On any college campus, both radical and reformist means of effecting positive change exist. The radical means consist of the students themselves, who, by mass organization around a common ideology and for a common goal, can effect a desired outcome. The reformist means—student government, chartered student organizations, school newspapers, and other structures—while often preserving a rich tradition as apologists, defenders, and instruments of the administration, simultaneously possess the ability to actively pursue student interests, institutionally recognized by the university itself, once they have been repurposed to suit the needs of the students.
Only a program of simultaneous and coordinated mass action, based in both radical and reformist means, can ever hope to achieve the scale of student resistance necessary for reaching our goals of tuition freezes leading to free tuition, deprivatization, and mass student empowerment. These are essentially revolutionary goals, dependent on at least an erosion of “the system” as it is, if not its complete dismantlement, above and beyond the confines of the campus itself. That is why no less than a revolutionary ideology is necessary in order to accomplish them.
Any hope for a student movement that can actively contribute to the dismantling of the violent and oppressive systems in place—imperialism, capitalism, racism, sexism, transphobia, and the like—which is the ultimate goal of any large-scale systemic transformation for which we would struggle, is dependent on the understanding that only a two-pronged unified militant reformist/radical approach can succeed based on a long-term timetable and a class-conscious radical ideology.
Without this ideology in place, the “student movement” will remain small, unfocused, and divided between radical and reformist elements with whom there can seemingly be no collaboration. The feuding, cooptation, and inertia which arose after the (largely government-engineered) disintegration of the student movement in the 1970s will continue to be our trademarks. Meanwhile, defense contractors, pharmaceutical companies, oil magnates, education privatizers, and other profiteers continue to reap record profits from the ever-increasing tuition rates in which they and their brethren have so wisely invested. This, in the midst of the same economic recession now prompting students to scramble for as much higher education as possible to secure themselves jobs of dubious existence within our austerity-ridden market.
The goal must be to mobilize the students against the administration and force that administration to, in turn, agitate against the state. High-level administrators are often millionaires and billionaires with great personal resources, but they will only use their resources to serve the people when they are given no choice. A mass organization of students that has taken control of the functions of the universities would possess the power to deprive administrations of choice. No other conditions are sufficient. Then we will possess the power to demand free tuition and other fundamental changes within the university system, and be in a position to mobilize for greater changes within the governmental system itself.
In this book, I will elucidate the complexities of what a large-scale two-pronged organized student resistance movement would look like, what its objectives would be, and how to implement it, based on my years of student organizing and personal research.
First we must illustrate that some conditions for positive change already exist (oppression and exploitation), but that a necessary condition is yet to be created: a culture of subversion based on active awareness. The conflict between the oppression and its resistors will inevitably produce the change, whether immediately or through prolonged struggle, much as it flushes out all those who would resist the change itself—reactionaries, apologists, right-wing trolls, and the like—who must then be combated on their own scale (to be discussed in a later chapter).
A principle to always rely on is this: the students are all on the same team. This is not to say that we are all equally oppressed, exploited, or disadvantaged, but rather it serves as a theoretical basis upon which to convince any student that her interests are directly contradictory to the interests of the administration, since tuition levels are the same for everyone. True, some folks, especially in student government, hope to reap benefits of a relationship with administrators that is self-serving and can border on the sycophantic. But again, these entities are reactionary, with interests based in the maintenance of the current system as it is, and must be dealt with individually on their own scale and in a way that furthers the goal.
One theoretical key to our understanding of an “Education-Industrial Complex” is its core objective: to prepare students for a lifetime of conformity to a system which is dependent on their economic disempowerment through debt, wage slavery, and other means. It wants to inure students to an accepted understanding of their own powerlessness, to the point at which it becomes no longer an inurement, but another privilege to be aspired to upon acceptance into the vaunted middle class: the privilege of bearing no responsibility for any oppression that is perpetuated either on themselves or anyone else.
It is our job as activists to prevent this controlled slide into calcified denial of responsibility and complicity with every injustice committed in our name and with our implied consent by our government. As student activists in particular, we aim to degrade the Establishment’s access to one of its main weapons of propaganda, the educational system, to shake out the spent shells of neoliberal and imperialist dogma that enforce the status quo, and turn that weapon back towards the Establishment with the People’s curriculum loaded into every cylinder.
The Carrot and the Stick
One way to view the two-pronged approach is in line with the negotiating tactic known as “carrot and stick.” In this scenario, one of two options is available: either something moderate and agreeable—almost like a reward for compliance—or something severe and punitive.
The two-pronged approach, such as it entails both reformist and radical tools at its disposal, utilizes this dynamic, especially when extended outward beyond the walls of the university. Of course, there is room for overlap, but in general terms, voting, petitions, lobbying, boycotts, and the like represent the “carrot,” while strikes, walkouts, sit-ins, and other disruptive tactics represent the “stick.” Both are intended to effect a certain outcome from the adversary. It will be our purpose to coerce our adversaries and enemies to choose the carrot over the stick while we continue to build up the size of both.
This will continue until such times at which the carrot is no longer effective, as it will inevitably become. But because we must demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the carrot to produce justice, it is necessary to build the two wings of our movement concurrently, and as that inefficacy becomes self-evident—when enough legislative battles have been lost and enough radical wars won—those who cleave idealistically to the carrot, to reform, in essence, to the system, will do one of two things: join the radical movement, or be exposed as careerists, opportunists, half-measure-takers, and ultimately, reactionaries.
Fomenting Subversive Culture
Any movement that wishes to change the status quo could be considered subversive. In order for such a movement to truly succeed, it must permeate the culture in which it exists to the extent that its central idea or tenet becomes the dominant idea within that culture.
A “subversive culture” or a “culture of subversion” is a culture in which subversion itself—disruption of societal norms, the empowerment of formerly disempowered groups, the destruction of oppressive institutions, et cetera—is the dominant idea, where the urge and desire for change are the trademark of the culture. In essence, in a subversive culture, progress, change, upheaval, and intermingling of ideas is “normal,” while regression, stasis, calcification, and an extreme separation of ideas is considered alien and unacceptable.
The goal of any student group is to create a subversive culture on their own campus, but one that does not exploit, alienate, undermine, or endanger cultures that already exist on that campus and that act in the interests of oppressed or marginalized groups of students. In this case, I am referring to groups that represent certain ethnicities, such as the Latin American Student Organization, religious groups like the Muslim Student Association, feminist groups, or organizations that represent the LGBTQ community.
The “subversive culture” should not be imposed on these local cultures, for it will simply not do for us to try to shape the destinies of groups of people whose cultures are so under attack within our society—because they deviate from societal “norms” of whiteness, Christianity, heteropatriarchy, and others—that each one requires the creation of its own “group” simply to assure its own continued recognition and preservation.
Rather, our movement must be one of solidarity and shared experience upon which a mutual trust is developed with such groups and individuals, such that they become “swept up” into our subversive culture and function not only as its participants and beneficiaries, but also its leaders.
The first step in fomenting subversive culture is to promote active awareness. By “active awareness,” I mean an awareness of conditions that can lead to action, in contrast to an inactive awareness, which also constitutes an awareness but leads to feelings of disempowerment and helplessness and can appear as apathy. It is the role of the student activist to transition students from unawareness of conditions as they are, towards inactive awareness, and then onto active awareness of an impermanent sort, and finally to permanent active awareness.
The most subversive question possible is, “why?” Students must be encouraged to ask, “why is my tuition increasing?” “Why is housing/food/parking so expensive?” “Why do nearby residents dislike the university?” “Why does my academic department get short-shrift in terms of funding but the business school gets as much as it wants?” “Why do some student organizations get so much more funding than others?” “Why do some organizations get chartered and others don’t?” “Why do so few students read the school newspaper or literary magazine, or listen to its radio station?”
All of these questions have answers, and they all relate to two things: a) administrative power, and b) students who fail to check that power by asserting “student power.”
Students often adopt apolitical viewpoints throughout their college careers, not necessarily because of some defect of character, but because their entire presence at college is based on an understanding of “things as they are.” Throughout grade school, we are taught to work hard so we excel in middle school. Throughout middle school, we are taught to work hard to excel in high school. In high school (and sometimes earlier these days), we are commanded to work hard in order to excel in college. In college, we are told to work hard in order to get a decent job. The establishment leaves as little room for “why?” as possible.
In one sense, this “real world” ideology does serve the student’s interests: within this system, better grades can lead to better opportunities, granted you are in a position to receive and act on such opportunities. Not to be overlooked, toeing the conventional line minimizes potential friction with family-members and other familiars, who “only want what’s best” for the student.
However, from another perspective, this ideology is completely in contradiction with the student’s interests. How is it remotely in the student’s interests to pay as much as possible for everything, up to and including postgraduate education, when she will be saddled with decades worth of debt and unable to find employment in her field amid our pathetic excuse for a job market? To say nothing of whether the student goes into a field in which she possesses no passion or genuine interest? And to say nothing of students who lack the privilege and upward mobility to take advantage of the aforementioned hypothetical “opportunities,” let alone pursue passions?
Sadly but truly, since our capitalist American culture is based on self-interest, it is often at the point of self-interest that our initial arguments must rest. Once it can be demonstrated that “rocking the boat” is in greater alignment with the true interests of the students than “following the straight and narrow,” we will draw the greatest number of students to the cause of collective interest and a new educational and social paradigm.
Literally every exploitative aspect of the higher education system is the direct result of one or another profit-driven interest extending its influence over an increasingly profit-driven education system. This sobering realization is the best illustration of how the drive for profit permeates every aspect of our society, whether those profits serve the military-industrial complex, the prison-industrial complex, greater bureaucratic repression, or the vicious cycle of bottomless American consumerism.
A microcosmic view of the university illustrates, by useful albeit imperfect analogy, the dynamics by which the ruling class actively preserves all of the exploitation and injustice in society, irreversibly exposing would-be apathetics to the absolute necessity of radical mass agitation against these conditions. Once the collective interests of students are identifiable with one’s own self-interest, an empowering moral standpoint develops, one in which apathy and inaction are identified as weapons of the oppressors, counter not only to the cause of the student struggle, but to the struggles of all oppressed peoples the world over.
Oppression and exploitation create the conditions for revolt, but that revolt is dependent on the actions of the revolters, not on “fate” or any other mystical source or force. That is to say, it is not by “fate” or the inherent superiority of “good” over “bad” that a better world is accomplished, but by the deliberate cultivation of collective consciousness among differently oppressed sectors of society and the application of that consciousness to the task of redressing the injustices and inequities of which we were once woefully ignorant.
I cannot guarantee that a new generation of lifelong radical activists will arise, but I can state that there is little chance of a such a generation developing until student activism is tied to the international struggle, until it is able to articulate the connections between wealth and splendor in one area of the world, or of town, and poverty and destruction in another. Though we are fighting tuition increases on the one hand, we must expand the scope of our impact beyond matters pertaining to our own particular interests on the other. Unlimited to the four-year confines of our university stay, our instrumental role in effecting a greater vision of society—through massive mobilization of radicalized students in the seizure and control of the universities themselves, and the subsequent upheaval of American society—will finally be self-evident.
And the true transformation will have only just begun.