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Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published at The Hampton Institute

Egyptians Prepare In Tahrir Square For The First Anniverary Of The Revolution

Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism

Between 1952 and 2011, Egypt was ruled by three military dictators: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Nasser placated labour unrest and imposed many social programs that benefited the population. Sadat subsequently began to break down the ‘social contract’ with Egyptian society, and when Mubarak came to power in 1981, the following three decades witnessed the imposition of a neoliberal order, complete with crony-capitalists, corrupted bureaucracies and a repressive police force. Three decades of increased poverty, polarized wealth and power, and increased labour unrest all laid the groundwork for the 2011 popular uprising.

As Nasser came to power in Egypt in 1952, he successfully crushed labour militancy in the country, and even executed two labour leaders as a symbol of the new regime’s lack of tolerance for radical labour actions. Nasser engaged in a power struggle for a brief period, before assuming complete power in 1954, at which point independent political organizations were banned and he “ushered in a populist-corporatist pact between labour and the state,” in which “the state controls the bulk of the economic, political, and social domains, leaving little space for society to develop itself and for interest groups to surface, compete, and act autonomously.”[1]

Labour groups were organized “into a limited number of singular, compulsory, non-competitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories.” In 1957, the government created the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (GFETU), monopolizing labour unions under the government, purging the radical leaders and co-opting the moderates. Since this period, “trade unions have functioned as an arm of the state rather than as democratic representatives of workers.” Thus, labour activism and actions largely subsided throughout the 1950s and 60s.[2]

Despite violent repression of independent political organizations, communists and militant labour groups, Nasser became incredibly popular both within Egypt and across the wider Arab world. He established a one-party state and a large security apparatus “to crush any and all dissent.” However, his articulation and actions related to Arab nationalism and Arab socialism – the twin pillars of his ‘revolution’ – sought to free Egypt and the Arab world from imperial domination, and to undertake a social revolution domestically as “part of an informal social contract where the population accepted constraints on its political freedom in exchange for the promise of higher living standards and a stronger nation.”[3]

A large network of social services was established, which “provided employment, education and healthcare, as well as subsidized transportation and food.” This program also entailed “spending large sums of money on the military, which was seen as the protector of the nation from external enemies.” These social programs helped to “create a modern middle class” in Egypt.[4] The allegiance of the middle class to the authoritarianism of the regime was secured by the government guaranteeing state employment to all university graduates.[5]

Nasser also implemented major agrarian reforms, which between 1952 and 1961, “redistributed about one seventh of the country’s cultivable land from large landowners… passed on to the landless and near landless fellahin rather than kept for direct use by the state.” This led to an “improvement of rural incomes and agricultural production,” and attempted to undermine the influence of the large landowning class of Egyptians.[6]

With the defeat of Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Nasser’s government suffered a humiliating defeat, and Nasser’s death in 1970 led to the emergence of a new dictator, Anwar Sadat, also emerging from the military, who ruled the country from 1970 until 1981. Undertaking a policy of ‘de-nasserisation,’ Sadat sought to undo many of Nasser’s more progressive policies, earning him the favour of the West. Among such policies were to return the “confiscated” land to the large landowners within Egypt by employing an ‘open door’ market-oriented program called infitah. The intifah helped to create the conditions for a real estate and credit boom, ultimately adding to Egypt’s foreign debt as the country became increasingly dependent upon foreign financing and ‘investment.'[7]

The infitah – or “opening” – wrote Hibbard and Layton, “offered an alternative vision of economic development to that of Arab socialism;” beginning a process of liberalization and an influx of Western capital, “to integrate Egypt into the Western capitalist system.” Sadat’s policies also oversaw the gradual elimination of Nasser’s social programs and “the abandonment of Nasser’s anti-imperialism.” The country quickly became more trade dependent, having to import staple foods, and foreign financing was limited to non-productive sectors of the economy. Egypt increasingly exported its labour to the Persian Gulf, which helped to reduce the problems of unemployment at home, and increased the country’s reliance upon remittances from its foreign workers sending their wages back home. In 1974, labour remittances, oil exports, tourism, foreign aid and the Suez Canal accounted for nearly a third of Egypt’s foreign income, a number that exploded to 75% in 1980. A new commercial elite developed with extensive ties to the state, while economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society accelerated.[8]

Such policies did not occur without resistance, however, with opposition emanating from academics, state bureaucrats and workers, with strikes and “popular unrest” occurring throughout the mid-1970s, with a major transport worker strike in 1976 and large bread riots in 1977. Sadat responded to the labour unrest and food riots by sending in the military to crush the protests. Sadat oversaw the construction of an alliance between the large landowning class, the business class, and the conservative religious elite, and even sought to build ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Further, Sadat rebuilt ties with the United States, and even established an alliance and peace treaty with Israel, negotiated by the Carter administration in the U.S. as the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords. With that, Sadat lost a great deal of popular support, and Egypt’s Islamists rejected him. Sadat was ultimately assassinated by an Islamist group in 1981.[9]

In 1981, Hosni Mubarak then took control of Egypt, also emerging from within the military and continuing the trend of maintaining the military dictatorship established since 1952, and deepening the economic ‘reforms’ begun under Sadat. Under Mubarak, the military and economic elites became more closely integrated, and with the imposition on the Emergency Law following Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak wielded more authoritarian power, suspending the constitution and dismantling the rights of citizens, also allowing for “detention without charge, press censorship and other restrictions on civil liberties.” A new – parallel – legal system was constructed, relying upon military courts, purportedly for use against ‘terrorists’ but used to persecute any and all forms of political opponents.[10]

Mubarak oversaw – during the 1980s and 1990s – a massively expanded entrenchment of neoliberal economic and social reforms in Egypt. Mubarak also pursued a major campaign against Islamists, who were making political gains with segments of the population by capitalizing on the poverty and popular anger toward the government, largely brought on as a result of the economic reforms. Mubarak’s Egypt thus became a major human rights violator, all the while receiving immense financial and military aid from Western governments, namely, the United States. The role of the security services – in particular the police forces under the control of the Interior Ministry – became more predominant throughout Mubarak’s rule, with torture and other abuses widespread.[11]

The military plays a very large role in the economy as well, and under Mubarak, military officials were appointed as regional governors, village chiefs and put in charge of state-run companies. The military itself has undertaken large land expropriations, runs companies and factories, giving it a major role to play in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, gas and consumer industries. The military, however, keeps most of its economic activities secret, and does not pay taxes while often using “conscripted labourers” for its workforce.[12]

Mubarak began to implement further ‘reforms’ to the agrarian sector along neoliberal lines during the 1980s. The Agriculture Minister Yusuf Wali began implementing agriculture sector liberalization policies in 1986, working “hand in hand with USAID and the World Bank.” The U.S. stressed “market-oriented” reforms and promoted export-led growth, as USAID invested $1.26 billion in the agricultural reforms. These reforms continued over the 1990s, and resulted in widespread dispossession of small farmers and a further alliance between economic and military-political elites.[13]

The major neoliberal reforms in Egypt arrived under Mubarak with the signing of a 1991 Economic Restructuring and Adjustment Program with the IMF, demanding liberalization of trade and prices, privatization, and labour ‘flexibility,’ as well as the removal of several social safety net measures.[14]

The ‘new economic elite’ that emerged in Egypt as a result of the IMF’s programs of the 1990s were closely tied to the ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), and Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who headed the NDP. Prominent businessmen became more influential in policy-making circles and “the number of businessmen elected to Egypt’s parliament increased from 8 in 1995 to 150 by 2005.”[15] Public spending on social services was dramatically cut, state-owned industries were privatized and employees fired, resulting in “staggering hardships for the majority.”[16]

As labour was under sustained attack, they fought back, with twice as many labour protests in the 1990s than took place during the 1980s. With the 1991 IMF program, Egypt was firmly entrenched in a neoliberal ‘order,’ which would accelerate over the following two decades. Fifteen years following the IMF program’s beginning – by 2006 – Egyptian workers had been subjected to continuous hardships and exponentially increased their resistance to it.[17]

The privatization program led to the unprecedented plundering of the Egyptian economy into the hands of relatively few economic elites. Out of 314 state-run companies, 209 were privatized by 2005, “leading to a massive displacement of public sector workers, and with it a further weakening of the struggling labour movement.” The number of workers employed by public sector companies was cut in half between 1994 and 2001. The IMF praised the privatization program in 2006 for having “surpassed expectations.” Wealth and power was concentrated “in the hands of a tiny layer of the country’s elite,” and a few large conglomerates dominated the major sectors of the economy. As Henry Veltmeyer wrote, “Mubarak – and the Egyptian state as a whole – represented an entire capitalist class.”[18]

Neoliberal reforms were further implemented under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif (2005-2011), which saw businessmen take a more direct role in managing the state, with six major government ministries being run by six major businessmen in the areas of trade and industry, housing, transportation, health, agriculture and social welfare. Taxes were dramatically cut for corporations and elites and dramatically increased for the rest of the population. Corruption and embezzlement of public funds was rampant as the privatization programs effectively subsidized “the private sector at the expense of the nation as a whole.”[19]

The costs of food, fuel and transportation skyrocketed, while Prime Minister Nazif instructed protesting Egyptians to “grow up.” Thus, in 2006, Egypt witnessed a new wave of labour unrest.[20] Independent forms of worker organization re-emerged and in 2006 alone, “there were 220 major strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in the largest strike wave that Egypt had seen in decades,” and which were increasingly linking up with peasant movements protesting against the large landowners.[21]

In 2006, a three-day strike of workers at a weaving and spinning factory in El-Mahalla was “a major turning point in the history of the Egyptian workers’ movement,” marking a total work-stoppage and for a much longer duration than strike action prior and helped in the formation of new workers associations with more democratic accountability, directly challenging the state monopoly over unions.[22]

The strike was “the largest and most politically significant industrial strike since a dispute in the same workplace in 1947,” having roughly 24,000 workers participating, with over 10,000 occupying the factory for three days and nights, and on the fourth day the government granted a concession by offering a 45-day bonus. This set off a wave of worker protests and strikes across the country over the following years. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.7 million workers participated in protest actions, including private and public industrial workers, postal workers, educational administrators, workers in transportation, tax collection, healthcare, and other sectors. The recent years of labour unrest has been referred to as “the largest social movement in over half a century” taking place within Egypt.[23]

Between 2006 and 2008, Egypt recorded annual growth rates of 7%, and in 2009 – while much of the world was experiencing negative growth – Egypt recorded a 4.6% growth rate. However, between 2008 and 2009, poverty in Egypt increased from 20% to 23.4%, while roughly 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day, one-third of the population is illiterate, and youth make up roughly 90% of the unemployed. Thus, while the neoliberal reforms of the previous three decades produced high growth rates, “it has [also] led to worsening living standards for the majority of the population and the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority.”[24] Between 1998 and 2010, there were between 2 and 4 million workers who took part in between 3,400 and 4,000 strikes and other labour actions.[25] There were 266 strikes and labour actions in 2006, 614 in 2007, and they reached roughly 1,900 in 2009.[26]

As strikes escalated, the demands for higher wages and more democratic union representation evolved into demands for the end of the Mubarak regime (and the neoliberal reign of Prime Minister Nazif). One strike organizer in 2007 told a radio program, “We are challenging the regime.” At strikes, workers were chanting, “We will not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be ruled by colonialism!” Images of signs at protests circulated, reading, “Down with the Government. We want a Free Government.” One strike leader who was arrested in 2007, said upon his release: “We want a change in the structure and hierarchy of the union system in this country… The way unions in this country are organized is completely wrong, from top to bottom. It is organized to make it look like our representatives have been elected, when really they are appointed by the government.”[27]

The second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 helped spawn new social movements within Egypt. The Cairo Conference was held in 2002 in an attempt to organize disparate social groups around two main shared positions: anti-neoliberalism and anti-war. In 2004, this led to the formation of the Kefaya (“Enough”), the Egyptian Movement for Change.[28] This was aided along by a major demographic change within the country, where by 2011, roughly 52% of Egypt’s population was under the age of 25, and it was this group which disproportionately lacked employment, with roughly 95% of post-secondary educated youth being unemployed or working in fields unrelated to their education with very low pay. It was this demographic which became increasingly mobilized around non-ideological movements such as Kefaya, organizing a series of anti-Mubarak protests between 2004 and 2005, demanding democracy and accountability. The younger members of this group then established the April 6 Movement, “an organization that emerged in support of the 2008 strike by textile workers in Mohalla al-Kubra.”[29]

A number of other social groups and protests organizations emerged from 2004 onwards, including Students for Change, Youth for Change, University Professors for Change, Workers for Change, Artists for Change, and the People’s Campaign for Change, among many others. In 2005, as Kefaya organized a massive anti-Mubarak protest, an organization of Egyptian intellectuals was formed as the National Assembly for Democratic Transition. Lawyers, journalists and other professions increasingly took part in protests.[30]

The April 6 Youth Movement began to support the Mahalla workers’ strike in 2008, with founder Ahmed Maher having started a Facebook page that quickly reached over 70,000 members. As support grew, the government crack down ensued, with roughly 500 activists arrested over the following two months, including Maher (who was also tortured).[31]

Since the Mubarak government made it illegal to hold meetings of more than five people, with a heavy-handed approach to information control and news censorship, Facebook and other Internet-based social media platforms quickly became very popular among young Egyptians. Roughly one in nine people in Egypt have Internet access, and 9% of those who have access used Facebook, making it the most visited website in the country, following Google and Yahoo. The Facebook page for the April 6 movement, reported the New York Times in 2009, was the page “with the most dynamic debates” among young Egyptians, “most of whom had never been involved with politics before joining the group.” The Facebook page provided a venue for young Egyptians “to assemble virtually and communicate freely about their grievances.”[32]

The United States has been a major sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship, giving it extensive leverage with the regime. Between 1948 and 2011, the U.S. provided Egypt with a total of $71.6 billion in bilateral foreign aid (most of which consisted of an annual aid package of $1.3 billion in military aid from 1987 to present), and since the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. ‘aid’ in the world (after Israel).[33]

Another large international sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship was the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which also heaped praise upon the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali prior to its overthrow. In a 2010 report on Egypt, the IMF noted that the country had been following the Fund’s advice on economic reforms, though continued to recommend “phasing out energy subsidies” and increasing privatizations. The IMF further noted that, “the relationship between Egypt and the World Bank Group has been transformed and markedly improved over the last few years as a result of the progress Egypt has made in implementing reforms.”[34]

In 2010, labour unrest continued throughout the country, with one strike organizer telling the press in May of 2010, “The government represents the marriage between authority and money – and this marriage needs to be broken up… We call for the resignation of Ahmad Nazif’s government because it works only for businessmen and ignores social justice.”[35]

Egypt was clearly on the edge of an uprising, all that was required was a ‘spark’ – which came in the form of the Tunisian uprising in December of 2010 and January of 2011. With the overthrow of the long-time dictator, Ben Ali, in Tunisia, Egyptians were motivated to mobilize against Mubarak.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.


[1] Rabab El-Mahdi, “Labour protests in Egypt: causes and meanings,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 390.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 198-199.

[4] Ibid, page 199.

[5] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 390.

[6] Ray Bush, “Coalitions for Dispossession and Networks of Resistance? Land, Politics and Agrarian Reform in Egypt,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (Vol. 38, No. 3, December 2011), page 395.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), page 200.

[9] Ibid, pages 200-201.

[10] Ibid, pages 201-202.

[11] Ibid, pages 202-203.

[12] Angela Joya, “The Egyptian revolution: crisis of neoliberalism and the potential for democratic politics,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 372.

[13] Ray Bush, op. cit., pages 396-397.

[14] Angela Joya, op. cit., page 370.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, op. cit., page 202.

[17] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.

[18] Henry Veltmeyer, “Unrest and Change: Dispatches from the Frontline of a Class War in Egypt,” Globalizations (Vol. 8, No. 5, October 2011), page 612.

[19] Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 370-371.

[20] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.

[21] Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 612.

[22] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., pages 397-399.

[23] Ibid, pages 387-388.

[24] Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 611.

[25] Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 326.

[26] Ibrahim Awad, “Breaking Out of Authoritarianism: 18 Months of Political Transition in Egypt,” Constellations (Vol. 20, No. 2, 2013), page 278.

[27] Joel Beinin, op. cit., page 331.

[28] Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 368-369.

[29] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 206-207.

[30] Angela Joya, op. cit., page 369.

[31] Ellen Knickmeyer, “Fledgling Rebellion on Facebook Is Struck Down by Force in Egypt,” The New York Times, 18 May 2008:

[32] Samantha M. Shapiro, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,” The New York Times, 22 January 2009:

[33] Jeremy M. Sharp, “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, 27 June 2013: page 9.

[34] Patrick Bond, “Neoliberal threats to North Africa,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), pages 483-484.

[35] Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 339.


Organize, Imagine, and Act: How a Student Movement Can Become a Revolution

Organize, Imagine, and Act: How a Student Movement Can Become a Revolution

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

From the London student protests, 2010

And so it seems that the student strike in Quebec is slowing down and nearing an end, as the college – CEGEPs – in Quebec have voted to return to class, with roughly 10,000 students having voted to continue the strike, a far reduction from the 175,000 students that were on strike in late April and early May. The strike began in February of 2012 in opposition to a planned 75% increase in the cost of tuition. The students mobilized massive numbers, held mass protests, undertook picket lines at schools, expanded the issue into a wider social movement, and were consistently met with state violence in the form of riot police, pepper spray, tear gas, beatings with batons, being shot with rubber bullets, even being trampled by horses and driven into by police cars. The government enacted Bill 78, assaulting the rights to freely assemble and speak, and put a ‘pause’ on the school semester to end picket actions. Now that the school semester is starting back up again, and an election looms in the coming weeks, the students are being led away from the streets and into voting booths. The ‘Maple Spring’ has become the ‘Fall Election’.

Meanwhile, in Chile, where a student movement that began in May and June of 2011, mobilized against a highly privatized education system, is continuing with renewed energy. There had been ups and downs of actions and mobilizations within Chile over the past 15 months, but in mid-August of 2012, the resurgence was seen as students began occupying high schools, blocking streets, and undertaking mass protests. Students who took part in the occupations were threatened with having their scholarships removed. In over a year of protesting, the students have not seen any meaningful changes to their educational system, or even inclinations that those in power were listening to their demands with anything other than disdain and contempt. The students have long been met with state violence, from the oppressive apparatus of a former military dictatorship, fighting an educational system which was established near the end of the military dictatorship. Riot police would meet students with tear gas, water cannons, batons, mass arrests, and other forms of assault. Police have subsequently stormed the high schools and arrested over a hundred students participating in the occupations. This caused the university students to get more involved, and they occupied the Universidad de Chile, which had not been occupied since the beginning of the movement the previous year (often known as the Chilean Winter).

In Chile, as in Quebec, protests and marches and even the right to demonstrate are frequently declared to be illegal. In both Chile and Quebec, when protests erupted into violence (which is more often than not incited by the police themselves), these are called “riots,” and they are used in the media and public discourse to portray the movements as violent, extremist, trouble-makers, vandals, and criminals. This is designed to reduce public support for the protests (which was far more successful in Quebec than Chile), and to subsequently dismiss the demands of the students. There are, in fact, a wider variety of similarities and interesting comparisons between the Chilean Winter and the Maple Spring. Chilean students and academics have even expressed solidarity with the Quebec student movement.

We face an issue here. The student movements don’t seem to be getting anywhere substantial in terms of establishing some sort of meaningful change. This is not to say they have not achieved anything; quite the opposite, in fact. The student movements have been successful at mobilization large numbers of people, organizing protests and indeed, in politicizing a generation, which is their most sincere and important success to date. Students have suffered under propaganda campaigns, violent repression, legal intimidation, and, most of all, the determination of an elite who view any and every minor concession as the ultimate unthinkable sacrifice which would ruin all of society. In short, elites are more stubborn than students could ever seem to be, and they have the means to hold their position and tire the students out if they can’t simply scare them away or crush them down. So, while symbolic actions and political radicalization are necessary achievements, the will to continue taking actions and the hope to manifest radical ideas becomes worn down, demoralized, and sapped of its strength. This is incredibly challenging to revive if the circumstances and courses of action do not change.

So perhaps it is time for a new tactic. Instead of having radicalization follow mobilization, students could begin to have radicalization guide mobilization. For any social movement to advance, grow, and become something not simply demanding reforms, or demanding something from power, it needs to provide something to the students, to the communities, and the public at large; it needs to create. This is the difference between a reformist movement and a revolutionary movement. In this context, the word ‘revolutionary’ is not used to imply a usurping of state power and violent overthrow of authority, but rather  to transform on a radical scale our conception and participation in specific or all sectors of society. Thus, it is essential to provide new ideas for action, rather than discussing and debating the new terms of capitulation. It can make all the difference between a question of how little students will get from their demands, to a question of how much we can get from a new educational structure itself. A discussion of new ideas must replace – or coincide with – the articulation of ignored demands.

How is this possible? What might this look like?

For students, the fundamental issue is education. For the student movements, growth came from expanding the issue into a wider social one, and linking up with other organizations and causes. This expands the scope, and thus, the base of support for a student movement. However, established unions played a large role in guiding (or attempting to guide), fund, and organize in cooperation with student movements. While the cause of workers is an issue that must be engaged with, the established unions that have survived to this point, roughly thirty years into the global neoliberal era, have survived only because they function on a basis of cooperating with the established powers of society, the state and corporations. They are corporatist institutions.

Over one hundred years ago, unions were extremely radical, organized, massive, and revolutionary. The actions and ideas of radically organized labour were the impetus for 8-hour work days, weekends, pensions, job security, benefits, an end to child labour, and much more. Unions subsequently faced roughly a century of battering, violence, co-optation, and destruction. Those which remain are not radical, but only slightly reformist. I say ‘slightly’ because they do not mobilize to fight for new ideas or issues, but only to protect and preserve the reforms previously implemented as a result of radical labour agitation. Thus, union representative serve as a buffer for the blunt force of the state and organized capital and corporate interests which consistently seek to undermine and exploit labour. The major unions typically serve to soften the blow against workers as the elite bring down the hammer. Under this system, all rights, benefits, security and protections are slowly and inevitably worn down and thrown away. When the established unions provide funds and direction for the student movements, they tend to steer them away from radical or revolutionary paths, and promote a highly reformist direction, and which can only be undertaken through negotiation with and capitulation to the state and corporate interests. This gets us to where we are.

When it comes to engagement and interaction, solidarity, and cooperation with labour, it should, in fact, be the more radical – and radically organized – students who lead the unions back to a more radical direction, to take them back to their origins when they achieved successes instead of softened failures. If they refuse to follow a radical direction, then students should encourage and attempt to find means of supporting the organization of new labour organizations: provide assistance, direction, ideas and physical and moral support. Students could be mobilized into the streets for workers’ rights as well as educational rights.

The main point here is that for a movement to radicalize and become revolutionary, it must cooperate with, support, and be supported by other radical and revolutionary organizations and movements. If the more dominant force is reformist, established, and corporatist (by which I mean its functioning ideology is accepting of the state and corporate dominated society), then these organizations will attempt to co-opt, direct, and steer your movement into an area ‘safe’ for the elites, if not altogether undermined and eliminated. It is not necessarily done out of an insidious desire to destroy your student movements, but rather the result of an insidious ideology embedded within the very functions of their organizations. Thus, integration, mutual support, dependency and interaction with other social movements must take place at a radical and revolutionary level if you are to sustain that potential and desire within your own movement. It’s unfortunate, because it’s more difficult; but it’s true, all the same.

Therefore, what is required are radical ideas of organization: for the student associations and other associations they interact with to be more accountable, directly, to their constituents. Instead of elected delegates or representatives making all the decisions (which is how our governments function), the decisions must be made by the constituents, and the representatives merely carry them out and organize accordingly. The student associations in Quebec and elsewhere function more along these radical lines, while labour and other groups typically do not. If student associations do not function in this manner, that is the first issue which must be addressed: either demand the associations to change, or create new ones and thereby make the unrepresentative ones obsolete. Thus, for a student movement to become revolutionary, the first step is the radicalization of organization.

Now onto something more interesting: how to radicalize ideas and actions in education itself. This next step is about the radicalization of action. While the first step, in many instances – the radicalization of organization – had been achieved in several of the student movements, the actions themselves lacked radicalization. The actions were largely confined to mass demonstrations, picket lines, school occupations, and youth rebellion against state violence and repression. These are all important actions on their own: establishing solidarity, power in numbers, a public presence, a demonstration of will and power, the development of ‘self-esteem’ for a social movement. These are necessary, but if the actions do not evolve, the movement itself cannot evolve. Thus, what is required at this point is a discussion of new ideas of action. Typically, as is the case at the moment in Quebec, students are being told to stay out of the streets and go to the voting booth, where “real” change can be made. This is illusory and useless. Unless there is a radical party, the best that can be hoped for is to delay the inevitable assault on education, or perhaps achieve a minor concession, which would likely be more of an insult than incentive.

New ideas of action must come from the students themselves, and there are a number of initiatives that could be discussed and undertaken. Fundamentally, instead of demanding from power, create something new. If education is what you want, begin to do it yourselves. In the case of a school occupations, why should the students not simply begin to have discussions on issues, share knowledge, invite professors, academics, and others who are supportive of the movement to come talk and share their knowledge?

This does not need to only take place in occupied schools, though that would be quite symbolic, but could essentially take place in any public space. It would function as a type of grassroots educational system, designed to share and expand knowledge, not to prepare you for the workforce. Job opportunities are already vanishing everywhere for youth, and they will continue to do so as the economic crisis gets worse. These types of educational forums could potentially be designed to educate and share knowledge on issues of relevance to the student movements themselves: the history of education, protest and social movement history, political power, repression, the economic system – Capitalism, neoliberalism, etc. This could – and should – expand into much larger issues and areas of knowledge, including arts, the sciences, philosophy, etc. There are already people within society who have gained their knowledge through educational institutions, and thus, there are already people from whom to draw this knowledge from in a new forum, and in a new way.

To give an example, imagine a ‘class’ (or forum) on the history of social struggles. First, a physical space is required, so to set up in a park, public venue, rent a space, or occupy a space (such as a school lecture hall). The students should have previously discussed – likely through social media networks – which intellectuals and individuals they would like to invite to come speak to them about the issue. The invited speakers would share their knowledge on the history of social struggles, promote discussion, debate one another, and engage directly with the students. For every invited outside speaker, a student should be invited to speak also, to share their own knowledge and engage on an equal basis. The notion that students are there only to learn and not teach is an incorrect one, and it’s a misnomer that should be addressed and acted upon.

The public at large should also be accepted into these educational forums. The point should be to expand knowledge and discussion among the general population, not merely the students. But the students are the ones capable of providing this forum for the population at large. To add to this: such forums should be broadcast through social media, filmed and recorded, watched online both live and archived. Students could organize ‘subject collectives’, perhaps having a group of students organized along the lines of the larger student associations (through direct democracy), who would oversee the organization of each subject or issue: history of social movements, political economy, media studies, etc. Each ‘collective’ could establish its own website, where the wider community would be encouraged to engage, support, recommend speakers and issues and venues, watch archived or live-feed forums, debate in online forums, be notified of events and speakers, and be provided with educational material, reading sources, etc. The students could write papers which would then be posted publicly on such sites, to promote discussion and to actually use the knowledge instead of writing papers for a grade, which is a rather absurd notion. These sites could have news sections, providing relevant news and developments from around the world related to their issue. The collective itself – both within the community and online – then becomes a forum for the development and extension of knowledge to a much larger sector of society, locally and globally.

This is where the actions become even more important. For a social movement to survive and expand into a revolutionary movement, it must not isolate itself, and must engage and interact directly with the wider population. The best way to do this, and one which has the added necessary effect of increasing the movement’s support among the population, is to provide a service or need. In the case of a student movement: that need is education. Merely ‘opening up’ forums to the public may not be enough. Students or ‘subject collectives’ could individually organize smaller meetings and discussions, in neighbourhoods and venues all over the city, region, or country, where students themselves speak with and to the public on issues in which they have been getting their education.

In Quebec, where students have been consistently framed by the media and elites as “entitled brats,” this tactic would be a means to share our so-called ‘entitlements’ with the wider population, and at no cost to them. Thus, as students gain knowledge, they share knowledge with others. For example, a couple history students could hold a small forum at a cafe or in a small public location which they had promoted within the neighbourhood and on social media for people to freely come to listen and engage in a discussion about a particular history topic. Of course, knowledge in such circumstances should not simply be abstract or obtuse, but relevant to those who are engaging with it. So if the discussion is on a ‘history of social movements,’ students should share knowledge on this, but make it relevant to the current social movement, to the social conditions of the wider population, and ask questions and engage with others in the venue: to promote discussion and debate. Thus, instead of the public viewing students as ‘entitled’, they may come to view students as ’empowering.’

This type of tactic would especially have to be employed within poor communities, and oppressed communities, where students would have to be willing to listen and learn more than they would be inclined to speak and teach. This is because many student movements, simply by their position as being students, generally come from a more privileged sector of society than the really poor, minority, immigrant, or otherwise oppressed communities. These sectors largely remain in the sidelines of the student movements themselves. This must change, and for a very fundamental reason: there is a great deal to learn from these communities. Oppressed peoples have experienced and known for a much longer period of time what the majority of students are only just starting to learn and experience: the true nature and interest of power, the violent and oppressive state apparatus, the underbelly of the economic system, the reality of social existence for a great many people. In short, it would be a means through which to educate the students on deeper issues of social strife, by listening and speaking directly to and with those who exist within oppressed social spheres.

But there cannot be any taking without giving. So while oppressed communities may perhaps be willing to share their own knowledge with students and engage in discussion and debate, the students must provide something back to these communities. There is a very simple way to get this started: ask them what they need most in their communities. For example, if one community cited the cost and quality of food as a central issue, students could then leave the first meeting with the community with the intent to organize and plan around this issue. The students could hold their own discussions, meetings, debates, and share ideas on how to help resolve this specific issue within that specific community, and then propose various ideas to those community leaders. The ideas would be subject to critique, dismissal, support, etc, to go back to the drawing board with new suggestions or to get to work, putting action to the ideas.

So with the issue of food, for example, students could perhaps organize around the idea of establishing a community food garden, proposing it to the community, and, if approved and critiqued, they could find an area of land, get the support and materials they need, and work with members of that community to plant and establish such a garden, to help move toward some form of food sustainability, provided either free or cheap to those within that area. Potentially, there could be a student educational association which specialized in sharing knowledge about nutrition, horticulture, etc., and they could be brought in to share their knowledge, help in the endeavour, or even make it a staple feature of their functioning: to go to different communities to help establish food sustainability.

These are, of course, just ideas of actions, there is no reason to follow this specific outline. This is meant to merely promote the discussion of this concept: the actions, organizations, and objectives which would result from a radicalization of action are likely to be far more varied, interesting, and effective than these mere suggestions. However, I used these examples of actions and ideas to show how a student movement protesting against something (such as a tuition increase), can become a revolutionary movement for something.

These actions are revolutionary because they force people to question and reconsider their conceptions of education, its manifestation, its purpose, its institutionalization, philosophy, etc. The actions themselves engage directly with people, drawing from and providing to the population as a whole. This increases support among the population, but also greatly strengthens the ideas and actions of the students themselves. At such a conceivable point, it could not be called a ‘student movement,’ but could only be identified as a much wider social movement, which would help radicalize the wider society itself, which would in turn provide new ideas and actions to the students; solidarity in both words and actions.

These actions are revolutionary because they attempt to maneuver around power structures instead of expending all of their energy on directly battling the power structure itself. By going around the power structure – around the state, the schools, the corporations, etc. – the students would create a parallel educational structure within society, making the existing one increasingly obsolete. As this is done, the bargaining power of the state and other structures is reduced, because the students no longer rely exclusively upon them for an education. The state would most certainly attempt to repress such a movement, or perhaps even to offer much larger incentives, concessions, or even meet the previous demands of students in order to get them back in the schools and within an educational system that power controls. The state is well-established to deal with direct confrontations: that’s what police, armies, guns, badges and lawyers are for. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’re demanding, or where you are demanding it, the state can simply tear gas you, scare you, disperse you, and wait you out. But to move around the power structure, and to create and establish something new, not under the control or direction of established institutions of power, the power structures become very nervous and insecure.

It would be foolish to think that the power structures would not respond with more state violence than they have up until present, they most certainly would. The primary difference, however, would be that the public support for the movement would have conceivably exploded, and in the case of increased violence, it would explode in anger and opposition to the state. In short, while the state would be likely to increase its tactics of intimidation and violence, the public response would likely be far more powerful than anything we have seen thus far. We saw an example of this in Quebec, when the government passed the repressive Bill 78 and a much larger segment of the population was mobilized in opposition to the government. However, this has now largely faded, and again, it’s about the difference between mobilizing against something and mobilizing for something. It’s the difference between opposition and proposition, demand and action.

The fundamental idea which I am arguing is that for a student movement to become a revolutionary movement, it must transform its demands of education into actions for education. If the issue is education, the answer is education. The inability of the student movements to have their demands met reveals a deeply-ingrained flaw in our society: that an institution does not reflect or respond to the demands of its supposed constituents. This fact makes that institution illegitimate. This flaw further manifests itself across the entire society. If the government itself, which is supposedly ‘representative’ of the people, does not reflect the intentions and interests of the population, then it is illegitimate. Most institutions do not even have a means for their constituents to have a say in who runs the institutions themselves. Some, such as governments or unions, may have elections in which people can choose candidates, but then all the other decisions are taken out of their hands. Other institutions, such as schools, corporations, banks, media, etc., do not even have a means for constituents to select leadership, let alone direction and action. University boards are populated with bankers, former government officials, corporate executives, foundation officials, and other established elites. Therefore, universities are geared toward meeting elite interests under their direction. This is flawed and wrong. Though, because most institutions function in this way across wider society, it tends to go unnoticed and is simply accepted as “the way it is.”

Students must now ask: Does it have to be this way? What other way could it be? What should change? How could that change? What is the intent of education? These questions lead to other, larger questions about the society as a whole, and, as a result, they make necessary the wider radicalization, organization, and revolution of society itself. It is a rather large idea, but I think it is also a logical one. As the economic and social circumstances for most people continue to deteriorate in the near future – and perhaps rapidly so as the global economic crisis accelerates – such ideas and actions will become all the more necessary and will generate much more support.

Since the beginning of the global economic crisis in 2007 and 2008, the world has seen a rapid acceleration of resistance movements, protests, and revolutionary struggles. The world is rumbling awake from a long lost slumber of consumption and consent as the situation of crisis reveals deep flaws in the structures, ideology, and actions of power. We are witnessing the rapid proliferation of global resistance movements, but it requires much more for them to become global revolutionary movements. It has only begun, but it requires new ideas and actions to move forward. It would potentially be very challenging to begin such actions now, but in the very least, student movements should begin to advance the discussion, to debate the direction, and to incite new ideas. These are, after all, the skills that an education is supposed to provide us with.

Perhaps it is time to put our education to use.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer living in Montreal, Canada. His website ( features a number of articles and essays focusing on an analysis of power and resistance in the political, social, and economic realms. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, and is currently writing a book on the global economic crisis and resistance movements emerging around the world. To help this book come to completion, please consider donating through the website or on Indiegogo.

Austerity, Adjustment, and Social Genocide: Political Language and the European Debt Crisis

Austerity, Adjustment, and Social Genocide: Political Language and the European Debt Crisis

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Angela Merkel, Jose Manuel Barroso, and Mario Monti: Europe’s champions of austerity and adjustment


The following is a sample analysis from my upcoming book on the global economic crisis and global resistance movements. Please consider donating to The People’s Book Project to help support the effort to finish this book.

Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

– George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language,” 1946

Political language functions through euphemism, by employing soft-sounding or simply meaningless words to describe otherwise monstrous and vicious policies and objectives. In the European debt crisis, political language employed by politicians, economists, technocrats and bankers is designed to make policies which create poverty and exploitation appear to be logical and reasonable. The language employed includes the words and phrases: fiscal austerity/consolidation, structural adjustment/reform, labour flexibility, competitiveness, and growth. To understand political language, one must translate it. This requires four steps: first, you look at the rhetoric itself as inherently meaningless; second, you examine the policies that are taken; third, you look at the effects of the policies. Finally, if the effects do not match the rhetoric, yet the same policies are pursued time and time again, one must translate the effects as the true meaning of the rhetoric. Thus, the rhetoric has meaning, but not at face value.

The debt crisis followed the 2007-2009 financial crisis, erupting first with Greece, then Ireland, Portugal, Italy and Spain, and threatens even to spread elsewhere. Of those mentioned, only Italy has not received a bailout. Though whether “bailed out” or not, Europe’s people are being forced to undergo “austerity measures,” a political-economic euphemism for cutting social spending, welfare, social services, public sector jobs, and increased taxes. The aim, they are told, is to get their “fiscal house in order.” The people protest, and go out into the streets. The state responds by meeting the people with riot police, batons, tear gas, pepper spray, and rubber bullets. This is called “restoring order.”

The effects of austerity are to increase poverty, unemployment, and misery. People are fired from the public sector, welfare and social benefits are reduced or lost, retirement ages are increased to keep people in the work force and off the pension system, which is also cut. Cuts to health care and education take a social and physical toll; as poverty increases the need for better health care, that very system is dismantled when it is needed most. Taxes are increased, and wages are decreased. People are deeper in debt, and destined for destitution. The objective, we are told, is to reduce public spending so that the government can reduce its deficit (the yearly debt).

In Europe, austerity has been the siren call of all the agencies, organizations, and individuals who represent the interests of elite financial control. In March 2010, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) suggested Europe undertake a program of austerity lasting for no less than six years from 2011 to 2017, which the Financial Times referred to as “highly sensible.” In April of 2010, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) – the central bank to the world’s central banks – called for European nations to begin implementing austerity measures. In June of 2010, the G20 finance ministers agreed: it was time to enter the age of austerity! German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European midwife of austerity, set an example for the EU by imposing austerity measures at home in Germany. The G20 leaders met and agreed that the time for stimulus had come to an end, and the time for austerity poverty was at hand. This was of course endorsed by the unelected technocratic president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. The unelected president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, also agreed, explaining in his unrelenting economic wisdom that austerity “has no real effect on economic growth.” Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), also hopped on the austerity train, writing in the Financial Times that, “now is the time to restore fiscal sustainability.” Jaime Caruana, General Manager of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) stated in June of 2011 that the need for austerity was “more urgent” than ever, while BIS chairman, Christian Noyer, also the governor of the Bank of France (and board member of the ECB), stated that apart from austerity, “there’s no solution possible” for Greece.

In April of 2011, the two president of the EU – Barroso and Van Rompuy – felt it was necessary to clarify (just in case people were getting the wrong idea), that: “Some people fear this work is about dismantling the welfare states and social protection… Not at all … It is to save these fundamental aspects of the European model… We want to make sure that our economies are competitive enough to create jobs and to sustain the welfare of all our citizens and that’s what our work is about.” However, the following year, the new European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi (former governor of the Bank of Italy), stated in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that, “there was no alternative to fiscal consolidation,” meaning austerity, and that Europe’s social contract was “obsolete” and the social model was “already gone.” However, Draghi explained, it was now necessary to promote “growth,” adding, “and that’s why structural reforms are so important.”

Thus, “austerity packages” will then prepare the state and economy for the next phase, which, we are told, would make the country “competitive” and create “growth.” This is how the country would pay off its total debt, which deficits merely add to. This process is called “structural adjustment” (or “structural reform”) and it requires “competitiveness” to facilitate “growth.”

As we can loosely translate “austerity” into poverty, we may translate “structural adjustment” into exploitation. After all, nothing goes better with poverty than exploitation! How does “structural adjustment” become exploitation? Well through competitiveness and growth, of course! Structural adjustment means that the state liberalizes the economy, so everything is deregulated, all state-owned assets are privatized, like roads, hospitals, airports, rivers, water systems, minerals, resources, state-owned companies, services, etc. This, as the story goes, will encourage “investment” in the country when it “needs it most.” This idea suggests that foreign banks and corporations will enter the “market” and purchase all these wonderful things, explaining that they work better when they are “competitive” in the “free market,” and then with their new investments, they will create new industries, employ local people, revive the economy, and with the “trickle down” from the most productive and profitable, all of society will rise in living standards and opportunity.

But first, other “structural adjustment” measures must be simultaneously employed. One of the most important ones is called “labour flexibility.” This means that if you have protected wages, hours, benefits, pensions… well, now you don’t! If you are a member of a union, or engage in collective bargaining (which has at its disposal the threat of a strike), soon you won’t. This is done because, as the story goes, wages must be decreased to increase the competitiveness of the labour force. Simply put, if less money goes into labour during the process of production, what is ultimately being produced will be cheaper on “the market,” and thus, will become more attractive to potential buyers. Thus, with lower wages comes greater profits. ECB president Mario Draghi himself emphasized that the “structural reforms” which Europe needs are, “the product and services market reform,” and then “the labour market reform which takes different shapes in different countries.” He added that the point was “to make labour markets more flexible and also fairer than they are today.” Isn’t that nice? He wants to make labour markets “fairer.” What this means is that, since some countries have protections for various workers, this is unfair to the workers who have no protections, because, as Draghi explained, “in these countries there is a dual labour market: highly flexible for the young part of the population… [and] highly inflexible for the protected part of the population.” Thus, “labour markets at the present time are unfair in such a setting because they put all the weight of flexibility on the young part of the population.” So to make the labour markets “fair,” everyone should be equally exploitable, and thus, equally flexible.

Labour flexibility will then help “specialize” your country in producing one or a few select goods, which you can produce better, cheaper, and more of than anywhere else. Then your economy will have success and the lives of all will prosper and grow… just not their wages. That is left to the “trickle down” from those whose wages are increased, the corporate, banking, and government executives and managers. That is because they take all the risk (remember, you are not risking anything when you passively accept your wages and standards of living to be rapidly decreased), and thus, they should get all of the reward. And because their rewards are so huge, large scraps will fall off of their table and onto the floor, which the wage-slaves below can fight over. By the laws of what I can only assume is “magic,” this will eventually lift the downtrodden from a life of poverty and labour and all will enjoy the fruits of being in a modern, technological, democratic-Capitalist paradise! Or so the fable goes.

The actual, predictable, and proven results of “structural adjustment” aimed at achieving “growth” through “competitiveness” is exploitation. The privatization of the economy allows foreign banks and corporations to come in and buy the entire economy, resources, commodities, infrastructure and wealth. Because the country is always in crisis when it does this, everything is sold very cheaply, pennies on the dollar kind of cheap. That is because the corporations and banks are doing the government and people a favour by investing in a country which is a large risk. The money the state gets from these sales is recorded as “revenue,” and helps reduce the yearly debt (deficit). The result for the people, however, is that mass layoffs take place, commodity prices increase, service costs increase, and thus, poverty increases. But privatization has benefits, remember; it encourages “competitiveness.” If everything was privatized, everyone would compete with each other to produce the best goods for the lowest costs, and everyone can subsequently prosper together in a society of abundance.

What actually takes place is that multinational corporations and banks, which already own most of the world’s resources, now own yours, too. This is not competitive, because they are ultimately all cartels, and collude together in exploiting vast resources and goods from around the world. They do compete in the sense of seeing which one can exploit, produce, and control more than the other. But at the bottom of this system, everyone else gets poorer. This is called “competitiveness,” but what it actually means is control. So if the economy needs to become more competitive, what is really being said is that it needs to come under more control, and of course, in private corporate and financial hands.

State owned industries are simply closed down, employees fired, and the product or resource which that industry was responsible for producing is then imported from another country/corporation. A corporation takes over that domestic good/resource and then extracts/produces it for itself. But this requires labour. It’s a good thing that the labour force has had its back broken through austerity and adjustment, because now there are no protected jobs, wages, hours, unions, or workers’ rights in general. Thus, the population is free to be exploited for long hours and minimal wages. This makes what they are producing to be cheaper, and thus, more “competitive.” This can become extremely profitable for corporations and banks which took all the risk in this entire process (remember: you don’t count; you had very little to begin with, so you lost very little. They have a lot, and thus, a lot more to lose. That’s what risk means). If workers attempt to form unions or organize and demand higher wages, the corporation can simply threaten to close down the plant, and move the jobs to somewhere else with a more “flexible” labour force. Or, the corporation could simply hire local immigrant populations (or ship in others) and pay them less for more hours, and leave you without any jobs. This is called “labour flexibility.” Labour flexibility translates as cheap labour: to bring everyone down to an equally low level of worker standards, and thus, to encourage “utilization,” which means exploitation.

In the ‘Third World,’ this has been best achieved through what are called “Export Processing Zones (EPZs),” a term used to describe a designated area outside of state control in which corporations may establish factories to freely exploit labour as they choose. Commodities are shipped in, goods are produced in the EPZs, from where they are then exported abroad, free of pesky national taxation and regulation. Ultimately, EPZs are mini corporate colonies. In late May of 2012, it was reported that Germany was looking for “alternatives” to its exclusive focus on austerity, and subsequently came up with a six-point plan for “growth.” One of the most notable points from Berlin was to establish “special economic zones to be created in crisis-plagued countries at the periphery of the euro zone,” as “foreign investors could be attracted to those zones through tax incentives and looser regulations.” Essentially, they are EPZs for the eurozone. The plan also calls for establishing trusts which would organize the sell-off of state assets in massive privatization schemes. Further, what is needed, according to Berlin, was to establish a “dual education system, which combines a standardized practical education at a vocational school with an apprenticeship in the same field at a company in order to combat high youth unemployment.” In other words, no more academic or intellectual education for youth, but rather “vocational” or labour-oriented education, to not allow the expectations of the youth to rise too far, and to simply prepare them for a life of ‘work’ by attaining the necessary vocational skills. And of course, the plan for “growth” from Germany also includes more efforts at establishing “labour flexibility,” which would include “a loosening of provisions that make it difficult to fire permanent employees and to create employment relationships with lower tax burdens and social security contributions.” In other words: make it easy to fire workers, have lower wages, and eliminate benefits.

Economists and politicians often talk about the need to “utilize labour flexibility to increase competitiveness and achieve growth.” What they are really saying is that they need to exploit cheap labour to increase control and achieve profits and power. Lucas Papademos was installed (unelected) as the “Technocratic” prime minister of Greece in November of 2011, in order to “help” Greece undertake the mandatory “reforms.” Papademos was the perfect candidate for the job: he was an economist educated in the U.S., served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, was chief economist at the Bank of Greece, he became Governor of the bank in 1994, where he oversaw the conversion of Greece into the euro, and in 2002, he joined the European Central Bank board, where he became a Vice President under Jean-Claude Trichet.

In a 2005 interview with the Financial Times while he was Vice President at the European Central Bank (ECB), Lucas Papademos said that European “growth” potential was looking good, but added: “There is a risk that, unless there are changes in policies – more reforms in labour and product markets – as well as in the behaviour of private economic agents, this [growth] range may have to be revised downwards.” He explained: “the main way that potential growth could increase is through policies that boost productivity growth and raise labour utilization by increasing the average hours worked and the participation rate in the labour market and by making this market more flexible and adaptable.” In May of 2010, Bank of England governor Mervyn King stated that the eurozone needed “structural reforms, changes in wages and prices in the countries that need to regain competitiveness.” Former ECB president Jean-Claude Trichet had also emphasized that what was needed was a program of fiscal austerity, “accompanied by structural reforms to promote long-term growth.” In other words, what was needed was impoverishment, accompanied by exploitation to promote long-term profits.

The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF), the Euro-area bailout fund, was headed by a man named Klaus Regling. In an article he wrote for The Banker, Regling emphasized that funds from the EFSF would come with conditions, including of course, austerity measures, but also, “structural reforms, such as modernizing public administrations, improving labour market performance and enhancing the tax systems, with the aim of increasing a country’s competitiveness and growth potential.” In other words, the conditions imposed on countries receiving a bailout would amount to an impoverishment program (“austerity”), combined with increased exploitation (“structural reforms”), through privatization of state industries and assets (“modernizing public administration”), creating a cheap labour force (“improving labour market performance”), extracting all remaining domestic wealth (“enhancing the tax systems”), designed to increase control (“competitiveness”) and profits (“growth”).

Mario Draghi, as president of the ECB, called for a “growth pact” (or a “profit pact”) for Europe, to go alongside the “fiscal pact” (or “poverty pact”). This received quick endorsements from France’s new president Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, and José Manuel Barroso. Merkel was sure to emphasize, however, that growth would be “in the form of structural reforms.

The combination of “fiscal austerity” and “structural adjustment” are generally referred to as a “comprehensive structural adjustment program” or a “restructuring of the economy.” This language is important to understand because “restructuring” as a word is used to describe two processes: one, is that it is what is needed to prevent a country from defaulting on its debt and to return the country to a period of growth; and, on the other hand, “restructuring” is used to describe what takes place after a country defaults. The words in both situations are the same, and so are the policies, though in a default they are inflicted more severely. The very process we are told we must undergo to prevent a default, is the very same process that we undergo after a default. Thus, the combination of fiscal austerity and structural adjustment is, in actuality, a slow and painful default.

This combination of austerity and adjustment amounts to a program and effect of social devastation. Thus, the words “structural adjustment program,” “restructuring,” and “default” in actuality translate into social genocide. These three terms provide further insight into their use: the class system is what is being restructured, as middle classes are wiped out and pushed into poverty, the poor are made destitute, and the elite become concentrated and in total control; the political and economic system is being adjusted to fit this restructuring; and the promise that people everywhere were told, that their leaders and society exists to serve their interests, is what is being defaulted on. The state does not default; it is the ‘social contract’ that is defaulted. Just as Mario Draghi told the Wall Street Journal, “the European social model has already gone… Fiscal consolidation is unavoidable in the present set up, and it buys time needed for the structural reforms.” Thus, social genocide.

As George Orwell wrote in his 1946 essay, “political language has to consist largely of euphemism,
question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.” But there remains intent and meaning behind the words that are used. When we translate the political language of the European debt crisis, it reveals a monstrous agenda of impoverishment and exploitation. Thus, we also see the necessity of political language for those who use it: one cannot argue openly for programs of impoverishment and exploitation for obvious reasons, so words like “fiscal consolidation” and “structural reform” are used, because they are vague and obscure.

Ultimately, one can get away with saying, “we need a comprehensive austerity package augmented by structural reforms, such as labour flexibility, designed to increase competitiveness and facilitate growth,” as opposed to: “We need to rapidly impoverish our populations, whom we will then exploit to the fullest, such as by creating a cheap labour force, which would increase elite control and generate private profits.” Such honesty and bluntness would lead to revolt, so, political language is used instead. In Europe, political language is part of a ‘power dialectic’ which supports policies and agendas that aim to take more for those who already have the most, and to take from all the rest; to impoverish, exploit and oppress; to plunder, profit and punish.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on

Please donate to The People’s Book Project to help this book be finished by the end of summer:

Article Translation: “La ‘Crisis de la Democracia’ y el ataque a la educación”

Thanks to Verdad Ahora for translating a recent article of mine into Spanish: “Class War and the College Crisis: The Crisis of Democracy and the Attack on Education.”

Note: If you have any access to or have written translations of any of my articles (into any language), please send me the links so that I can re-post them on my website! Thanks.

Por Andrew Gavin Marshall

Hoy en día, somos testigos de una incipiente rebelión global masiva, liderada principalmente por los jóvenes educados y desempleados del mundo, en contra de los poderes institucionalizados y establecidos que tratan de privarlos de un futuro digno. En Chile durante el año pasado, un masivo movimiento estudiantil y huelgas se convirtieron en una fuerza poderosa en el país contra un sistema educativo cada vez más privatizado (que sirvió de modelo para el resto del mundo) con el apoyo de la inmensa mayoría de la población; en Quebec, Canadá, una huelga de estudiantes ha llevado a cientos de miles de jóvenes a las calles para protestar contra la duplicación de sus tasas de arancel; estudiantes y otros se fueron a huelga en España contra las medidas de austeridad; están desarrollándose y creciendo protestas lideradas por o con fuerte participación de los jóvenes en el Reino Unido, Grecia, Portugal, Francia, y en los Estados Unidos (por ejemplo, con el Movimiento Occupy), luchando contra las medidas de austeridad, la corrupción abierta de la clase capitalista, y la colusión del gobierno con los banqueros y las corporaciones. Estudiantes y jóvenes llevaron a los levantamientos en Túnez y Egipto el año pasado que condujeron al derrocamiento de los dictadores que habían gobernado a esas naciones durante décadas.

En todo el mundo, cada vez más, los jóvenes están saliendo a las calles para protestar, agitar y atacar los abusos de poder, los fracasos del gobierno, los excesos de la codicia, el saqueo y la pobreza. La juventud educada, en particular, está desempeñando un papel activo, un papel que crecerá dramáticamente durante este año y los próximos. La juventud educada está graduándose en un mercado de desempleo con una deuda enorme y pocas oportunidades. Ahora, así como hace varias décadas, los jóvenes están volcándose al activismo. ¿Qué pasó en el intervalo para que el activismo se desbaratara cuando había sido tan amplio en la década del 60? ¿Cómo nuestro sistema educativo llegó a su situación actual? ¿Qué implica esto para el presente y el futuro?

La “Crisis de la Democracia”

En el período comprendido entre los años 50 y 70, el mundo occidental, y especialmente Estados Unidos, experimentó una oleada masiva de resistencia, rebelión, protesta, activismo y acción directa de sectores enteros de la población en general que estuvieron durante décadas, si no siglos, en mayor medida oprimidos y olvidados por las estructuras de poder institucional de la sociedad. El movimiento de derechos civiles en Estados Unidos, el surgimiento de la Nueva Izquierda – radical y activista – en Europa y América del Norte, como en otras partes, el activismo contra la guerra, en gran parte impulsado en oposición a la guerra de Vietnam, la Teología de la Liberación en América Latina (y en Filipinas), el movimiento ecologista, el movimiento feminista, los movimientos de derechos de los homosexuales, y todo tipo de otros activistas y movimientos movilizados de la juventud y de vastos sectores de la sociedad se organizaron y agitaron activamente en favor del cambio, la reforma e incluso, la revolución. Cuando el poder se resistió más a sus demandas, los movimientos se radicalizaron más. Mientras más lento actuó poder, más rápido reaccionó el pueblo. El efecto, en esencia, es que estos movimientos buscaron, y en muchos casos consiguieron, empoderar a vastas poblaciones que habían sido de otro modo oprimidas e ignoradas, y por lo general hicieron despertar a las masas de la sociedad ante injusticias tales como el racismo, la guerra y la represión.

Para la población en general, estos movimientos fueron una etapa instructiva, civilizadora, y llena de esperanza en nuestra historia moderna. Para las élites, fueron terribles. Así, en la década del 70 tuvo lugar un debate dentro de la élite intelectual, sobre todo en los Estados Unidos, ante lo que se conoció como la “Crisis de la Democracia.” En 1973 fue creada la Comisión Trilateral, por el banquero y oligarca global David Rockefeller y el intelectual elitista Zbigniew Brzezinski. La Comisión Trilateral reúne a las élites de América del Norte, Europa Occidental y Japón (ahora incluye varios estados de Asia Oriental), en los ámbitos de la política, finanzas, economía, negocios, organizaciones internacionales, organizaciones no gubernamentales, académicos, militares, inteligencia, medios de comunicación, y círculos de política exterior. Actúa como un importante think tank internacional, diseñado para coordinar y establecer un consenso entre las potencias imperiales dominantes del mundo.

En 1975, la Comisión Trilateral publicó un importante informe titulado “La Crisis de la Democracia”, donde los autores se lamentaron por la “oleada democrática” de la década del 60 y la “sobrecarga” que impuso a las instituciones de autoridad. Samuel Huntington, politólogo y uno de los principales autores del informe, escribió que la década del 60 vio un crecimiento de la democracia en Estados Unidos, con un repunte de la participación ciudadana, a menudo “en forma de marchas, manifestaciones, movimientos de protesta, y organizaciones por “causas”.” Además, “la década del 60 vio también una reafirmación de la primacía de la igualdad como un objetivo en la vida social, económica, y política.” Por supuesto, para Huntington y la Comisión Trilateral, fundada por el amigo de Huntington, Zbigniew Brzezinski, y el banquero David Rockefeller, la idea de “la igualdad como un objetivo en la vida social, económica y política” es una perspectiva terrible y aterradora. Huntington analizó la forma de cómo en parte de esta “oleada democrática”, mostraban las estadísticas a lo largo de las décadas del 60 y el 70, hubo un dramático aumento en el porcentaje de personas que sentían que Estados Unidos estaba gastando demasiado en defensa (del 18% en 1960 al 52% en 1969, principalmente debido a la guerra de Vietnam). [1]

Huntington escribió que la “esencia de la oleada democrática de la década del 60 fue un desafío general a los sistemas existentes de autoridad, públicos y privados”, y que “La gente ya no sentía la misma compulsión a obedecer a aquellos a quienes habían considerado previamente superiores a sí mismos en edad, rango, estatus, experiencia, carácter, o talentos”. Huntington explicó que en la década del 60, “jerarquía, experiencia y riqueza” se encontraban “bajo ataque”.” El uso del lenguaje aquí es importante, colocando al poder y la riqueza como si estuviesen “bajo ataque”, lo que implica que aquellos que lo “atacan” son los agresores, lo que se opone al hecho de que estas poblaciones (como los estadounidenses negros) habían sido atacadas por el poder y la riqueza durante siglos, y que solo entonces habían comenzado a luchar. Por lo tanto, la autodefensa del pueblo contra el poder y la riqueza es vista como un “ataque”. Huntington afirmó que las tres cuestiones clave que son fundamentales en el aumento de la participación política en la década del 60 fueron:

cuestiones sociales, como el uso de las drogas, las libertades civiles y el papel de la mujer; cuestiones raciales, como integración, movilidad, ayudas gubernamentales a grupos minoritarios, y disturbios urbanos; cuestiones militares, que implican principalmente, por supuesto, la guerra en Vietnam, pero también proyectos, gasto militar, programas de ayuda militar y el papel del complejo militar-industrial en general. [2]

Huntington presenta estos problemas, en esencia, como la “crisis de la democracia”, en que aumentara la desconfianza en el gobierno y la autoridad, lo que llevó a la polarización social e ideológica, y derivó en una disminución “de la autoridad, el estatus, la influencia y la eficacia de la presidencia.” Huntington concluyó que los problemas de gobernabilidad en Estados Unidos derivaron de un “exceso de democracia”, y que “el funcionamiento eficaz de un sistema político democrático por lo general requiere cierto grado de apatía y de no participación por parte de algunos individuos y grupos”. Huntington explicó que la sociedad siempre ha tenido “grupos marginales” que no participan en la política, y si bien reconoce que la existencia de “marginalidad por parte de algunos grupos es inherentemente antidemocrática”, también “permite que la democracia pueda funcionar con eficacia”. Huntington identifica a “los negros”, como uno de esos grupos que se habían vuelto políticamente activos, lo que representaba un “peligro de sobrecarga del sistema político con demandas.” Por supuesto, esto implica directamente una versión elitista de la “democracia” donde el Estado mantiene la estética democrática (voto, separación de poderes, estado de derecho), pero sigue estando exclusivamente en manos de la rica élite de poder. Huntington, en su conclusión, afirmó que la vulnerabilidad de la democracia, particularmente la “crisis de la democracia”, deriva de “un alto nivel de educación, movilización, y sociedad participativa”, y que lo que se necesita es “una existencia más equilibrada” donde existan “límites deseables a la extensión indefinida de la democracia política”. [3] En otras palabras, lo que se necesita es menos democracia y más autoridad.

La Comisión Trilateral luego explicó su visión respecto de la “amenaza” a la democracia y por lo tanto, la forma en que el sistema “debería” funcionar:

En la mayoría de los países de la Trilateral [Europa Occidental, Norteamérica, Japón] en la última década ha habido un descenso en la confianza que el pueblo tiene en el gobierno… La autoridad ha sido cuestionada no sólo en el gobierno, sino en sindicatos, empresas comerciales, escuelas y universidades, asociaciones profesionales, iglesias y grupos cívicos. En el pasado, las instituciones que habían jugado el papel principal en el adoctrinamiento de los jóvenes en sus derechos y obligaciones como miembros de la sociedad habían sido la familia, la iglesia, la escuela, y el ejército. La eficacia de todas estas instituciones como un medio de socialización ha disminuido severamente. (Énfasis añadido) [4]

El “exceso de democracia” implicaba generar un supuesto “aumento de las demandas” al gobierno, justo en un momento en que la autoridad del gobierno estaba siendo socavada. La Comisión Trilateral asustó crecientemente a la comunidad de la elite intelectual, discutiendo la amenaza de los “intelectuales orientados a los valores” que se atreven a “hacer valer su disconformidad con la corrupción, el materialismo y la ineficacia de la democracia y con la sumisión de los gobiernos democráticos al “capitalismo monopolista”.” Para los miembros y componentes (las élites) de la Comisión Trilateral, no se retractaron de la evaluación de esa amenaza, afirmando que, “este desarrollo constituye un desafío a un gobierno democrático que es, al menos potencialmente, tan grave como los planteados en el pasado por las camarillas aristocráticas, los movimientos fascistas, y los partidos comunistas”. [5] Este es un uso muy típico de retórica elitista donde a la hora de identificar cualquier amenaza a los intereses de la élite, esta es presentada en casi términos apocalípticos. La implicación, por lo tanto, es que los intelectuales que desafían a la autoridad son presentados como una amenaza tan grande a la democracia como lo fueron Hitler y el fascismo.

El informe de la Comisión Trilateral explica – a través de un razonamiento económico – cómo una mayor democracia es sencillamente insostenible. La “oleada democrática” dio a los grupos desfavorecidos nuevos derechos y los hizo políticamente activos (como los negros), y esto se tradujo en aumento de las demandas sobre el mismo sistema cuya legitimidad había sido debilitada. ¡Un escenario terrible para las elites! El informe explicó que mientras la votación disminuyó a lo largo de las décadas del 60 y el 70, la participación política activa en los campus aumentó, los grupos minoritarios estaban exigiendo sus derechos (¡cómo se atreven!), y no sólo exigían derechos humanos básicos, sino también “oportunidades, posiciones, recompensas y privilegios, que no habían considerado como derechos propios anteriormente.” Es decir, no como los ricos, que se han considerado con derecho a todo, por siempre y para siempre. Por lo tanto, el gasto público en bienestar social y una mayor educación se incrementó, explica el informe: “A principios de los 70 los estadounidenses se volvieron progresivamente exigentes y recibieron más beneficios de su gobierno y sin embargo tenían menos confianza en su gobierno de la que tenían hace una década.” La mayoría de las personas se refieren a ello como un logro de la democracia, pero para los “intelectuales” de la Trilateral se trataba de un “exceso de democracia”, y, de hecho, una amenaza. [6]

Samuel Huntington, por supuesto, asume que el declive de la confianza en el gobierno era irracional, y no tenía nada que ver con la guerra de Vietnam, la represión policial y estatal de los movimientos de protesta, el escándalo Watergate y otros delitos evidentes. No, para Huntington, la pérdida de confianza está ligada mágicamente a las “mayores expectativas” de la población, o, como Jay Peterzell explicó en su crítica al informe, “la causa de la desilusión pública se remonta constantemente a expectativas poco realistas alentadas por el gasto del gobierno.” Huntington justificó este mito absurdo en su análisis sesgado del “giro a la defensa” y el “giro al bienestar”. El “giro a la defensa”, que tuvo lugar en la década del 50, describe un período en el que el 36% del aumento del gasto en el gobierno fue a la defensa (es decir, al complejo militar-industrial), mientras que el bienestar se redujo como proporción del presupuesto. Luego vino el “giro al bienestar” de la década del 60, en el que entre 1960 y 1971, sólo un ínfimo 15% del aumento del gasto fue al complejo militar-industrial, mientras que el 84% del aumento se destinó a programas nacionales. Por lo tanto, para Huntington, el “giro al bienestar” básicamente destruyó a Estados Unidos y arruinó la democracia. [7]

En realidad, sin embargo, Jay Peterzell desglosó los números para explicar los “cambios” en un contexto más amplio y más racional. Si bien es cierto que los porcentajes de aumento o disminución que muestra Huntington eran, después de todo, un porcentaje de “aumento” en el gasto, no lo eran en el porcentaje global del gasto Así que, cuando uno mira el conjunto del gasto público en 1950, 1960 y 1972, el porcentaje de “defensa” fue de 44, a 53, a 37. En esos mismos años, el gasto en bienestar ascendió de 4%, a 3% y a 6%. Así, entre 1960 y 1972, la cantidad de gasto en defensa disminuyó del 53 al 37% en el gasto total del gobierno. En los mismos años, el gasto en bienestar aumentó un 3-6% en el gasto total del gobierno. Cuando se ve como porcentaje del total, difícilmente puede ser legítimo afirmar que el escaso aumento del 6% de los gastos del gobierno para el bienestar era ni de lejos tan “amenaza” a la democracia como lo fue el 37% invertido en el complejo militar-industrial [8].

Así que, naturalmente, como resultado de estas terribles estadísticas, la élite intelectual y sus amos financieros tuvieron que imponer más autoridad y menos democracia. No se trataba simplemente de que la Comisión Trilateral abogara por tales “restricciones” a la democracia, ya que fue un debate importante en la élite de los círculos académicos en la década del 70. En Gran Bretaña, de esta discusión surgió la “tesis de la gobernabilidad” – o tesis de la “sobrecarga” – democrática. “Las Contradicciones Económicas de la Democracia” de Samuel Brittan en 1975, explicó que, “La tentación de animar falsas expectativas entre el electorado se vuelve abrumadora para los políticos. Los partidos de oposición están obligados a prometer hacerlo mejor y el partido de gobierno debe participar en la oferta.” En esencia, se trataba de una repetición de la tesis de la Trilateral de que demasiadas promesas generan demasiadas demandas, los cuales crean demasiada tensión para el sistema, e inevitablemente lo derrumbarán. Anthony King se hizo eco de esto en su obra, “Sobrecarga: Problemas de la Administración en la Década del 70”, y King explicó que gobernar se estaba volviendo “más difícil”, porque “a uno y al mismo tiempo, la gama de problemas que el gobierno espera y tiene que enfrentar ha aumentado considerablemente y su capacidad para hacer frente a los problemas, incluso muchos de los que tenía antes, ha disminuido.” El politólogo italiano Giovanni Sartori se hizo la pregunta: “¿La Democracia mata a la Democracia?”:

Estamos persiguiendo objetivos que están fuera de proporción, demasiado aislados y perseguidos ciegamente y que, por lo tanto, están en el proceso crear… una sobrecarga totalmente inmanejable y siniestra… Estamos empezando a darnos cuenta en las prósperas democracias que estamos viviendo por encima de nuestras necesidades. Pero estamos igual y más gravemente viviendo por encima y más allá de nuestra inteligencia, por encima de la comprensión de lo que estamos haciendo. [9]

King explicó que, “Los politólogos se han ocupado tradicionalmente de mejorar el desempeño del gobierno.” Un error evidente, concluyó King, quien sugirió que, “Tal vez en los próximos años deberían preocuparse más por cómo el número de tareas que el gobierno espera llevar a cabo pueda reducirse.” El “remedio” para toda esta “sobrecarga” de las sociedades democráticas es, en primer lugar, poner “fin a la política de las “promesas”,” y la segunda, “intentar reducir las expectativas de los votantes y los consumidores” en el proceso político. [10]

La “amenaza” de la juventud educada era especialmente pronunciada. En 1978, el Management Development Institute (una importante escuela de negocios de la India) publicó un informe en el que afirmaba:

Quizá la tendencia más perniciosa de la nueva década es el abismo creciente entre una mano de obra crecientemente mejor educada y el número de ofertas de trabajo que pueden hacer uso de esas habilidades y calificaciones… El potencial de frustración, alienación y disrupción resultante de la disparidad entre el nivel educacional alcanzado y el trabajo apropiado no puede ser menospreciado. [11]

En estos comentarios, estamos tratando con dos definiciones diametralmente opuestas de democracia: popular y elitista. La democracia popular es el gobierno del, por y para el pueblo, la democracia elitista es el gobierno de los, por y para los ricos (pero con la estética exterior de las democracias), canalizando la participación popular en la votación en lugar de la toma de decisiones o de la participación activa. La democracia popular implica que las personas participan directamente en las decisiones y las funciones y el mantenimiento de la “nación” (aunque no necesariamente del Estado), mientras que la democracia elitista implica la participación pasiva de la población lo suficiente como para permitir que se sientan como si desempeñaran un papel importante en la dirección de la sociedad, mientras que las élites controlan todas las palancas importantes de poder y las instituciones que dirigen y se benefician de las acciones del Estado. Estas diferentes definiciones son importantes porque al leer los informes por escrito y publicados por los intereses de la elite (como el informe de la Comisión Trilateral), cambia la sustancia y el significado del propio informe. Por ejemplo, tomemos el caso de Samuel Huntington, lamentándose por la amenaza a la democracia que representa la participación popular: desde la lógica de la democracia popular, esta es una afirmación absurda que no tiene sentido, desde la lógica de la democracia elitista, esa afirmación es correcta y profundamente importante. Si las élites entienden esta diferenciación, también debe hacerlo el público.

El Memo Powell: Protegiendo a la Plutocracia

Mientras las élites se lamentaban por el aumento de la democracia, sobre todo en la década del 60, no se quedaron sólo quejándose por el “exceso de democracia”, sino que fueron planeando activamente la reducción de la misma. Cuatro años antes del informe de la Comisión Trilateral, en 1971, fue publicado el infame y secreto Memo Powell, escrito por un abogado corporativo y miembro directivo de una compañía de tabaco, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (a quien el presidente Nixon colocó en la Corte Suprema dos meses después), el cual fue dirigido al Presidente del Comité de Educación de la Cámara de Comercio de Estados Unidos, que representa los intereses empresariales estadounidenses.

Powell estipula que “el sistema económico estadounidense está bajo un amplio ataque” y que “el asalto al sistema empresarial tiene una base amplia y es perseguido constantemente… ganando impulso y conversos.” A pesar de que las ‘fuentes’ del ‘ataque’ fueron identificadas como amplias, incluyen a la multitud habitual de críticos, comunistas, la Nueva Izquierda, y “otros revolucionarios que quieren destruir todo el sistema, tanto político como económico.” Además de esto existían “extremistas” que eran cada vez “más bienvenidos y alentados por otros elementos de la sociedad, más que nunca antes en nuestra historia.” La verdadera “amenaza”, sin embargo, eran las “voces que se unen al coro de críticas [que] vienen de elementos perfectamente respetables de la sociedad: desde el campus de la universidad, el púlpito, los medios de comunicación, las revistas intelectuales y literarias, las artes y las ciencias, y de los políticos”. Aun reconociendo que en estos mismos sectores, los que hablan en contra del “sistema” son todavía una minoría, Powell señaló que “estos son a menudo los más elocuentes, y los más prolíficos en su escritura y expresión oral”. [12]

Powell, discutió la “paradoja” de cómo los líderes empresariales parecen estar participando – o simplemente tolerando – los ataques contra el “sistema de libre empresa”, ya sea por dar voz a través de los medios de comunicación que les pertenecen, o a través de las universidades, a pesar del hecho de que “los consejos de administración de nuestras universidades están compuestos mayoritariamente de hombres y mujeres que son líderes en el sistema”. Powell lamentó las conclusiones de los informes que indican que desde las universidades se estaban graduando estudiantes que “desprecian el sistema político y económico”, y por lo tanto, que estarían dispuestos a entrar en el poder y generar un cambio, o directamente cuestionar el sistema desde la cabeza. Esto marcó una “guerra intelectual” librada contra el sistema, de acuerdo a Powell, quien citó a continuación al economista Milton Friedman de la Universidad de Chicago (y ‘padre’ del neoliberalismo), quien declaró:

Está muy claro que los fundamentos de nuestra sociedad libre son objeto de ataques extendidos y poderosos – no por comunistas o cualquier otra conspiración, sino por personas equivocadas que cacarean como loros el uno al otro y sin darse cuenta que sirven a fines que nunca promoverían intencionalmente [13]

Powell, incluso identificó específicamente a Ralph Nader como una “amenaza” para el empresariado estadounidense. Powell se lamentó más por los cambios y el “ataque” que se realiza a través de los tribunales y el sistema legal, que comenzaron a atacar a la evasión de impuestos y los vacíos legales, con los medios de comunicación apoyando este tipo de iniciativas ya que ayudan a “los pobres”. Powell, por supuesto, se refiere a la noción de ayudar a “los pobres” a expensas de los ricos, y la formulación del debate como tal, como “demagogia política o analfabetismo económico”, y que la identificación de políticas de clase – los ricos contra los pobres – “es la más barata y más peligrosa clase de política.” Lamentablemente la respuesta del mundo empresarial ante este “amplio ataque”, según Powell, era “el apaciguamiento, la ineptitud e ignorar el problema.” Powell, sin embargo, explicó en simpatía a la “ineptitud” del empresariado y las elites financieras que, “hay que reconocer que los empresarios no han sido entrenados ni equipados para llevar a cabo una guerra de guerrillas como la de los que hacen propaganda contra el sistema”. [14]

Mientras que el “papel tradicional” de los empresarios ha sido el de obtener beneficios, “crear empleos”, para “mejorar el nivel de vida”, y por supuesto, “en general, ser buenos ciudadanos”, lamentablemente han demostrado “poca habilidad efectiva en el debate intelectual y filosófico.” Por lo tanto, declaró Powell, los empresarios primero deben “reconocer que el tema final puede ser la supervivencia – la supervivencia de lo que llamamos sistema de libre empresa, y todo lo que esto significa para la fuerza y la prosperidad de Estados Unidos y la libertad de nuestro pueblo.” Como tal, “la gestión [corporativa] debe estar igualmente preocupada der proteger y preservar el sistema en sí mismo”, en lugar centrarse en los beneficios. Las sociedades anónimas, reconoció Powell, estaban involucradas en este tiempo en las “relaciones públicas” y los “asuntos gubernamentales” (léase: propaganda y política pública), sin embargo, el ‘contraataque’ debe ser más amplio:

Pero la actividad independiente y no coordinada de las empresas individuales, por muy importante que sea, no será suficiente. La fuerza reside en la organización, en una cuidadosa planificación y aplicación a largo plazo, en la coherencia de la acción durante un periodo indefinido de años, en la escala de financiamiento disponible sólo a través de un esfuerzo conjunto, y en el poder político disponible sólo a través de la acción conjunta y las organizaciones nacionales. [15]

Si bien el ‘asalto’ contra el sistema se desarrolló a lo largo de varias décadas, Powell declaró que, “existe razón para creer que el campus de la [universidad/educación] es la fuente individual más dinámica”, ya que “las facultades de ciencias sociales suelen incluir miembros que son indiferentes al sistema empresarial”. Estos académicos, explicó Powell, “no tienen que ser mayoría”, ya que “son personalmente atractivos y magnéticos; son profesores estimulantes, y su controversia atrae a los estudiantes que los siguen; son prolíficos escritores y profesores, además de autores de muchos de los libros de texto, y ejercen una influencia enorme – muy desproporcionada para su número – ante sus colegas y en el mundo académico.” Esta situación es, por supuesto, ¡terrible y deplorable! ¡Imagina la clase de horror y desesperación que traería al mundo tener profesores atrayentes, estimulantes y prolíficos!

Pretendiendo que muchos politólogos, economistas, sociólogos e historiadores “tienden a ser más liberales”, Powell sugirió que “la necesidad de un pensamiento liberal es esencial para un punto de vista equilibrado”, pero que el “equilibrio” no existe, con “unos pocos miembros de la [facultad] conservadores o [de] poca persuasión… y siendo menos articulados y agresivos que sus colegas opuestos.” Aterrorizados por las perspectivas de que estos jóvenes potencialmente revolucionarios lleguen a posiciones de poder, Powell dijo que cuando lo hacen, “la mayoría de ellos rápidamente descubre las falacias de lo que se les ha enseñado”, esto, en otras palabras, quiere decir que se transforman rápidamente al socializar con las estructuras, las jerarquías y las instituciones de poder que demandan conformidad y sumisión a los intereses de la élite. Sin embargo, todavía existen muchos que podrían aparecer en “posiciones de influencia donde podrían moldear la opinión pública y a menudo dar forma a la acción gubernamental.” Por lo tanto, recomienda Powell, la Cámara de Comercio debe convertir en “tarea prioritaria de los empresarios” y sus organizaciones afines “abordar el origen de esta hostilidad en el campus.” Puesto que la libertad académica era vista como algo sacrosanto en la sociedad estadounidense, “sería fatal atacarla como un principio”, lo que por supuesto implica que debe ser atacada indirectamente. En cambio, sería más eficaz utilizar la retórica de la “libertad académica” contra el principio de libertad académica misma, utilizando términos como “apertura”, “equidad” y “equilibrio” como puntos de crítica que darían “una gran oportunidad para la acción constructiva.” [16]

Por lo tanto, una organización como la Cámara de Comercio debería, recomienda Powell, “considerar el establecimiento de un equipo de especialistas altamente calificados en ciencias sociales que crean en el sistema… [incluyendo] varios de reputación a nivel nacional cuya autoría sea muy respetada – incluso cuando no se esté de acuerdo con ellos.” La Cámara también debe crear “un equipo de oradores de la más alta competencia”, que “podrían incluir estudiosos”, y establecer una “Oficina de Oradores” que “incluya a los defensores más capaces y más eficaces de los niveles más altos del empresariado estadounidense.” Este equipo de investigadores, que subraya Powell, debe ser conocido como “investigadores independientes”, deben participar en un programa continuo de evaluación de “los libros de texto de ciencias sociales, especialmente en economía, ciencias políticas y sociología.” El objetivo de esto sería “orientarse a restablecer el equilibrio esencial para la libertad académica genuina”, lo que significa, por supuesto, la implantación del adoctrinamiento ideológico y la propaganda del mundo empresarial, que Powell ha descrito como nuestra garantía “de un trato justo y objetivo de nuestro sistema de gobierno y sistema empresarial, sus logros, su relación básica con los derechos y libertades individuales, y la comparación con los sistemas del socialismo, el fascismo y el comunismo.” Powell se lamentó que el “movimiento de derechos civiles insista en reescribir muchos de los libros de texto en nuestras universidades y escuelas”, y que “los sindicatos insistan en lo mismo [ó] que los libros de texto sean justos con los puntos de vista de los trabajadores organizados.” Por lo tanto, Powell sostuvo, dentro el mundo empresarial el intentar reescribir los libros de texto y la educación, el proceso “debe ser considerado como una ayuda hacia una auténtica libertad académica y no como una intrusión en ella.” [17]

Además, Powell sugirió que la comunidad empresarial debía promover oradores en las universidades y ciclos de conferencias “que parecieran ir en apoyo del sistema norteamericano de gobierno y empresa.” Aunque explicó que los grupos de estudiantes y profesores no son susceptibles de estar dispuestos a dar la palabra a la Cámara de Comercio o a líderes empresariales, la Cámara debía “insistir agresivamente” en ser escuchada, exigiendo “tiempos iguales”, lo que sería una estrategia efectiva debido a que “los administradores de la universidad y la gran mayoría de los grupos y comités de estudiantes no estarían en posición púbica de rechazar un foro para diversos puntos de vista.” Los dos ingredientes principales de este programa, explicó Powell eran, primero, “tener oradores atractivos, articulados y bien informados”, y en segundo lugar, “ejercer cierto grado de presión – pública y privada – que pueda ser necesario para asegurarse la oportunidad de hablar.” El objetivo, escribió Powell, “siempre debe ser el de informar e iluminar, y no simplemente hacer propaganda.” [18]

El mayor problema en los campus, sin embargo, era la necesidad de “equilibrar” las facultades, lo que significa simplemente que el mundo empresarial debía trabajar para implantar portavoces y apologistas de la élite económica y financiera en las facultades. La necesidad de “corregir” este desequilibrio, escribió Powell, “es de hecho un proyecto a largo plazo y difícil”, que “debe llevarse a cabo como parte de un programa general”, incluyendo la aplicación de presión “para mantener el equilibrio de la facultad sobre los administradores de la universidad y los consejos de administración.” Powell reconoció que tal esfuerzo es un proceso delicado y potencialmente peligroso, lo que requiere “una reflexión cuidadosa”, ya que la “presión indebida sería contraproducente.” Enfocarse en la retórica del equilibrio, la equidad y la “verdad” crearía un método “difícil de resistir, si se presenta al consejo de administración.” Por supuesto, todo contraataque del mundo empresarial no sólo debía dirigirse a la educación universitaria sino que, como sugirió Powell, también “a las escuelas secundarias”. [19]

En tanto Powell abordada el “ataque” desde – y el “contraataque” propuesto hacia – el sistema educativo por la élite empresarial y financiera, sugirió que, si bien se trataba de una estrategia a más largo plazo, en el corto plazo, sería necesario hacer frente a la opinión pública. Para ello:

El primer elemento esencial es el de establecer un personal de prominentes académicos, escritores y oradores, que piensen, analicen, escriban y expongan. También será esencial contar con personal que esté muy familiarizado con los medios de comunicación, y la manera más eficaz de comunicarse con el público. [20]

Los medios de comunicación con el público incluyen el uso de la televisión. Powell recomendó monitorear la televisión de la misma manera que se vigila los libros de texto, con objeto de mantener los medios de comunicación bajo “vigilancia constante” ante la crítica del sistema empresarial que, asume Powell, se deriva de una de dos fuentes: “la hostilidad o la ignorancia económica.” Se trata simplemente de asumir que las críticas al empresariado y al “sistema” no están justificadas, se derivan de un odio fuera de lugar o de la ignorancia de la sociedad. Este punto de vista es consistentemente regurgitado a lo largo del memo. Para “corregir” adecuadamente a los medios, Powell sugirió que la vigilancia presentara quejas tanto a los medios de comunicación como a la Comisión Federal de Comunicaciones, y al igual que en ciclos de conferencias universitarios “debe ser exigido el mismo tiempo [para los oradores empresariales]”, especialmente en “programas con formato de foro” como Meet the Press o el Today Show. Por supuesto, la radio y la prensa escrita también debían controlarse y “corregirse”. [21]

La “facultad de los eruditos”, establecida por la Cámara de Comercio o por otros grupos empresariales, debe publicar especialmente artículos académicos, ya que tales tácticas han sido efectivas en el “ataque” al sistema empresarial. Por lo tanto, estos “investigadores independientes” deben publicar en revistas populares (como Life, Reader ‘s Digest, etc.), revistas intelectuales (como The Atlantic, Harper’s, etc.) y revistas profesionales. Además, se deben publicar libros, ensayos y panfletos que promuevan “nuestro postura” para “educar al público.” La publicidad pagada también debe ser utilizada crecientemente para “apoyar el sistema”. [22]

Powell se volvió su atención a la arena política, a partir de la suposición básica de que la idea de que las grandes empresas controlan los gobiernos occidentales es simplemente “doctrina marxista” y “propaganda izquierdista”, que lamentablemente, informa Powell, “tiene un amplia recepción del público entre los estadounidenses.” Afirmó inmediatamente después que “todos los ejecutivos de negocios saben… que pocos elementos de la sociedad estadounidense de hoy en día tienen tan poca influencia en el gobierno como el hombre de negocios estadounidense, la corporación, o incluso los millones de accionistas de las empresas.” Powell afirma que, increíblemente, en términos de influencia en el gobierno, el pobre y desafortunado hombre de negocios y el ejecutivo corporativo estadounidense son “el hombre olvidado”. [23]

Olvídate de los sectores pobres, negros, y de los marginados de la sociedad, olvida las personas con discapacidad, los estereotipados, y los encarcelados, olvídate de los que dependen del bienestar social, los cupones de alimentos, o dependen de los servicios sociales o de caridad locales, y olvídate de toda la población de los Estados Unidos, que sólo consiguió el reconocimiento y apoyo del gobierno después de años de lucha, protestas constantes, represión policial, asaltos, reducción de sus derechos humanos y dignidad, esas luchas que sólo buscan conseguir un verdadero estatus de ser humano, el ser tratados de forma igualitaria y justa … no, ¡olvídate de esas personas! Los verdaderos “olvidados” y “oprimidos”, son los ejecutivos de Union Carbide, Exxon, General Electric, General Motors, Ford, DuPont, Dow, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, y Monsanto. Ellos, en verdad, son los marginados… Por lo menos, al menos según Lewis Powell.

Para Powell, la educación y las campañas de propaganda son necesarias, pero los pobres ejecutivos marginados de una empresa estadounidense deben darse cuenta de que “el poder político es necesario”, y que tal poder debe ser “utilizado agresivamente y con determinación – sin vergüenza y sin la resistencia que ha sido tan característica en el empresariado estadounidenses”. Además, no es sólo en las ramas legislativa y ejecutiva del gobierno donde los líderes empresariales deben tomar el poder “agresivamente”, sino también en la rama judicial – los tribunales – que “pueden ser el instrumento más importante para el cambio social, económico y político”. Asegurando que tanto los “liberales” como la “extrema izquierda” han sido “explotadores del sistema judicial” – como la American Civil Liberties Union, los sindicatos y las organizaciones de derechos civiles – los grupos empresariales como la Cámara de Comercio tendrían que establecer “un personal altamente competente de abogados” para explotar el poder judicial en su propio beneficio. [24] Powell pasó a jugar un papel muy importante en este proceso; fue nombrado a la Corte Suprema de Justicia casi inmediatamente después de haber escrito este memo, tomando muchas decisiones importantes con respecto a los “derechos corporativos”.

Al abogar por un impulso agresivo en beneficio de sus propios intereses, Powell alentó a la comunidad empresarial “a atacar a los [Ralph] Nader, los [Herbert] Marcus y otros que abiertamente buscan la destrucción del sistema”, así como “sancionar políticamente a los que se oponen a éste”. La “amenaza para el sistema empresarial” no debe ser meramente presentada como una cuestión económica, sino que debe ser presentada como “una amenaza a la libertad individual”, lo que Powell describió como una “gran verdad”, que “debe ser reafirmada, para que este programa tenga sentido”. Por lo tanto, las “únicas alternativas a la libre empresa” son presentadas como “distintos grados de regulación burocrática de la libertad individual – desde que el socialismo moderado hasta el talón de hierro de la dictadura de derecha o de izquierda.” El objetivo era vincular la propia concepción individual promedio de los estadounidenses de su libertad personal a los derechos de las empresas y líderes empresariales. Por lo tanto, afirmó Powell, “la contracción y la negación de la libertad económica es seguida inevitablemente por restricciones gubernamentales sobre otros derechos preciados.” Este es el mensaje preciso, Powell explicó, “que por encima de todos los demás, debe ser llevado a los hogares del pueblo estadounidense”. [25] Así, según esta lógica, si hoy Monsanto y Dow son regulados, mañana, tu mamá y tu papá estarán en una dictadura.

La Nueva Derecha: Neoliberalismo y Educación

El Memo Powell es reconocido en mayor medida como una especie de “Constitución” o “documento fundacional” de la aparición de think tanks derechistas en los años 1970 y 1980, de acuerdo con sus recomendaciones para el establecimiento de “un equipo de especialistas altamente calificados en ciencias sociales que crean en el sistema.” En 1973, apenas dos años después de que el documento fuese escrito, fue fundada la Heritage Foundation como una “organización de expertos agresiva y abiertamente ideológica”, que adquirió gran influencia durante la administración Reagan. [26]

La página web de la Heritage Foundation explica que la misión del think tank “es formular y promover políticas públicas conservadoras basadas en los principios de libre empresa, gobierno limitado, libertad individual, valores tradicionales estadounidenses, y una defensa nacional fuerte.” Después de su fundación en 1973, la Heritage Foundation comenzó a “entregar investigación convincente y persuasiva al Congreso proveyendo hechos, datos y argumentos sólidos a favor de los principios conservadores.” En 1977, Ed Feulner se convirtió en presidente de la fundación y estableció “un nuevo personal directivo superior” y una ” banco de recursos” para “destronar al establishment liberal y establecer una red nacional de grupos políticos y expertos conservadores” en última instancia, un total de más de 2.200 “expertos en política” y 475 “grupos políticos” en Estados Unidos y en otros lugares. En 1980, Heritage publicó un “modelo de política pública”, titulado “Mandato para el Liderazgo”, que se convirtió en “la biblia política de la recién electa administración Reagan para todo, desde los impuestos a la regulación a la delincuencia y la defensa nacional.” En 1987, Heritage publicó otro plan de política, “Fuera de la Trampa de la Pobreza: Una Estrategia Conservadora para la Reforma del Bienestar”, que, según su página web afirma jactanciosamente, “cambió la mentalidad de las obligaciones en Estados Unidos, sacando a miles fuera de los subsidios [bienestar] y hacia la responsabilidad personal”, o, en otras palabras, a una mayor pobreza. [27]

El modelo de la Heritage Foundation llevó a la rápida proliferación de think tanks conservadores, de 70 a más de 300 en más de 30 años, que “a menudo trabajan juntos para crear múltiples redes a nivel local, estatal y federal y usan medios masivos y alternativos de comunicación para promover la agenda conservadora.” El objetivo final, al igual que con todos los think tanks y fundaciones, es “difundir la ideología”. [28]

El Cato Institute es otro think tank conservador – o “libertario” -, como se describe a sí mismo. Fundado en 1974 como la Charles Koch Foundation por Charles Koch (uno de los multimillonarios más ricos de Estados Unidos y principal financista del movimiento del Tea Party), así como por Ed Crane y Murray Rothbard. En 1977, había cambiado su nombre por el de Instituto Cato, después de las “Cartas de Catón”, una serie de ensayos escritos por dos escritores británicos del siglo dieciocho, bajo el seudónimo de Catón, que era un senador romano que se opuso firmemente a la democracia, y luchó contra la sublevación de esclavos dirigida por Espartaco. Fue idolatrado en el período de la Ilustración como progenitor y protector de la libertad (para unos pocos), lo que se reflejó en la ideología de los Padres Fundadores de los Estados Unidos, en particular, de Thomas Jefferson y James Madison, lo que para el Cato Institute justificó el cambio de nombre. Mientras que los pensamientos y pensadores de la Ilustración son idolatrados – muy especialmente en la formación de la Constitución de Estados Unidos – como defensores de la libertad y los derechos individuales, era el “derecho” de “propiedad privada” y para aquellos que poseían la propiedad (que, en ese momento, incluían a los propietarios de esclavos) la forma última de la sacrosanta “libertad”. Una vez más, una concepción claramente elitista de la democracia que se conoce “republicanismo”.

Estos think tanks derechistas se ayudaron en la era del neoliberalismo, reuniendo a “eruditos” que apoyaban el llamado sistema de “libre mercado” (sí, una falacia mítica), y que se burlan y se oponen a todas las formas de bienestar social y apoyo social. Los think tanks generaron la investigación y el trabajo que apoyó el dominio de los bancos y las corporaciones por sobre la sociedad, y los miembros de los think tanks conseguían que sus voces fueran escuchadas a través de los medios de comunicación, en el gobierno, y en las universidades. Se facilitó el cambio ideológico en los círculos de poder y la política hacia el neoliberalismo.

El Memo Powell y la “crisis de la democracia” establecieron una circunstancia política, social y económica donde el neoliberalismo emergió para administrar el “exceso de democracia.” En lugar de un enfoque más amplio en el neoliberalismo y la globalización en general, me centraré en sus influencias sobre la educación en particular. La era de la globalización neoliberal marcó un rápido declive de los estados de bienestar liberales que habían surgido en las décadas anteriores, y como tal, la educación se vio directamente afectada.

Como parte de este proceso, el conocimiento se transformó en “capital” – dentro del “capitalismo del conocimiento” o de una “economía del conocimiento”. Los informes del Banco Mundial y la Organización para la Cooperación y el Desarrollo Económico (OCDE) en la década de 1990 transformaron estas ideas en una “plantilla directiva.” Esta buscaba establecer “una nueva coalición entre la educación y la industria”, donde “la educación una vez reconfigurada aparecería como una forma de capital del conocimiento masivamente subvalorado que determinará el futuro del trabajo, la organización de las instituciones del conocimiento y la forma de la sociedad en los próximos años.” [29]

El conocimiento se define así como un “recurso económico”, lo que llevaría al crecimiento de la economía. Por lo tanto, en la era neoliberal, donde todos los aspectos de la productividad y el crecimiento económico se privatizan (supuestamente para aumentar su eficiencia y capacidad productiva, ya que sólo el “libre mercado” lo puede hacer), la educación – o la “economía del conocimiento” – sí, estaba destinada a ser privatizada. [30]

En el modelo educativo de revisión neoliberal, “se vio que la productividad económica no proviene de la inversión pública en educación, sino de transformar la educación en un producto que podría ser comprado y vendido como cualquier otra cosa – y en un mercado globalizado, la educación occidental puede ser vendida como una mercancía valiosa en los países en desarrollo.” Por lo tanto, dentro de la propia universidad, “el significado de “productividad” se apartó de un bien social y económico generalizado hacia un valor en dólares ficticios para determinados productos y prácticas designadas por el gobierno”. Davies et. al. explica:

Cuando estos productos son estudiantes graduados, o investigaciones publicadas, el gobierno podría ser interpretado como financista de la labor académica, como siempre. Cuando los ‘productos’ que se financiarán son investigación con dólares de subvención, con mecanismos para fomentar la colaboración con la industria, puede interpretarse como la manipulación directa de los académicos para volverse autofinanciados y prestar servicios a los intereses de las empresas y la industria. [31]

La nueva “gestión” de las universidades implica una disminución de los fondos estatales al mismo tiempo que aumenta las “pesadas (y costosas) demandas en materia de contabilidad de la forma en que se utilizan los fondos”, y por lo tanto, “la confianza en los valores y prácticas profesionales ya no fue la base de la relación” entre las universidades y el gobierno. Se argumentó que los gobiernos ya no eran capaces de pagar los costos de la educación universitaria, y que la “eficiencia” del sistema universitario – definida como “hacer más con menos” – iba a requerir un cambio en el sistema de liderazgo y la gestión interna hacia “una forma de gerencia pública inspirada en la del sector privado” de la estructura universitaria. El “objetivo principal” de este programa neoliberal, sugiere Davies:

no era simplemente para hacer más con menos, ya que los sistemas de vigilancia y auditoría son extraordinariamente costosos e ineficaces, sino volver a las universidades más gobernables y de aprovechar sus energías en apoyo de las ambiciones programáticas del gobierno neo-liberal y las grandes empresas. Un cambio hacia la economía como la única medida de valor sirve para erosionar la situación y actividades de aquellos académicos que encuentran valor en ámbitos sociales y morales. Por el contrario, los tecnócratas de orientación política de los círculos académicos, que sirven a los fines del capital corporativo global, son alentados y recompensados. [32]

Si la década del 60 vio un crecimiento de la democracia y la participación popular en un grado significativo, emanando de las universidades, los intelectuales disidentes y los estudiantes, la década del 70 vio la articulación y actualización de los ataques de la élite contra la democracia popular y el propio sistema educativo. Desde la Cámara de Comercio de Estados Unidos y la Comisión Trilateral, que representan los intereses de la élite financiera y corporativa, el principal problema fue identificado como la participación activa y popular del público orientada a la sociedad. Esa era la “crisis de la democracia.” La solución para las élites era simple: menos democracia, más autoridad. En el ámbito educativo, esto significó un mayor control de la élite sobre las universidades, menos libertad y activismo de intelectuales y estudiantes. Las universidades y el sistema educativo de manera más amplia era crecientemente privatizado, corporativizado, y globalizado. La época de la militancia llegó a su fin, y las universidades iban a ser meras plantas de ensamblaje de unidades económicamente productivas que apoyasen el sistema, no que lo impugnasen. Uno de los métodos clave para asegurarse que esto funcione fue a través de la deuda, que actúa como un mecanismo disciplinario en el que los estudiantes se ven limitados por el peso de la servidumbre por deudas, y por lo tanto, su propia educación debe orientarse hacia una carrera específica y una expectativa de ingresos. El conocimiento se busca para obtener beneficio personal y económico más que por el bien del conocimiento como tal. Graduarse con una gran deuda implica entonces la necesidad de entrar inmediatamente al mercado de trabajo, si es que no se había entrado ya al mercado de trabajo a tiempo parcial mientras se estudiaba. Por lo tanto, la deuda disciplina a los estudiantes hacia un propósito diferente en su educación: hacia un puesto de trabajo y a los beneficios financieros en lugar de hacia el conocimiento y el entendimiento. El activismo entonces, es más un impedimento que un partidario del conocimiento y la educación.

En la siguiente parte de esta serie, voy a analizar el propósito y el papel de la educación y los intelectuales en un contexto histórico, diferenciando entre los propósitos de “bien social” y “control social” de la educación, así como entre los intelectuales orientados a la política (de elite) y los orientados a los valores (disidentes). A través de una mirada crítica de los fines de la educación y los intelectuales, podemos entender la crisis actual en la educación y la disidencia intelectual, y por lo tanto, entender los métodos y orientaciones positivas para el cambio.

Andrew Gavin Marshall es un investigador independiente y escritor residente en Montreal, Canadá, que escribe sobre una serie de cuestiones sociales, políticas, económicas e históricas. También es Project Manager del The People’s Book Project y presenta un programa semanal de podcast, “Empire, Power and People”, en


[1] Michel J. Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy, (Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, New York University Press, 1975), pages 61-62, 71.
[2] Ibid, pages 74-77.
[3] Ibid, pages 93, 113-115.
[4] Ibid, page 162.
[5] Jay Peterzell, “The Trilateral Commission and the Carter Administration,” Economic and Political Weekly (Vol. 12, No. 51, 17 December 1977), page 2102.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Wayne Parsons, “Politics Without Promises: The Crisis of ‘Overload’ and Governability,” Parliamentary Affairs (Vol. 35, No. 4, 1982), pages 421-422.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Val Burris, “The Social and Political Consequences of Overeducation,” American Sociological Review (Vol. 48, No. 4, August 1983), pages 455-456.
[12] Lewis F. Powell, Jr., “Confidential Memorandum: Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” Addressed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 23 August 1971:
[13-25] Ibid.
[26] Julie E. Miller-Cribbs, et. al., “Thinking About Think Tanks: Strategies for Progressive Social Work,” Journal of Policy Practice (Vol. 9, No. 3-4, 2010), page 293.
[27] The Heritage Foundation, “The Heritage Foundation’s 35th Anniversary: A History of Achievements,” About:
[28] Julie E. Miller-Cribbs, et. al., “Thinking About Think Tanks: Strategies for Progressive Social Work,” Journal of Policy Practice (Vol. 9, No. 3-4, 2010), pages 293-294.
[29] Mark Olssen and Michael A. Peters, “Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Knowledge Economy: From the Free Market to Knowledge Capitalism,” Journal of Education Policy (Vol. 20, No. 3, May 2005), page 331.
[30] Ibid, pages 338-339.
[31] Bronwyn Davies, et. al., “The Rise and Fall of the Neo-liberal University,” European Journal of Education (Vol. 41, No. 2, 2006), pages 311-312.
[32] Ibid, page 312.

Class War and the College Crisis: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

Class War and the College Crisis: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

The following is the first part of a series of articles, “Class War and the College Crisis.”

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Part 2: The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

Part 3: Of Prophets, Power, and the Purpose of Intellectuals

Part 4: Student Strikes, Debt Domination, and Class War in Canada

Part 5: Canada’s Economic Collapse and Social Crisis

Part 6: The Québec Student Strike: From ‘Maple Spring’ to Summer Rebellion?

Today, we are witnessing an emerging massive global revolt, led primarily be the educated and unemployed youth of the world, against the institutionalized and established powers which seek to deprive them of a future worth living. In Chile over the past year, a massive student movement and strike has become a powerful force in the country against the increasingly privatized educational system (serving as a model for the rest of the world) with the support of the vast majority of the population; in Quebec, Canada, a student strike has brought hundreds of thousands of youth into the streets to protest against the doubling of tuition fees; students and others are on strike in Spain against austerity measures; protests led by or with heavy participation of the youth in the U.K., Greece, Portugal, France, and in the United States (such as with the Occupy Movement) are developing and growing, struggling against austerity measures, overt corruption by the capitalist class, and government collusion with bankers and corporations. Students and youth led the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt last year which led to the overthrow of the dictators which had ruled those nations for decades.

All around the world, increasingly, the youth are taking to the streets, protesting, agitating, and striking against the abuses of power, the failures of government, the excesses of greed, plundering and poverty. The educated youth in particular are playing an active role, a role which will be increasing dramatically over the coming year and years. The educated youth are graduating into a jobless market with immense debt and few opportunities. Now, just as several decades ago, the youth are turning back to activism. What happened in the intervening period to derail the activism that had been so widespread in the 1960s? How did our educational system get to its present state? What do these implications have for the present and future?

The “Crisis of Democracy”

In the period between the 1950s and the 1970s, the Western world, and especially the United States, experienced a massive wave of resistance, rebellion, protest, activism and direct action by entire sectors of the general population which had for decades, if not centuries, been largely oppressed and ignored by the institutional power structure of society. The Civil Rights movement in the United States, the rise of the New Left – radical and activist – in both Europe and North America, as elsewhere, anti-war activism, largely spurred against the Vietnam War, Liberation Theology in Latin America (and the Philippines), the environmental movement, feminist movement, gay rights movements, and all sorts of other activist and mobilized movements of youth and large sectors of society were organizing and actively agitating for change, reform, or even revolution. The more power resisted their demands, the more the movements became radicalized. The slower power acted, the faster people reacted. The effect, essentially, was that these movements sought to, and in many cases did, empower vast populations who had otherwise been oppressed and ignored, and they generally awakened the mass of society to such injustices as racism, war, and repression.

For the general population, these movements were an enlightening, civilizing, and hopeful phase in our modern history. For elites, they were terrifying. Thus, in the early 1970s there was a discussion taking place among the intellectual elite, most especially in the United States, on what became known as the “Crisis of Democracy.” In 1973, the Trilateral Commission was formed by banker and global oligarch David Rockefeller, and intellectual elitist Zbigniew Brzezinski. The Trilateral Commission brings together elites from North America, Western Europe, and Japan (now including several states in East Asia), from the realms of politics, finance, economics, corporations, international organizations, NGOs, academia, military, intelligence, media, and foreign policy circles. It acts as a major international think tank, designed to coordinate and establish consensus among the dominant imperial powers of the world.

In 1975, the Trilateral Commission issued a major report entitled, “The Crisis of Democracy,” in which the authors lamented against the “democratic surge” of the 1960s and the “overload” this imposed upon the institutions of authority. Samuel Huntington, a political scientist and one of the principal authors of the report, wrote that the 1960s saw a surge in democracy in America, with an upswing in citizen participation, often “in the form of marches, demonstrations, protest movements, and ‘cause’ organizations.” Further, “the 1960s also saw a reassertion of the primacy of equality as a goal in social, economic, and political life.” Of course, for Huntington and the Trilateral Commission, which was founded by Huntington’s friend, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and banker David Rockefeller, the idea of “equality as a goal in social, economic, and political life” is a terrible and frightening prospect. Huntington analyzed how as part of this “democratic surge,” statistics showed that throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s, there was a dramatic increase in the percentage of people who felt the United States was spending too much on defense (from 18% in 1960 to 52% in 1969, largely due to the Vietnam War).[1]

Huntington wrote that the “essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private,” and further: “People no longer felt the same compulsion to obey those whom they had previously considered superior to themselves in age, rank, status, expertise, character, or talents.” He explained that in the 1960s, “hierarchy, expertise, and wealth” had come “under heavy attack.” The use of language here is important, in framing power and wealth as “under attack” which implied that those who were “attacking” were the aggressors, as opposed to the fact that these populations (such as black Americans) had in fact been under attack from power and wealth for centuries, and were just then beginning to fight back. Thus, the self defense of people against power and wealth is referred to as an “attack.” Huntington stated that the three key issues which were central to the increased political participation in the 1960s were:

social issues, such as use of drugs, civil liberties, and the role of women; racial issues, involving integration, busing, government aid to minority groups, and urban riots; military issues, involving primarily, of course, the war in Vietnam but also the draft, military spending, military aid programs, and the role of the military-industrial complex more generally.[2]

Huntington presented these issues, essentially, as the “crisis of democracy,” in that they increased distrust with the government and authority, that they led to social and ideological polarization, and ultimately, to a “decline in the authority, status, influence, and effectiveness of the presidency.” Huntington concluded that many problems of governance in the United States stem from an “excess of democracy,” and that, “the effective operation of a democratic political system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement on the part of some individuals and groups.” Huntington explained that society has always had “marginal groups” which do not participate in politics, and while acknowledging that the existence of “marginality on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic,” it has also “enabled democracy to function effectively.” Huntington identifies “the blacks” as one such group that had become politically active, posing a “danger of overloading the political system with demands.” Of course, this implies directly an elitist version of “democracy” in which the state retains the democratic aesthetic (voting, separation of powers, rule of law) but remains exclusively in the hands of the wealthy power elite. Huntington, in his conclusion, stated that the vulnerability of democracy – the ‘crisis of democracy’ – comes “from the internal dynamics of democracy itself in a highly educated, mobilized, and participant society,” and that what is needed is “a more balanced existence” in which there are “desirable limits to the indefinite extension of political democracy.”[3] In other words, what is needed is less democracy and more authority.

The Trilateral Commission later explained its views of the “threat” to democracy and thus, the way the system ‘should’ function:

In most of the Trilateral countries [Western Europe, North America, Japan] in the past decade there has been a decline in the confidence and trust which the people have in government… Authority has been challenged not only in government, but in trade unions, business enterprises, schools and universities, professional associations, churches, and civic groups. In the past, those institutions which have played the major role in the indoctrination of the young in their rights and obligations as members of society have been the family, the church, the school, and the army. The effectiveness of all these institutions as a means of socialization has declined severely.(emphasis added)[4]

The “excess of democracy” which this entailed created a supposed “surge of demands” upon the government, just at a time when the government’s authority was being undermined. The Trilateral Commission further sent rampant shivers through the intellectual elite community by discussing the perceived threat of “value-oriented intellectuals” who dare to “assert their disgust with the corruption, materialism, and inefficiency of democracy and with the subservience of democratic government to ‘monopoly capitalism’.” For the members and constituents (elites) of the Trilateral Commission, they did not hold back on the assessment of such a threat, stating that, “this development constitutes a challenge to democratic government which is, potentially at least, as serious as those posed in the past by the aristocratic cliques, fascist movements, and communist parties.”[5] This is a very typical elitist use of rhetoric in which when identifying any perceived threat to elite interests, they are portrayed in near-apocalyptic terms. The implication, therefore, is that intellectuals who challenge authority are presented as much of a threat to democracy as Hitler and fascism were.

The Trilateral Commission report explained – through economic reasoning – how increased democracy is simply unsustainable. The “democratic surge” gave disadvantaged groups new rights and made them politically active (such as blacks), and this resulted in increased demands upon the very system whose legitimacy had been weakened. A terrible scenario for elites! The report explained that as voting decreased throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, active political participation on campuses increased, minority groups were demanding rights (how dare they!), and not only were they demanding basic human rights, but also “opportunities, positions, rewards, and privileges, which they had not considered themselves entitled to before.” That is, unlike the rich, who have considered themselves entitled to everything, always, and forever. Thus, government spending on social welfare and education increased, explained the report: “By the early 1970s Americans were progressively demanding and receiving more benefits from their government and yet having less confidence in their government than they had a decade before.” Most people would refer to that as the achievement of democracy, but for the Trilateral “intellectuals” it was an “excess of democracy,” and indeed, a threat.[6]

Samuel Huntington, naturally, assumed that the decline of confidence in the government was irrational, and had nothing to do with the Vietnam War, police and state repression of protest movements, the Watergate Scandal or other obvious crimes. No, for Huntington, the decline in confidence is tied magically to the “increased expectations” of the population, or, as Jay Peterzell explained in his critique of the report, “the root cause of public disillusionment is consistently traced to unrealistic expectations encouraged by government spending.” Huntington justified this absurd myth on his skewed analysis of the “defense shift” and “welfare shift.” The “defense shift,” which took place in the 1950s, described a period in which 36% of the increase in government spending went to defense (i.e., the military-industrial complex), whereas welfare declined as a proportion of the budget. Then came the “welfare shift” of the 1960s, in which between 1960 and 1971, only a paltry 15% of the increase in spending went to the military-industrial complex, while 84% of the increase went to domestic programs. Thus, for Huntington, the “welfare shift” basically destroyed America and ruined democracy.[7]

In reality, however, Jay Peterzell broke down the numbers to explain the “shifts” in a larger and more rational context. While it was true that the percentages increased and decreased as Huntington displayed them, they were, after all, a percentage of the “increase” in spending, not the overall percentage of spending itself. So, when one looks at the overall government spending in 1950, 1960, and 1972, the percentage on “defense” was 44, to 53, to 37. In those same years, spending on welfare amounted to 4%, 3% and 6%. Thus, between 1960 and 1972, the amount of spending on defense decreased from 53-37% of the total spending of government. In the same years, spending on welfare increased from 3-6% of the total government expenditure. When viewing it as a percentage of the overall, it can hardly be legitimate to claim that the meager increase to 6% of government expenditures for welfare was anywhere near as “threatening” to democracy as was the 37% spent on the military-industrial complex.[8]

So naturally, as a result of such terrifying statistics, the intellectual elite and their financial overlords had to impose more authority and less democracy. It was not simply the Trilateral Commission advocating for such “restraints” upon democracy, but this was a major discussion in elite academic circles in the 1970s. In Britain, this discussion emerged on the “governability thesis” – or the “overload” thesis – of democracy. Samuel Brittan’s “The Economic Contradictions of Democracy” in 1975, explained that, “The temptation to encourage fake expectations among the electorate becomes overwhelming to politicians. The opposition parties are bound to promise to do better and the government party must join in the auction.” Essentially, it was a repetition of the Trilateral thesis that too many promises create too many demands, which then create too much stress for the system, and it would inevitably collapse. Anthony King echoed this in his piece, “Overload: Problems of Governing in the 1970s,” and King explained that governing was becoming “harder” because “at one and the same time, the range of problems that government is expected to deal with has vastly increased and its capacity to deal with problems, even many of the ones it had before, has decreased.” The Italian political scientist Giovanni Sartori asked the question, “Will Democracy Kill Democracy?”

We are pursuing targets which are out of proportion, unduly isolated and pursued blindly, and that are, therefore, in the process of creating… a wholly unmanageable and ominous overload… We are beginning to realize in the prosperous democracies that we are living above our means. But we are equally and more grievously living above and beyond our intelligence, above the understanding of what we are doing.[9]

King explained that, “Political scientists have traditionally been concerned to improve the performance of government.” An obvious mistake, concluded King, who suggested that, “Perhaps over the next few years they should be concerned more with how the number of tasks that government has come to be expected to perform can be reduced.” The “remedy” for all this “overload” of democratic societies was to, first, bring “an end to the politics of ‘promising’,” and second, “attempt to reduce the expectations of voters and consumers” on the political process.[10]

The “threat” of educated youth was especially pronounced. In 1978, the Management Development Institute (a major business school in India) released a report in which it stated:

perhaps the most pernicious trend over the next decade is the growing gap between an increasingly well educated labor force and the number of job openings which can utilize its skills and qualifications… The potential for frustration, alienation and disruption resulting from the disparity between educational attainment and the appropriate job content cannot be overemphasized.[11]

In these commentaries, we are dealing with two diametrically opposed definitions of democracy: popular and elitist. Popular democracy is government of, by, and for the people; elitist democracy is government of, by, and for the rich (but with the outward aesthetic of democracies), channeling popular participation into voting instead of decision-making or active participation. Popular democracy implies the people participating directly in the decisions and functions and maintenance of the ‘nation’ (though not necessarily the State); whereas elitist democracy implies passive participation of the population so much as to allow them to feel as if they play an important role in the direction of society, while the elites control all the important levers and institutions of power which direct and benefit from the actions of the state. These differing definitions are important because when reading reports written and issued by elite interests (such as the Trilateral Commission report), it changes the substance and meaning of the report itself. For example, take the case of Samuel Huntington lamenting at the threat posed to democracy by popular participation: from the logic of popular democracy, this is an absurd statement that doesn’t make sense; from the logic of elitist democracy, the statement is accurate and profoundly important. Elites understand this differentiation, so too must the public.

The Powell Memo: Protecting the Plutocracy

While elites were lamenting over the surge in democracy, particularly in the 1960s, they were not simply complaining about an “excess of democracy” but were actively planning on reducing it. Four years prior to the Trilateral Commission report, in 1971, the infamous and secret ‘Powell Memo’ was issued, written by a corporate lawyer and tobacco company board member, Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (whom President Nixon nominated to the Supreme Court two months later), which was addressed to the Chairman of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, representing American business interests.

Powell stipulated that “the American economic system is under broad attack,” and that, “the assault on the enterprise system is broadly based and consistently pursued… gaining momentum and converts.” While the ‘sources’ of the ‘attack’ were identified as broad, they included the usual crowd of critics, Communists, the New Left, and “other revolutionaries who would destroy the entire system, both political and economic.” Adding to this was that these “extremists” were increasingly “more welcomed and encouraged by other elements of society, than ever before in our history.” The real “threat,” however, was the “voices joining the chorus of criticism [which] come from perfectly respectable elements of society: from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians.” While acknowledging that in these very sectors, those who speak out against the ‘system’ are still a minority, Powell noted, “these are often the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.”[12]

Powell discussed the “paradox” of how the business leaders appear to be participating – or simply tolerating – the attacks on the “free enterprise system,” whether by providing a voice through the media which they own, or through universities, despite the fact that “[t]he boards of trustees of our universities overwhelmingly are composed of men and women who are leaders in the system.” Powell lamented the conclusions of reports indicating that colleges were graduating students who “despise the American political and economic system,” and thus, who would be inclined to move into power and create change, or outright challenge the system head on. This marked an “intellectual warfare” being waged against the system, according to Powell, who then quoted economist Milton Friedman of the University of Chicago (and the ‘father’ of neoliberalism), who stated:

It [is] crystal clear that the foundations of our free society are under wide-ranging and powerful attack – not by Communists or any other conspiracy but by misguided individuals parroting one another and unwittingly serving ends they would never intentionally promote.[13]

Powell even specifically identified Ralph Nader as a “threat” to American business. Powell further deplored the changes and “attack” being made through the courts and legal system, which began targeting corporate tax breaks and loop holes, with the media supporting such initiatives since they help “the poor.” Powell of course referred to the notion of helping “the poor” at the expense of the rich, and the framing of the debate as such, as “political demagoguery or economic illiteracy,” and that the identification of class politics – the rich versus the poor – “is the cheapest and most dangerous kind of politics.” The response from the business world to this “broad attack,” Powell sadly reported, was “appeasement, ineptitude and ignoring the problem.” Powell did, however, explain in sympathy to the ‘ineptitude’ of the corporate and financial elites that, “it must be recognized that businessmen have not been trained or equipped to conduct guerilla warfare with those who propagandize against the system.”[14]

While the “tradition role” of business leaders has been to make profits, “create jobs,” to “improve the standard of living,” and of course, “generally to be good citizens,” they have unfortunately shown “little skill in effective intellectual and philosophical debate.” Thus, stated Powell, businessmen must first “recognize that the ultimate issue may be survival – survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.” As such, “top [corporate] management must be equally concerned with protecting and preserving the system itself,” instead of just focused on profits. Corporations, Powell acknowledged, were long involved in “public relations” and “governmental affairs” (read: propaganda and public policy), however, the ‘counter-attack’ must be more wide-ranging:

But independent and uncoordinated activity by individual corporations, as important as this is, will not be sufficient. Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.[15]

While the ‘assault’ against the system developed over several decades, Powell elaborated, “there is reason to believe that the campus [university/education] is the single most dynamic source,” as “social science faculties usually include members who are unsympathetic to the enterprise system.” These academics, explained Powell, “need not be in the majority,” as they “are often personally attractive and magnetic; they are stimulating teachers, and their controversy attracts student following; they are prolific writers and lecturers; they author many of the textbooks, and they exert enormous influence – far out of proportion to their numbers – on their colleagues and in the academic world.” Such a situation is, naturally, horrific and deplorable! Imagine that, having magnetic, stimulating and prolific teachers, what horror and despair for the world that would surely bring!

In purporting that political scientists, economists, sociologists and many historians “tend to be liberally oriented,” Powell suggested that “the need for liberal thought is essential to a balanced viewpoint,” but that the ‘balance’ does not exist, with “few [faculty] members being conservatives or [of] moderate persuasion… and being less articulate and aggressive than their crusading colleagues.” Terrified of the prospects of these potentially revolutionary youths entering into positions of power, Powell stated that when they do, “for the most part they quickly discover the fallacies of what they have been taught,” which is, in other words, to say that they quickly become socialized to the structures, hierarchies and institutions of power which demand conformity and subservience to elite interests. However, there were still many who could emerge in “positions of influence where they mold public opinion and often shape governmental action.” Thus, recommended Powell, the Chamber of Commerce should make the “priority task of business” and its related organizations “to address the campus origin of this hostility.” As academic freedom was held as sacrosanct in American society, “It would be fatal to attack this as a principle,” which of course implies that it is to be attacked indirectly. Instead, it would be more effective to use the rhetoric of “academic freedom” itself against the principle of academic freedom, using terms like “openness,” “fairness,” and “balance” as points of critique which would yield “a great opportunity for constructive action.”[16]

Thus, an organization such as the Chamber of Commerce should, recommended Powell, “consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system… [including] several of national reputation whose authorship would be widely respected – even when disagreed with.” The Chamber should also create “a staff of speakers of the highest competency” which “might include the scholars,” and establish a ‘Speaker’s Bureau’ which would “include the ablest and most effective advocates form the top echelons of American business.” This staff of scholars, which Powell emphasized, should be referred to as “independent scholars,” should then engage in a continuing program of evaluating “social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology.” The objective of this would “be oriented toward restoring the balance essential to genuine academic freedom,” meaning, of course, implanting ideological indoctrination and propaganda from the business world, which Powell described as the “assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism.” Powell lamented that the “civil rights movement insist[ed] on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools,” and “labor unions likewise insist[ed] that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor.” Thus, Powell contended, in the business world attempting to re-write textbooks and education, this process “should be regarded as an aid to genuine academic freedom and not as an intrusion upon it.”[17]

Further, Powell suggested that the business community promote speakers on campuses and lecture tours “who appeared in support of the American system of government and business.” While explaining that student groups and faculty would not likely be willing to give the podium over to the Chamber of Commerce or business leaders to espouse their ideology, the Chamber must “aggressively insist” on being heard, demanding “equal time,” as this would be an effective strategy because “university administrators and the great majority of student groups and committees would not welcome being put in the position publicly of refusing a forum to diverse views.” The two main ingredients for this program, Powell explained, was first, “to have attractive, articulate and well-informed speakers,” and second, “to exert whatever degree of pressure – publicly and privately – may be necessary to assure opportunities to speak.” The objective, Powell wrote, “always must be to inform and enlighten, and not merely to propagandize.”[18]

The biggest problem on campuses, however, was the need to “balance” faculties, meaning simply that the business world must work to implant spokespeople and apologists for the economic and financial elite into the faculties. The need to “correct” this imbalance, wrote Powell, “is indeed a long-range and difficult project,” which “should be undertaken as a part of an overall program,” including the application of pressure “for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees.” Powell acknowledged that such an effort is a delicate and potentially dangerous process, requiring “careful thought,” as “improper pressure would be counterproductive.” Focusing on the rhetoric of balance, fairness, and ‘truth’ would create a method “difficult to resist, if properly presented to the board of trustees.” Of course, the whole counter-attack of the business world should not simply be addressed to university education, but, as Powell suggested, also “tailored to the high schools.”[19]

As Powell had addressed the “attack” from – and proposed the “counterattack” on – the educational system by the corporate and financial elite, he then suggested that while this was a more long-term strategy, in the short term it would be necessary to address the public in the short-term. To do so:

The first essential is to establish the staffs of eminent scholars, writers and speakers, who will do the thinking, the analysis, the writing and the speaking. It will also be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public.[20]

The means of communicating with the public include using television. Powell recommended monitoring television in the same way that they monitor textbooks, with an aim to keep the media under “constant surveillance” for criticism of the enterprise system, which, Powell assumed, was derived from one of two sources: “hostility or economic ignorance.” It is simply assumed that the critiques of business and the ‘system’ are unjustified, derived from a misplaced hatred of society or from ignorance. This point of view is consistently regurgitated throughout the entire memo. To more properly “correct” the media, Powell suggested that surveillance would then prompt complaints to both the media and the Federal Communications Commission, and just as in university speaking tours, “equal time [for business spokespeople] should be demanded,” especially on “forum-type programs” like Meet the Press or the Today Show. Of course, the radio and print press were also to be monitored and “corrected.”[21]

The “faculty of scholars” established by the Chamber of Commerce or other business groups must publish, especially scholarly articles, as such tactics have been effective in the “attack” on the enterprise system. Thus, these “independent scholars” must publish in popular magazines (such as Life, Reader’s Digest, etc.), intellectual magazines (such as the Atlantic, Harper’s, etc.) and the professional journals. Furthermore, they must publish books, paperbacks and pamphlets promoting “our side” to “educate the public.” Paid advertising must also increasingly be used to “support the system.”[22]

Powell then turned his attention to the political arena, beginning with the base assumption that the idea of big business controlling Western governments is mere “Marxist doctrine” and “leftist propaganda,” which, Powell sadly reports, “has a wide public following among Americans.” He immediately thereafter asserted that, “every business executive knows… few elements of American society today have as little influence in government as the American businessman, the corporation, or even the millions of corporate stockholders.” Powell amazingly claimed that in terms of government influence, the poor unfortunate American businessman and corporate executive is “the forgotten man.”[23]

Forget the poor, black, and disenfranchised segments of society; forget the disabled, the labeled, and the imprisoned; forget those on welfare, food stamps, dependent upon social services or local charity; forget the entire population of the United States, who can only incite government recognition and support after years of struggle, constant protests, police repression, assault, curtailment of basic human rights and dignity; those struggles which seek only the attainment of a genuine status of human being, to be treated equal and fair… no, forget those people! The true “forgotten” and “oppressed” are the executives at Union Carbide, Exxon, General Electric, GM, Ford, DuPont, Dow, Chase Manhattan, Bank of America, and Monsanto. They, truly, are the disenfranchised… At least, according to Lewis Powell.

For Powell, education and public propaganda campaigns are necessary, but the poor disenfranchised American corporate executive must realize that “political power is necessary,” and that such power must be “used aggressively and with determination – without embarrassment and without the reluctance which has been so characteristic of American business.” Further, it is not merely in the legislative and executive branches of government where business leaders must seize power “aggressively,” but also in the judicial branch – the courts – which “may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change.” Charging that both “liberals” and the “far left” have been “exploiters of the judicial system” – such as the American Civil Liberties Union, labor unions and civil rights organizations – business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce would need to establish “a highly competent staff of lawyers” to exploit the judiciary for their own benefit.[24] Powell went on to play a very important role in this process as he was appointed to the Supreme Court almost immediately after having authored this memo, where he made many important decisions regarding “corporate rights.”

In advocating aggression in pushing their own interests, Powell encouraged the business community “to attack the [Ralph] Naders, the [Herbert] Marcuses and other who openly seek destruction of the system,” as well as “to penalize politically those who oppose it.” The “threat to the enterprise system” must not be merely presented as an economic issue, but should be portrayed as “a threat to individual freedom,” which Powell described as a “great truth” which “must be re-affirmed if this program is to be meaningful.” Thus, the “only alternatives to free enterprise” are to be presented as “varying degrees of bureaucratic regulation of individual freedom – ranging from that under moderate socialism to the iron heel of the leftist or rightist dictatorship.” The aim was to tie the average American’s own individual conception of their personal freedom and rights to that of corporations and business leaders. Thus, contended Powell, “the contraction and denial of economic freedom is followed inevitably by governmental restrictions on other cherished rights.” This is the precise message, Powell explained, “above all others, that must be carried home to the American people.”[25] So, by this logic, if today Monsanto and Dow are regulated, tomorrow, your Mom and Dad will be in a dictatorship.

The New Right: Neoliberalism and Education

The Powell Memo is largely credited with being a type of ‘Constitution’ or ‘founding document’ for the emergence of the right-wing think tanks in the 1970s and 1980s, as per its recommendations for establishing “a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system.” In 1973, a mere two years after the memo was written, the Heritage Foundation was founded as an “aggressive and openly ideological expert organization,” which became highly influential in the Reagan administration.[26]

The Heritage Foundation’s website explains that the think tank’s mission “is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.” Upon its founding in 1973, the Heritage Foundation began to “deliver compelling and persuasive research to Congress providing facts, data, and sound arguments on behalf of conservative principles.” In 1977, Ed Feulner became President of the foundation and established “a new senior management staff” and a ‘resource bank’ in order “to take on the liberal establishment and forge a national network of conservative policy groups and experts,” ultimately totaling more than 2,200 “policy experts” and 475 “policy groups” in the U.S. and elsewhere. In 1980, Heritage published a “public policy blueprint” entitled, “Mandate for Leadership,” which became “the policy bible of the newly elected Reagan administration on everything from taxes and regulation to crime and national defense.” In 1987, Heritage published another policy plan, “Out of the Poverty Trap: A Conservative Strategy for Welfare Reform,” which, as their website boastfully claimed, “changed the entitlement mentality in America, moving thousands off the dole [welfare] and toward personal responsibility,” or, in other words, deeper poverty.[27]

The model of the Heritage Foundation led to the rapid proliferation of conservative think tanks, from 70 to over 300 in over 30 years, which “often work together to create multi-issue networks on the local, state, and federal level and use mainstream and alternative media to promote conservative agendas.” The ultimate objective, like with all think tanks and foundations, is “spreading ideology.”[28]

The Cato Institute is another conservative – or “libertarian” – think tank, as it describes itself. Founded in 1974 as the Charles Koch Foundation by Charles Koch (one of America’s richest billionaires and major financier of the Tea Party movement), as well as Ed Crane and Murray Rothbard. By 1977, it had changed its name to the Cato Institute, after “Cato’s Letters,” a series of essays by two British writers in the 18th century under the pseudonym of Cato, who was a Roman Senator strongly opposed to democracy, and had fought against the slave uprising led by Spartacus. He was idolized in the Enlightenment period as a progenitor and protector of liberty (for the few), which was reflected in the ideology of the Founding Fathers of the United States, particularly Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, for which the Cato Institute credits as the reasoning for the re-naming. While Enlightenment thought and thinkers are idolized – most especially in the formation of the U.S. Constitution – as advocates of liberty, freedom and individual rights, it was the ‘right’ of ‘private property’ and those who owned property (which, at the time, included slave owners) as the ultimate sacrosanct form of “liberty.” Again, a distinctly elitist conception of democracy referred to as ‘Republicanism.’

These right-wing think tanks helped bring in the era of neo-liberalism, bringing together “scholars” who support the so-called “free market” system (itself, a mythical fallacy), and who deride and oppose all forms of social welfare and social support. The think tanks produced the research and work which supported the dominance of the banks and corporations over society, and the members of the think tanks had their voices heard through the media, in government, and in the universities. They facilitated the ideological shift in power and policy circles toward neoliberalism.

The Powell Memo and the general “crisis of democracy” set out a political, social, and economic circumstance in which neoliberalism emerged to manage the “excess of democracy.” Instead of a broader focus on neoliberalism and globalization in general, I will focus on their influences upon education in particular. The era of neoliberal globalization marked a rapid decline of the liberal welfare states that had emerged in the previous several decades, and as such, directly affected education.

As part of this process, knowledge was transformed into ‘capital’ – into ‘knowledge capitalism’ or a ‘knowledge economy.’ Reports from the World Bank and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in the 1990s transformed these ideas into a “policy template.” This was to establish “a new coalition between education and industry,” in which “education if reconfigured as a massively undervalued form of knowledge capital that will determine the future of work, the organization of knowledge institutions and the shape of society in the years to come.”[29]

Knowledge was thus defined as an “economic resource” which would give growth to the economy. As such, in the neoliberal era, where all aspects of economic productivity and growth are privatized (purportedly to increase their efficiency and productive capacity as only the “free market” can do), education – or the “knowledge economy” – itself, was destined to be privatized.[30]

In the revised neoliberal model of education, “economic productivity was seen to come not from government investment in education, but from transforming education into a product that could be bought and sold like anything else – and in a globalised market, Western education can be sold as a valuable commodity in developing countries.” Thus, within the university itself, “the meaning of ‘productivity’ was shifted away from a generalized social and economic good towards a notional dollar value for particular government-designated products and practices.” Davies et. al. elaborated:

Where these products are graduating students, or research published, government could be construed as funding academic work as usual. When the ‘products’ to be funded are research grant dollars, with mechanisms in place to encourage collaboration with industry, this can be seen as straightforward manipulation of academics to become self-funding and to service the interests of business and industry.[31]

The new ‘management’ of universities entailed decreased state funding while simultaneously increasing “heavy (and costly) demands on accounting for how that funding was used,” and thus, “trust in professional values and practices was no longer the basis of the relationship” between universities and government. It was argued that governments were no longer able to afford the costs of university education, and that the “efficiency” of the university system – defined as “doing more with less” – was to require a change in the leadership and management system internal to the university structure to “a form of managerialism modeled on that of the private sector.” The “primary aim” of this neoliberal program, suggests Davies:

was not simply to do more with less, since the surveillance and auditing systems are extraordinarily costly and ineffective, but to make universities more governable and to harness their energies in support of programmatic ambitions of neo-liberal government and big business. A shift towards economics as the sole measure of value served to erode the status and work of those academics who located value in social and moral domains. Conversely, the technocratic policy-oriented academics, who would serve the ends of global corporate capital, were encouraged and rewarded.[32]

As the 1960s saw a surge in democracy and popular participation, to a significant degree emanating from the universities, dissident intellectuals and students, the 1970s saw the articulation and actualization of the elite attack upon popular democracy and the educational system itself. From the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Trilateral Commission, both of which represent elite financial and corporate interests, the key problem was identified as active and popular participation of the public in the direction of society. This was the “crisis of democracy.” The solution for elites was simple: less democracy, more authority. In the educational realm, this meant more elite control over universities, less freedom and activism for intellectuals and students. Universities and the educational system more broadly was to become increasingly privatized, corporatized, and globalized. The age of activism was at an end, and universities were to be mere assembly plants for economically productive units which support the system, not challenge it. One of the key methods for ensuring this took place was through debt, which acts as a disciplinary mechanism in which students are shackled with the burden of debt bondage, and thus, their education itself must be geared toward a specific career and income expectation. Knowledge is sought for personal and economic benefit more than for the sake of knowledge itself. Graduating with extensive debt then implies a need to immediately enter the job market, if not already having entered the job market part time while studying. Debt thus disciplines the student toward a different purpose in their education: toward a job and financial benefits rather than toward knowledge and understanding. Activism then, is more of an impediment to, rather than a supporter of knowledge and education.

In the next part of this series, I will analyze the purpose and role of education and intellectuals in a historical context, differentiating between the ‘social good’ and ‘social control’ purposes of education, as well as between the policy-oriented (elite) and value-oriented (dissident) intellectuals. Through a critical look at the purpose of education and intellectuals, we can understand the present crisis in education and intellectual dissent, and thus, understand positive methods and directions for change.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on


[1]            Michel J. Crozier, Samuel P. Huntington and Joji Watanuki, The Crisis of Democracy, (Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, New York University Press, 1975), pages 61-62, 71.

[2]            Ibid, pages 74-77.

[3]            Ibid, pages 93, 113-115.

[4]            Ibid, page 162.

[5]            Jay Peterzell, “The Trilateral Commission and the Carter Administration,” Economic and Political Weekly (Vol. 12, No. 51, 17 December 1977), page 2102.

[6]            Ibid.

[7]            Ibid.

[8]            Ibid.

[9]            Wayne Parsons, “Politics Without Promises: The Crisis of ‘Overload’ and Governability,” Parliamentary Affairs (Vol. 35, No. 4, 1982), pages 421-422.

[10]            Ibid.

[11]            Val Burris, “The Social and Political Consequences of Overeducation,” American Sociological Review (Vol. 48, No. 4, August 1983), pages 455-456.

[12]            Lewis F. Powell, Jr., “Confidential Memorandum: Attack of American Free Enterprise System,” Addressed to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 23 August 1971:

[13-25]                        Ibid.

[26]            Julie E. Miller-Cribbs, et. al., “Thinking About Think Tanks: Strategies for Progressive Social Work,” Journal of Policy Practice (Vol. 9, No. 3-4, 2010), page 293.

[27]            The Heritage Foundation, “The Heritage Foundation’s 35th Anniversary: A History of Achievements,” About:

[28]            Julie E. Miller-Cribbs, et. al., “Thinking About Think Tanks: Strategies for Progressive Social Work,” Journal of Policy Practice (Vol. 9, No. 3-4, 2010), pages 293-294.

[29]            Mark Olssen and Michael A. Peters, “Neoliberalism, Higher Education and the Knowledge Economy: From the Free Market to Knowledge Capitalism,” Journal of Education Policy (Vol. 20, No. 3, May 2005), page 331.

[30]            Ibid, pages 338-339.

[31]            Bronwyn Davies, et. al., “The Rise and Fall of the Neo-liberal University,” European Journal of Education (Vol. 41, No. 2, 2006), pages 311-312.

[32]            Ibid, page 312.