Report on Warsaw conference

A correspondent writes:

Education, Capitalism, Reproduction of Social Class and Student Protests

On June 6 a conference was held in Warsaw entitled “the Bologna Process:
Adjusting Education to the Needs to Capital”. The conference was quite a rare
event in a country where, as participants in the conference noted, widespread
commercialization of higher education went on without the social reaction which
accompanied such changes in so many countries in Europe and around the world.

There were several reasons for including the theme of the Bologna Process in the
title. The first is because many mass student protests around Europe crystalized
around this theme since the commericalization of higher education, along with
many other reforms being criticized by students, has gone hand in hand with the
Bologna Process. The Process is also an integral part of the Lisbon Strategy.
With both the Bologna Process and the Lisbon Strategy, the propagandists of the
EU and local neoliberal politicians have been conducting an information campaign
which presents both these strategies in an overtly positive light, focusing on
only certain aspects of these strategies and presenting them with a slant meant
to positively incline people towards them and to discourage people from looking
deeper into what else these strategies actually entail. The world of the Lisbon
Strategy is thus a world where “career breaks” are presented as wonderful
opportunities to rest from a job and do something more exciting and rewarding
instead of as structural employment. “Flexibilty” and “mobility” are presented
as desirable attributes for the modern, well-adapted worker and student in an
attempt to obfuscate the real nature of precarity. Thus the desire to more
deeply examine what the ideology behind the Bologna Process really entails and
to open up a space for critical discussion.

As it turned out, for those who made presentations or lead discussions at the
event, all activists from the radical anarchist or radical libertarian communist
movement or the libertarian left, points of opposition actually go much deeper
than just the Bologna protest.

The first presentation, made by members of ZSP (Union of Syndicalists), analyzed
the Bologna Process in a deeper context. Although the Declaration which lays at
the foundation of the process does not implicitly include points such as the
privatization of educational institutions, the larger ideological realm of the
Process assumes wide-scale commericalization and every local implementation of
the Process introduces more and more reform motivated by the logic of capitalism
and the adjustment of education to the needs of capital and class society.
Various points of the process and its implementation were analyzed, in
particular the ideas of education management and “effectiveness” as determined
by the needs of business, not by the needs of people in general. The needs of
business and creating the labour market it most desires have come to replace the
idea of the overall good of society; when speaking of society’s needs, the
ideologues of the system always mean the former.

Next there were presentations by two groups which have been active in
universities, protesting, informing, inspiring student activists as well as
activism on a broader scale: “Reclaim your Education” from Wroclaw* and OkUPE
from Gdansk.

(* This group pointed out that they originally did not give a name to their
group, but since they called their website “Reclaim your Education”, everybody
started callling them that.)

The Reclaim your Education group got together a few months ago and was clearly
inspired by mass student protests in Europe. (Many of these protests and
statements made by radical students were published on the anarchist portal CIA
and were followed with great interest.) They noticed how there was a good level
of class consciousness among radical students and in many cases good cooperation
between labour and students. Something like this is totally lacking in Poland
and the people from Reclaim your Education was eager to put this topic out for
discussion and awareness raising in Wroclaw. They found that, besides a few
radical students and educational workers, some other activists were eager to
join forces, including people from the magazine “Recykling Idei”, ZSP and
squatters. Even somebody from the local labour party was supportive. The
activists held a number of discussions and lectures in Wroclaw and also put up a
few information tents, at the university and in the main square of the city.
There they were able to talk with people and found a lot of public sympathy. For
those more interested, you could get an old copy of “Recyling Idei” devoted to
the question of education.

One activist of Reclaim your Education also described how you can introduce
topics like paid education and the class divisions that it enhances or new ones
it creates as a launching point for more discussion on class and capitalism in
general. Participants in the conference also discussed the lack of awareness and
passivity amongst students and how to approach people and encourage a radical
departure for the dominant ideology.

The presentation by the group OKUPE was also very interesting. OKUPE is an
acronym which means “Open Committee to Free Educational Space”. This group has
been very active on a number of issues related to democratizing and liberating
the university and has done also a lot of happenings on topics specific to the
Unversity of Gdansk. For example, when the university built a fence around it,
the group did some protests, happenings and discussions on the idea of public
space, noting, for example, that local residents who had previously used the
campus space now were treated as intruders. (Especially since the campus
installed security cameras everywhere.) OKUPE thus has been reacting to real
situations and events on the campus and putting them into a larger social
context. They have also been building up contacts, exchanging experience and
coordinating with other radical activists around the world.

Next was a presentation by ZSP and the informal anti-Bologna group in Warsaw
about how the Bologna Process is being implemented in different countries and
how students are protesting, what challenges they face, what methods these use
to organize and what effects they could get. Of particular interest were the
radical student postulates and the plenum used in many places. People were also
glad to hear about student protests organized just a day or two earlier by
anarchists and libertarian comrades from Ukraine.

Finally was the radical philosophical part and discussion, kicked off by a talk
made by our comrade from ZSP Szczecin provocatively entitled “Education – Opium
of the Intellectuals”. Then things started getting a little more radical and
some rough arguments with the more leftist audience occurred.

Some of the points brought out were still comfortable for the audience, as they
included analysis of the class reproductiion from a safe intellectual position,
this safe position being always descriptive rather than prescriptive, and which
included references to theorists respected in the intellectual world of the left
(ie Bourdieu or Bauman). Of course more radical ideas then were unleashed,
questioning instutionalized education in and of itself. In terms of theory,
there were quite a few references to people such as Illich or Ferrer and
Kropotkin and there was quite hard criticism of the division of labour and the
idea that intellectual pursuits, citizenship, leisure and work are separate
functions of life, permanently divided in functions and allocated to individuals
who, as work, perform one function separately from others. The culture of
meritocracy and efficiency was criticized as most often working against the
interests of equality and the development of a larger portion of society to more
well-rounded individuals, more able to engage in various aspects of social life,
to explore and develop their human potential and to live in more harmonious
relations with the people around them.

Beside this, there was also some critical reflection on the demands of some
student protestors which were categorized as being essentially social democratic
in nature. There was some discussion on how to go beyond such social democractic
demands. People pointed out that too often some intellectuals approach the issue
of the commercialization of education from the point of view that what was
before was OK, that the values of the traditional university were a paragon of
virtue in comparison to the values of commercialized education with must conform
to market demand. The anarchists pointed out that the traditional university was
full of hierarchy, class reproduction, bourgeois assumptions, the creation of
elites and was not the utopia for intellectuals which some nostalgic
intellectuals have painted it to be. It is not for us to try to conserve the
value of the existing university, because the institution itself has little
value to us.

Besides students and doctoral students, there were high-school students and a
couple of professors/teachers at the conference, plus one presenter from ZSP who
is none of the above (but just personally decided the system was crap and
dropped out years ago and became a critic of institutionalized education).

The participants in the conference thought there were lots of interesting
presentations and discussions and there are discussions about repeating the
conference in at least the different hometowns of the participants in the fall.
Everybody is hoping that such events will raise awareness and start discussions
and that maybe the seeds for a future radical student movement will be laid.
Some years ago in Poland something like this sprang up amongst high-school
students, but it died down and when they went to do university, most of them
completely stopped any student activity. Many students feel they exist in a
vacuum and some who would otherwise be interested are probably discouraged by
the general apathy they see around them. The participants in the conference are
hoping to break this apathy.

It was pointed out that June 19 is the 10th anniversary of the signing of the
Bologna Declartion and that students in Germany will be protesting and striking
that week so it would be a good time to hit the streets and campuses in Poland
with another information event.

More information about the initiatives involved in the conference can be found
on the following web pages (in Polish):

http://zspwawa/ (English)

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