The Marxist Defense of Educational Localizaiton?

I work in education primarily, both secondary and post-secondary. I have been taking MOOCs on the development of education and looking at educational leadership.  I have no illusions about student success and accountability, nor do I accept the common that it would have to be this way:  schools have a limited function and that limited function can dramatically change a student’s life as long as one is honest about what one is up against sociologically:  The debates between unions and reformers often do not get into this, and often have “dialectical” and no-so-dialectical contradictions:  calls for more differentiation and increasingly rigid standardized tests, calls for more project-based learning and increasing monitored standardized tests, calls for “better teachers” while also setting the de-professionalization of the field of teaching.

I want to work in this despite knowing this, but while I am advocate of “learning for all” and looking at sociology and education. I think the works of Professor James Gee and Professor David Blacker have got me looking at what Marx would say here.  Far from being an advocate of a state monopoly on education, Marx distrusted it utterly.  You can see this in his Critique of the Gotha Program,

“Equal elementary education”? What idea lies behind these words? Is it believed that in present-day society (and it is only with this one has to deal) education can be equal for all classes? Or is it demanded that the upper classes also shall be compulsorily reduced to the modicum of education — the elementary school — that alone is compatible with the economic conditions not only of the wage-workers but of the peasants as well?

“Universal compulsory school attendance. Free instruction.” The former exists even in Germany, the second in Switzerland and in the United States in the case of elementary schools. If in some states of the latter country higher education institutions are also “free”, that only means in fact defraying the cost of education of the upper classes from the general tax receipts. Incidentally, the same holds good for “free administration of justice” demanded under A, 5. The administration of criminal justice is to be had free everywhere; that of civil justice is concerned almost exclusively with conflicts over property and hence affects almost exclusively the possessing classes. Are they to carry on their litigation at the expense of the national coffers?

This paragraph on the schools should at least have demanded technical schools (theoretical and practical) in combination with the elementary school.

“Elementary education by the state” is altogether objectionable. Defining by a general law the expenditures on the elementary schools, the qualifications of the teaching staff, the branches of instruction, etc., and, as is done in the United States, supervising the fulfillment of these legal specifications by state inspectors, is a very different thing from appointing the state as the educator of the people! Government and church should rather be equally excluded from any influence on the school. Particularly, indeed, in the Prusso-German Empire (and one should not take refuge in the rotten subterfuge that one is speaking of a “state of the future”; we have seen how matters stand in this respect) the state has need, on the contrary, of a very stern education by the people.

But the whole program, for all its democratic clang, is tainted through and through by the Lassallean sect’s servile belief in the state, or, what is no better, by a democratic belief in miracles; or rather it is a compromise between these two kinds of belief in miracles, both equally remote from socialism.

In that regard, I am skeptical of both the traditional classroom (and many of the otherwise well-meaning defenses of it by Teacher’s Union) as well as reforms based solely on charters, school choice, accountability, etc. I believe in accountability–recall a school board when they fail.  I trust accreditation agencies more than I trust the state to do this as I also trust the ability of local pressure to be put on a school board to which the federal government is immune.  The federal government will respond to Bill Gates–and his economist studies which are highly selective in disaggregating their data–because that is who can have influence on the state.  Now as cynical as many of these right-wing reformers are in their rejection of the Common Core (as they set beside and let NLCB happen), this means that a Marxian view of current situation would lead to one to support–in the immediate future–localization and community autonomy.

Review: The Worker Elite

I will first say, I am labor aristocracy myself: not the Worker Elite, but the intelligentsia–I am a teacher and a former professor. I don’t always trust my own motives, and I am easily frustrated with the “left.” Perhaps for many of the same reasons as Bromma as a child of “working class-turned-worker elite” parents who became a academic, but also because I have had bad experiences with dogmatic infighting and frankly dishonest denouncing. I have also lived in Mexico and seen its “middle class’ in action, and it is very much as Bromma describes but perhaps more openly contemptuous of the larger working class.

Bromma’s brief notes on the “Worker Elite” argues that a form of labor aristocracy has developed in the core of the capitalist world. Bromma does what many academic and activists Marxists seem afraid to do: class analysis from experience. Furthermore, he joins a tradition of Maoist-influenced thinkers who realize that proletariat differentiated out–either as separate classes all together, or as having internal sub-classes.

While Bromma accepts many of the propositions of Third-Worldists and economic theorists like Zak Cope, Bromma illustrates that the worker elite is also elite in the “core” over certain sectors (service workers, textile workers, the gray market economy) as well as in relationship to the “third world.” He notes imperialists developments in “former third world” areas like China, and by implication, parts of Eastern Europe. If you wanted to pair this with a thinker like Wallerstein, Bromma seems keenly interested in showing the shifting of the International Capital and the disempowering of one worker elite may lead to the creation of another. Bromma’s thesis has the advantages of explaining both social democratic and left liberal subsuming of proletariat politics, but that labor aristocratic impulse has largely spread to certain sectors of unskilled workers who then embrace nativist or sexist ends. In other words, labor aristocracy is not just the union boss and the skilled technician, but the shipyard worker, the longshoreman, and the autoworker.

Bromma documents that trans-nationals have been very good at building worker elites, and that the worker elites often play a contradictory world to both the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. It needs to bourgeoisie for its privileges and its outsized pay in the global scale, but the bourgeoisie only needs it in times of labor pressure. The worker elites needs non-aristocratic proletariat for pressure on the bourgeoisie, but can never let the proletariat win in entirety. The reforms granted will have some loop-hole for exploitation. This, however, means that in success the worker elite fails either direction, but will fight to maintain its privilege at the expense of other national groups, genders, etc. While Bromma does not mention the rise of Oprah and Obama as a sign of black worker elites–it is not hard to see the thesis. The real material wealth of the black community as a share of GDP is actually declining in the age of Obama. Furthermore, the reactionary nature of a nativistic worker elite comes out in times when worker elite lose privilege and some sort of “otherizing” narrative can be used to buy their loyalty.

As J. Moufawad-Paul says in his review of the book, Bromma puts himself in a very nuanced position: “The inherent nuance of this approach avoids placing the theory of the labour aristocracy within solely macro-political constraints (i.e. the first world is bourgeois and petty-bourgeois, only the third world possesses the proletariat) while also not submerging this reality within some asinine micro-political discourse (we shouldn’t look at the world as a whole, unless we are looking for statistics that justify our position, but only at the class of the first world), and thus provides some space for a discussion that will likely annoy both sides of this debate: Bromma will be a “third worldist” for the dyed-in-the-wool Trotskyist, perhaps even a “first worldist” for some Maoist Third Worldists.” I find this refreshing as I think worldwide analysis of a capitalist system makes nationalist or first and third world analysis more complicated than it is generally presented.

Bromma’s use of the PPP (“purchasing power parity”) helps bring bourgeois economics to back up his points. It makes it clear that the core of the capitalist world has the most worker elite, but they are developing all over the capitalist world in some degree, with some exceptions in Africa and South East Asia. This is both enlightening and very easy to understand.

Still, I have a few issues with Bromma’s analysis: he seems to have switch between defining class in terms of production and in terms of social role. For example, conflating police and exploitative criminals in the the category of lumpen proletariat. Police and exploitative criminals may actually have some similar class interests and both parasite on the proletariat, but they do not necessarily share interests. Furthermore, while Bromma is does decry class essentialism, he does talk about these classes in ways that make it complicated. Again to quote J. Moufawad-Paul’s review: ” Bromma claims that this worker at one point originated from the proletariat and yet is unable, at least in this small book, to discuss the possibility of members of this elite being reproletarianized. Class as something that is made seems to happen in only one direction––an odd claim considering that more people, globally, are impoverished under capitalism than enriched. Perhaps this problem can be explained according to the assumption that it is easier, under capitalist ideology, to gain a privileged consciousness than to gain a revolutionary consciousness… But such a problem is, as Althusser once argued, inherent to even those born into proletarian positions since capitalist ideology is predominant: the poorest of the poor, when lacking a revolutionary movement, will be drawn to the ruling ideas of the ruling class. Here is where, perhaps, Bromma’s analysis of first world union movements slightly stumbles.” I also think this makes the analysis of lumpen and intellectuals a lot harder too, but Bromma does not attempt that as it is not in the purview of his notes. Still, as notes to a understanding of a new mass class, Bromma’s inconsistency here is understandable and can be easily expanded upon by himself or other thinkers.

I also wonder if internal colonization within the core explains the apparent shift of capitalist imperialism to Asia. While there is real shifting, and China, Russia, and the US do emerge as major imperialist powers, the trans-national nature of this still seems to be dependent on dominant nation-states at the core. Nation states whose bourgeoisie may or may not be running out of money–see Kliman’s analysis of the tendency of the rate of profits to fall–and who may need to claw back some of earnings back, so exploitation of the “worker elite” will have to increase. Still, most labor aristocracy will have a tendency to favor reformist measures that keep their privilege in place: think the Union worker who sells out minorities, women, and now in the auto-industry as well as education even younger workers who will never be allowed the same benefits as older union members. Think tenured professors who complain about the corporate culture of universities but refuse to acknowledge the exploitation of adjuncts that make their positions possible, etc.

Even in within tiers of the worker elite itself this kind of internal parasitism takes place. Bromma does not address that but his analysis does not preclude it either.

While this has a few rough spots, I find that Bromma’s book is easy to read and incredibly informative about labor aristocratic elements in our current class structure. I think this is an important book that will be sadly under-read.

Why posts have slowed, and some thoughts on education.

I am on vacation in Wyoming and taking some courses on E-learning ecologies, critical thought and technology in education, and virtual teaching. When it comes to education, I am not a optimist about the technologies given what they were designed to do, but I am not a nay-sayer either. Still, the flexibility implied by “School reform” and the educational focus is completely contrasted with the highly punitive, single instance test. We have the technology do meaningful long-term pattern recognition with students, but we don’t have the will to develop it.

THis is just some of my thoughts from the first few days of my classes. I started blogging in 2008 as a “skeptical education blogger and poet,” and in the few posts you see from me in the next month (I still have a full-time job starting in a month and podcast commitments), you will probably see more of this.

However, if you want to get my thoughts on the structure of global education, you can listen to me talk for three hours on the subject here: