By Raskonikov Radek

The university in capitalist society is a battleground for the class struggle. The struggle has become more intense due to the dramatic rises in the cost of a college education. The structures of capitalist societies are imposed on university faculty and students in a manner similar to that of the factory. The web of the influence of corporate and government (e.g. CIA and military) money is as intense as it is pervasive.

Michael Parenti in his book Against empire writes that in “colleges and universities can be found faculty and administrators…who argue with all seriousness that a university is an independent community of neutral scholars, a place apart from the immediate interests of this world, a temple of knowledge. In reality, many universities have direct investments in corporate America in the form of substantial stock portfolios. By purchase and persuasion, our institutions of higher learning are wedded to institutions of higher earning. In this respect, universities differ little from such other social institutions as the media, the arts, the church, schools, and various professions, all of which falsely claim independence from a dominant class perspective.”

Although the university produces no tangible commodities, it serves the interests of capitalism nonetheless. The university serves to train students in capitalist ideology as well as imparting some useful skills which the students use after graduation to promote themselves and fight for better wages. From the point of view of capitalism, the function of the university is to produce students who, once graduated, are highly trained workers that can influence the production process towards more efficiency and higher production rates. From the point of view of the students and faculty, the function of the university is to increase their wages. Herein we find the class struggle.

However, in the process of training, there are some twists in the road which are unexpected from the capitalist’s point of view. Some students in the process of training acquire important skills in organization as well as critical thinking. This can lead to unwanted (from the capitalist’s point of view) increases in the level of consciousness of the student.

Some students, infected with these intellectual skills and cognizant of their class membership, go on to organize and influence other students and workers by educating them in the nature of the class struggle. Such students use their university acquired skills to fight for a better world. This is, indeed, chilling to the capitalist.

The class struggle is recapitulated within the university at many levels. The drive to constantly increase profit inherent in the capitalist system is no stranger to the university. In recent years, tuition hikes have reached astronomical levels. The result is that only the wealthiest students, i.e. sons and daughters of capitalists, can comfortably afford to attend the university. The rest must mortgage their working lives to banks by taking out students loans that will leave them penniless while they serve their labor up to the corporations.

The corporations hire “the best and the brightest” to deliver sledgehammer blows to the wages of university trained and student loan burdened “professional” workers. It is no wonder that students and workers are so angry. We have seen their anger blossom recently in California over high tuition and in the last few days with violence erupting in London.

Why is all of this happening now? In the past, the socialist countries, led by the USSR, championed universal education. Capitalist countries fought against this, but eventually had to capitulate and provide some minimal structures to provide education to people of all classes who qualified for university education. Now the “evil empire” has been vanquished and capitalist countries have no such motivation to improve the lot of working people. They have chosen to get back to the business of the class struggle, which is to thwart the desires of working people to better themselves and their children. The hammer the capitalists are using is tuition hikes. The anvil is the students.

The class struggle is also carried out with a vengeance in the day to day operations of the university. There is a micro-class system which operates in the university itself. It is apparent at multiple levels. This microcosm of capitalist relations mirrors the relationship between the classes in general capitalist society.

Let’s start with the top of the heap. The university administrators are paid thugs whose job is to keep students and faculty in line and to appeal to the corporations and government for funding. They accomplish their mission by employing repression against the students, faculty and staff, much like the bosses in a factory. Faculty who do not toe the capitalist line are severely punished. This is documented and explicated in Michael Parenti’s book Against empire. He shows how faculty who deviate from the corporate line are marginalized and alienated from their work. Anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist faculty are typically passed up for tenure or not hired in the first place. Such faculty are punished in many ways to include exclusion from grant funding, less desirable teaching assignments and many other brutal assaults on their academic integrity.

The next level of class differentiation is between faculty and students. The faculty, fighting their own struggle against the university, typically embrace the illusion that they are superior to the students because of their position in the university, i.e. higher pay, greater privileges, and rank. Many students buy into this model and view themselves as inferior because of the factors mentioned above. Many students adopt a position of submission as a survival mechanism but this only serves to quash their creativity. They “go along to get along” and the system rewards mediocrity while punishing creativity.

There is another class of workers at any university. These include support staff, both administrative and custodial/maintenance. These workers are frequently ignored and forgotten but are what keeps the university running and comfortable for the faculty, administration and students. These workers have been subject to the pressures for wage suppression and often suffer the most at the hands of the hired guns in university administration and Boards of Regents. Some workers at the Texas Southern University, for example, have not had a substantial wage increase in 5+ years.

In reality, the faculty, administration and students objectively belong to the same class in that they do not own the university. The wages of faculty, students and administrators are comparable when contrasted with the profits garnished by the wealthy elite. If a student makes $5000 a year, a faculty member makes $40,000 a year and an administrator makes $250,000 a year these wages are closer than those wealthy elite who make $1,000,000,000 a year off of investments for which they do not expend a single hour of labor in a year (or many years).

The professors, just like other workers, are forced to perform the same job until their retirement or death. They might have a great, new, creative idea or desire to teach something else and find that the university administration does not allow it. After 20 years of giving the same old grades and reading the same boring papers, they become dull and bitter, and no longer approach their subject with the same passion. The university, because of its class structure, necessarily fights against those who oppose the class structure. Capital will crush anything it sees as dangerous and develop ideological restraints to opposition. Professors become submissive in order to survive in the repressive environment.

For students also, being submissive is the very essence of being-a-good-student in capitalist society. Subjectively one might be a hard worker and passionately engage a subject, but objectively only those who are submissive are good students in the eyes of Capital. In the classroom, especially in graduate school, the student learns how to put on a mask and please other people, namely the professor. If they do not learn this skill, they may not pass the course. Being very submissive in the classroom, never thinking for oneself and entirely submitting to the popular opinion prevailing in the classroom will get almost every student an A. Yet in getting a good grade, the student has been forced to give up their freedom and is thus in a relation of domination. In the capitalist university, the student is given their freedom of speech on condition that they do not utilize this freedom. The moment the student chooses to speak freely and openly, to express their creative potential and share their own ideas, they will be crushed by Capital and fail the course.

The university is an appendage of the State, for it reproduces the ruling class ideology in all its different forms. It enforces the entire prevailing class-based ideology and sustains its dominance. It is precisely the social relations created by a bourgeois dictatorship that are reproduced within the university. The reproduction of ideology already begins in grade-school, but does not exercise its full power until one begins studying at the university.

There is only one solution to the horrendous state of college education: a revolutionary process that abolishes the bourgeois dictatorship and establishes a new society based on common ownership of the means of production. Since there is currently no revolutionary situation, students must form unions and collectively fight against the university dictatorship. They must demand to be treated like human beings, not sheep who are not allowed to speak. They must fight against the injustices of a system which seeks to quash academic freedom. Furthermore, students must fight for universal education, so that both they themselves and their future comrades can go to college. However, the struggle must not be centered only around the university, but in the larger struggle against capitalism.

The struggle against the university is a struggle against the capitalist system and against the bourgeois dictatorship. To fight against the university means to join the struggle to build a larger movement that can end the oppression created by capitalism once and for all. Communist parties across the world must never abandon the revolutionary vision, for to do so is to directly attack working people and working class students. To abandon the revolutionary vision and instead fight only for reforms means sustaining the bourgeois dictatorship and the ideological relations which it creates. Abandoning revolution means sustaining classrooms where students are treated like sheep, and where only the submissive get good grades. To abandon the revolutionary vision means to sustain the system that allows only the few to get an education, while the rest are left to fend for themselves! We mustn’t abandon the revolutionary vision, for as long as capitalism prevails, no matter what reform is instituted, it will never end the oppression and violence within capitalist society. Students should unite and fight for every reform possible that is in the interest of working people, but also consider the long term strategy of abolishing the bourgeois State. Students should work together and fight for lower tuition, for more academic freedom, and demand to be treated like human beings. At the same time, however, they should consider the strategy of creating a system that will end the very need to struggle against the university dictatorship. Students are bound up in the class struggle, and therefore belong to a larger movement of working people fighting to bring about a classless society, and abolishing the class structure of society for good. Students must therefore go beyond reforms and fight for the revolution! Students of the world, UNITE!