Recognition, Multiculturalism & Structural Apprehension

When I was a masters student, I found Axel Honneth very useful, and I had to read Kymlicka (whom I was less enamored of. Maybe I changed.) for my dissertation. In “Redistribution or Recognition?” (2003) Nancy Fraser made the distinction that recognition (as opposed to distributive justice) could be a liberatory politics if it were to involve recognizing identity as status, as opposed to essentializing identity. Unfortunately, in a conservative era, the recognition of identities as distributed status gets drowned out by essentialist interpretations of identity. As well, Patchen Markell has introduced caution about the empancipatory potential of recognition and multiculturalism.

Here are excerpts from an effusive (wordy) review of Patchen Markell’s Bound by Recognition (Main points in bold):

“…Markell’s genius lies in crafting one of the most gripping opening paragraphs (not simply a sentence) composed in the last several decades of contemporary political theory. Markell begins by narrating various instances among the countless acts of recognition, each sentence containing a separate case in point.

Consider a sample of the book’s beginning, which illustrates the complex dilemma of recognition: “Walking along a crowded avenue, you see a friend and call out her name: suddenly, a pocket of intimacy forms in an otherwise anonymous public space. Standing in a long line at the immigration office, you find yourself grateful for your Canadian passport, which you know will make it easier for you to extend your employment in the United States. You roll back the metal gates in front of your shop window, which now displays (next to the list of South Asian languages spoken inside) a new assortment of items prominently bearing the American flag. Sitting down with a calculator, you and your partner wonder weather it will be possible to get a home loan together at a decent rate without being married…Driving down a street in a predominantly white neighborhood, you are pulled over again by the police, suspended in mistrust while the officer runs your identification and plates. You recall how several of your male co-workers unexpectedly declared that they think you’ll be the next woman in the office to have a baby” (p.1).

BOUND BY RECOGNITION builds upon Hegel’s political theory in order to address the ways in which humans enter into moments of recognition. Humans constantly experience what Hegel calls a “struggle for recognition” (“Kamft um Anerkennung”). These intersubjective struggles involve individuals working out their asymmetrical relationships to arrive at a moment of mutually recognizing the humanity of one another in the hope that each will attain sovereign agency over their own mind and body.

As Markell shows, struggles for recognition many times do not lead to resolutions of conflict. Paradoxically, seeking sovereign agency and emancipation in recognition without questioning the normative sources of privilege in a system actually has the effect of reinforcing societal injustices.

Echoing Hannah Arendt’s Emerson-Thoreau Medal Lecture and writings on action, Markell contends we must first acknowledge the human condition of finitude and plurality by recognizing the non-sovereign character of human action when confronting issues of identity and difference. Doing so allows us to begin de-legitimizing normative structures of privilege while simultaneously theorizing ways in which persons excluded in a polity may gain greater inclusion beyond merely recognition.

 The book highlights recognition’s limits through an exegesis of Hegel’s thought, tragic recognition in the work of Sophocles and Aristotle, 19th century Jewish emancipation in Prussia, the contemporary movement of multiculturalism endorsed by theorists such as Charles Taylor and Will Kymlicka, and central contemporary political theorists reinforcing conventional readings of Hegel on recognition such as Robert Williams and Axel Honneth.

Markell shifts the terrain of political theory by proposing a politics of “acknowledgment” (as opposed to a politics of recognition) which does not abandon the thought of Hegel. It brings out new dimensions in theorizing freedom and human agency in Hegel that Hegel himself did not fully theorize normatively.”

MF: Yuck: “acknowledgment.” Bad neologism. Glad that didn’t catch on. But the analysis is great. Better to push for a change in how we understand recognition: Recognition 2.

“Among the most powerful sections is Chapter 4, which contains an unorthodox reading of the PHENOMENOLOGY OF SPIRIT and Hegel’s writings on recognition. Markell unconventionally argues that Hegel possesses “two voices” regarding recognition (pp. 90-95): (1) the diagnostic voice [prominent in the PHENOMENOLOGY] and (2) the reconciliatory voice [prominent in the PHILOSOPHY OF RIGHT]. Markell explains that Hegel does not hold a unitary concept of recognition. This claim offers space for shifting theorists’ attention to a politics of acknowledgment. 

Markell concludes by illustrating how his politics of acknowledgment differs from the politics of recognition through a critique of multiculturalism. He does not reject identity politics. He does reject movements like multiculturalism that recognize minority groups without changing the structures of oppression that grant limited sovereign space to these groups.

The aim of acknowledgment revolves around confronting human finitude, acknowledging the elements of sacrifice we perform in an uncertain world future, and restructuring the world to allow for increased human agency. I leave it to the reader to see how the author outlines pillars of this new politics, relating them to areas as wide ranging as ancient Greek tragedy, feminism, and critical race theory.

An aspect of the book other reviewers do not mention is Markell’s desire to link this new politics to contemporary democratic theory, and this radical link emerges in the closing sections.

The author’s Afterword discussing the choice of the book cover to the text’s theme (pp. 190-193): Markell’s literally binding cover shows a photograph from an unorthodox reenactment of the final scene of Aeschylus’s ancient trilogy ORESTEIA. It represents a case of recognition’s limitations. Markell notes reading about a production of the play in which the Furies, dressed in red ceremonial robes, are bound by recognition at the end of the EUMENIDES following their “taming” by Athena after they attempt to punish Orestes for murdering Clytemnestra and her lover. Dressing them in red-the robe color worn by Athenian resident aliens (metics) during the Panathenaic festivals-Athena decides to incorporate the Fury outsiders into Athenian society, relegating them to a subterranean chamber of a home.

What initially appears as Athena’s positive recognition of the Furies in fact ends up highlighting how the Furies become bound by recognition. The book cover portrays one Fury tied to a chair on stage. This sums up visually Markell’s moving thesis.”

Social Democrats v. Fabians

Actually-existing Social Democracy:

 1914 Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti poster: 
“The Right’s Program is The People Under Militarism”

This is a link to’s August Palm (1849-1922) page. Features a biography of the Swedish father of social democracy, as well as five of Palm’s works and two photos.

August Palm’s presentation of the Swedish social democratic reformist Hjalmar Branting (1860-1925).

Curiously, features no mention of Rudolf Meidner, or even Gosta Rehn.

I think that’s because they have an implicit thesis that I’m going to counter.
(And oh yes, I am going to go all Belinda Robnett on them, and see if I can drag out the Scandinavian women bridge leaders.)

1936 Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti poster:
“Women, We Build the Future”


Despite the alarming paucity of Scandinavian social democrat mentions or works, there are 13 distinct (British) social democrat entries in Additionally, here is a link to’s Fabians page. No wonder Anglo-American leftists imagine that social democracy is British, with all the ineffectuality–and indistinguishability from liberalism–that implies!

The Contemporary Anglo-american “Social Democrat” View

Historian Jim Livingston identifies as a social democrat. He does not conceive of social democracy in the way that I think was originally strong in the Scandinavian tradition–where socialism or Marxism is the backbone of social democracy.

Rather, in Livingston’s view, socialism emerges from and complements capitalism. My hypothesis is that for social democratic approach to work, the social democrat cannot see socialism emerging from capitalism, but rather sees socialism historically emerging in the Enlightenment alongside the bourgeois revolution, and then being repressed by the capitalist order.

So Livingston’s not a social democrat in the way that Meidner for example was. For Meidner, markets were not an ideal distribution mechanism to be supported by socialist props; rather, social democracy is a transitional phase to be overcome. The point of a political-economy for Livingston it seems is how to get markets to work, as opposed to the more human-centered Epicurean tradition–how to allocate the flows of pleasures and pains (Marxist economists may not appreciate the hypothesis that Marx’s humanistic base cannot be jettisoned). H1: Effectively, for the Anglo-american social democrat, it comes down to the welfare of markets.

Livingston has a conception of conservatives, liberals and leftists (He cites both Obama and, by inference, American organized labor as leftist) that sees them all organically recognizing the need to embrace private investment in the mid-to-late 20th century wake of declining US-centered profits, rather than conservatives winning hegemony. Same goes with “the left’s” failure to promote a decoupling of growth & distribution.

I think, like all Anglo “social democrats,” Livingston has an ad hoc, short-range, Anglo-american-centric definition of Leftist, and does not have a valid grasp of what distinguishes the Left transhistorically. He claims that Right thought and Left thought are fluid, structureless, without boundaries. (H3: As distinct from a theory of hegemony and false consciousness.)

But he seems to be a very erudite, nimble, and thorough-going Anglo-american “socdem,” and he provides a stimulating window on a sophisticated version of that perspective. I’m interested because I think Livingston’s influences and assumptions and his formulation of social problems and issues may be quite representative (except in their erudite formulation and more complete logical-causal dissection) of the Anglo-american “social democrat” approach, and studying them is going to help me make certain categorical distinctions.

Livingston has written a highly-recommended history of the Fed (1986), and an unfriendly interpretation of American turn-of-the-20th century populism (1994).

Pro-Israel Campus Tactics and Branding

As a social movements scholar, I find this expose’ of Pro-Israel campus tactics pretty rich. It has fun lessons for scholars of branding as well.

 How do you silence your profs on a political topic? Accuse them of “academic malpractice.” “The current campus environment is much more sympathetic to charges that teachers are not satisfactorily teaching their subject.”

 Who can you co-opt? The ancient, entrepreneurial, anti-Muslim East Indians, & South Koreans. Enemy (other than profs) to be silenced: Latinos. Embarrassing ally: Evangelicals.

the Fall in the Rate of Profit & Surplus Recycling Mechanisms

This post is a work in progress.

I first heard Andrew Kliman give a talk on his new study The Failure of Capitaist Production (as opposed to the failure of financialization). Tonight I’ve read his argument against the MR falling rate of profit-underconsumption theory. The MR theory finds that financial-military imperial capitalism is a distinctive phase of world capitalism. I will be discussing Kliman’s use of data and rhetoric critically.

To defend financial capital (It’s simply an implied coincidence, in Kliman’s account, that financial capital had grown to an unchecked leviathan before the Great Depression, and before the 2007.), Kliman goes all conservative neoclassical economist, including denying that economic inequality a) is in anything but equilibrium, and b) has any effect on economic systems. He tries to imply that this view on the trivialness of inequality is Marx’s view; I will refute that as I construct this blog entry over time. Although to deny inequality Kliman attacks MR and economists as illustrious as Saez and Piketty, sociologists also need to take note of his manoeuvers, which he will claim he does to ward off fascism. In his bustle to deny, deny, deny the economic impact of inequality, Kliman is disingenuous about both how he treats data and his own “prophetic” identity as well.

Tonight, I’m not going to get to a blow-by-blow analysis of Kliman’s shenanigans in his chapter 8; but suffice it to say, his much-proclaimed loyalty to the actual words of Marx falls hollow in this chapter, where he pretends that Marxists are saying only that underconsumption happens because workers consume more than rich people do. No. That is not at all only what Marx or Marxists say on this topic.

Triumphantly, and really pulling out the conservative econ dogma, Kliman declares that capitalism can proceed without workers’ consumption. This is not a revelation that Kliman is making; this is a dogma that conservative economists and politicians were steadily insisting throughout the last bubble. [See  Citigroup “Plutonomy” corporate report on how all consumption will exclude the working class now: Part 1. Part 2.]

…Only before 2007, the conservative economists also held that economic equilibrium proved that inequality is non-existent or trivial. This article shows that all recent US income growth has gone to the top 1%. It is probably no accident Kliman’s book emerges now, when capitalists can say that they have the system under perfect control, and by implication what is happening to the conditions of accumulation–what is happening to the working class economically (austerity, primitive accumulation) and the state (debt overload, via making real and public the private money debt the financial sector “innovented”) (not to mention the natural conditions of accumulation) is immaterial or restorative to the smooth functioning of capitalism.

Marx has something emphatic to say about this: No. Capital cannot proceed by exploiting other capital. The rate of profit falls because it is dependent upon the creation of value, and in capitalism, value derives solely from exploiting labor, although that derivation depends on using nature and human reproductive services as if they were an “inexhaustible” Plains bison herd. (Anglos always have difficulty with this. Recall why England had to implement reforms in the Progressive Era–because the Boers were kicking the asses of the underfed, undergrown, ricketts-plagued English cannon fodder.)

While there are many ways to eff up your capacity to exploit labor, Marx says specifically that forcing down workers wages (which should be measured relative to the basket of real costs–which include housing, education, health care, corporate tax expenditures, privatized costs–such as transportion– that could be delivered more efficiently publicly) is a major way to eff up exploitation capacity. Kliman wants to conservative-econ away capitalist contradiction.

Q. Why do a number of Marxist-identified economists cling to neoclassical econ’s dogma that economic inequality is trivial?

A. The answer is given here: Inequality and Power: The Economics of Class by Eric A. Schutz (London: Routledge, 2011), and summarized in Yates’ “The Great Inequality“.

As well, In his study “Does Income Distribution Matter for Effective Demand? Evidence from the United States,” Christopher Brown (2004) recalls that it was the conservative economists Friedman (1957) and Modigliani (1966) who established modern consumption theory, attributing no (0) importance to income distribution, and ensuring that economics textbooks maintain a nearly-complete blackout on the topic.

Other economists see inequality’s economic impact:

  • Robert H. Frank: How economic inequality inflates the prices of status goods (education, housing, etc.)
  • Dean Baker, Mark Wiesbrot & John Schmitt at CEPR: the percentage of junk jobs in your economy creates high inequality, social immobility. (Agrees with the Scandianavian power resources tradition.)
  • Monthly Review (Michael Yates)
  • Saez & Picketty
  •  Christopher Brown (2004) and S. Presssman (1997) cite the Cambridge school, including especially Kalecki (1943, 1954) as well as Robinson (1954), and Kaldor (1960), as the source for theory about the relationship between income distribution and consumption.
  • Brown (2004) shows mathematically that “income distribution can have very significant implications for effective demand (298). Then, citing Keynes, he argues that people who accumulate wealth can and do defer economic decision-making, including deferring spending. Using the Thiel index to measure economic inequality, Brown shows that increases in the Theil index correlate with slowing household spending (about 12% between 1967 and 1986) (302), and [finish with discussion of debt].

I think Kliman doth protest too much at the start of chapter 8 in The Failure of Capitalist Production, and I don’t believe he’s going to be straight up (in the conclusion) about what political result he’s hysterically trying to circumvent.  TBD… Kliman’s chapter 8 doesn’t give me much confidence about his falling rate of profit argument; but since I’m inclined to find Dumenil & Levy, et al’s argument against it also distorts the Marxist theory and misinterprets the data, I will see if that earlier portion of the study is more reliable.

I was listening to a talk by the unprepossessing Andrew Kliman yesterday. While I was intrigued and impressed by his argument that all the Marxists would measure the fall in the rate of profit incorrectly (But why would they? Ideological and conceptual infection by conservative econ, at least partly, I think.), I have objections to Kliman’s accompanying refutation of underconsumption crisis–his measurement of the distribution of production proceeds between capital and labor. His story is that since 1960 in the US, although the ratio of capitalists’ aggregate profit to aggregate income (both workers’ & capitalists’ wages) has been constant in the US (indicating in his view a capacity to consume in equilibrium), capital’s rate of profit (s/c+v) declined.

By this Kliman concludes that the falling rate of profit theory is correct, but underconsumption crisis is incorrect. Crisis is strictly an effect of falling profit. Capitalist profit suffers, though workers continue to have the same capacity to consume. (I am as yet unclear how the Wall Street crash of 2007/2008 and the ongoing austerity and European Union crises resulted from mere falling profit, in Kliman’s account. Why would workers default on loans en masse if their consumption capacity remains robust?)

I think a major implication of his analysis is that neoliberalism has done a terrible job managing capital’s interest, if the profit motive is declining though the working class share of the social wealth is a constant. The problem with capitalism in Kliman’s view is simply too much built-up fixed capital, due to excess state intervention. Like Pyne’s bourgeois story of the state suppressing fire and creating tinder, in Kliman’s account, built-up fixed capital is what’s impinging on profit, and it needs to be destroyed; hence, the “crisis” is just voluntary capitals destruction.

On this basis, Kliman argues that there is nothing distinctive about global monopoly capitalism, or financialization. In Kliman’s account, trade is in equilibrium, financial capital is not overgrown and does not reduce productive investment, and introducing more able Surplus Recycling Mechanisms–ameliorating excessively-skewed distribution–cannot defer crisis.

Indeed, if Kliman is right, and the only problem is excess fixed capital, shouldn’t austerity be a lot more effective in restoring profitability than anything else (eg. the Iceland solution), or than it’s looking, when we compare the impact of austerity in the UK and Ireland to the capital accountability approach in Iceland?

I’m dubious about what Kliman’s measuring.


  • To support this argument, Kliman does not disaggregate wages going to capitalists from wages going to people dependent on wages. 
  • I do not think he measures consumption v. profits, but rather wages (+ benefit costs) v. national income.
  • He counts increasing health care costs as income going to wages and consumption. He treats all increasing commodity costs uniformly as increased working class share of national income and consumption. Servicing debt does not detract from working class consumption in his account. He counts housing price inflation as increased worker income/consumption, rather than an anti-Surplus Recycling Mechanism stripping working class income and sending it directly to the black hole of Wall Street unproductive speculation. 
  • Kliman’s finding of a constant working class share of national income is not a per capita measurement, but an aggregate ratio, that does not take into account population increase. It is not immaterial (as feedback) to the rate of profit that the economy is not growing fast enough or distribution is not occurring broadly enough (these are interchangeable, although they switch the system qualitatively from capitalism to socialism) for workers to consume at a constant or increasing individual or family rate without borrowing money from financial capital.
  • To be continued…

Questions for reading Kliman:

Is a commitment to rejecting underconsumptionist / distributive crisis helpful or necessary? Why is Kliman intent to try to argue that the only economic squeeze in the US is on capitalists, and that squeeze has not been deferred to working class Americans in such a way as to impact the economy?

A distributive crisis does not mean you have to have a Keynesian analysis. The fall in the rate of profit is all about the excessive ratio of dead labor (constant capital) to exploited live labor. In capitalism, which is what we’re talking about, that implies a history of market-rational, productivity-increasing, social wealth maldistribution.  For a capitalist, increasing productivity by replacing humans with machines or oil is awesome for profits, up to a point, and so long as no one else replaces humans with machines or oil, which is not a possibility. Meanwhile, in capitalism, for workers, the only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited. That history results in a falling rate of profit, and meets up with the pre-programmed accumulator’s response to a declining rate of profit: 1)  ratcheting up the rate of exploitation by any means necessary, and 2) primitive accumulation.

 I don’t see why we want to strive so hard to divorce the tendency to the falling rate of profit from underconsumption crisis. Marx didn’t. Productivity-maximizing behaviour is a competitive, collective phenomenon. It’s not as if the tendency to falling profit is important as a threat to the individual capitalist’s profit (There’s a reason we measure it aggregately.) whereas only underconsumption crisis is an irrational effect of aggregated individually-rational capitalist behaviour.

Refusing to acknowledge worsening social wealth maldistribution does not really support the falling rate of profit hypothesis; and it unnecessarily implies that global monopoly capitalism and predatory financial capital are not distinctive, logical, systemic late-capitalist developments. Rather, financialization and accompanying imperialism are surely the non-trivial, corrupt and corrupting products of aging capitalist cores.

Because it allows us to dance around the fantasy that dead labor is exploitable in capitalism (As if you can get increased value-controlling profit without human exploitation.), and thereby creates mystified fictitious capital, financial capital is very important in that it allows capitalist elites to use speculation with fictitious capital to pursue primitive accumulation. You need to primitive accumulate if capitalists have lost confidence in the whole capitalist investment thing, and yet won’t quit their capitalist order, as they will not. Capitalists are typically ideologically convinced  that workers are superfluous to an economy; so capitals destruction is a byproduct of this, not, to capitalist minds, a sufficient condition of profitable investment. (Verify with Hilferding and Sweezy/Baran on this. See note on Varoufakis and Freeman on the role of global war–a form of both primitive accumulation and an SRM–in resuscitating capitalism, below.)

We have to ask ourselves: Are capitalists really always concerned to re-establish the profit incentive per se, as many Marxist-identified economists assume? Or are capitalists primarily concerned to promote and dominate accumulation, in whatever way the system currently permits? Because the profit incentive is not always the only or most currently-exploitable way accumulation can occur. Think about primitive accumulation. Think political economy, not economistically.

What if Over Time, Distribution Becomes Essential to Functioning Economies, and Capitalism Has Severe Issues with Distribution?:
Surplus Recycling Mechanisms

The Marxist argument is that the capital-flow incentive system tends to break down, on multiple levels, as capitalist accumulation develops. Accumulation creates uneven development on many scales, and that clogs up capital. If capital liquidity is a problem, how does capital normally flow? Ideally, in capitalism, capital flows via profitable productive investment incentives (exploitation potential).

Marx (Capital v. III chapter 14 on countermeasures to the fall in the rate of profit), Harvey, and Varoufakis explain how this endemic capitalist structural problem, capital clotting, can be addressed, partly with variable, political, capitalist collective actions delegated to the state–we can call these GSRMs or SRMs (Global Surplus Recycling Mechanisms, or any Surplus Recycling Mechanisms), distinguished from and a crutch to the built-in (and preferred, because it is based in capitalist autonomy) and dysfunctional-tending profit motive. SRMs will vary with elite ideology. Dependent upon that ideology and their own capacity, state regimes perform a variably vigorous, more or less able role in looking out for the mid-term interest of capital, or defibrillating capitalism. 

As well, from a Marxist viewpoint, you can argue that each defibrillation (SRM reform) defers a growing contradiction between capitalist accumulation and the dispossession and depletion of the growing mass of humanity and the environment, possibly reducing SRM capital-defibrillation effectiveness and options in the future. Perhaps we’re there. Perhaps we are not experiencing elite ideology-based failure; perhaps the twitching, tattered remains of the inadequate SRMs at the bottom of the barrel are all that is left to us at this point in history.

However, I tend to agree with Dumenil & Levy and Varoufakis that one problem with current GSRMs is that they are subordinated to the hegemony and violent coercion of the 20th century capitol of capitalism, the US. I also agree with Varoufakis and Alan Freeman that the only SRM that class-conscious capitalists will reliably submit to is global war. Perhaps because global war is not just a GSRM and a destroyer of excess capitals, but also a primitive accumulation bonanza. Global war is a triple threat. (Quadruple, if you also count that it fosters working class patriotism and acquiescence, and targets, takes out, and disrupts wide swaths of working class and peasant humanity.) Although Varoufakis argues that US capitalists were open-hearted in the Global Plan GSRM, more typically SRMs are highly begrudged by capitalists, and insufficiently supported, or opposed. In that way, capitalists are risk averse; they just want to grab as much surplus as they can right now, and use it to stay on top of the heap, whatever the hell may come.

More and more I get the feeling that the Left’s economic illiteracy is not ameliorated by the fact that Marxist-identified economists today are all overly infected by the conservative neoclassical econ tradition they’ve been immersed in, including both its incompatible methods and its prejudices. These economists’ partial analytics cannot see both falling rate of profit and underconsumption–And primitive accumulation and what it means, politically and economically, is hopelessly off their radar. Increasingly, while I find their partial debates of intellectual interest, economist-kings I suspect are not what the Left needs today.

Fragmented: The contemporary version of Marx.

Given C. Brown, then F. Barager & R. Chernomas: Increased debt servicing = increased rate of exploitation (greater proportion of the working day going to the capitalist class). The capitalist class has greater income, the working class less. What does the consumer do with the income?
Q. i) If the capitalist class, per Kalecki-Sweezy can uniquely “defer” consumption, and the way it did so was to use excess profits to speculate (instead of using their increased consumer demand to create a larger capitalist consumer market to replace the working class consumer market)–then isn’t speculation the capitalist consumer market that neoclassical economists see replacing the working class consumer market?  ii) If “consumption” occurs in speculation when speculators lose, then iii) governments that bail out failed speculation, in effect, are governments preventing consumption to occur, thereby creating a crisis of consumption, preventing investment growth.

The Political Opportunity Structure for Immigrant Advocacy

In a rather astute little essay, “Occupying the Immigration Debate,” David L. Wilson explains that this is an historic moment for immigrant advocates, one that needs to be taken advantage of, and it’s time to make efforts to counter and replace the oppressive, manipulative corporate narrative on immigration.

We need to raise the profile of two points:

1) Elites use divide-and-conquer strategies, including promoting immigrant-native division, primarily to further their accumulation (wealth and power hoarding) interest. We aren’t cornered into being elites’ tools anymore on this; we can build the critical mass to innovate and improve working families’ life chances.

2)  Neoliberal ideology and policy disrupts and destroys people’s homes and livelihoods, and drives population mobility. Capitalism is “creative” destruction. In that siege and upheaval context, working people and their families need solidarity, cooperation and restoration.

We can broaden our influence and change immigration politics. Do not “imagine obstacles that aren’t really there,” urges Allan Nairn. ” Do not “think [ourselves] out of power.”

Neoliberal Education Mangler Tactics

Michelle Rhee is a charismatic, top-notch conservative orator who knows how to destroy public education in America, with zest. Even though she was a failure when she first hopped on the public education destruction gravy train.

Joanna Bujes analyzes neoliberal education entrepreneur Michelle Rhee’s rhetorical strategy, and proposes a tactical pro-education strategy.

Rhee’s rhetorical strategy:

“I’m a maverick, fighting for children. Education is children v. teachers. To help children, we need to fight teachers. We do that with standardization/top-down micromanagement and privatization.”

Rhee is a high-earning forward on the fightin’ Right-wing Lady Mavericks team

Lois Weiner’s “A Witch Hunt Against Teachers” (2012) reveals the new divide-and-conquer public education destruction strategy: ‎

“Instead of teachers as a group being blamed for children’s lack of achievement, only the ‘bad teachers’ are going to be targeted. And who are the ‘bad teachers’ in this new campaign? Those who oppose what’s supposed to be ‘right for kids’: the use of standardized testing, charter schools, privatization — and the destruction of teachers’ unions.

Hollywood will once again enter the fray of school politics, with a new propaganda vehicle, Won’t Back Down, an action film, funded by the same right-wing think tank (Walden Media) that produced Waiting for Superman. This time Viola Davis and Maggie Gyllenhaal will carry the message that good teachers don’t need or want unions or any of those ‘selfish’ (so un-mother-like!) desires like pensions, good salaries, limited working hours.”

To counter Rhee, Bujes recommends this pro-public education talking point:

“A good education arises out of strong, healthy, respectful, supported relationships.

We need to support a great educational environment where teachers work and children learn together, so we can foster the relationships that make for education excellence.”

Finland’s superlative education reform has been built around supporting teachers and their working environment–students’ classrooms. 
Real education based in valuing teachers and treating them with respect, as a group: 
It’s not just for Nordic Middle Earth elven folk.

I see its strengths, but the weakness of Bujes’ counterhegemonic argument is that it’s incredibly vague–I think because it needs a firming step 2, like Rhee’s argument has. Me, I think we also need to reintroduce to the public the radical Dewey ideas about the importance of public education for a capable, critical, analytical, decision-making, self-organizing democratic citizenry–because our elites are making terrible autonomous decisions, repeatedly, from an overly narrow set of parameters. Occupy education.

In “We can do better than this,” Doug Henwood discusses the OECD’s recent comparative study of education success and failure.

“In the most successful systems, teachers are treated as high-level professionals; curricula emphasize creativity and complex skills; work organization is flat and collegial rather than hierarchical and authoritarian; accountability is to peers and stakeholders, not the authorities; and all students, not merely the best ones, are expected to learn at high levels. The U.S. scores poorly on many of these criteria, and many of our ‘reforms’ take us in a worse direction. 

… The (successful education reform of the Ontario) provincial government, says the OECD, ‘drew a sharp contrast between its capacity-building approach…and the more punitive versions of accountability used in the United States.’ Their approach was collegial and cooperative, not competitive. 

…In successful systems like Ontario and Finland, teachers have a great deal of professional autonomy. There may be a national curriculum, but teachers are expected to know their subject well and develop their skills at imparting knowledge. …And in most successful systems, standardized tests are rare” Henwood 2012.

Do you want to know how to actually improve education, as opposed to simply deunionizing workers so that elites wind up with more cash which to blow upon their shitty, unchecked, unproductive, counterproductive speculation cons as well as upon their beloved pastimes, political and economic mismanagement, running us into the ground, and collecting serfs? Here’s how: Finnish education reform. The upshot of real education improvement? You need political commitment, for 40 years; you need unions and teachers to help make education policy; with the exception of providing warm lunches to nourish children, you need to provide welfare, adequately, through other institutions, so that teachers can focus on teaching; and you need to support and promote the human and intellectual development of teachers as professionals.

Not constant top-down imposed testing, AKA infantilizing micromanagement. Not privatization. Not deunionization. Just the very opposite.

So you tell me: How feasible is real education improvement in the Anglosphere, insofar as real education improvement relies on improving the conditions and status of the working class labor involved? Yeah, I thought so. It’s heresy. That’s why we’re left with the code “education reform” for yet another mouldy old program to dismantle workingclass-serving state institutions and redistribute the social wealth ever upwards, to people who use it to wipe their ass.

Why is the current elite consensus on Education Reform a reactionary project?

The reactionary goal is austerity–to appropriate social wealth upward into a financial elite by, inter alia, invoking the decline of mass public education. The decline of mass public education is accomplished step-wise, by dismantling the fundamental social institutions that are required to maintain a mass public education system: “professional” (semi-autonomous, self-developmental, and organized) teachers.

Because of the structure of the market, and conservative, antidemocratic workplace law, teachers can only retain professional development so long as they have organizational independence–unions. The campaign is reactionary because it is orchestrated by elites to cannibalize and kill off working class institutions–unions, professional teaching, and mass public education. The US capitalist class is cohered around this primitive accumulation project.

An understory of middle class managers can make a living off this state-facilitated wealth and assets grab in a short-term framework. They can think of themselves as Men of Action. They can tell themselves they’re Doing It for the Children. They don’t ever have to face the big picture of what tune they’re tap dancing to…Or maybe, like Ravitch, they will when they retire with rare pensions.

[This brings forward the strategic question of middle-class neoliberal managerial rationality cost-benefit calculation: Middle class neoliberal managers make a comfortable living, but don’t accumulate much, given the ever-widening maw of inequality their work helps build. Their immediately-“successful” work creates the conditions whereby their own children will have fewer freedoms. There are big environmental parallels here.

I think that people in such a position could just as easily be pushed into the other, longer-term rationality path–If they don’t whore out, inequality will not balloon to cancel out their subordinate self-promotional economic strategy.

Except these social factors overdetermine Neoliberal Whore Rationality: 1) Social humans’ competitive positional incentives–which are exacerbated as inequality rises. This is how sociability is translated into alienation. 2) Social humans’ conservative deference to hierarchically-defined truth and value claims, especially in a milieu of elite political cohesion and homogeneity. 3) Access to and retention of jobs and incomes, where these are allocated on the basis of conformity to the elite austerity agenda. Capital’s got coercion locked down.]

Occupy: Radicalize for Education

Of course, Occupying education would mean that teachers cannot stay de-radicalized. I don’t know how they could be fence sitters at this point; but entrenched habits are hard to break, and Pew polls seem to indicate that young people have naturalized their own proletarianiation and dispossession.

Teachers have to recognize and proudly champion public education and decent working conditions–which must include unionization for most, as dependent upon a radical political-economic agenda. They have to reconsider what it is to be the good boys and girls–It’s not being non-disruptive (Though sometimes it might mean in a machiavellian way posing as non-disruptive retainers).

I know this is a socialization problem. It makes me think of my grandpa, one of the many teachers in my family. He moved his family to South St. Paul, Minnesota after WWII because that school district had the best compensation and working conditions and fostered the highest social status for teachers of any public school district in the U.S. at that time. Why? They had the most radical teachers’ union in the US. He admitted that. Yet all my grandpa could kvetch about, when I knew him nearing his retirement and afterward, was how unjust the capital gains tax was. “I’m being taxed twice!” he complained. That’s right, he enjoyed such low inequality, such access to the social wealth, such social status based in a successful working-class education system, fought for by other workers, that he imagined he was a capitalist. My grandpa, who was so sweet and kind to me, and whom I love and miss, was in that sense a parasite, a free rider but worse–who helped kill off the working conditions he himself enjoyed, along with the great public education system those conditions created. He never fought for those great working conditions he went to take advantage of. In fact he voted for, and contributed money to a political agenda to destroy those working conditions in his wake. He was a good boy. Here is the real tragedy of the commons–a tragedy, we’ve seen over and over again, that is overdetermined by capitalism’s incentive system.

It’s capitalism; it’s not supposed to be about wealth distribution–it’s about wealth accumulation. But that doesn’t justify such depths of autistic self-interest as to reify labor aristocracy and competitive intra-working class managerialism. If, against all market rationality, people sacrifice for better working conditions that improve your life chances and the life chances of your children, the very, very least that you can do is to use the resources they’ve built for you to continue the fight to replace market rationality with social and ecological rationality. (However, I also think it’s a bit late for this. After decades of conservative hegemony and the coordinated expropriation of working class institutions and resources, we’re entering an era when people will have to fight for distributive, etc., justice from nearly first base. I’m just saying, as always, that such a fight is particularly futile and aimless without a socialist backbone. We get beat down time and again by our own inability to recognize where power is accumulated, for what end, in an accumulation system.)

In the face of the current 1% despotism, a popularized Dewey education revival can be a rousing, emotional, altruism-activating collective project; and it has the virtue of taking on superficially-altruistic neoliberal entrepreneurs right at the discreetly-hidden heart of their agenda to pulp and expropriate independent working class organizations–such as unions and public education itself, a necessary-but-insufficient last-resort welfare safety net for millions of families in Anglo-American societies–and to throttle working class intellectual and political capacity…The better to primitive-accumulate, my dear.