Class, the Crisis of Neoliberal Global Capital, and the role of Education and Knowledge Workers

Dave Hill 

This article calls for transformative activism by education and other cultural workers – teachers, lecturers, journalists – in order to develop an economically just economy, polity and society. It sets out key characteristics of neo-liberal global capitalism (and, importantly, its accompanying neoconservatism) and its major effects on society and education. It highlights the obscene and widening economic, social and educational inequalities both within states and, globally, between states; the detheorisation of education and the regulating of critical thought and activists through the ideological and repressive state apparatuses; and the limitation and regulation of democracy and democratic accountability at national and local educational levels.

The article analyses three components of the ‘Capitalist Agenda for/in Education’ within the current neo-liberal globalising project of Capital, and, calls for critical engagement with – challenging – the Radical Right in its neoliberal, Conservative, traditionalist religious, and its social democratic (sometimes revised as ‘Third way’) manifestations. It also calls for engagement with ideological and cultural fashions and with fashionable ‘knowledge workers’ within the media and the academy – fashions such as postmodernism, which, together with social democracy/ left revisionism, ultimately serve the function of ‘naturalising’ neo-liberal Capital as the dominating ‘common sense’. They do this partly by virtue of their ignoring, or deriding Marxist derived/ related concepts of social class, class conflict and socialism. Such academic fashions as postmodernism and left revisionism debilitate and displace viable solidaristic socialist counter-hegemonic struggles.

What role can we, as critical transformative and revolutionary socialist educators and cultural/media workers play in ensuring that the Capitalism, with its dystopian class-based apartheid, is replaced by an economic and social system more economically and socially just and environmentally sustainable than national/ international Capitalist, state Capitalist, social democratic and (secular or religious) traditionalist alternatives?

1. Neoliberal Global Capital and the Current Crisis of Capitalism

In the current juncture, the crisis of capitalism, as in the repeated crises of capital and overproduction and speculation predicted by Marx, capitalists have a big problem. Their profits, the value of the shares and part control of companies by Chief Executive Officers and other capitalist executives (late twentieth century capitalists), so carefully and successfully wrested back from the social and economic gains made by workers during the 1940, 50s and 60s  (Harvey, 2005; Dumenil and Levy, 2004) are plummeting. The rate of profit is falling, has fallen.(1)

The political response to ‘the credit crunch’, the current crisis of capital, in particular finance capital, by parties funded by Capital, such as the Democrats and Republicans in the USA, and Labour, Liberal and Conservative Parties in the UK, and conservative and social democrat parties globally is not to blame the capitalist system. Not even to blame the neoliberal form of capitalism (new brutalist public managerialism/ management methods, privatisation, businessification of education, for example, increasing gaps between rich and poor, between schools in well-off areas and schools in poor areas).

They have criticised only two aspects of neoliberalism: what they now (and only now!) see as the over-extent of deregulation, and the (obscene) levels of pay and reward taken by ‘the big bankers’, by a few Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). No criticism of the capitalist system itself, despite a few late 2008 press items ‘was Marx right’?

What is Neo-liberal Capitalism?

For neo-liberals, ‘profit is the God’, not the public good. Capitalism is not kind. Plutocrats are not, essentially, or even commonly, philanthropic. In Capitalism it is the insatiable demand for profit that is the motor for policy, not public or social or common weal, or good. With great power comes great irresponsibility. Thus privatised utilities, such as the railway system, health and education services (schools, trade/vocational education, universities), free and clean water supply, gas and electricity supply, are run, just as much as factories and finance houses, to maximise owners’ and shareholders’ profits and rewards, rather than to provide a public service.

The current and recently (since the 1970s and 1980s) globally dominant form of Capitalism, neo-liberalism, requires that the state establishes and extends the following policies:

1. The control of inflation by interest rates, preferably by an independent central bank.

2. The balancing of budgets, which should not be used to influence demand – or at any rate to stimulate it. (In the current credit crisis this policy has been put on hold/ reversed)

3. The privatisation/private ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.

4. The provision of a Market in goods and services—including private sector involvement in welfare, social, educational and other state services (such as schools, health services, savings banks, air traffic control, pensions, postal deliveries, prisons, policing, railways).

5. Within education, the creation and exacerbation, through selection, of ‘opportunity’ to acquire the means of education (though not necessarily education itself) and additional cultural Capital.

6. The relatively untrammelled selling and buying of labour power, for a ‘flexible’, poorly regulated labour market, deregulation of the labour market—for labour flexibility (with consequences for education in providing an increasingly hierarchicalised schooling and university system).

7. The restructuring of the management of the welfare state on the basis of a corporate managerialist model imported from the world of business, known as new public managerialism.

8. The deriding and suppression of oppositional counter-hegemonic critical thought, spaces and thinkers/ activists within the media and education.

9. Within a regime of denigration and humbling of publicly provided services. (With the temporary re-adoption of Keynesian public works measures- the state stepping in- and state investment, this is currently, at times, somewhat mitigated

10. Within a regime of cuts in the post-war Welfare State, the withdrawal of state subsidies and support, and low public expenditure- except, in the current credit crunch, for the trillions of dollars capitalist states are now spending on bailing out the banks and some companies/ corporations.

Internationally, neo-liberalism requires that:

1. Barriers to international trade and capitalist enterprise should be removed.

2. There should be a ‘level playing field’ for companies of any nationality within all sectors of national economies.

3. Trade rules and regulations, such as the General Agreement on Trade in Services (the GATS), are necessary to underpin ‘free’ trade, with a system for penalising ‘unfair’ trade policies.

One increasingly important proviso, in the face of growing Chinese and Indian economic muscle and exports, is that

4.  Rich and powerful countries reserve the right to exempt themselves from these rules, to slap on quotas, and to continue subsidising their own agricultural industry, for example the subsidies afforded to agricultural production in the USA and the European Union.

What are the Results of Neo-Liberalism? Widening Inequalities

Impacts of Neoliberal Capitalism

In its current Neo-Liberal form in particular, Capitalism leads to human degradation and inhumanity and increased social class inequalities within states and globally.

Neo-liberal policies globally have resulted in

1: a loss of Equity, Economic and Social Justice for citizens and for workers at work

2: a loss of Democracy and Democratic Control and Democratic Accountability

3: a loss of Critical Thought and Space.

The Growth of National and Global Inequalities

Inequalities both between states and within states have increased dramatically during the era of global neo-liberalism. Global Capital, in its current neo-liberal form in particular, leads to human degradation and inhumanity and increased social class inequalities within states and globally. These effects are increasing (racialized and gendered) social class inequality within states, increasing (racialized and gendered) social class inequality between states. The degradation and Capitalisation of humanity, including the environmental degradation impact primarily in a social class related manner. Those who can afford to buy clean water don’t die of thirst or diarrhoea. In many states across the globe, those who can afford school or university fees, where charges are made, end up without formal education or in grossly inferior provision.

Hearse (2009) points out that

The golden age for the salaried worker across all the OECD countries was between 1945 and 1973, when ordinary working people gained their highest percentage share of GDP. Since then the real wages of the middle and working class have stagnated or fallen, while income for the rich has rocketed and that of the super-rich has hit the stratosphere.(2)

The current form of globalisation is tightening rather than loosening the international poverty trap. Living standards in the least developed countries are now lower than thirty years ago. Inequalities within states have widened partly because of the generalised attack on workers’ rights and trade unions, with restrictive laws passed hamstringing trade union actions (Rosskam, 2006. See also Hill, 2006a, 2009a, b; Hill and Kumar, 2009; Hill and Rosskam, 2009). And it is workers now being asked to pay for the crisis. Under capitalism, it usually is. It is workers and their trade unions voluntarily, or under pressure, accepting cuts in pay and conditions. It is workers and their families in the advanced capitalist world whose children will pay back the state for the billions of dollars handed to industrial and finance capital.

The Growth of education quasi-markets and markets and the growth of educational inequality

There is considerable data globally on how, within marketised or quasi-marketised education systems, poor schools have, by and large, got poorer (in terms of relative education results and in terms of total income) and how rich schools (in the same terms) have got richer.(3) Whitty, Power and Halpin (1998) examined the effects of the introduction of quasi-markets into education systems in USA, Sweden, England and Wales, Australia and New Zealand. Their conclusion is that one of the results of marketizing education is that increasing ‘parental choice’ of schools, and/ or setting up new types of schools, in effect increases school choice of parents and their children and thereby sets up or exacerbates racialized school hierarchies (4).

Hirtt comments on the apparently contradictory education policies of Capital, “to adapt education to the needs of business and at the same time reduce state expenditure on education”. He suggests that, for neoliberal Capital, “it is now possible and even highly recommendable to have a more polarized education system…. education should not try to transmit a broad common culture to the majority of future workers, but instead it should teach them some basic, general skills” (Hirtt, 2004 p. 446; see also Hirtt, 2009).

The Growth of Undemocratic (Un)accountability

Within education and other public services business values and interests are increasingly substituted for democratic accountability and the collective voice. This applies at the local level, where, in Britain, the USA, Pakistan and many other countries, for example, private companies- national or transnational- variously build, own, run and govern state schools and other sections of local government educational services. There is an important democratic question here. Is it right to allow private provides of educational services based outside India, or Brazil, or Britain, for example. Where is the local democratic accountability? In the event of abuse or corruption or simply pulling out and closing down operations, where and how would those guilty be held to account?

This anti-democratisation applies too at national levels. GATS locks countries into a system of regulations making it virtually impossible for governments to change policy, or, indeed, for voters to choose a new government with different policies.(5)

Detheorised Education and the Loss of Critical Thought   

The increasing subordination and commodification of education, including university education have been well-documented (6). In my own work I have examined how the British government has, in effect, expelled most potentially critical aspects of education, such as sociological and political examination of schooling and education, and questions of social class, ‘race’ and gender, from the national curriculum for what is now, in England and Wales, termed ‘teacher training’ (7). It was formerly called ‘teacher education’. The change in name is important both symbolically and in terms of actual accurate description of the new, ‘safe’, sanitised and detheorised education and training of new teachers.

‘How to’ has replaced ‘why to’ in a technicist curriculum based on ‘delivery’ of a quietist and overwhelmingly conservative set of ‘standards’ for student teachers. Teachers are now, by and large, trained in skills rather than educated to examine the ‘whys’ and the ‘why nots’ and the contexts of curriculum, pedagogy, educational purposes and structures and the effects these have on reproducing Capitalist economy, society and politics.(8)

2. Social Class Exploitation

The development of (‘raced’ and gendered) social class-based ‘labour-power’ and the subsequent extraction of ‘surplus value’ – is the fundamental characteristic of Capitalism. It is the primary explanation for economic, political, cultural and ideological change. Social Class is the essential and dominant form of Capitalist exploitation and oppression.

What is The Project of Global Capitalism at this current time of Capitalist Crisis? 

The fundamental principle of Capitalism is the sanctification of private (or, corporate) profit based on the extraction of surplus labour (unpaid labour-time) as surplus value from the labour-power of workers. This is a creed of competition, not co-operation, between humans. It is a creed and practice of (racialized and gendered) class exploitation, exploitation by the Capitalist class, the bourgeoisie. ‘By bourgeoisie is meant the class of modern capitalists, owners of the means of social production and employers of wage labor’ (Engels, 1888), of those who provide the profits through their labour – the working class, the proletariat, ‘the class of modern wage laborers who, having no means of production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor power in order to live’ (Engels, 1888).

The State and Education: Labour Power, Surplus Value, Profit

In Britain and elsewhere, both Conservative and New Labour governments have attempted to ‘conform’ both the existing teacher workforce and the future teacher workforce (i.e. student teachers) and their teachers, the reproducers of teachers ? the teacher educators. Why conform the teachers and the teacher educators at all? Like poets, teachers are potentially dangerous. But poets are fewer and reading poetry is voluntary. Schooling is not. Teachers’ work is the production and reproduction of knowledge, attitudes and ideology.

Glenn Rikowski (9) develops a Marxist analysis based on an analysis of ‘labour power’ – the capacity to labour. With respect to education, he suggests that teachers are the most dangerous of workers because they have a special role in shaping, developing and forcing the single commodity on which the whole Capitalist system rests: labour-power. In the Capitalist labour process, labour-power is transformed into value-creating labour, and, at a certain point, surplus value – value over-and-above that represented in the worker’s wage – is created. Surplus-value is the first form of the existence of Capital. It is the lifeblood of Capital. Most importantly for the Capitalist, is that part of the surplus-value forms his or her profit – and it is this that drives the Capitalist on a personal basis.

In particular, it becomes clear, on this analysis, that the Capitalist State will seek to destroy any forms of pedagogy that attempt to educate students regarding their real predicament – to create an awareness of themselves as future labour-powers and to underpin this awareness with critical insight that seeks to undermine the smooth running of the social production of labour-power. This fear entails strict control of teacher education, of the curriculum, of educational research.

The Salience and Essential Nature of Social Class Exploitation within Capitalism

Social class is the inevitable and defining feature of Capitalist exploitation, whereas the various other forms of oppression are not essential to its nature and continuation, however much they are commonly functional to this – and however obviously racialised and gendered capitalist oppression is in most countries. The face of poverty staring out from post-Katrina New Orleans was overwhelmingly black. It was overwhelmingly black working class. But it was also poor white working class. Richer black and white car owners drove away.

Within the educational curricula and pedagogy, and within the media (and, indeed, wherever resistant teachers and other cultural workers can find spaces) the existence of various and multiple forms of oppression and the similarity of their effects on individuals and communities should not disguise nor weaken class analysis that recognises the structural centrality of social class exploitation and conflict (10). In capitalist society this has consequences for political and social strategy, for mobilisation and for action).

As McLaren notes, ‘the key here is not to privilege class oppression over other forms of oppression but to see how Capitalist relations of production provide the ground from which other forms of oppression are produced’ (McLaren, 2001: 31).

McLaren and Farahmandpur note that ‘recognizing the ‘class character’ of education in Capitalist schooling, and advocating a ‘socialist re-organisation of Capitalist society’ (Krupskaya, 1973) are two fundamental principles of a revolutionary critical pedagogy’ (McLaren and Farahmandpur, 2001: 299. See also McLaren and Farahmandpur, 2005).

Marxist and Postmodernist Analyses of Social Class

Outside the Marxist tradition, it is clear that many critics of class analysis confound class-consciousness with the fact of class – and tend to deduce the non-existence of the latter from the ‘absence’ of the former, or, if not ‘the absence’, then the decline in salience in advanced capitalist countries. The collapse of many traditional signifiers of ‘working-classness’ has led many to pronounce the demise of class yet ‘Class inequality exists beyond its theoretical representation’. (Skeggs, 1997:6).

Marx took great pains to stress that social class is distinct from economic class and necessarily includes a political dimension which, in the broadest sense, is ‘culturally’ rather than ‘economically’ determined. Class-consciousness, a cultural phenomenon, does not follow automatically or inevitably from the fact of (economic) class position. In The Poverty of Philosophy [1847] Marx distinguishes a ‘class-in-itself’ (class position) and a ‘class-for itself’ (class consciousness) and, in The Communist Manifesto (Marx and Engels, 1848), explicitly identified the ‘formation of the proletariat into a class’ as the key political task facing the communists. In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon [1852], Marx observes:

In so far as millions of families live under economic conditions of existence that divide their mode of life, their interests and their cultural formation from those of the other classes and bring them into conflict with those classes, they form a class. In so far as these small peasant proprietors are merely connected on a local basis, and the identity of their interests fails to produce a feeling of community, national links, or a political organisation, they do not form a class. (Marx [1852] in Tucker, 1974: 239).

The recognition by Marx that class consciousness is not necessarily or directly produced from the material and objective fact of class position, enables neo-Marxists to acknowledge the wide range of contemporary influences that may (or may not) inform the subjective consciousness of identity – but in doing so, to retain the crucial reference to the basic economic determinant of social experience.

The notion of an essential, unitary self was rejected, over a century and a half ago, by Marx in his Sixth Thesis on Feuerbach, where he stated

But the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations.(Marx, [1845] in Tucker, 1978: 45).

The absence of class in postmodern theory actively contributes to the ideological disarmament of the working- class movement.(11)

The fundamental significance of economic production for Marxist theory integrates a range of analytic concepts, which include the metanarrative of social development and therefore the proposal of viable transformatory educational and political projects. In contrast, the local, specific and partial analyses that mark the limitations of postmodernism are accompanied by either a lack of, or opposition to, social-class based policy.

3. The Education and Media Ideological State Apparatuses.

Education and the Media are the dominant Ideological State Apparatuses, though from the USA to Iran and elsewhere, religion is also assuming a more salient role. Each Ideological State Apparatuses contains disciplinary Repressive moments and effects.

One of its greatest achievements is that Capital presents itself as natural, free and democratic and that any attack on free-market neoliberal capitalism is damned as anti-democratic. Any attack on capitalism becomes characterised as an attack on world freedom and democracy itself. As does any attack on the ‘freedom of the Press’, with its ‘mass production of ignorance’ (Davies, 2009).

The most powerful, restraint on Capital (and the political parties funded and influenced by Capitalists in their bountiful donations) is that Capital needs to persuade the people that neo-liberalism – competition, privatisation, poorer standards of public services, greater inequalities between rich and poor – are legitimate. If not, there is a delegitimation crisis, government and the existing system are seen through as grossly unfair and inhumane. It may also be seen as in the pocket of the international and/or national ruling classes and their local and national state weaponry.

To minimise this delegitimation, to ensure that the majority of the population considers the government and the economic system of private monopoly ownership is legitimate, the state uses the ideological state apparatuses such as schools and colleges and the Media to ‘naturalise’ Capitalism – to make the existing status quo seem ‘only natural’. Even in especially in capitalist crisis, such as the present juncture. Of course, if and when this doesn’t work, the repressive state apparatuses kick in – sometimes literally, with steel-capped military boots, water cannons, draconian legislation and coups d’etat.

The term ‘State Apparatus’ does not refer solely to apparatuses such as Ministries and various levels of government. It applies to those societal apparatuses, institutions and agencies that operate on behalf of, and maintain the existing economic and social relations of production. In other words, the apparatuses that sustain Capital, Capitalism and Capitalists.

Educators and cultural workers are implicated in the process of economic, cultural and ideological reproduction. (Kelsh and Hill, 2006).

Ideological and Repressive State Apparatuses  

Althusser argues that the ideological dominance of the ruling class is, like its political dominance, secured in and through definite institutional forms and practices: the ideological apparatuses of the state. As Althusser suggests, every Ideological State Apparatus is also in part a Repressive State Apparatus (12), punishing those who dissent:

There is no such thing as a purely ideological apparatus … Schools and Churches use suitable methods of punishment, expulsion, selection etc., to ‘discipline’ not only their shepherds, but also their flocks. (Althusser, 1971: 138)

Ideological State Apparatuses have internal ‘coercive’ practices (for example, the forms of punishment, non-promotion, displacement, being ‘out-of-favour’ experienced by socialists and trade union activists/ militants historically and currently across numerous countries). Similarly, Repressive State Apparatuses attempt to secure significant internal unity and wider social authority through ideology (for example, through their ideologies of patriotism and national integrity). Every Repressive State Apparatus therefore has an ideological moment, propagating a version of common sense and attempting to legitimate it under threat of sanction.

Governments, and the ruling classes in whose interests they act, prefer to use the second form of state apparatuses – the Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs). Changing the school and initial teacher education curriculum, abandoning ‘general studies’ and ‘liberal studies’ and horizon-broadening in the UK for working class ‘trade’ and skilled worker students/ apprentices in ‘Further Education’ (vocational) colleges, is less messy than sending the troops onto the streets or visored baton-wielding police into strike-bound mining villages, or against peasant demonstrations or protests by the landless.

4. Capitalist Agendas and Education

Global Neo-Liberal Capital and its international and national apparatuses have an anti-human and anti-critical Business Agenda for Education and the Media.

The Contexts of Educational Change and the neo-Liberal Project

The restructuring of the schooling and education systems across the world needs to be placed within the ideological and policy context of the links between Capital, neo-liberalism (with its combination of privatisation, competitive markets in education characterised by selection and exclusion) and the rampant growth of the national and international inequalities.

The current crisis of capital accumulation – the declining rate of profit, has given an added urgency to the neo-liberal project for education globally.

Cutting Public Expenditure

Not only have education and the media the function for Capitalism of creating and reproducing a labour force fit for Capitalism, but Capital also requires (in ‘normal times’, i.e. not necessarily all the time) cutting public spending, cutting the social wage (the cost and value of the state pensions, health and education services) (Hill, 2001a, b, 2003, 2004), reducing the ‘tax-take’ as a proportion of gross domestic product.  These are all subject to the variegations of short-term policy and local political considerations such as upcoming elections or mass demonstrations, the balance of class forces- the objective and subjective current labour-capital relation (relationship between the capitalist class and the working class and their relative cohesiveness, organisation, leadership and will).

Capital and the Business of Education 

The Capitalist state has a Capitalist Agenda for Education and a Business Plan in Education (13). It also has a Capitalist Agenda for Education Business. The Capitalist Agenda for education centres on socially producing labour-power (people’s capacity to labour) for Capitalist enterprises. The Capitalist Agenda in Education focuses on setting business ‘free’ in education for profit-making.

The first aim is to ensure that schooling and education engage in ideological and economic reproduction. National state education and training policies in the Capitalist Agenda for education are of increasing importance for national capital. In an era of global capital, this is one of the few remaining areas for national state intervention – it is the site, suggests Hatcher (2001), where a state can make a difference. Thus, Capital firstly requires education fit for business – to make schooling and further and higher education geared to producing the personality, ideological and economic requirements of Capital.

Secondly, Capital wants to make profits from education and other privatised public services such as water supply and healthcare. The second aim – the Capitalist Agenda in Education – is for private enterprise, private capitalists, to make money out of it, to make private profit out of it, to control it, whether by outright control through private chains of schools/ universities, by selling services to state funded schools and education systems, or by voucher systems through which taxpayers subsidise the owners of private schools.

Thus, business firstly education fit for business- to make schooling and further and higher education subordinate to the personality, ideological and economic requirements of capital, to make sure schools produce compliant, ideologically indoctrinated, pro capitalist, effective workers.

The third education business plan for capital, the Capitalist for Education Business, is to ‘bring the bucks back home’, for governments in globally dominant economic positions (e.g. the UK, the USA), or in locally dominant economic positions (e.g. Australia, New Zealand, Brazil) to support locally based corporations (or, much more commonly, locally based transnational corporations) in profit taking from the privatisation and neoliberalisation of education services globally (14).

Capitalist Responses to the Current Crisis: Not an end to Capitalism or even to Neoliberal Capitalism

Talk of an end to neoliberalism is premature, so is talk of an end to capitalism. Criticism in the mainstream capitalist media and mainstream capitalist political parties is only of the excesses of Capitalism, indeed, only the excesses of that form of capitalism – neoliberal capitalism – that has been dominant since the 1970s, the Thatcher-Reagan years – dominant in countries across the globe, and within the international capitalist organisations such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation, the World Trade Organisation.

Premature, too, is talk of a return to a new Keynesianism, a new era of public sector public works, together with (in revulsion at neoliberalism’s – in fact – capitalism’s excesses) a new Puritanism in private affairs/ private industry.

The current intervention by governments across the globe to ‘save banks’ can be seen as ‘socialism for the rich’, a spreading of the pain and costs amongst all citizens/ taxpayers to bail out the banks and bankers. Side by side with this bailing out of the banks (while retaining them as private- not nationalised institutions!) is the privatisation, and individualisation of pain- the pain that will be felt in wallets and homes and workplaces throughout the capitalist countries, both rich and poor. Already in January 2009 the Conservative Party in Britain changed its previous policy of matching Labour’s spending plans for 2010 onwards into a rightward slide – saying that public services will have to suffer, to pay for the cost of the crisis. Capitalist governments throughout the world will, unless successfully contested by class war and action from below, make the workers and their/ our public services, pay for the crisis.

Capital and the parties it funds will, seek to ensure that Capital is resurgent, and that after what they see as this temporary ‘blip’ in capitalist profitability, it will once again see to confidently bestride the world, though with less of an obvious smirk on its face, and with less obvious flashing of riches. At least for the time being.

In times such as these, of economic crisis and of the inevitable retrenchment, it will be the poor that the capitalist class tries to make pay for the crisis, in fact, not just the poor, but the middle and lower strata of the working class.

Controlling the Workers

And who better to ‘control’ the workers, the workforce, to sell a deal – cuts in the actual wage (relative to inflation) and the social wage (cuts in the real value of benefits and of public welfare and social services) – but the former workers’ parties such as the Labour Party, or, in the USA, the party with (as with labour in Britain) links to the trade union movement – the Democrats. So US Capital swung massively behind Obama in the US Presidential election, and large sections of British Capital have swing behind Gordon Brown and what is still regarded by many as a workers’ party, or at least, the more social democratic of the major parties on offer. Better to control the workers when the cuts do come. And to return to a slightly less flashy form of capitalism – more regulated, but still the privatising neoliberal managerialising, commodifying, neo-colonial and imperialistic capitalism in ideological conjunction with neoconservative state force.

5. Marxism and Resistance to Neo-Liberal Capital 

Forms and Ideologies of Resistance to Neo-Liberal Capital should be critiqued from a democratic structuralist neo-Marxist political and ideological perspective.

The Right and Revised Social Democracy

Social democratic advances of ‘the thirty glorious years’ of the forties to the seventies (the post-war boom in advanced capitalist economies) did succeed in some redistribution of life chances across a number of booming industrialised states. And what there was, was important- welfare states, pensions, state provided social housing, minimum wages, trade union recognition and rights, rights for workers at work, equal opportunities legislation on grounds of ‘race’, gender, sexuality, disability. These are not to be sneered at. They have improved the lives of hundreds of millions.

But so much more could have been done! (15) And needs to be done. And, since the 1970s in particular, with crises of capital accumulation, these hard-won rights, the ‘social wage’, state comprehensive provision of services such as education, health, pensions, transport- have been widely degraded, privatised, and/ or sold off to Capital. This really is, as Harvey exclaims, ‘class war from above’ (Harvey, 2005). This class war from above has been successful, other than where street resistance has numbered millions, stalling government neoliberalising plans.

Radical Right and Centrist ideology on education serves a society aiming only for the hegemony of the few and the entrenchment of privilege, whether elitist or supposedly meritocratic – not the promotion of economic and social justice with more equal educational and economic outcomes.

Structuralist Neo-Marxism, Agency and the State

The autonomy and agency available to individual teachers, teacher educators, schools and departments of education, journalists and other cultural workers is particularly circumscribed when faced with the structures of Capital and its current neo-liberal project for education.

The differences between the structuralist neo-Marxism I am putting forward here and culturalist neo-Marxism are that culturalist neo-Marxists, such as Michael Apple, overemphasise autonomy and agency in a number of ways. Firstly, they overemphasise the importance of ideology, of the cultural domain. Secondly, and connectedly, they rate too highly the importance of discourse. Thirdly they lay too much store on the relative autonomy of individuals, on how effective human agency is likely to be when faced with the force of the state, without overall, major change and transformation of the economy, and society. Fourthly, they overemphasise the relative autonomy of state apparatuses such as education, or particular schools. Fifthly, they overestimate the relative autonomy of the political region of the state from the economic – the autonomy of government from capital (See Cole et al, 2001, Hill, 2001a; 2005b. In Apple’s case (e.g. Apple, 2004, 2005, 2006) they also underplay the salience of social class- racialised and gended and layered though it is, as the primary and the essential form of exploitation in capitalist society (Kelsh, 2001; Kelsh and Hill, 2006) (16).

To use concepts derived from Louis Althusser, the autonomy of the education policy/political region of the state from the economic has been straightjacketed. There are, in many states, greater and greater restrictions on the ability of cultural workers and teachers to use their pedagogical spaces for emancipatory purposes.

Spaces do exist for counter-hegemonic struggle; whatever space does exist should be exploited. Whatever we can do, we must do, however fertile or unfertile the soil at any given moment in any particular place. But schools and colleges, and newsrooms and studios are not the only place for resistance and transformation. In the current crisis of Capital, the streets are, too. And the workplace, the social group, the social and community organisation, the trade union.

6. Critical Education for Economic and Social Justice

Critical Education for Economic and Social Justice can play a role in resisting the depredations and the ‘common-sense’ of Global Neo-Liberal Capital and play a role in developing class-consciousness and an egalitarian sustainable future.

Critical Education for Economic and Social Justice is where teachers and other Cultural Workers act as Critical Transformative and Public Intellectuals within and outside of sites of economic, ideological and cultural reproduction. Such activity is both deconstructive and reconstructive, offering a Utopian Politics of Anger, Analysis and Hope based on a materialised socialist, or revolutionary, Critical Pedagogy that recognises, yet challenges, the strength of the structures and apparatuses of Capital.

Such activity encompasses activity within different arenas of Resistant and Revolutionary activity. These arenas encompass

·    Activism within the Cultural Sites of Schooling/Education and the Media within the workforce, within the curriculum/ knowledge validation systems, and within pedagogy/social relations
·    Activism locally outside of these sites, exposing the Capitalist reproductive nature of those sites both per se, and Activism locally, linked to other sites of economic, ideological and cultural contestation, mobilisations and struggle
·    Activism within Mass movements, United Fronts, and within democratic Marxist/ Socialist groupings, fractions and organisations.

The Role of Intellectuals and the Politics of Educational Transformation

What role can intellectuals such as educators and other cultural workers play in the struggle for economic and social justice? Support the current system?

1. Ignore it?

2. Play with the postmodernists in irony and pastiche, body performativity and transgression, textual and semiotic deconstruction, shorn of any solidaristic reconstructive urge or capacity (however enjoyable and individually liberating they can certainly be)?

3. Or should education and other cultural workers organise in opposition to ‘the excesses’ of Capital, seeking its modification, seeking to ‘reform’ it? Or should resistant counter-hegemonic educators and cultural workers seek its replacement, its transformation. But it’s transformation into what?

4. A religious state, a theocracy, Christian, or Zionist, or Islamic, or Hindu or whatever?

5. Or its replacement by democratic socialism.

These are five alternatives for intellectuals and educators- and, indeed by all workers who are aware of such choices.

Within classrooms critical transformative intellectuals seek to enable student teachers and teachers (and school students) to critically evaluate a range of salient perspectives and ideologies – including critical reflection itself – while showing a commitment to egalitarianism. Critical pedagogy must remain self-critical, and critique its own presumed role as the metatruth of educational criticism. This does not imply forced acceptance or silencing of contrary perspectives. But it does involve a privileging of egalitarian and emancipatory perspectives. But the aim is not egalitarian indoctrination.

Revolutionary Critical Pedagogy

McLaren and Farahmandpur (2005) ask, ‘how do we organize teachers and students against domestic trends [e.g. the deepening inequalities and exploitation under Capital] … and also enable them to link these trends to global capitalism and the new imperialism? What pedagogical discourses and approaches can we use?’  They cite the five pillars of popular education articulated by Deborah Brandt (1991).

First, critical pedagogy must be a collective process that involves utilizing     a dialogical (i.e., Freirean) learning approach.

Second, critical pedagogy has to be critical; that is, it must locate the underlying causes of class exploitation and economic oppression within the     social, political, and economic arrangements of capitalist social relations of production.

Third, …it reconstructs and makes the social world intelligible by transforming and translating theory into concrete social and political activity.

Fourth, critical pedagogy should be participatory. It involves building     coalitions among community members, grassroots movements, church     organizations and labor unions.

Finally, critical pedagogy needs to be a creative process by integrating elements of popular culture (i.e., drama, music, oral history, narratives) as educational tools that can successfully raise the level of political consciousness of students and teachers. (McLaren and Farahmandpur, 2005: 9). (17)

Radical Left Principles for Education Systems

It is important to develop schools and education systems with the following characteristics (18)
·    to level up education workers’ pay, rights and securities rather than level down to a lowest common denominator. This applies both within countries and globally.
·    to widen access to good quality education (by increasing its availability within countries and globally. Widening access to under-represented and under-achieving groups, can, with positive action and support, play a part in reducing educational inequalities between groups).
·    to secure vastly increased equality of educational outcomes.
·    to organise comprehensive provision (i.e. comprehensive, non-selective schooling with no private or selective or religiously exclusive provision of schooling).
·    to retain and enhance local and national democratic control over schooling and education democratic community control over education.
·    to use the local and national state to achieve an economically just (defined as egalitarian), anti-discriminatory society, rather than simply an inegalitarian meritocratic focus on equal opportunities to get to very unequal outcomes.
·    to recognise and seek to improve education systems that are dedicated to education for wider individual and social purposes than the production of hierarchicalised, ideologically quiescent and compliant workers and consumers in a neliberal/ liberalized world.

7. Arenas for Resistance

This is, as ever, subject to resistance and the balance of class forces (itself related to developing levels of class consciousness, political consciousness and political organisation and leadership). Resistance is possible, and will, inevitably grow. Demonstrations, strikes, anger, outrage at cuts, will increase, perhaps dramatically, in the coming period. To repeat, to be successful instead of inchoate, such anger and political activism needs to be focussed, and organised. In such circumstances, the forces of the Marxist Left in countries across the globe need to put aside decades old enmities, doctrinal, organisation and strategic disputes. As Hearse (2009) notes,

The left cannot adopt a spontaneist, wait and see attitude, hoping for a working class upsurge and the appearance by some magical process of a broad left alternative. Class politics, of the kind provided by Respect, aids the development of class consciousness and trade union struggle.

Of course, regroupment by itself just organises current activists and supporters. Regroupment needs to be followed by, accompanied by recruitment. At this particular moment in the crisis of capital accumulation and the actual and potential for loosening the chains of ideology/ false consciousness promulgated by knowledge workers in the (witting or unwitting) service of Capital.

Through well organised and focused non-sectarian campaigns organised around class and anti-capitalist issues (19), those committed to economic and social equality and justice and environmental sustainability can work towards local, national and international campaigns, towards an understanding that we are part of a massive force – the force of the international – and growing – (see Harman, 2002; Hill, 2003, Hearse, 2009) (20) working class – with a shared understanding that, at the current time, it is the global neo-liberal form of capitalism-  indeed, Capitalism itself –  that shatters the lives, bodies and dreams of billions.  And that it can be replaced.


1. Wade notes that ‘the rate of profit of non-financial corporations fell steeply between 1950-73 and 2000-06 – in the US, by roughly a quarter. In response firms ‘invested’ increasingly in financial speculation (2008: 11)’.

2. Hearse (2009) continues,

The facts are astounding. Contrary to the delusions of the free-market fundamentalists, the Thatcher/Reagan revolution has come at a great cost to the working and middle classes. In the US, the top one per cent have seen a 78 per cent increase in their share of national income since 1979 with the bottom 80 per cent of the population experiencing a 15 per cent fall.

3. See Gillborn and Mirza, 2000; Hill, 2008 on (racialised and gendered) social class inequalities in income, wealth and educational attainment in England and Wales- and how much inequality has increased in Britain since 1979. See Harris, 2007, for a critique of the super-rich, ‘Richistan’ in the USA.

4. See, for example, Gillborn and Youdell, 2000; Hill, 2006a; Lewis, Hill and Fawcett, 2009.

5. See also Grieshaber-Otto and Sanger, 2002; Rikowski, 2001a, 2003; Hill and Kumar, 2009; Verger and Bonal, 2009; Devidal, 2009).

6. See, e.g. Levidow, 2002; Giroux, 2002, 2003.

7. See, for example, Hill, 2001, 2005b, 2007.

8. See Hill, 2005a; Hill and Boxley (2007) for a socialist programme for education policy

9. See Rikowski, e.g. 2001, and his website at

10. See Cole and Hill, 2002; McLaren and Scatamburlo-D’Annibale, 2004, Kelsh and Hill, 2006a; Greaves, Hill and Maisuria, 2007; Hill, 2008.

11. For Marxist critiques of postmodernism in education, see, for example; Cole et al, 2001; Hill et al, 2002; Cole, 2004; 2008; Rikowski et al, 1997. For Marxist critiques of postmodern theory in general, see Callinicos, 1989; Eagleton, 1996.

12. See Althusser, 1971; Hill, 1989; 2001a, 2004, 2005b.

13. See: Hatcher, 2001; Hill 2001c, 2004a, b.

14. See Hill 2004, 2005a; Hill and Kumar, 2009; Schugurensky and Davidson-Harden, 2003, 2009.

15. For Left critiques of New Labour education policy in Britain, see Hill, 2006b, 2007; Jones, 2003; Tomlinson, 2004.

16. This must not be seen as an ad hominem/ personal attack on Michael W. Apple, the most influential of all radical left USA educational critics, in his analysis of the relationship between capitalism and education. See, for example, Apple, 2004. His attacks on classical Marxists, and revolutionary Marxism, are contained, for example, in Apple, 2005, 2006. But he is a left reformist. For critiques of his work, see Kelsh and Hill, 2006; Rikowski, 2006.

17. In Capitalists and Conquerors: a Critical pedagogy Against Empire (2005), McLaren develops this. See, also, McLaren, 2001, 2005; McLaren and Farahmandpur, 2001, 2005; Hill, 2009c.

18. See Hill, 2002b, Hillcole Group, 1991, 1997; Hill and Boxley, 2007).

19. Harman (2002) suggests that

what matters now is for this (new) generation (of activists) to connect with the great mass of ordinary workers who as well as suffering under the system have the collective strength to fight it (p.40)

Moody (2002) concurs- ‘By itself, and despite its ability to breach police lines, this ‘movement of movements’ lacks the social weight to carry out the very task it has set itself- the dismantling of the mechanisms of capitalist globalisation (p.293).

20. As Hearse (2009) notes,

Socialism is not inevitable but only the working class can develop the consciousness and organisation to bring it about. That certainty remains at the heart of socialist strategy and tactics.


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