Source: Nathaniel Dorsky (2005) Devotional Cinema, 2nd ed., Berkley: Tuumba Press, 24-25.

“For alchemy to take place in a film, the form must include the expression of its own materiality, and this materiality must be in union with its subject matter. If this union is not present, if the film’s literalness is so overwhelming, so illustrative, that it obliterates the medium it is composed of, then one is seduced into a dream state of belief or absorption that, though effective on that level, lacks the necessary ingredients for transmutation. Such a film denies its totality. It denies the fact of what it is actually made of.

The instinct to express the union of material and subject occurs at the beginning of known human expression. The devotional cave art in southern France and northern Spain often plays with the contours of the cave walls to enhance the hallucination of the bison or horse depicted on them. Egyptian sculpture is as much about the unceasing nature of stone as it is about the unceasing glance engraved on that stone. In French religious stone carving of the late twelfth century, the stone itself is luminous, as both material and expression. The stained glass of the same period was born out of a love of the elemental glory oflight, color, and glass, while at the same time relating biblical tales or the lives of saints. Similarly, Bach’s organ chorale preludes are as much an expression of skeletal fingers pressing down on ivory keys and releasing air through pipes as they are melodic evocations of prayer. Mozart, born into the age of classicism, wedded his classical style to the human metabolism in every detail. The texture of the instrumentation, the key changes, and the depiction of conversation and emotion through melodic line are the music itself and at the same time are a primordial mirror or example of what it is to be fully human. We hear ourselves at our alchemical best.

For film to partake in this luminosity and elemental glory, and thereby lay the ground for devotion, it must obey its own materiality.”

HE White Paper, the HERB, and Co-operative Higher Education

Yesterday, my colleague Mike Neary and I met with Dan Cook (who wrote a very good consultancy report for the Co-operative College on Co-operative Universities in 2013), Ian Snaith, a Lawyer and legal scholar specialising in co-operatives, and Smita Jamdar, a Lawyer who specialises in education. Our intention was to look at the new Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB) in some detail, thinking about three scenarios:

  1. The conversion of an existing university to a co-operative
  2. The creation of a new co-operative university (a so-called ‘challenger institution’ to use the aggressive new parlance) 1
  3. The possibility of a foreign co-operative university (e.g. Mondragon) accrediting degrees that are offered by a co-operative in the UK.

In summary, we agreed there will be no real barriers to any of these scenarios should the HERB go through Parliament as it is.

Following our meeting, Dan has published a detailed blog post which annotates the HERB and is well worth a read. There is more work to be done on examining the new legislation and in particular making sure it will fairly accommodate all types of new HEIs, and not just private, profit-making businesses. There are likely to be small changes to the proposed legislation  that could actually support the creation of co-operative universities and this is one of the things we’ll be focusing on in the future.

The more radical interpretation of the concept of value…

Source: Simon Clarke (1980), The Value of Value, Capital and Class, 10.

“The more radical interpretation of the concept of value gave it more than a strictly economic significance. Marx’s concept of value expresses not merely the material foundation of capitalist exploitation but also, and inseperably, its social form. Within Marxist economics this implies that value is not simply a technical coefficient, it implies that the process of production, appropriation and circulation of value is a social process in which quantitative magnitudes are socially determined, in the course of struggles between and within classes . Thus the sum of value expressed in a particular commodity cannot be identified with the quantity of labour embodied in it, for the concept of value refers to the socially necessary labour time embodied, to abstract rather than to concrete labour, and this quantity can only be established when private labours are socially validated through the circulation of commodities and of capital . Thus the concept of value can only be considered in relation to the entire circuit of capital, and cannot be considered in relation to production alone.

Moreover neither the quantity of labour embodied in the commodity, nor the quantity of socially necessary labout time attributed to it can be considered as technical coefficients. The social form within which labour is expended plays a major role in determining both the quantity of labour that is expended in producing a commodity with a given technology, and the relation of this quantity to the socially necessary labour time through the social validation of labour time. Finally, the technology itself cannot be treated as an exogenous variable, for the pace and pattern of technological development is also conditioned by the social form of production . Thus consideration of the social form of labour cannot be treated as a sociological study that supplements the hard rigour of the economist, it is inseparable from consideration of the most fundamental economic and even technological features of capitalism.”

“If we consider the production and circulation of use-values the two spheres can be defined independently of one another: a certain determinate quantity of use-values is first produced and then exchanged one for another. However as soon as we consider the production and circulation of value, which is the basis for our understanding of the social form of production, it becomes impossible to consider production and circulation independently of one another. Labour time is expended in production, but this labour time is only socially validated in circulation, so value cannot exist prior to exchange, while surplus value depends on the relation between the result of two exchanges (of money capital for labour power and of commodity capital for money) . Thus value cannot be determined within production, independently of the social validation of the labour expended within circulation: circulation is the social form within which apparently independent productive activities are brought into relation with one another and have the stamp of value imposed on them. However value cannot be determined in circulation either, for circulation is the form in which the social mediation of private labours takes place and the latter provide the material foundation of the social determination of value. Thus to isolate production from circulation, even analytically, is to isolate independent productive activities from one another, and so to deprive production of its social form. To isolate circulation from production, on the other hand, is to isolate the social relations between producers from their material foundation. It is in this sense that production and circulation can only be seen as moments of a whole, as the development of the contradictory unity of value and use-value with which Capital begins. The argument holds with added force when we turn to surplus value, and so capital, which depends in addition on the commodity form of labour power.

The idea that the circuit of capital is a totality of which production and circulation are moments is not a metaphysical idea, although Marx does say that the commodity appears to be ‘a very queer thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties’ (Capital, I, p. 71, 1967 Moscow edition). The totality is not simply a conceptual totality, an Hegelian idea imposed on reality, it is real and it has a concrete existence. Its reality is that of the class relation between labour and capital, and its existence is the everyday experience of millions of dispossessed workers.”

Social Solidarity Co-operatives for Higher Education (2)

Following on from a conference paper that I wrote in late 2014, I have been thinking more about the ‘social’ (Italy) or ‘solidarity’ (Canada) or ‘multi-stakeholder‘ (UK) form of co-operative as a constitutional and organisational form for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs).

The corporation

To begin with, I have been thinking about the chapter in Marx’s Capital Vol.3 where he discussed the role of credit, and in that chapter also discusses the (relatively new at the time) form of ‘joint-stock’ companies. What we call ‘corporations‘ today are the modern day version of this form of company, characterised by the socialisation of capital among multiple capitalists, united under the single legal personality of the corporation, with limited liability for its assets. It’s Marx’s emphasis that the corporate form represents not simply the concentration of capital (tending towards monopolies), but also the socialisation of capital as it does away with the individual private capitalist.

Although the term ‘corporate’ often has negative connotations today, Marx understood incorporated joint-stock companies as a historically progressive form of association, to the extent that he thought they were evidence of “the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself.” Marx gives four reasons why joint-stock companies were historically progressive:

  1. By combining their individual capital and creating a form of “social capital”, capitalists could scale up their endeavours and produce at much larger scales, even taking on some of the services that the state provided.
  2. The combination of social capital with the already social mode of production, and the concentration of the social means of production, results in a shift from private undertakings to social undertakings i.e. “the abolition of capital as private property within the framework of capitalist production itself.” Individual capitalists no longer compete with each other, but form share-holding groups of capitalists who compete as single corporate personalities.
  3.  The individual capitalist can no longer point to his or her individual capital, but becomes instead a “mere money capitalist”. The “actually functioning capitalist” is the “mere manager, administrator of other people’s capital”, who like the worker is alienated from the means of production. Marx regarded this as “the ultimate development of capitalist production” and “a necessary transitional phase towards the reconversion of capital into the property of producers, although no longer as the private property of the individual producers, but rather as the property of associated producers, as outright social property.”
  4. The means of production no longer belongs to the individual capitalist, but is rather the social capital of the “association of producers” (shareholders). As such, no individual owns the means of production as it is the “social property” of the owners of capital (the “money capitalists”). However, it is an “appropriation of social property by a few” rather than by the majority (the workers, managers, administrators, etc.) The corporate form of joint-stock companies still remains “ensnared in the trammels of capitalism”.  It may be a progressive, transitional form of association, but does not overcome the antithesis between social and private wealth.

However, Marx finishes the chapter by pointing to another new form of association: the worker co-operative.  It is better I just quote the whole paragraph here:

“The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.”

The worker co-operative then, is also a transitional form of association that socialises property and goes one stage further than joint-stock companies by socialising the ownership of capital among the association of producers/workers. Within the historical limits of the 19th c. “prevailing system”, worker co-operatives represented the most progressive form of capitalist association where the ownership of, the means of, and the mode of production were social and not individual/private. Marx is clear that it is only because of the capitalist mode of production that worker co-operatives could develop and the worker co-operative, too, is a transitional form that will “sprout” something new.

The point I am trying to make in this rather long introduction, is that with the movement of time, we should expect to see new forms of association emerge, made possible by earlier forms, if only through attempts to resolve their contradictions. During Marx’s time there were ‘consumer’ and ‘producer’ (i.e. worker) co-operatives and these two types of co-operative are now widespread across the world. Neither of these forms of association have so far been adopted as the form of association for a university 1, but a more recent co-operative form has been applied in higher education: the social/solidarity/multi-stakeholder co-operative (from hereon, the ‘social co-operative’).

Social co-operatives as a new, transitional form

Social co-operatives are a historically recent form of association, emerging in the 1970s, gradually obtaining legal status in some countries. In 2011, the ‘World Standards of Social Co-operatives’ was ratified after a two-year global consultation process. So we are dealing with a new form of association that was not available to Marx or to the founders of most 20th century universities. To my knowledge, only one such university exists: Mondragon, in the Basque region of Spain, where its membership is comprised of workers (academics and non-academic employee-owners), students, and ‘collaborators’ (members of the community, local business, etc.) In its current form, Mondragon University only dates back to 1997.

If you read the World Standards of Social Co-operatives, you’ll see there are essentially five defining characteristics of social co-opertives, at the heart of which is the multi-stakeholder membership structure. Social co-operatives are therefore distinct from the traditional ‘worker’ or ‘consumer’ co-operative forms, which recognise just one membership type. The ‘social co-operative’ typically incorporates three membership types: worker, user/consumer, and supporter, thereby acknowledging the different ‘stakes’ that a community of people may have in the co-operative and the shared interests of all member-types in the mission and sustainability of the organisations. 2

‘Social co-operatives’ are constitutionally democratic forms of enterprise comprising two or more types of membership. Each of the stakeholder groups is formally represented in the governing structures of the organisation on the basis of one-person one-vote.  Legal recognition for social co-operatives was first achieved in Italy in 1991, and in the UK, such ‘multi-stakeholder co-operative societies’ are now regulated by the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 or the Companies Act 2006. The multiple forms of membership reflect the combined interests of the organisation within its social context and not surprisingly, social co-operatives typically pursue social objectives through the provision of social services, such as healthcare and education. For example, since 2011, over 850 schools in the UK have become multi-stakeholder co-operatives. This particular model of democratic ownership and governance is an increasingly popular form of co-operative organisation and there are successful examples of different sizes and services provided, demonstrating its flexibility as a modern organisational form.

University governance: Still ‘not fit for modern times’?

A glance at the literature on university governance in the UK shows that a number of incremental policy changes have led to a more widespread corporate form of university governance, starting with the Jarratt report (1985), which established the Vice Chancellor as Chief Executive, then the Dearing report (1997), which reduced the number of members on the governing body, and the Lambert report (2003), which stated that participatory governance by a community of scholars was not ‘fit for modern times’, and recommended a voluntary code of governance for the HE sector (Shattock, 2006). Each of these government sponsored reviews and subsequent policy and regulatory changes has been conducted in response to the changing historical context of the corporate form in general, most notably the Cadbury report (1992), the Hampel report (1998), the Higgs report (2003) and the development of the current UK Corporate Governance Code (Shattock, 2006). Thus, a history of the development of university governance and management has to be seen in the broader context of changing corporate forms and the underlying dynamic of political, economic and social contradictions.

Universities have historically been established in different legal forms but since the 1988 Education Reform Act, most new universities have been established as Higher Education Corporations (HEC). This is changing yet again, as the most recent regulatory changes since the Browne review have been to  encourage the more rapid establishment of new forms of higher education providers with degree awarding powers (so-called ‘new entrants’ to the market), including for-profit private institutions. 3

What we need is a clear and coherent picture of university governance from a historical perspective and to introduce the ‘social co-operative’ as a new historical form of institutional governance that appears to be compatible with collegial structures (Cook, 2013) and speaks to many of the concerns raised over increased corporate governance structures and hierarchical management of universities (Bacon, 2014) by providing an alternative for existing governors, academics and students to consider. Until recently, universities in the UK have been neither publicly or privately owned corporations. The so-called ‘public universities’ in the UK are effectively owned by their current governors.  What we need, I think, is to encourage a different way of thinking about the role, value and form of higher education institutions in society as ‘social’ organisations sustained through solidarity and co-operation among their members. We need to acknowledge that current hierarchical and undemocratic models of governance alienate and de-motivate university staff (Bacon, 2014) and that co-operative values and principles are attractive to both staff and students (Cook, 2013). We need to compare forms of governance in both higher education and social cooperatives and use this as a stimulus for critical reflection on the practical and contemporary issue of democracy in higher education. I think we need to respond to the growing ‘democratic deficit’ in higher education (McGettigan, 2014), by questioning university governance in light of constitutional innovations in cooperative organisations.

Back to Marx

As I indicated in the first section of these notes, I think a history of university needs to be undertaken from the perspective that Marx provides; that is, a view of organisations as social forms of capital that is becoming increasingly social, past the point of private property and joint stock to common forms of ownership. We are now past the point that worker co-operatives reached by reversing the relation between labour and capital because the social co-operative form has extended democratic control and common ownership of capital beyond worker members of the co-operative to include users/consumers and other beneficiaries (which could include representatives of the state/public).

Peter Hudis notes that Marx regarded worker co-ops as a new form of production, whereas joint-stock firms were the highest form of capitalist production. (Hudis, 2011, 179) The socialisation of property that the joint-stock firm represents is only that. It did nothing to change the relation between capital and labour, whereas worker co-ops turn the capital relation on its head.  Yet worker co-ops, because of their single-member character, are still limited by the fact that they are subject to value production through the exchange relation: Workers are producers who require consumers. They do not produce goods and services to directly satisfy their own needs. “In this sense”, write Hudis, “they still remain within capitalism, even as they contain social relations that point to its possible transcendence.” (180)

Does the social co-operative form represent a further progression towards the transcendence of capitalism? A social co-operative, at least in an ideal sense, is a form of association owned in common and democratically controlled by both producer and consumer members, establishing a direct satisfaction of needs between members. To what extent this overcomes the value-form relation of exchange is not entirely clear to me at this point. Value production still determines the social co-operative in its members’ relations with other firms, with whom they enter into exchange relations, but to what extent does exchange (i.e. for the purpose of exchange value) take place between members of the commonly owned social co-operative? Is the product or more often the service that the social co-op produces a ‘commodity’ as defined by Marx? Is the use value of that service being produced by workers who are alienated from the means of production for the primary purpose of exchange? It doesn’t seem like it to me. A better question might be: does the labour performed by workers in the social co-op take the dual form of concrete and abstract labour? Yes, to the extent that the wider social relations of value production in capitalist society continues to determine  their needs.

I am not suggesting that the social co-operative form overcomes the capitalist form, but that it might represent an advanced transitional form of social association between individuals. I think that the social co-op goes further than the worker co-op form in constituting a dialectical response to capital and a more socially encompassing “safe space” (Egan, 1990) against the determinate logic of value.  Egan, referring to worker co-ops, concludes that the ‘‘potential for degeneration [of worker co-ops into capitalist firms] must be seen to lie not within the cooperative form of organisation itself, but in the contradiction between it and its capitalist environment. Degeneration is not, however, determined by this contradiction’’ (1990, 81). It seems to me that the social co-op form extends the “safe space” to include direct exchange between producers and consumers (who are ultimately owners of common capital) and has greater potential to resist degeneration.

The treadmill of capitalism

“In a society in which material wealth is the form of social wealth, increased productivity results either in a greater amount of wealth or in the possibility of a corresponding reduction in labor time. This is not the case when value is the form of wealth. Because the magnitude of value is solely a function of the socially-average labor time expended, the introduction of a new method of increasing productivity only results in a short-term increase in value yielded per unit time – that is, only as long as socially-average labor time remains determined by the older method of production. As soon as the newer level of productivity becomes socially general, the value yielded per unit time falls back to its original level. Thus, because the form of wealth is temporally determined, increased productivity only effects a new norm of socially-necessary labor time. The amount of value yielded per unit time remains the same. The necessity for the expenditure of labor time is consequently not diminished, but is retained. That time, moreover, becomes intensified. The productivity of concrete labor thus interacts with the abstract temporal form in a manner that drives the latter forward while reinforcing the compulsion it exerts on the producers. The value-form of wealth is constituted by and, hence, necessitates, the expenditure of human labor time regardless of the degree to which productivity is developed. The treadmill effect just outlined is immanent to the temporal determination of value. It implies a historical dynamic of production that cannot be grasped when Marx’s “law of value” is understood as an equilibrium theory of the market and when the differences between value and material wealth, abstract and concrete labor, are overlooked. That treadmill dynamic is the initial determination of what Marx developed as central to capitalism: capitalism necessarily must constantly accumulate to stand still. The dynamic becomes somewhat more complicated when one considers capital – “self-valorizing value.” The goal of capitalist production is not value, but the constant expansion of surplus value – the amount of value produced per unit time above and beyond that required for the workers’ reproduction. The category of surplus value not only reveals that the social surplus is indeed created by the workers, but also that the temporal determination of the surplus implies a particular logic of growth, as well as a particular form of the process of production.”

Source: Postone and Brick (1982) Critical Pessimism and the Limits of Traditional Marxism, Theory and Society, 11 (5) 636.

Higher and higher education

“The university that we need to create is not another institutional form of higher education, the University of Knowledge. It is, rather, the unbounded limit of what we know about ourselves, that is higher and higher education, which can emerge in any number of sustainable and life enhancing forms.”

Source: Neary, Mike (2012) Beyond teaching in public: the university as a form of social knowing. In: Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. Continuum. ISBN 9781441124791

The question of praxis

I’ve been reading Werner Bonefeld’s excellent new book in which he provides a very clear summary of its structure and main arguments, which I have reproduced below. I intend to write an extended review of it in due course, reflecting on the state of critical theory in education studies.

Bonefeld, Werner (2014) Critical Theory and the Critique of Political Economy, London: Bloomsbury, pp. 10-12.

“Helmut reichelt is right when he argues that the time has come to reconsider the purpose of reconstruction, moving it on from an attempt at finding the veritable marx to the development of the critical themes and insights that the new reading of marx has established as fundamental to the critique of ‘the monstrous objective power’ of economic things. In distinction to the new reading, the development of the critical themes and insights rests on the acceptance that Marx’s account is fundamentally ambivalent, beyond reconstruction. This point is most strongly made by Michael Heinrich. He establishes that Marx’s revolutionary break with classical political economy is marked by the pains of transition, leaving a multi-layered argument that, say, in the case of the conception of abstract labour, which is the value producing labour, overlaps with naturalistic definitions that derive from the tradition of classical political economy.

This book develops the critique of political economy as a critical social theory of economic objectivity, beyond critical reconstruction. At its best, the critique of political economy thinks against the spell of the dazzling economic forms. It wants to get behind the secret of our world, to demystify its fateful appearance as a force of economic nature. Critical theory does not think about (reified) things. rather, it thinks ‘out of these things’. For this task, the insights of the new reading are fundamental, especially the argument that the capitalist social relations manifest themselves in the inverted form of objectively valid, seemingly natural economic abstractions. Yet, taken by itself, it does not explain the social character of economic objectivity. What is objectified? in distinction to the new reading, I argue with Adorno that the ‘movement of society’ is ‘antagonistic from the outset’. Further, I argue that the critique of political economy is not just a critique of the economic form of society. it is also a critique of the political form of society, which I develop first by means of an argument about the relationship between world market and national state, and then by an account of the state as the political form of the capitalist social relations.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part contains a connected argument about the character of a critique of political economy. It contains a chapter (Chapter 2) on the meaning of a critique of political economy, which i develop with the help of the new reading. The chapter explores the difficulty of determining the subject matter of economics, expounds the classical marxist interpretation of economic laws and develops Marx’s characterization of his work as a critique of economic categories as critical theory of social constitution. Chapter 3 develops the implications of this characterization further into an argument about the capitalist forms of social practice, which I develop with the help of Adorno’s negative dialectics.

The second part develops the class character of the law of value in three connected chapters. In distinction to the new reading, it argues that the social antagonism is the logical and historical premise of the law of value. Chapter 4 argues that the hidden secret of the law of value is the forceful expropriation of the labourer from the means of subsistence. In this context I argue that the attempt of the new reading to develop the economic categories by means of logical exposition banishes the class relationship from the critique of political economy. In distinction, the chapter argues that the existence of a class of labourers with no independent access to the means of subsistence is the fundamental premise of the capitalist social relations. Chapter 5 develops this argument further into a critical theory of class as the objective category of the capitalist form of wealth and thus of the entire system of social reproduction. The law of value is premised on the force of law-making violence that established a class of surplus value producers who depend for their life on the sale of their labour power. Chapter 6 extends discussion of the creation and reproduction of a class of dispossessed producers of surplus value into an argument about abstract labour as the historically specific labour of capitalist wealth, of value. It argues that the value-producing labour manifests the force of law-making violence in the form of an economic dictate of a time-made abstract. Social wealth manifests itself in exchange as the labour of ‘socially necessary abstract labour time’.

The third part develops the critique of political economy as a critique of the form of the state. I reckon that the law of value has no independent economic reality. It does not dominate anything and anyone, nor does it instantiate itself – just like that. Value relations are relations of political economy, and political economy presupposes the force of law making violence as the premise of its – civilized – appearance as an exchange relationship between the sellers and buyers of labour power as equal legal subjects, governed by the rule of law. Chapter 7 establishes the world market as the categorical imperative of the capitalist form of wealth. The world market asserts itself as a coercive force over labour in production. However, coercion is not a socio-economic category. It is a political category, which characterizes the state as the political form of bourgeois society. I argue that the world market society of capital entails the (national) state in its concept. Chapter 8 focuses on the state as the political form of bourgeois society. In distinction to traditional accounts that derive the state from the economic, I hold that the law of value is premised on depoliticized exchange relations, and I argue that the state is the concentrated force of socio-economic depoliticization. Fragments apart, Marx’s promise of a critique of the form of state did not materialize. The chapter therefore develops its account with reference to Hegel’s political philosophy and Smith’s classical political economy and its further development in neo-liberal thought, to make sense of Marx’s characterization of the state as the executive committee of the bourgeoisie. The conclusion returns to Marx to argue that the state is the political form of capitalist society.

The fourth and final part assesses the anti-capitalist implications of the critique of political economy as a critical social theory. Chapter 9 presents forms of anti-capitalism that personalize the critique of capitalism as the power of money or the power of imperial force, or both. Here, the critical notion that the social individual personifies the economic categories regresses into the condemnation of hated forms of capitalism that are identified with the interest of particular persons. The personalized critique of capitalism entails the elements of antisemitism from the outset, which the chapter explores as a perverted critique of capitalism. Chapter 10 is the final chapter. It summarizes the argument by exploring Adorno’s demand for a praxis that fights barbarism. Contrary to the rumour about critical theory, its entirely negative critique of existing conditions does not entail an impoverished praxis. Rather, it entails the question of praxis – what really does it mean to say ‘no’ in a society that is governed by real economic abstractions?”

Life’s too short. Push the boundaries, kick up a fuss, organise with friends.

Some highlights from two articles by Paul Chatterton, Stuart Hodkinson and Jenny Pickerill. They were (and continue to be) influential on me around the time we established the Social Science Centre

From: Chatterton, P. (2008) Demand the Possible: Journeys in Changing our World as a Public Activist-ScholarAntipode Vol. 40 No. 3.

“Sometimes I wonder why I work in a university at all. I spend most of my time outside of it, organising community events, helping out at a local free space, supporting local co-ops, doing asylum seeker support, going to activist gatherings and demonstrations, helping with campaigns, putting on film screenings, and hosting radical speakers. I suppose I have become someone who blends activism and the academy. As a result, life is busy, challenging, confusing, but generally enjoyable.

Then I remember why I still work in a university. It’s because I’m an activist-scholar, someone who sees the value in radical education and the public debate of ideas which challenge the norm. I bring my activism into the university for a number of reasons. In spite of the way they are being re-engineered, universities are still amazing places of encounter, conflict, diversity and debate (not to mention resources), and it is crucial that we find ways to defend and expand these and open them up to others. Engaging with the activist world, while it raises the eyebrows of many senior colleagues, excites and inspires my students. It reminds me of what Paulo Freire once said about the purpose of education: it is the practice of freedom. Defending education as a path to freedom and not as a route to debt, precarious jobs, and conformity is one of the most important political tasks of our time. And it’s also an essential antidote to the endless consumer parade which student life has become, as well as to the efforts of British Aerospace, KPMG, Deloitte, and their ilk, to parcel up their futures.

So how does all this work? What does it mean to be an activist-scholar? How do you promote radical ideas and debates within the academy?

… The author provides three examples and concludes:

Our job is to make alternatives seem feasible and sensible, not crazy and left field. It is a battle of ideas, words and practices about a better world, a battle, alas, that too many professors forget once they have joined the elite club. Here’s a few things we can all do:

  • Introduce as much challenging material into our teaching as possible—including street work, innovative assessment, learning radical histories, outside engagements.
  • Push for new courses in universities which actively promote engagement, campaigning and civic activism.
  • Support open source and online publishing and challenge metrics.
  • Inform ourselves about who owns the journals and books we publish in. Which large firms are behind them? Support the ones we feel comfortable with and tell those we avoid why.
  • Spread the word on corporations who have too much influence in
    our work lives and get together with others to challenge them.
  • Try and create publicly accessible versions of our work in the form of pamphlets, tip sheets or websites.

Life’s too short. Push the boundaries, kick up a fuss, organise with friends. Don’t let management push you around! Challenge lazy, overpaid professors, connect with inspiring movements for change, and turn your work places into spaces of joy, hope and rebellion!”

From: The Autonomous Geographies Collective (2010) Beyond Scholar Activism: Making Strategic Interventions Inside and Outside the Neoliberal UniversityACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 2010, 9 (2), 245-275.

“We need to reject the false distinction between academia and wider society in conceptualisations of valid sites of struggle and knowledge production, and to find ways to research and engage collectively and politically, rather than individually.

What unites past and present generations of scholar activists is their desire to bring together their academic work with their political ideals to further social change and work directly with marginal groups or those in struggle. This work goes beyond simply trying to understand the politics of our research and argues that our work is political.

In recent years, human geographers have sought to challenge this inertia by showcasing their own activist engagements as scholar activists, while at the same time holding a mirror up to their engagements in highly reflexive accounts. Pain (2003) usefully categorises these and reflects that there are at least three ways to engage beyond the academy. The first approach, combining activism and research, fuses politics and academic research agendas into one coherent strategy and methodology working closely with resisting others and social movements… Perhaps unsurprisingly, some have also produced valuable insights into the often torturous psyche of the academic-activist, forever caught between two worlds and sets of people with competing priorities, expectations, and pressures. These authors bring out the necessity of academics’ attempts to make their teaching and research fit together with their desire for social change, with all the obstacles, dilemmas, and challenges this poses.

The second approach is participatory research which in general aims to “improve practice rather than to produce knowledge” (Elliot, 1991: 49) and gives the ‘subject’ far greater involvement in the research (see for example, England, 1994; Pain, 2003; Hayward et al., 2004; Kitchen and Hubbard, 1999; Cahill, 2007; Pain and Francis, 2003; Pain and Kindon, 2007; Kindon et al., 2007). Within participatory research and development there is a strong critique of exploitative and unaccountable research, especially “externally imposed and expert-oriented forms of research and planning” (Cooke and Kothari, 2001:5) which are most concerned with extracting knowledge. In response, most forms of participatory research aim to place people at the centre of research agendas.

Finally, Pain (2003) argues that ‘policy research’ might be traditionally seen as ‘top-down’ and ‘reactionary’ but it “can also be a viable strategy in critical action research” (655) (see also Pollard et al., 2000; Burgess, 2005). Many geographers do get involved in policy-oriented research (see for example Dorling et al. 2007; Parkinson, 2006; Pike and Tomany, 2008). Clearly, it is difficult to assess the impact of this kind of work on pushing policy in a more progressive direction and much of it remains inside the epistemic community of policy-makers and academics, rarely belonging to, or coming from, engagement with those affected on the ground.

The authors provide examples and go on to suggest seven principles towards a strategy for scholar activism:

Drawing upon more anarchist and libertarian socialist interpretations of collectivism (the acceptance of human interdependence and the belief that society will be bettered through the achievement of collective goals rather than individual aspirations, and the importance of the commons), for us there is a need to approach our working practices with more desire for horizontality in organisation, an emphasis upon sharing and co-operation, more consensual decision-making, an awareness of inherent unequal power relations, and finally a fundamental acceptance of freedom as individuals within a collective. It is upon these broad and ambiguous fundamentals that we wish to suggest seven principles towards a strategy for scholar activism.

    1. In and against the neo-liberal university
    2. Recognise the emancipatory potential of education, research and publications
    3. Create a global knowledge commons
    4. Be aware of our own action research footprint
    5. Organise ourselves into collective action networks
    6. Be the change we want to see
    7. Make collective strategic interventions which are accountable and relevant to social movements”

Communism in practice: Directly social labour

While reading this extract below from Peter Hudis’ wonderful book, keep in mind the already existing practices of P2P production, such as free software and open education. As Michel Bauwens and others recognise, these are examples of a proto-mode of post-capitalist production. They conform to much of what Marx describes (below) as the features of directly social labour but have yet to overcome the determinate imperative of value production i.e. they do not replace the production of value but remain reliant on it. Tony Smith and Guido Starosta discuss this limitation in detail.

Source: Hudis, P. (2013) Marx’s Concept of the Alternative to Capitalism, Leiden: Brill. pp. 110-113.

“‘Now if this assumption is made, the general character of labour would not be given to it only by exchange; its assumed communal character would determine participation in the products. The communal character of production would from the outset make the product into a communal, general one. The exchange initially occurring in production, which would not be an exchange of exchange values but of activities determined by communal needs and communal purposes, would include from the beginning the individual’s participation in the communal world of products…labour would be posited as general labour prior to exchange, i.e., the exchange of products would not in any way be the medium mediating the participation of the individual in general production. Mediation of course has to take place.’ (Marx, Grundrisse, 1986: 108)

This is a remarkable passage that is worth close analysis. First, Marx acknowledges that labour would have a ‘general’ character in a new society. However, its generality would be radically different from what exists in capitalism, where discrete acts of individual labour become connected to one another (or are made general) through the act of commodity-exchange. In contrast, labour becomes general in the new society prior to the exchange of products, on the basis of the ‘the communal character of production’ itself. The community distributes the elements of production according to the individuals’ needs, instead of being governed by social forms that operate independently of their deliberation. Labour is general insofar as the community directly decides the manner and form of production. Marx is not referring here to the existence of small, isolated communities that operate in a world dominated by value-production. As noted above, Marx never adhered to the notion that socialism was possible in one country, let alone in one locale. He is pointing, instead, to a communal network of associations in which value-production has been superseded on a systemic level. Labour is therefore directly social, not indirectly social. Second, Marx acknowledges that exchange of some sort would exist in a new society. However, exchange would be radically different from what prevails in capitalism, which is governed by the exchange of commodities. Instead of being based on exchange-values, prices, or markets, distribution would be governed by an exchange of activities that are ‘determined by communal needs and communal purposes’. The latter determines the exchange of activities, instead of being determined by the exchange of products that operate independently of it. Third, Marx acknowledges that social mediation would exist in a new society. However, mediation would be radically different from that under capitalism, where it has an abstract character, since ‘mediation takes place through the exchange of commodities, through exchange value’ and money. In socialism, in contrast, ‘the presupposition is itself mediated, i.e., communal production, community as the basis of production, is assumed. The labour of the individual is from the outset taken as [directly] social labour’.

Marx’s distinction between indirectly and directly social labour is central to his evolving concept of a postcapitalist society – not only in the Grundrisse but also (as I will attempt to show) in much of his later work. He contends that in capitalism the ‘social character of production is established only post festum by the elevation of the products into exchange values and the exchange of these exchange values’, whereas in socialism, ‘The social character of labour is presupposed, and participation in the world of products, in consumption, is not mediated by exchange between mutually independent labourers of products of labour. It is mediated by social production within which the individual carries on his activity’. Marx is envisaging a totally new kind of social mediation, one that is direct, instead of indirect, sensuous, instead of abstract: ‘For the fact is that labour on the basis of exchange values presupposes that neither the labour of the individual nor his product is directly general, but that it acquires this form only through objective mediation by means of a form of money distinct from it’. In sum, a society is governed by exchange-value only inso-far as the sociality of labour is established not through itself, but through an objective form independent of itself. Such a society is an alienated one, since (as Marx showed from as early as his writings of 1843–4), the domination of individuals by objective forms of their own making is precisely what is most problematic and indeed perverse about capitalism.

Marx proceeds to go deeper into what he means by directly social ‘communal production’ by addressing the role of time in a new society. He writes, ‘Ultimately, all economy is a matter of economy of time’. All societies strive to reduce the amount of time spent on producing and reproducing the necessities of life. No society is more successful at doing so than capitalism, in which production-relations force individual units of labour to conform to the average amount of time necessary to produce a given commodity. Since this compulsion issues from within the production-process, instead of from a political authority which lords over it from outside, capitalism is far more effective at generating efficiencies of time than were precapitalist modes of production. Marx repeatedly refers to this as capitalism’s ‘civilising mission’. He says this because the development and satisfaction of the individual ultimately depends upon the saving of time so that life can be freed up for pursuits other than engaging in material production.

But how does the economisation of time relate to a new society governed by ‘communal production’? Marx indicates that it becomes just as important as in capitalism, although it exists in a different form and for a different purpose:

If we presuppose communal production, the time factor naturally remains essential. The less time society requires to produce corn, livestock, etc., the more time it wins for other production, material or spiritual…Economy of time, as well as the planned distribution of labour time over the various branches of production, therefore, remains the first economic law if communal production is taken as the basis. It becomes a law even to a much higher degree. However, this is essentially different from the measurement of exchange values (of labours or products of labour) by labour time.

Marx does not detail exactly how the economisation of time operates in a society governed by communal production; the text mentions no single mechanism or lever for accomplishing this. However, in light of his earlier writings, we can surmise that he sees the motivation for the economisation of time in a new society as resting upon the effort to achieve what he called in 1844 a ‘totality of manifestations of life’. When society is freed from the narrow drive to augment value as an end in itself, it can turn its attention to supplying the multiplicity of needs and wants that are integral to the social individual. Instead of being consumed by having and possessing, individuals can now focus upon what is given short shrift in societies governed by value-production – their being, their manifold sensuous and intellectual needs, whether ‘material or spiritual’. The more people get in touch with their universality of needs, the greater the incentive to economise time, to reduce the amount of hours engaged in material production, so that such multiple needs (such as cultural, social, or intellectual enjoyment) can be pursued and satisfied. In a word, whereas in capitalism the incentive to economise time is provided by an abstract standard, exchange-value, in socialism it is provided by the concrete sensuous needs of the individuals themselves. The drive to economise time no longer comes from outside the individuals, from value’s need to grow big with value, but from within, from the quest to manifest the totality of the individuals’ intellectual, sensuous, and spiritual capabilities.”

The general intellect, mass intellectuality, and the value-form

Source: Smith, Tony (2013) The ‘General Intellect’ in the Grundrisse and Beyond. In: In Marx’s Laboratory. Critical Interpretations of the Grundrisse, Leiden: Brill.

“I believe Virno and Vercellone understate the role of the general intellect in the era extending from the first Industrial Revolution to Fordism, while overstating its flourishing in contemporary capitalism. But they are surely correct to stress how mass-intellectuality has become increasingly important as a productive force. Does this development push Marx’s theory of value into the trash heap of outdated theories? Not if the main form of social organisation continues to be the dissociated sociality of generalised commodity-production. Not if social reproduction continues to be mediated by the circulation of things, that is, the sale of commodities for money. And not if social reproduction continues to centre on the reproduction of the capital/wage labour relation. All these things continue to define global capitalism today. As long as value-relations are in place, the accomplishments of diffuse intellectuality will tend to be either appropriated by capital as another sort of ‘free gift’ (as occurs, for example, when corporations make use of ‘open-source’ computing code), or else pushed to the margins of social life. Marx’s value-theory will retain descriptive accuracy and explanatory power as long as this remains the case. To comprehend the production of wealth we must indeed take into account mass intellectuality, and grant it increasing importance vis-à-vis simple labour. But this has little to do with Marx’s theory of value, at least not with the most satisfactory all-things-considered interpretation of that theory.”

See also: Is Socialism Relevant in the “Networked Information Age”? A Critical Assessment of The Wealth of Networks.