Talking Points: Public Education or Capitalist Schooling?

Rich Gibson, February 2011



While I prefer not to adopt the forms of quick “Talking Points,” I can understand why they are  created. For the sake of brevity I offer a few of my own, understanding that my friends and I have been wrong about important things in the past, but from time to time we’ve been right too.


Five Key Talking Points with sub-sets:


1. Our social context is:


         A. Capitalism--meaning ruthless exploitation.

         B. Imperialism: capital’s birth-twin on a relentless search for cheap labor, raw materials, regional control, etc.

         C. The real promise of perpetual war and its corollary, rising inequality, often color-coded, usually hitting women and kids first and worst. Many real capitalist crises: financial and failed warfare with rising anti-imperialist movements, potentially, going beyond nationalism.

         D. Developing corporate states, an imperfect merger of government and key capitalists (especially finance and industrial, but others as well) in which ruling classes settle their internal issues, then turn on the mass of people as a class, using government as an executive committee and armed weapon.

         E. The ascendence of fascism (the corporate state and more) as a popular, multi-tentacled, movement. No specific tentacle makes much sense in itself (T-partyites, evangelicals, Anti-immigrant movements, racists, bankster thieves, the complete militarization of imperial countries, etc) but taken as a whole they merge into activist forms of protection for capitalism.


2. The core issue of our time is the potential of mass, class-conscious, direct action met by the reality of rising fascism. The crux of this is class war, often deflected into race/national/religious/opportunistic wars.


         A. To not name the capital/imperialist twins is to fail to build class consciousness which, over time, will only lead to recreating oppression in new ways, typically using the oppressed to become instruments of their own domination—as we shall see in Egypt, saw in the Ukraine, see today in the US union movement especially, etc. Pandering to the lowest common denominator of acceptable language, that is, to reject naming the twin beasts, upends reality. Fox News, PBS, NBC, all say “Capitalism,” and “Empire” now. Why hide?


3. The demand to “Defend Public Education,” is to make a fetish of what is in fact capitalist schooling, to defend a myth which has never been educational (leading out) nor public (always segregated, always promoting lies like nationalism, now militarism).


         A. It is to champion what occurs inside capitalist schooling: from the division of labor in forms of knowledge to the regulation of what is known (regimented curricula) and how people come to know it (racist, anti-working class high stakes exams, etc) and militarism in poor and working class areas in order to maintain the corporate state. Defending the indefensible is to suspend critique.


         B. It is not only to defend the capitalist state, the corporate state, but also to demand to make it more powerful. Moreover, capitalist schools are schools of the empire, teaching nationalism and militarism relentlessly while relying on the imperial rent, the fruits of imperialism, to stock the schools, pay the workers, and, especially, reward the school union bosses whose exorbitant pay comes largely from their enforcing the empire’s projects in theory and practice.


         C. The demand to “Defend Public Education” represents a shift in focus. The shift from a demand to “Emancipate Education” (much of Europe and early on in the US last year) or “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes”, to “Defend Public Education,” is no accident.


         D. This change of focus is in part a product of the sects, liberals, and unionists: the latter seeking to defend dues income—which they exchange for labor peace in their collective bargaining contracts. This is the historical exchange. Labor mis-leaders trade the work of their members and no-strike clauses for dues check-off.


         E. The unionists confuse unionism with today’s counterfeit unions. Not a single major labor leader in the US supports the reason people think they join unions: contradictory interests of workers and bosses. Rather, the union bosses openly believe in corporate state company unionism: the unity of big business, big labor, and government, “in the national interest.”  Whatever these entities are, they are not unions in the traditional sense. Indeed, the “unions,” do far more to divide people (by job, public/private sector, etc), than to unite them.


         F. This is partially why union tops fight so hard against class conscious action. They don’t believe in it. Instead, they back all-class unity, a central prop to the corporate state. This is why we witnessed 40 years of concessions from unions when it is clear that concessions do not save jobs; only make bosses want more. But, for example, the United Auto Workers leadership essentially killed the union, lost more than a million members,  in order to “Save the US Auto Industry,” while GM, Ford, and Chrysler all invested abroad. UAW leaders’ pensions are, however, intact, while their former members pensions, and current members wages, are gutted.

         In k-12 schools, it is why the union bosses participated in the creation of the No Child Left Behind Act and, now, Race to the Top, both bi-partisan, ruling class projects to guarantee hegemony over knowledge and action. It is why the union mis-leaders do nothing but organize retreats, decay, in community colleges, universities, and colleges. It is why they hug Democrats who, in turn, hug Republicans.


         G. But why not represent the real interest of union members, as a class?


         H. Labor bosses bulging salaries ($686,949 for one year for ex-NEA president Reg Weaver) come from using deception, law (“cannot break the contract”), and in some instances violence, to be sure the rank and file is well under control (selling labor peace) and, importantly, assisting to crush indigenous social movements outside the US, backing imperialism. This action follows the same thinking that created the American Federation of Labor, a craft union which sought to gain power by limiting access to the crafts, typically using racism and sexism–and family ties. That thinking goes like this: If other people will do worse, we will do better.


         I. One form of deception is to herd union members into voting booths, away from direct action on the job and in communities. In this electoral world, people choose who will oppress them best: the parties equivalent to a two-headed poisonous snake. Capitalism trumps democracy at every turn (unpopular wars, bailouts, etc.) Electoral work serves as a useful diversion, made especially successful by the incessant propaganda of capitalist schooling, when, as one top NEA staffer said, “If voting mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it.”


         J.  Another deception: both school union conventions in 2010 saw floor struggles in which the union mis-leaders, and a large majority of the rank and file behind them, openly voted not to discuss either the bailouts or the wars, rather following the most opportunistic paths: what about just us in schools, which becomes, over time, the base of capital’s values: What about me? Because of their ties to capitalism and imperialism, in their ideas and wallets, union bosses want nothing to do with showing people their realities: exploitation/inequality, war–all rooted in class.


4. The demand to “Defend Public Education,” aims at “privatization,” when, in fact, privatization is at best a second-tier issue. The dominant question is the corporate state (again, bank bailouts, wars). Appeals to rescue the public sector seek to bolster that state.


         A. The more school workers, students, and others trust the electoral sector, trust the law (designed to protect property, not people), the more we believe we must sacrifice for a fabricated “common good,” the more we target the “bigger evil” privatizers distinct from the corporate state, the more we guarantee the rule of capitalists in all forms and their government’s ability to attack us.


5. We know now that people who are positioned to have no choice but to fight back, will: California grocery strikers, nurses, in the recent past; now students and school workers. At issue is whether they will grasp why they must fight back (class war) and, perhaps, win, or they will misread and surely lose (grocery strikers).


         A. The culture that served as a vital pillar of what once was a labor movement, class solidarity, is largely evaporated–because of 40 years and more of union, liberal, and sect betrayals. Evidence: most young people (and plenty of seniors) don’t know what a scab is, nor grasp the significance of a picket line, and have never seen a real strike. More evidence: the prospect of a National City (Southern California) strike in early February, 2011, drew harsh preparations by regional bosses (working as a class) to ensure a large pool of scabs (“substitutes”). It followed that local union leaders faced a context, which top union leaders forged, in which they had some community support, but not enough to mount a real battle–for which they were unprepared–so they, like so many others, caved. 


         B. Resurrection of a culture of class solidarity, which “Defend Public Education,” or some cooked up “public sector,”  inherently deflects, is key in the period ahead, in the streets and in minds as well.


6. This is a long struggle involving daily battles. Many, perhaps most, of us, would agree on Grand Strategy, the far-off goal where we fix our sights: a reasonably free and equitable world in which people can be creative in the absence of tyranny and war. Union tops reject this out of hand in theory and practice.


         A. It may be we can agree on Strategy, or perhaps not. Part of strategy means that all rise with all-- with common understandings of what, and why, the strategy is. Strategy involves longer term action, but theory too: teaching class consciousness. Union tops, some sects, and many liberals, want nothing to do with this, preferring the vending machine approach: pay your money and we think and act for you–like church. Another part of strategy is recognizing the severe reality of top-down class war; then determining how to respond with tactics that unite Grand Strategy and Strategy.


         B. In the absence of coherent Grand Strategy and Strategy, all devolves into disjointed tactics which will invariably lead to one defeat after the next. Tactics, for example identifying critical choke points in cities, on campuses, etc, and discovering ways to make good use of them, need to begin with “all rise with all,” understandings as well.


7. Last, we now see that when more or less spontaneous movements arise in response to various forms of oppression (tuition/fee hikes, k-12 cuts, etc.) that elements within or outside those movements will arrive and work hard to be sure that the social context of our time, and class-consciousness, will be, at best, obscured, and at worst, demolished.


         A. Some of the carriers of this opposition will invariably be honest, and wrong, while others will have an interest (high pay, status, etc) in warding off critical analysis. Telling one from another can be difficult.


         B. Nevertheless, it appears that the kinds of close personal ties, even among people who have very real differences, which make united action possible—ties across the usual boundaries of, for example, race and sex—are absolutely vital to any social movement that can make real sacrifices, win reform victories, sustain them, and target more radical change as well.



Sources offered on request. These are talking points, not a dissertation.


Good luck to us, every one.