More about that relative autonomy thing

Paul W. Cockshott cockshpw at
Sun Oct 2 19:37:29 MDT 1994

On Thu, 29 Sep 1994, Philip Goldstein wrote:

> 	Paul Cockshott writes that identification with workingclass
> militants and their struggles enables academics to overcome their limited
> class position. My experience is that militant workingclass groups,
> parties, and individual reproduce all the ideologies of our society.
> That's why there is constant struggle over what is true leftism,
> scientific Marxism, ideological purity, bad revisionism, etc. In this
> sense these groups or individuals are not outside the system.

No, of course the working class is not outside the system, nor can any
socialist group escape from the ideological effects of the class struggle
within it. But these ideological differences arise from the conflict
between different class interests. Thus in groups where middle class
memberships predominate the ideological atmosphere is different,
generally more moderate as a result. This is very striking in
europe at the moment in the forms taken by antifascist movements, with
the working class groups being much more ready to use physical confrontation
than those influenced by intellectuals.

I think that you greatly overstate the importance of language as against
life experience in shaping peoples outlooks. Reading about something is
very different from living it. Reading a theory of exploitation is not
the same as being exploited.

> Besides,
> the assumption that academics are not workingclass is misleading. Many
> universities have bargaining units which negotiate contracts with the
> administration.

Academics are definitely not working class. They are not in general
exchanging their labour power against capital, they exchange it against
revenues. In this they differ for example from a teacher in a commercial
language school, whose labour power does exchange against capital and
who is subject to an altogether much harsher work discipline.
In addition if one looks at their salaries on sees that they tend
to be about equal to or slightly greater than the value that their
labour would create. This absence of exploitation means that their
class interests are identical with those of the working class, they lead
generally easier and healthier lives, do not suffer poverty etc. These
are all real class differences.

> 	Cockshott also sees little in my description of ideological
> indeterminacy. I was answering an objection that said that academic
> teaching and research simply reproduced the hegemonic system.
> Indeterminacy means that academic work can subvert the identities and the
> values by which the hegemonic system reproduces itself. Teaching can be
> functional and dysfunctional. In other words, there is place for
> resistance within academic and not in a utopian space outside it, where
> true militants gather to feel their man or womanhood.
I am not sure to what extent you mean what you say above. The logic of
it is that the only space for resistance to capitalism is 'within academic',
and not outside it. The world outside the university is no utopian
abstraction. If the only problem the ruling class had to deal with was
a lack of ideological coherence within universities they would have
an easier time than they do.

I can not think of any conjuncture in which academics have posed a
serious threat to the established order. At times students, though not
their professors, have been a politically disruptive force, but that
is the most one could say.


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