Monday, August 1, 2011

A Perspective from the European Students' Movement

By Gigi Roggero
Edu-factory collective and Knowledge Liberation Front

Gigi Roggero is a founding member of the edu-factory collective ( and teaches in the University of Bologna, Italy. He has written extensively on the new students’ and informal workers’ movements in Europe and is an active participant of these movements.

We're living in a revolutionary situation today. We could reformulate its classical definition in the following way: the governors of global capital cannot live as in the past; the workers, the precarious (informal) workers, the students, the productive multitudes don't want to live as in the past. The uprisings and revolts of the last year all around Europe (from Greece to France, from Italy to Spain or UK), as well as in other areas of the world, are happening in this context. And the movements in Tunisia, Egypt and North Africa put again the insurrection and revolution on the political agenda, but in a new way: they are definitely beyond and against the borders of the nation-state.

In fact, the context is the double crisis, that is the crisis of the university and the global economic crisis. Or we could say, the crisis of the global university. This term doesn't mean the emergence of a homogenous or flat world, but the existence of common trends and different forms of translation (as the Bologna Process in Europe). I want to emphasize that to talk of global university and cognitive capitalism doesn't mean to have a Eurocentric point of view, because the traditional dialectic between centre and periphery is definitely over: in India or in UK, in Brazil or US, in Australia or China and South Africa etc., we can see (with different grades of intensity and combination, of course) the whole complex prism of the forms of labor and exploitation, and the new paradigms of the production system. In a stenographic way, I'll point out four of the main trends.

1) The centrality of knowledge in the contemporary forms of labor and production. Talking of knowledge, we have to forget its traditional leftist mythology: in the contemporary capitalism knowledge is a central commodity. In fact, there is no neutrality of knowledge production, it is always a battlefield. But what happens when the knowledge becomes the central source and means of production? Capital cannot manage the social cooperation upstream, and it has to capture it downstream (through intellectual property laws, financialization, etc.). We call living knowledge the new quality of the contemporary living labor. It is the extreme resource and the mortal threat to capital. Since the production is more and more based on the common cooperation, the crisis becomes permanent.

2) The corporatization of the university. It doesn't mean only the entrance of private funds in the public institutions. Let's take the American and Anglo-Saxon models: the definition of corporate universities doesn't depend on their juridical status, they are both public and private, and both funded by State and corporations money. Corporate university means that the university itself has to become a corporation, to work on the calculus of cost-benefit, rationality of budget, to be based on profit-rent, to compete in the global education market. It means a university beyond the dialectic between public and private, State and market, because they are two sides of the same capitalist coin. On the point of view of struggles, this means that we have nothing to defend, but what is at stake is the construction of autonomous and common university. Paraphrasing Marx, the revolution has not to perfect the State machine, but to destroy it.

3) The rise of a new figure of the student. She is no more work-force in apprenticeship, but since she is a producer of knowledge she is immediately a worker, and a precarious (contingent or informal) worker. We could say that there is a continuous overlapping between education market and labor market (let's think of the "lifelong learning" or the accreditation system). Indeed, the issues of precariousness and devaluation (déclassement) are central in the university struggles in the last years. Also, it means that the capitalist progressive promises are crashed: the idea of the university as an elevator for the social mobility is definitely over. The precariousness becomes a permanent element.

4) The financialization of education and welfare. In various countries despite the increasing of the fees, there has been an increasing of enrolments as well: how is it possible, in the face of the general precariousness and impoverishment? The answer is, through the system of debt. In the dismantling of the welfare system, the debt was a way to access the social needs (house, education, healthcare, mobility, ecc.). We can talk of a financialization of the life. But if we think of the origin of the current crisis, the so-called subprime crisis, cuased mainly by a proletarian composition who refused to pay back or could not pay back the debt, we see the fragility of the system. We have to claim for a right to bankruptcy for the students and precarious workers, i.e. we have to take the money and not pay back the debt with banks and financial institutions. This is the new level of the struggle to re-appropriate the social richness that we produce in common.

To conclude: a couple of questions for our struggles. On one hand, the space of the struggles and social transformation is no more national, but it is immediately a transnational space. It is impossible to strive against the Bologna Process (process of privatizing and rationalizing universities across Europe) without a European network of struggles. And if we look at Tunisian or North African insurrections, we see a common composition with the European struggles: young people, higher educated, and unemployed or precarious. This networking process at the transnational level is what the Knowledge Liberation Front or the project edu-factory are trying to do. In this common process we have to experiment in a collective way, how to transform the insurrection in revolution, and the destituent power in constituent power. On the other hand, how to organize the collective autonomy? As I talked before, the common has a double status: it is what we produce, and what the capital captures; it is the potentia of a new social relationship, and what the capital exploits. So the problem is to build up the institutions of the common. They are not happy islands or utopia, but the institutions of the common are the collective organization of our freedom and autonomous cooperation. They have nothing to do with the bureaucracy or the classical idea of institution: on the contrary, they are the destruction of public and private machine of capitalist capture. How to become institution of the common? That is to say: how to organize our knowledge production and lokavidya not in the marginal spaces, but in the institutions of the common, i.e. in the creation of new world and social relationship? I think this could be a central question for our initiative.

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