The following is a letter written in response to my June 21 blog post on Arguing the World.
?Revolutionary U?: The title of Jeffrey Williams?s post is certainly a good one, but it also carries with it a question: what does it mean to be revolutionary today? How do we rethink the topicality of revolution, and where? These are fundamental questions, which are not at all abstract.
Let us begin with the last one: the where, or the problem of the space and time of capital and political action in the contemporary era. The label we use is of little importance, as long as we agree about the new role played by knowledge in labor and the global accumulation of capital. We say that Edu-factory is a transnational project in order to point to a global context in which states don?t disappear but are continuously exceeded?by worker mobility, commodities, struggles, and capital. They are no longer the center of sovereignty, nor of political action. This doesn?t mean the world is ?flat? or generally homogenous: there are many differences and, on occasion, even great differences between one context and another. Nevertheless, capital translates these differences into an abstract language every day; each day difference is translated into the language of value and accumulation. Put concretely, the global university is not a university that works in the same way all over the world, but rather one that indicates trends in a global transformation (corporatization, the precarization of labor, a new relationship with the market, etc.), trends which are translated into different forms in various contexts. From New York to Dubai, from London to San Paolo, from Sydney to Shanghai, from Moscow to Johannesburg, we are seeing the rise of a ?global university,? even in its different translations in particular regional contexts.
In accordance with this analysis, we are not at all suggesting that ?local? political actions and practices are less important. On the contrary, they are the very basis and driving force of the Edu-factory network, and we?re all involved in them. The collective includes activists from Italy, France, Holland, Russia, the United States, Canada, Brazil, Taiwan, and Australia, and our email list counts over 700 people from all over the world. Today the ?local? is also an immediately global space: it has its own peculiarities but, at the same time, it is interdependent with a world system. In order to avoid limiting ourselves to a strictly local vision (one that presupposes a static capitalist scenario), our problem is connecting territorial political practices across a common transnational space and time. This doesn?t mean creating a global political party or reducing differences to some sort of homogenous plane; rather it is a question of collectively translating these many different practices and actions across a common space, one that is radically alternative and antagonistic to the global university.
In adopting the transnational as our strategic space-time, we say that Edu-factory is a political machine. Since the very beginning, it has developed into not only a place of debate but also a project rooted in university struggles. Most of the people who participate in the listserv are also directly involved in processes of political organization. The web-based project is only one form with which to compose and recompose ?offline? political activities and conflicts. The project?s hypothesis?a political one?is that struggles at the global level tend to assume a series of common characteristics. We have encountered these common characteristics along our project?s trajectory: conflicts emerging in the production of knowledge and against privatization, the rise of a new figure of the student, the struggles against the déclassement of education and the workforce, struggles against ?precarization?, etc. Furthermore, over the last year our political machine has been working on taking yet another step: it was involved in the networking process in North America around the events of March 4, and in Europe with the Vienna mobilization and a transnational meeting in Bologna. Edu-factory is also a direct protagonist in the political process of university transformation in Brazil, and it is carrying forward a new political debate in some parts of Asia and in Australia. In short, Edu-factory is becoming a transnational network of struggles.
This is a very concrete process, but not at all one that acts as an alternative to theoretical production. In fact, we continue to maintain that there is no revolutionary organizational process without revolutionary theory. But who are the subjects of this? The classical distinction between intellectual work and political activity is blurring?in the changing forms of labor, inside and against contemporary capitalist accumulation, a new figure of the militant is emerging. Knowledge production is no longer an intellectual activity to be carried out in aid of class struggle, it is immediately a part of class struggle. In this way, we are also trying to build our political machine through multiple articulations, using a variety of tools (the list, the website, the journal, the meetings, the campaigns), in order to connect transnational levels and spaces.
In this framework, following Williams?s article, is it still possible to propose the classical division between reformists and revolutionaries? We are not so sure. On the one hand the distinction might still appear to be useful to some: there are anti-capitalist practices and politics, while others try to soften, calibrate, or otherwise improve capitalism. On the other hand, we feel that in our contemporary setting, the space of ?pure? reformism is definitively finished. This is both the effect of and what is so significant about the double crisis?the global economic crisis and the crisis of the global university?that was explored in the zero issue of our journal. It is becoming increasingly difficult to reform global capital, and crisis has become its permanent condition. Against this backdrop, hard distinctions between revolution and reform lose their usefulness. Indeed, some of our own campaigns (like the one recently launched against student debt for example) might even be seen as ?reformist,? but their goal, like that of Edu-factory itself, is to move far beyond reform and toward the production of the common. We are also involved in a process of higher education ?reform? in Brazil around increasing the enrollment of black students in universities: this is not merely an affirmative action program but one that we see as questioning the curricula and the very organization of knowledge within the university. One could say that we are more interested in revolutionary reformists, or reformist revolutionaries, than in re-proposing tired discussions of where to draw the line between them!
In the last century, it was suggested that humanity had two possible destinies: socialism or barbarism. But socialism (with its cult of the state and the public) intervened in the current financial crisis as to save capital, that is, to further its barbarism. The state and corporations, public and private, are two sides of the same coin. Hence, we would say: the common or barbarism. This is not at all an abstract concept: the common is what we produce and what we lay claim to. If we look to the struggles occurring all around the world, we can see that it is becoming a concrete terrain of organization and struggles. It bespeaks the centrality of the struggles against the privatization of our knowledge and lives and the demand for the collective re-appropriation of our commonwealth. Conflicts over wages and against precariousness, conflicts surrounding knowledge production and the possibility of a new welfare, conflicts against intellectual property and for the free circulation of knowledge and culture?all of these are struggles over the common. Precisely because we are involved in these kinds of struggles every day, our problem is not that of labels or policing the purity of our projects: we know that gaining a salary increase or defeating one instance of precariousness is revolutionary to the degree to which it improves our collective power over the production of the common. In fact, the struggles over the common ultimately involve a rethinking of the relationship between movements and governance.
At the ?Beneath the University, the Commons? conference in Minneapolis last April, we launched a proposal, together with other activists and collectives: a debt abolition movement. This is not the conquest of the Winter Palace, nor is it a reformist contention. The abolition of debt in its various forms (student debt, home mortgages, and healthcare, as well as the debt imposed by the organizations of international capital in postcolonial countries and the claim for our right to bankruptcy) is the re-appropriation of our common lives and needs, of our social wealth. It indicates the path of common composition among the different struggles and figures of labor at a global level, inside and outside the university, or living on its borders as we do. This is our challenge: can we carry this proposal forward together, beyond regional differences and in both a common and practical manner?
Perhaps we could call this (quite ambitiously for sure) a new workers? international in the contemporary era. Is there anything that could be more concrete than this?
-The Edu-factory collective