The ‘Bourgeois University’ and self-management of knowledge production

Extract from Ernest Mandel’s speech (1970) The Changing Role of the Bourgeois University. Via Krystian Szadkowski.

#solidarity to UCL, Goldsmiths, KCL, LSE, UALMaagdenhuis

The university can be the cradle of a real revolution.

We must immediately include a warning in the argument. Whenever we speak of ‘the university,’ we mean the people of the university collectively, that is, the teachers and the students. We do not mean the university as an institution.

As an institution, the university is incorporated in the existing social structure. Students, professors, and workers cannot finance and maintain any universities in the final analysis as long as the social surplus value is not collectivized, that is, as long as we live in a capitalist society.

In the long run the university as an institution remains bound with golden chains to the power of the ruling class. Without a radical transformation of society itself the university cannot undergo any lasting radical transformation.

But what is impossible for the university as an institution is possible for students as individuals and in groups. And what is possible for students as individuals and groups can, on the collective level, temporarily emerge as a possibility for the university as a whole.

As a permanent institution, the university remains subject to the control of the ruling class. But wherever the struggle of the university collective for self-management assumes such scope that a temporary breakthrough in this area occurs, then for a short period the university becomes a ‘school of self-management’ for the entire people. This was what happened in the Sorbonne in Paris in May 1968; this is what happened, among other place, in Chicago in May 1970. These examples were extremely limited in scope and duration. But under favourable circumstances the attraction of such examples for the broad masses can be very promising.

In a certain sense this is the central problem of ‘programmed social change’. Programming for whom and by whom? That is the question. The argument advanced by the opponents of democratic self-management in the universities as well as in the plants deals with competence. Society is divided into ‘competent’ bosses and ‘incompetent’ workers, as they see it. Let us leave aside the question of whether the ‘competence’ of the bosses is such as to justify their retaining the function of decision-making. Whenever we compare this proclaimed competence with the results, at least insofar as society is concerned, then there are at least a few reasons for doubt.

The decisive argument against this concept, however, is not affected by such a value judgment. With the development of computers and the functionalized university, a system is emerging in which the control of levers of economic power, the concentration of economic power goes hand in hand with a growing monopolization of access to a no less horrible concentration of information.

Because the same social minority keeps a tight grip on power and information while scientific knowledge becomes more and more specialized and fragmented, a growing hiatus is developing between detailed professional competence and the concentration of information that makes it possible to make centralized strategic decisions.

The members of the board of directors of a multinational corporation can leave thousands of small decisions to ‘competent professionals.’ But since the directors alone have the final outcome of the information-gathering process at their disposal, they alone are ‘competent’ to make the central strategic decisions.

Self-management overcomes this hiatus by giving the masses the necessary information to equip them to understand what is involved in the strategic central decisions. Any member of the mass who is ‘competent’ in this or that detail plays a participating role in making these decisions whenever cooperation and not competition among individuals is the social norm.”

All power to the communes!

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