Students as Positive Proletarian Actors (Fresh marxist analysis of student movement)

In light of Tuesdays announcement of a 20% increase in CSU stuent fees, we

Students resisting CSU fee increase at Trustee meeting in Long Beachfelt it’d be appropriate to post some original writing on the role of the student movement. Is it a middle class movement as some have argued? Or is it part of the struggle against capitalism?

For what seems like the past decade, California students have been taking busses to Sacramento to lobby legislators to stop gutting and gentrifying university education. These efforts have been spearheaded by organizations like the faculty union CFA and student government officials (ASI) from various schools.

These efforts have achieved very little in terms of battling against Sacramento’s cuts.

While there have been glimmers of more confrontational, militant resistance coming from groups like SUP in San Francisco, and similar organizations at other campuses, they have not spread throughout universities or gained enough of a foothold at their campuses in order to challenge their local administrations and the power structure in Sacramento yet.

With this in mind, check out Esteban’s analysis of the relation between students and the class struggle. In light of the most recent failure to stop pushing out working class students of color from the university system, we should take a moment to re-consider our strategies and perspectives on what a student movement is.


Students as Positive Proletarian Actors


students are workers. the logical implication of that fact is that students should organize as workers and with the rest of the working class. i think the success of a working class movement (ultimately culminating in total victory, ie, socialism) is largely based upon the extent to which students/intellectuals facilitate the process of workers becoming students/intellectuals. this seemingly obvious and simple fact is neglected by the great majority of established campus organizations including socialist and ethnic ones – both of which are products of the last round of historically relevant student struggle in the era of the “new left.” students have a crucial role in developing the class struggle, but those who fetishize workers in terms of some one dimensional blue collar fantasy as well as those who sideline class (let alone class struggle) in favor of cultural, national or other ascribed identities refuse to see this fact. this is a huge opportunity that is being thrown away and the working class as a whole suffers for it. below are some thoughts on how students can be positive proletarian actors.


the attack on public education is just one facet, one symptom, of the capitalist crisis in this acute stage. to defend public education requires a fight on every front of the class war, and thus requires broad class unity. although broad proletarian unity is always needed, the crisis provides a material basis for realization. students must see themselves as part of the proletariat, right along with the day laborer, the single mother on welfare, and the auto worker. together they must launch a coordinated attack against capital – a revolution. of course this is a long and painful process that goes through ups and downs, and hasn’t even really begun yet. we have a lot of catching up to do, but once students see their true role in society as workers and potential actors on the historical stage clearly, they have taken the first step toward defending their immediate interest (public education) as well as having taken the first step toward the socialist revolution which is the only thing that can crystalize in the long term those same material interests. once the identification of the student with the worker has been realized, they have to begin to organize and resist.

what does organizing along these lines mean? the traditional reformist way of “organizing” for students is the ritualistic signing of petitions and politely taking afl-cio provided buses to an annual convergence on sacramento to do charade lobbying sessions with congress people. oh yes and of course the conventions and conferences where they get together with all the branches of their organization from across the country and shmooze, playacting a fantasy future as middle level manager or state employed bureaucrat. this is bullshit and must cease. this is the time for proletarian resistance, not middle class opportunism.

real student resistance means first of all taking ownership of their education, putting their analytical and writing and computer skills to use for the working class movement (which is non-existent and thus has to be created). they should make propaganda that is relevant to the wide and diverse sections of the working class and disseminate it (in print on the street and on the internet and any other way possible). students should fiercely protect the freedoms that exist in campus environments and use the somewhat unique campus atmosphere to demonstrate what militant resistance looks like. not conferences, potlucks, anti-coca-cola petitions but walk-outs, marches, blockades, occupations, student strikes, etc.

these militant actions have to be taken off the campus (or to campus workers like food service and janitorial staff) so that other workers can see the possibilities in action. students should walk out and go to the street for massive outreach, calling on everyone to strike and shutting down streets or whatever else along the way. realistically, nobody will go on strike just because some crazy students tell them to, but it will plant a seed and can crack the fear, which are first steps to building organic networks and organizations that can make strikes happen.

students should also do consistent work in the community even if its just propaganda. the biggest asset students have to offer the working class is being more highly literate than most other workers. they should use their literacy to study – hard – the movements of the past. once they have some good ideas about the pluses and minuses of those movements and know generally what is needed today, they need to start sharing that perspective with the working class. “sharing” is actually a way of testing their theory too, because if workers reject a theory that probably says something about either the content of the theory or the form in which is being delivered. study, present, test, reflect, and through every cycle, recruit working class people into the process that it becomes more and more of an organic product of the working class itself, rather than staying in the abstract loop that academia trains students to operate within.

students have to prioritize the spread of those literacy skills because its not beneficial for the proletariat to be functionally illiterate and (mis)led by a “vanguard” intelligentsia layer (wassup Stalinists). none but the proletariat can liberate itself, and this liberation requires literacy and intellectual development which the bourgeoisie has denied us with their stupid ass media and fucked up educational system. this is the concept of ‘organic intellectuals’ in action, unleashed from a classroom where ethnic studies and sociology teachers love to quote gramsci yet shy away from the street and real struggle. thats intellectual alright, but it isnt organically connected to the proletariat (as per what gramsci actually says).

beyond theory, student militants’ eyes should be open for individuals in the community and at workplaces who want to struggle against their conditions and the students should provide some vehicle for them to do so; not as a vanguard party that concocts perfect plans and to whom workers must subordinate themselves, but as a partner who has some unique skills to offer; not as a substitute for other workers in the community, but as a conduit that facilitates communication between workers and casts some analytical light on the situation from a broader perspective than most working class people have been exposed to. the point is for students to rebel and to spread the rebellion, infusing it with perspective that hopefully students will have gained by independent study of radical histories and theories. their literacy skills can thus be put to best use in action.

just as students are workers, workers must also become students. students can both learn and teach by participating in working class struggle, and making a conscious project of intellectual development (their own intellectual development as n individual and that of the working class to which they belong). i call this perspective of reciprocal learning between intellectuals and non-intellectuals mediated through class struggle and organized in a professional and revolutionary manner, “freireian-leninism.” dont steal the term . . . it will be famous one day.

all of the suggestions above imply the existence of student organizations, but consistent with the assertion that students are proper members of the working class, these organizations have to go beyond student status and assume a proletarian character. really an organization open to all serious militants with a proletarian class consciousness is what im talking about, but of course every organization starts from a particular social milieu and is flavored/biased by it; students will produce a student flavored working class organization. ultimately, though the goal should be overpower that particular flavor with a generalized proletarian character that comes from inclusion of broad sections of the class. thats a far way off, and we are looking here at the role of students in particular in building organizations that can move the struggle forward.

such an organization does not exist despite the many claims that are made to that effect. the Communist Party certainly is not such an organization, as was illustrated perhaps most graphically in the role they played in France ’68 when one of the measures they employed in order to dampen worker militancy (expressed organically through wildcat strikes in the auto industry – hint hint, US worker) was to divorce the radical student movement from the proletarian insurgency. most communist (small c, including maoist and trotskyist) organizations actually have no base in the working class and just sell newspapers, so im not just trying to pick on the stalinists. none of them embrace students as workers, or effectively make students of workers (that is, provide them the tools for independent reflection and analysis – at most they indoctrinate with dogma, which is NOT synonymous with making someone a student).

as far as existing student organizations go, none of the big name ones are of the character im talking about. mecha, bsu and the like (although they vary significantly campus to campus and some chapters are more active and more radical than others) in general ascribe to middle class illusions and function more like “greek” organizations of an ethnic type than as vehicles for militant activity. most students see these as social networking opportunities to make friends, party, and get contacts for good jobs when they graduate, all within the context of an outer shell of cultural pride and exploiting a tradition of militancy hasnt been refreshed through major struggle for 4 decades. this is tired. the main marxist student organization is the ISO and although it presents a decent analysis in its many forums and movie showings and meetings, participates little in organizing concrete resistance and has the main focus of selling newspapers. their mainly privileged membership interacts little with the working class in anything other than uni-directional ways (selling workers papers, volunteering as union bureaucracy proxies to tell union members what the misleading sell out bureaucrats tell them, etc).

i know that at San Francisco State University, there is a militant student group that has organized a couple of good walkouts, protests, and stuff. They are called Student Unity and Power (SUP), and last year they were known as Fight the Fees (the change in name signals an evolution in consciousness from the purely economic to a more political character, which is good). This past March 12th they organized a march of about 300 students about 2 miles to the community college called City College of San Francisco with the aim of breaking down fake campus boundaries. they shut down major streets along the way. the past two years they have walked out on May 1st to go to the main pro-immigrant demo and shut down streets along way, arriving with big numbers and usually infusing a militant spirit to the otherwise drab march. their propaganda and flyers are very conscious and scorn the official labor movement. they are anti-capitalist, multi-racial, gender balanced and working class.

as groups like these (innovative, class conscious, free from baggage of the past) develop and grow, the tired cultural nationalism and the fake marxism which pass for student activism on most campuses will be swept aside. knowing that groups like SUP could render their claim to radicalism redundant, both the fake marxists and the stale cultural nationalists tend to talk shit and sabotage them (calling them “white” organizations from the one side, and “identity politics” from the other, just because they are multi-racial and class conscious) rather than recognize their vitality and join forces. in that sense you can see their reactionary potentialities, and the time will come when the battle for hegemony, a confrontation between the new radical forces and the old crustified ones, will be fought out. before the Black Panthers was founded Huey was a student and used to go around debating all the radical groups on campus and smash on them. the clarity of thought he achieved in this process unleashed his genius to be applied in action, in the community amongst the proletariat. now it is time in the US for a similar reckoning with a similarly restrictive past (now it is the vestiges of the “new left” rather than the vestiges of the old, but the dynamic is parallel). we have to debate the old guard and build fresh organizational vehicles. the afl-cio is stale and proves itself useless in the face of crisis, and i think there’s a corallary with student organizations. its time to re-organize our thought and action to connect organically with the mood of the masses and provide a way for them to magnify their discontent with reality and channel their dreams of alternatives. when that happens new 1960s type interventions can emanate from the student strata of the proletariat and new Huey P. Newtons can be born. new IWW’s and new BPP’s can offer us outlets toward the socialist future the proletariat subconsciously yearns for. we can smash the widespread frustrations and emancipate the necessary actions.

23 responses to “Students as Positive Proletarian Actors (Fresh marxist analysis of student movement)

  1. Brother! I couldn’t agree more with your analysis. And this in particular, is something that we all need to look upon, exercise all the teaching of the now aday but more important the teaching of the fallen cadre, whose leggacy still lives on. We need to live up to this lesson, make them better implement them in order to for the organization of profesional revolutionaries that today’s injustice calls upon. This capitalist putos are playing with fire, and is only a matter of time when they gon get burned by the fiery forces of the waken prolettiat.

    We need to look beyond our differences, because this is only diving us in the same cause. I will keep encouraging the strong critique of this so call vanguard organization, with the the intention and encouragement that these orgs can take upon what is said to improve and strengthing there appraoch to bang on the sytem harder.

    The bourgouisie is not gonna, let off their guard. Therefore with now aday conditions their not leaving us any option, but to take the system by the throat and not letting go. This is something with should of done a long time ago.

  2. So I read this at least three times, struggling hard to find an argument in it all – and quite honestly there isn’t one besides a sort of boastful rhetoric about the “implications” of it.

    Students are Workers? Why and How?

    What are students relations to the means of production? Are students, as workers, therefore exploited?

    There seems to me two claims to me that can be that seem legitimate –

    1) Most students come form working class families and communities and are therefore working class in this respect. A lot of these students – especiallyin public universities and community colleges – are also part-time workers.

    2) The majority of students are going to be entering sections of the working class.

    But all these arguments have the same basic qualifier, there is nothing in being a student that makes one a worker – because the actuality of this strata has little to do in relation to the means of production, besides potentiality. So if you’re going to make an argument from these basic insights that “students are workers,” you’re merely just utilizing a type of rhetoric that has little to no basis as fact.

    A third argument is usually made that students are workers, and they perform intellectual work – this is especially an argument that is made about graduate students, there are some insights that maybe valuable in that – but largely that argument misses certain other important points.

    Anyway here is the basic point – I don’t see in anyway the claim that “students are workers” is actually true, and in fact that type of rhetoric misses a lot of ways which students aren’t workers and their relation to the struggle for the liberation of all of humanity has a different character.

    In fact, Esteban hits this somewhat, but he misses one important point – students goign to the communities, to the working class, and becoming an intellectual component in any pedagogical process is actually an event which Cabral calls “class suicide.” This doesn’t occur because students are workers, but because students take up revolutionary politics.

    • this doesnt sound like an argument to you?

      “as far as existing student organizations go, none of the big name ones are of the character im talking about. mecha, bsu and the like (although they vary significantly campus to campus and some chapters are more active and more radical than others) in general ascribe to middle class illusions and function more like “greek” organizations of an ethnic type than as vehicles for militant activity. ”


      “all of the suggestions above imply the existence of student organizations, but consistent with the assertion that students are proper members of the working class, these organizations have to go beyond student status and assume a proletarian character.”

      whats wrong with you that you cant even acknowledge an argument when you see one? if anything, you are the boastful one, pretending that your argument has original basis, refusing to recognize that I introduced the premise.

      your egotism aside, lets talk about my argument and your weak alternative.

      in contrast to my theory of students as proletarians, you posit them as middle class. in contrast to my assertion that they should fight for their own proletarian interests on and off the campus, you say students should commit class suicide.

      if i made it seem like ALL students are proletarians, i take that back. im rooting my analysis in the third- and second-tiers of the public higher education system in california: junior colleges and state universities. both are comprised of i would estimate 80% working class students, which is partially reflected in the population being 50%+ students of color, mostly women. most of them have paying jobs concurrently with their studies. all of them, i would argue are doing unpaid work for the capitalist class. the minority of the students in this context that are petite bourgeois, i agree, should use their privilege to empower the proletariat. if this is “suicidal” so be it, but i dont see it that way and i dont use that term. regardless, these students are the minority and im not interested in privileging them further by developing a strategy for how they might commit “suicide.” being a communist, im interested in proletarian students and what they can do to empower their class and breath LIFE into it, not death.

      what makes students proletarian? their work consists in adding value to labor-power, making labor-power more productive, and its employment by capital more profitable. this work is mostly done by students themselves, which means that their relationship to the means of production is to put their labor into the production of the commodity labor-power, all within a taylorist factory setting. like most wives, girlfriends, and single moms, as well as welfare/social security recipients and prisoners, students do unpaid labor but are workers nonetheless. get it? maybe if students got paid for this work, you would see it more clearly.

      in fact, i think students should demand pay for their work, their studies, since the labor-power they thusly add value to ends up in the hands of a capitalist eventually and is NEVER fully remunerated. this could be a working class demand consistent with a general demand for jobs creation. paying students is recognizing the value they create, and is in that sense parrallel to the demand that parents (mothers) get paid, or amnesty for immigrants. there are a lot of demands that pertain to students that are pertinent to the non-student sections of the working class as well. for example, opening schools to everyone regardless of legal status. there are also many demands that are most relevant to non-student workers but should also matter to students, such as ending the wars and closing prisons. arguments made on behalf of both the anti-war and prison abolition movements generally refer to using the resources for productive rather than destructive ends, and schools are posited as the alternative.

      but im not big on reforms and by “proletarian” i hope the so-called communists out there would understand “revolutionary,” since the proletarian interest lies fundamentally in a society we run and in which capital is abolished. reformist demands are a means to end, but one of the things a revolutionary program must do is unite the different sections of the working class despite their contradictions into a common project. that means students becoming positive proletarian actors by getting off the campus into communities and workplaces and spreading their skills to the working class in order to develop organic proletarian intellectuals. you are saying students AS STUDENTS are middle class (because they own intellectual capital? who knows, you dont say) and therefore have to commit class suicide (by dropping out and giving up their “capital”? you dont say).

      your proletarian blindspot severely handicaps your communism, in practice im sure it renders you impotent.

      the argument you missed after three readings (!) is this: there is a material basis for unity of interests between the student section of the proletariat and the non-student. if anything, this so blatantly obvious it hardly merits mention. but you somehow find a way to disagree. you do so by centering on the petite bourgeois student of whom many have proven to be capable of becoming revolutionaries by “committing class suicide.” the implications of my essay are that middle class dont take the lead, they follow the lead of a proletarian cadre.

      this is how communism should be done, emanating from below. proletarians have to be seen as the principle actors, not petite bourgeois, although exceptional petite bourgeois can join a proletarian organization (defined as proletarian by its composition, its style in action, its ideology, and its program).

      • What the concept from Cabral (as well as Mao in Talks at the Yenan Forum) recognizes is that there is an ideological struggle that needs to take place in order for students to identify with the interests of the working class. This includes students who come from working-class backgrounds and those who hold down a job (or more than one job) through their schooling, not just students from bourgeois and petty-bourgeois backgrounds.

        Anyone who has done any organizing at a public college or university will know that there is resistance among students to the argument that they should use their education to serve the people. Many see their education, and all of the work and sacrifices they and their parents have put into paying for it, as a way to get out of the working class. Simply saying that students are workers and, therefore, there is a “material basis” for unity between student workers and non-student workers doesn’t solve this problem.

        Do students see this material basis? If not, why not? Is their failure to see this material basis really caused by the failure of campus organizations to tell them to identify as workers? This is just another sort of identity politics, with its focus on being instead of consciousness. All talk of “material basis” separated from consciousness, presupposing a consciousness that exists outside of matter, is idealism.

        BTW, Gramsci wrote of the need to both develop organic intellectuals from the working class AND to win “traditional” intellectuals to the cause of the working class. It’s a significant oversimplification of his views to say that only the first is needed. The latter is implicit in the term “organic.”

  3. as someone who casually walked into student organizing not more than a year ago, I agree with the basic premises of this well-written piece. good job esteban.

    as a member of student unity and power (sup), from the beginning, when that group didn’t even have a name, i noticed the differences that drew me into it. as a new and real alternative to organizing around issues such as rising student fees and faculty/staff layoffs, the group quickly voiced its desire for militant action as the only real way to achieve its goals. this was a sharp distinction to the other groups who, aligned with the CFA faculty union, solely depended on campus rallies and e-mail/letter-writing campaigns. a key detail is the groups horizontality, as there are no official leaders or any hierarchy, just committed members.

    another interesting detail is the political perspective of the group, which recognized that the attacks on education were part of a broader attack on the working-class, and that excuses such as crises and recessions were in reality masking the privatization of the education under neo-liberalism.

    as this is a relatively new group, it has had its difficulties but also its successes. and as the times are ripe for increased student militancy, i can only say that a group like this will be really important in agitating the whole student body into organized action. the group is not only interested in actions such as walkouts to other campuses and campus rallies, it also recognizes the importance of theoretical development within its members. we have held weekly reading circles studying past student movements like France ’68, the 1968 SFState strike, and UNAM ’99. the study of these movements will be surely useful when the fall semester of organizing comes around.

  4. By the way – Frierian-Leninism was already a thought called Maoism 😛 – check out

  5. Students ARE workers, but I agree this needs some argumentation.

    It’s true that some students work or come from working-class families, but that means they are working-class people who happen to be students. Like STP said, those are almost coincedences and unrelated to the studentworker connection. It’s true that some students “perform intellectual work”, but I agree that it’s mostly grad students who are basically apprentice academics/researchers as well as being students. Most students produce nothing material while they are students……

    Check out this quote from the Selma James piece A/S posted a while ago:

    “The least powerful in the society are our children, also unwaged in a wage labour society. They were once (and in tribal society for example still are) accepted as an integral part of the productive activity of the community. The work they did was part of the total social labour and was acknowledged as such. Where capital is extending or has extended its rule, children are taken away from others in the community and forced to go to schools, against which the number of rebels is growing daily. Is their powerlessness a class question? Is their struggle against school the class struggle? We believe it is. Schools are institutions organized by capital to achieve its purpose through and against the child.

    Capital . . . sent them to school not only because they are in the way of others’ more “productive” labour or only to indoctrinate them. The rule of capital through the wage compels every ablebodied person to function, under the law of division of labour, and to function in ways that are if not immediately, then ultimately profitable to the expansion and extension of the rule of capital. That, fundamentally, is the meaning of school. Where children are concerned, their labour appears to be learning for their own benefit. (p. 28)
    So here are two sections of the working class whose activities, one in the home, the other in the school, appear to be outside of the capitalist wage labour relation because the workers themselves are wageless. In reality, their activities are facets of capitalist production and its division of labour.

    One, housewives, are involved in the production and (what is the same thing) reproduction of workers, what Marx calls labour power. They service those who are daily destroyed by working for wages and who need to be daily renewed; and they care for and discipline those who are being prepared to work when they grow up.

    The other, children, are those who from birth are the objects of this care and discipline, who are trained in homes, in schools and in front of the telly to be future workers. But this has two aspects.

    In the first place, for labour power to be reproduced in the form of children, these children must be coerced into accepting discipline and especially the discipline of working, of being exploited in order to be able to eat. In addition, however, they must be disciplined and trained to perform a certain kind of work. The labour that capital wants done is divided and each category parceled out internationally as the life work, the destiny, the identity of specific sets of workers. The phrase often used to describe this is the international division of labour. We will say more of this later, but for now let the West Indian mother of a seven-year-old sum up her son’s education with precision: “They’re choosing the street sweepers now.”

    Did you read it?

    She says it better than I can, but one aspect I’ll add: students ARE in a way doing productive work, it’s just that the end production is in the future. i.e. the difference between the surplus value produced in an hour of unskilled labor, and that produced in an hour of skilled labor is surplus value created by schooling! The vehicle of its transmission from past to present is the maintenance of those skills…..basically skills in the mind of a worker is like any other productive machinery i.e. automatic sewing machine. Students, like builders of automatic sewing machines, are engaged in the production of fixed capital that will enhance the productive power of their own future labor power.

    I agree that students, like housewives, have a definitely different place in the productive chain than steel workers or peasants; this needs to be taken into account. But y’know, like James says, just ’cause people don’t get a check from the man doesn’t mean they don’t have a part in the capitalist division of labor.

  6. Esteban, before you get mad and nasty, I said you failed to make an argument in your piece that students are workers – that’s absolutely true, there is no argument of the kind you make in these comment section.

    Other arguments aside about what othere sections of the Left do in relation to students, quite frankly I don’t care quite honestly, the piece promises to tell us why students asre workers and it fails – it just states it.

    On the argument you’re making here, let’s just focus on the main question – students as workers – whether or not their education prepares them for the workforce by adding value to their labor is not an actual main question in understanding what a student is. We have to ask what are their relation to the means of production, first and foremost.

    Its a question of what is the universal concrete meaning of student as a category, positing questions of the future class position of students is entirely speculative.

    is it true that students will be workers and that their education adds value to their labor? I would concede that this is partially true for what are already the most proletarianized section of students in state universities. But in fact there will be sections of students that will become managers of the system, its enforcers, and its winners – ands I don’t think that is simply 1% of them.

    Also our education adds value? Yes absolutely for the majority of students, but what about women and ethnic studies programs which have historically been the center of struggle – continually they face cut because they’re not necessarily “adding value” to our labor, and we fight for them not on that basis, but because of their historical importance in creating organic intellectuals, etc.

    As any liberal arts major will point out – from theatre to women’s studies, adding value to their labor maybe the least their concerns.

    On the second comment, we shouldn’t confuse domestic work with ideological reproduction. There is a distinction. They both reproduces the means of reproduction, but in different senses. Domestic work reproduces the means of production by giving the conditions for life itself whereas ideological reproduction deals with the relm of ideas.

    Ill comment more later, but middle in my jersey shore vacation 🙂

  7. Yo, read the whole comment! I in no way “confuse domestic work with ideological reproduction”. Check it out:

    “So here are two sections of the working class whose activities, one in the home, the other in the school

    I agree that there are exceptions to the students-as-value-creators generality: managers are definitely trained by colleges, as are the children of the bourgeoisie. It’s also true that women’s and ethnic studies’ programs do not add value to future work (although they do often train people to function in the non-profit industrial complex, which aids in the reproduction of labor….).
    This is exactly why their funding is always cut first, and also why shutting them down will usually be reactionary.

    You’re right STP, we need to be more specific: city colleges and state schools function almost exclusively to train future productive workers. UCs and ivy leagues generally train the bourgeoisie or petite-bs. But you agree that most students ARE workers with the above exceptions…..

    “On the argument you’re making here, let’s just focus on the main question – students as workers – whether or not their education prepares them for the workforce by adding value to their labor is not an actual main question in understanding what a student is. We have to ask what are their relation to the means of production, first and foremost.”

    That is exactly what we’re talking about! Marx identifies all value as being basically “crystallized labor-power”; so if students are adding value, as you agree, they’re engaged in production of surplus value….so aren’t they workers? We’re talking about WHO is a worker: are housewives workers even though they engage in reproduction of labor not production? The James article provides a useful framework for thinking about the international capitalist division of labor, in which students have a few different roles but the MAJORITY are being trained to be skilled workers, and so producing value.

    STP: I appreciate your devil’s advocate role around here, and if you would read what other people write closely we could get to the point faster instead of clarifying all the time.

    • Cool Fish,

      So let me take you on some points so I can clarify my thought here and we go maybe a little bit deeper than this. Let me make clear, I didn’t say I think the majority of students are workers, I said a majority of them are in the working class and will be joining different sections of the working class after their time is over – or in as in many public universities, you drop out because you can’t wait for your dime later (that reality should also be taken into account many working class people, the majority in NYC, never actually finish school and are taken out from the college process.) Ok so this is point 1 of my argument then – students are in a transitional period abstracted from the relations of production.

      Those exceptions we were speaking about usually means college is also formative to the development of the reproduction of the political apparatus and as well as (for us) organic intellectuals – who are usually coming out of liberal arts persuits, especially national-ethnic and women’s studies. And all students at some level are going to go through this process at even the maximum distance – if you’re doing acxcounting, you still need your humaninities GER. So there is always possibility of contamination at some level.

      There is also the relative ability for actually freedom to engage in ideas in the campus community through all sorts of mediums.

      Anyway let’s get into this question of ideological reproduction – first how much of this work are most students engaged in? I would say relatively little if any at all. This work presumably would only be engaged in by, I am guessing, less than half of students because this only liberal arts peeps we’re talking about herew that will begin to engage in this work. Apart from that, is it even true they’re doing this work? Not really at all, they maybe through their own readings and reasoning out their positions in relation to their education beginning to skill themselves for this type of intellectual work in the future, but no one is hardly quoting their 10 page papers at this stage, and it surely isn’t finding any currency in the public or academia besides their classroom (grad students are different, a little bit, of course).

      So I don’t even think students are engaged in this work.

      On ideological reproductive work, I don’t actually see this labor as exploited labor – just as I don’t see executive officer labor or police labor as exploited labor as well. I think these types of labor rely upon the surplus of exploited labor, since the labor process that realizes surplus is mediated through many different performances in relation to the means of production – i.e. CEOs’, police, and verso writers are not being exploited.

      I don’t think Marx saw this type of work as exploited too, obvious from his absolute disdain of most chairs of philosophy in Germany. In fact his language is always descriptive to them being near a kind of wizardry that produces ideology as opposed to science.

      Whether or not Marx was right is not important as much as we posit different forms of labor which are abstracted from the immediate labor process.

      What the difference between domestic labor and ideological reproductive work is in the fact that domestic labor IS already very immediately being exploited because the family unit, as Engels pointed out, is already the very basic unit of economic life – so not only are working people being paid for their labor but to be able to reproduce their labor (maintain life), reproduction of these conditions has traditionally been performed by women in the division of labor amongst the family. So the labor of domestic work is immediately exploited from what I see.

  8. @Boris, STP:

    I don’t know what it is (maybe the ideological shackles of maoism? which we’ll get into later) but y’all both seem to miss what the point of this written piece is: an argument for the identity of the student movement with the revolutionary working class movement.

    To say that this ignores the role of ideology in pursuit of common material interests is a strawman. This essay is an example of ideological struggle for building a proletarian bloc between students & workers (if i may schematically separate the two in order to make this simple point.)

    Boris states: “All talk of “material basis” separated from consciousness, presupposing a consciousness that exists outside of matter, is idealism”

    This exactly misses the point that all of this “talk” about material basis of solidarity between students & workers is focusing directly on the consciousness of people involved in the student movement.

    It’s very telling that Carlitos’ point about the work that SUP has done in developing a revolutionary proletarian consciousness within the student movement has been absolutely ignored by y’all in favor of reifying a dichotomous relationship between “consciousness” and “material interests.”

    • Yo really? “Ideological shackles of Maoism?” Talk about actually straightjacketing politics, and that is real bullshit. I was around a group of people, declared maoists, who did actually have that line – so this ain’t one ism against another.

      Its also not about the work of SUP! I mean you can’t put up this article which is expressed as a “fresh analysis” about students as workers and then want us to be limited our discussion around SUP, yeah its experiences are important, but they’re not the only to exist about this question – just few points on that, CSWA had a huge turnout of mostly Columbia University students in taking over a restaraunt under picket, over a 100 students participated and because of the insistence of the line that “students are workers” they actually lost most of them, because they weren’t workers…this was Columbia! The students joined in the basis of solidarity with workers on a political basis that saw the importance of worker’s struggle, not because they identified with it.

      CUNY has its own long history on that tract, I won’t go into, but all I am trying to point here is that there is different strokes for different folks whatever line their dishing out, sometimes its a matter of method and that’s probably more important than the details of this particular theoretical line – maybe “frierian-leninism (I.e. the Mass Line) is what is raising consciousness not this line itself. The correctness of this line can’t be judged on SUP’s work, that’s just pragmatism.

  9. boris said:

    “…there is resistance among students to the argument that they should use their education to serve the people.”

    i never said that a material basis for solidarity leads automatically to solidarity itself. only a deterministic dogmatist would assert such a thing. black and brown working class should be united, but they arent. there is ample material reason for them to be. for everyone, there needs to be ideological struggle and a push into action. students and non.

    “Do students see this material basis? If not, why not?”
    these questions should qualify for StP’s pet method of dismissing an argument – calling it “pragmatism” or “empiricism.” that aside, i refer to the freirian concept of concientizao or drawing out a student’s awareness of their situation, which is not filling their heads with new knowledge, but giving their existing knowledge political relevance and active potential. this hasn’t been done enough by student revolutionaries, but those who have been reached are pretty receptive to the material basis. every year for 3 years SFSU has seen walkouts and marches with demands against budget cuts AND against attacks on workers to the tune of 100s if not 1000s of students. the organizing hasnt been good enough, but yes, students do see the material basis. likewise, workers see the material basis for unity when student contingents arrive at May Day protests and the like. dont be so cynical.

    “…“frierian-leninism (I.e. the Mass Line)…”
    mass line and freirian-leninism have much in common due to the dialogical nature of the relationship between vanguard and masses, but i think there are some distinctions, enough at least not to make them identical. chief among them is that freirian-leninism (a term i am not wedded to and use half jokingly) see it as very crucial that the oppressed become intellectuals, whereas the mass line stops at active participation of the masses in the line developed by Party intellectuals. the difference may seem slight, but i think makes all the difference. but enough on this, it requires a post of its own. perhaps it will be the next “fresh analysis” to rattle your dogmatic bones…

    “…sometimes its a matter of method and that’s probably more important than the details of this particular theoretical line…”

    below sounds like he liked the “theoretical line” too . . .


    “another interesting detail is the political perspective of the group, which recognized that the attacks on education were part of a broader attack on the working-class, and that excuses such as crises and recessions were in reality masking the privatization of the education under neo-liberalism.”

    stp, boris, and other so-called maoists who make pretensions at humility but only demonstrate arrogance: listen to the “masses” when they are talking, they often have a clearer grasp of reality even than you traditional intellectual types . . .

    • So let’s go into one thing first about two questions of method of analysis and leadership.

      To begin with analysis – there is a reason I am calling out empiricism or pragmatism, its not because its a tick, its because that is what Big L is fundamentally relying upon in order to articulate why this particular line is correct – and I simply demonstrated with another empirical example how that line also hasn’t worked and received no traction. Its a contrary example to how SUP has seen it “work.”

      So it just shows that this question has to go broader than the example of ones or twos of different types of student organizations. Its a question about being thoroughly scientific and not intellectually lazy.

      This gets us to Mass Line and “Frierian-Leninism.” In fact there is no way, Esteban, you’re general position of why students are workers can merely be an extension of the thoughts of the students themselves – in fact it is a highly theoretically bound position of which you primarily are responsible in formulation of in relation to your understanding of the experiences of the students and their basic thoughts. I actually have no problem with that method, because simply that is one way Mass Line is practiced (of course I am considering here too that this piece was part of a collective process). The problem is in your articulation of “Frierian-Leninism” nearly trys to cut the head off of this process by reducing yourself to a mere conduit of Masses. What this “Frierian-Leninism” is missing is properly its Leninism, and is rather just taking up a form of Luxembourgism and Trotsky’s, even admittingly, Menshevik period criticism of Lenin’s “substitionalism” (meaning replacing the proletariat with the party).

      Lenin speaks AGAINST the line that theory extends directly from the masses in What Is To Be Done? And I just want to quote some excerpts from the second section to show what I think is the Leninist thinking here.

      “The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade-union consciousness

      The theory of Socialism, however, grew out of the philosophic, historical and economic theories that were elaborated by the educated representitives of the propertied classes, the intellectuals. Similarly, in Russia, the theoretical doctrine of Social-Democracy arose quite independently of spontaneous growth of the labor movement; it arose as a natural and inevitable outcome of the development of ideas among the revolutionary intelligentsia..”

      Here is what Lenin had to say on the subject in What Is To Be Done in regards to the Econonmist trend known as Rabocheye Mysl and Rabocheye Dyelo:

      “..the belittling of the role of ‘the conscious element,’ of the role of social-democracy [socialist politics] -my note-, means, whether one likes it or not, growth of bourgeois ideology among the workers.”

      So the Leninism here is that the conscious element, revolutionary leadership, if its taking ideas from the people must play the role as socialist intellectuals to bring out a coherent and revolutionary thought and not merely to be an extension of the working classes’ voice.

      This maybe an interesting point of discussion altogether on its own, since a whole section of the Left has been influenced by Friere’s pedagogy, but often they simply took popular pedagogy into a reformist direction – which honeslty I think even Friere did. So what is the value of Friere altogether from a revolutionary perspective, I know I found some value in his Pedagogy of Oppressed as informing my position on Mass Line, but I don’t think I accept it overal. So where is “Frierian-Leninism?” Even if its some what half joking phrase, it has to say something about what you think Leninism is in regards to Pedagogy – in my opinion I think the “what-is-to-be-donist” position is Leninism and if offers a definite distinction between itself and Friere’s total method, or in other words shouldn’t we have the caution of “not confounding politics with pedagogics”

      P.S. its a bit annoying to hear the attempts of insults, but whatever cuz. Me and my other “traditional intellectual” (I feel like ehcoing “you don’t know me”) will let that slide like oil over water. I really have nothing personal with someone I don’t know from the Bay, its about developing our political thought. So let me be first to be above all that and apologize for using “boastful” to describe what I considered to be rhetoric…I wasn’t trying to inflame the question, but describe it as I saw it.

      Unity-Struggle-Unity if we can.

    • big L and Esteban –

      Esteban wrote: “i never said that a material basis for solidarity leads automatically to solidarity itself. only a deterministic dogmatist would assert such a thing. black and brown working class should be united, but they arent. there is ample material reason for them to be. for everyone, there needs to be ideological struggle and a push into action. students and non.”

      Right, there needs to be ideological struggle. But, viewing this ideological struggle primarily as a problem of what students *identify as* is kind of reductionist. Telling students to identify as workers, as opposed to “cultural, national or other ascribed identities,” as if “worker” is not itself an ascribed identity, does not solve the problem of how to develop students into revolutionaries.

      Developing revolutionary consciousness is not primarily a matter of promoting the correct self-identity (“Students: don’t believe the middle-class illusions of the cultural and nationality clubs, you are workers, you are exploited”), but instead developing among students an understanding of the system through communist agitation, propaganda, and leadership in day-to-day struggles.

      Furthermore, there is no need for students to “see their true role in society as workers” in order to defend their immediate interest in public education. Students in MEChA, BSU, and similar groups can see this interest without identifying as workers. Students simply need to see and defend their interest in public education *as students*, who want to have the best conditions in which to study.

      The opposition the piece creates between petitions and conferences on the one hand and walk-outs and occupations on the other is a bit bizarre. First, identification as a worker doesn’t lead to one set of tactics as opposed to the other. Second, there is a process of escalation in student organizing, where the advanced take the intermediate through a step-by-step experience. The problem with reformists is not that they organize petition-signings, but that they stop at doing more.

      In a way, the analysis in this piece needlessly narrows the consciousness necessary to participate in immediate student struggles (against budget cuts) by imagining this bar of identification as a worker (overlooking allies in these struggles, such as MEChA and BSU). At the same time, the piece over-generalizes on the meaning of revolutionary consciousness by reducing it to identification as a worker.

      Carlitos: “another interesting detail is the political perspective of the group, which recognized that the attacks on education were part of a broader attack on the working-class, and that excuses such as crises and recessions were in reality masking the privatization of the education under neo-liberalism.”

      These things are true. Many of the points the piece makes are true: students should use their skills and university resources to serve the workers’ movement, students should do community work. But, every Left group views attacks on public education in this way (as an attack on the working class) and this is not equivalent to saying that students are workers.

  10. I think that one of the short-circuits in our dialog on here is the definition of what it means to be “a worker.”

    When we (and I’m speaking broadly here, so I’m definitely open to correction/critique) speak of students as workers, it’s actually NOT, as Boris describes, a simple question of static self-identity. It’s not about students thinking in their minds, “gee, I’m a worker after all.” It’s much more about seeing the role in which universities play in the larger picture of political-economic structures which then define the roles that students play in the system.

    If we understand that students are not simply going to the university to study for the sake of developing their abilities to think critically and grow intellectually (as entire societies should be, not just universities) then we may start to see that one of the most fundamental purposes of education under capitalism is to add value to labor-power. This is why there is distinction and differentiation amongst the different strata of public education – community college, CSU, UC. Different types of training for different roles in the political economic machinery of the system.

    Seeing education (and thereby students) through this type of paradigm is what I think we mean when we say that the student movement is not a movement of people “as students” (and as Boris put it above) but a movement of students who are in the process of being socialized into certain roles within the political economy of US capitalism.

    The practical implications of this type of analysis is the importance of drawing from the history of class struggles (in the US and globally) as sources of strategic importance for guiding our own practice.

    The difference between a strategy centered around bus trips to deliver petitions to politicians in Sacramento and a strategy that sees occupations, walkouts, and strikes as most effective, is a difference that actually matters – it’s a difference of class outlook, class strategy and class politics, despite what Boris has said. Of course “the masses” are at different levels of political development, and nobody should be left behind, but we also shouldn’t shy away from challenging and confronting liberal strategies amongst “the intermediate” strata. No favors are done to anyone by ignoring differences in strategy and politics.

    This is, ironically, what Mao meant when he wrote “Combat Liberalism.”

    • Big L’s clarification of the point of this analysis will help us elucidate then these questions.

      Big L’s most important paragraph is this:

      “If we understand that students are not simply going to the university to study for the sake of developing their abilities to think critically and grow intellectually (as entire societies should be, not just universities) then we may start to see that one of the most fundamental purposes of education under capitalism is to add value to labor-power. This is why there is distinction and differentiation amongst the different strata of public education – community college, CSU, UC. Different types of training for different roles in the political economic machinery of the system.”

      In the context of speaking about what it is to be a “worker,” there is nothing within this understanding of the process of education that would make a student an actual worker, and more or less points out to what I was saying that students, as a category, are abstracted from the means of production and are not engaged in its actual activity -with the caveat of course that there are students that are ALREADY workers throughout the public system throughout this country.

      A Marxist understanding of someone who is a worker is someone engaged in the labor process, to be actually performing labor. As “students” we don’t actually do that…so I mean here is why its all open for confusion.

      The argument advanced that students are in a process of “adding value” to their labor-power is both true but confused in trying to pin students as workers. First, it skills people in a particular kind of labor; this kind of skilled labor may take on any type of relationship to the means of production and not necessarily an exploitative relationship. Second, there are particular forms of studies within liberal arts, like ethnic studies and women’s studies, which are not seen by state apparatus as “skilling” labor generally – we can maybe make an argument here that it does, and I can see how it plays out, but the experience of people in these studies is largely that they’re involved in a discipline that is going beyond the labor process.

      In regards to the different structures of public education – community colleges, municipal four years, and state wide universities, etc. It is absolutely true that along these different spots of education exist more or less the division of class along education – I would still hold that overwhelmingly that all public education universities still house working class people. But this is a very superficial glance at first, what about graduation rates? As I pointed out before, the colleges themselves, through very immediate and mediated ways sorts through the students of the working class for who can stay for a continuation of years and who can’t.

      The REAL CUNY Hunter College Graduation Rate is 36% for example. And I believe its something like 44% at SFSU, right? So whats that pointing to? Well actually the majority of working class students are NOT even getting skilled in school, they’re merely being forced to drop out, while the university prepares the rest for more skilled positions.

      So lets get critical here – why does the worker argument seem to fail for me? Because the question of organizing at public education has always been about throwing open the doors to the university to the working class communities around it or in repositing the university within a “right to the city” framework, opening up intellectual space for oppressed people of the city. It doesn’t strike me as – as Esteban put it before in a previous comment – whether or not students are getting “paid” for supposed performed labor. In fact, I don’t find it a “factory” type affair at all, but a liberating setting that opens an incredible opportunity.

      This is why I posited it before more of a practice of class suicide than anything else – in the immediate sense, one can make a very particularly self-interested argument that its better for enrolled students to keep the doors as tight as possible (in fact that set-up is the reason for gentrification of CUNY, as very bright honors students consistently side with an accomodating student government in working with administration for just that purpose so they can get the “college experience”).

      In fact, Big L, I think this position is less liberal than your own since it forces students to actually look beyond what they are to understand the relationship they have with others beyond themselves, its inherently a “decentered” process if you want to call it anything.

  11. im struggling with two tensions in this article– the argument is being made that students should play a partnership role in class struggle off campus, but part of what im hearing in that tone is a repeating assumption that students know something workers do not. students do have access to the means of intellectual production and consciousness, but to the extent that we are alienated from working class existence by the fictitious classless environment of higher education this consciousness is detatched from the actual conditions of struggle. our access to theory is great but is lacks to the extent that it is detatched from practice. as a student interested in working class revolution with a lot of work experience, i am finding this contradiction difficult between revolutionary intellectualism from students and the revolutionary insight and practice rooted in the conditions we face as workers. this student-centered analysis of revolution is inspiring and empowering for working class students, but as a working class person returning to school i am struggling with campus-based leftist organizing’s alienation from struggles actually happening in working class communities. for instance, when SF State students marched from one SF campus to the other we passed right by a community senior center that was also facing budget cuts, and most of us failed to join in solidarity with the K-12 education rally in front of city hall that day, which won back 500 jobs and $54 million in funding from the city. i think the writer’s concept of frierian-lenninism is great but i think workers should be telling students what is to be done rather than the reverse, which does necessitate students showing up to community-based struggles and fighting to keep eduction in the hands of the working class. great article. lots of work to do.

    • “workers should tell students what is to be done rather than the reverse.”

      i agree, but as things are right now, workers in general are at least as lost as students are. and again, i stress that we think of students as a particular type of worker, a section of the working class. we shouldn’t get too falsely dichotomous.

      so what are workers saying that students should listen to? nothing, thats the problem. they havent struggled for so long that perhaps they have forgotten the lessons of the past. radical literature hasnt been marketed toward them for so long that perhaps they have forgotten their place amongst an entire class of billions of people globally…

      whatever the reason, when the BART (bay area train system) workers of ATU local 1555 were about to go on strike, they remained totally silent; they issued zero propaganda to sway the public to sympathize with them even as local corporate media smeared them relentlessly. 1555’s website was blank, it hadnt been updated in 2.5 months. not that they dont have the expertise to run a website – as soon as the union leaders signed a tentative agreement with management, a big red flashing page went up on the site saying “no strike, work as usual. tentative agreement reached!” so thats what workers, or their “leaders” are saying.

      fuck that, if it takes students to use their literacy skills to read up on some history and use their computer skills to make a flyer or a website to push some real class consciousness and solidarity, they must not hold back. in fact its their duty to use their relatively privileged position to advance struggles wherever they can.

      workers should have these skills, this knowledge of history, and class consciousness, but they dont currently have these. how will they attain them? only by those who possess these things currently, sharing them. militant outreach. thats the purpose of the freirean-leninist method i refer to. it doesnt have to flow from students to workers, but it does have to flow from the more advanced more political section of the class to the less. right now, unfortunately, students are pretty much the only section of the class that is consistently upholding socialist (proletarian) politics to any degree. this may be the main reason the left is so weak today.

      in more positive news, the teachers of another bay area school district (United Teachers of Richmond) voted yesterday by a 93% margin approving a strike. they havent decided a date yet and are still in negotiations, but this willingness to fight is more in line of what SUP would want to support, rather than fighting against other social services for crumbs from a “rainy day fund” that is destined for draught (as the k-12 rally that SUP “failed” to attend strove to do).

      hopefully the Richmond teachers dont end up like the BART workers, and hopefully somebody will be promoting the teachers as an example to follow, the vanguard of the local working class. imagine a simultaneous teacher and BART strike. imagine other workers taking the opportunity to follow suit. imagine a general strike in the bay area from richmond in the north to daly city in the south, sf in the west, oakland in the east. students could learn a lot by participating. now ask yourself how such a thing might come to pass, and what role any given section of workers could play in bringing it about. what role can a radical organization play in the process?

      my little essay was not attempting to posit students as the ideal vehicle for revolutionary politics, but it was trying to persuade students to be amongst the working class more and get off the campus and see their conditions as part of a totality rather than in narrow terms.

  12. its a beautiful essay, very inspiring. i hope that energy spreads like a virus during this crisis. im searching for some theory and practice that can bridge that gap from where we are to where we want to be, laughing at myself, sitting in SEIU and CFA meetings wondering at the irony of workers being organized and potentially powerful and not doing shit. what strategies if any are possible to reappropriate that kind of infrastructure for working class revolution? i feel the need to organize within socialist organizations but i dont see any meaningfully involved due to it not being a priority for militants to support. im looking at the new AS global resistance article and wondering how do we get from here to the revolution in our own backyards?

  13. the shit talking part is easy for me, the pointing out why people are getting played by listening to Andy Stern, forms alliances with the bosses, or fails to organize in solidarity beyond their union’s program. at the same time a union with seiu’s organizing territory could shut california down overnight and reopen it under worker’s control just on its own, so to what extent is fucking with them strategic if at all, especially those of us who are union members in shitty unions?

  14. there’s a lot of theories on that question. every socialist group has their position and their strategy with regard to what approach have toward unions.

    i would say that the answer lies in creating informal networks within all workplaces including the unionized ones, and creating nuclei of even just 2 or 3 people who can organize some kind of slow low profile work like putting out anonymous flyers or creating reading groups and movie nights with their coworkers. slowly, the place could be politicized from the bottom up in this fashion.

    being linked to a radical group outside the workplace would be crucial to coordinate this type of slow patient work with similar nuclei in other workplaces and link up with people doing radical stuff in communities and schools too. radicals located in each context should know that they are doing very important work, that they have to maintain their autonomy from hegemonic institutions (unions, churches, nonprofits, etc). thats not to say that they shouldnt be in these institutions – they often provide helpful services – but that they have to see their POLITICAL vehicle and ideology as apart from them. unions churches and nonprofits are only bad insofar as they convince people that revolution is not necessary. but in all these institutions, especially the workplace, it is crucial for radicals to seek people out who you can organize even in a micro way. radicals in all these contexts should also search for comrades outside their narrow sphere to broaden their perspective and the scope of their work.

    maybe you are in a shitty union. maybe you make comments to that effect and have get positive responses from one or two people you work with. go have a beer after work with them and put the topic of the union into the conversation. what do they think about it? study some stuff on the problems of unions (from the left, not right winger bullshit) and break the history down for them, and pass it on to them to read.

    i suggest starting with three books: Teamster’s Rebellion, Detroit I Do Mind Dying, and Let Me Speak.

    these will give you some basic background on how to organize a radical grouping inside a unionized workplace. also read Marx’s Wage Labor and Capital available on for a basic understanding of worker/boss class relations and marxist economics.

    slowly you will develop a small crew of people who understand the reason WHY the union is shitty, who are familiar with things people have done in the past to change that situation, and who can develop a plan to confront the problems you all have. each member – especially you – of your crew has to be able to learn AND to teach, and to do it through dialog AND study.

    and remember that the problems go way deeper than any immediate problem with an asshole manager or new contract that cuts your pay. the problem is capitalism, and all the dehumanizing relationships that come with that (sexism, racism, war, ecological destruction, alienation, etc etc). ultimately, you should organize your nucleus to have revolutionary socialist politics.

    once you have a crew, then you can deal with the question of what to do with it. first you need a crew.

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