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Global capitalism and the restructuring of education: the transnational capitalist class' quest to suppress critical thinking.

I IN RECENT DECADES WORLD CAPITALISM HAS BEEN UNDERGOING A process of globalization, or profound restructuring and expansion. What type of human capital does the emerging global capitalist system require in order for it to function (which is to say, in order for capital accumulation to overcome the technical and political impediments to its continuous expansion)? For one, it needs a cadre of organic intellectuals (1) who are to do the overall thinking and strategizing for the system, as well as a small army of technocrats and administrators who are to resolve problems of system maintenance and development. At the same time, this system needs a very large army, indeed, of people who will supply nothing but their labor, and who are not disposed or equipped to think critically and reflexively about their existence or that of a system sustained on great inequalities and ever more repressive and ubiquitous social control. Finally, it needs a mass of humanity as surplus labor--let us say a few billion people or so--who can serve as a reserve supply of manual and other forms of low-skilled and flexible labor in agriculture, industry, and services; who can be carefully controlled at all times; and who can be discarded when no longer needed.

What kind of an educational system would be able to deliver such a mass of humanity endowed with, or lacking in, the sets of skills, knowledge, and mental faculties needed to meet these requirements? Certainly, it would need a core of elite centers of education where the organic intellectuals who administer the system and engage in its ongoing design would study and train. Below it would be a tier of educational institutions producing every sort of vocational and technocratic expert, what Robert Reich (1992) once referred to as "symbolic analysts" and others have called knowledge workers--that is, people trained in the use and manipulation of symbols, whether as engineers, computer programmers, scientists, or financial analysts. In exchange for their services and their obedience, they would be rewarded with comfortable lifestyles. Then there would be the mass of humanity increasingly "precariatized" and thrown into the ranks of surplus labor, who only need basic numeracy and literacy skills in order to supply labor for the system, and whose potential for critical thinking could nevertheless pose a serious threat to the capitalist order. This tier in the educational system would be quite restricted in its pedagogical content (if not in its provision), serving the dual function of supplying the numeracy, literacy, and technical knowledge necessary to produce servile workers while suppressing the development of critical thinking that could mount a challenge to global capitalism and its punitive social control. In fact, this is just the kind of educational system that the transnational elite has promoted worldwide in recent years. (2)

The Trifurcation of Humanity: The 1 Percent, the 20 Percent, and the 80 Percent

On the eve of the 2015 annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, an event attended exclusively by the cream of the transnational business, political, and cultural elite (it cost about $40,000 to attend, and at that, one must be invited), the development NGO Oxfam released a report on global inequality, aptly titled "Wealth: Having It All and Wanting More" (Oxfam 2015b). The report observed that the wealthiest 1 percent of humanity owned 48 percent of the world's wealth in 2014, up from 44 percent in 2009, and that under current trends, this 1 percent would own more than 50 percent of the global wealth by 2016.

The obscenity of such concentrations of wealth becomes truly apparent when seen in the context of expanding inequality. The report identified the world's richest 80 billionaires among this 1 percent, whose wealth has increased from $1.3 trillion in 2010 to $1.9 trillion in 2014, an increment of $600 billion in just four years, or by 50 percent in nominal terms (ibid.). The wealth of these 80 billionaires was more than all of the wealth owned by the bottom half of the world's population. At the same time, the bottom half of humanity saw its wealth decrease by 50 percent during this same period. In other words, the report identified a direct transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars from the poorest half of humanity to the richest 80 people on the planet.

If such inequality was already "simply staggering," in the words of the report (Oxfam 2015a), it is noteworthy that this polarization of wealth between the bottom half of humanity and the richest 80 people on earth--all but seven of whom are men--actually accelerated since the 2008 financial collapse, so it would seem that the crisis has made the rich many times richer and the poor many times poorer. It is similarly worth noting that the world's top billionaires and the one percent are concentrated in the financial and insurance sector (Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg lead the way, followed by the likes of George Soros, a Saudi prince, several Russian oligarchs, and a Brazilian and a Colombian businessman). A major portion of these richest are also concentrated in the pharmaceutical and health care sectors, and here Indian and Chinese billionaires lead the way, together with ones from Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, and elsewhere. And such immense concentrations of wealth translate in manifold ways into political influence: according to Oxfam, the financial and pharmaceutical sectors spent in recent years close to one billion dollars lobbying in the United States alone.

The Occupy Wall Street movement of 2011-2012 brought to worldwide attention the concentration of the world's wealth in the hands of the one percent with its famous rallying cry, "We are the 99 percent!" However, an equally if not more significant division of the world's population with regard to political and sociological analysis is between that better off--if not necessarily outright wealthy--20 percent of humanity whose basic material needs are met, who enjoy the fruits of the global cornucopia, and who are generally blessed with conditions of security and stability, and the bottom 80 percent of the world's population who face escalating poverty, deprivation, insecurity, and precariousness. The Oxfam report noted that the richest 20 percent of humanity owned 94.5 percent of the world's wealth in 2014, whereas the remaining 80 percent had to make do with just 5.5 percent of that wealth. In simplified terms, the world faces a trifurcated structure of the 1 percent, the 20 percent, and the 80 percent.

The global elite has taken note of these extreme inequalities, as evidenced by the inordinate attention received by Thomas Piketty's 2014 study, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and it is concerned that such polarization may undermine growth and lead to instability and even to rebellion. But there is little or no discussion among the one percent about any fundamental redistribution of wealth and power downward; instead, the elite has turned to expanding the mechanisms of ideological and cultural hegemony as well as repression. Both coercive and consensual domination are practiced and constructed in and through educational systems, media and cultural industries, and political and policing institutions. This mass of humanity is to be seduced by the promise of petty (and generally banal) consumption and entertainment, backed by the threat of coercion and repression should dissatisfaction lead to rebellion.

So what type of a worldwide educational system would this one percent, the global ruling class, presumably attempt to construct in the face of such a trifurcation of humanity? To understand the implications of globalization for elites and power relations worldwide, including global capital's changing needs with regard to educational systems, we must turn to the political economy of global capitalism as a qualitatively new epoch in the ongoing and open-ended evolution of the world capitalist system.

Global Capitalism as Epochal Shift: Crisis and Transnational Capital

Capitalism experiences major episodes of crisis about every 40-50 years as obstacles emerge to ongoing accumulation and profit-making. (3) These are named "structural" or "restructuring" crises because the system must be restructured in order to overcome the crisis. As opportunities for capitalists to invest profitably dry up, the system seeks to open up new outlets for surplus capital, typically through violence, whether structural or direct. Structural adjustment programs imposed on the former Third World countries, austerity measures, free-trade agreements, and capital flight are examples of structural violence (Greece's struggle with the European Union-International Monetary Fund--private banking complex troika is a recent example); by contrast, US wars of intervention in the Middle East, militarization of borders, and construction of prison-industrial complexes are forms of direct violence. Both forms of violence have the simultaneous function of opening up new opportunities for capitalist expansion and control in the face of stagnation.

The structural crises of capitalism, along with their economic dimension, involve social upheavals, political and military conflict, and ideological and cultural change. The last major crisis of world capitalism prior to the 2008 global financial collapse began in the late 1960s and hit hard in the early 1970s. The year 1968 was a turning point. That year saw the assassination of Martin Luther King in the United States in the midst of expanding Black and Chicano liberation movements, the counter-cultural and the anti-war movements, and an escalation of worker struggles. The Tlatelolco massacre of students took place in Mexico City that same year, at a time of great campesino, worker, and students upheavals across the country. Further away, 1968 saw the Prague Spring, the uprising of students and workers in Paris, the height of the Cultural Revolution in China, the Tet Offensive in Vietnam (which marked the beginning of the first major defeat for US imperialism), and the spread of anti-colonial and armed liberation movements throughout Africa and Latin America. All this reflected a crisis of hegemony for the system--a crisis in its political and cultural domination.

Then came the economic dimension. By 1973 the US government had to abandon the gold standard; the recently formed Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed its oil embargo, which sent shock waves through the world economy; and stagflation (stagnation plus inflation) set in everywhere. This was, in a nutshell, a severe structural crisis of twentieth-century nation-state capitalism. By the early 1970s a pre-revolutionary situation was percolating in many countries and regions. The popular classes were able to resist attempts by the dominant groups to shift the burden of the 1970s crises on to their shoulders.

As the crisis intensified, these dominant groups sought ways to liberate themselves from the social democratic, redistributive forms of class compromise of the previous decades. Analytically speaking, capital sought to free itself of any reciprocal responsibility to labor, and capitalist states sought to shed themselves of the social welfare systems that were established in previous decades. Elites in the rich countries also sought ways to integrate emergent. Third World elites into the system (see, e.g., Prashad 2008, Robinson 1996). These dominant groups launched a neoliberal counter-revolution: an attempt to roll back the social welfare state, to resubordinate labor, and to reconstitute their global hegemony through a newfound transnational mobility of capital and a transformation of the inter-state system. The model of "savage" global capitalism that took hold in the late twentieth century involved a new relation between capital and labor based on the deregulation, informalization, deunionization, and flexibilization of labor, as more and more workers swelled the ranks of the "precariat"--a proletariate existing in permanently precarious conditions. (4) Free-trade agreements and neoliberal policies have played a key role in the subordination of labor worldwide and in the creation of this global flexible labor market.

The new model of global capitalism has also involved a renewed round of extensive and intensive expansion of the system. In the late twentieth century, the former socialist countries and the revolutionary states of the Third World were integrated into the world market. But even more than extensive expansion, the system has undergone intensive expansion involving the commodification of spheres of society previously outside of the logic of exchange value, such as social services, utilities, public lands, infrastructure, health, and education, so that these spheres become sites of accumulation and of unloading of surplus capital. Let us put this into historic context.

The capitalist system has gone through successive waves of expansion and transformation since its bloody inception in 1492 with the conquest of the Americas. On the heels of major structural crises, each epoch has seen the reorganization of political and social institutions and the rise of new class agents and technologies, which have resulted in new waves of outward expansion through imperialist and colonialist wars that have brought more of humanity and of the planet into the orbit of capital. From a dialectical and historical materialist perspectives, all social institutions, such as the educational system, are connected with one another, are grounded in political economy (that is, in the process of the production and reproduction of our material existence), and experience ongoing transformation in consort with the changing nature of the social order. Each epoch of world capitalism, therefore, has impressed fundamental changes on the major institutions that comprise society.

The mercantile era spanned the sixteenth, seventeenth, and early eighteenth centuries, and it saw the creation of a world market. This was followed by an epoch of classical competitive capitalism in the wake of the first industrial revolution, the definitive triumph of the bourgeoisie as a ruling class, and the consolidation of the nation-state and the inter-state system as the political form of the capitalist system. This epoch ran from the symbolic date of 1789, the year of the French Revolution, to the late 1800s. Competitive capitalism gave way to the rise of corporate capital, powerful national monopolies and capitalist classes in the core capitalist countries, which organized themselves around protected national markets and engaged in a new round of imperialist expansion and inter-state competition over world markets, resources, and labor reserves. It took two world wars and mass social struggles around the globe for corporate capitalism to stabilize around a new social structure of accumulation (SSA), that is, a pattern of accumulation involving a distinct and identifiable set of institutions, social norms, and political structures that facilitate a period of expanded accumulation (McDonough et al. 1985).

But the Fordist-Keynesian SSA that took hold following World War II--with its mechanisms of redistribution, state intervention to regulate the market, and class compromise--entered into a deep structural crisis in the 1970s. Emergent transnational capital responded to that crisis by "going global," giving way to the current epoch of global capitalism. One key distinctive feature of the global epoch of world capitalism is that the system has all but exhausted its possibilities for extensive expansion, as the whole world has been brought into the orbit of capital, so that globalization now involves an intensive expansion that is reaching depths not seen in previous epochs. The life-world itself, to use Habermas's (1985) phrase, becomes colonized by capital, and the educational system is an institution that facilitates the colonization of the life-world.

Transnational Capital and the Transnational State

Global capitalism involves a rearticulation of social power relations around the world. This new epoch is characterized above all by the rise of fully transnational capital and the integration of every country and region into a new globalized system of production, finances, and services. We have seen a sequence in the rise of the global economy. Production was the first to transnationalize, starting in the late 1970s, as epitomized by the consolidation of the global assembly line (a delocalized process of manufacturing across multiple countries) and the spread of maquiladoras and zonas francas based on the super-exploitation of cheap, often young female, workers located in countries of the Global South or border communities. Next to transnationalize, in the twentieth and early twenty-first century, were national banking and financial systems, following the deregulation of financial markets in most countries around the world and the creation of countless new financial instruments or tradable forms of finance. There is no longer such a thing as a national financial system. Given its fungible nature and its virtually complete digitalization, money moves almost without friction through the financial circuits of the global economy and therefore plays a key integrative function. Transnational finance capital has become the hegemonic fraction of capital on a world scale; it determines the circuits of capital and it has subordinated productive capital--not to mention governments, political systems, social institutions, and households.

More recent is the transnationalization of services. At this time, in fact, the major thrust of free-trade negotiations such as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and most ominously, the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), is to remove remaining national regulation and public control of services, including finance, utilities, infrastructure, transportation, health, and education. Overall, capitalist globalization has been a process of ongoing liberation of transnational capital from the constraints to its control imposed by the nation state and the working class; of the priority of accumulation over any social consideration; and of the progressive commodification of everything.

But transnational capital is not faceless. A transnational capitalist class, or TCC, has emerged as the manifest agent of global capitalism. National capitalist classes began to internationalize early in the twentieth century. As the process accelerated in the post-World War II period, especially following the 1970s crisis, capitals from core countries began to interpenetrate through numerous mechanisms that I and others have documented--among them, through foreign direct and cross-investment, transnational interlocking of boards of directors, transnational mergers and acquisitions, vast networks of outsourcing, subcontracting, joint ventures and alliances, and the establishment of tens of thousands of transnational corporate subsidiaries (see, inter-alia, Robinson 2004, 2014). (5) Multinational corporations gave way to the giant global or transnational corporations (TNCs) that now drive the global economy.

The TCC is grounded in emergent circuits of accumulation that are global rather than national. There are still local, national, and regional capitals, but the TCC has become the hegemonic fraction of the capitalist class on a global scale, and at its apex is transnational finance capital. Moreover, even when they are still local or national in their operations, capitalists have found that in order to survive and compete, they must integrate one way or another into the emergent globalized system of production, finance, and services. Power in most countries has gravitated away from local and national fractions of the elite as well as from the popular classes and towards transnationally oriented capitalist and elites.

Transnational fractions of the elite have vied for and in most countries have taken state power, whether by elections or other means, and whether through the takeover of existing parties or the creation of entirely new political platforms, backed by powerful corporate business groups. As these transnationally oriented elites have captured national states, they have used the political control and cultural and ideological influence that comes with their heightened material domination to push economic restructuring and capitalist globalization, integrating their countries into the new global circuits of accumulation as well as into the global legal and regulatory regime (such as the World Trade Organization) that is still under construction. These neoliberal states have opened up each national territory to transnational corporate plunder of resources, labor, and markets.

As the TCC and its political and bureaucratic allies have pushed capitalist globalization, national states have adopted similar sets of neoliberal policies and signed free-trade agreements in consort with one another and with the supra and transnational institutions that have designed and facilitated the global capitalist project--among them, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the European Union, the United Nations, and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This increasingly dense networks of nation-state institutions and trans- and supranational organizations constitute transnational state (TNS) apparatuses. It is through such apparatuses that the TCC attempts to exercise its class power in each country and in the global system as a whole. Such TNS institutions have been at the forefront of the neoliberal restructuring of educational systems, including the commodification of schooling and the privatization of higher education.

The Changing Labor Needs of the Global Economy and the New Precariat

In the classic study Schooling in Capitalist America, Bowles and Gintis (1976) showed how the internal organization of schools corresponded to the internal organization of the capitalist workforce in its structures, norms, and values (their "correspondence theory"), and how the school system, with its disciplinary processes, hierarchal relations, and hidden curricula, prepared students for their future role in the capitalist economy. Schools, they showed, played a critical role in the capitalist control of labor and in the reproduction of existing social inequalities [see also Willis's (1981) modern classic]. Bowles and Gintis's essential argument on the relationship between education and the capitalist economy and society remains valid today. What did change are the nature of capitalism (specifically, its globalization) and the labor needs of the global economy. Bowles and Gintis argued that there was a contradiction between the needs of accumulation and the needs of social reproduction. The capitalist economy needed a workforce that was highly trained, intelligent, and self-directed. The education required for this workforce also developed people's ability to think, and it brought together millions of young people under conditions that could encourage struggles for social justice. Now, alongside a small and shrinking group of high-skilled and high-paid workers, global capitalism needs a workforce with less autonomy and creative abilities, and one subject to ever more intense mechanisms of social control in the face of a rising tide of superfluous labor and ever more widespread immiseration and insecurity. The hidden curriculum and the ideological content of mass education around the world remain in place, but the openly and directly repressive elements of education appear to play a heightened role.

Bowles and Gintis (1976) analyzed the development of education in the epochs of competitive and monopoly capitalism. The successive waves of the industrial revolution, from the late eighteenth into the early twentieth century, required a workforce with increasing knowledge and skills. For dist-Keynesian capitalism needed a mass of semi-skilled and high-skilled workers, whether in the industrial heartlands of the world system or in the urban pockets of the Global South of import substitution industrialization, or ISI (a development strategy whereby governments attempt to develop protected national industries). In addition, Third World elites promoting capitalist developmentalism sought to generate national educational systems often modeled on those of the core countries. But as globalization has intensified, so too has the dual process of Taylorism and deskilling so strikingly analyzed by Harry Braverman (1974) in his classic and quite prescient study, Labor and Monopoly Capital, while several waves of the scientific and technological revolution, especially computer and information technology, have made redundant much skilled and semi-skilled human labor--as Jeremy Rifkin (1995) described, two decades after Braveman's study, in his popular The End of Work, and as Aronowitz and DiFazio (2010) discuss more recently in The Jobless Future. Just as the world's population is increasingly polarized between the 80 and the 20 percent, so too work is increasingly polarized between unskilled and low-skilled labor on the farms and in the factories and office and service complexes of the global economy (as well as in the armed and security forces of the global police state), and on the other hand, high-skilled technical and knowledge workers. While it is still too early to draw a final conclusion, it is likely that the revolutions just getting underway in nanotechnology, bio-engineering, 3D manufacturing, the Internet of Things, and robotic and machine intelligence--the revolutionary technologies of the immediate future, the so-called fourth industrial revolution--will only heighten this tendency towards bifurcation in the world's workforce between high-skilled tech and knowledge workers and those relegated to McJobs, at best, or simply to surplus labor (see, inter-alia, Ford 2016, Schwab 2016).

Global capital therefore needs a mass of humanity, to reiterate, that has basic numeracy and literacy skills and not much more, alongside high-tech educational training for high-skilled and knowledge workers. There are a handful of global elite universities that educate and groom the TCC, its organic intellectuals, and transnationally oriented managerial and technocratic elites--Harvard, Yale, Cambridge, Oxford, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Tokyo University, the Indian Institute of Technology, the Grandes Ecoles in France, and so on. Brezis (2009) estimates that the top 50 universities around the world recruit 33 percent of the transnational political elites and 47 percent of the transnational business elites. Most of these global elite universities are located in the United States, but they turn to new transnational student markets to recruit from around the world. Below the elite universities are higher education institutions intended to train people for a mercantile insertion into the upper rungs of the global labor market.

In the 1990s, just as the neoliberal onslaught was in full swing, TNS institutions such as the OECD, the European Union, the United Nations, the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO began calling for universal primary education, for a shift from public to private secondary education, and for the privatization and commodification of higher education. The World Bank has played the lead role in establishing the transnational elite's policy agenda in this regard. Its landmark 2003 report, Achieving Universal Primary Education by 2015 (Bruns et al. 2003), called for primary education to become universal worldwide by the year 2015, expanding on the call for universal education contained in the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals promulgated in 2000 at the United Nations Millennium Summit with much fanfare and with the participation of so-called civil society representatives (see The Millennium Development Goals put forth a set of eight development goals to be achieved by 2015: among them, a reduction by half the proportion of people living in extreme poverty and who suffer from hunger; universal primary education; a reduction by two-thirds of the mortality rate among children under five and by three quarters of the maternal mortality rate; a halt to and reversal of the incidence of major diseases; the promotion of gender equality and women's empowerment; and so on. However, the prescription put forth to achieve these lofty goals was based on a more thoroughgoing privatization of health and educational systems; a further freeing up of the market from state regulations; greater trade liberalization and structural adjustment; and the conversion of agricultural lands into private commercial property--in other words, an intensification of the very capitalist development that had generated the social conditions to be eradicated (for discussion, see Amin 2006).

The 2003 World Bank report made clear that expansion of access and curricular and structural changes in education would be for the purpose of preparing workers for jobs in the global economy, and that educational reform would take place within a neoliberal policy framework (Bruns et al. 2003). It argued that universal primary education, when "combined with sound [read: neo-liberal] macroeconomic policies," is essential to "globally competitive economies," to sustaining growth, and to increasing labor productivity; it also stressed that equitably distributing primary educational opportunity should not be confused with "the redistribution of other assets such as land or capital" (ibid., 1). It also specified that it was calling for public sector financing of primary schooling but not necessarily provision. This is important, because privatization often takes the form of public subsidization of privately run schools, such as charter schools in the United States and elsewhere. (6)

At the same time as the World Bank and other TNS institutions called for universal primary education to prepare the labor force of global capitalism, they have pushed the privatization of higher education. In its 1998 report, Higher Education Financing Project, the World Bank called for higher-education programs to be privatized, deregulated, and "oriented to the market rather than public ownership or governmental planning and regulation" (World Bank 1998). (7) The report argued for a substantial increase in university tuition fees; full payment for room and board; loans for students based on market interest rates, together with the subcontracting of loan collection to private companies; the expansion of "entrepreneurial training" at universities; the multiplication of programs that offer university research findings to corporate purchases; and a general increase in the number of private institutions, with a progressive decrease in public education. (8) The report's author stated in an addendum that

much of what may look like the agenda of the neoliberal economist may also be more opportunistic than ideological. With taxes increasingly avoidable and otherwise difficult to collect and with competing public needs so compelling on all countries, an increasing reliance on tuition, fees and the unleashed entrepreneurship of the faculty may be the only alternative to a totally debilitating austerity. (Johnstone 1998, 4)

This neoliberalization of higher education converts the university worldwide into the domain of the elite and of that 20 percent of global society who have the resources to finance their education and to train for taking commanding roles in global society. At the same time, it heightens the ideological role that education plays in inculcating dull minds with respect for authority, obedience, and a craving for petty consumption and fantasy--that is, the banal culture of global capitalism and its dehumanizing values. Neoliberal restructuring, and most importantly privatization, opens up educational systems to transnational capital, both as a new space for accumulation and as brain trusts for capital itself. Transnational capital has invaded the university and the educational system in every sense, from converting education into a for-profit activity to commissioning and appropriating research (often publicly funded) while simultaneously generating a major new source of financial speculation through students loans (Soederberg 2015).

Neoliberal restructuring has extended around the world what Slaughter and Leslie (1999) called "academic capitalism," or the development of functional linkages between higher education and corporate "knowledge capitalism" (Slaughter and Leslie 1999; for further discussion on this point, see also Cantwell and Kauppined 2014). (9) In the United States, where Slaughter and Leslie focus their research, the corporate takeover of higher education has involved the bifurcation of the professoriate into a small core of tenured professors and an army of precariatized or contract instructors. Adjunct faculty now teach over 70 percent of all university courses in the United States (Kezar and Maxey 2013). The switch from public funding to tuition-led funding of higher education has contributed to the student debt, which increased over 400 percent from 2000 to 2013, when it reached $1.2 trillion (Denhart 2013). These mechanisms of debt bondage lock out would-be surplus labor from access to public higher education and force the poorest to turn to for-profit private "universities"--which have proliferated, with enrollment increasing 2,017 percent from 2000 to 2014 (compared to 25 percent for public universities and for private nonprofit institutions) (National Center for Educational Statistics 2016).

There is a double movement here. Capitalist globalization has involved a shift in the low- and unskilled labor-intensive phases of global production circuits from the North to the South at the same time as work in general has become bifurcated into deskilled and high-skills jobs. Thus the neoliberal program of universal primary education and the privatization and commodification of secondary and higher education runs parallel to changes in the global division of labor as well as to the transformation of labor and the "end of work" (Rifkin 1995).

Global Police State and Ideological Hegemony, On and Off Campus

The extreme inequalities of the global political economy cannot be easily contained through consensual mechanisms of social control. The great challenge the system faces is how to contain the real and potential rebellion of the global working class and the surplus population. Relations of domination in global society include new transnational class inequalities relative to older forms of North-South inequality, a resurgence of racial and ethnic hierarchies, and what Bill Fletcher Jr., referring to the new class of immigrant workers worldwide, calls a "new system of dual citizenship for the poor and the 1%" (Fletcher 2015). This system is sustained by frightening systems of mass social control and repression (see, inter-alia, Gilliom 2012, Graham 2010, Mattelart 2010, Robinson 2014). The ruling classes have launched farcical wars on drugs, terrorism, immigrants, and gangs (and youth more generally); such wars of social control and dispossession waged against the popular and working classes and the surplus labor population have engulfed social and political institutions, including educational systems. (10) The TCC has taken up the challenge of imposing fear and obedience and assuring the social control of youth, in part, by converting schools into centers for repressive discipline and punitive punishment. The role of schooling in social control is an old theme, but the coupling of the educational system with new systems of mass social control and surveillance appears to be reaching depths hitherto unseen.

As the school-to-prison pipeline becomes ever more institutionalized (see, inter-alia, Rios 2011), the US press is full of mind-blowing stories about the militarization of public schools and the criminalization and extreme disciplinary punishment of students. Class relations in the United States have historically been highly racialized, and the racialized nature of this criminalization and punitive discipline cannot be overemphasized. In many states, public school students are now thrown into jail for tardiness and absences. According to a complaint filed with the US Department of Justice in June 2013, students in Texas have been taken out of school in handcuffs, held in jail for days at a time, and fined more than $1,000 for missing more than 10 days of school (Saplen 2013). According to the complaint, school grounds are run like a police state, with guards rounding up students during "tardy sweeps," suspending them, and then marking their absences as unexcused even when students have legitimate reasons, such as family emergency or illness (Fuentes 2012, Saplen 2013). The Pentagon has supplied schools throughout the United States with military-grade weapons and vehicles, and even grenade launchers (Emett 2014). Schools have spied on students in their home by supplying laptop computers with webcams that are activated by remote control (Masterson 2010, Smith and Bosker 2011). The surveillance state has invaded the public school system--especially in poor, working class, and racially oppressed communities--with CCTV cameras, security checkpoints, full-time armed guards, and military recruiters.

This militarization of schools appears to bring about a convergence of the school systems serving the working class and racially oppressed communities with the criminal justice system, to such an extent that the two systems appear as a single institutional continuum (see, inter-alia, Black-2016, Nolan 2011). Gilmore (2007) has shown how the turn to mass incarceration provided the state with a means of caging surplus labor, disproportionately from racially oppressed communities, and supplied capital with a means of unloading surplus and sustaining accumulation. The regime of repression and punishment in the public school system appears as the juvenile corollary to mass incarceration. As broad swaths of the working class become surplus labor, schools in marginalized communities prepare students for prison and social death--to use Gilmore's (2007) term--rather than for a life of labor.

Meanwhile, high-stakes standardized testing--itself a lucrative source of corporate accumulation--aims to impose a dull uniformity on curricula, reducing learning to rote memorization, routine, punctuality, and obedience; at the same time, non-conforming teachers and teachers unions are the object of disciplinary measures and attacks. Handwritten essays are not evaluated by experienced educators but by temporary workers hired seasonally at low wages and assigned to grade up to 40 essays an hour (Rich 2015). One for-profit test scoring company, Pearson, operates 21 scoring centers around the United States, hiring 14,500 temporary scorers during the scoring season (ibid.). Results are then used to defund and close "non-performing" schools. Teachers receive pre-packaged lesson plans that are scripted to prepare for the tests. High-stakes testing leads to the segregation of learning and the bifurcation of schools into those catering to the well-off and those serving the working class and surplus labor, closely mirroring the new spatial apartheid in urban centers. Punitive standardized testing and the spread of charter schools, admission to which is determined by test performance, facilitates the cooptation of promising (and obedient) students from the working class and racially/ethnically oppressed communities into the would-be ranks of the 20 percent as technocratic and knowledge workers.

The role of ideology in the maintenance of capitalist order is of course nothing new. As Marx famously observed in The German Ideology,

The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas. The class that is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class that has the means of material production at its disposal has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas. (Marx 1846/1978, 172-73)

As Argentine scholar Atilio Boron observes in his excellent study on the role of the World Bank and of neo-liberalization of education in undermining critical thought:

It is extremely difficult and costly to escape the formidable intellectual vice of the nefarious combination of neoclassical economics and postmodernism, the result of which has been a deeply conservative and conformist mode of thought imbued with a broad repertoire of subtle mechanisms of ideological control which cut at the very roots the growth of critical thought in the university, not to mention at the level of the mass media and public space in general. (Boron 2008, 12)

Boron goes on to note that until the mid-twentieth century public universities predominated in Latin America, and indeed there were almost no private universities of significance. By 2008, however, 60 percent of all universities in Latin America were private, accounting for some 40 percent of all student enrollments; in some countries, such as Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, private universities were coming to eclipse entirely the public university. At the same time, Boron reports, there has been a deterioration in the quality of education at public universities, together with defunding, rising student fees, a decline in instructor earnings, and a shift to part-time and contract instructors. Education increased slightly from 1985 to 2005 as a percentage of GNP in most Latin American countries; during this same time, public spending on higher education declined significantly in almost every country in Latin America, and in some cases dropped precipitously.

As the neoliberal commodification of higher education proceeds, the classic ideal that conceived of education as a process for the cultivation and integral development of the human spirit has been abandoned and replaced by a crude mercantile and utilitarian conception of education as training in order to learn the skills that the market demands and to assure the "employability" of the student. (Boron 2008, 36)

Higher education has become a service. One of the consequences is "the generalized acceptance now enjoyed by the previously bizarre idea that universities should be considered as profitable institutions that generate income generated by the 'sale of their services'" (ibid., 37).

Boron calls for critical and radical thought against the neoliberal ideology diffused through the educational and mass media systems of global capitalism. His call, although aimed at Latin America, is equally appropriate for global society as a whole:
   An observer who came down from Mars might ask, "why does Latin
   America need radical thought." The answer: for a very simply
   reason; because the situation in Latin America is radically unjust,
   so absolutely unjust and so much more unjust with each passing
   year, that if we want to make a contribution to the social life of
   our countries, to the wellbeing of our peoples, we have no other
   alternative but to critically rethink our society, to explore
   "other possible worlds" that allow us to move beyond the crisis and
   to communicate with the mass of people who make history in a plain,
   simple, and understandable language. (Ibid., 37)

Conclusion: A Revitalized Philosophy of Praxis

A global rebellion against the rule of the TCC has spread since the financial collapse of 2008. Everywhere around the world there has been an escalation of popular and grassroots social justice struggles and the rise of new cultures of resistance. At the same time, the crisis has produced a rapid political polarization between a resurgent Left and a neo-fascist Right, the latter often driven by ethnic nationalisms and ready to mobilize the increasing insecurity experienced by downwardly mobile and precariatized working-class communities into support for far-Right projects, as most recently exemplified by the election of Donald Trump in the United States. How these struggles play out will depend, in part, on how effectively popular forces from below will manage to construct a counter-hegemony to that of the transnational ruling bloc. The prospects for such a counter-hegemony depend on how the crisis is understood and interpreted by masses of people, which in turn depends, in significant part, on a systemic critique of global capitalism put forth by the organic intellectuals of the popular classes--here intended, in the Gramscian sense, as intellectuals who attach themselves to and serve the emancipatory struggles of the popular classes.

Faced with the popular and revolutionary uprisings of the 1960s and the 1970s, the organic intellectuals of the emerging TCC responded at the cultural level with strategic calls for "diversity" and "multiculturalism" in order to reconstruct ideological hegemony. The strategy aimed to neuter through cooptation the demands for social justice and anti-capitalist transformation. Dominant groups would now welcome the representation of such diversity in the institutions of capital and power but would suppress, violently if necessary, any struggles to overthrow the capitalist system or simply curb its prerogatives. Some among the historically oppressed groups gained representation in the institutions of power; others aspired to do so. They condemned oppression but banished exploitation from the popular vocabulary.

In Latin America, the dominant groups violently repressed the Indio insurreccionista (the insurrectionary Indian) that demanded control over land and resources and encouraged the Indio permitido, who would be allowed to seek cultural pluralism and political representation but was not to question the capitalist social order and its structure of property and class power (for a discussion, see Robinson 2008). On US university campuses, cultural and identity politics took over. Dominant groups now praised (even championed) an opposition to racism, intended as personal injury and micro-aggressions, that eclipsed any critique of the macro-aggressions of capitalism and the link between racial oppression and class exploitation--what Aviva Chomsky (2016) terms "the politics of the left-wing of neoliberalism." Chomsky points out that university administrators are attempting now to absorb into "the market-oriented system of higher education" a new upsurge of student activism in the United States that has placed climate change, inequality, immigrant rights, and opposition to mass incarceration at the forefront of campus struggles (ibid.). Yet the term "neoliberalism" has become a stand-in for "capitalism." Critique of neo-liberalism as a set of policies (liberalization, privatization, deregulation, etc.) and an accompanying ideology that has facilitated capitalist globalization cannot substitute for a critique of global capitalism.

A critical part of the construction of any counter-hegemonic project will take place in schools and university campuses around the world. Throughout the Americas, my own focal point of scholar-activism, teachers have led the struggle against neoliberal educational reform, the privatization of education, the defunding and closure of schools, the deunionization of the profession, and the state repression of students. They have stood alongside the remarkable student mobilizations in Mexico, Chile, Brazil, the United States, and elsewhere. There is a need to infuse student struggles and worker uprisings with a radical global political economy theory and analysis that can contribute to the practices of global social justice and emancipatory struggles--that is, to a Gramscian philosophy of praxis.


(1.) Gramsci referred to organic intellectuals as those who are attached to political projects, whether of the dominant or the subordinate classes. This is a critically important conception. But here by organic intellectuals I simply mean those whose intellectual and scientific labor objectively serves the strategic aims of the global capitalist system.

(2.) Of course there are major differences in the educational systems across countries. The point here is that the transnational elite is promoting a restructuring of education worldwide along the lines discussed in this article.

(3.) There has been a rebirth of interest in crisis as a critical theme in Marxist and radical political economy since the 2008 global financial collapse. My analysis is laid out in Robinson (2014). See also, inter-alia, Harman (2010), Harvey (2014), Konings (2010).

(4.) Guy Standing (2011) popularized but did not coin this term. Standing's social democratic conception, however, is seriously flawed. He suggests that the precariat is "a new class" rather than part of the working class experiencing a condition common to expanding sectors of the working class. He does not conceive of this condition as an instance of the capital-labor relation. He takes a First World/Eurocentric view of the global precariat--what I would call methodological Westernism--and appears unable to combine class with racial, ethnic, and cultural analysis. His liberal orientation does not critique capital as a relation causal to the rise of the precariat as much as the state as an inadequate regulator of the market and its social consequences.

(5.) In Robinson (2014), I make reference to a vast body of literature on the transnationalization of capital and the TCC.

(6.) More generally, Ball and Youdell (2008) have analyzed the numerous forms of "hidden privatization in public education."

(7.) For further discussion on this report, see the World Bank web page, accessed on February 3,2017. At

(8.) Some of these guidelines referred specifically to the reform of the Mexican university system. For an excellent analysis, see Delgado-Ramos and Saxe-Fernandez (2005).

(9.) Finnish education scholar Ilkka Kauppinen (2013) has called for those studying educational systems around the world to take into account the transformations of capitalism wrought by globalization. He shows how the TCC has been behind the push for "intellectual property rights" to be enshrined in international trade deals known as Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreements. In the age of information capitalism, an increasing portion of value is in the form of intangible capital, which almost by definition is transnational and whose accumulation requires the creation of a category of "intellectual property" protected by the state so that capital can privately appropriate society's store of accumulated knowledge.

(10.) There is growing recognition that these "wars"are all about defending and advancing global capitalism, controlling the popular and working classes, and repressing social movements. See, inter-alia, the critically important study by Paley (2014), and with regard to the United States, see Alexander (2012).


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* WILLIAM I. ROBINSON (; is Professor of sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. This article is a revised version of a paper presented before the Researching Elite Education conference, York University, June 28-30,2015. I would like to thank two anonymous reviewers and the editors of Social Justice for their feedback and assistance.
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Date:Jun 10, 2017
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