academia, sociology & the muddle class


(taken from here, written in 2012; though obviously not sufficient it’s maybe some kind of framework or springboard for developing in relation to current struggles)

In the 18th century in Germany, the University produced about 4000 books on the science of policing (Polizeiwissenschaft). The German academic Von Justi gave the following definition of the police: “Laws and regulations that concern the interior of a state and which endeavor to strengthen and increase the power of this state and make good use of its forces, to procure the happiness of its subjects, in a word, the commerce, finances, agriculture, mining, woods, forests etc., in view of the fact that the happiness of the state depends on the wisdom with which all these things are administered.” (“Grundsatze der Polizei-Wissenschaft”, 1756). And Hohentahl wrote, “I accept the definition of those who call police the set of means that serve the splendour of the entire state and the happiness of all its citizens.” (“Libia de politia”, 1776)18. The University has always been, in some form or another, an institution for producing the ideological justifications, and consequently their material realisation, for the forces of the state, its image of splendour and the “happiness” of the ruling society. It has been as fundamental an aspect of class society as has been the dominant media: a society in which the ruling class speaks to, and tries to convince, itself and society generally in order to ever-perfect its forms of social control. Whilst academia’s differing illusions of “objectivity” and “neutral” acquisition of knowledge have changed and developed, along with its intake, over the centuries, its fundamental prop for this miserable world has always remained. So it should be no surprise that academia has produced more modern and subtler versions of how to preserve hierarchical order in the 21st century, such as the Stott, Drury, and Reicher team mentioned previously.

There will be no more reason to retain the University in a free society than to retain banks, police or supermarkets. The University is, as always, a product and producer of the hierarchical division of labour, and must disappear if we’re ever to free ourselves from the alienations of class society: in the only possible future which does not involve barbarism, education shall be everywhere, the educators shall be educated and those who have specialist knowledge will share this knowledge with whoever they want (and not just in the future, but also now). In the present, with the increasing imposition of debt-inducing fees, in many countries the University’s intellectual specialisation is increasingly open only to the children of the elite, but even where such fees are being successfully resisted, there is no reason to support such an ideology-factory. In manufacturing ideas separate from their social consequences, it is an arm of separate power, of class power. There is no such thing as a Free University, an Open University or a People’s University, any more than there could be such a thing as a Free Bank, an Open Bank or a People’s Bank (or a Free Police, an Open Police or a People’s Police). The abolition of the commodity economy and the abolition of specialised intellect necessary to justify and reinforce it entail the end of both universities and banks. Just as banks are an expression of the mediation of life by value and the relatively arbitary hierarchies it produces, so universities are a symptom of the hierarchy of brain over body, thought divorced from its social consequences, the production of words and insights resulting at best in “interesting ideas”: entertainment or half-truths easily used by our enemies. The experimental testing of desires and ideas and their correction can only take place in daily life and on the terrain of their social results.

That, of course, is a very general critique with which many ultra leftist academics would “agree”, even recuperators like Drury, at least in terms of an abstract “after the revolution” perspective – though not now, as part of the real movement that abolishes the present social order. After all, it was Drury himself who said,“Critical psychologists… appear to have the best of both worlds; we can satisfy some of our own needs as critical people (and be true to our conscience) while at the same time making our living as psychologists – even perhaps getting a decent career out of it…Such a position is part of the problem, not part of the solution…If anything, critical psychology leaches off the “anti-capitalist movement” and all radical activity….Any instrumental functions are themselves premised on the supposed neutrality of academia – i.e. its continued existence as a repository of disinterested knowledge. In other words, the think-tanks and applied scientists rely on a base of ‘useless’ knowledge.” (Annual Review of Critical Psychology, Vol.3). It is the essence of ultra-left academia to develop “critiques”, including “critiques” of themselves, without the slightest bit of practical consequence, thus becoming utterly schizoid in the process. This is the heart and soul of recuperation – the co-optation of subversive theory and practice into a paid career role complicit with the rules of this society, even to the point of being able to articulate such a practically impotent self-”critique” as part of the pretension.

As Red Marriott said in one of the post-Aufhebengate debates on Libcom19: “If one doesn’t try to suppress a critique of specific social function, recuperation and its consequences, one can see that crowd psychology as a specialisation is almost a textbook case of the traditional middle class role of the professional mediating of class relations and class conflict – whether applied in the fields of protests, riots, disasters or football supporters, where derived lessons and applications will inevitably overlap.

‘He (JD) had to do these things as part of his job.’ Is that not the wrong way round? Such a career choice, as specialist subject – and the way it was pursued – for a ‘communist’ is quite perverse in itself, and an unnecessary choice if one simply wished to pursue academia.”

That’s why such a critique of the University has to be concretised more precisely in relation to the actual practice of academia today. The further from recuperation involvement in academia is, the more we can recognise it as having little detrimental effect on any social movements. Astronomy, geology, linguistics, archaeology20, being some teaching or research assistant have little ideological content or at least very rarely involve directly producing innovative ideas useful for the ruling class when it comes to social control.

However, sociology, for instance, is clearly an area that the rulers have an interest in tapping, particularly its leftist or “alternative” versions21. Otto Geyrtonnex again:

“Sociology is a pain in the ass. It leads us to decipher the world according to its rigid concepts, to its hopeless exteriority, to its total absence of a grasp at what is at stake in the forces present thus camouflaging a single perspective, that of the gradual and functional improvement of this world.Those are its negative points.22 But they are nothing at all if we don’t talk about its primary function: surveying, studying, integrating. Sociologists love whatever is in the margins of society, what is not directly controlled by institutions, what lies a little bit outside. Deviants, struggles, the miserable. Whether they are conscious or naïve it doesn’t really matter. But this is the mission for which they invest themselves: Bring to the State’s knowledge whatever it ignores. Set up an up-to-date table of the world’s horrors and mutations. In this respect sociology is an arm for power. This arm is made up of thousands of little hands, some cynical and others sincere, which are working for it. Certain sociologists try to get around this limit and study the State itself in order to show its atrocities, to better reveal its limits and weaknesses. But is this not in fact a service which is rendered to the State? Alas, we know that managers and bureaucrats are always much more anxious to take advantage of these lessons than we are.

Let’s take an example. The book Résister à la chaîne (Resisting the Assembly Line) is made up of a series of interviews between a worker named Corouge who had been on the assembly line at Peugeot for years and the sociologist Pialoux who wrote in the review Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, founded by Pierre Bourdieu. Corouge acknowledged that the management “had read and had very well read the texts which were published in Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales…” We know very well why they read it. They could discover how proletarians organized themselves to work less, to take breaks, to commit acts of sabotage…This book is very interesting for us as well. But at the end of the day we must note that the circulation of such a book is a double edged sword. This sort of study only helps the bourgeois who are always looking to perfect their techniques of control and repression. The State has the monopoly of information networks, of language. Its language.”

In an article written in The Financial Times, entitled “Interrogation is not a social science”23 and with the byline “Academics have been used for years by western intelligence: think of all the psychiatrists in the cold war”, it was revealed that the US military has been employing the services of anthropologists in Afghanistan to improve its data-gathering techniques. In particular, during the past five years, it has apparently run so-called “human terrain analysis” programmes, to make its Afghan operations more culturally sensitive:

“During recent decades, academic anthropologists – like sociologists – have tended to cultivate a fairly anti-authoritarian air. This is partly because they have often studied poor communities, but also because the very process of analysing how social systems work tends to leave one pretty cynical about the state and its dominant ideologies…. But in the 1960s, rumours surfaced that some anthropologists were being recruited by the CIA in Vietnam. In 1970, Eric Wolf, then chair of the AAA ethics committee, declared that social scientists were being recruited to assist the military in dealing with counterinsurgency in Thailand. “These programs comprise efforts at the manipulation of people on a giant scale and intertwine straightforward anthropological research with overt and covert counter-insurgency activities in such a way as to threaten the future of anthropological research,” he warned. And, according to a new book, Weaponizing Anthropology, by David Price, in recent decades the CIA has been funding social science programmes, and using the analysis for unlikely ends, such as designing policy at the Abu Ghraib detention centre…. To put it another way, precisely because anthropologists are good at analysing cultures and power structures, their research is of interest to people in… er… power. It is a bitter irony; even – or especially – in Afghanistan.”

Clearly academics without any pretension to a “communist” critique are better equipped to unravel some of their contradictions than many of those who claim to be “radicals”.

As X, who is familiar with both the London “milieu” and the Berlin one, said in an email discussion list (1st November 2011):

“Half of the radical left in Berlin is in one way or the other financed by Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (Partei Die Linke); half of the autonomist scene in London worked as ‘organizers’ for various mainstream trade unions. If I sit in a meeting ‘supporting cleaning workers’ at least half of the people in the meeting either write a freelance article about it afterwards, write on a phd about ‘migration as affinity labour’, or are there because of their job in the union. What this spreads is an atmosphere of constant schizophrenia later in the pub (“you know, i just wrote this article now for The Guardian, this gives me then time to write something really radical for our magazine” etc.). In 99 per cent of the cases the ‘I sussed it out, I just make use of the apparatus’ does not actually work out. The phd does not actually leave more time or at least the individualistic framework impacts very negatively on the general atmosphere. The ‘independence’ within academia or ‘movement jobs’ from the institutions is largely illusionary. Here again, the worst element of it all is the lack of a collective debate within the millieu. This is the general atmosphere and background which makes ‘the Aufheben case’ possible at all. A general ignorance and ‘individual laissez faire’. ‘Modern collectives’ seem to come together as individual brains who leave their bodies with bread and butter at home – which obviously also expresses itself in their political concepts of ‘what is the working class’ and our practical relation with(in) it.”

These libertarian communist academics and/or students don’t pose the struggle in their own daily lives, their own work, they merely suggest things for “the workers” to do. Often those adopting the most clever critical language that makes them appear to be class conscious are those least consicious of the contradictions. Often lefty/ultra-lefty academics, who, having faced pressures from bosses for increased productivity, now want to be counted as exploited workers like the rest, deliberately sidestepping the question of what their relationship to other classes is, how its function for Capital has been changed. It is not simply a question of re-defining oneself as an “education worker”, thereby ignoring the hierarchy in the division of labour, simplifying everything into an equality of alienation. One can’t simply connect to all other workers just by defining oneself as a worker, though that might form part of the movement towards connecting. The tendency for those higher in the hierarchical division of labour, even those claiming to identify with class struggle, is to squawk the squawk but never walk the walk. One has to put ones life where ones mouth is and not use the domination by false choices that this society pushes or panics us into as an absolutely determined force out of our possible influence: “I enjoy writing and thinking and we’re all forced to sell our labour to surivive – better do it doing something I enjoy”. Well – most people enjoy sex, but it’s simplistic to valorise prostitution. This is positivism blind to how the division of labour also encourages an alienated relation to the things we enjoy, and contorts these pleasures by commodifying them.

Whilst some ‘intellectual labour’ is certainly more proletarianised, and far less ideological, than others (e.g. teaching a foreign language, which in some parts of the world is extremely badly paid), much of it is just plain middle class – i.e. work that clearly reinforces the division of labour both in the nature of the authority roles and the ideology developed. The role of the intellectual section of the middle class is to develop ideologies that implicitly or explicitly justify their own definitions of themselves as having a consciousness of being objective and detached – ‘scientific’ rather than an unenlightened self-interested career move. If such people are to contribute to a radical opposition to this society they are going to have to take the risk of subverting these roles and ideologies, along with the rest of us, though it’ll probably take us who are lower in the hierarchy to first of all challenge the absurdity of their position.

In the end, it’s more likely from outside that the University will be more and more challenged, most notably by the excluded poor24

down with dons

Cartoon, early 70s


Extract from “The Strange Case Of Dr.Johnny And Mr.Drury”:

“The vast decline of class struggle in the UK since the 80s has encouraged the emergence of activists (many from university) for whom class struggle, in its marginality, has remained largely intellectual and abstract. These activists often reacted to the limitations of activism by turning to its flip-side – theorism, without recognising the basis of their previous activism as being the fact that the practical critique of daily life at work and elsewhere was being greatly repressed by the increasing atomisation and defeat at the hands of the neo-liberal project (”Thatcherism”/”Blairism”) of the seriously consequential class revolts that had been contesting it. With the project of the self-emancipation of the working class greatly repressed for a generation, the appearance of radical critique seemed compatible with the ultra-left of the University ivory tower.

In the 60s a critique of the University ( significantly contributed to  the social explosions in France, May ’68 (e.g.11 ) There were a few leftist academics who supported and participated in student movements and consequently were fired (eg Robin Blackburn of New Left Review fame, who got the sack from his job at LSE for supporting the ”vandalistic” dismantling of gates designed to suppress and control student occupations). Anglophone academia certainly produced some interesting historians and social critics on the Left (e.g. Zinn, Chomsky, Portis from the USA, E.P.Thompson, Christopher Hill, Tom Nairn and others in the UK) but what they had to say about immediate history and social contradictions that was any independent use to the movement of social contestation could have mostly been written on the back of a postage stamp. Admittedly there are occasional exceptions to this – e.g. Mike Davies – but their need for an acceptable image of radicality, their alternative celebrity status as social critics, generally , though not always, obviated any direct participation in concrete social contestation.

Those who weren’t leftists or anarcho-leftists (in the sense of having very definite positions either as paid ideologues or as political organisers) recognised that theory and an ideological career were incompatible, and at the very least, should be kept clearly separate. Those who thought you could combine the two became ”radical sociologists”, ”radical psychologists”, ”radical architects”, ”radical social workers”, ”radical philosophers”, etc. No-one, however, suggested you could combine bricklaying as a means of survival and that the work itself could be radical. Anyone thinking they could consistently make money out of building walls in the form of an ”A” in a circle, or chiselling ”Abolish wage slavery!” into their bricks would have been seen as slightly eccentric and virtually unempoyable (except if they’d defined themselves as “artists”). When the more obviously proletarian workers revolted it was usually against their work, not an attempt to dress it up as something subversive in itself. The few genuine radicals who briefly flirted with a career in academia, particularly those from more proletarianised backgrounds, quickly gave it up because it was doing their head in. The domination by intellectual concepts (as opposed to dominating and applying such concepts where subversively useful) and by having to endure the artificial up-in-the-air conversations, the teaching of people who you knew would expropriate your ideas and turn them against you – all this just tore them away from the reality they still wanted to challenge and change, and not just talk about challenging and changing….

There are building workers who refuse to participate in the building of prisons. There are building workers who help build prisons but put sugar or something else in the cement so that the walls crumble. And there are building workers, with far less integrity, who participate in the building of prisons and don’t sabotage their shitty job. But even amongst the latter, not one of them publicly puts their name to it, not one of them inscribes their signature onto the prison bars. Intellectual cadres, however, are always proud of their alienated labour, and wholly identify with it, even when it’s so alienated it goes totally against everything they claim to stand for. Let no-one say ideological work is the same as building work or working in a hospital or a call centre: the hierarchical division of labour has always meant that capitalism, even in its initial development, wasn’t just capital but was also an “ism”. It meant that, as well as an armed and economic force, it was also an ideology brutally materialised. Ideas for the ruling class, developed by professional intellectuals, were not “merely” ideas any more than religion, developed by the priesthood before the bourgeoisie, was “merely” religion….”



Some Schizophrenic “Radicals”

The spectacle’s division of labour allots to its most precocious intellectual strata the task of presenting its image of struggle in order to preserve the reality of the division of labour, of proletarian misery.

John Drury is in “good” company:

Herbert Marcuse, of Frankfurt School fame, worked as an advisor for the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) up until 1945 and then for the US Department of State up until 1951. But at least he’d left by the time he’d written his most interesting work, “Eros and Civilisation” (Paul Mattick was offered work by the OSS as soon as Hitler came into power; he refused point-blank).

Theodor Adorno famously called the cops on students who’d occupied his faculty and disrupted his lectures (and then later complained that the students had taken seriously and practically what he’d merely intended to be philosophical constructs)

Cornelius Castoriadis, the leading theoretician for Socialisme ou Barbarie, worked as an ideological adviser for the OECD from the 1950s. This was not some minor position but definitely as an ideas man.

Massimo Prandi, a leading theoretician for the French ultra-left Mouvement Communiste, knowingly provided (along with others) information for the creation of 2 lists for President Mitterand – in the 1980s – of Italian refugee exiles from the social movements in Italy in the 1970s; one of those he considered basically “harmless” and therefore able to stay in France, the other a list of “dangerous” ones that the state could extradite to Africa. Mouvement Communiste26justified him doing this as if he was some kind of Schindler. See: “Sociétés et terrorisme” (which received the “Prix spécial du jury européen d’Amalfi” in1989) written by a sociologist specialising in what the state deems as terrorism, Michel Wieviorka (the book contains, in Chapter IV, Une intervention sociologique avec des terroristes” to which Prandi made a significant contribution).

Added 16/3/18: we should also include Chomsky in this list.

great brain robbery


8 responses to “academia, sociology & the muddle class”

  1. James avatar

    ‘Some Schizophrenic “Radicals” ‘ Sam Fantosist

    You really do not have any idea how offensive your glib use of the term schizophrenic is. Its use in liberal democracy is akin to the use of the word Untermensch in Nazi Germany.

    1. James avatar

      Let’s just elaborate for those with eyes, ears and minds but without their critical faculties.

      Both the terms — schizophrenia and Untermensch — are a product of bourgeois society; both are inventions of the state justified by science; and neither exists in reality only in the mind of our Good and Bad Bourgeois.

      1. James avatar

        I see in the above that Mr “X” also has the same insane use of the word:

        “What this spreads is an atmosphere of constant schizophrenia later in the pub…”

        1. Sam FantoSamotnaf avatar

          You really do not have any idea how offensive your glib use of the term “insane” is. Its use in liberal democracy is akin to the use of the word Untermensch in Nazi Germany.

          1. James avatar

            Who the cap fit….

            Is there an echo in hear?

  2. Sam FantoSamotnaf avatar

    Yes – I’m a Nazi. I really think that Chomsky, Prandi, Adorno, Marcuse, Castoriadis and John Drury are Untermensch. And your unglib comparison of me with nazis is spot-on. How did you know? Have you been spying on me as I goosestep in jackboots with my swastika-adorned uniforms masturbating to giant pictures of the Fuhrer? Pleeeeease…please please please don’t tell anyone.

    1. James avatar

      Chomsky is a revolutionary linguist and a reactionary political theorist — as all political theorists are. I do not know anything about these other men you mention. I think they are just “useful idiots” rather than subhumans.

  3. James avatar

    I am an anarchist from as long as I can remember, started reading Russian Anarchists aged 15. Also completed a 6 year uni degree cum laude in social science and philosophy. Naturally, I read this with raised eyebrows and must admit started to glance through much of the rather shallow reasoning and wholly imprecise description. As a piece of writing, I’d have to mark it down if you were in one of my applied uni critical thinking classes. It’s all over the place, mostly unfounded and a bit painful even to read because it’s just rather cliché name calling, uncritical thought, usage of reified terms, complete lack of clear argumentation. All things, and more, you could have learnt at an evil university. Your views are problematic because they are very imprecise. It just sounds like bitter name calling ‘lefties, ultra lefties, communists, etc, etc. Your description relies on these very broad terms and others that lack real understanding. There are so many examples of anarchists who are university taught and people that became anarchist only once at uni because it can empower people by training CRITICAL THINKING skills that demand constant interrogation and self reflection to cut through bullshit ideologies. There are so many ways Anarchism, which is also about having a ‘free mind’ to see things critically and university education can work together. Your Eric Wolf Vietnam quote is really anthropology 101 that every student gets to read in the very first weeks of college. It’s like you’re presenting that as a great argument against universities. It is laughable really. Sounds like someone who is bitter, pissed off and full of regrets and channelling all these frustrations into an essay that lashes out at everything, cannot see or describe anything clearly. You say you are an anarchist, yet the glimpses you show of how you think tell me your thinking isn’t free and independent. It’s not critical. It’s like you are trying to convince and brainwash yourself.

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