delivered as a speech at the Rijks Universiteit, Leiden, Ernest
Mandel deals with the changing role of the university in
bourgeois society. It
is not a question of the university being integrated into
capitalist society – rather its role within that society is
changing. What used
to be a training ground for the future elite is becoming much
more the mass university in response to the growing demands of
late capitalism for skilled manpower.
A process of proletarianisation of intellectual labour is
taking place – an increasing division of intellectual labour
which breeds feelings of alienation akin to those experienced on
the factory floor.
problem for revolutionary students has been how to evolve an
effective revolutionary practice in the absence of a vanguard
proletarian party. Mandel
deals in this article with the lapse into populism which some
comrades attempt to use as an answer to this challenge – “a
going to the workers on an individual basis.”
if our analysis of the key role of the university in modern
society is correct, then it ought to be possible for students to
relate to the workers’ movement in a more structured and
organized manner. Mandel
deals here with some of the possibilities for action of this
of the problems for revolutionary action in the student milieu
is the rapid turnover of the student population.
This means that experiences of struggles can be quickly
lost. The corollary
of this is that mistakes will often be repeated.
a revolutionary youth
organization, the Spartacus League seeks to transcend this
problem. We are
pleased to publish this pamphlet as a contribution towards
developing a critique of the bourgeois university. It is one of a series of Spartacus League publications.
If you are interested in information about these and our
activities, you should contact Spartacus League, 182 Pentonville
Road, London N.1. (01-279 2616).
the past twenty-five years the function of the university in the
West has gradually altered.
In this process the university has been in large measure
the subject and not the object of a programmed social change
which can be summed up in the formula ‘transition
from the second to the third phase in the history of the
capitalist mode of production’, or, in fewer words, ‘the
rise of neocapitalism’.
function of the university during the two preceding phases of
capitalism was primarily to give the brightest sons – and, to
a lesser extent, also the daughters – of the ruling class the
required classical education and to equip them to administer
industry, the nation, the colonies, and the army efficiently.
in orderly thinking, fostering methods for independent
scholarship, laying down a common cultural background and the
informal ties based on this background between ‘elites’ in
all areas of social life (the ‘old school tie’ system) –
that was the primary role of the university education for the
great majority of students.
professional training was only a by-product.
Even in the natural sciences the stress was generally put
on pure theory. The
way in which higher education was financed in practice gave the
ruling class a ‘monopoly of knowledge.’
Most university graduates were in fact professionally
independent – members of the liberal professions and
businessmen – or directly associated with people in an
has changed all that fundamentally.
Two features of neocapitalism alike have produced the
change: (1) the demand for technically specialized labor in
industry and in the swelling state apparatus; (2) the need to
respond to the increasing quest for higher education, which, in
consequence of the rising standard of living, the middle class,
government functionaries, white-collar workers, and – to a
lesser extent – even skilled blue-collar workers, began to
seek as a means of social advancement.
university explosion which we are still experiencing has thus
reflected a strongly increased demand for, and a no less
strongly increased supply of, intellectual labor.
university was not prepared for this, neither in the content
itself of higher education nor in its material infrastructure
and its administrative organization.
This failure of the university to adjust to the demands
of neocapitalism has been regarded not incorrectly as one of the
causes of the worldwide student revolt.
But it is in the nature of our society that it can force
the universities to adapt to these needs of the ruling class.
the context of neocapitalism, technocratic reform of the
university – transformation from the classical to the
technocratic university – is inevitable.
student revolt is not only a reaction to the failure of
today’s universities to adapt; it is at the same time a
reaction against the so far too successful attempt to make this
adaptation on the basis of almost total subordination to the
demands and the interests of neocapitalism.
connection between this third industrial revolution – often
called the ‘technical-scientific revolution’ – the growing
demand for intellectual labor, and technocratic university
reform is obvious. The
third industrial revolution is to a certain extent distinguished
by a massive reintegration of intellectual labor into industry,
production, and even the work process, symbolized by the
electronics specialist who runs and watches over automated
a real ‘labor market’ for university graduates is
scouts pick through every new class graduating from the
important universities in the United States, Great Britain, and
Japan, and the same procedure is increasingly being introduced
into the West European countries.
The law of supply and demand determines the wages of
intellectual workers as it has those of manual workers for 200
a process is underway of proletarianization of intellectual
does not mean primarily (or in some circumstances at all)
limited consumption or a low standard of living, but increasing
alienation, increasing subordination of labor to demands that no
longer have any correspondence to the special talents or
fulfillment of the inner needs of men.
the university is to fulfill the function of training the
specialists wanted by the big corporations, higher education
must be reformed in a functional direction.
Specialists on economic growth have ‘discovered’ that
one of the reasons for the slow growth of the gross national
product in Great Britain has been the overstressing of
theoretical science in the universities at the expense of
drive to adapt higher education to meeting practical needs is
being promoted by every means – at the same time that the most
intelligent masters of the big monopolies concede that in the
long run pure theoretical research is more fruitful than
research along predetermined lines, even in the ‘purely
of the university is pushed to the extreme when education and
academic research are subordinated to specific projects of
private companies or government departments (the tying of
certain British and American schools into research on biological
weapons comes to mind, as well as the war
games of some American schools dealing with civil conflicts
in one or another colonial country).
these ultimate cases must be seen for what they are – extreme
examples and by no means the quintessence of functionalization,
which is the substance of the technocratically reformed
functionalization, and proletarianization of intellectual labor
are the objective manifestation of the growing alienation of
labor and they lead inevitably to a growing subjective awareness
of alienation. The
feeling of losing control over the content and development of
your own work is as widespread today among so-called
specialists, including university graduates, as among manual
anticipation of this alienation among the students themselves,
in conjunction with unrest over the authoritarian structure of
the university, plays an important role as a driving force of
the student revolt.
years ago the conservative or liberal apologies for the existing
social order were all the more convincing because the stability
of the system was hardly questioned, even by its most radical
critics. At best,
social revolution was on the agenda only for the underdeveloped
countries. For the
West itself it was a vague future goal.
world wars, innumerable social and economic crises, and various
revolutions have since greatly altered this view. Precisely because the existing social order is much less
stable than before the first world war, the function of
bourgeois scholarship is no longer primarily theoretical apology
but practical reform and intervention in order to overcome
for these very reasons, it has become much easier to challenge
the capitalist system from both the theoretical and practical
standpoints in the universities than it was in the past.
This system is seen as only one of several possible
variants and not as a self-evident reality.
so we have the peculiar three-pronged situation which gave rise
to the student movement. From
one angle, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the existing
society, which virtually no one can deny is in crisis.
Neocapitalist reform of the university carried out in an
authoritarian way, and in large measure forced on the students,
can only increase this malaise.
another angle, the traditional critical structures, that is, the
left political parties, and, above all, the workers movement
have stopped playing their role of radical opposition to the
existing society, for reasons I cannot dwell on here.
the critical students find no possibility for radical opposition
and confrontation within these structures, they try to achieve
this outside the
parties, the parliament, and the manipulated mass media.
But because they do not have the mass of the social
weight to transform society themselves, their activity is
limited to imitating such a social revolution in order to set an
example that is limited to a kind of show.
some student radicals this show is transformed from a means to
an end in itself. In
this way, despite their radical verbiage, they become victims of
one of the most typical phenomena of a society based on an
extreme division of labor, the phenomenon of partial and
therefore false consciousness.
student radicals make an attempt to operate rationally, that is,
they attempt to function as an example in a different way for
the working class, as a detonator that can set off an explosion
among these broader masses.
The events of May 1968 in France have proved that this is
these events also showed that a student revolt as such cannot
substitute for a politically educated and organizationally
consolidated revolutionary vanguard of the working class.
it seems that today’s universities are caught between two
conflicting pressures. On
the one hand, technocratic reform is being driven through from
the outside in the interest of the ruling class.
On the other, a radical challenge is emerging from within
the universities but, in the absence of support in other sectors
of society, it gets bogged down in utopianism and impotence.
there any way out of this dilemma? Are students – and “intellectuals” in general –
condemned to the choice of
integrating themselves into the existing irrational and
inhuman social order – disorder it might better be called! –
or engaging in hopeless gestures of revolt by individuals or
answer to this question presupposes an opinion on the capacity
of neocapitalist society to overcome its most important inner
opposition to Marcuse and others, we start from the position
that the most important contradiction in capitalist society –
in its neocapitalist as well as its preceding stages – is the
contradiction between capital and labor in the production
are convinced, therefore, that in the long run the workers
cannot be co-opted into neocapitalism, because the fundamental
contradiction between capital and labor will always reappear,
whether or not this occurs in the realm of consumption.
many signs indicate that in the industrialized Western countries
the center of gravity of the class struggle is slowly but surely
shifting from questions of dividing the national income between
wages and profits to the question of who determines what is
produced, how it should be produced, and how labor should be
organized to produce it.
our position is confirmed by events – and much of what has
been happening in the recent two or three years in the plants of
three major Western countries (France, Italy, and Great Britain)
seems in fact to confirm it – then the dilemma referred to
does not say all that can be said on the question of the role of
the university in programmed social change.
is a way out of this dilemma because a force still exists which
has the potential to bring about a radical transformation of
society. When it
does not let itself be trapped by neocapitalist
functionalization, the contemporary university can also escape
the other side of the dilemma – quixotic rebellion.
The university can
be the cradle of a real revolution.
must immediately include a warning in the argument.
Whenever we speak of ‘the university,’ we mean the
people of the university collectively, that is, the teachers and
the students. We do
not mean the university as an institution.
an institution, the university is incorporated in the existing
social structure. Students,
professors, and workers cannot finance and maintain any
universities in the final analysis as long as the social surplus
value is not collectivized, that is, as long as we live in a
the long run the university as an institution remains bound with
golden chains to the power of the ruling class. Without a radical transformation of society itself the
university cannot undergo any lasting
what is impossible for the university as an institution is
possible for students as individuals and in groups. And what is possible for students as individuals and groups
can, on the collective level, temporarily emerge as a
possibility for the university as a whole.
role of students as a driving and initiating force for the
renewal of society is not new.
Marx, Lenin, and Fidel Castro after all must be rated as
intellectual and not manual workers.
begin once more like the pioneers of the modern workers
movement, spreading anticapitalist revolutionary socialist
consciousness in the working class, is as possible today for
students and intellectuals as it was three quarters of a century
ago. The task is
more difficult because this is not the first time it has been
attempted and because a mountain of failures and disappointments
weighs on the consciousness of the broad masses.
are, however, many indications that the young generation of
blue- and white-collar workers suffers less from this skepticism
than the older generation.
Moreover, ties can be developed between the students and
young workers, as they have been in several Western countries.
Once the initial difficulty is surmounted, the task
automatically becomes easier than in the nineteenth century,
because the objective conditions are much riper.
the university must offer the young workers is first of all the
product of theoretical production, that is, scientific
knowledge, nothing so sterile as the masochistic populism of
some students who want to go ‘to
the workers’ with empty hands and empty heads to offer
them their muscles and vocal cords.
What the workers need most of all is knowledge, a radical
critique of the existing society, systematic exposure of all the
lies and half-truths projected by the mass media.
is not easy to put this knowledge into words that can be
understood by the masses. Rhetoric
and academic jargon are as sterile as populism.
But the job of popularization comes after that of
assimilating real knowledge.
And it is in this latter realm that a really critical
university can make its prime contribution today to transforming
society as a whole and of its parts that is all the
more radical and relevant for being serious, scholarly,
and incorporating a large amount of factual material.
basic data for such a task are a thousand times more easily
accessible to students and academics than to those who are faced
with making a living in the day-to-day professional world.
Collecting and processing the basic data is a practical
step towards self-criticism and social change on the part of the
have all said that the most important contribution, at least as
a starting point, that the university can make toward the
radical transformation of society lies in the area of
theoretical production. But
it need not limit itself to pure theoretical production.
It can serve as a bridge to practical experimental
application, or experimental practical research.
larger the number of students, and the broader the student
challenge, the more extensive becomes the possibilities for
uniting theory and practice.
We have a rich storehouse of literature on the problem of
alienated labor – 90 percent of it written by learned
philosophers, sociologists, or economists; 10 percent by
self-educated workers themselves.
A few priests and ministers have tried to supplement
previous theoretical knowledge of this problem with practical
experience in the factories.
shouldn’t working students in medicine, physiology, and
psychology begin to apply such experiments on a large scale to
their own experiences in a modern enterprise, above all to
description and analysis of the experiences of their fellow
medical students will be able to analyze the problem of fatigue,
of frustration caused by alienated mechanical labor, by a
steadily rising intensity of labor, better than positivist
doctors – if they combine real professional expertise with a
grasp of social phenomena in their full context, and enrich this
with personal experience.
this is only one example out of many. Converting the mass media from instruments for producing
conformity to instruments for criticizing the society can be
tested out with precision and can prove very effective.
The police use films of demonstrations to facilitate
radical films – which tens of thousands of people have the
potential for producing – can be used just as well to train
demonstrators in self-defense against repression.
technology can be used at innumerable different points as a
means for exploring the existing repressive structures and as a
means for exposing the existing repressive structures and as a
means for speeding the self-emancipation of the masses.
Here is an unexploited, challenging area of work for
students and academics of all scholarly disciplines, in which
the first requisite is: Begin yourself to overcome the contradiction between theory and practice.
emerges another important contribution that the university can
make to the radical transformation of society.
As a permanent institution, the university remains
subject to the control of the ruling class.
But wherever the struggle of the university collective
for self-management assumes such scope that a temporary
breakthrough in this area occurs, then for a short period the
university becomes a ‘school of self-management’ for the
entire people. This
was what happened in the Sorbonne in Paris in May 1968; this is
what happened, among other place, in Chicago in May 1970.
These examples were extremely limited in scope and
duration. But under
favourable circumstances the attraction of such examples for the
broad masses can be very promising.
a certain sense this is the central problem of ‘programmed
social change’. Programming
for whom and by whom? That
is the question. The
argument advanced by the opponents of democratic self-management
in the universities as well as in the plants deals with
is divided into ‘competent’ bosses and ‘incompetent’
workers, as they see it. Let
us leave aside the question of whether the ‘competence’ of
the bosses is such as to justify their retaining the function of
we compare this proclaimed competence with the results, at least
insofar as society is concerned, then there are at least a few
reasons for doubt.
decisive argument against this concept, however, is not affected
by such a value judgment. With
the development of computers and the functionalized university,
a system is emerging in which the control of levers of economic
power, the concentration of economic power goes hand in hand
with a growing monopolization of access to a no less horrible
concentration of information.
the same social minority keeps a tight grip on power and
information while scientific knowledge becomes more and more
specialized and fragmented, a growing hiatus is developing
between detailed professional competence and the concentration
of information that makes it possible to make centralized
members of the board of directors of a multinational corporation
can leave thousands of small decisions to ‘competent
since the directors alone have the final outcome of the
information-gathering process at their disposal, they alone are
‘competent’ to make the central strategic decisions.
overcomes this hiatus by giving the masses the necessary
information to equip them to understand what is involved in the
strategic central decisions.
Any member of the mass who is ‘competent’ in this or
that detail plays a participating role in making these decisions
whenever cooperation and not competition among individuals is
the social norm.
the capitalist system survives, despite the tremendous crisis of
capitalist production relations caused by technological
progress, the growing alienation of ‘competent
professionals’ from ‘incompetent masses’ is inevitable.
If, however, the system of private ownership of the means
of production, independent investment decisions by firms, and
generalized commodity production, is replaced by democratically
centralized, planned self-management of all the producers and
workers, a universal social interest arises in eliminating
‘incompetence’ in general.
And this social interest will be reflected in a tendency
toward universalized higher education.
increasing exclusion of unskilled labor from the productive
process – its exclusion from the tertiary sector as well is
only a question of time – makes such universal higher
education in fact an absolute necessity, since a growing sector
of the population will be condemned to the status of
unemployable drop-outs in the midst of great social wealth.
technocratic university reform, functionalization of the
university – debasement of higher education to fragmented,
overspecialized, and unintegrated professionalism – what the
radical German students call ‘Fachidiotismus’
(‘Professional Cretinism’) – has developed increasingly
into organized incompetence.
of the sharpest accusations that can be lodged against the
existing social disorder is that in a period when scientific
knowledge is expanding at explosive speed, the level of
university education is steadily declining instead of rising.
Higher education is thus incapable of fully exploiting
the rich potential of scientific productive power.
Moreover, it is producing incompetent labor power, not in
the absolute sense, of course, but in comparison to the
possibilities created by science.
neocapitalist spokesmen say openly what they want, like the
authors of the West German university reform program. It is in the order of things therefore for them to cynically
assail the too liberal character of the old Humboldtian
admit that from their point of view, that is, from the
standpoint of neocapitalism, the freedom of students to read, to
study, and to attend lectures as they choose must be curtailed.
– not production to human needs but human needs to production
– that is the very essence of capitalism.
therefore, is the key to full development of both scientific
competence and the potential productive power of science.
The future of the university and of society intersect
here and finally converge.
When it is said that many people are not suited to a
university education, that is doubtless a truism… in the
context of our present society.
But this is not a matter of physiologically or
genetically determined unsuitability but of a long process of
preselection by the home and social environment.
however, we consider that a society that subordinates the
development of men to the production of things stands the real
hierarchy of values on its head, we can assume that, with the
exception of marginal cases, there is nothing inevitable about
society is reorganized in such a way that it puts the education
of people before the accumulation of things and pushes in the
opposite direction from today’s preselection and competition
–that is, surrounds every less gifted child with so much care
that he can overcome his ‘natural handicap’ – then the
achievement of universal higher education does not seem
universal higher education, cutting the workday in half, and
all-embracing self-management of the economy and society based
on an abundance of consumer goods is the answer to the problem
of the twentieth century – what shall the teachers teach?
‘Who will watch the police?’
The social development would become a fundamental process
of self-education for everyone.
Then the word ‘progress’ will have real meaning –
when humanity has the competence to determine its own social
fate consciously and relying only on itself.