Neoliberalism, Education and the Politics of Capital: Searching Possibilities of Resistance | by Ravi Kumar

by Oct 15, 2011All Articles

That the instruments of imparting education extend beyond the classical notions of classroom learning is a fact few can disagree with today. It is, however, not enough to realise that the process of educating a human being transcends the limited universe of whatever form of formalised institution of teaching-learning transactions and is finally linked to the approach that one adopts to comprehend the processes of knowledge formation. This process of education is also closely linked to the desires of the dominant social structures to limit our view of the complex processes of knowledge creation. A limited and fragmented view of the world not only hides the systemic contradictions but also makes possible a process of regimentation. For instance, one can never fully appreciate the fact that the elite castes of India – not unlike the entrenched hegemonic class interests in any social order – need to segment the processes of education so that it in turn sustains the segmentation of the social order. Not unless one overcomes one’s ideological myopia to grasp the link between the processes of knowledge production in a society and its larger logic of production.  It is this myopia that compels us to explain the teacher-taught relationship through the undemocratic metaphor of teacher as god. It is the intrinsic uncritical appeal of such a metaphor that leads us even today to claim that the teacher reveals the path to the kingdom of god. And it is this belief in the existence of a particular kind of system that celebrates the existence of gods – which bases itself on uncriticality and opposition to dissent, and concomitant subordination to spiritual and/or temporal authorities – that is responsible for our failure to understand how, for example, the Dronacharya-Eklavya relationship, by virtue of it being embedded in class-caste relations, is an expression of the segmentation of society along class lines through segmentation of education. And this holds true as much for ancient India, as for us in our times, wherein a vision of understanding educational processes as going beyond classroom and institutionalised structures is seldom encouraged. Even if it is done the connections between the mode of production and educational systems is rarely explored.

This further results in the absence of an analysis that would try to understand the impact of neoliberalism on education and its implications for the working class. Even the most progressive voices/analyses of the so-called education sector (such divisions are in themselves yet another attempt to fragment the world view) fail to overcome these limitations. The problem areas that, as a consequence, emerge with regard to understanding the processes of education and knowledge creation are the following:

1. There is a tendency towards generating a dehistoricised understanding, i.e., denying conjuncturality of different stages of development of capital and the nature of educational discourse and conditions on the ground.

2. There exists a disjunction in the understanding of education and the comprehension of social structures/ relations.

3. Education, therefore, is not seen as a battlefield where a part of the everyday class struggles is waged. As a result, it is discounted as a site of accentuating class struggle.

4. There is a serious absence of reflection on the issue by the Indian Left.

5. Because of the above-mentioned factors education becomes a classroom-based affair shorn of class politics and outside the ambit of labour-capital conflict.

6. Consequently, education acquires a kind of autonomy and an agency of its own and, therefore, none of the educational alternatives in India have managed to establish themselves as real working class counter-narratives to the capital-driven discourse and practice of education.

7. Due to these drawbacks the notion of empowerment, which cannot be seen as something outside the ambit of class struggle, within the educational field becomes problematic.

A comprehensive understanding of the developments taking place today with respect to education and knowledge-formation at large can emerge only if the above-mentioned factors are taken in to account. It is only then that one can understand how neoliberalism does not only affect the institutions, moulding them to its own end, but also radically alters the way even welfarist, social-democratic forces understand education. Such an approach that enables us to see education as a terrain of class struggle would, for instance, reveal rather clearly how and why capital must alter the classical idea of a classroom in its neoliberal epoch. This conjuncture necessitates not only the emergence of schools without teachers/instructors, but ‘places’ where teaching-learning happens online and even through mobile phones or satellite television. In other words, when the state offers alternatives such as online education; or when private enterprises tell us through their advertisements that it does not matter if you miss classes because there is a virtual classroom; or when Abhishek Bachchan graphically shows how classrooms can happen anywhere (which would even mean, at the cost of exaggerating it, that child labour can go hand in hand with education), what with lessons being imparted through mobile phones; or when the new symbol of humane, concerned and conscientious India – Aamir Khan – tells you that education is possible even through satellite channels there is an underlying commonality in their visions.

What they are telling us is that equality of access to education is possible even within neoliberal capitalism. They are suggesting that access need not always be seen in direct person-to-person or person-to-institution contact, and that it can be impersonalised. The sum and summary of what they are suggesting is this: why do we always need to locate the question of equality within a framework of class relations or consider the state as the provider of educational means and facilities. The point they are making is that profiteering or mindless urge to accumulate surpluses can go hand in hand with the principle of equality and justice. In a nutshell, it is a denial of conjuncturality of capital-labour contradiction with the issue of knowledge formation and dissemination. This denial appears, in not so stark and unabashed a manner, when the progressive voices and forces uncritically get nostalgic about reviving the lost world of welfarism. In other words, they, unknowingly or otherwise, adopt the approach of ensuring equality or justice outside the ambit of class struggle, and thus fail to envisage this absolutely desirable quest of theirs, which is doubtless urgent, in terms of problematising the intentionality of capital at different moments in its history.

Emergence of the Neoliberal Order

Finally, it has arrived and made itself the dominant paradigm of our everyday life. It is unabashedly shrewd, callous and calculating. It uses the instruments of consensus as well as coercion with utmost dexterity, becomes part of our individuality and has all possible designs at its disposal to alienate us from our collective working class consciousness in such a way that for sometime the battlefield can become quite hazy with the mirage that the system offers all kinds of possibilities to resolve our problems and all we need to do is work hard and give our lives to it. This is the age of neoliberalism that represents the tyranny of capital in the most organised and atrocious manner and India’s economic and political scenario for last one-and-a-half decades represent this tyranny. It is a stage or a moment in capital accumulation that leads to an unprecedented expansion of capital by bringing into the commodified zones even aspects which have been considered as non-commodified such as education and health during the pre-neoliberal phase of capitalism. Simultaneously it uses its aggression to push further its aim without any hitch.

This phase of capitalism is especially intractable for those committed to resisting the rule of capital. In fact, there has been a neoliberal consensus evolving across diverse political formations and amply clear in the situation post-2009 general elections (Kumar, 2010). The rhetoric of social justice, demands for equity built on the premise of identitarian politics as well as the hollowness of a market driven purportedly by justice and equity have been exposed. What, then, remains as the subject of concern for all of us is: (1) to comprehend the logic and strategy of capital in the current conjuncture; (2) inquire into the way this is manifest in the arena of education; and (3) evolve ways of resisting this onslaught of capital. Towards achieving these tasks this paper tries to understand the idea of neoliberalism and what does it do.

To say that there has been a marked decline in ‘social sector’ spending by the Indian state would be stating the obvious. It would, however, be erroneous to reiterate that decline without analysing it as a consequence of the persistent battle between capital and labour. The mutilations in the education system are no more than embodiments of this conflict in the arena of state, economy and polity. The state becomes an agent of capital assisting in its expansion and, whenever/wherever necessary, repression – physical as well as intellectual. In other words, apart from the mere physicality of the neoliberal impact there are very dangerous and more powerful mental and intellectual instruments working overtime to consolidate the already gained grounds for capital or creating possibilities for newer grounds to be captured. This character of the neoliberal phase of capital accumulation emerges out of the specific historical moment in which it was born. It was the crisis of accumulation in “embedded liberalism” that paved way for this new system to emerge after the option of deepening “state control and regulation of the economy through corporatist strategies” (Harvey, 2007, p.12) became problematic because the Left, which had forwarded this idea, “failed to go much beyond traditional social democratic and corporatist solutions and these had by the mid-1970s proven inconsistent with the requirements of capital accumulation” (Harvey, 2007, p.13). Obviously, the increasing influence of Left was also becoming problematic for the unhindered expansion of capital. The influence of Left unions and mobilisations were strengthening. One finds the vibrant movement of the Left flourishing during the era of welfare capitalism even in India. Trade unionism as well as other forms of resistance to the rule of capital did pose a substantial challenge to the politics of the ruling class. The resistance in these two different phases also becomes a matter of relative comparison as we are confronted with moments of declining resistance to the politics of capital in the neoliberal era. It was this imperative of curtailing the challenges to capital accumulation that compelled neoliberalism to become a political ideology as well.

Hence, we find neoliberalism giving “priority to capital as money rather than capital as production” and by doing so it allows “policies to be adopted which clear the decks, removing subsidies and protection, and freeing up capital from fixed positions” intensifying the pace of restructuring. “It allows capital to regain mobility, dissolving the spatial and institutional rigidities in which it had become encased” (Gamble, 2001, pp.131-32). State, which was welfarist, and had undertaken campaigns of nationalisation and promised to take care of the health and educational concerns of its people started saying that it was not possible for it to bear the burden of educating every child or taking care of the health needs of its citizens. Consequently, it comes up with analysis that would suit its market logic. For instance, it argues, in context of secondary schools, that “the doubling of the share of private unaided schools indicates that parents are willing to pay for education that is perceived to be of good quality” (GOI, 2008, p. 15).  And the extension of this argument results in involving more and more private players in running the education system as a business. Consequently, the government plans to open model schools that “will be managed and run by involving corporates, philanthropic foundations, endowments, educational trusts, and reputed private providers” (GOI, 2008, p.17). This tendency to open up new avenues or withdraw from certain roles and responsibilities that till now were strictly considered the state’s domain has been intrinsic to the character of the neoliberal state. “The contribution of neoliberalism to the restructuring of capitalism was, therefore, to provide a means by which capital could begin to disengage from many of the positions and commitments which had been taken up during the Keynesian era.”(Gamble, 2001, p.132)

Even Neoliberalism talks of Dignity, Freedom, Autonomy and Well-Being – Where does the Problem lie

Neoliberalism functions on the premise that the “human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” (Harvey, 2007, p.2). It uses the principle of freedom and justice but as concepts that apply to individuals treating them as autonomous beings outside the social relations within which they are embedded. Hence, neoliberalism looks at the role of the state as a body that creates and preserves institutional frameworks that ensure this project of capital. The state has to not only “guarantee, for example, the quality and integrity of money” but also set up structures of coercion “to secure private property rights and to guarantee, by force if need be, the proper functioning of markets” (Harvey, 2007, p. 02). State intervention in management and regulation of market becomes negligible. It only has to facilitate its functioning but not intervene in what it does or wants to do. The quintessential example of this is found in the two simultaneous developments in India: (1) the state expenditure on education has been on the decline and the share of private sector in it has been on the rise because capital thinks that the education ‘sector’ needs to be liberated from the clutches of statist structures and principles; and (2) over Rs 40,000 crore have been spent on organisation of a game show (Commonwealth Games) with which neither the Indians relate nor did they want it because for them priorities could well have been health and education. It is happening because the post-recession Indian industry needs as many shows as possible like this one. These two developments show how the state creates opportunities for market and for this it withdraws and creates space for private capital in certain areas whereas it subsidises the expansion of private capital at the cost of its masses. However, it chooses not to spend on education and health to make them accessible to everyone.

It has been argued that liberalism had made life suffocating for people. Mongardini cites Burdeau who argues that it ceased to be ‘the hope of a whole people’ and had rather become ‘the ideology of a class: the bourgeoisie’. The state under bourgeoisie had been transformed into ‘into a closed power’ (Burdeau quoted in Mongardini, 1980, p. 318). In other words, under liberalism, state, rather than resolving the tension between the individual and the state, had made latter “the natural enemy of liberty” (Mongardini, 1980, p. 318). Neoliberalism is seen as defending the social rights of individuals. It “seems to begin as a civil reaction against the invasion of politics and bureaucratic machinery, of little groups against large groups, the private against the public. It is, however, from another point of view also an attempt to reestablish at ground level that relationship of political representation which has been broken and to recreate consensus on a new ideological platform which restores certainty to individual and social action” (Mongardini, 1980, p. 321). Hence, what one finds is that the ideals of human dignity and individual freedom have become the driving ideology, as the slogan, of neoliberal thought and “in so doing they chose wisely, for these are indeed compelling and seductive ideals. These values, they held, were threatened not only by fascism, dictatorships, and communism, but by all forms of state intervention that substituted collective judgements for those of individuals free to choose” (Harvey, 2007, p.5). And obviously, the agency to ensure this freedom and dignity has always been the market for neoliberal ideologues and states.

The idea that neoliberalism is dedicated to ensuring the well-being of human beings, through ensuring equity and justice has been instilled into our common sense. It is done through a variety of ways:

(1) There are arguments and theories of development, which never look at the political-economic aspects of development and, therefore, create a well-thought-out disjunction between, for instance, market, state and development. They tell us how equity and justice are attainable even within neoliberalism without transforming fundamentally the social relations that give rise to these inequities. Herrera arguing against the development economists points out how the softer development economists get away as critics of the system, which, in fact, “is a serious misunderstanding, because neither of them recommends rebuilding the welfare state, modifying the ownership structure of capital in favor of the public sector, applying a policy of income redistribution, or promoting public services—much less arguing in favor of state-led planned development. In spite of a few nuances or subtleties, their arguments always imply that the state should fully submit to the dominant forces of global capital and help its capital accumulation” (Herrera, 2006). Citing the example of Stiglitz, Herrrera argues how during Stiglitz’s regime as the chief economist of the World Bank, the international financial institution published its report on “Knowledge for Development” in 1998-99, which talked about “cooperation” with the private sector “in the fields of information and telecommunications: privatization, dismantlement of public research (even the transformation of research institutes into joint stock companies), and marketization of education (even by helping the poor to pay for their studies)” (Herrera, 2006). Amartya Sen, on the other hand, locates, in an occulted manner, the social and political rights within the ambit of market. “Without a liberal-style market, Sen seems to say, none of the other freedoms can work.” (Harvey, 2007, p. 184)

(2) Competition has been made the guiding ethics of everyday life. This ethics is not only based on the farcical idea that everyone has the equal opportunity to participate and perform in the competition but it also generates a desire among individuals to be part of this system, which, apparently, demonstrates the possibility of equal probability to achieve the goal. This sense of competition, which wrongly presumes equal access to required information and which ignores the differential material conditions that go into the formation of an individual or group, though being essentially misplaced, generates a sense of constant involvement within the system. This not only complicates, and therefore delays, the task of mobilisation along class lines but also gradually fosters a misplaced sense of fidelity towards the system. While the ethics of competition cultivates fantasies, aspirations and generates possibilities to achieve them, it also encourages individuation and, therefore, diminishes sense of solidarity. This ethics becomes a part of us through the pedagogical experiences of everyday life under the rule of capital.

(3) There is a vast network of ideological apparatuses, which are at work to legitimise the neoliberal system as well as to garner support for it. While a great deal has been written about how media becomes an effective instrument of propaganda there are misrepresented and fallacious analyses carried out by intellectuals in favour of the neoliberal order. One very obvious example is the work of James Tooley, who argues, following Oxfam Education Report, that “private schools are emerging for the poor in a range of developing countries” (Tooley, 2004, p.06). While he quite intentionally ignores the same Oxfam Report when it also says that “while private schools are filling part of the space left as a result of the collapse of State provision, their potential to facilitate more rapid progress towards universal basic education has been exaggerated. They are unable to address the underlying problems facing poor households, not least because their users must be able to pay, which the parents of most children who are out of school often cannot do” (Watkins, 2000, p.230). Not only this but the whole argument forwarded by likes of Tooley, based on ‘evidence’ from India and elsewhere that “there is considerable evidence available…that suggests that private education is more beneficial to the poor than the government alternative, and hence that parents are making rational decisions by sending their children to private schools” is misplaced and out of context. It not only refuses to analyse the basic and fundamental causation behind the flourishing of sub-standard (or otherwise) private schools across India but also forwards an argument to encourage privatisation of education when it says that “the making of profits is an important motivation for entrepreneurs to enter the education market, and hence it may have some desirable impact, leading to the provision of schools that poor parents prefer to the government alternative. Without the profit motive, this suggests that there would be fewer private schools available, hence the choices available to poor parents would be severely limited” (Tooley, 2004, p.16).

They take the notions of competition, performance and achievement as a priori categories and begin their studies from those already given premises (Tooley, 2004; Tooley and Dixon, 2005). In that sense, their whole argument and research is designed to serve the system that is furthering that particular kind of education system, which rejects critical insight as an essential constituent of educational process or which trains students to dream of alternatives. Apart from such intellectuals working overtime to generate sufficient grounds for private capital to expand, the state has also been quite ‘sensitive’ to the needs and demands of private capital. Knowledge Commission, a body of recognised intellectuals, for instance, very clearly points towards the need to recognise the role played by private educational institutions and suggests that “those providing quality education should be encouraged, especially when they cater to less privileged children”. It also suggests that the government bureaucracy should not harass them and “it is necessary to simplify the rules and reduce the multiplicity of clearances required for private schools….” (GOI, 2009, p.48). These are mechanisms to generate consensus among masses in favour of the restructuring of the economy. And these processes, as Harvey Notes, have occurred globally:

“So how, then, was sufficient popular consent generated to legitimize the neoliberal turn? The channels through which this was done were diverse. Powerful ideological influences circulated through the corporations, the media, and the numerous institutions that constitute civil society–such as the universities, schools, churches, and professional associations. The ‘long march’ of neoliberal ideas through these institutions that Hayek had envisaged back in 1947, the organization of think-tanks (with corporate backing and funding), the capture of certain segments of the media, and the conversion of many intellectuals to neoliberal ways of thinking, created a climate of opinion in support of neoliberalism as the exclusive guarantor of freedom. These movements were later consolidated through the capture of political parties and, ultimately, state power” (Harvey, 2007, p.40).

(4) Neoliberalism weaves a world of fantasy around each individual as well as collectivities of achievable possibilities, thereby confining their imaginations to function within the operational regime of capital. The delusional mind becomes unaware of the labour-capital dialectic. For it the possibility of becoming one day what some people around him/her are or owning what they own has a blinding effect. That individual herself is located within that labour-capital dialectic never appears so to her. Capitalism, in general, through breaching the possibilities of solidarity among the working class creates the expansion and sustenance of neoliberalism possible.  What adds to this process is simultaneity of all of the above-mentioned socio-economic and political processes.

Education and the Politics of Capital -This is how Neoliberalism looks like

Neoliberalism, in general, is firmly entrenched today in India and with the tide of resistance getting lower at this moment its virulent form and tenor is visible in nearly every sector. The education sector is one of the ideal types, which demonstrates how the neoliberal assault works. The nature of changes, which have been brought about over the past few years and with particular vigour during the past one year have shown how neoliberal capital operates. The above-cited four factors that generate consensus and common sense about neoliberalism have been quite obviously active in the Indian context. A host of committees and commissions have been set up to establish how there cannot be any possible alternative to capitalism and, therefore, it is better to work within it. In terms of operationalisation, the state has been formulating policies that institutionalised discrimination – as different kinds of schools and colleges are established in accordance with the differential purchasing and socio-political power of the customers – that draws in more and more private funding in education sector and which denies equality of access to educational facilities of similar kind to everyone. The best example of such efforts to create a consensus in favour of neoliberalism can be found in the Yashpal Committee report, which has sanctioned everything that the neoliberal capital would like to put into place for its expansion. In other words, drastic changes in the form and content of the so-called education system are taking place due to the onset of the neoliberal stage. Hence, the developments in policy, content and form of education need to be seen in conjunction with the changing forms of capital accumulation. Following have been some of the manifestations of this development in the country.

1. Education is more than the formal institutional structures and classroom transactions. It is an arena that reflects the agenda and need of the dominant class interests in a society. Therefore, to understand whatever happens in education it is important to understand the class politics, or the labour-capital conflict, characterising a society. But due to this lack the character of the state is seldom questioned in the Indian education discourse. It, many a times, ends up being a nostalgic, illogical discourse that demands a neoliberal state to become welfarist. (Though I would admit that nostalgia has a potential, here, to generate a radical impulse as well.)

2. Capital in India never felt the need (during the past 60 years) to spread education (meaning democratise accessibility to education) because (a) the requirements of labour force were being met by an unequal system; (b) it was able to segment the educational levels of people in congruity with the segmented labour market thereby regulating the educational apparatus-labour market linkage as well.

3. Even today neoliberal capital cannot afford to democratise accessibility to education because it would amount to its decommodification.

4. Quite naturally, neoliberal capital destroys institutions that hamper its progress or appear not to make profits. It also curtails the pedagogic processes that potentially generate a critical perspective against the system – the decline of social sciences and fundamental researches in sciences is an example along with technicisation of science and popularisation of new ‘professional’ (skill-obsessed) courses in the social sciences.

5. In this scenario class manifests itself in following ways in education: (1) there is a particular kind of class formation that the education system foments; (2) the education system becomes an effective ideological state apparatus (ISA) evident in the way capital dominates over labour in their conflictual relationship even in the time of such a serious economic recession; and (3) the possibilities of transcending the capitalist mode of production through creating new imaginations of a world beyond capital becomes difficult and impossible thereby establishing the inevitability of capitalism.

6. Education, if located in the matrix of labour-capital conflict, unfolds as the battleground of competing classes. The constituents of this location – teachers or students remain workers whose realisation of their class position is delayed by the character/orientation of this location.

7. While education remains the most vital link for capitalism to sustain it also remains the location where the link can be broken because it is where the workers (when they realise that they are workers) are also in control of the kind of product that they produce to a great extent (though this freedom is diminishing and is differential across the uneven terrain of educational landscape).

When the Congress Party came to power along with a host of regional formations after General Elections in 2009, the Ministry of Human Resource Development made it amply clear that voices of dissent were not welcomed. Whether it has been the issue of passing Bills to further the expansion of capital or the issue of standardising the functioning of academic institutions such as universities for better control and better manipulation, all decisions are being taken unilaterally and without any attempt at consensus building. One example of how decisions to alter the syllabus or examination system, frame new service conditions for faculty members or completely transform the physical infrastructure have been taken in an undemocratic fashion can be seen in the University of Delhi where the faculty members as well as the students have been protesting for months. It has been happening in other universities as well but there is hardly any opposition. The tenor of the human resource development minister has been one of an outright corporate honcho. Irrespective of whether the Indian Institute of Technology faculty members were justified in demanding more salaries than faculty members of other institutions, the minister on hearing their demand remarked, “I am meeting some people from IITs and will ask them for a roadmap for the autonomy. If they tell us how much money from private investors they can get for the next five years, then we will give them more autonomy. They can take more projects and become private.” (Business Standard, 2009) What gets reflected in this statement is the way terminologies such as autonomy, freedom and choice are used. It is autonomy in sense of getting freed from barriers that would impede flow of capital. It is freedom from different kinds of restrictions, ranging from state policies to the ones posed by unionisation. “The neoliberal notion of academic freedom arises from viewing knowledge as a commodity…and education as a path to income generation that must be privatized and made profitable in order for it to be maximally effective.” (Caffentzis, 2005, p. 600) While the elementary education is in dire straits as the state fails to ensure that each child, irrespective of its class, caste or gender background, gets education of similar quality, higher education is moving towards becoming more and more inaccessible.

The neoliberal assault on education in India is different in terms of its trajectory compared to the West. In the UK or the US, for instance, thanks to concerted struggle by masses and also because of the needs of capital in those particular moments of history, laws and policies that made school education universally accessible to children were enacted. It was the phase of, what Harvey calls, “embedded liberalism” or what many others call Keynesianism. The crisis of the Keynesian model of accumulation was also reflected in the sphere of education when the governments of these nations began the process of withdrawal and started creating spaces for private capital within sectors where state control was entrenched. This pattern does not have much similarity with the Indian situation because the development of capitalism here has had a different trajectory. However, the welfare state that came into being, post Independence, did not create an education system on the lines of what Gandhi and others during our anti-colonial freedom struggle had conceived. It was a system designed to perpetuate class biases. The Indian state created distinction in terms of ‘elite’ institutions – the first IITs were born in early 1950s and the IIMs started in early 1960s – and the other institutions of higher education. Similarly, different types of schools were established by the Indian state for different sets of people. Even before these developments, the Indian Constitution could not include Right to Education as a Fundamental Right, which very well reflected the priorities of the state. Though included, more as a tokenism, in the Directive Principles of State Policy, expansion of education and ensuring equality of access were not the priorities for the welfare capitalism that was established under Jawaharlal Nehru. The needs of a skilled workforce were limited and the limited number of institutions was sufficiently meeting those needs. More than this nothing else was required. The intentions of equality and social justice were being defined in the limited sense of what could have served the needs of capital. It was a notion of equality and justice falling within the mandate provided by that particular stage of capitalism. Hence, it is not only fallacious to get nostalgic about the ‘great’ days of welfare state but it is also myopic in terms of analysis because it falls short of tracing the relationship of capital, in different forms and at different moments, with the education systems.

An extension of this fallacy is manifest in the way the arguments for a better educational system or efforts at establishing alternatives, which have emerged at different points of time, have always failed. There is an intrinsic relationship between the educational processes and the social processes of reproduction. The two cannot be separated. “Accordingly, a significant reshaping of education is inconceivable without a corresponding transformation of the social framework in which society’s educational practices must fulfill their vitally important and historically changing functions.” (Mészáros, 2009, p.216) In other words, it is important to locate oneself in terms of class position before formulating educational analyses or alternatives. One cannot formulate an alternative from the vantage point of capital and claim to fight alongside labour or claim to establish a socially and economically just education system. “The objective interests of the class had to prevail even when the subjectively well-meaning authors of those utopias and critical discourses sharply perceived and pilloried the inhuman manifestations of the dominant material interests.” (Mészáros, 2009, p.217) The reason behind the failure of efforts at changing the educational maladies and institute an alternative has been that they “reconciled with the standpoint of capital” (Mészáros, 2009, p.217).

Transforming the Education through Class Struggle – the only Alternative

In order to establish an alternative and build a movement towards it, it is important to recognise that this alternative could happen only outside capitalism. In this era of neoliberal capitalism, when the offensive of capital has pushed the resistance on the backfoot, a counter-narrative has to be rewritten. This counter-narrative has to be a comprehensive battle plan that would include educational transformation as well.

“Our educational task is therefore simultaneously also the task of a comprehensive social emancipatory transformation. Neither of the two can be put in front of the other. They are inseparable. The required radical social emancipatory transformation is inconceivable without the most active positive contribution of education in its all-embracing sense…. And vice-versa: education cannot work suspended in the air. It can and must be properly articulated and constantly reshaped in its dialectical interrelationship with the changing conditions and needs of the ongoing social emancipatory transformation. The two succeed or fail, stand or fall together” (Mészáros, 2009, p. 248).

There are a lot of alternatives being put forth against the so-called neoliberal assault. The most radical of these alternatives find marketisation of education, increasing commodification, consumerism and subservience of education to corporate houses extremely problematic. The authors of these alternatives also lament the transformed culture of the new education system that is coming into existence. These concerns appear quite justified. However, the problem begins when (1) the analysis of the situation is undertaken – in terms why these tendencies emerge and not so much in terms of how they operate; (2) what can be the alternative; and (3) who will be the driving forces of transformation. There is a tendency to enumerate the symptoms without indicating or identifying the socio-economic processes that give rise to them. Hence, even if such critiques of neoliberalism argue for alternatives the thrust is on reinstating the welfare stage of capitalism. The location of the problem within labour-capital dialectic always remains absent. Welfare state and its institutions become the possible alternatives as if the idea of exploitation and inequality was absent in such a stage.

Such critiques are forced to remain silent witnesses at moments when the neoliberal state adopts a welfarist stance on some of the issues. This happens because there is a distinct failure to uncover how and why certain institutions or policies come into being at particular moments in history and how those moments have also not been exclusive of class antagonism. Therefore, scholars and activists alike begin imagining that a particular state institution within capitalism can have the potential of being revolutionary and anti-state (read anti-capitalist). Such an understanding destroys the possibility of systemic transformation without which an education system, which is liberating, is impossible to achieve. What can be more naïve than to think that capitalism would allow its education systems to produce critical, self-reflexive and radical beings who would question the basic premises of the system founded on the principles of private property, exploitation and mindless race for accumulating wealth. Unless scores are settled with this naiveté of the ‘radical-progressive’ agenda of back to welfarism, which discounts class struggle as the only possible alternative for transforming iniquitous education or health ‘sector’, the battle cannot become sharp enough to threaten capital and its neoliberal epoch.


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