberals today may become, through struggle, comrades against the commodity tomorrow. There is no classroom like the field of social antagonism. Indeed, many at The New School were radicalized by the first occupation—the limitless possibilities breaching what was previously off-limits to the individual’s purview. Understanding the capacity for change within an individual in the context of an antagonistic moment, it may be wise to stand by the hoisting of the reformist banner in order to grow with potential comrades.

There will be no rest until the social sleep is broken. How we wake is the only relevant interrogation.