Theories of knowledge and education and the ideologies that inform them:
The neoliberal university has failed in their task of creating knowledge. The reason lies in the fundamental contradiction in the idea of the university in a capitalist system. The university is meant to produce critical thinkers, but is also supposed to produce disciplined productive citizens. The discipline is particularly enforced through high levels of debt. There has been a lot of attempted work in the universities to try and understand and oppose power structures in our society. The political expression of this work is ultimately identity politics. It is shown in notions of ‘self-care’, ‘trauma’, ‘safe-spaces’, which are all invitations to focus on your individual identity and retreat within in. Focussing on your individual identity, and the attached trauma is completely consistent with capitalism’s focus on the individual.
As James Boggs says in his speech “Think dialectically, not biologically”, “In the United States the capitalist system functions not only by exploitation of different groups but also by incorporation of successive ethnic groups into the system. This is the way that it has historically transformed what might become antagonistic social forces into non-antagonistic social forces.” He goes on to talk about how the radical labor movement of the 1930s was eventually co-opted into upholding the capitalist system. Labor unions now fight for ‘more’ for the laborers in the form of pensions, higher wages etc, but no longer care if this more comes from the super-exploitation of people in other parts of the world, or consumers. He goes on to say that the black movement is on the same path, with blacks being incorporated into the institutions and ideology of the system. We can see that in today’s time, identity politics is capitalist co-optation of struggles against oppression. What may have been once an ideology against the system has been turned into an echo of capitalist ideology that puts emphasis on individualism, representation, and consumerist ‘self care’ culture. In other words, capitalism evolves to defang radical ideology faster than we are able to transform that ideology into movement. In such a setting, the responsibility of the intellectual and organizer is to make clear the role of identity based language and organization that exists in neoliberal institutions in upholding and progressing capitalist exploitation.
This is not to reject all knowledge that comes out of the university, but to identify a structural problem in the way the university functions, its deep relationship with capital, and its complete inability to be rooted in people. A big task of the left will be to create and open other spaces of knowledge creation. These will be both spontaneous and organized but to be successful they must be rooted in people and start from a rejection of the neoliberal university. This must come with a recognition of the importance of political education. Humility is an important characteristic but if it becomes an inability to provide revolutionary leadership, and a failure to provide political education, then it plays into the hands of those who are willing to provide such leadership, which is the class that wants to uphold racist capitalism.
The question we want to pose today is, what does a revolutionary education look like? How can we create spaces that produce knowledge for the people, and of the people? Indeed, what does this knowledge look like, and how can we use it to equip ourselves to fight for change?