Communism and free education

'Omnia sunt communia'
'Omnia sunt communia'

A short blog inspired by a long banner.

Submitted by Joseph Kay on February 12, 2013

Some students today unfurled a giant banner. In simple white type on black, one side simply read 'communism'. On the reverse, 'omnia sunt communia'. Not being versed in latin, an accompanying leaflet translated and gave some context. Meaning 'all things in common', it was a slogan from the German Peasant's War of 1524-1526, when the peasantry rose up against princes and church to fight for heaven on Earth (literally, being radical Christian heretics).

As such, it harks back to a time before communism became associated with the word 'party', still less 'state'. Communism not as an ideology of manifestos and political groups, but as a movement of thousands of ordinary people struggling against poverty and tyranny. What has this got to do with education? Well, often when education activists talk of free education it sounds as if they're talking about a lost golden age, an age of grants not fees, of intellectual freedom before the instrumental logic of the REF.

This golden age is presumed to have existed sometime in the post-war period. But is it a case of rose-tinted spectacles? In 1950, just 3.4% of the generation went to university. There may have been greater intellectual freedom, and monetary freedom too in the form of grants, but it really was an elite affair. By 1970, still less than 10% of the generation went. It was still a pretty exclusive club. Despite this, at Sussex in the early 1970s there were a whole host of struggles including rent strikes, student occupations, workers' strikes and assessment boycotts. The golden age wasn't all that golden.

Today, somewhere between 40% and 50% of each generation goes to university (as high as 50% for women, lower for men). But the price of this has been the loss of freedoms - both intellectual and financial - as rising fees have replaced grants and modularisation and assessment have reduced education to training. Capitalism once offered free education for an elite, it now offers debt-burdened training for the masses.1 In Brighton, where 46% of people have degrees, a local business website boasts the town's

economic profile means that the workforce is used to working flexibly and creatively and tends to have high-level business and customer service skills.2

The universities feed the call centres. So if we want free education for all, we can't look back, only forward. When we reject the logic of privatization and profit, without knowing it, we echo the insurgent peasants who declared 'everything in common'. Capitalism has expanded access to universities the only way it knows how - by turning education into a commodity and universities into businesses. But free education requires a free society. When we talk about free education against the state drive to market, we implicitly pose the question what kind of society could do that - and what kind of movement could get us there. Perhaps the struggle itself will prove the best education.

  • 1Obviously it still also educates the elite too, e.g. PPE at Oxford.
  • 2Hat tip to carver for sending me this link.

Comments

Steven.

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on February 13, 2013

Hey, good blog, but one question: what is REF?

Joseph Kay

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on February 13, 2013

Ah sorry, I'll add in a link. It's the 'Research Excellence Framework', basically Ofsted for academics, in terms of its function.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Research_Excellence_Framework

Spikymike

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on February 13, 2013

Some valid points here - as to the conclusion:

Perhaps, but..........'' 'We' implicitly pose the question what kind of society....'' depends on who the 'we' refers to (the general run of students and lecturers, most campaigners, the left, the SolFed) and what is meant by 'free education' and a 'free society'.

Not if the meaning goes no further than the self-managing of roughly the same institutions with 'free' as in no payment. But maybe, if it means the de-institutionalisation of education and it's integration into the everyday function of life in a human community?

It might even involve 'burning down the universities' at least metaphorically speaking!

Not sure how to translate that into Latin!

Soapy

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Soapy on February 13, 2013

Isn't this sort of similar to from what I've understood to be one of the main reasons for the uprising in Tunisia? Being that there were a bunch of university grads there walking around unable to find work and people were naturally pretty pissed about that.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on February 14, 2013

A short blog inspired by a long banner.

LOL. And I mean actual LOL. :lol:

Joseph Kay

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on February 14, 2013

So today the vice-chancellor (salary c.£250,000) put out a textbook divide and rule statement, 'silent majority', 'represents no-one', 'the workers oppose the occupation' etc. So the catering staff in the building, who are being outsourced, sent some food up to the occupation:

Joseph Kay

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Joseph Kay on February 14, 2013

there was also a not-so-veiled threat to cut teaching budgets to compensate for the loss of commercial revenue from the conference centre. he really is a panto villain, who now has private security escort him around campus.

madashell

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by madashell on February 15, 2013

Spikymike

Not if the meaning goes no further than the self-managing of roughly the same institutions with 'free' as in no payment. But maybe, if it means the de-institutionalisation of education and it's integration into the everyday function of life in a human community?

Surely some things are abstract and specialised enough that this isn't really possible though? How do you integrate, say, complex number theory or particle physics into the everyday function of a community?

I'd argue for the opening up of these institutions, not their destruction.

Spikymike

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Spikymike on February 15, 2013

I suppose if you ''open up'' some institutions enough they might then 'melt' into the wider community? A 'human community' is still a complex web of different activities and does not exclude some people specialising (at least for some of their time) but specialist knowledge and learning does not have to be as compartmentalised as it is now or only contained within the particular form of the University as we know it today still less it's physical expression. We might also expect that there is more flexibillity as between different activities, and also that theory and practice are more integrated, in a society which is not based on the capitalist division of labour and it's associated hierachies and self-interested professional rackets. Of course even if 'particle physics' education survives in some form 'sociology', 'business management' and many others, including probably some science subjects, the mainstay of the current University system, will not.

What all that might imply for the actual messy process of revolutionary change is anyones guess, but some burning down is perhaps just as likely as occupations and alternative uses.

Chilli Sauce

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Chilli Sauce on February 22, 2013

Nevermind.

Skraeling

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Skraeling on February 23, 2013

Joseph Kay

Well, often when education activists talk of free education it sounds as if they're talking about a lost golden age, an age of grants not fees, of intellectual freedom before the instrumental logic of the REF.

This golden age is presumed to have existed sometime in the post-war period. But is it a case of rose-tinted spectacles? In 1950, just 3.4% of the generation went to university. There may have been greater intellectual freedom, and monetary freedom too in the form of grants, but it really was an elite affair. By 1970, still less than 10% of the generation went. It was still a pretty exclusive club. Despite this, at Sussex in the early 1970s there were a whole host of struggles including rent strikes, student occupations, workers' strikes and assessment boycotts. The golden age wasn't all that golden.

Today, somewhere between 40% and 50% of each generation goes to university (as high as 50% for women, lower for men). But the price of this has been the loss of freedoms - both intellectual and financial - as rising fees have replaced grants and modularisation and assessment have reduced education to training. Capitalism once offered free education for an elite, it now offers debt-burdened training for the masses.

Nah, unis were once training grounds for the capitalist class, and managerial strata. But maybe since the early 1960s, with the expansion of white collar office work, and the expansion corporate and state bureaucracies under the keynesian class compromise and the fordist society they opened up a bit. One reason among many there was a student revolt in the late 60s/early 70s was becos lots more working class peeps were going to edu-factories - and they were going to get training in office work, in corporate and state bureaucracies, as researchers, clerks, office johnnies, paper pushers, and technicians etc. Hardly an elite! Tho of course some were headed for the capitalist class and managerial heights.

Not sure where you got the figure of 10% in a generation going to uni in 1970. I'm not from the UK but it was a much larger proportion in other high income countries. And if you add in those going to technical schools/polytechnics (dunno what it's called in the UK) it would be much higher. In any case, I don't think the elite is 10% of the popn - from studies from the 1970s i've seen the capitalist class and top managers are put at about 3-4-5%.

So i'd see the continuing expansion of unis as training grounds for proles as part of long-term trend, not something unique to this time period. In short, it simply reflects the rise of white collar work over blue collar work since the 1950s and 1960s. Of course, there is the lingering perception that univ students are 'privileged' - which in many ways they are, and have been - but that does make all of them 'middle class' in the 1970s or now (under the marxist/class-based anarchist view of class).

Caiman del Barrio

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Caiman del Barrio on February 24, 2013

Sympathetic article in (yep) Vice on the Sussex occupation: http://www.vice.com/en_uk/read/students-at-sussex-university-are-into-their-third-week-of-occupation

Folks have done well there to maintain the momentum.

wojtek

11 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by wojtek on February 26, 2013

...

TA: The most visible banner at one of your rallies belonged to a communist group. Are the more radical groups hijacking and damaging this campaign?

HR: In terms of that banner, I know the people who made it and they are close friends of mine.

The image of those guys is of super punks and radical Stalinists. But they aren’t demanding a Soviet state university, they just want to see a democratic decision making process.

Hopefully it will dispell some pre-conceptions people have against them. They are perfectly sensible people going about making themselves heard in a sensible manner.

You can’t tell people to not bring banners, it’s freedom of expression.

On the back is a phrase in Latin which translates as all things communal or something like that.

If we stick together we are far stronger...

http://www.theargus.co.uk/news/10250101.The_Big_Interview__Student_protester_Hugo_Redwood/

James MacBryde

8 years 5 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on January 22, 2016

Joseph writes:

Some students today unfurled a giant banner. In simple white type on black, one side simply read 'communism'. On the reverse, 'omnia sunt communia'. Not being versed in latin, an accompanying leaflet translated and gave some context. Meaning 'all things in common', it was a slogan from the German Peasant's War of 1524-1526, when the peasantry rose up against princes and church to fight for heaven on Earth (literally, being radical Christian heretics).

In his final confession, under torture, of May 1525, Thomas Müntzer stated that one of the primary aims of himself and his comrades was ‘omnia sunt communia’ – “all things are to be held in common and distribution should be to each according to his need”.

This motto applies as much to education and knowledge as to anything else; to charge a fee for it contradicts this motto of our party.

plasmatelly

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by plasmatelly on October 31, 2015

What a nob.

Khawaga

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Khawaga on October 31, 2015

Yeah, seems like JK's got a nemesis or something.

Fleur

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fleur on October 31, 2015

James MacBryde:

Did you open an account here with the sole purpose of being a dick, or do you feel that you might have some useful contributions to make once you've got this dickishness out of your system?

Steven.

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on October 31, 2015

James, this is a no flaming website. This is a warning for personal abuse. On a related note that kind of obnoxious pedantry is not helpful either.

James MacBryde

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 1, 2015

Mr K writes:

Some students today unfurled a giant banner. In simple white type on black, one side simply read 'communism'. On the reverse, 'omnia sunt communia'. Not being versed in latin, an accompanying leaflet translated and gave some context. Meaning 'all things in common', it was a slogan from the German Peasant's War of 1524-1526, when the peasantry rose up against princes and church to fight for heaven on Earth (literally, being radical Christian heretics).

So far, so good, except, 'Not being versed in Latin...', should read, 'For those not being versed in Latin...' ; also, the banner described by 'our' darling Mr K read, 'COMMUNISM', not 'communism', 'OMNIA SUNT COMMUNIA' not 'omnia sunt communia'.

Now to the body of the work, or should I say the shell:

Admin: flaming removed

You've removed the punchline. Chekists.

James MacBryde

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 1, 2015

plasmatelly wrote:

What a nob.

Fleur wrote:

Did you open an account here with the sole purpose of being a dick, or do you feel that you might have some useful contributions to make once you've got this dickishness out of your system?

Steven wrote:

This is a warning for personal abuse.

Fleur

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Fleur on November 1, 2015

Presumably you've opened an account to to air some personal grievances against a particular admin and if you get suspended or banned for personal abuse it will prove your point about the authoritarian nature, or whatever the point may be, of the admins. I guess some people here know who you are and you are trying to goad them into a fight or a ban. Have you considered getting yourself a new hobby? Because the one you have right now does make you look like a bit of a tool.

Khawaga

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Khawaga on November 1, 2015

James, now your logic should be questioned. When you're called a nob, dick or whatever that's a pretty accurate description of your behaviour coming in here to specifically flame a particular admin (I presume you know who JK is in real life) because as far as I can tell you've posted nothing else recently. Hence, you're a nob or dick for doing that. Pretty simple really.

James MacBryde

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 1, 2015

Fleur, you are reading too much into this. I have been a member of this organisation (no insult intended) for about one week. The first piece I read on the Burston School Strike was very good and I said so in my comments. The second piece by Joseph Kay entitled The Politics of Affirmation...or of Negation was very poor and I tried, to the best of my ability, to highlight some of its faults.

I then came across the piece above. The photos of the demonstration at University of Sussex particularly caught my eye. I did not attend that demo but I certainly felt heartened when I saw the banner circulating in the British press. The article did not turn out to be directly about the demonstration although, according to Joseph, it had occurred the day before writing it. That strikes me as odd. Again I found it poor.

Any of my remarks aimed at the writer seem to have been taken in his stride and I don't think he'll lose any sleep over them and he himself as said that he no longer holds to some of the views he expressed.

James MacBryde

8 years 7 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by James MacBryde on November 1, 2015

Khawaga writes:

I presume you know who JK is in real life

I do not know him personally but I will confess to typing his name on Google after reading his article. It came up with a 19th century philanthropist/economist who I'm taking a wild guess is a relative of his and his Facebook page. He certainly has 'beautiful' friends, and many of them, but far be it for me to form any prejudice on those bases. I certainly respect him for using his own name and not a pseudonym. If anyone is naive enough to think that a pseudonym will protect them from any possible repercussion from posting here, they are very much mistaken. Everything is traceable so let's come out of the closet and stand up and be counted.