13 November 2011

On the Poverty of Student Life (excerpts)

The pathetic bitterness of so many nostalgic professors stems from the fact that they have lost their former role as guard-dogs serving the future masters and have been reassigned to the considerably less noble function of sheep-dogs in charge of herding white-collar flocks to their respective factories and offices in accordance with the needs of the planned economy.

These professors hold up their archaisms as an alternative to the technocratization of the university and imperturbably continue to purvey scraps of “general” culture to audiences of future specialists who will not know how to make any use of them.

The colleges that once supplied “general culture” to the ruling class, though still retaining some of their anachronistic prestige, are being transformed into force-feeding factories for rearing lower and middle functionaries.

Taking advantage of the contradiction that, for the moment at least, obliges the system to maintain a small, relatively independent sector of academic “research,” they are going to calmly carry the germs of sedition to the highest level.

Their open contempt for the system goes hand in hand with the lucidity that enables them to outdo the system’s own lackeys, especially intellectually. They are already among the theorists of the coming revolutionary movement, and take pride in beginning to be feared as such.

They make no secret of the fact that what they extract so easily from the “academic system” is used for its destruction.

For the student cannot revolt against anything without revolting against his studies, though the necessity of this revolt is felt less naturally by him than by the worker, who spontaneously revolts against his condition as worker.

It is not enough for theory to seek its realization in practice; practice must seek its theory.

In reality, if there is a “youth problem” in modern society, it simply consists in the fact that young people feel the profound crisis of this society most acutely — and try to express it. The young generation is a product par excellence of modern society, whether it chooses integration into it or the most radical rejection of it. What is surprising is not that youth is in revolt, but that “adults” are so resigned.

The delinquents are produced by every aspect of the present social order: the urbanism of the housing projects, the breakdown of values, the extension of an increasingly boring consumer leisure, the growing police-humanist control over every aspect of daily life, and the economic survival of a family unit that has lost all significance.

They despise work, but they accept commodities. They want everything the spectacle offers them and they want it now, but they can’t afford to pay for it. This fundamental contradiction dominates their entire existence

When an antiunion workers’ riot inspired the Provo base to join in with the direct violence, their bewildered leaders were left completely behind and could find nothing better to do than denounce “excesses” and appeal for nonviolence. These leaders, whose program had advocated provoking the authorities so as to reveal their repressiveness, ended up by complaining that they had been provoked by the police.

In their search for a revolutionary program the American students make the same mistake as the Provos and proclaim themselves “the most exploited class in society”; they must henceforth understand that they have no interests distinct from all those who are subject to commodity slavery and generalized oppression.

The Third International, ostensibly created by the Bolsheviks to counteract the degenerate social-democratic reformism of the Second International and to unite the vanguard of the proletariat in “revolutionary communist parties,” was too closely linked to the interests of its founders to ever bring about a genuine socialist revolution anywhere.

The labor unions and political parties forged by the working class as tools for its own emancipation have become mere safety valves, regulating mechanisms of the system, the private property of leaders seeking their own particular emancipation by using them as stepping stones to roles within the ruling class of a society they never dream of calling into question.

The party program or union statute may contain vestiges of “revolutionary” phraseology, but their practice is everywhere reformist.

As for student unionism, it is nothing but a parody of a farce, a pointless and ridiculous imitation of a long degenerated labor unionism.

This revolution must once and for all break with its own prehistory and derive all its poetry from the future. Little groups of “militants” claiming to represent the “authentic Bolshevik heritage” are voices from beyond the grave; in no way do they herald the future.

The proletariat can play the game of revolution only if the stakes are the whole world; otherwise it is nothing. The sole form of its power, generalized self-management, cannot be shared with any other power.

Because it represents the actual dissolution of all powers, it can tolerate no limitation (geographical or otherwise); any compromises it accepts are immediately transformed into concessions, into surrender.

To tolerate the existence of an oppressive system in some particular region (because it presents itself as “revolutionary,” for example) amounts to recognizing the legitimacy of oppression. To tolerate alienation in any one domain of social life amounts to admitting an inevitability of all forms of reification.

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