The Radical Caucus of the Modern Language Association held a virtual roundtable discussion in April, 2023 on the significance of and resistance to the assaults on education, exemplified by banning books and all discussion of critical race theory, LGBT issues, and any other working class, anti-imperialist history. The presentations are presented here and numbered one through five.
In his introduction, Caucus President Geordie Miller, who is an English professor at Mt. Allison University and a leader of the faculty union, explained that:
From its inception in 1968, the Rad Caucus has been a site of organizing and struggle on campuses as well as within and against the institution of the Modern Language Association—an institution that currently has 22,000-plus members representing approximately 145 countries. The Radical Caucus is devoted to organizing a Marxist response in the MLA to the racist offensive against Higher Education. In the fight against fascism and its many forms and faces in higher education, the stakes are ourselves (to amend a line from Diane di Prima). The future that the ruling class is busy securing for higher education workers—indeed, for the workers of the world—is a future fuller and fuller of immiseration and other deadly, systemic commitments. Union busting and the repression of academic freedom are only the beginning of the worst to come. We don’t mourn; we organize.
Organizing a Marxist Response to The Racist Offensive Against Higher Education
by Barbara Foley
I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled to be at this gathering today. I visited the picket line at Rutgers University-Newark earlier this week and was struck by the unity of students and workers, as well as their shared understanding that the union, which comprises everyone from grad students to TAs to lecturers to Part Time Lecturers (PTLs) to full time faculty, can advance only if its most exploited members take the lead: “the last shall be first!” I have been appreciating how our colleagues down in Florida have been placing antiracist and antisexist politics front and center in their opposition to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s attempts to destroy their unions, gut academic freedom, and smother the class-conscious teaching of US history. And these comrades are not alone: working-class rebellions are cropping up around the world as the rulers ratchet up their attempts to make the workers pay for the increasingly evident failures of capitalism.
La Guardia Community College of the City University of New York (CUNY), where I teach, has a “mission is to educate and graduate one of the most diverse student populations in the country to become critical thinkers and socially responsible citizens who help to shape a rapidly evolving society.” According to Institutional Research last year, our student body is 22% Asian, 18% Black, 47% Hispanic, 12% White, and 1% Native American. 52% are foreign-born, down from 60% in 2017. 46% of our students have a family income below $25,000.
In one of those coincidences upon which my teaching and writing rely, I recently watched again the Red Pill-Blue Pill sequence in Lana and Lilly Wachowskis’ 1999 film The Matrix. Early on, the rebel leader Morpheus (Laurence Fishburne) offers young Thomas Anderson/Neo (Keanu Reeves)—at this point a neophyte but soon to become an agent of the new—an opportunity to understand the truth of his world. When Neo asks, “What truth?”, Morpheus replies, “That you are a slave Neo, like everyone else you were born into bondage, into a prison you cannot taste or smell or touch. A prison . . . for your mind.” Morpheus continues, “Unfortunately no one can be told what the Matrix is . . . you have to see it for yourself.” He then offers Neo a “last chance, after which there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, and you stay in Wonderland. And I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember, all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.”
I take this scene, especially in our current situation, as an allegory of advanced education in the humanities. When faced with this choice, too many in our vocation readily swallow the blue pill. The challenge then is how can we awaken them to the state of emergency in which we are now all living?
Public education is ground zero in a 4-year war by the Florida governor, via the legislature, to subvert democracy both on and off campus. Texas, Alabama, and Georgia are not far behind and sometimes even ahead. And the war bug is spreading with virulence, from the South, to the Nation to the whole globe. (The trend is clear from this Volkswagen-commissioned report at https://academic-freedom-index.net/.)
Each year since 2020, two or three Florida bills have been enacted that severely restrict the free expression and exchange of ideas between students, educators, researchers, and the public, nationally and internationally. The basic question is why these bills were introduced and whether they address any existing problem at all. Except for wild claims of “indoctrination” of adult students, no answer has ever been provided for this unconstitutional big government overreach perpetrated by so-called small-government advocates wielding authoritarian power supposedly granted by voters.
Through the Back & Forth of Liberal to Fascist Rule, Workers Counter Miseducation & Learn Communist Education
By K. Bennett
Today, I’d like to talk about the education system under liberal and fascist rule. Students and educational workers across the country are in the midst of academic censorship. Educational workers are seeing that an evidence-based, critical thinking approach to understanding social reality is under attack. Paychecks are getting smaller; costs of living continue to increase, and many higher education workers are grading papers out of their cars where they live. Many K-12 teachers are leaving the field in droves.
As a Metro transit worker in DC and a member of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 689 representing over 10,000 bus operators, train operators, mechanics, custodians, landscapers of Metro, and hundreds of paratransit workers, I wanted to share thoughts about building a revolutionary movement in my workplace. I was a shop steward and executive board member at my bus garage for six years and am a member of the Progressive Labor Party, a revolutionary communist organization. I want to share the frustration that we workers have had in trying to abolish the various forms of racism, sexism, and exploitation in our industry. The system we face is rigged against us at every turn. That is why we communists try to build among our fellow workers an understanding of the need to go beyond trying to abolish the various travesties inflicted on us by the bosses, and try to build a revolutionary party that can both strengthen the labor movement in its day to day work while simultaneously creating the movement and institutions to overthrow the entire capitalist system. For me, abolishing capitalism means building a communist world of equality and collectivity.
The US has suffered more from Covid-19 than other high-income nations. The state of emergency increased access to Medicaid, and assured free access to vaccines, tests, masks, and treatments for all US residents, including more than 30 million uninsured Americans. Even with these additional resources, the poor US government response has led to a nearly 3-year decline in average life expectancy, and larger declines in low- income and communities of color. Removing resources such as tests and care during the ongoing pandemic will cause a deadly disaster and worsen these intolerable inequities. The pandemic has NOT ended, and the US lacks sound public health policy to move to long-term management. We must fight to preserve and expand these wins. Moving forward, the US public deserves better.
The New York Times, that paper in which one can reliably find the agenda of the liberal wing of the US ruling class, is sounding increasingly absurd lately. There was the editorial page piece claiming the masks had been proven to useless in preventing the spread of viral infections (NYT 2/21/23). That generated so much pushback that they had to publish a much longer op-ed which thoroughly refuted it (NYT 3/10/23). Then, after Seymour Hersh wrote an extremely convincing article coming close to proving that the US had blown up the Nord Stream pipeline (https://seymourhersh.substack.com/p/how-america-took-out-the-nord-stream), there was a front page Times article postulating that non-governmental Ukrainians were the perpetrators.
“New intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials suggests that a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines last year…the operation might have been conducted off the books by a proxy force with connections to the Ukrainian government or its security services… with the help of experienced divers who did not appear to be working for military or intelligence services.”(NYT 3/7/23)
Sounds highly unlikely.
Well recently (3/19/23), two thirds of a page in the editorial section is devoted to an article called America Is in a Disgraced Class of Its Own, by Princeton sociologist Matthew Desmond. It’s all about poverty – and it doesn’t even mention capitalism. That’s not really so far from the Times’ usual practice, but the sophisticated author tries to blame all those who are not poor for the problem. He is liberal enough not to blame the poor themselves, acknowledging that the poor have “faced more obstacles in life.” However, the next sentence says “many of us help to create and uphold those obstacles through the collective moral failing of enriching ourselves by impoverishing others.” Us includes all those who earn a decent living and can afford a home, food, and have health care, lumped right in with the captains of industry.
For many centuries, the powerful have helped control their working poor by elevating some of the oppressed to wield the whip. The Romans had the Vigiles, poor men and often ex-slaves who patrolled the streets and fought fires; the Nazis had the Judenrat to carry out their orders in Jewish communities: southern US slave owners knew the advantages of black overseers. In the last 60 years, the US has empowered black politicians to help maintain its regime of racism and inequality.
This Is What Capitalist Disasters Look Like – This Is What Fight Back Looks Like
By Karyn Pomerantz, 2-16-2023
Earthquake in Turkey
The world is aflame, from the blazing bombs in wars to the fiery heat of global warming. The drivers of empire use our bodies as cannon fodder in Ukraine and Russia and extract our minerals out of the ground in Congo and our bodies from earthquakes.
The huge earthquakes in Turkey and Syria killed over 40,000 by today’s count (2-16-2023). We may say, “well, that’s nature, there’s nothing we can do about that.” But that would be wrong.