The university is not our enemy. It is a visible staging ground on which a battle is to be fought.

To clarify:

The public university is not our enemy. It is not a monolithic beast to be simply countered, but a complex assemblage, intersecting vectors of thinking and money, invested capital and seething discontent, workers and the disappearing prospects of work, of reactionary forms and vast potential. And it is reeling, deeply in crisis. To speak of killing it is like speaking of rope in the cell of a prisoner to be hanged the following morning. Such an outcome waits around the corner, in years to come, not at our hands but beneath the weight and hunger of global capitalism in its current desperation.

This must be countered. The notion and promise of what public education can and should be must be protected at all costs. For whatever its failures, the public university itself remains a critical space for beginning to counter those economic processes and social models that far exceed the scope and reach of this campus, of any network of campuses. We remain committed to truly public education, to wider discourse, to rigorous analyses, to theories of action, as both means and end. These things can be and must be weapons to be shared and learned, tools to pry open frozen forms of uncritical thought and sad resignation. Machines for amplification and networks for mass communication.

If we are to speak of opening the university wider, of taking its spaces in order to make it a common zone (at once seeming paradox and concrete tactic), a zone of contention and resistance, we have to start with understanding it as a site, not as object, of antagonism. We have to grasp where it is already open and where its many blockades to access stand heavy. How to use those blockages against their ends, to expose them and use them for better, sharper purposes. How to see these openings and find emerging allies who also know that this situation must become the emergency that we already know it to be. No false enemies in a time of real enemies.

The university is not our enemy. It is a visible staging ground on which a battle is to be fought.

5 comments:

john-b-cannon said...

This is helpful, and entirely on the right track I think.

Extending the martial metaphor: the premise doing demandless occupations now seems to be that there is something to be said for a war of maneuver within the staging ground of the public university, as opposed to just a war of position. I take it that you agree with this idea, since you talk about forcibly taking spaces and making a free zone. It seems to me that the politics of this is tricky, though, particularly to the extent that schools, classrooms, buildings have not been entirely shut down - the analogy with a factory occupation breaks down. I'm not completely unsympathetic to the idea, but I'm also not yet convinced that the war of maneuver is a useful approach in this particular phase of the struggle.

socialism and/or barbarism said...

[somehow deleted my earlier response - here goes again]

John:

yes, I think that's correct. The war of maneuver comes closer to the model here: not of fortifying the position one already occupies and trying to shore it up as a solid mass to be dealt with, but the sense of occupation as one way - stress on one amongst many - of shock and disruption. That said, to clarify further, we should recognize very clearly the point that you raise, namely of "buildings not being entirely shut down". If there is a shock and disruption, we should be clear that it isn't the day to day operations of the university that are disrupted. Something like that really emerges with general strikes and other massive disruptions that quite exceed the scale of these actions.

The kind of shock and disruption that matters most to me is a disruption of certain static logics (hence the need for maneuver) that become naturalized, ways of thinking about what protest looks like and, worse, what it means to not have a choice about the kind of cuts, hikes, and general financial disaster being faced right now. And as for shock, the point is to provoke another kind of discussion. Whatever one thinks of these actions, we can say for certain that many more people are debating the values of different modes of direct action than they would be otherwise.

Lastly, a line from Debord, himself a hell of a military strategy thinker:

"Theories are only made to die in the war of time."

This is a maxim worth guarding, to recall that a model of maneuver isn't just one of speed and surprise: it has to be one of changing forms, of adopting tactics for the right moment and knowing when to change them radically.

SeanMI said...

Yeah, I agree that attacking the public university as such would be rather counter-productive. Many of the radical critiques of the (loosely) 'social democratic' university have been coopted by neoliberalism, along with the more general discontent with the old forms of university organisation. The question is, can we transform these institutions through resisting the neoliberal reforms, rather than simply trying to defend them?

I'm having some trouble getting a sense of where these struggles are at, as here in Australia we haven't even reached the basic level of organised resistance to neoliberal university 'reforms'. Hopefully we can learn something from your struggles--though unfortunately even most student activists here seem entirely unaware of the campus struggles going on in the US (or Europe for that matter).

Are substantial alternative models of the university arising out of the struggle, or is it remaining at the level of resistance and disruption? And, does it even make sense to try and move beyond negation/resistance at this point? I mean, there is something to be said for disruptive spectacle, even if it doesn't get much beyond revealing the university as a 'site of antagonism'.

socialism and/or barbarism said...

Sean,

in the last three days of finishing my apocalypse book MS and hence harried and scattered - let me get back to you properly on this when I'm done. (Remind me if I forget, as I would definitely like to address this...)

socialism and/or barbarism said...

Sean,

in the last three days of finishing my apocalypse book MS and hence harried and scattered - let me get back to you properly on this when I'm done. (Remind me if I forget, as I would definitely like to address this...)