This post was posted on Facebook by a comrade on Wednesday 17th of November , it is reposted here to be widely circulated.
Today ends with a police officer drawing his gun on unarmed students trying to enter a meeting. Today ends the year since the remarkable events that unfolded last year from November 18-20 within the University of California system, during the three day Regents Meeting which raised fees 32%, an exclamation point in the long story of fee increases which, since 2000, has tilted the balance away from public education and toward a privatized simulacrum.
In a local sense, this series was inaugurated by the system wide walk-out of September 24, 2009, from which a shockingly swift path leads to the scene on the Berkeley campus on November 20th, a standoff between students and a motley of law enforcement gangs, with helicopters evenly split between cops and the press. The three days in question included sit-ins across the system, strikes, marches, occupations, hundreds of arrests, and a good deal of hysterical violence, all of it courtesy of the police.
Berkeley is no stranger to such upwellings, which made them no less stunning. It was even stranger in other places; the traditionally more quiescent Davis campus, in the calm plain of the Central Valley, was rocked by multiple occupations, over fifty arrests, goons of seven jurisdictions and a howling K-9 team.
It felt like some significant sector of the world had suddenly been shuffled into chaos. It was a bit exciting, we must admit. And energizing for many. And frightening for many. Not just the violence, the threat of physical and bureaucratic reprisals; it felt as if some longstanding if uneven traction had been lost and we were off the road, skidding across unfamiliar ice. Winter was coming on. It would be a difficult winter indeed: opening with arrests of more than sixty sleeping bodies in a pre-dawn raid on an open auditorium, and punctuated by the early March day when people tried to occupy the freeway in both Oakland and Davis.
Now a year has past. The Regents will raise the fees again tomorrow; perhaps even more tellingly, they will assay the tactical honesty of calling these fees “tuition,” finally. It will be, that is to say, the final dissolution of the California Master Plan that promised no tuition, and the final humiliation of “public” education.
But it is another anniversary as well. On November 14, 1973, the students at Athens Polytechnic commenced an uprising against the “rule of the colonels” controlling the country since the Sixties. On November 17, thirty-seven years ago today, the military junta sent a tank crashing through the walls of the Polytechnic, amid hectic and heroic battles in the streets where twenty-four civilians were killed, hundreds injured.
This extraordinary act of repression met with national outrage, building pressure, ongoing uprisings, coups and counter-coups. Chaos and then some. By the next year, the rule of the colonels came to an end, ushering in a period known as metapolitefsi. This translates usually as “regime change,” though that phrase — a recent battle cry for American military/corporate adventurism — has grown bitter in our mouths. A political crossing, this is its true sense.
This reminds us of several things. One is that the inaugural events for this last year have been less local. The UC, and CSU, and other educational actions were in many ways inspired by the New School occupations of the year before; these were openly conceived in relation to the uprisings, students and citizens, in Athens in 2008 after the police murder of a teenager. History takes us back to that city with indelicate regularity.
So I am bearing these young people in mind, the young people of Athens who have struggled in the streets in the last few years, from Exarcheia to the Acropolis to Syntagma Square, have struggled under the lash of capital’s global crisis, and fought back against its viciously punitive austerity programs, meted out most brutally in that nation. But I am thinking also of the young people of Greece in 1973, which was interestingly enough the moment of the last global economic crisis. So we can say every road leads us back to Greece — this is the story of the West — but also that every road leads us to economic crisis, and it is to this that we have returned.
I think the best reason to hold these things in mind, to hold the Athens Polytechnic uprising in mind, is to remember that this is not just a story about defending public education, as appealing a demand as that is for so many people. Everywhere in the world, the idea of a truly free education is thought together with, thought inseparable from, the idea of radical political change. Each is the thought of the other; otherwise the first doesn’t exist. There will be no free education without radical political change. Period.
This is itself a frightening thought, this thought of change. I know this as well as I know anything. That sense of having lost traction, of being in the middle of a dark and unknowable spin? We are at the beginning. The chaos of the last year? These are the innocent days. The crisis is not abating. Austerity programs will grow more harsh, and travel farther west. In fact they are here already: the fee increases are nothing else.
There is no reversal. They know this in London, in France, in Athens. Capitalism, which is sensitive to a very narrow set of stimuli, is not suddenly going to remember that it meant to fund free thought. The stimuli are the profit rate, the inflation rate, the unemployment rate. The master stimulus is the ability of the world power — that is the United States — to impose its will on the rest of the globe. That’s over. None of these stimuli are going to tell the sensorium of capital to support autonomous life, to underwrite the work and the thought of the vulnerable. Not in this lifetime.
So if we want free education — free in any sense, and in every sense — we must also want a metapolitefsi. This must be a political crossing. In Greece in 1974, it led to social democracy, eventually to the hollow socialism-with-American characteristics of PASOK. This was an improvement, but not enough. We must want a new metapolitefsi, a better one. For anyone who means to defend education in any meaningful way, there is a political crossing before us. Capitalism is behind us, and it is burning.