Beyond Public and Private: A Model for Co-operative Higher Education

With Mike Neary. Part of a special issue on the future of the university.

The framework for a co-operative model of higher education proposed here offers a challenging perspective to the wide-ranging debates about the future of democratic public higher education that ‘kicked off’ in England in 2010 and around the world (Mason 2011). These debates have re-emerged with renewed intensity during the recent spate of University occupations in the Netherlands and at a number of London University Colleges. We recognise the importance of fighting to maintain free public higher education as well as defending democratic academic values within the current university system, and we want to celebrate the achievements of Rethink UoA and the ‘New University Movement’ as well as the Free Education campaign in England. At the same time we are aware of the continuing dangers of co-option, recuperation and exhaustion as negotiations for institutional reform progress through the complex labyrinth of university committee structures; as well as the ever-present threat of police violence that hangs over any academic and student protest. In this context it is important to continue with experiments in democratic decision-making in ways that constitute a genuine transfer of power from the current university leadership and management to students, academics and other forms of university labour, including cleaners, porters and catering staff.

Download the full article from Krisis: Journal for contemporary philosophy. [PDF]

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

From research student to academic: thinking about and preparing for academic work

At the request of students, I’m running a session at our doctoral study school next week on the ‘transition’ (that makes it sound smoother than it actually is) from doctoral student to an academic career. It’s allowed me to read a number of articles, reports and guides that are essentially talking about academic labour.

Below is some reading I’ve suggested to students and would recommend to anyone thinking about an academic career or giving advice to those thinking about such a career. In addition to discussing the readings, we will of course be talking about writing CVs, completing job applications, how to read a job description and preparing for interviews. In my session, I wanted to go beyond the standard ‘careers advice’ and ‘surgery’, and use research and the writings of academics to inform our understanding of academic life.

Personally, I find there’s a lot to like about the job, but the research and individual accounts show that increasingly it’s an intensive, extensive, and sometimes harmful career to pursue. I see and have felt that, too. Structurally, the trajectory of academic work and life will be very difficult to change, (although I’m working on it), but as the Hortensii group make clear, there are ways that we can be more generous and kind to doctoral students and to colleagues; especially to the many individuals already living insecure and highly mobile lives.

I have collected a lot more than this, so if you’re also faced with having to discuss or research this, get in touch and I’ll send you what I have.

Communes, commonism and co-ops: rethinking the university as a hackerspace

My abstract for the British HCI conference 2015 at the University of Lincoln. I’m on the ‘HCI, politics and activism‘ panel.

In this talk I reflect on the history of hacking and its origins in the ‘commune’ of the academy (Winn, 2013). I then discuss the role of Copyleft licenses (Stallman, 2010) as “the practical manifestation of a social structure” (Weber, 2004, 85; Winn, 2015); a form of administration for the production of ‘commonism’ (Dyer-Witheford, 2007; Neary and Winn, 2012). Finally, I argue that the emerging form of ‘open co-operative’ can be understood as a latent material response to Stallman’s original predicament when Venture Capitalism took over his ‘Garden of Eden’: mutual ownership and control of knowledge production. Significantly, the “crucial innovation” for an emerging form of ‘open co-operative’ (Bauwens, 2014) is a further adaptation of Copyleft called Commons-Based Reciprocity Licenses, or ‘Copyfarleft’ (Kleiner, 2007), thereby uniting co-operative legal structures with subversive licensing contracts. To what extent can we reconstitute higher education and the idea of the university along the lines of an open co-operative, so that academic science can continue to contribute to the common good? (Winn, 2015) All Power to the Communes!

Academic Labour and the Capitalist University: A critique of higher education through the law of value

PhD card

I passed my PhD viva yesterday. Below, is the Introduction to the Commentary, which I was required to defend along with the publications. The entire ‘thesis’ is available to download from the University of Lincoln’s institutional repository.

Thank you to my examiners, Siân AdiseshiahJoyce Canaan and Ana Cecilia Dinerstein, and to the viva Chair, Alec Shepley. Most of all, thank you to my colleague, friend and supervisor, Mike Neary.

I’ll write more soon about doing a ‘PhD by Published Work’.


This commentary provides an overview of a body of work that was published between 2009 and 2015. It summarises the significance of the contribution of that work and establishes its coherence both chronologically and thematically.

The work submitted for examination consists of ten items, with the key sole-authored components comprising a book chapter (Winn, 2012) and four peer-reviewed journal articles (Winn, 2013; 2014; 2015a; 2015b). Other, joint-authored work is intended to be supplementary and to provide further evidence of the two persistent themes of inquiry which my work has been concerned with over the last six years: the role and character of labour and property in higher education, or rather, ‘academic labour’ and the ‘academic commons’. Six of the ten publications discuss these themes through a critique of the role of technology in higher education, in particular the way networked technology forms the practical, ideological and legal premise for the idea and forms of ‘openness’ in higher education. Throughout my work, I treat ‘technology’ as a reified and fetishized concept which masks the more fundamental categories of labour, value and the commodity-form that are concealed in the idea and form of the ‘public university’. I start from the observation that advocates of ‘open education’ tend to envision an alternative form of higher education that is based on a novel form of academic commons but neglect to go further and critically consider the underlying form of academic labour. As such, the product is set free but not the producer. In response, through my publications I develop the theoretical basis for an alternative social and institutional form of co-operative higher education; one in which openness is constituted through a categorial critique aimed at the existing commodity-form of knowledge production.

The wider context to which my work responds is the marketization of UK higher education since the early 1990s and the concurrent conceptualisation in the UK of students as consumers (Naidoo et al, 2011). For those of us who are critical of this shift in higher education, which follows a broader destruction of the welfare state in the UK (Huber and Stephens, 2010), one response is to re-engineer the organising principle of higher education so that students are understood as ‘producers’ of knowledge and academic collaborators. In doing so, my co-authors and I have aimed to reinvigorate the processes by which universities are seen as sites that openly contribute to the general intellectual well-being of society (Neary and Winn, 2009). In the absence of such a response, a combination of market competition among universities (Palfreyman and Tapper, 2014), and students coerced by a ‘pedagogy of debt’ (Williams, 2006) defines the social purpose of the university as instrumental to the needs of capital and an individual rather than social good. In effect, this shift can be understood in terms of the welfare and intellectual life of students being increasingly subsumed by the imperatives of capital (Wood, 2002) and subordinated to the reproductive requirements of labour under capital (Rikowski, 2002). Within the confines of working within higher education, the political project of my research has always been against such imperatives and subordination.

The body of work discussed here provides a substantial and original contribution to knowledge in the following ways: By subjecting ‘open education’ to a negative critique based on Marx’s categories of the commodity, value and labour, I reveal fundamental features of the ‘academic commons’ that have not been identified through critiques that neglect the materiality of openness and technology. In order to illustrate this, I examine how ‘hacking’ (out of which the Open Education movement developed) was not only a cultural phenomenon but a form of academic labour that emerged out of the intensification and valorisation of scientific research. I develop this by exploring how ‘value’ is an underlying and mediating imperative in higher education, and illustrate how using a ‘form-analytic’ approach helps us reconceive the social form of knowledge and the roles of teacher and student in a way that most treatments of academic labour fail to do. I also demonstrate how it is possible to go beyond this critique by adopting a position of methodological negativity, against labour rather than from the standpoint of labour, to construct a theory for an alternative to the capitalist university: co-operative higher education. By combining this theoretical and practical work with emerging ideas on ‘open co-operatives’ in other areas, I show how new forms of higher education cannot be based on existing practices of reciprocity based on the production of value, as is often assumed, but rather on a new and directly social form of knowledge production that emerges out of the free association between individuals who recognise that we have much to learn from each other.

Publications submitted for examination

Commentary (8000w)

Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2009) The student as producer: reinventing the student experience in higher education. In: Bell, L., Neary, M. and Stephenson, H. (eds.) The future of higher education: policy, pedagogy and the student experience. London: Continuum, 126-138.

Hall, R. and Winn, J. (2011) Questioning technology in the development of a resilient higher education. E-Learning and Digital Media, 8 (4) 343-356.

* Winn, J. (2012) Open education: from the freedom of things to the freedom of people. In: Neary, M., Bell, L. and Stephenson, H. (eds.) Towards teaching in public: reshaping the modern university. London: Continuum, 133-147.

Neary, M. and Winn, J. (2012) Open education: common(s), commonism and the new common wealth. Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, 12 (4) 406-422.

Social Science Centre, Lincoln (2013) An experiment in free, co-operative higher education. Radical Philosophy, 182, 66-67.

Winn, J. and Lockwood, D. (2013) Student as Producer is hacking the university. In: Beetham, H. and Sharpe, R. (eds.) Rethinking pedagogy for a digital age. London: Routledge, 218-229.

* Winn, J. (2013) Hacking in the university: contesting the valorisation of academic labour. tripleC: Communication, Capitalism and Critique, 11 (2) 486-503.

* Winn, J. (2014) Writing about academic labour. Workplace: A journal for academic labour, 25, 1-15.

* Winn, J. (2015a) Open Education and the emancipation of academic labour. Learning, Media and Technology, 40 (3).

* Winn, J. (2015b) The co-operative university: Labour, property and pedagogy. Power and Education, 7 (1) 39-55.

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.

Student demands for democratic control over universities


These notes are the start of an ongoing attempt to document each instance where occupying students or/and academics include greater democratic governance among their demands from university management (and where they don’t, why?). My gut feeling is that forms of self-management and worker control (among whom I include students) is increasingly becoming a key demand when students go into occupation. There is a long tradition of workers’ control in other organisations (including an entire academic field of study) and I’d like to think about how self-management of higher education can be achieved (in theory and in practice). The list is currently overwhelming centred on the UK, but I’m interested in examples from anywhere and from any time. Regardless of your specific interest in worker control of higher education, you may find the list a convenient way into student occupation websites and their demands whilst in occupation. If you can add to any of these examples below, please leave a comment or email me. Thanks. 

Manchester, May 2015: “we demand a student-staff body, directly elected by students and academic and non-academic staff, responsible for making all managerial decisions of the institution. The university is nothing but the sum of its parts. Students and workers are at the essence of this institution and thus should have direct and democratic control.”

Kings College London, March 2015: “As a high profile London University we need to demonstrate that is no longer acceptable to run our universities on the basis of profit; instead it needs to be done democratically by the students and staff members. We want everyone’s voices to be heard, not just those at the very top who operate with under a thin veil of transparency.” [Demands]

University of the Arts, London, March 2015: “We are protesting against cuts to education in general, the lack of democracy, diverse representation and student input within this institution, and the continued undermining of our rights to free education.” [Demands]

London School of Economics, March 2015: “1) An open discussion with the directors and pro-directors of LSE, within the first week of summer term, on university democracy to clarify to students and staff how the current system works. This will be the starting point for a wider and more inclusive public discussion on the issue of accountability and failing democratic institutions, leading to concrete proposals for improvement to the current system. 2) We demand the formation of an Independent Review Committee comprising of academic staff (1/3), non-academic staff (1/3) and students (1/3). The role of this committee will be to investigate the current system and propose reforms. 3)  All Committee meetings should be minuted and these minutes should be published in less than 7 working days so as to be publicly available to LSE students and staff.”

New University, Amsterdam, February 2015: “1. Democratisation and decentralisation of university governance.”

Sussex, 2012: “A commission of students, staff and lecturers to be formed. With full remit to re-evaluate procedures and channels for holding management accountable as well as reviewing and extending student and workers’ say in these decisions.”

Edinburgh University, 2011: “Universities should be democratically organised: directly controlled by staff and students.”

Glasgow University, 2011: “The Hetherington Research Club to be returned to democratic control by students and staff, with the return of the block grant.”

University College London, November 2010: “We demand an increase in the number of students on the council. These students should be directly elected through UCLU. We assert that all staff of UCL have an equal right to take part in the decision making process of the university. We therefore demand that UCL includes non-academic staff on the council. We require concrete evidence of a plan of action that includes specific time-measured goals for implementing these changes, to be discussed at the next Council meeting. Regarding the academic board, we wish to re-implement genuine democracy through an increase in student representation and the re-introduction of elected Deans.”

Occupations that don’t explicitly demand democratisation of the university

Edinburgh, May 2015

Salford, May 2015

Goldsmiths, London, March 2015: [Demands]

Goldsmiths, London, March 2011

Warwick, 2011

Sheffield, 2011

Liverpool, 2011

Royal Holloway, 2011

University of Brighton, 2011

Birmingham, 2011

Birmingham, 2010

Warwick, 2010

Cambridge, 2010

SOAS, 2010

Lincoln, 2010

University of Leeds, 2010

London South Bank, 2010

University of East London, 2010

Newcastle University, 2010

Cardiff, 2010

University of the West of England, 2010

Plymouth, 2010

Manchester University, 2010

Manchester universities, 2010

Manchester Metropolitan University, 2010

Bristol, 2010

Roehampton University, 2010

Exeter, 2010

Outside UK:

University of California, 2009:

UC Santa Cruz [consolidated]

UC Davis;

San Francisco State University: “That the university system be run by the students, faculty, and staff. Not administrators.” << Not clear if this is the removal of administrator roles altogether or anti-democratic exclusion of administrators from decision-making.


Columbia University, 1968

Sorbonne, 1968

Nanterre, 1968



Occupation Count!