On the Politics of Student Fees

Last weeks riots in London, if it was ever reported, largely went unnoticed in other countries. Indeed, no one died: Just a few disaffected students with support from serial troublemakers ransacked the Conservative Party Headquarter and threw, in totality, one empty Fire Extinguisher from the roof towards the police. Such things happen, particularly in the context of severe 'cuts' that the British society is going through. We shrugged this off as a minor event.

It should be, coming after the Tube Strikes in London the previous week which caused more disruption for a greater number of people. And, also, seen in the context of the proposed (but later canceled) strike by Fire Wardens on the Bonfire day, this incident snapped up less Column space in the newspapers. BBC mentioned it in the passing: Most of people moved on, including the protesters. Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democratic party leader and the Deputy Prime Minister, whose party got elected after signing a pledge not to raise the student fees and now rather indifferently singing the other tune, went on TV saying that he made a mistake by signing the pledge in the first place and he would not have done so if he knew how bad the public finances are: Indeed, he did not talk about the pointless politics, at the hindsight, he indulged in for the past few years on the subject and that his party does not stand for much other than the pledges, now disowned, they have signed.

I would, however, argue that these protests have some significance. This is the equivalent of Miner strikes in the Thatcher Era, and have some similarities of the battles between Rupert Murdoch and the unions around that time: They are symbolic, another page turning in the British society. This is much less violent, much more marginal than the protests of the Thatcher era, but may end up having a deeper significance: This is because it was about marginalizing the act of protest in the 80s with the connivance of the Middle Classes, but this is a slight return of the protest, by the Middle Classes, may be the first signs of disaffection with the dominant Capitalist discourse.

I am possibly wrong. It may not be any comeback of protests, but may be the last stand, which ended not with a bang, but a whimper, of any disaffection. The agenda for New-Toryism is to take the Thatcherite revolution to the last remaining corners of non-conformism, to complete the victory lap of industrial capitalism: To the domain of the resigned, the disabled, the mad, the pervert, and even the dead. The capitalist exploitative system must be completed: The ideal of disciplined workers in offices and factories and the wild consumers in the shopping mall to be infused in the same body and soul, a neat wished for organization that defied all kinds of social engineering since the 80s, can only be achieved by a systemic dismantling of liberal education and construction of a new education system. With some weirdos still interested in Sociology and Politics (and various other subversive disciplines like Education, Politics and Literature), the universities are the blind spots of an otherwise homogeneous Capitalist system. After the unions, newsmen, judges, politicians have been won over, this is the last remaining frontier territory of contrary thinking. Before the new technological possibilities, such as the Internet, reduces the cost of publicizing one more time (printing press had a devastating effect on authority, so did the Telegraph and Modern news-making), such possibility of contrarian thinking must be ironed out of view. What is more effective than pushing students into a debt burden, which is an idea so consistent with the middle class morality and utilitarianism, but so richly productive in making any discipline that encourages critical thinking unviable. This taking over of education is really at the heart of the 'new-toryism', the cornerstone of its legacy and its attempts to end the history, of the social tensions leading to radicalism and of any dissenting discourse.

The assumptions, as I said, are breathtakingly simple and beautiful. It is weaved into the assumptions of our society: One can have an argument on how much the fee goes up, but not with the basic argument that one must pay for one's education because the sole or at least the primary objective of education is to create a vocation (so that the person can earn, take out a mortgage, pay the debts through his life and keep producing). This is an war of idleness of all kinds, by making slavery universal and all pervading: One must be irretrievably shackled in the cycle of obligation to produce and obsession to consume, with no hope or suggestions of freedom.

The Education Businessmen have arrived in town and education innovation are already in the air: The gap year will fall through the cracks, two year degrees will compress studies into digestible chunks and the market for degrees will determine the fees. More power to the business-owner, that is, to decide what's needed or not, what should be thought or conceived.

But my knowledge of history, a seemingly useless knowledge in the new marketplace, is redeeming: In fact, even pointless mythologies have a few things to say about such well thought out plans to constrain the seeding of social change and contrary thinking. Baby Moses in a basket survived within the same palace that went out to destroy him; even Herod's desperate attempts to slaughter all Jewish babies failed spectacularly. While the imperial powers of money-makers are more pervasive than these ancient kings, there is no reason to believe that they have become powerful enough to stop historical change that invariably remains buried in the womb of complete success of a system.

This is why I see, or at least, expect the come back of protests in the student trouble, rather than the last stand of a discredited left (unlike the Tube strikes). I see a slight opening, a breaking of ranks, a sudden exposure of the treachery of the ruling classes to their compliant middle class subjects. It is heartening to see Nick Clegg and his mates exposed too: Often, desires for social change is thwarted not by the power of the antagonists but by the persuasion of the pretenders. The mod-Left ilk of Tony Blair, continued in style by Clegg, have contained the rage and frustration of the middle classes and held them, handcuffed, on the production line. They made us wonder in the fairy land - when war is not a war, a banker's bonus is more morally justified than a disability payment, someone over 65 must spend a working day in a degenerating job but one must be allowed to keep a greater share of million dollar inheritances, and immigrants must be hauled in to replace the missing slaves but must learn the Englishness of their masters. But, this is hitting the fault line now - suddenly the thrown fire extinguisher is deeply symbolic - it keeps missing the targets but let's its emptiness known.


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