The time has come to recognize that the fee increases, tuition, the privatization of the university, are here to stay. No change of the guard can save us, no new university president, no new regents board, no new administration, no politician new or old.
Nearly 150 years ago, a scholar set out to better understand how capitalism works and how the conditions for capital accumulation were established.
The spoliation of the churche’s property, the fraudulent alienation of the State domains, the robbery of the common lands, the usurpation of feudal and clan property, and its transformation into modern private property under circumstances of reckless terrorism, were just so many idyllic methods of primitive accumulation. They conquered the field for capitalistic agriculture, made the soil party and parcel of capital, and created for the town industries the necessary supply of a ‘free’ and outlawed proletariat.
While a reading of Marx’s Capital is sure shatter the myth of free individuals knowingly and of their own volition participating in an emerging capitalism, what it cannot do is tell you how primitive accumulation has continued to this day.
Capitalism, as a system that must expand or expire, is premised on constant growth. This growth is predicated on the opening up of expanding markets, the theft of land and natural resources, and the creation of a docile and divided work force.
These goals are accomplished through propaganda and advertising, legislation and court rulings, state bureaucrats and international organizations, violence and war.
There has been a lot of talk these days—a lot for the US, anyway—about neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is simply the newest stage in the history of capitalism. It is premised upon the myths of the individual—opposed to society— and the free market.
After the calamity that was the Great Depression, capitalism was only saved by what would be regarded today as extreme state interference in the market. That, and the most destructive war in the history of mankind.
After World War II Keynesian economics, a mixed capitalist economy with a predilection to modestly generous state services including free public education, came to dominate both in the US and abroad. Keynesian policies, most notably the GI Bill, led to the creation of the American middle class and mass suburbanization.
A labor-capital compromise guaranteed strong protections and rights for worker unionization. Unionized American workers could afford to buy their own home, car, and television set, working forty hour weeks while supporting their children and a stay-at-home wife.
Their bosses, the titans of industry, while at times hesitant about the extent of state encroachment into private businesses, could hardly argue with the phenomenal growth rates the Keynesian system produced.
Yet, in the 1970s, when capitalism experienced one of the periodic crises systematic to its operation, capital—those who own the means of production—turned against the Keynesian system. Under Keynesian economics capitalism had reached its limit and could no longer guarantee the type of growth capitalism needs to sustain itself.
Neoliberalism emerged in the wake of Keynesian economic policies, spreading unevenly and with varied speed across the globe. Neoliberalism is a system based upon deregulation of industry, liberalization of international and intrastate trade, and privatization of government services. It has provided a framework for a massive accumulation of wealth on the part of the elite and witnessed the decimation of the welfare state. Today public education is directly in its sights.
As mentioned above, capitalism is premised on constant growth, 3% is the general goal. Today a truly global market has been created, facilitated by advances in transportation, technology, communication, surveillance, and warfare.
The fall of Communist Russia and the opening up of eastern Europe to capitalism, along with the capitalist turn in China under Deng Xiaoping from 1978 to 1992, opened up massive new markets and hurled literally billions of people onto the world labor market as unskilled wage slaves.
Capitalism, over the past half century, has reached its geographical limits. Quite simply—with the exception of some far flung locales populated by indigenous subaltern populations—capitalism has no room to expand in a world dominated by capitalist-democracies and a small number of nominally socialist regimes.
This is why capitalism has needed to morph into neoliberalism. Like the feudal peasants dispossessed by the enclosures in Britain in the middle ages, capital must consume state and communal property in order satiate its voracious appetite and ensure its own growth rate.
Capitalism can quite simply no longer afford state services like public education. It cannot afford state subsidized housing. It cannot afford government health care. It cannot afford to regulate industry. It cannot afford to protect the environment, indeed it can only see pollution as a commodity to purchase in the marketplace. It cannot afford state support for labor laws, the enforcement of a maximum workweek, or a living wage.
That is why over the last forty years we have been forced to work more hours for less pay and with less job security, while jobs and capital were extracted and reestablished in the low wage, non unionized regions of the global south. While workers’ wages in the United States have remained stagnant or declined, capital has expanded credit to fill in the gaps. Thus it has guaranteed a credit-purchased plasma TV in every mortgaged home, so we can all laugh at the unburdened celebrities, content in our bondage to capital.
The media and popular right-wing discourse have painted the newly proletarianized workers in Mexico, in South Asia, in Africa, in China, as our competition, as the reason for all of our troubles over the past four decades. But they are not our enemies. They are our allies. For they too are the victims of an insatiable capitalism.
Denied access to the land and their traditional means of subsistence, these workers were forced onto the global labor market putting downward pressure on wages in the United States and the rest of the Western world.
University students today in California, in the UK, in Italy, in Greece, are little different. As primitive accumulation continues in capital’s attack on state services, students are forced to pay higher and higher tuition rates, forced to take on more and more debt, essentially guaranteeing that they will spend the rest of their lives as hostages to capitalism’s undying greed, modern day indentured servants living in debt peonage.
Neoliberalism is no other than capitalism devouring the state from the inside out. The state, as capitalism’s traditional guardian, is more than happy to accommodate this new stage of capitalism. The nourishing flesh of state services, welfare, and public education, is stripped to the bone, preserving the skeletal remains of a managerial system of governance dedicated only to providing a business-friendly climate and to containing the fury—potential and actual—of the great mass of the population.
This is why, when we as students protest fee hikes and cuts in state services, we are met by armed police in full riot gear. It is why police pull their guns on non-violent protesters, why they beat students to near death, why they intimidate the young and criminalize dissent.
But the police are not the ones calling the shots. They are only the front line of protection for the state and capital, distinctions which today bear little difference.
We cannot vote this way of life out of office. We cannot rely on politicians, no matter how radical their rhetoric, to deliver us to freedom.
A decade ago in Argentina, when neoliberal reforms failed and the economy collapsed, the people took to the streets in opposition to their rulers, chanting que se vayan todos, they all must go! Workers occupied their factories, taking direct control of the means of production. Wages were equalized and factories which the owners had shut down, due to their inability to turn a profit, were back in production once again. This time without bosses, without hierarchy, and without the profit motive.
Some seventy five years ago, in Barcelona, workers ran the city without any orders from above, collectively and under the principles of anarchism. Journalist George Orwell wrote of his time in anarchist Barcelona:
Above all, there was a belief in the revolution and the future, a feeling of having suddenly emerged into an era of equality and freedom. Human beings were trying to behave as human beings and not as cogs in the capitalist machine.
The only way for us to guarantee that our lives will be the lives we deserve is for us to organize and revolt. No leaders, no party line, just free association with other like minded individuals for the benefit of all. In the spirit of mutual aid and under the principles of horizontality. No free markets, just free people, from each according to her ability, to each according to his needs.
It might seem like a hopeless task but it is, indeed, the only hope we’ve got.
To the new year!
To the future!