Comments: Progressive austerity and self-organised learning

Hi, David

Well, it might be the case that the collapse of capitalism helps us to re-think our ideas about learning, teaching, schooling and technology. But I don't think we need that excuse.

I also think it's dangerous to conflate the two sets of ideas. Many of the progressive debates abour de/re-schooling came from the analysis that education systems by and large exist to serve the needs of the state (most often, therefore, the needs of those with economic power to have at their disposal various segmentations/levels of labour).

'Progressive austerity' won't allow us space to rethink our ideas; it will just make life miserable for lots of people in the UK, make life even more miserable for people in other parts of the world, and wage wars to restoke its engines.

We seem to have been manoeuvred into a position of self-flagellation where austerity and cuts are the norm. It looks like a slightly more sophisticated version of "if you want the rich to work harder, you pay them more; if you want the poor to work harder, you pay them less".

This crisis is not the fault of labour; it is the fault of a capitalist class who, we now see (or saw - for a brief period before MPs' expenses and the undeserving poor caused the crisis), have found it difficult to organise the party in their own brewery.

One reason there has not been a coherent response and mass opposition is that the ideas sown by the war-mongers of new labour have grown healthily - and of course been happily promoted by cancerous media. So it's suddenly our fault and we are all accepting that cuts are the answer and we have to suffer for a while.

Well, I say b*****ks to that. David Hare's play 'The Power of Yes' argues that when capitalism brought itself its knees, a distinct form of socialism emerged to help the rich, in which bank after bank was bailed out by the government. When I argued a few years ago at a Shock of the New event in Oxford (perhaps slightly more coherently; I'm afraid the debate about the 'answer to the crisis' makes me increasingly and ageingly apoplectic) that capitalism was the problem and its crises were inevitable and ever deeper and that it had a philosophical off-spring in the concept of 'personalisation' I was accused of a 'marxist rant'.

Good! and, along with Joe Hill's "don't mourn, organise", I'd say "learning technologists of the world unite; you have nothing to lose but your guilt". Or something equally unsnappy.

All the best

Posted by Kevin Donovan at September 29, 2009 4:52 PM

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for taking the trouble to comment so thoughtfully.

There's a lot in what you say that I kind of empathise with... while at the same time I'm not sure how it helps me/us move forward, beyond identifying a very diffuse source of the problem — the capitalist class — and the general exhortation to mobilise against it. Like many independent self-employed professionals, I find myself being both 'labour' and aspiring 'capitalist class' (as co-founder of a few small businesses), so this class war actually gives me an identity crisis.

There is one point I disagree with. You write "'Progressive austerity' won't allow us space to rethink our ideas." To which I say (a) if that were true, then it wouldn't be progressive, and (b) why should that be true?

My mission, if I have one here, is precisely to prove the opposite: to refuse to be hemmed in by austerity and to reframe it to create the space for rethinking.

I concede I hadn't thought about (or had forgotten) your point that "Many of the progressive debates abour de/re-schooling came from the analysis that education systems by and large exist to serve the needs of the state." I probably need to think about — and/or discuss — that some more.

But, to frame it more or less in your language, my first instinct is to wonder whether self-organising citizens can co-opt and reinvent some of the state machinery to suit their own purposes. And, in this era of progressive austerity, it might actually serve the needs of the state to go along with this.

There are two ways the powerless can organise. One is to organise in direct opposition to existing power centres. The other (not mutually exclusive, and increasingly feasible with new tools for organising) is to create our/their own power centres and ignore/work round/subvert the existing ones. I guess I'm interested in exploring the latter option.

Posted by David Jennings at September 29, 2009 5:43 PM

Thanks, David, and sorry for not responding earlier to this thoughtful reply to my comment. I've been on holiday and austerity-free for a few weeks! I'll get my thinking cap on again soon!

Posted by Kevin Donovan at October 29, 2009 11:55 AM

Austerity measures are now a hot topic globally. Although it does cause large unrest in every country that it affects, can we argue against it? Aren't the measures aiming to improve the economy in the long run?

Posted by Austerity Bill at December 17, 2010 1:57 PM
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