The Revolutionary University: Remembering “Communiqué from an Absent Future” – AB

Recently, Antifa’s presence on campus–militantly battling fascistic speakers and influences–has given rise to key questions.  How can we continue to radicalize the university?  How can we turn it into an engine for revolutionary experimentation and coordination on a mass scale?

To answer these questions, one of the most important things we can do is to retrieve from the past the revolutionary ideas and practices that can help show us the radical possibilities housed within the present moment.

The university has long been the site of radical dreams and experiments.  Well before Antifa’s front-and-center organizing against the fascism of the Trump regime and its lackeys, France’s universities erupted in May ’68; the German student group SDS (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund) aimed to transform West German universities into “laboratories” for a revolutionary council democracy[1], and universities played a key role in the downfall of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

“Communiqué from an Absent Future” belongs to this radical tradition.  Written by Research and Destroy in 2009, it offers a devastating critique of the neoliberalized university that is the hallmark of American higher education today.  The university is being gutted; but if the university was always a factory to produce disciplined managers and workers, R&D notes that that role has only become more blatant and more intolerable in the midst of a financial meltdown in which the compensatory promise of upward mobility is evaporating.

But the “Communiqué” also offers a powerful vision of the possibilities contained in the university system’s crisis.  It argues not for that system’s reform–it is not part of a struggle to make the university “great again”–but its transformation.

“Though we denounce the privatization of the university and its authoritarian system of governance, we do not seek structural reforms. We demand not a free university but a free society. A free university in the midst of a capitalist society is like a reading room in a prison; it serves only as a distraction from the misery of daily life. Instead we seek to channel the anger of the dispossessed students and workers into a declaration of war.

We must begin by preventing the university from functioning. We must interrupt the normal flow of bodies and things and bring work and class to a halt. We will blockade, occupy, and take what’s ours. Rather than viewing such disruptions as obstacles to dialogue and mutual understanding, we see them as what we have to say, as how we are to be understood. This is the only meaningful position to take when crises lay bare the opposing interests at the foundation of society.  […]

The university struggle is one among many, one sector where a new cycle of refusal and insurrection has begun – in workplaces, neighborhoods, and slums. All of our futures are linked, and so our movement will have to join with these others, bre[a]ching the walls of the university compounds and spilling into the streets. […]

[W]e call on students and workers to organize themselves across trade lines. We urge undergraduates, teaching assistants, lecturers, faculty, service workers, and staff to begin meeting together to discuss their situation. The more we begin talking to one another and finding our common interests, the more difficult it becomes for the administration to pit us against each other in a hopeless competition for dwindling resources. The recent struggles at NYU and the New School suffered from the absence of these deep bonds, and if there is a lesson to be learned from them it is that we must build dense networks of solidarity based upon the recognition of a shared enemy. These networks not only make us resistant to recuperation and neutralization, but also allow us to establish new kinds of collective bonds. These bonds are the real basis of our struggle.

We’ll see you at the barricades.

Under the right conditions, disillusioned students, exploited contingent as well as sympathetic tenured faculty, and campus workers can combine with radical results.  These forces can, and must, connect with others’ struggles as well if they are to become revolutionary.

Read the full “Communiqué” here.

[1] Münster, Arno, Ernst Bloch: Eine Politische Biographie (Hamburg, CEP Europaische Verlagsanstalt, 2012), 346.

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