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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.


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

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

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Part 1: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

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

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

Part 5: Canada’s Economic Collapse and Social Crisis

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

There is a process under way in Canada, led by the corporate and financial elite, and directed against the general population, the poor, and the young, intending to provide for the rich and powerful, to punish the poor and steal from the rest, to plunge into poverty, to repress, control, and dominate: this process is called ‘Class War’ and it’s waged by the super-rich against the supposedly superfluous rest. It’s objective is simple: to preserve, protect, and expand the control and domination of the wealthy over the majority.

In Quebec, where the class warfare has taken on a specific assault on the students and youth, there are finally growing signs and actions that the youth are starting to fight back. The provincial government of Quebec – the French-speaking province of Canada – has decided to double the costs of tuition over the next few years. These moves have prompted hundreds of thousands of students across Quebec to go on strike in protest of the increased fees. Since Quebec currently has the lowest tuition costs in Canada for residents, a great deal of the media and commentary on the issue is related to lambasting Quebecers for their concept of “entitlements” and for “complaining” that they have to pay what others pay. The debate is focused around the ‘need’ for the government of Quebec to reduce its debt – balance its budget – framing increased tuition costs as a necessity to be accepted, and when resisted, to dismiss the protesters as unrealistic and petty.

So is it true that Quebec has the lowest tuition fees in Canada? Yes. However, Quebec residents also pay the highest income taxes in all of Canada.[1] One of the major claims by the Quebec government as to why tuition must be increased is the claim that Quebec’s universities are among the most “under-funded” in Canada, and therefore they need to increase their funding so as to increase their “competitiveness.” However, according to the Quebec government itself, total government spending on education (in 2008-2009) amounted to 1.94% of GDP, compared to 1.76% for Ontario, and 1.65% for Canada as a whole. At the same time, total university spending per student in Quebec was at $29,242, compared to $26,383 in Ontario, and $28,846 for Canada as a whole.[2] Thus, Québec’s universities are funded to a greater degree than the rest of Canada, so that argument does not hold weight.

Quebec’s universities are funded more than other Canadian universities, while Quebec residents pay more in taxes than the rest of Canada, so why the increase in tuition? As tuition fees for universities increase, government spending on education decreases. As the Canadian Federation of Students notes:

In the past fifteen years, tuition fees in Canada have grown to become the single largest expense for most university and college students. The dramatic tuition fee increases during this period were the direct result of cuts to public funding for post-secondary education by the federal government and, to a somewhat lesser extent, provincial governments. Public funding currently accounts for an average of approximately 57% of university and college operating funding, down from 84% just two decades ago. During the same period tuition fees have grown from 14% of operating funding to over 34%.[3]

This marks a move “away from a publicly funded model and towards a privatised user fee system,” which has caused “post-secondary education to become unaffordable for many low- and middle-income Canadians.” In the mid-1960s, nearly all of Canada’s university funding was provided by the federal and provincial governments, and tuition fees were either incredibly minimal or non-existent. This process began to change in the early 1980s, with the rise of neoliberalism in the global political economy, which saw moves toward cutting social spending by governments. As government funding decreased, tuition costs rose, and as a result, between the early 1980s and the early 1990s, tuition fees in Canada nearly doubled. In 1995, the Liberal federal government of Canada cut $7 billion in spending for the provinces, leading to “the largest tuition fee increases in Canadian history.” Quebec had, however, resisted the push toward making students pay more, which was taking place in all the other Canadian provinces. In the early 1990s, average undergraduate tuition fees in Canada were $1,464; today the average has more than tripled to $5,138.[4]

So why is this process taking place? Why must government spending on education (and other social programs) be reduced, while personal costs for all of these services be increased? The answer is not in “efficiency” or “balancing budgets,” but rather, in class warfare.

In April of 2007, TD Bank (one of Canada’s ‘big five’ banks which dominate the economy) released a “plan for prosperity” for the province of Quebec, which recommended, among other things, raising the cost of tuition: “by raising tuition fees but focusing on increased financial assistance for those in need, post secondary education (PSE) institutions will be better-positioned to prosper and provide world-class education and research.”[5] In one Canadian province, Nova Scotia, the government hired a former chief economist from the Bank of Montreal, Tim O’Neill, to assess higher education finances, and unsurprisingly, advocated higher tuition fees.[6] Banks, of course, have a major interest in promoting increased tuition costs, because they provide student loans and profit off of the interest on student debt, like some malevolent ever-growing succubus draining the life force and potential of future generations which are doomed to debt slavery. So naturally, our governments take the advice of the banks, because they know whom their real masters are.

It should be noted, as well, that this is not merely a problem in Quebec or Canada. Tens of thousands of students in the United Kingdom are planning a walk out in protest of increasing tuition fees, which “are pricing students out of education.”[7] The Occupy Movement in the United States is moving into universities, as campuses in California experienced demonstrations and protests against “state budget cuts to education and the resulting hikes in tuition.”[8] In Spain, more than 30,000 students took to the streets of Barcelona protesting the ‘austerity cuts’ to education, and were then of course met with state repression.[9] Perhaps most impressive is a mass student movement that has developed in Chile over the past year.

The College Crisis

What is the ‘college crisis’? It’s quite simple: our society is producing more educated, professionalized youths than ever before, who are then graduating into a jobless market, and what’s more, they are graduating with extensive debt. The professional education students receive, in combination with the heavy overbearing debt load and the immense dissatisfaction with the lack of opportunities for them, creates a large, mobile, educated, activated, and very pissed off group of people. This is what is referred to as a ‘poverty of expectations,’ whereby the inculcated expectations of a group or sector of society cannot be met by the society in which they live. In any society, in any period of history, this is a recipe for social unrest, resistance, rebellion, and, potentially, Revolution.

Naturally, the elites of any society fear such a scenario, so they always come up with various methods of managing these increasingly problematic conditions. The solutions, invariably, are always aimed at finding methods and means for undermining the ability and effectiveness of the target group to mobilize and organize for their cause; in this case, students. Cutting education budgets and increasing tuition fees is a very effective means to create more ‘desirable’ conditions for elites. How so? Any form of ‘austerity’ is essentially an act of class war, waged by the upper class against the rest. Austerity means that budgets will be cut and costs will be increased, whether through taxation, direct prices for services and necessities, or more often, both. The stated purpose of ‘austerity measures’ is to reduce debt (spending) and increase profitability (or revenue), with the purported aim of eliminating the debt over time. This is, however, not the true purpose of austerity, and appropriately so, it is never the result. The result is actually to increase debt, and impose a regimen of what amounts to ‘social genocide’: increasing the burden, costs, taxes, and hardships upon the wider population. For the poor, it means despair; for the middle class, it means poverty; and for the rich, it means prosperity and power.

The current crisis stems from developments that took place in the 1960s which saw an increase in activism and engagement among the general population, and especially the youth. Universities were breeding grounds for activism and movements which sought to create social uplift. The elite response to this scenario, in the United States specifically but also across the Western world as a whole, was to declare a “Crisis of Democracy” in which too many people were making too many demands upon the system, in which all forms of authority were under attack, and the legitimacy of those authorities were called into question. Elites of both the left and right saw this acceleration of democratic participation and activism as an assault upon their conception of what “democracy” should be – namely, a state that serves their interests alone. From the right, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – and from the liberal internationalists, the Trilateral Commission – launched a major national and global attack upon the surge of democratic activism in what the Trilateral Commission referred to as an “excess of democracy.” The result of this attack: neoliberalism and debt. The two documents that were most influential in this attack on democracy were the “Powell Memo” of 1971 sent to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce which outlined a detailed program for how big business could reorganize society for its own interests, and the Trilateral Commission’s 1975 report, “The Crisis of Democracy,” which outlined an elite ideology which saw the problem of society being in an “excess of democracy” and that what is required is to correct the balance in favour of elites and increase apathy and passivity among the population. The Chamber of Commerce represents all the major business interests in the United States, while the Trilateral Commission (founded in 1973 by banker David Rockefeller), represents roughly 350 elites in the areas of academia, finance, business, government, foreign policy, media and foundations from North America, Western Europe, and Japan.

The result of this was to decrease government funding for education, increase tuition and other costs, increase debt for students and the general population as a whole (through credit cards, mortgages, loans, etc.), and to merge higher education and big business: the corporatization and privatization of universities.

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.”[10]

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.[11]

Solving the ‘College Crisis’

In February of 2011, it was reported that the average debt for a Canadian family had reached over $100,000, spending 150% of their earnings. Thus, for every $1,000 in after-tax income, the average Canadian family then owes $1,500. The debt figures include mortgages, student loans, credit card debts, and lines of credit. In 1990, the average Canadian family was able to put roughly $8,000 into savings, in 2012, that number was at $2,500. So while the public is constantly told that the ‘recession’ is over, this is simply not true for the general population, though it may appear to be true in the quarterly reports of Canada’s multinational corporations and banks. A 2011 report indicated that, “17,400 households were behind in their mortgage payments by three or more months in 2010, up by 50 per cent since the recession began. Credit card delinquencies and bankruptcy rates also remain higher than before the recession.”[12]

By February of 2012, this rate of income-to-debt had not only failed to improve, but even got slightly worse, hitting a new record.[13] The state for Canadian families is indeed getting worse. More than half of the jobs created since the “end” of the “recession” went to those aged 55 and older, leaving the youth struggling to find jobs, while older workers have to either stay working longer, return from retirement because they can’t survive off of their pensions, and thus, young people are living at home longer and staying in school longer. The slight increases in hourly earnings has not kept up with inflation, and thus amounts to a loss of earnings, and income inequality continues to grow between the super-rich and everyone else.[14]

Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of Canada (Canada’s central bank), is also Chairman of the Financial Stability Board, run out of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) in Basel, Switzerland – the central bank to the world’s central banks – and which operates under the auspices of the G20. Carney had previously served as Deputy Governor of the Bank of Canada, the Canadian Department of Finance, and spent thirteen years with Goldman Sachs prior to that.

The Bank of Canada, like all central banks, serves the dominant elite interests of the nation, but also of the international financial elite more broadly. The board of directors of the Bank of Canada includes William Black, former CEO of Maritime Life, who sits on the boards of Dalhousie University, the Shaw Group, Standard Life of Canada, and Nova Scotia Business, Inc.; Philip Deck, CEO of Extuple, Inc. (a technology finance corporation), former managing partner with merchant banking company HSD Partners, and is on the board of a major Canadian think tank, the C.D. Howe Institute; Bonnie DuPont, former Vice President at Enbridge Inc., former director of the Canadian Wheat Board, a current director of agribusiness firm Viterra Inc, UTS, on the board of governors of the University of Calgary, member of the Institute of Corporate Directors, and is past president of the Calgary Petroleum Club; Jock Finlayson, Vice President of the Business Council of British Columbia, former Vice President of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (an interest group made up of Canada’s top 150 CEOs), and a member of the Canada West Foundation; Daniel Johnson, a director of Bombardier, IGM Financial, Mackenzie Financial Corporation, Investors Group, and former Minister of Industry and Commerce in the Province of Quebec; David Laidley, Chairman Emeritus of Deloitte & Touche LLP, on the boards of Nautilus Indemnity Limited, ProSep Inc., EMCOR Group, Aviva Canada Inc., the Cole Foundation, and on several boards at McGill University. The rest of the directors of the Bank of Canada are almost exclusively businessmen or former government officials (two women in total), and all of them are white; so, naturally, they truly represent the struggling Canadian family.

In March of 2012, the Bank of Canada warned that household debt “remains the biggest domestic risk” to Canada’s economy. While part of the Bank’s role is to set interest rates, it has kept interest rates very low (at 1%) in order to encourage lending (and indeed, families have become more indebted as a result). Yet, the Bank says, interest rates will have to rise eventually. Economists at Canada’s major banks (CIBC, RBC, BMO, TD, and ScotiaBank) naturally support such an inevitability, as one BMO economist stated, “while rates are unlikely to increase in the near term, the next move is more likely to be up rather than down, and could well emerge sooner than we currently anticipate.” The chief economist at CIBC stated that, “markets will pick up on the slightly improved change in tone on the economy, and might move forward the implied date for the first rate hike.” This translates into: the economy is doing well for the big banks, therefore they will demand higher interest rates on debts, and plunge the Canadian population into poverty; the “invisible hand of the free market” in action.[15] Increased interest rates mean increased payments on debts, which means increased suffering for the indebted, who make up the general population.

As the Bank of Canada warns that interest rates will increase, perhaps as soon as this year, the Canadian people – heavily indebted – will suffer immensely and will likely fail to meet their interest payments. Since such a large majority of the debt and interest is in mortgages, this would potentially cause a major housing crisis, which is already at bubble proportions (especially in Vancouver, now the most expensive city to live in within North America), and will drag the middle class and the rest of the Canadian economy down with it. Even TD Bank has said the housing market is over-valued (i.e., artificially inflated), and warned of a coming “correction” (i.e., economic crisis).[16]

As the gap widens between the rich and everyone else in nearly every OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country, Canada is no exception. The top 10% of Canadian earners make ten times as much as the bottom 10%. The top 1% in Canada saw their share of total income increase from 8.1% in 1980 to 13.3% in 2007, while the top 0.1% saw their share increase from 2% to 5.3%. Tax policies in Canada strengthen the wealth gap. In 1981, the tax rate for the top margin of earners was 43%, and in 2010, it was 29%. As the Secretary General of the OECD stated in December of 2011, “The social contract is starting to unravel in many countries… This study dispels the assumptions that the benefits of economic growth will automatically trickle down to the disadvantaged and that greater inequality fosters greater social mobility.” Thus, “inequality will continue to rise.”[17]

In a 2008 OECD study, Canada was singled out as one of the countries with the worst rates of widening inequality, stating that, “In the last 10 years, the rich have been getting richer, leaving both middle and poorer income classes behind.” The top 3.8% of Canadian households controlled 66.6% of all financial wealth by 2009, with rates set to increase. As the Conservative government in Canada continues to implement corporate tax cuts, this disparity will increase, with the Harper government providing $60 billion in corporate tax breaks, while maintaining a $30 billion budget deficit (public debt). Despite all the tax cuts for corporations, the money that is not spent on taxes tends to go to shareholders and very little goes toward investments or job creation, meaning that the benefits do not “trickle down,” but rather, as to be expected, trickle up. For Prime Minister Harper’s tax policies and programs, “The higher the income, the bigger the tax break.” The senior economist at the International Trade Union Confederation stated that, “The growing gap between the rich and the rest of us has many causes, including higher remuneration for top earners, much higher profits as a share of the economy, less bargaining power for workers, and less progressive taxes… Conservative tax policies will clearly aggravate the problem.”[18]

The Conference Board of Canada released a study in the fall of 2011 which stated that, “income inequality has been rising more rapidly in Canada than in the U.S. since the mid-1990s,” and on a global scale, “Canada has had the fourth-largest increase in income inequality among its peers.” The President of the Conference Board explained, “Even though the U.S. currently has the largest rich-poor income gap among these countries, the gap in Canada has been rising at a faster rate.”[19]

Among the OECD countries, the one with the highest rates of inequality was none other than the Petri-dish experiment of neoliberalism, Chile, followed by Israel, Italy, Portugal, the U.K., and the United States. While the top 10% of Canadian earners had an average income of $103,500, the bottom 10% had an average annual income of $10,260.[20]

While Canada is often hailed as the most promising nation to come out of the economic-financial crisis of 2008, since its banks were largely left out of the housing derivative market (and thus, were protected), the facts on the ground represent a different reality. As the Economist reported in 2010, of the 31 OECD nations, Canada ranked as the 22nd worst country in terms of child poverty, with one in ten Canadians (roughly 3 million) being poor, 610,000 of them being children. In November of 2010, it was reported that roughly 900,000 Canadians were dependent upon food handouts, a 9% increase from the previous year, with roughly 300,000 homeless people. The majority of the poor are single mothers, immigrants, aboriginal and disabled Canadians. Through the 1980s and 1990s (with the implementation of neolibral policies), welfare payments to these groups were slashed, with British Columbia as the most enthusiastic supporter of exacerbating child poverty, which stood at 10.4% by 2010.[21]

The cost of poverty is quite extensive:

* By 2011, poverty was said to cost the government between $72-86 billion per year;

* In the city of Hamilton, Ontario, there is a 21 year-difference in life expectancy between those who live in high and low-income neighborhoods;

* In March of 2010, nearly 900,000 Canadians had to go to food banks for food, 38% of them being children, an increase of 28% since March of 2008, the “highest level of food bank use ever”;

* In 2010, there were between 150-300,000 “visible” homeless in Canada, with another 900,000 “hidden” homeless, and 1.5 million families in “core housing need” and 3.1 million families in unaffordable housing;

* In 2010, 59% of Canadians (over 20 million Canadians) lived from paycheck to paycheck, “saying they would be in financial difficulty if their paycheque was delayed by a week”;

* In 2009, the average annual income of Canada’s best paid CEOs was $6.6 million, “155 times higher than the average worker’s income ($42,988);

* A third of all income growth in Canada over the past two decades has gone to the richest one percent of Canadians.”[22]

Canada’s Youth: A “Bankrupted Generation”

By January of 2009, Canadian students had a debt to the federal government of over $13 billion, with student loan debt increasing by $1.2 million every day. The Canadian Federation of Students said the obvious answer to this growing crisis was to make education “affordable.” Studies show the effects of student debt, reducing “the ability of new graduates to start families, work in public service careers, invest in other assets, volunteer, or even just take a lower paying job in their own field to get a foot in the door.” On top of the $13 billion owed to the Federal Government, Canadian students owed an additional $5 billion to provincial governments, and the figures do not include debt owed to banks, credit card companies or parents.[23] In short, Canada’s student youth are a “lost generation.”

In September of 2010, the Canadian Council on Learning published a report which indicated that, “students who graduate from college and university with high debt loads are putting off buying a house, having children or investing for the future.” The average debt load of a Canadian university graduate in 2009 was $26,680, and the average debt for college graduates was $13,600. These figures, it should be noted, do not take into account mortgages, credit card debt, lines of credit, or car loans.[24] This represented a doubling in the amount of student debt from 1990, and in 2005, the number of Canadian students needing loans to pay for their education had increased to 57%.[25]

In October of 2011, it was reported that Canadian student debt (to the Federal Government) will surpass $15 billion by 2013, which is the current ceiling set by the government in student loans. Thus, if it reaches the ceiling, the government will no longer (in theory) be able to provide student loans. The solution, according to the Canadian Federation of Students, does not mean eliminating the debt ceiling, which will only make the problem worse, but rather, in reducing the costs of education itself. As the national chairperson of the CFS stated, “The reality is that the job market is grim and students are facing their first interviews with a mortgage-sized debt.” Thus, once they begin work, they do not contribute to the economic growth of the country, but rather merely have to focus on paying interest and repaying debts. The cost of university education in Canada is estimated to be at $60,000, and some studies suggest that this will rise to $140,000 for those born in 2011. The average yearly undergraduate tuition fees were a 4.3% increase from the previous year, reaching $5,366.[26]

In 2011, almost two million Canadians had a student debt totaling $20 billion, and as the chairman of the Canadian Federation of Students stated, “We have an entire generation of people who now more than ever have to complete some form of post-secondary education just to get a job interview, with more than 70% of all new jobs requiring some degree or diploma. We are on the verge of bankrupting a generation before they even enter the workplace.” As job losses continue, and especially as the youth job market continues to decline, the number of full-time students tends to increase, and the availability of part-time work for students continues to decline. A post-secondary education no longer increases a “return on investment” through a lifetime, as it was once assumed. The overall student debt is not the most pressing immediate problem, but rather the “crippling interest rate attached to these government loans” which plunge youth into a deep crisis. So while interest rates are very low (in other lending, as set by the Bank of Canada at 1%), the government is charging 8% interest on student loans. Margaret Johnson, president of Solutions Credit Counselling Service Inc. in Vancouver stated that, “When the loan goes into default, the interest starts to compound. And then you have an absolute nightmare. The average debt I’m seeing is anywhere between $30,000 and $60,000. The payments are so high on some of these loans that the young person cannot live and make a payment. Instead of lowering the interest rate — or eliminating it, which I think is the best solution — the government extended the repayment term to 14 years. The fact that so many loans are in arrears proves this isn’t the answer.”[27]

Some things are worth repeating: the average debt for every Canadian household is over $100,000 and the average debt for a university graduate in Canada is over $26,000; nearly one million Canadians depend upon food banks for their food, poverty and inequality are increasing, homelessness is increasing; the rich are getting richer and everyone else is getting poor or poorer, and there is a horrible job market with few jobs available, let alone available to youth. So the “solution” – we are told – to the supposed “problem” of “competitiveness” in our universities… is to increase the burden, the cost, and the debt of students, families, and the general population; to increase tuition and student debt, to increase interest rates on all debts, and to plunge the population into abject poverty. It seems then, that Canadians, and the Western world in general (as these policies are being pushed throughout the G8 nations on the whole) are about to get a hard lesson in what our countries of the industrialized and supposedly “democratic” north have been doing to the rest of the world (Africa, Asia, Latin America) for decades and, indeed, centuries. What has been done abroad is now coming home to roost.

The conditions, restrictions, programs and policies that our nations have imposed upon Africa, Asia, and Latin America for the past four decades have plunged those countries into poverty, allowed for the unhindered control and extraction of their resources for our corporations, put their nations into the debt of our banks, exploited their populations for cheap labour, and propped up ruthless dictators to repress the people if they ever get wise and want to change their society. While our nations of course continue in their raping and pillaging of the world, now they have also turned their attention – and absolute disregard for humanity – to their domestic populations. The same banks, international institutions, nations, organizations and even individuals who promoted the policies which led to the impoverishment and punishment of much of the world’s population are now telling us that these same policies are the “solutions” to our current crises, just as they told the populations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. If we listen to these same people, submit to the same policies, and accept the same ideologies which have caused so much destruction and devastation around the world, and expect different results at home, we deserve what we get. Naturally, then, we must stop accepting and consenting to the hegemony and power of our elites and their institutions and ideologies. This means that we have to actively create alternatives, not simply protest against their programs, or demand reforms, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The boat is sinking, it doesn’t matter how it looks on the way down. It’s time for a new system altogether. One cannot demand from others to create a new system, but must actively create it themselves.

In the next part of this series, “Class War and the College Crisis,” I will be discussing the coming economic crisis for Canada, which has thus far been hailed as the “safest” nation emerging from the 2008 “recession,” a myth that will soon be broken. As Canada, and much of the rest of the world, begin their rapid descent into an economic depression, the above-mentioned statistics regarding debt, poverty, and inequality will get worse. As the social and economic crisis deepens, our governments will continue to show in whose interests they truly rule: with batons, tear gas, beatings, mass arrests, detention camps, and the growth and development of a police state surveillance society, our governments will reveal that they rule for bankers, corporations, and oligarchs. The democratic façade will wash away. It is within these circumstances that Canadians, and the wider world in general, must seek to create a true democratic system. First, however, we must recognize and understand the system in which we live for what it is: a State-Capitalist society ruled by a power-mad oligarchy. The next part of this series will be taking a look at what this power-mad oligarchy is doing and will be doing to Canada’s economy and society in the coming years. Here’s a hint: it doesn’t benefit YOU!

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]            CRA, What are the income tax rates in Canada for 2012? Canada Revenue Agency:

[2]            Finances Québec, “A Fair and Balanced University Funding Plan: To Give Québec the Means to Fulfill its Ambitions,” The Government of Québec, 2011-2012 Budget, page 7.

[3]            CFS, Tuition Fees, The Canadian Federation of Students:

[4]            Ibid.

[5]            Press Release, “TD Economics outlines plan for prosperity in Quebec report,” Newswire, 10 April 2007:

[6]            CNW, “Déjà Vu: O’Neill Report Recycles Dated, Discredited Tuition Fee Myths,” Newswire, 17 September 2010:

[7]            Alison Kershaw, “Thousands of students to stage walkout protest,” The Independent, 12 March 2012:

[8]            Carla Rivera and Larry Gordon, “Occupy protests bring small yet intense crowds to state campuses,” Los Angeles Times, 1 March 2012:

[9]            Giles Tremlett, “Fighting breaks out in Barcelona as students protest over education cuts,” The Guardian, 29 February 2012:

[10]            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.

[11]            Ibid, pages 338-339.

[12]            CTV News Staff, “Average Canadian family debt hits $100,000,” CTV News, 17 February 2011:

[13]            Why are Canadian families falling further into debt?, The Globe and Mail, 14 February 2012:

[14]            Tavia Grant, “Financial security ‘elusive’ for many Canadian families,” The Globe and Mail, 22 March 2012:

[15]            Gordon Isfeld, “Bank of Canada says household debt ‘biggest risk’ to economy,” The Leader Post, 9 March 2012:

[16]            John Morrissy, “Household debt a mounting concern as rates appear set to rise,” The Montreal Gazette, 23 March 2012:

[17]            CBC, Wealth gap widens to 30-year high, CBC News, 5 December 2011:

[18]            Les Whittington, “Tax policies may aggravate gap between rich and poor,” Toronto Star, 27 May 2011:–tax-policies-may-aggravate-gap-between-rich-and-poor

[19]            Tavia Grant, “Income inequality rising quickly in Canada,” The Globe and Mail, 13 September 2011:

[20]            CTV News Staff, “OECD report finds income inequality rising in Canada,” CTV News:

[21]            Poverty in Canada: Mean Streets, The Economist, 25 November 2010:

[22]            CTV News Staff, “Canada Student Loan debt tops $13B, figures show,” CTV News, 21 January 2009:

[23]            CTV News Staff, “Canada Student Loan debt tops $13B, figures show,” CTV News, 21 January 2009:

[24]            CBC, “Student debt limits post-grad options,” CBC News, 22 September 2010:

[25]            QMI Agency, “Student debt doubled over 20 years: Study,” Toronto Sun, 22 September 2010:

[26]            Sharon Singleton, “Action needed on student debt: CFS,” Toronto Sun, 17 October 2011:

[27]            Mary Teresa Bitti, Student debt bankrupting a generation, The Financial Post, 4 June 2011:

The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

The Purpose of Education: Social Uplift or Social Control?

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

This is part 2 of the series, “Class War and the College Crisis.”

Part 1: The “Crisis of Democracy” and the Attack on Education

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?

In Part 1 of this series, I examined the elite assault on education – through the Chamber of Commerce, right-wing think tanks, and the Trilateral Commission – which arose in response to the massive social and political activist movements of the 1960s. The threat of popular democratic participation – that is, active and activist participation of the population in the decision-making process of a community or nation – was too much to bear. The fact that a significant degree of this activism had been mobilizing from the universities was enough reason for elites to declare a “crisis of democracy” and demand more apathy, complacency, and pacification from the population, more authority for themselves, and more control over the society as a whole. The result of this was neoliberalism – globally and locally – in government, the media, and the schools. The “Crisis of Democracy” was that there was too much of it. The solution, therefore, was to deconstruct democracy.

The emergence and spread of education – both mass public and university – is generally considered to be the result of the Enlightenment ideals and the emergence of democracies. The idea was that education was developed and designed for the purpose of enlightening individuals, spreading literacy and fostering intellectual pursuits which would yield for the benefit of the whole of society, a benevolent institution. Indeed, there are these elements to the history of education; but like with most things, there are other, deeper, elements to the story. So it begs the question: what is the purpose of education?

The spread of ‘mass education’ of primary and secondary education from the Prussian system in the 18th century was designed to socialize the population into a state-structured ideology (taking the monopoly of education away from the religious and community institutions and into the hands of the emerging nation-state). The aim, therefore, of mass – or public – education was not a benevolent concept of expanding and sharing knowledge (as is purported in liberal thought), but rather as a means to foster patriotism and support the state system in preserving the social class structures. In 1807, Johann Gottlieb Fichte, one of the founding philosophers of this system, explained that educated was the means toward fostering patriotism, as “universal, state-directed, compulsory education would teach all Germans to be good Germans and would prepare them to play whatever role – military, economic, political – fell to them in helping the state reassert Prussian power.”[1] As British philosopher Bertrand Russell explained:

Fichte laid it down that education should aim at destroying free will, so that, after pupils have left school, they shall be incapable, throughout the rest of their lives, of thinking or acting otherwise than as their schoolmasters would have wished.[2]

It was in the promotion of state formation and patriotism that European nations, one after the other, developed mass schooling systems. In the United States, mass schooling was not directed toward the political process of ‘state formation’, but rather the cultural process of ‘nation-building’ in the 19th century. In the 19th century, the United States remained largely rural and nonindustrial, and thus, “the apparatus of state control was extremely weak in most communities.” As Meyer et. al. argue: in the American Journal of Sociology:

The spread of schooling in the rural North and West can best be understood as a social movement implementing a commonly held ideology of nation-building. It combined the outlook and interests of small entrepreneurs in a world market, evangelical Protestantism, and an individualistic conception of the polity.[3]

In early 19th century United States, many worried about “a new industrial feudalism supplanting the old order.” For such reformers, the complex circumstances in which they found themselves – of a society in which the old ideas and institutions were disappearing and new ones were emerging – could best be addressed by the common school, “serving all citizens, stamping them American and unifying the nation.”[4] This was, in itself, a desire for ‘social control’ in a socially disruptive circumstance of rapid change in all realms of human activity. As Robert H. Wiebe explained, “the instruments of control were themselves the means of improvement,” and schools were viewed as “assimilating, stabilizing mechanisms.” By the 1830s, school reformers “were urgently seeking a new national cohesion, a source of uniquely American wholeness.” The focus on socializing children was of the utmost concern. As one reformer stated, children “must be taken at the earliest opportunity, if the seeds of good are to be planted before the seeds of evil begin to germinate.” Thus, “the role of the educator was to construct a model environment around the child.”[5]

In the early 20th century, most Americans began to view “education as a task specifically of the schools rather than of a general society, a reflection of both the school’s expertise and a modern society’s rational differentiation of functions.” The institutional structure of schools became nationalized and more state-oriented than previously:

Central agencies of education, professionalization and publicity – the major teachers colleges and accrediting agencies, a revitalized National Education Association and a lengthening list of professional journals – set the agenda for discussion and the boundaries of debate throughout the land.[6]

The lower levels of education are directed at producing “general outputs for society,” while the higher levels may actually reflect and affect “socially and politically constituted authority.” In short, the lower levels produce the masses, while the higher levels may produce the managers. The university system is the dominant form of higher education in the world, far outweighing other forms of educational institutions that have existed through history. Universities emerged during the medieval period in Europe, which have been described as “corporations having close relations with both Church and State but possessing considerable independence in relation to each.”[7]

With the universities of medieval Europe, as sociologists Ramirez and Meyer explained, “a more promising strategy considers the relationship between centralized authority and the rise of universities,” as situations of political decentralization tended to favour the establishment of universities.[8] The university which arose during the Medieval period (1150-1500) was a corporation, a guild of masters and scholars, or professors and students. This was the era in which Western civilization was rapidly developing, and this “new and uniquely Western institution resulted from a combination of powerful societal trends.” These trends, wrote John. C Scott in the Journal of Higher Education, included “the revival of mercantilism, growth of cities and the urban middle class, and bureaucratization, along with the 12th-century intellectual renaissance.” Thus:

As European society became more complex, the universal Roman church, secular governments, and municipalities required educated priests, administrators, lawyers, physicians, and clerks for business. Fulfilling this social demand were the universities, which were clearly oriented toward teaching and the learned professions.[9]

There were student-controlled universities, predominantly in the south, such as the Bologna University, as well as universities of faculty governance, such as with the University of Paris. By 1500, the faculty-controlled university became dominant. The aims of the Medieval university was the pursuit of knowledge, “divine truth and learning,” focusing on the areas of law, medicine, and theology. Monarchs and others increasingly relied upon such learned men for their advice in matters of state and court systems, foreign affairs and diplomacy. At the undergraduate level, students came from all social classes and generally studied liberal arts. At the graduate level, however, “students pursued the higher disciplines of theology, medicine, and law. Most alumni served the church, state, or municipality in various capacities.” Save Russia, most of Europe had universities by the end of the Middle Ages, with roughly 80 in the region by then. Predominantly chartered by the Roman church, or by monarchs, these pseudo-autonomous institutions “were subject to the authority of popes, monarchs, local bishops, dukes, or municipalities, depending upon the country and century.”[10]

The medieval university had a cosmopolitan nature, seen as a place of “universal knowledge” which was tied to the “universal ideology of Christendom,” and was not tied to any particular nation-state, largely developing prior to the centralization of nation-states. Scholars traveled all across Europe to the great medieval universities, from Bologna to Paris, to Oxford and Toledo, reflecting their cosmopolitan nature. As sociologist Gerard Delanty wrote in the journal, Social Epistemology:

At first the scholars were generally monks but later they were increasingly secular and became absorbed into the centralization and absolutist state. With the rise of the territorial nation-state from the seventeenth century onwards, the university became increasingly more and more nationalized and gradually lost its transnational character. With this went a decline in its ecclesiastical function: knowledge became a free-floating discourse to be used for domination or emancipation… As an institution the university owed its tremendous power to the fact that it originated at a time when the moral and political power of the Church was in decline but when the modern state system had not yet emerged.[11]

Thus, “the university found itself in a powerful position and could monopolize the field of knowledge.” As the ‘Age of Reason’ descended upon the West, the universal ideology of Christendom that was so paramount in the medieval period shifted to one of rationalizing logic and experimental science. The Reformation and scientific revolution “greatly facilitated this shift in the function of the university.” The university became the institution of knowledge, and as a result, was able to resist both church and state. However, in the transition into the modern period, with the rise of the nation-state, the state quickly sought to ally with the university, which increasingly came under state patronage. The state, whether the British Restoration government or French Absolute state, viewed the universities “as important institutions in the administration of society.”[12]

As the nation-states developed, particularly in England, Spain, and France, the relative autonomy of the first universities started to be eroded. As one academic wrote, “universities throughout Europe in the course of the fifteenth century tended in the same direction – towards the nationalization of Paris as of all other universities.” The University of Paris, then, became subservient to the crown and, thereafter, universities increasingly became national institutions with the mission of “service to the state.”[13]

The role for universities in training a new governing elite became increasingly important as the schools came under the control of new nation-states, municipalities and principalities: “Kings therefore emphasized the acquisition of advanced, secular knowledge and technical skills by students – future public servants – in order to build up efficient state bureaucracies.” Close advisers to kings, princes, and republics would also be expected to be men with legal training from the universities. This era marks the transition from the medieval university to the early modern university:

the early modern university was far more socially responsive than the medieval university because of humanist professors’ emphasis on ethical values for themselves and their students. Early modern universities continued to expand as a movement while making solid scientific and scholarly contributions. The newly consolidated state began to increase visitations, intervention, regulation (curriculum, subjects taught, and publications allowed), and appointment of chancellors.[14]

This was also the era in which these institutions increasingly moved toward professionalization in the modern sense, armed with a new “sociopolitical mission” as “an ideological arm of the state.” As one writer explained it, “The state protects the action of the University; the University safeguards the thought of the state.” Between 1500 and 1800, the university in Europe experienced an enormous expansion, even into Russia, which was untouched by the medieval university, and Europe had roughly 190 universities existing during this period. This era of early modern civilization, with the growth of the nation-state, and the imperial expansion into the New World, the Spanish even put in place state-controlled colonial universities across Latin America, the first of which was founded in Santo Domingo [today Haiti and the Dominican Republic] in 1538. These universities, overtly serving a colonial agenda, “prepared missionaries and jurists for the settlement of the New World.”[15]

With the Enlightenment came a new form of nation-state, the Liberal Nation-State, which further influenced the changing nature of the university during this era. The Enlightenment era saw the further development of the university “under the auspices of the central and national state providing it with a system of knowledge, which was at the same time a system of power.”[16] The aim was to put these universities “to work for the new liberal State and its economic needs.”[17]

Fichte, who was considered one of the intellectual fathers of the Prussian mass schooling system, was also influential in the move toward a modern university system, and his goals were quite similar. Just as mass schooling was established to serve the state, Fichte felt that “the academics should be the new spiritual leaders of society.” The main difference between this Enlightenment model of the university and the medieval one was marked by the shift from city to nation. As the Enlightenment had different effects in different nations, the relationship that developed between the nation and the university was different in each case. In Germany, the university became the cultural center of the nation, while in France its focus was more on producing an actual core of civil servants. In each case, however, the aim of the university was to serve the nation in some capacity, whether functionally, ideologically, culturally, or all of the above.[18]

With the development of the American university system, we still see the objective of serving the nation as inherent in this Enlightenment idea of the ‘modern university.’ In America, the new schools were replacing the old, ill-equipped and elitist colonial colleges. The establishment of universities became a core mission of the founders, as ten key founders also founded academic institutions, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, George Wythe, Benjamin Rush, William S. Johnson, William R. Davie, Abraham Baldwin, and Manasseh Cutler. Thus, many of the schools had inherent within them a ‘nationalizing’ mission, a mission to serve the nation, though it may not be explicitly the State.[19]

At the turn of the 20th century, there was a great debate on the missions of the new distinctly American universities. There were profound social, political, and economic changes that had occurred in the post-Civil War period, as America experienced its Industrial Revolution, rise of the corporations, and with that, the Robber Baron industrialists, who increasingly took over the political culture of the nation, which was increasingly centralizing, increasingly imperialistic, and with the labour class exponentially distrustful, resentful and resistant to the new dominant capitalistic powers that emerged. This was further checked by an increasingly educated middle class, informed largely by the rapid new developments in communications and technology, who were also becoming wary of the excesses of Big Business, but at the same time, worried about the threat of rebellion from the lower classes. In short, it was a socially explosive situation, in what came to be known as the Progressive Era, as middle class reformers took the stage in advocating and implementing major social reforms to establish a more stable, lasting society. Thus, the new modern American universities were to combine the ideals of research, teaching, and public service, as many believed the schools should “advance basic knowledge and provide the technical expertise required by a modern industrial society.”[20] Thus, as Scott wrote:

Faculties in the new applied sciences, emerging social sciences, and even an important minority in the humanities believed strongly in the social utility of their disciplines. Professors in the social sciences were often committed to public service. To this end, schools of political science were established at Columbia, Michigan, and Wisconsin during the 1880s and 1890s. At the same time, within departments of economics and sociology, there were devotees of social utility. Psychology, which was then a part of philosophy, also developed a faction devoted to utility (pragmatism). Social scientists served their society in the capacity of experts, which also involved research. By 1900, the “useful” university was establishing such untraditional fields of study as business administration, physical education, sanitary science, and engineering.[21]

The Robber Baron industrialists of the late 19th century – Morgan, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Astor, Vanderbilt, Harriman, etc. – were unquestionably the dominant powers in the country. They controlled the economy, hundreds of corporations, had hundreds of millions or billions in wealth, the banks, bought the politicians, directed foreign policy into an increasingly imperialistic direction, and thus, they saw it as essential to cement their control over society through social institutions, as the masses were hateful of them and needed to be properly controlled. Social control became the major concept of interest for elites and middle class reformers.

In this era of social control, education became increasingly important, not only in terms of mass schooling, which experienced many reforms, but also in terms of the university system. As Andrew Carnegie wrote in 1889, at the top of the list of “charitable deeds” to undertake was “the founding of a university by men enormously rich, such men as must necessarily be few in any country.” It was in this context, of robber barons seeking to remake education, that we see the founding of several of America’s top universities, many of which were named after their robber baron founders, such as Stanford (after Leland Stanford), Cornell (after Ezra Cornell), and Johns Hopkins, who owned the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.[22] This new class of industrialists, who emerged out of the Civil War in America, “challenged the position of the old propertied, pre-industrial elite. This struggle crystallized in particular around the reform of the educational system that had legitimated the old elite’s domination.”[23] The modern university was born out of this struggle between elites, with the old educational system based upon religious and moral values, “and the making of gentlemen,” while the “new education” focused on “the importance of management or administration” as well as “public service, [and] the advancement of knowledge through original investigation.”[24]

John D. Rockefeller founded the University of Chicago in 1891, and the President of the University, “initiated a new disciplinary system, which was enormously influential.” Ultimately, it “led to the formation of the department structure of the American university, which was internationally unique,” and was later exported around the world “with the help of American foundations.”[25] This disciplinary system consisted of separating politics from economics (rejecting the notion of ‘political economy’ and its ‘ideologies’), as ideology was “deemed unscientific and inappropriate in social sciences and political scientists have increasingly seen their function as service to the powerful, rather than providing leadership to populist or socialist movements.”[26]

There was an obvious desire to “foster the teaching of practical knowledge and skills serving the development of commerce and industry, against the prevailing academic traditions.” However, it also allowed for “a way of diagnosing the social upheavals caused by the accelerated shift from a still largely agrarian society to an industrial mass society” of which they were the dominant class. In particular, the labor unrest of the 19th century was especially prevalent in the minds of the dominant class. Since “social reform was inevitable,” these industrialists “chose to invest in the definition and scientific treatment of the ‘social questions’ of their time,” and subsequently, they “promoted reformist solutions that did not threaten the capitalistic nature of the social order,” and instead constructed a “private alternative to socialism.”[27] In other words, it marked the construction of a highly corporatist society, merging state and corporate power through institutions, individuals, and ideology.

The Social Sciences and Social Control

The concept of ‘social control’ emerged from the developing field of sociology as a discipline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As sociologist Morris Janowitz wrote in the American Journal of Sociology, “in the emergence of sociology as an intellectual discipline, the idea of social control was a central concept for analyzing social organization and the development of industrial society.”[28] Social control is largely viewed as forms of control which reduce coercion, and thus, enhance consent to the system or organizations in question. Even a society with an effective system of social control would require a structure of coercion, but depending on how advanced the social control system is, the less need there would be for coercion. Hence, the societies which are the most advanced in social control would also be less dependent upon internal methods of coercion. Thus, it was within liberal democratic states that both the study and implementation of social control became most effective. In this sense, the question was “whether the processes of social control are able to maintain the social order [hierarchy] while transformation and social change take place.”[29]

Sociology largely emerged from the University of Chicago (founded by John D. Rockefeller), with the world’s first department of sociology founded in 1892. The sociologists who rose within and out of the University of Chicago made up what was known as the ‘Chicago School of Sociology.’ The school developed the most influential sociologists in the nation, including George Herbert Mead and W.I. Thomas, two scholars who had profound influence on the development of the concept of ‘social control,’ and sociologists became “reform-oriented liberals, not radical revolutionaries or conservative cynics.”[30]

The new industrial elite accumulated millions and even hundreds of millions by the end of the 19th century: Andrew Carnegie was worth roughly $300 million after he sold Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901, and by 1913, John D. Rockefeller was estimated to have a personal worth of $900 million. It was with Rockefeller that we see the development of the scientific notion of philanthropy.[31] Rockefeller had founded the Institute for Medical Research in 1901, the General Education Board (GEB) in 1903, and the Sanitary Commission for the Eradication of Hookworm in 1909. Rockefeller, however, wanted to consolidate his philanthropic enterprise as he had his industrial oil enterprise, and so in 1909 he decided he wanted to establish one great foundation, which “would be a single central holding company which would finance any and all of the other benevolent organizations, and thus necessarily subject them to its general supervision.”[32] In 1913, the Rockefeller Foundation received a charter of incorporation from the State of New York.

Between 1881 and 1907, Andrew Carnegie had contributed over $40 million to establishing more than 1,600 libraries in the United States alone, but it was after selling Carnegie Steel to J.P. Morgan in 1901 for $300 million that Carnegie began to look at philanthropy on a much larger scale. In 1902, he founded the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and in 1904, founded the Carnegie Corporation of Washington, of which the mission was, “to encourage in the broadest and most liberal manner, investigation, research and discovery, and the application of knowledge to the improvement of mankind,” much like the original mission statement of the Rockefeller Foundation created some years later, “to promote the well-being of mankind.”[33] Carnegie founded, in 1911, the Carnegie Corporation, chartered by the New York State legislature.[34]

These philanthropic foundations, and the many others that appeared in and around the same time, and thereafter, were largely imbued with the idea of “science in the service of society” as a goal for the foundation, basing its actions upon a new rationality brought on by the scientific revolution, and by the notions of reform pushed forward in the Progressive Era, based largely upon the concept of scientific social planning “to problems that educators, the new sociologists, social workers, and political scientists found important.” However, as the wealth of the foundations and the positions of their patrons attracted criticisms, a Congressional commission was on industrial relations (founded to settle a matter related to a brutal repression of a mining strike by a Rockefeller-owned mining company) expanded its scope to deal with the general issue of the foundations. The Walsh Commission, as it was known (after its founder, Frank P. Walsh), was formed in 1914, and Walsh explained the inclusion of the foundations in the commission by postulating that:

the creation of the Rockefeller and other foundations was the beginning of an effort to perpetuate the present position of predatory wealth through the corruption of sources of public information… [and] that if not checked by legislation, these foundations will be used as instruments to change to form of government of the U.S. at a future date, and there is even a hint that there is a fear of a monarchy.[35]

In 1916, the Walsh Commission produced its final report, the Manly Report (after the research director, Basil M. Manly), which concluded that the foundations were so “grave a menace” to society, that “it would be desirable to recommend their abolition.” No such actions were taken.[36]

David Nugent, an anthropologist at Emory University, wrote a rather lengthy article for the academic journal, Identities, on the role of foundations in shaping the social sciences. Nugent takes a look at the development of the social sciences in relation to the construction of an American Empire. As such, the shaping of the social sciences was designed, at least in part, with an aim to facilitate the emergence and maintenance of a large, globally expanding empire, but an empire unlike previous ones, with no official overseas colonies; rather, it was to be an informal global empire. Globally expansive and locally administered colonies were to replaced with globally expansive and locally applicable social sciences. In order for the empire to spread its military and commercial might across the world, first, the ideas at the heart of the empire must proliferate globally. Imperialism is not merely a political or economic endeavour; it is, and arguably more importantly, a socio-cultural process.

The colonization of the Americas and Africa by the European powers – with their political apparatus and for the benefit of their commercial and financial appendages – would not have been possible without the powerful social and cultural imperialism of the missionaries, whose ‘gospel’ debased traditional local cultural, spiritual, and religious practices and introduced new conceptions of morality, values, truth, justice, and knowledge. The social sciences then, presented the world with a form of imperialism focused on the construction of a new form of knowledge by which to understand, define, categorize, and change our world. The new missionaries spreading this new gospel were the dominant American foundations, most notably, the Rockefeller and Carnegie Foundations, later to be joined by a plethora of others, including the Ford Foundation.

Nugent divides the construction of the social sciences in America, and indeed around the world, into three specific time periods; periods which are defined by economic crises and major geopolitical shifts taking place within those parts of the world which the United States seeks to dominate and control. The first period Nugent identified is what he referred to as the “Formation of Overseas Empire,” from 1900-1940. This period was preceded with an economic depression in 1893 and ended with World War II, though the most rapid changes in the social sciences occurred between World War I and World War II. The second period Nugent identified, the “Consolidation of Overseas Empire,” covered the period of 1943 to 1972, responding to the Depression in the 1930s, the ending of World War II and the subsequent decolonization of the so-called ‘Third World,’ and came to an end with the end of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1972, signaling a new phase of rapid economic changes. The third major period then, the “Reconstruction of Overseas Empire,” took place roughly between 1972 and 2001, which began with the recession of the early 70s, marking profound changes across the Third World, the emergence of neoliberalism, and advanced into the 21st century.[37]

Nugent rightly points out that, while the sponsors of the social sciences, namely, the major foundations, produced such knowledge with specific purpose and intent in establishing and re-enforcing hegemony, empire, domination, social engineering, and social control, it would be a mistake to brand all social science knowledge as being in the service to such interests. Indeed, Nugent wrote, “each of the three period generated a small body of progressive scholarship alongside a much larger corpus of conventional knowledge.”[38]

In the period between World War I and World War II, just as the foundations were themselves emerging, their initial focus in education was in financing the reorganization of major universities in the United States, and almost simultaneously, “they also oversaw sweeping changes in the organization of the social sciences – in the aims, methods, and means of evaluating research, in the background, training, and professional activities of the practitioners, and in the institutional processes that underwrote the production of knowledge.”[39] In this period, both Western scholars in North America and Europe, as well as non-Western scholars in Africa, the Americas, and even in China, were concerned with studying the ways in which North Atlantic industrial capitalism and European imperialism had been “shaping regional and local arenas around the globe, in undermining indigenous economic and socio-political forms, in precipitating enormous population movements, and in stimulating novel cultural configurations and new forms of political affiliation.”[40]

While the Rockefeller philanthropies (including the General Education Board, the Laura-Spellman Rockefeller Memorial, and the Rockefeller Foundation) as well as the Carnegie Corporation were the most influential in this process, they were joined by the Russell Sage Foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the Phelps-Stokes Fund, and eventually several prominent think tanks (which they also created), such as the Brookings Institution and the Council on Foreign Relations. It was not merely within the United States that these foundations organized and funded the social sciences, but in fact across much of the English-speaking world as a whole, and indeed, well beyond it. Much of their finances went to helping various organizations reform and accommodate these new forms of knowledge; however, the foundations also created several new institutions to achieve their goals in the social sciences or to focus on the specific goal of altering particular institutions. As Nugent noted:

during a period when nation-states were the main arbiters of cultural messages and capital flows, the social science infrastructure that Rockefeller, Carnegie and the other foundations helped to construct was largely independent of (though in no way in conflict with) national controls. In the long run, this infrastructure promoted a “flexible accumulation of knowledge” on a global scale, and in the process helped bring into being an international public sphere of social science knowledge.[41]

This task of “social control” was envisioned by the foundations as consisting in “helping the masses ‘adjust’ to the rigors of industrial life and representative democracy.” The problems with social control that erupted in this era were identified by the foundations as being caused by a number of factors, including the deteriorating condition of the cities, a lack of understanding of the immigrant populations and democratic institutions, resulting in the breakdown of social order. Thus, as Nugent wrote, “the result was a sweeping program of social change and control.”[42]

A Rockefeller Foundation report acknowledged that many people in the world had already been subjected to the “enormously damaging effects… of industrial activity,” and saw it as necessary to alter the “radically false views of life and radically false views of nature” by many of these people. To bring these people into the modern age, foundations agreed, they needed to effect “almost a social revolution,” and to offer these people “training in new forms of political and social organization.” John D. Rockefeller, Jr., articulating the purpose of the Rockefeller Foundation, explained that it would offer “the best of Western civilization, not only in… science but in mental development and spiritual culture.” Science, of course, was the basis upon which the foundations were created: to not only advance the sciences within their own fields, but to advance the principle of the “scientific management” of society. Wicliffe Rose, a professor who was involved in managing several different Rockefeller philanthropies, wrote in a memorandum for Rockefeller officials in 1923:

All important fields of activity… from the breeding of bees to the administration of an empire, call for an understanding of the spirit and technique of modern science… Science is the method of knowledge. It is the key to such dominion as man may ever exercise over his physical environment. Appreciation of its spirit and technique, moreover, determines the mental attitude of a people, affects the entire system of education, and carried with it the shaping of a civilization.[43]

In the 1920s, the Rockefeller interventions in the social sciences were almost exclusively undertaken by the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (LSRM), named after John D. Rockefeller’s wife after her death. The Rockefeller Foundation, following the public exposures of the Walsh Commission, primarily maintained itself to funding medicine and public health. Beardsley Ruml, who became director of the LSRM in 1922, was largely responsible for the Rockefeller move into the social sciences, as the LSRM had been primarily concerned with social welfare prior to Ruml’s directorship. On top of the social sciences, Ruml directed the LSRM into funding public administration, and Ruml felt that, “the route to advancing human welfare was through scientific social research,” and thus, “means had to be devised to bring the social scientist into intimate contact with social phenomena.” The main idea was that the social sciences should elevate to establish an equal relationship with that of the natural sciences by making them more “scientific,” and thus, more efficient and able to handle social problems.[44]

Two general scientific objectives were established for organizing the social sciences, the first of which was, “to increase for the scientist and scholar the possibilities of immediate personal observation of the social problems or social phenomena which were under investigation,” and the second objective was to promote inter-disciplinary research. To undertake this, Ruml set out two specific programs of action:

First, the creation of institutional centers in various parts of the world that would with Rockefeller money embody scientific teaching and research. Collaborative research was to be encouraged through the specific research grants to these institutions. These centers would therefore not only be creative institutions but would also serve as a model for the development of the social sciences generally. Second, Ruml began an extensive fellowship program which was designed to complement the training provided by the institutional centers and increase the number of able people working in the field.[45]

Ruml also saw the need to strengthen existing institutions, notably, the elite American universities, which would become “institutional centers of social research.” Edmund E. Day, director of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Social Sciences program from 1928-1937, explained in 1930 that the plan was to develop “within each country of any importance some center which would fructify the local situation and influence other institutions within the same sphere of scientific influence, then within the larger regional centers.” Focusing on the United States and Europe, the LSRM stated in 1926 that its main policy was directed at establishing 12 or 15 centers of social science research around the world, one specific center in each major European country, (University of Stockholm, Deutsche Hochscule für in Berlin, and the London School of Economics), and several in the United States. The LSRM was merged into the Rockefeller Foundation in 1929, which adopted the same agenda established by Ruml in seeking to cultivate through such institutions “a scientific approach to social problems.”[46]

Through the fellowship program, established at the LSRM by Ruml in 1923, students in Europe and Australia were often brought to study in the United States, with the favoured subject within the social sciences being economics, considering it was the closest to establishing itself along the lines of the physical sciences. As the Rockefeller Foundation prepared to incorporate the LSRM into its institutional structure, Edmund E. Day took over as director of the Social Sciences from Ruml in 1928, with the new Social Science division becoming a “formal organization,” just as the Foundation’s other major divisions of medicine, natural science, and the humanities. In 1930, Day wrote that, “what we have to do is to establish in the social sciences the scientific tradition and the scientific habit of mind,” and thus, the Foundation should work to strengthen “certain types of interest and certain habits of thought.” Naturally, this would be “thought” which would be in the “interest” of the Foundation, itself. The aim in doing this was to “coordinate the scientific attack upon social problems,” as education professor, Donald Fisher, wrote in Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism. Edmund Day saw the potential for the social sciences to engage in “human engineering,” and stated quite bluntly: “the validation of the findings of social science must be through effective social control.”[47]

In 1932, the Foundation put emphasis on the support for creating a field of “International Relations,” within Political Science, as well as “the planning and control of economic structures and economic process.” In the area of “International Relations,” the Rockefeller Foundation hoped to “promote understanding among nations and to reduce the friction which may lead to warfare,” which, combined with the program of “Economic Control” was hoped to prevent any future “crisis of capitalism.” A 1934 Rockefeller Foundation committee of trustees produced a report on the Social Sciences Division, explaining, “we now have the opportunity to see whether we cannot assist in applying to concrete problems of our social, political and industrial life some of the ideas and data which research all over the world is rapidly developing.”[48]

In 1932-33, as the Board was considering the proposals of reform in education, all the programs were subject to the ultimate approval of the Board of Trustees of the GEB, which at the time included 15 individuals, all of whom were white, male protestants, including John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his 27 year old son, John D. Rockefeller, III, and most of whom had been educated at Ivy League schools or the University of Chicago, which had been founded by John D. Rockefeller. Nine of the fifteen trustees were also academics, and seven of them had been senior administrators at major educational institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, N.Y.U, Stanford, and the University of Chicago. Other members of the trustees included Owen Young, Chairman of the Board of General Electric, as well as banker Arthur Woods, and Raymond Fosdick, a Wall Street lawyer who would later become President of the Rockefeller Foundation. By 1931, the GEB’s survey of education emphasized three major fields of concentration:

1) the study of the learning process and the mental, physical, and moral development of the individual; 2) the problem of “preparing the individual for vocations and leisure”; and 3) the means for relating education to an evolving society, that is education which would “insure the active adaptation of the individual to the changes which may come in his social, physical and aesthetic environments.”[49]

It was Edmund E. Day, the new director of the Social Science Division, who assumed the greatest leadership in coordinating national reform of education, having previously been an economics professor at Dartmouth, Harvard, and was Dean of the School of Business Administration at the University of Michigan, when he subsequently led the social sciences division at the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial until its incorporation into the Rockefeller Foundation between 1928 and 1930, at which time he assumed his role as director of the Social Sciences Division within both the Rockefeller Foundation and the General Education Board. Day was responsible for articulating and selling the ideas of educational reform to the Board of Trustees, which he did in 1932 in a memorandum entitled, “Cultural Adjustment to a Changing World.” In regards to the social upheavals of the early Depression years, Day wrote in 1933 that, “Industrialism and urbanism… are new forces of tremendous power, neither of which has been brought under sensible control. The way out is not yet evident, and a prolonged period of readjustment is presumably unavoidable.” Day acknowledged that “prevailing social ideas and ideals in the United States were seriously out of accord with current social forms and forces,” however, he argued, the answer did not lie in reforming the social world to meet the needs of the individual, but in adjusting the individual to the social world. As Day wrote, “we must look chiefly to the school for the major efforts toward cultural adjustment of the individual, since the school is a social instrumentality with a uniquely flexible adaptability and with a primary responsibility to meet this need.” Thus, the school could “set the individual in satisfactory general relation to the world in which he lived.”[50]

Between 1919 and 1940, the Rockefeller, Carnegie, and other major philanthropies provided roughly $3.2 million of support for the social sciences in British universities, and a further $1.7 million for “independent organizations which were closely tied to the universities.” The two major Rockefeller philanthropies at the time, the LSRM and the RF, provided roughly 95% of these expenditures. Thus, it was American philanthropy, and principally the Rockefeller foundations which were directly responsible for the development of British social sciences in this period. Only in the late 1930s did British philanthropy pick up the slack from the Rockefeller foundations.[51]

Rockefeller money was also pivotal in the establishment of the London School of Economics (LSE), which “had become an important world centre of the social sciences,” in large part due to the involvement of Rockefeller philanthropies. The Rockefeller foundations selected the LSE specifically for support because in the early 1920s, it was the most advanced center of social sciences in Britain, and could thus serve as a model for the rest of British institutions. Further, the director of the LSE, Lord William Beveridge (also a member of the British Eugenics Society), “shared with Rockefeller philanthropy the same conception of the way in which the social sciences should develop,” specifically in terms of utilizing the “natural scientific approach” to social problems. Also important to note as to why the LSE was chosen, was its strategic location in London, at the heart of the world’s most powerful and globally expanded empire at the time.[52]

Between 1923 and 1939, the LSRM and the Rockefeller Foundation provided the LSE with over $2 million, during which time the school expanded rapidly, becoming “the leading centre of research in the Social Sciences” in the British Empire. Building expansions, the establishment of the leading research library in Britain, acquisition of land, equipment, and a dramatic increase in full-time teachers from 26 in 1923 to 76 by 1937, was largely due to Rockefeller support. Rockefeller money in particular ensured the development of anthropology, international relations, and social biology, and student enrollment also dramatically increased with large grants from Rockefeller philanthropies for postgraduate research and teaching. Thus, by the end of the 1930s, the LSE had “become an international centre training many foreign students.” Grants also contributed to expanding and supporting publications by LSE faculty, with an enormous amount of books and articles emerging as a result of this support, and supported the creation of journals run out of the school as well.[53]

Rockefeller money also flowed into developing the social sciences at Oxford, funding research lecturers for Human Geography, African Sociology, Colonial Administration, Public Administration, and Public Finance, with more money flowing into forming a training program for the social sciences as well as research groups in the area of Economics, Colonial Administration, and Studies of Native Populations, subjects explicitly related to maintaining Britain’s imperial status. Rockefeller foundations also expanded a fellowship program into every university in Britain, granting a total of 108 fellowships in the social sciences to British citizens between 1924 and 1940, and “by far the largest number were awarded to economists,” with Political Science following behind, and subsequently sociology and history, and only 8 anthropology fellowships.[54]

In 1946, a British government report surveying the state of British universities concluded that the social sciences, which had received no prior support from government sources, presented as many possibilities of generating applicable knowledge as did the natural sciences, and were thus worth of government support in order to advance the social sciences in the “national interest.” A committee was subsequently established to handle government subsidies of the social sciences, and in the 1950s, the British social sciences experienced a major “boom,” advancing what was begun with Rockefeller money so that it became state sanctioned, and, in effect, a new socially constructed reality of higher education in Britain: “the social sciences had become a recognized part of the university curriculum.”[55] As professor of education Donald Fisher wrote:

Indeed Rockefeller philanthropy prepared the way for the post-World War II developments in Britain not only in terms of the increased spending by government but also with respect to what was regarded as important in the social sciences. Rockefeller philanthropy had determined which subjects should be studied, which research questions should be answered, and which methods should be utilized to answer these questions.[56]

This era marked the emergence of what has been referred to as “technocratic liberalism,” whereby social problems were addressed (in large part by the state, or at least state sanction) through the technical application of programs of social engineering: “the one best way,” the most efficient, effective, and “scientific” approach to understanding and addressing social problems. This was the task taken up by the “rational reformers” of the era, emerging out of the Progressive period, in which the techniques of the social sciences were used to create a system of “social control.” These social engineers– social scientists, technocratic reformers, experts, philanthropists, etc. – felt that society could “control its collective destiny in contrast to drifting with the tides… even while working toward the management of the many by the few.”[57]

The notion that the social sciences were to be used in the application of and for the purpose of ‘social control’ is not an abstract theoretical interpretation of the Foundation’s policies; it was, in fact, stated policy. In 1933, the President of the Rockefeller Foundation, Max Mason, wrote that the Foundation’s policies:

… were directed to the general problem of human behavior, with the aim of control through understanding. The Social sciences, for example, will concern themselves with the rationalization of social control; the Medical and Natural sciences propose a closely coordinated study of sciences which underlie personal understanding and personal control. Many procedures will be explicitly co-operative between divisions. The Medical and Natural Sciences will, through psychiatry and psychobiology, have a strong interest in the problems of mental disease [emphasis added].[58]

The influence of the major philanthropic foundations is exerted in a plethora of ways, including, wrote political scientist Joan Roelofs:

creating ideology and the common wisdom; providing positions and status for intellectuals; controlling access to resources for universities, social services, and arts organizations; compensating for market failures; steering protest movements into safe channels; and supporting those institutions by which policies are initiated and implemented… [F]oundations like Carnegie, Rockefeller, and Ford have a corrosive influence on a democratic society; they represent relatively unregulated and unaccountable concentrations of power and wealth which buy talent, promote causes, and, in effect, establish an agenda of what merits society’s attention.[59]

Foundations engage in “considerable collaboration” with networks of nonprofits (which they create and fund), corporations, international organizations, and government entities at the local, state, national and international levels. Foundations effectively “blur boundaries” between the public and private sectors, while simultaneously effecting the separation of such areas in the study of social sciences. This boundary erosion between public and private spheres “adds feudal elements to our purported democracy, yet it has not been resisted, protested, or even noted much by political elites or social scientists.”[60] As foreign policy strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski indicated, the blurring of boundaries “serves United States world dominance”:

As the imitation of American ways gradually pervades the world, it creates a more congenial setting for the exercise of the indirect and seemingly consensual American hegemony. And as in the case of the domestic American system, that hegemony involves a complex structure of interlocking institutions and procedures, designed to generate consensus and obscure asymmetries in power and influence.[61]

In the early twentieth century, the Walsh Commission warned that, “the power of wealth could overwhelm democratic culture and politics,”[62] and the Final Report stated, “that foundations would be more likely to pursue their own ideology in society than social objectivity.”[63] The Carnegie Corporation and Rockefeller Foundation, from their origins, immediately began cooperating heavily with one another, coordinating activities and planning agendas. That the financial weight of these two institutions – and with the Ford Foundation to enter the scene with an even larger endowment – the coordinated influence over higher education yielded an immense power for the owners of foundations in the construction of ideology and knowledge. In providing the funding, they have the power to direct the efforts of scholars and academics, to create entire disciplines and schools of thought, to fund conferences, academic journals, publications, and think tanks. The fact that the role of philanthropic foundations in the construction and management of the educational system itself is so little known is a sign of the subtle, yet pervasive power structures that exists within academia.

Rather than looking at it from a conspiratorial view, however, look at it historically. Just as the Kings and Queens of Europe supported the development of universities in order to furnish managers and technocrats for their dynastic empires, so too do the modern dynastic powers – in this case, banking families – seek to tie the direction and purpose of higher education close to their own interests, and for the same reasons. It is not conspiratorial precisely because of the nature of the social phenomena itself: there are far too many social actors at play, dynamic and interactive and reactive relationships between different individuals, institutions, and ideas. Resistance and problems always emerge, even for the most dominant of powers and institutions. Thus, the financial-dynastic powers must be pragmatic in their approach, willing to reform, change, reorganize and regroup. Simply because it is not well known is not reason enough to think it a ‘conspiracy theory.’ The facts are known, just not widely disseminated.

The next part of this series further takes up the question – what is the purpose of education? – and adds to it: what is – and what should be – the role of intellectuals in society? In particular, the focus will be on the roles of radical versus technical intellectuals, within educational institutions and the society as a whole: from the ancient prophets, to Walter Lippmann, from Zbigniew Brzezinski to Noam Chomsky, this dichotomy of intellectuals has existed in society for a great deal of human history. What are the implications this could have for today’s college crisis and class warfare?

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]            Francisco O. Ramirez and John Boli, “The Political Construction of Mass Schooling: European Origins and Worldwide Institutionalization,” Sociology of Education (Vol. 60, January 1987), page 5.

[2]            Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (Unwin Paperbacks, London: 1952), page 62.

[3]            John W. Meyer, et. al., “Public Education as Nation-Building in America: Enrollments and Bureaucratization in the American States, 1870-1930,” American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 85, No. 3, November 1979), page 592.

[4]            Robert H. Wiebe, “The Social Functions of Public Education,” American Quarterly (Vol. 21, No. 2, Part 1, Summer 1969), pages 147-148.

[5]            Ibid, pages 149-150.

[6]            Ibid, page 157.

[7]            Francisco O. Ramirez and John W. Meyer, “Comparative Education: The Social Construction of the Modern World System,” Annual Review of Sociology (Vol. 6, 1980), page 377.

[8]            Ibid, pages 378-379.

[9]            John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformations,” Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 77, No. 1, January/February 2006), page 6.

[10]            Ibid, pages 6-7.

[11]            Gerard Delanty, “The Idea of the University in the Global Era: From Knowledge as an End to the End of Knowledge?” Social Epistemology (Vol. 12, No. 1, 1998), page 6.

[12]            Ibid, pages 6-7.

[13]            John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformations,” Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 77, No. 1, January/February 2006), page 10.

[14]            Ibid, page 11.

[15]            Ibid, page 12.

[16]            Gerard Delanty, “The Idea of the University in the Global Era: From Knowledge as an End to the End of Knowledge?” Social Epistemology (Vol. 12, No. 1, 1998), page 7.

[17]            José-Ginés Mora, “Governance and Management in the New University,” Tertiary Education and Management (Vol. 7, No. 2, 2001), page 97.

[18]            Gerard Delanty, “The Idea of the University in the Global Era: From Knowledge as an End to the End of Knowledge?” Social Epistemology (Vol. 12, No. 1, 1998), page 9.

[19]            John C. Scott, “The Mission of the University: Medieval to Postmodern Transformations,” Journal of Higher Education (Vol. 77, No. 1, January/February 2006), pages 15-16.

[20]            Ibid, pages 23-24.

[21]            Ibid, page 25.

[22]            Nicolas Guilhot, “Reforming the World: George Soros, Global Capitalism and the Philanthropic Management of the Social Sciences,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 448.

[23]            Ibid, page 450.

[24]            Ibid, page 451.

[25]            Erkki Berndtson, “Review Essay: Power of Foundations and the American Ideology,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 583.

[26]            Ibid, page 584.

[27]            Nicolas Guilhot, “Reforming the World: George Soros, Global Capitalism and the Philanthropic Management of the Social Sciences,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 452.

[28]            Morris Janowitz, “Sociological Theory and Social Control,” American Journal of Sociology (Vol. 81, No. 1, July 1975), page 82.

[29]            Ibid, page 85.

[30]            Anthony J. Cortese, “The Rise, Hegemony, and Decline of the Chicago School of Sociology, 1892-1945,” The Social Science Journal (Vol. 32, No. 3, 1995), page 237.

[31]            Robert F. Arnove, ed., Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 1982), pages 26-28.

[32]            Ibid, pages 28-29.

[33]            Ibid, pages 30-31.

[34]            Ibid, pages 32-33.

[35]            Ibid, pages 33-35.

[36]            Ibid, pages 46-47.

[37]            David Nugent, “Knowledge and Empire: The Social Sciences and United States Imperial Expansion,” Identities (Vol. 17, Issue 1, 2010), pages 2-3.

[38]            Ibid, page 3.

[39]            Ibid, page 4.

[40]            Ibid, pages 5-7.

[41]            Ibid, pages 9.

[42]            Ibid, pages 9-10.

[43]            Ibid, pages 10-11.

[44]            Robert F. Arnove, ed., Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 1982), pages 234-235.

[45]            Ibid, page 235.

[46]            Ibid, pages 235-236.

[47]            Ibid, pages 236-237.

[48]            Ibid, page 238-239.

[49]            Charles D. Biebel, “Private Foundations and Public Policy: The Case of Secondary Education During the Great Depression,” History of Education Quarterly (Vol. 16, No. 1, Spring 1976), pages 6-8.

[50]            Ibid, pages 10-11.

[51]            Robert F. Arnove, ed., Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad (Indiana University Press, Bloomington: 1982), pages 239-241.

[52]            Ibid, page 241.

[53]            Ibid, pages 244-245.

[54]            Ibid, pages 245-247.

[55]            Ibid, pages 248-251.

[56]            Ibid, pages 252-253.

[57]            Dennis Bryson, “Technocratic Liberalism and Social Science,” Radical History Review (Vol. 64, 1996), pages 119-120.

[58]            Lily E. Kay, “Rethinking Institutions: Philanthropy as an Historigraphic Problem of Knowledge and Power,” Minerva (Vol. 35, 1997), page 290.

[59]            Joan Roelofs, “Foundations and Collaboration,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 480

[60]            Ibid.

[61]            Ibid, page 481.

[62]            Ibid, page 483.

[63]            Erkki Berndtson, “Review Essay: Power of Foundations and the American Ideology,” Critical Sociology, Vol. 33, 2007, page 580