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Why Third Way Politics Refuses To Die

 

 

 

 

Why Third Way Politics Refuses To Die


By Louis Proyect

 


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(Swans – December 15, 2008): In 1997 Tony Blair became Prime Minister of Great Britain ending eighteen years of Tory rule. For left-leaning Britons, the 1979-1990 rule of Margaret Thatcher and her successor John Major easily rivaled George W. Bush’s as an odious symbol of class injustice. When she was not embarking on foreign imperial adventures in the Malvinas, Thatcher was attacking the working class at home. Her most notable victory was in defeating the coal miner’s strike of 1984, an achievement that was as effective as Reagan’s assault on the airline controllers in preparing the way for a neoliberal economic regime.

 

 


When Blair was elected, the sense of relief evoked this “Wizard of Oz” ditty sung by the Munchkins:

 


Ding Dong! The Witch is dead.
Which old Witch? The Wicked Witch!
Ding Dong! The Wicked Witch is dead.

Wake up – sleepy head, rub your eyes, get out of bed.
Wake up, the Wicked Witch is dead.
She’s gone where the goblins go,
Below – below – below.

Yo-ho, let’s open up and sing and ring the bells out.
Ding Dong’ the merry-oh, sing it high, sing it low.
Let them know The Wicked Witch is dead!

 

However, British voters did not get exactly what they voted for.
As soon as the euphoria wore off, it became clear that Tony Blair was no friend of working people, as Thomas Friedman observed in an April 22, 2005, New York Times Op-Ed:

 


The other very real thing Mr. Blair has done is to get the Labor Party in Britain to firmly embrace the free market and globalization – sometimes kicking and screaming. He has reconfigured Labor politics around a set of policies designed to get the most out of globalization and privatization for British workers, while cushioning the harshest side effects, rather than trying to hold onto bankrupt Socialist ideas or wallowing in the knee-jerk antiglobalism of the reactionary left.

 


Blair demonstrated that he was no slouch when it came to sending British troops abroad, joining the U.S. in imperial aggressions against the Serbs and the Iraqis. Indeed, one would be hard put to really tell the difference between the Tories and New Labour other than the rhetoric.

 


Although the eight years of George W. Bush was a lot shorter in duration than Tory rule in Great Britain, it did manage to do as much violence to working people at home and abroad. Bush was notoriously lazy but he did have a kind of zeal for punishing those not fortunate enough to be born with a silver spoon in their mouth.

 

With the election of Barack Obama in November, the same pattern seems to be unfolding as it did with Tony Blair’s prime ministry. Both Blair and his American counterpart Bill Clinton sought to govern through the “Third Way,” a philosophy that permeates Obama’s “Audacity of Hope.” For those who have been surprised by Obama’s apparent determination to serve in the capacity of Bill Clinton’s third term, the evidence for such a proclivity was there all along for those with the patience to read through his gaseous prose. Obama wrote:

 

 

“In his platform — if not always in his day-to-day politics — Clinton’s Third Way went beyond splitting the difference. It tapped into the pragmatic, nonideological attitude of the majority of Americans.


“Just as Blair was determined to continue the free-market policies of Margaret Thatcher, so was Obama ready to apply the same kind of lash to the backs of American workers first applied by Ronald Reagan, her American counterpart that Reagan’s message “spoke to the failure of liberal government,” which had become “too cavalier about spending taxpayer money…” He added that, “A lot of liberal rhetoric did seem to value rights and entitlements over duties and responsibilities…. Reagan offered Americans a sense of common purpose that liberals seemed no longer able to muster.

 


Labour and liberal disappointment with Tony Blair and Barack Obama respectively tends to sidestep the all-important question of why these politicians try to mediate between their own party and the organized Right. In contrast, John McCain fought hard for Republican Party core beliefs. Triangulating between conservative and liberal positions originates on the left rather than the right apparently and when the conservatives keep shifting to the right, the end result of triangulation is a center further to the right than in the past.

 


Rather than seeing “Third Way” politics as a kind of conscious policy choice, I would suggest that it is better understood in structural terms as the defense mechanism of Empires in decline perhaps not even understood fully by the politicians who carry them out. In broad historical perspectives, the rise of centrism in two of the most powerful imperialist nations in history is stoked by their decline as economic powers.

 


At a time when the British Empire was relatively powerful, the Labour Party pushed relatively hard for the class interests of the rank-and-file voter. It was no accident that socialized medicine arrived when British steel, shipbuilding, coal-mining, and auto manufacturing were vibrant, profit-generating industries.

 


When British industry lost its competitive edge, not coincidentally around the same time that its former colonial subjects were winning their freedom, the capitalists understood that the old rules did not apply. The worker’s slice of the pie shrank steadily, all in the name of “modernization” and “efficiency.

 


The same ineluctable processes that gave rise to the “Third Way” in Great Britain have matured in the United States, thus giving birth to the candidacies of Bill Clinton and Barack Obama alike. In one of the greatest con jobs in history, Obama was elected because voters decided that “change” meant something different from both George W. Bush and the Clinton administration that preceded it.

 


The liberal pundits who helped to get Obama elected still hold out hope that he will push through a new New Deal and thus return the U.S. to some kind of golden era of prosperity. For many of them, the proof of Obama’s FDR type credentials is his announced intention to push through a 700 billion dollar public works project. Once again demonstrating the indifference to history that characterizes the world of Huffington Post, Nation Magazine, et al., there has been no attempt to analyze whether FDR’s public works program did much good in breaking the back of the Great Depression.

 


It turns out that it was World War Two that had such a salutary effect, according to a letter written by the late Harry Magdoff in reply to a Monthly Review contributor who betrayed Keynesian illusions in a submission.
Magdoff wrote:

 


[D]espite a promise of heavy government spending, and Keynes’s theoretical support, the New Dealers were stumped by the 1937-38 recession, which interrupted what looked like a strong recovery. There was then as there is now an underlying faith that capitalism is a self-generating mechanism. If it slowed down or got into trouble, all that was needed was a jolt to get back on track. In those days, when farm life supplied useful metaphors, the needed boost was referred to as priming the pump. The onset of a marked recession after years of pump-priming startled Washington. Questions began to be raised about the possibility of stagnation in a mature capitalism, the retarding effect of monopolistic corporations, and other possible drags on business. These concerns faded as war orders flowed in from Europe, and eventually they disappeared when the United States went to war. The notion of the “Keynesian Welfare State” has tended to disguise the fact that what really turned the tide was not social welfare, Keynesian or otherwise, but war. In that sense, the whole concept of Keynesianism can be mystification.

 


War, of course, is not a feasible option today for the U.S. or any other imperialist power given the likelihood of mutually assured destruction. That being the case, how likely is it that public works programs will accomplish today what it did not in the 1930s? The answer is not very likely at all. The irony of American politics today is that the weapons it created to help win the last world war serve to inhibit it from launching new wars against powerful rivals. Without resort to war — what Randolph Bourne called “the health of the state” — the U.S. is destined to lurch from one economic crisis to another with politicians on the right and the nominal left competing with each other to turn back the clock to a glorious past that never really existed.

 

 

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Rikowski web site, The Flow of Ideas is at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk

UNL Cancels Speech by Ayers 

 

UNL Cancels Speech by Ayers

 
By Henry J. Cordes and Khristopher J. Brooks 
Published: Saturday, October 18, 2008 4:28 AM CDT 
Midlands News Service 
 
      

http://www.nptelegraph.com/articles/2008/10/18/news/60001219.txt

 
 

LINCOLN – The University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Friday evening rescinded its speaking invitation for 1960s radical-turned-educator William Ayers. University officials cited “safety reasons” for canceling Ayers’ Nov. 15 appearance. 

 

Spokeswoman Kelly Bartling declined to elaborate on what safety concerns would keep Ayers from addressing a College of Education and Human Sciences event. 

 
Earlier Friday, Gov. Dave Heineman strongly condemned the invitation and called on the NU Board of Regents and President J.B. Milliken to block it. 

 

An Omaha charitable foundation announced it was pulling all of its contributions to the university. Several other donors also have indicated to university fundraisers that there could be a financial cost if Ayers speaks. 

 

And Nebraskans by the hundreds continued to register their opposition with university administrators and others, lighting up phone lines and filling e-mail boxes. 

 
Heineman said Ayers’ invitation was “an embarrassment” to the state and that it goes beyond the bounds of the university’s mission. 

 
“Our citizens are clearly outraged and want action,” Heineman said in an interview. “This is their university. This isn’t even a close call. The university should immediately rescind the invitation.” 

 

Dean Marjorie Kostelnik said she spoke Thursday night with UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman about “the climate around this issue.” 

 
She said she also has spoken with representatives of Milliken’s office. Other public officials weighed in about Ayers on Friday, a day after the UNL speech was announced. 

 

Both Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, and Rep. Lee Terry, a Republican, called for cancellation of the speech. 

 

“The invitation made to William Ayers to speak at my alma mater in the midst of a heated national election when he is such a highly controversial figure is an outrage,” Terry said. 

 

Nelson said the visit would not promote the unity now needed in the nation. Said Attorney General Jon Bruning: “Academic freedom doesn’t require us to lose our good judgment and common sense.” 

 

State Auditor Mike Foley sent the university a long request for information on Ayers’ trip, its planning and how it is being funded. UNL officials have said Ayers’ appearance would be privately funded. 

 

Ayers was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical group that staged domestic bombings to protest the Vietnam War. Ayers was charged with conspiracy to incite riots, but the charges were dropped  because of misconduct by prosecutors. 

 

Ayers went on to gain respect in the education field and become a scholar known for his ideas on school reform. At UNL, the plan was for him to limit his speech to graduate education students to that topic. 

 
The invitation to Ayers was extended in February, long before he became a household name in this year’s presidential election because of his ties to candidate Sen. Barack Obama through their shared work a few years ago with a school reform effort. 

 
The Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Foundation in Omaha told the university Friday that it would halt all contributions to the university unless the UNL education faculty rescinded Ayers’ invitation. The foundation has given millions to the university in the past. 

 

While other donors haven’t been as explicit, Clarence Castner, who leads the University of Nebraska Foundation, said it became clear that other contributions were “in jeopardy.” 

 

Scholars said a decision to pull an invitation to Ayers could be seen by educators nationally as a school-sponsored curb on academic freedom. 

 

It would make UNL a less attractive school to the faculty members it seeks to recruit, said David Moshman, a UNL education professor writing a book on academic freedom. 

 

Heineman said Friday that “there is no way” the university should lose contributions over Ayers. There are plenty of other respected  educators the university could invite to speak, he said. 

 

  

 
 

 

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

 

 

The Rikowski web site, The Flow of Ideas is at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk

 

Ayers Rocked In His Own Universe

 

 

Glenn Rikowski, London, 15th June 2007

 

 

 

Preface: In light of the fact that the relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers surfaced in the final TV confrontation between John McCain and Obama yesterday, I thought that readers might be interested in this post. It first appeared on my AOL Volumizer blog on 15th June 2007. However, AOL is going to pull the plug on all of its blogs on 31st October so I am preserving this post here on All that is Solid. From what I say below, it seems as if the ‘wild man’ Ayers has changed quite radically into an idealist liberal. McCain’s attempt to pass him off as a dangerous revolutionary figure is pathetic.

 

Glenn Rikowski, London, 17th October 2008

 

 

 

Introduction

 

A review of Peter McLaren’s Capitalists and Conquerors: A Critical Pedagogy Against Empire (2005) by William Ayers (2006) in Teachers College Record has sparked off a wide-ranging debate concerning the role of education in struggles for progressive social transformation. Following this by Ayers, McLaren responded (McLaren, 2007a), drawing a counter-response from Ayers (Ayers, 2007) which was then followed by a further reply from McLaren (2007b). So: what has this to do with me? Well, I was one of the contributors to McLaren’s Capitalists and Conquerors (Allman, McLaren and Rikowski, 2005) who was ignored in Ayers’s original review (along with Paula Allman, Donna Houston, Gregory Martin, Nathalia Jaramillo, and Valerie Scatamburlo-D’Anibale) [1]. Thus, I feel more than entitled to respond to Ayers’s original review and his reply to Peter McLaren.

 

 

 

Bad Reviews

 

The first point that should be noted is that Ayers’s ‘review’ was no such thing. He did not inform the reader regarding the overall contents, topics and themes of the book. Ayers is a poor book reviewer on this performance.

 

Secondly, a book reviewer needs to ensure that they don’t wilfully mislead readers. Examining examples of McLaren’s language that he objects to, Ayers argues that in the examples he gives readers find McLaren “citing mostly himself”. Perhaps there are a few passages where McLaren cites mainly himself; this would be the case for many authors, as the readers might be interested in the development of their work. But someone reading this might conclude that McLaren is a self-obsessed peacock who mostly only quotes himself throughout. If the book in question (McLaren, 2005) is examined it is clear that this is not so. In only a single chapter (the first) does McLaren have more than ten references to himself in the end-text references. He has 15, in fact; including those where he figures in edited collections. This should be set against the fact that in this chapter there are 133 references in total. McLaren’s references take up only 11% of the references in that chapter. I leave it to Ayers to calculate the percentage of chapter 1 taken up by the actual text that those 15 references cover!

 

Thirdly, Ayers complains of McLaren’s “domineering” language. This feeble response to the language of the “Poet Laureate of the Educational Left”, as McLaren’s writing style has been described by Joe Kinchloe (in McLaren, 2000), belies his past as a left dissident of national significance [2].    

 

Without going into more micro-detail, it is clear that Ayers pursues McLaren throughout his ‘review’ as basically someone who should really write and research just like he. Ayers looks for the ethnographer in Peter McLaren; the radical ethnographer who wrote Life in Schools. However, people sometimes develop, move on and do different things. Ayers presumes that McLaren should remain cast in theoretical and research stone that he approves of, and can readily relate to.

 

 

 

Rocked in his Own Universe  

 

As a review, Ayers’s effort is hardly worth bothering with. However, whilst reading it I was amazed to discover certain perspectives of his (Ayers) that fit snugly with the rampant individualism and Utopianism of neoliberal educational thought. Furthermore, it seems Ayers was not conversant with some of the basics of Marxism. He appears to be a fully paid up member of the conventional, academic liberal left in some respects.

 

First of all, Ayers argues that: “Capitalist schooling submerges human development in its single-minded drive for profit” and “profit is at the center of economic, political, and social life”. But it is value, and specifically surplus-value (of which profit is an element) that is the substance of capital’s social universe (see Rikowski, 2005). Ayers seems oblivious to the significance of value, and to the value/profit distinction.

 

However, it is his “classrooms and schools for democracy” I am most concerned about from the perspective of human progress and development. Ayers argues that:

 

“Classrooms and schools for democracy and freedom recognize each student as an entire universe, each capable of becoming an author, and activist in his or her own life – teachers in these classrooms assume that every student is an unruly spark of meaning-making energy on a voyage of discovery and surprise” (My emphasis).

 

Ayers advocates that students are, and should be treated like, Leibniz’s monads; unique and self-sufficient, inhabiting a universe of their very own. Yet his students inhabit a particular social universe; the social universe of capital. In order to appreciate this point, Ayers would have had to delve beneath the phenomenon of profit into the very heart of this social universe: the creation of value and surplus-value in the capitalist labour process. The fact that we all inhabit capital’s social universe gives us common bonds, and a common form of life, which limits us regarding what we can become – individually, and collectively as humanity.

 

Ayers’s nurturing of students as inhabitants of their own universes, creates individualistic illusions amongst them insofar as it actually works. This individualism gels with methodological individualism, rational choice theory and the self-serving model of the person served up by mainstream economics. This primeval individualism can also be related to solipsism and nihilism without too much effort.

 

Yet a little further on Ayers talks about teachers having solidarity with students! Who would want solidarity with the ego-centric, hyper-individualistic students that Ayers conjures up? And how would this be possible? Could teachers have any kind of solidarity with persons who inhabit a universe of their very own? Ironically, teachers are charged with helping to generate those universes for their hapless students!

 

Ayers seems utterly confused regarding his pedagogical aims and social ontology. He can’t be expected to understand McLaren’s work if this is his stance on social life and the relations between individuals and capitalist society. He argues that McLaren should “start to think and write more clearly and with much more urgency.” However, the confusion within Ayers’s thinking and his bizarre pedagogical commitments puts the onus on him to rethink and refocus. At least McLaren speaks to those living within the same universe!      

 

 

 

Notes:

[1] In his reply to McLaren’s response (Ayers, 2007), he admitted that: “I did indeed fail to mention the co-authors who worked on various chapters with McLaren. My mistake. On the other hand, the cover of the book, the title page, the listing in the library made the same omission, so perhaps that criticism should more productively be taken up with the publisher”. Yet a competent reviewer should surely have noted these omissions in their review – which leads me to believe that Ayers was not really interested in writing an actual review of the book: he was more concerned with painting a skewed picture of Peter McLaren as a writer, educational theorist and researcher and education activist. Personally, I always knew my name was not to be on the front of the book, and I had seen the cover in advance. I was happy with that, as Peter McLaren did the lion’s share of the work and writing. In blaming the publishers, Ayers deflects attention from the nature of his ‘review’.     

[2] See his ‘Biography/History’ on his blog for more on this, at: http://billayers.blogspot

 

 

 

References

Allman, P., McLaren, P. & Rikowski, G. (2005) After the Box People: The Labor-Capital Relation as Class Constitution and its Consequences for Marxist Educational Theory and Human Resistance, in: P. McLaren, Capitalists and Conquerors: A Critical Pedagogy Against Empire, Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

Ayers, W. (2006) Essay Review: Notes From A Self-Realizing, Sensuous, Species-Being (I Think). A review of ‘Capitalists and Conquerors: A Critical Pedagogy Against Empire’ by William Ayers, Teachers College Record, December 12, online a: http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentID=12888

Ayers, W. (2007) Continuing the Conversation: Ayers Replies, Teachers College Record, February 6th, online at: http://www.tcrecord.org/discussion.asp?i=3&aid=2&rid=12888&dtid=0&vdpid=2695 

McLaren, P. (2000) Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the Pedagogy of Revolution, Lanham Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

McLaren, P. (2005) Capitalists and Conquerors: A Critical Pedagogy Against Empire, Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

McLaren, P. (2007a) Peter McLaren Responds to Bill Ayers: Bad Faith Solidarity, Teachers College Record, January 22nd, online at: http://tcrecord.org/Discussion.asp?i=3&vdpid=2695&aid=2&rid=12888&dtid=0

McLaren, P. (2007b) Performing Bill Ayers: Criticism as a Disappearing Act or Hey, Brother, Can You Spare Me a Book Review? A Response by Peter McLaren. Personal correspondence sent by email, February 7th.

Rikowski, G. (2005) Distillation: Education in Karl Marx’s Social Universe, Lunchtime Seminar, School of Education, University of East London, 14th February: http://www.flowideas.co.uk/?page=articles&sub=Distillation

 

 

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski

The Rikowski web site, The Flow of Ideas is at: http://www.flowideas.co.uk