More about that relativ

Paul W. Cockshott cockshpw at
Thu Oct 6 07:41:26 MDT 1994

On Wed, 5 Oct 1994, OTTO IMKEN wrote:

> > > Angela Davis is an academic who
> > > studied with Herbert Marcuse, I think.
>> I got the impression that she was victimised as a black political
>> activist at a time when the militancy of black working class groups
>> was high. It was the Panthers rather than academics that posed a
>> threat.
> This is a very simplistic way to look at things, academics vs.
> activists: Angela Davis' influence was and is so great precisely
> because she has a brilliant grasp of Marcuse and German Critical
> Philosophy AND she was a black panther, one of the core people who
> kept the LA panthers moving in a positively subversive direction when
> they could have splintered uselessly at any moment, and her academic
> training had no small part in her ability to keep that particular
> micropolitical movement focused.

I am not in any way intending to denigrate those academics like
Angela Davis who have integrated themselves with the working class
movement, only to attack the complacency of those who think that by
remaining within the confines of the university they can play a
subversive role.

>     Please desist from separating academics from people who pose a
> real threat, because by doing so, you show yourself as an "academic"
> through and through, and are therefore harmless and useless for
> furthuring any REAL, future subversion. (Sorry for jumping in in the
> middle of your dialogue, but that really bothered me.)
A person's views on this are likely to be influenced by experience.
My vehemence on the subject comes from experience of mass working class
struggles in Scotland over the late 80s and early 90s. I was one of the
founders of the Anti-Poll Tax Union there. This was the most successful
civil disobedience campaign in British history, and in Glasgow, the
city where I was mainly active, we ended up with over 50% of the
population refusing to pay tax, with working class estates becoming
no-go areas for sheriff officers intent of poinding peoples furniture,
and when the campaign spread to England it culminated in the Poll Tax
Riots that were a key factor in bringin Thatcher down.

What I learned from these struggles is that it is the poor and dispossesed
that are radical. Those in a comfortable situation either hold themselves
aloof or participate in a lukewarm fashion. Going round and campaigning
on the streets in dozens of areas of the country convinced me that
the more proletarian the area the greater the support for direct action.

During this campaign, which had massive working class participation, the
overwhelming majority of academics went ahead and paid their taxes. Almost
none of them became involved in the mass struggle. As far as I could make
out, in Strathclyde, an industrial district with a population of 2.5 million
only 2 members of University staff played an activist role in the campaign.
When it came to organising to defend people who were threatened with
seizures of the property by the sheriffs, or taking over the tax offices
where were the academics?


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