Fighting neo-liberalism with education and activism


by Dave Hill

This is a revolutionary period in world history. The collapse of finance capitalism, the bankers’ bailouts across the globe, the continuing bankers’ bonuses, and the intrinsic problems of finance capitalism have, under current `bourgeois’ parliamentarist rule, resulted in ordinary families, workers and communities,`paying for the crisis’. All this, while the national and international capitalist classes and organisations impose austerity capitalism on a reeling public and public educational, social, health and welfare systems. This `austerity capitalism’ has led to an eruption of discontent-against political, economic and financial dictatorship, through the Arab Spring, the indignados in Spain, the Occupy movements throughout the world, and the million strong protests against the 13 Feb 2012 austerity programme enforced by the international capitalist `troika’ (European Central bank, International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission) on the Greek people.

These developments raise questions about the nature of bourgeois capitalist parliamentarist democracy as much as they do about the nature and morality and cruel impacts of capitalist economy — of life under/within capitalism. They also raise questions about social and economic inequality, meritocracy, equality and egalitarianism, and the role of education and of political activism.

A question that must be asked is how does the socio-economic and political system of a country work in complicity with the corporate media and how does this impact the school system? There is no automatic mechanistic and deterministic relationship between an economic structure, such as the capitalist economic structure and resulting social relationships on the one hand, and society’s social and political structures on the other. But there is a relationship, even if not mechanistic and unproblematic. There is resistance, at various levels, by individuals, by groups, in what is a permanent `culture war’ between the ideas of the ruling capitalist class and their mouthpieces, and resistant, counter-hegemonic individuals and groups, such as students, critical intellectuals, and organizations such as workers’ organizations (though many have been `incorporated’ into the system).

It is fair to say, drawing on Althusser’s (1971) and Gramsci’s (1971) Marxist conceptual framework, that the apparatuses of the state do not brook much dissent for long: if it starts to threaten either the riches of the rich, or the capitalist system itself, which is essentially the same thing, then the state steps in, using either the wagging finger warning of repercussions, the iron fist in a velvet glove, or, ultimately the hammer of tear gas, bullets and prison cells.

Schools and universities, echoing Althusser (1971) are ideological state apparatuses whose purpose, for the capitalist class, is to preach and instill pro-capitalist and anti-socialist beliefs and, as Rikowski (for example, 2001, 2004) argues, to re-produce tiered hierarchicalised and socialized /quiescent labour power for the workplace.

The same is true of the media. Those who own the Press, control the Press. Views alternative to capitalism are mocked, vilified, and ignored, if they are fundamental rather than cosmetic alternatives. Within schools and universities, and vocational colleges, it is true that oppositional teachers/faculty in the public education system in Britain and the U.S. do get sidelined for promotion, isolated, and dismissed. For example, in the U.S. Henry Giroux and Peter McLaren, and in Britain, my comrades in the Hillcole Group, Mike Cole, Glenn Rikowski (including myself) suffered many years of management hostility at various, if not all, of our employing schools and universities.

One difference between the media and schooling/education state apparatuses is that the control by media bosses is more complete than that of school and university bosses/management. While there is contestation, fighting the culture wars, within both sets of apparatuses, with resistant and counter-hegemonic individuals and groups battling within each apparatus, the spaces for socialist, or liberal ideology, praxis, and social relationships, exist more fully in education than in the more easily `hired and fired’ mass media. Even the `impartial’ BBC in the UK rarely allows socialist or radical left speakers, such as Salma Yaqoob, George Galloway, or socialist trade union leader, Bob Crow on to programmes like `Question Time’. And the days when trade union leaders were routinely interviewed on BBC radio and television are long gone, their places filled by business leaders and public relations apologists for Capital. Even the 24 news programmes in the UK such as SkyNews and BBC24 now have, in addition to Showbiz sections, lengthy Business News sections. These are new developments over the last 20 years in Britain, the crowding out of `unsafe’ alternatives, by brain numbing Showbiz infotainment, and by huge attention lavished on pro-capitalist ideology, its ‘stars’ and its spokespeople.


This extends to treatment of war. Despite, over the years, a clear majority of the British general public wanting an end to the war in Afghanistan, and a withdrawal of British troops, such opinions, until recently, when the body count has been rising (the Afghani body-count is rarely mentioned in the British/USA capitalist Press) are hardly heard on British radio and television. As for public control, a large majority of the British public support the re-nationalisation of the privatized railway system in Britain. But you do not hear much of that in the media. In Britain, the public is considerably to the left of the three major parties: Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour. The same is true in Greece, where none of the major parties, from the `moderate right-wing’ New Democracy, to the neoliberal post social democratic PASOK are opposing the cuts, the austerity programme – something unprecedented in severity in any `democratic’ European state since the Second World War. All the bourgeois parties, whether from the right, the centre, or the former social democratic moderate left, say there is no alternative to the austerity programme. None talk of taxing the wealth of the rich instead, or of renouncing the debt, for example.


So how does, and how has the capitalist system impacted the school system in Britain? Scotland and Northern Ireland have major devolved powers from the UK Parliament concerning education, while Wales has some devolved powers. Yet, there are very pronounced similarities between U.S. and England/Wales education policies. The G.W. Bush administration engaged in policy borrowing– from the increased marketisation, stratification, and importation of new public managerialism and commercial interest in state/public education that were introduced by the Thatcher governments(1979-1990) in legislation such as the Education Reform Act of 1988.  The No Child Left Behind legislation has had very similar impacts in the United States. David Hursh (2005) writes on these similarities. There has been extensive `policy borrowing’ of neoliberal ideas and policies on education globally (Hill, 2006a, 2009a,b).

In the competitive market system of schooling in England, where schools are ranked on published ‘league tables’ of SATs and 16+ exam (GCSE, the General Certificate of Secondary Education) attainments, ‘rich’ schools have got richer, and so called ‘sink schools’ have sunk further. By hook or by crook, ‘high performing’ schools manage to select those children who have more, to use Bourdieu’s term (Bourdieu and Passeron, 1977; Hill, 2009c, Millar, 2012) high-status ‘cultural capital’. Those schools become more ‘middle class’, and low-performing schools more ‘working class’. Class differentiation has increased. And, as a feature of neoliberal capitalist discourse (and resulting policy) on education, it is the teachers and the public sector professionals that are blamed, rather than the high stakes testing, competitive education system itself, and its structural discrimination against the working class and some ethnic minorities.

First, let us look at social class, ‘race’, gender, sexuality and religion. It is evident that people are harassed, demeaned, violated, spat upon, attacked, and killed because of their sexuality, sex, `race’/ethnicity or religion. It is also evident that — and this is readily apparent and recognised in academic discourse, in political mobilizations, and in homes and streets and workplaces — we have multiple subjectivities, which come to the fore in our own minds and in the actions of others towards us.


Social class is segmented in two ways. It is stratified vertically by different social class strata or groups — for example, unskilled workers as the bottom stratum, skilled workers as a stratum above, then ‘white collar’ lower middle class sitting, in diagrammatic terms on top of those two groups and so on with layer upon layer of different social class strata on top. These strata/groups are characterised by different levels of reward, power, autonomy, health, and, indeed, actual length of life. But social class is also segmented horizontally by ‘race’ and by gender, for example. Hence, we have a ‘raced’ and gendered class.

Second, concerning social class analysis; a classical Marxist would hold to a binary analysis of class (see Hill, 1999; Kelsh and Hill, 2006; Greaves, Hill and Maisuria, 2007) but recognize the existence of different strata within the working class, that class of people who sell their labor power.

The widespread use of Weberian/neo-Weberian/lifestyle/consumption-based classifications of social class ‘hide’ the capitalist class and the relations of production — the source of the Marxist definition of class, and serve to segment and divide the working class — that class of workers (and dependents) who sell their labor-power. The Occupy Wall Street slogans about 99% against 1% are a pretty accurate application of the classical Marxist notion of class, with the 1% of the population who are the capitalists, exploiting the rest of the population who, whatever the descriptions applied to them, ‘middle class’, `working class’, `working middle class’ etc. share the major characteristic of Marxist class analysis of the working class. They are all exploited by the capitalist class which makes profit from the surplus value produced by their labor power.

In relation to social class and education, Steven J. Ball’s writings show how ‘middle class’ parents take ‘positional advantage’ in a market system (Ball, 2003, 2006).  Thatcher’s policies (1979-1990), continued by her Conservative successor  (John Major, 1990-1997) and intensified by the Blair `New Labour’ (1997- 2007) and Brown `New Labour’ governments (2007-2010), have to a large extent destroyed the system of all ability, mixed social class comprehensive schools in Britain (see Hill, 2006b). This process has been intensified by the current Conservative-Liberal Democrat (`Con-Dem’) Coalition government (elected in June 2010) policy of allowing virtually any group of parents to set up ‘free school’ (funded by the taxpayer, but likely at some stage to be run by for-profit education companies) and to allow any high-achieving primary (in the USA, ‘elementary’) school and secondary (in the USA ‘high’) school, to become an ‘Academy’. Academies are a set of schools with greater autonomy over admissions, the curriculum, teachers’ pay, the school workforce skill-mix, the budget; schools that are also taxpayer funded but outside the control of the democratically elected and accountable local education authority (in the USA, ‘school district’) (Millar, 2012).  The American equivalent of ‘Academies’ are Charter Schools. Currently in England and Wales Academies are pretty much handed over to rich businessmen or to religious/charity organisations to run. (There is an excellent website exposing them run by the Anti-Academies Alliance,

The rich do not have to bother maneuvering for positional class advantage. They buy it. With school fees at private (independent) schools being as much for one child as two to three times the total income of the minimum waged and the lower paid. In Britain, around 7% of the children in the country have privileged education bought for them in private schools. And they go to the most prestigious universities, and get the top jobs in hugely disproportionate numbers.

The National Curriculum for schools, introduced by the Conservative government in the 1988 legislation (The Education Reform Act), has been policed by inspection since then with dire penalties — ultimately job-losses for those who are non-compliant or who are at the foot of the league tables. Of course it is the schools in the poor areas, often those with the most committed teachers, that are near/at the bottom of the attainment league tables. The attainment map (of results for SATS and for GCSEs) in Britain mirrors the map of social deprivation, more specifically, the map showing the percentage of students receiving ‘Free School Meals’ (FSM). Nationally the FSM figure is around 13%. It varies from school to school, from local education authority from virtually zero percent, to schools where most students are poor enough to qualify for and receive FSM.


To turn from the relationship between class, education and neoliberalism, a related question is, can we have equity and social equality in a capitalist society such as the UK or the United States or Greece or Singapore? Within capitalist societies there are, and can be, varying degrees of equity/inequity, social equality/inequality. Capitalist society can be regulated to control profits and spread wealth, in the form of wages/salaries/income, and also in the form of the social wage, the welfare state, unemployment benefits, housing benefit/subsidy for the low paid, free universal health care, and state pensions. This is what a social democratic version of capitalist governments have gone for — at least in times of boom, where there is enough profit in the eyes of significant sectors of the capitalist class for large profits, and enough too, for spending on actual and social wage rises. This happened most notably, in what the French call `les trente glorieuses’, the thirty glorious years after the Second World War, when welfare states were demanded by workers’ organizations and workers’ parties, and enacted across much of the developed capitalist world. With respect to `revisionist’, or social democratic, it is important to note that Marx and Engels in The Communist Manifesto ([1848]/(1985)) recognize that it is necessary to “fight for the attainment of the immediate aims of the working class” (p.119).

Where we socialists and Marxists disagree with reformists, or `revisionists’, is that we fight for reformist improvements within capitalist society, but from a critical position. By ‘critical position’,  we mean a Marxist position, based on Marxist analysis of the essentially exploitative class-based nature of capitalist economy and society, and a determination to replace capitalism by socialism.

In Marxist analysis there can never be economic equity and social equity within capitalist systems. For Marxists what is important is not just social mobility, but how equitable or egalitarian a society is. A functioning meritocracy is an unequal route to a hugely unequal society, hugely unequal pay packets, and hugely stratified societies. The 1% in Singapore or Finland or Japan may have wealth and income less disproportionate to the bottom 99% or bottom 25% or 10% than that held  by the top 1% in the USA, or Britain, or Greece or Ireland; but the differences between that top 1%, the top capitalists and their top managers and bankers are still staggeringly huge. Just to take one example of inequality, in 2010 in London, the top 10% of society had on average a wealth of £933,563 compared to the meagre £3,420 of the poorest 10% – a wealth multiple of 273 (Ramesh, 2010). This is the multiple of the top 10%. The multiple of the top 1% would be in the thousands. This level of inequality has not been seen since the days of the slave trade. We really are seeing the impoverishment and to use a Marxist term, `immiseration’ (Greaves, Hill and Maisuria, 2007) of the working class in countries such as Greece and Britain.

Capitalist economies and societies vary enormously in terms of how an economy/society is. Countries range from hugely unequal rich societies such as the USA, the UK and Portugal — the most unequal of the `rich’ countries on the planet, to the least unequal of those rich societies. The most equal are Scandinavian countries such as Finland and Sweden, and East Asian countries such as Japan and Taiwan and Singapore. These measurements, related to the gini co-efficient, the difference between the income and wealth of the richest section of society as compared to the poorest, are set out remarkably clearly in Wilkinson and Pickett’s startling The Spirit Level (2009).


However much social mobility there is in a capitalist society, however much such societies facilitate and are marked by meritocracy, however equal the chances of `getting on’, of attaining a well-paid job are, meritocratic capitalism is characterized by this: equal chances to reach extremely unequal positions. Equal chances to reach positions that differ hugely in terms of income, wealth, length of life, and, even more marked by differentiation, the length of healthy life. Capitalism and equality are incompatible, both in empirical terms and in theoretical terms. Capitalist economic relations are essentially anti-egalitarian. Profit is the life blood of capitalism. Capitalists profit from the surplus value taken from the labor power of workers. This is an exploitative and anti-egalitarian relationship.

And, in connection with meritocracy, just as in history it tends to be the victors that write the ‘official’ narrative. It is the winners within a meritocratic system who decide `what is merit’. In England over the last 50 years there have been many criteria used in, for example secondary schooling to grade and rank and reward students. Since the implementation of the national curriculum for schools following the 1988 Education reform Act, the criteria for success are embedded in the GCSEs (General Certificate of Education) as they are the sole academic measurement for how well students have performed individually in gaining `mastery’ of particular subjects. However, within the more student centred, `liberal-progressive’ era in English education of the 1960s and early 1970s, and during the contemporaneous period, in some city areas, of attempts at socialist education (see Hill, 2001), then students were also deemed meritorious, and were graded on such criteria as `ability to work co-operatively in groups’, `concern for others’, and assessment patterns, in both some schools and universities, graded students not individually but in their groups, with a group grade.


So then, what role should teachers within schools, colleges, universities, those of us who are critical of capitalist education, play? What is, or can be, or should be, the role of critical pedagogues in fighting against capitalism?

Teachers should be actively involved in the fights for economic and social justice. They should be critical, organic, public, socialist, transformative intellectuals, who are activists.  Each of those five descriptors is important. Organic is being part of, knowing about, living, and representing the section of the class you are representing. Public means going public, speaking out, and defying intimidation. Socialist means being egalitarian, working for an egalitarian, and non-capitalist society, where the wealth (such as ‘the commanding heights of the economy’– banks, industry, and public utilities) of the country is owned collectively. By socialist, and I know this sounds truistic, I mean not just a  socialist, but a democratic socialist rather than an authoritarian or totalitarian  socialist — one where there is pluralism and also ‘free elections’ where a government can be replaced by the vote of the population. This is the case in socialist Venezuela. There President Hugo Chavez (much vilified by the international capitalist Press) has been democratically elected more times than virtually any other living head of state.

By transformative we mean using out abilities, teaching, membership, and leadership to critique and work towards reconstruction. Intellectual in the Gramscian sense (Gramsci, 1971; Giroux, 1988) recognizes that all people can think and do intellectualize. But that those of us who are educational or cultural or political workers have a unique position — and responsibility. Our job as teachers, as educators, is to think, to deal in thought. We have the luxury to think about, teach, and discuss ideas with others.

But our duty as socialist critical transformative activist intellectuals is more than this. It is to offer intellectual stimulus, analysis, utopianism, hope, vision — and an analysis of how to get there — organization. Hence I think it necessary to add, to critical, organic, public, socialist, transformative, and intellectual, the characteristic of ‘activist’.

We must go beyond critique, beyond deconstruction. We must also be reconstructive, and develop and work systems that are collegial, socially and environmentally responsible and egalitarian; that are anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic. What is fundamental in critical policy is to interrogate policy at all levels, and ask `who wins and who loses.’ And in designing programmes, pedagogies, action plans, government legislation, education policies, fiscal, economic and employment policies, we should look at policies through a class perspective, which (`raced’ and gendered) class, and class strata stand to win or lose, and what will they win/lose, and how? How, if necessary, such policies and plans can be resisted. In doing so we must critically interrogate our own policies, and avoid leaders, whether intellectual or political, holding aloft predesigned packages/gifts/policies. Such policies and programmes and exhortations (e.g. Hill, 2007a, b; Hillcole Group, 1997; McLaren, 2005; McLaren and Farahmandpur, 2004) need to be democratically considered and developed, rather than `handed down’ (Rikowski, 2004). However, we do have a function as intellectuals, and as political activists to actually consider and develop proposals — for them to be discussed and considered. We need to beware of `the tyranny of leaderlessness’.

What about universities that have been following a corporate, neoliberal model of education? How should we, as critical public intellectuals, fight against this corporate form of education?

This is difficult. You get fired. Our jobs are made redundant, especially if we are activists who speak out. We fight with whatever means we have. That means being an activist at the micro, the meso and the macro levels. For many activists, it can mean being active at the micro-level — in our classrooms and lecture halls and seminars and families; at the meso-level – in the local branch of the trade union or social movement  or protest/ issue campaign; and at the macro-level, being involved at national level in such organisations, campaigns and parties.

At national level, there are strategic debates over how wide we spread the net, the search, and the organizational forms embracing allies. Do Marxists, firstly, go for `revolutionary unity’ and work mainly with other Marxist groups that want to replace capitalism by socialism? Or, secondly, work within a `united front’, with social democrats `revisionists’, `reformists’ — those who seek no more than to reform capitalism, banding together with them, typically to resist austerity cuts in national and local social spending budgets, job cuts and privatisation. Or, thirdly, work with much broader coalitions, or `fronts’, drawing in, for example, liberal capitalist, liberal democratic and religious leaders and followers who might not take pro-working class perspectives at all. These are `popular fronts’, as for example prior to the Second World War in Spain and Portugal, and in the 1970s Anti-Nazi league in Britain, uniting varying ideological positions on the one main issue of opposing Fascism.

The danger with such popular fronts is that they become the unity of the lowest common denominator, lacking in political education, other than the powerful experience of ‘being there’– and of sometimes winning.

Perhaps the current situation demands a radical recomposition of the Left. But this is easier said than done. There are state agent provocateurs. There are histories of personal and group antagonisms, different modes of organization (strong democratic centralist top-down control within the party, or pluralist democracy, for example), and outright sectarianism. This distrust between different political formations continues to disable `revolutionary left unity’ and `united front’ recomposition. It is not easy, but struggle on the streets and in mass campaigns are helping and can help bring different groups together. If the moment is to be seized, it has to be done.

Through the wider struggles and our involvement, we can carry out what Marx called for, the development of class consciousness, a consciousness in which workers see through the lies and blindfolds of media manipulation and scholastic segregation, and become committed to class struggle. And this includes the development of visions of alternative socialist futures, as well as socialist present day schema and developments, in education, for example.

But can democracy be possible in a capitalist country controlled by CEOs of corporations that are oppressive to workers, impose cuts to salaries, pension rights, labor (union) rights, social and welfare provisions and benefits, to welfare states themselves?  Can capitalism and democracy go hand in hand? But yet again, what is democracy: the ability to vote every four or five years for candidates who have had to pass through political machines to get selected. Capitalism is essentially anti-democratic, it is about misleading, duping and cheating the people to ensure that the plutocracy, the capitalist class, retains and increases its wealth, power and control. And it is doing a good job with this system of ‘bourgeois democracy’.

Yet by virtue of periodic elections, open to major change, Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia — both socialist radicals (who are not perfect) redistributing wealth, land, power, services, welfare, to the masses, taking away from the capitalist oligarchies — benefitted from this imperfect model of periodic elections. Despite their imperfections, Chavez, and Morales, (and the unelected Castro governments in Cuba) have spread education, health care, the enhanced material conditions of existence for millions of workers, and, at a cultural level, promoted independencia. And in Western Europe, in the post-WW2 period, many countries elected redistributive social democratic governments, which did, for some decades (and still in Scandinavia), substantially removed fear of hunger, disease and destitution from their populations.

But parliamentarism is not enough. In Europe, at this time of massive assaults on the material life of workers, there are now millions on the streets in Greece, France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and Britain, strikes and mass mobilisations that can stop and reverse the cuts being carried out in this era of austerity capitalism; an era marked by huge pay cuts for public sector workers (for example 30% actual pay cuts for all public sector workers in Greece, with 150,000 public sector layoffs to take place by 2015, and a cut of 22% in the national minimum wage) (Eagainst, 2012; Sotiris, 2012a); changes to pension arrangements (with workers across Europe having to work longer to receive pensions that are smaller), mass lay-offs of public sector workers, large-scale cuts to social, welfare services and benefits; in England, the tripling of undergraduate fees to around £9,000 per annum, and the withdrawal of grants (the Education Maintenance Allowance that was worth up to £30 a week for students) to encourage and enable children from poor families to stay studying after the age of 16, and mass privatisation.

Parliament/Congress/the Town Council/Municipality can indeed be a valuable forum/platform for resistance, and valuable for enacting major reforms (such as pensions, free education, free health services) but it is direct action — such as the defeat of the Poll Tax — officially, the Community Charge — in Britain in 1990/91 (Socialist Worker, 2010) that often has more effect than well padded wallets and posteriors of leaders and parliamentarians who are either mega-rich or who are usually in the pockets of the multinationals, corporations, and the capitalist class.


It is also useful to note some contemporary developments in mass protest, social democracy and socialism. Mass protest has erupted internationally against the burgeoning and increasingly evident gross iniquities between the pockets and the lives and the bonuses of the bankers, and the increasing impoverishment of billions of workers across many countries. We are now in an era, like in 1848 and 1968 or the period 1917-20, of a semi-global movement for change — in some countries, a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary or potentially revolutionary situation. The recent (2011-2012) Occupy Wall Street movement that spread across the USA has its parallels across the world, paralleled in UKUncut denouncing tax-avoidance by the rich and by corporations, activities and mass student and worker demonstrations in 2009-2011 in Britain, the occupations and mass strikes/protests across Greece, and developing protests in Ireland and many other countries. And that is just in the ‘rich world’. Obviously mass protests are happening through the Arab world, too, and, less reported, in India, China, Eastern Europe and elsewhere.

In the face of immensely increased capitalist attacks in their class war from above (Harvey, 2005) we must have change; but not a vapid notion of change. Mass action by Occupy Wall Street and UKUncut demonstrations are brilliant, imaginative, and educational for the public and for participants. But for mass action to be successful, we need also the organised weight, history and power of the organised working class. This means trade unionists, workers (‘working and middle class’), student and socialist organisations, and new social movements and activist campaigners working together. Large scale demos are brilliant, but they are not enough. We need a political programme/set of ideas that is socialist/Marxist-democratic, pluralist, egalitarian…for the 99% not the 1%.

Socialists/Marxists and communists need to give some leadership in the current protests against the rich, against neoliberal capitalism, against capitalism itself, in Greece, Ireland, USA, UK, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia etc. We can and should work to offer and seek to provide ideological, strategic, and tactical leadership. Not using a specific blueprint of stages, and recognizing that the historical and contemporary balance of class forces varies from country to country. And working with and listening to other progressive forces.

But ultimately, we want more than the lowest common denominator of a million voices in Tahrir Square, Egypt, or Syntagma Square, Greece, or Trafalgar Square/Hyde Park in London. We want what Trotsky called ‘permanent revolution’, the need to progress beyond the bourgeois democratic revolution, in Africa and elsewhere. We need to go beyond replacing a set of White capitalists and imperialists with African or Asian capitalists in a neo-colonial economy. And in the USA to go beyond one set of (Democratic supporting) billionaire capitalists replacing a different set of (Republican supporting) billionaire capitalists. So the concept and practice of ‘permanent revolution’ means going beyond the bourgeois democratic revolution into a socialist revolution.

How then would citizens be active participants in political and educational decision-making processes? As in the Chartists of 1848, to the first dock strikes in London in the 1870s, to the one General Strike in Britain (in 1926), through more recently to the inner-city rebellions of 1981 and 1985, or Black and White urban youth rebelling against the Thatcherite recession/joblessness/police harassment, the poll tax rebellion of 1990-91: we need direct action.

On a smaller scale, in workplaces, staffrooms, then we have to fight for egalitarian social relationships, for manager and boss accountability to workers and consumers. We have to require transparency, about ‘who wins’ and ‘who loses’ in any particular situation. And we have to, as critical cultural workers and political activists, to co-develop, work to develop, have knowledge of/commitment to critical pedagogies, radical democracy, socialist democracy, and not just social justice/dignity; but to the economic relations (of co-ownership, workers’ control, collective ownership, accompanied by flattened differentials between rich, middle income and poor, of a comprehensive welfare state) that actually gives material meaning to the cultural acceptance of dignity and difference.

After all is said, can American imperialism take a different form or direction in the time ahead? No Empire lives forever, not the Roman Empire, the Soviet Empire, the British Empire or the Bellum Americanum. The US state is in more of a Fascist direction, with the intolerance of dissent typified by Bush’s ‘Patriot Act’, Cheney’s promotion of torture of suspects, ‘extraordinary rendition’ and Guantanamo, and more recently, Obama signing into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), with the capacity to `disappear’ those deemed `threats’. We seem headed for a dystopian future.

But having said that, we never know. We never know when a particular liberatory, emancipatory moment will arise, moments such as ‘The Arab Spring’ of 2011, or the French Revolution of 1789, or the Russian Revolution of 1917,  or the English Revolution of 1648: when a balance of class forces will alter, when peoples’ determination, hope, organization, will create a revolutionary situation, a possibility of making major change, of reconstituting the economic, political, social structures of economy, polity, and society, and of transitioning from capitalism into democratic socialism. That is our project, as socialist political and union activists, as radical democratic teachers, as critical pedagogues, or, better still as Peter McLaren proposes, as revolutionary critical pedagogues. We have to work for democratic socialism, where we can contribute to the anger, the analysis, the hope and utopianism, the organization, and the achievement of an egalitarian economy, society and polity.

It takes courage, what Freire (2001) called ‘civic courage’. But that is the alternative. To be explicit or complicit in the cruelty that is capitalism, the obscenity of unimaginable inequality, exploitation and oppression, the death of the dreams of millions, the ghettoisation of despair and hardship, the environmental social and educational degradation that ruins our planet and peoples while lavishly enriching the few capitalists and their senior servants.


So, are we to be explicit or complicit in our servile, or self-justified, acceptance of the currently exponentially expanding capitalist kleptocracy. Or do we take a principled stand and stand up for humanity and social justice, for the rather more fundamental economic justice and massive redistribution of wealth, income, power, life chances, and for a critical — and self-critical —  democratic socialist, anti-capitalist, future?  That is the choice. In current day terms, and in the words of Panagiotis Sotiris (2012b), “lets hope that Greece instead of a testing ground for extreme neoliberal reforms will eventually become a laboratory of social change”. We need to work, in Greece as elsewhere, for that social change to be Democratic Socialism/Marxism, (not social democracy, which is exhausted and pro-capitalist), rather than neoliberal immiseration and barbarism, Fascism, or military rule. The time for a minimum programme (of mitigating the Greek/British/Irish etc.) austerity within a capitalist framework is over. It is time for a maximum programme: for a socialist transformation and replacement of capitalism.


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[Thank you Dave for this contribution]

The writer is a socialist political activist and a professor at Middlesex University, London. He is also a visiting professor at the University of Athens, Greece as well as the University of Limerick, Ireland; and chief edits the Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, He is also Routledge editor for the Neoliberalism and Education series, and has published 18 books and many academic pieces.

If publishing or re-posting this article kindly use the entire piece, credit the writer and this website: Philosophers for Change, Thanks for your support.