Home Opinion Collectivize the University

Collectivize the University

Many were shocked and frustrated at the forum last Thursday, Feb. 13 when President Frandsen informed the student body that the newly created task force, the Academic Programs Futures Committee, tasked with making $2.5 million in cuts, will not have any student representation, while faculty representation will amount to a minority; four out of eleven, and will be appointed by the president.

In justifying this lack of representation, President Frandsen told us the work of the task force would not affect the everyday lives of students. Cuts affect our academic lives. It might then be considered that The Board of Directors the vast majority of whom were absent Thursday, is not the most fit body to determine these cuts. The everyday lives of students are most intimately known by students and professors, so it should not be controversial to say that students and professors should be making these decisions. We need a radical democratic restructuring of our university.

Theories of directly democracy, not just in politics but in the economy, span hundreds of years. In their pamphlet, “A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England Directed To… Lords of Manors,” the Diggers, a democratic peasant movement espousing pre-anarchical thought in the seventeenth century, wrote the following, “the earth was not made purposely for you, to be Lords of it, and we to be your Slaves, Servants, and Beggars; but it was made to be a common Livelihood to all.” This sentiment was echoed in the nineteenth-century by John Stewart Mill, himself a titan of classical liberalism, when he wrote, “The form of association… which if mankind continues to improve, must be expected to predominate, is the association of the labourers themselves on terms of equality, collectively owning the capital with which they carry on their operations, and working under managers electable and removable by themselves.”

As Noam Chomsky points out, the proposition put forth by Mill and other classical liberal thinkers, such as Wilhelm Von Humboldt, is remarkably similar to radical ideas put forth by the socialist left. Compare Mill’s quote to what collectivist Anton Pannekoek wrote in his seminal book Workers’ Councils, “When life and work in community are natural habit, when mankind entirely controls its own life, necessity gives way to freedom and the strict rules of justice established before dissolve into spontaneous behavior.” He envisioned that “self-government… in the times to come will replace the forms of government of the old world.”

It wasn’t until “left communist” and “syndicalist” thinkers opposed to bureaucracy in both government and industry, such as Pannekoek, Rosa Luxembourg and Rudolf Rocker, put forth a comprehensive path towards democratic restructuring of institutions, that this consensus spanning classical liberal and socialist thought was put into practice. In 1930s Spain, during the Spanish Civil War, industry and land were successfully collectivized on a large scale. The success of this collectivization is proven by the fall of the anti-fascist portion of Spain following the communist government’s Stalinist subversion of anarchist organization. Prior to the destruction of worker cooperatives, anti-fascist success in the war against Franco seemed likely.

Today, within many capitalist systems, collectivist efforts have succeeded. Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’ documentary, “The Take,” tells the story of workers occupying and effectively taking over factories in Argentina. In the Basque Country, the Mondragon Corporation, a federation of worker cooperatives, employs tens of thousands of workers. In Mexico, the Zapatista Revolution has successfully controlled territory since the 1990s, structuring society on libertarian socialist principles.
Neo-liberal globalization and capital flight broke the back of worker organization in the U.S. as factory jobs either left or the owners of factories used the threat of capital flight to undercut the power of unions. Unlike factory workers, however, professors cannot be outsourced as students receive education directly from them. In a university, the professors comprise a sort of academic proletariat and the means of production is the class room. If we accept what Mill and Humboldt and the collectivists assert, the professors should not only have administrative control, but should also be the sole proprietors.

As Pannekoek writes, “The great task of the workers is the organization of production on a new basis. It has to begin with the organization within the shop.” He continues, “Collaboration of equal companions replaces the command of masters and the obedience of servants… Instead of the passive utensils and victims of capital, the workers are now the self-reliant masters and organizers of production.” As to the substantive organization of ‘the shop,’ “The ruling body… is the entirety of the collaborating workers. They assemble to discuss matters and in assembly take their decisions. So everybody who takes part in the work takes part in the regulation of the common work.”

How different would the lives of professors be under organization of this sort? Is it not the case that they already collaborate as equal companions? Do they not spend exorbitant amounts of time addressing the ills of the university? The only difference is the suggestions our professors make to the board are just that; suggestions. It’s not as if more hours would be added to their work load if professors made decisions instead of suggestions? For the good of the students and the good of the professors, the professors should be the proprietors and administration should be entirely democratic.

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