Seven Theses On The Anti-war Movement And Student Resistance

Seven Theses On The Anti-war Movement And Student Resistance

by Asad Haider ;

March 08, 2005

“The old SDS dictum, ‘People have to be organized around the issues that really affect their lives,’ is really true... That is to say, that racism and imperialism really are issues that affect people’s lives. And it was these things that people moved on, not dorm rules, or democratizing university governance, or any of that bullshit.” -Mark Rudd, “Columbia-Notes on the Spring Rebellion”

THESIS ONE : The war on Iraq represents, among other things, a crisis in education. It has been proven beyond a doubt that the war was waged on false pretenses, that the consent for the ongoing imperial occupation has been based on the inability of the American public to access real and useful information. Often, when students are exposed to alternative information in progressive classes their reaction is one of frustration. They realize that our education has failed us : we have not been provided with the intellectual resources to understand political questions within the context of history, we have not been trained to practice the public debate and civic engagement that are the necessary precondition of democracy (as argued in Henry Giroux’s writings, Instead, the academic-military-industrial complex has trained us in the logic of empire, leaving us prey to the invasion of our campuses by the empire’s vultures : military recruiters who promise to make up for the state’s unwillingness to fund our education.

THESIS TWO : Higher education has failed the student because the university, along with most of domestic American culture, has been militarized. The most direct expression is in the military’s major investments in research funding ; but it goes beyond this. The standards of free political debate, so crucial to an atmosphere of intellectual growth, have been replaced by standards of defending “Western civilization” against the “terrorism” of dissent : look at the repression of Ward Churchill, Joseph Massad, and countless other professors. These professors are persecuted because they have not been playing their roles as American intellectuals, which, as Chomsky has tirelessly demonstrated, is to “manufacture the consent” of the masses. This is the future role of college students, who are learning early that those who question the currents of mainstream thought are punished and those who deceive the public and rationalize war crimes are rewarded. As future intellectuals, students are carefully taught the doctrines of imperialism : the Orientalist demonization of Arabs as a civilizational Other, a neoliberal economics that portrays the victims of transnational corporations as the beneficiaries of “development”, the political mythology that portrays American military hegemony and its acts of aggression as benevolence. The university ensures the transmission of a system of ideology which guarantees that the decisions made by the corporate-authoritarian elite remain unquestioned by the disempowered American public.

THESIS THREE : The academy acts in the interests of corporations because the university itself has moved toward a corporate structure. Former CEOs are hired as presidents, research funding comes from corporations, corporate sponsorships impose brand names on students, and the corporate ethic of competition and hierarchy are imposed upon faculty and students. Graduate students are often unable to unionize, and service and clerical employees are paid low wages. This corporatization arises as an expression of the role of the university within capitalist society : to reproduce the relations of production by training the majority of students to be laborers and consumers rather than citizens. Gramsci said that every relationship of hegemony was necessarily an educational one, that class rule was secured by training the working class to accept its exploitation ; but he could not have foreseen that capital’s invasive violations of the public sphere would make every relationship of education a hegemonic one. Historically, the mission of the university has been defined by the tradition of humanistic education, which seeks to develop the individual into a participating social agent. This democratic ideal has always coexisted with the pressures of the market and the ruling class, which varyingly attempt to turn the university into another kind of industry or an ideological state apparatus. The movements of militarization and corporatization have caused education to lose the battle.

THESIS FOUR : The unusual socioeconomic role of the student has made the university a crucial battleground (see the work of Andre Gorz). The necessity of a techno-managerial elite in the workplace and the ongoing transition from material to immaterial production brought on by recent advancements in communications technology create a need for rigorous training in the universities. Of course, the students must develop the necessary technical ability, but they must also learn the ideological dynamics that preserve the social and economic hierarchy. Instead of doing useful or fulfilling work, students must practice rote memorization under the regime of exams, controlled by the absolute authority of teachers and judged by the artificial standards of grades ; students are alienated from the teachers, who are often overworked and are equally constrained by the system ; students are divided into hierarchies based on grades, class ranks, and social status ; decisions are made exclusively by the administration or through a petty and useless student bureaucracy ; the curriculum and pedagogy suppress critical thought ; students must pay the constantly rising tuition, often forcing them to pay off loans for 10 or 20 years after graduation.

THESIS FIVE : The alienated structure of education results immediately in a generalized discontent, and because of the transience and inconvenience of the student life, the student is not integrated into the system. A contradiction emerges, nascent within the intellectual rigor demanded by specialized training : the intellectual and social development that is necessary to the training of the specialized class creates a potential for critical thought, which contains the potential for radical action. After all, the university is not just an ideology machine-it is a battleground, a space in which the struggle for the human mind is fought. In exchange for incorporation into capitalism’s bureaucratic class, the student is granted an unjust privilege-access to knowledge on a scale denied to those unable to afford it-but this privilege is a double-edged sword.

THESIS SIX : In preparing us for alienated labor and consumption, student privilege brings us the stupidity and banality of student life, the emptiness of campus culture, the intellectual charlatanry of professors who use terms like “humanitarian intervention” and “free market.” At the same time, it grants us the time, energy, and resources to study and understand history ; it gives us a space in which to revolt and make history. In the face of a schooling system that seeks to train us for an intellectually, culturally, morally, existentially bankrupt life under the regime of bureaucratic capitalism, we can use our empty privilege to demand a real, critical education that prepares us to participate as active citizens in an autonomous society of our making. This entails nothing less than the abolition of the student ; it means the institution of free education as a universal right of the citizen. Our society has developed the ability to realize this ambition, but has instead summoned its vast technological, intellectual, and physical powers in the service of death and destruction. Our training as students plays a central role in the perpetuation of the system which demands that violence rule the global order. To resist the ongoing occupation of Iraq is to resist a growing empire that robs the wretched of the earth of their lives and robs us of the potential to fulfill the dream of a participatory and cooperative society.

THESIS SEVEN : We came to college for an education, but education is impossible in a society ruled by the logic of empire, which has reached its alarming peak in the subjugation of the people of Iraq. To realize the principles of a real education inside and beyond the university means an upheaval against empire. In the words of Che Guevara, “Revolution is the best education for honorable men.”

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Asad Haider is a student and activist in State College, Pennsylvania. His writing has appeared on ZNet, Politics and Culture, Left Hook, Dissident Voice, and elsewhere. He can be reached at