Education on the periphery of capitalism

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By RENATO DAGNINO*

Education should be focused on meeting the cognitive demands of the solidarity economy

The preparation of this text, addressed to the public hearing on youth and adult education held in the Chamber of Deputies on June 12, 2023, required simplifications, given its necessary conciseness.

It adopts a limited approach to the socioeconomic conditions of the and politics education, in particular, and generally speaking, the production of knowledge; what I usually bundle in the concept of cognitive politics. And it is centered on the interests and behaviors of the owning and working classes.

He understands the education of young people and adults as a topic particularly assigned to those who are part of the working class, but, at the same time, as something that must be guided towards the conception of a societal project “beyond capital”.

Its course, usual in the critical intellectual tradition that takes place in the periphery, deals, first and exemplarily, with the way in which those constraints are manifested in central countries (or in the global north). Also in line with this tradition, the text has a frankly normative character, anchored in the historical experience and in the wishes of subordinate social actors and oriented towards their attainment. 

A bit of the history of the central countries

There, the cognitive policy was always guided by a pact between the owning class and the working class. He often masked the antagonistic nature of his interests and values.

Complementing those initial notes, I point out that this text is organized around considerations about how this pact was established and evolved, how it is now weakened and how it is up to the working class to formulate its proposal oriented towards an education “beyond of capital”.

For the consolidation of capitalism it was soon necessary to provide workers with the kind of skills that the company demanded to increase its profit. The one oriented to operate the innovations introduced in the work process that it controls and that, for this reason, allow it to counterbalance the pressure of the workers for the reduction of the working hours and the increase of the salary.

The fact that the increase in labor productivity made possible by innovations did not need to be shared with workers with a wage increase made the company in central countries, supported by the multiple subsidies granted by “its” State, an “innovation engine”.

To the working class, deprived of the means of production, forced to sell its workforce (this commodity which, being the only one it owns, is also the only one that adds value to the product) and without the support to organize autonomous production and consumption arrangements , few alternatives remained.

To prevent the march of this “engine” from leaving it “behind”, and to defend its survival, it was obliged to accept a process of continuous and impoverishing “qualification”; she had to adapt to the cognitive changes it imposed. They implied the expropriation of tacit knowledge dominated by it, its gradual codification in capitalist universities in order to prevent its reappropriation and, like the means of production, transformed into increasingly monopolized private property.

This pact characterized a “fencing”, in the cognitive scope, of what, in the material scope, capitalism inherently provokes. However, it was validated by, among other factors, the wage opportunities associated with the consolidation of the capitalist project of organization of Western society. There was the expectation of a better future for the working class, which contrasted with feudal brutality and the threat of social exclusion that the starting point of this process, the so-called industrial revolution, had left.

The initiatives that, since the end of the XNUMXth century, have sought to raise awareness among the working class or spread knowledge among the property-owning class in the sense of naively promoting appropriation to free it from oppression, have always been scarce. Even more so were those that aimed to oppose that knowledge generated by the property-owning class, “its” State, and its companies.

The interpretation empowered by the construction process of Soviet socialism, that it would be the inexorable linear development of the productive forces which, by tightening the social relations of production, would lead to increasingly better modes of production, prevailed within the scope of the Marxist left and, for inclusion in the trade union movement.

The “transideological” dogma remained untouched that there would be a true science, intrinsically good, universal and neutral (in the sense of being functional for any political project) and a technology, which could apply it for good or for evil. And that the appropriation of scientific and technological knowledge – the productive forces that were momentarily being used at the service of capital – would be enough for the working class to build socialism.

This situation inhibited the emergence of a critical radicalism that would lead to the understanding of a more realistic concept, of technoscience, which denoted as a social construction that could and should be contaminated with the interests and values ​​of the working class.

Also for this reason, this moment when the capitalist project started to be contested did not give rise, on the part of the working class, to a questioning of the education pact. Although the transition to Soviet socialism was generating a new type of education more coherent with the interests of the working class, the way in which it was taking place, circumscribed and limited – for internal tactical reasons and external pressures –, did not awaken the class. workers in capitalist countries to design an alternative.

Although revolutionary awareness-raising initiatives through education have emerged to drive the transformation from “class in itself” to “class for itself”, they have not managed to formulate proposals capable of influencing the way in which the production and circulation of goods and services was organized. As a result, these initiatives did not result in movements that (as my argumentative bias that favors the socioeconomic and the political) is capable of producing proposals that would lead to the configuration of a new pact with the property-owning class.

In short: the behavior of the working class was not just reactive, in the sense that it privileged the defense of the immediate interests it had under the aegis of capital. He was also not proactive in the sense of conceiving the knowledge that would be necessary for a social formation that could be located “beyond capital”.

The current situation in central countries

The moment that capitalism is experiencing in the central countries seems to be making the maintenance of this pact unfeasible. It is increasingly weakened by the dynamics of ultra-neoliberal capitalism, which at the same time weakens the State's regulatory capacity and, inextricably, combines aspects of a geopolitical, economic, social and techno-scientific nature that reinforce the privileges of the property-owning class.

However, the objective conditions engendered by this dynamic, at the same time that they intensify the existing class contradictions, seem to point out directions for their overcoming.

Analyzing the “side” of the proprietary class, it is worth mentioning three aspects.

At the strict individual level, of its business, the company, even if it were willing to do so, is incapable of internalizing the negative externalities in the environmental, economic and social spheres that it has been causing in a genocidal way to all who inhabit this planet. That company that does so, contrary to the atomized and intrinsically selfish logic that governs it, will be excluded from the market for not being able to transfer its higher production cost to the price. Therefore, reader and reader, let us leave our illusions!

At the collective level, where the property-owning class acts as a class, there are more and more frequent declarations that an increase in the tax on income and wealth would be acceptable and the adoption of “moratoriums” related to the negative externalities caused by techno-scientific developments that threaten maintaining your business.

But it is at the level of “their” non-governmental and supranational organizations that the most significant manifestations are taking place to investigate the characteristics that the new interclass pact around cognitive politics and, in particular, education could assume.

The most recent example is the UN declaration on the urgent need to foster new economic-productive and consumption arrangements (bundled in what we call solidarity economy in Brazil) to face social and environmental crises.

Returning to the subject that interests us more closely, that of the analysis of knowledge in development, it is important to highlight that techno-scientific research with a business bias, always carried out with massive public funding, has not been able to avoid the disaster that we are witnessing in the environmental, economic spheres. and social. As I tell my students in the discipline “Science, technology and society”, capitalist technoscience incurs seven deadly sins: programmed deterioration, planned obsolescence, illusory performance, exacerbated consumerism, environmental degradation, systemic illness and psychic suffering

With regard particularly to education, the property-owning class cannot propose any significant changes other than specific actions to fill gaps in the supply of labor caused by the very geopolitical, economic, social and techno-scientific dynamics of ultra neoliberal capitalism. Not to mention the amoral proposals related to the privatization of education…

Analyzing the “side” of the working class, traditional actions of a reactive nature, even because they are concentrated in the defense of the interests of formally employed people, have shown a clearly decreasing effectiveness as a result of the strengthening of this ultra-neoliberal dynamic.

Although the share of the “non-employable” working class is growing, and despite the growth of European initiatives aimed at creating cooperatives, theoretical elaboration (and to a certain extent the consequence) are still very scarce, actions for the implementation of alternative production and consumption arrangements.

On the “side” of the working class, as a result of the greater power of its traditional sectors that retain some capacity for organization and vocalization, there has not been an appreciation of the tendency associated with cooperativism.

In the sphere of knowledge, the increasing allocation of public resources to business R&D has made it difficult for the small activities carried out in teaching and research institutions with a view to meeting the interests of the working class.

Although there is a growing perception among those located in these institutions that capitalist technoscience, developed by and for the company, is not adequate for the success of those alternative arrangements, and that it is necessary to redesign it in the direction of “solidarity technoscience”, attempts to change their teaching, research and extension agendas are insignificant.

Even less significant are the socio-technical adaptation activities of capitalist technoscience towards solidary technoscience carried out jointly with the workers associated with these arrangements.

I finish this point with a very brief analysis of the correlation of forces that allows prospecting a desirable future and investigating the possibility of gestation of a new pact.

The contradictions of ultra-neoliberal capitalism, the resurgence of multipolarity, the virtual impossibility of maintaining the type of organization of production and consumption that it adopts, etc., and, in particular, the implications that the techno-scientific development associated with it has for the class working class, weaken the proposing capacity of the owning class.

The working class demonstrations that arise in many places against the different negative and oppressive aspects of ultra-neoliberalism are pointing, albeit by denial, to the construction of a scenario “beyond capital”.

As the working class formulates a new societal project, the solidarity economy will emerge as its central element. As it represents more than a utopia to be built, a concrete proposal for transforming the social relations of production based on collective ownership of the means of production and self-management, it will materialize through public policies necessary for its expansion and consolidation. The reorientation of cognitive policy, given its importance as a means policy – ​​which makes many other end policies viable – will have to be conceived in advance in accordance with the values ​​and interests of the working class.

It is in this process that a proposal for youth and adult education will emerge that adheres to the objective of consolidating the solidary economy. And it will be from there that the working class will negotiate a new pact for education with the property-owning class.

A little history of the periphery Brazilian

Historically, on the periphery of capitalism, the pact around cognitive policy and, particularly, education, acquired specificities. The first has to do with the way in which the territory was conquered, with the enslavement of the indigenous people and the expropriation of their land and, later, with the slave trade.

The social relations of production, which, although capitalist, adapted to the current international division of labor to the advantage of the conquerors, were centered on the exploitation of absolute surplus value. It was in this way that the property-owning class acquired the custom that it still has today, but which began when it stupidly profited by producing at an extremely low cost those “oddities” that they sold at international prices to their relatives “who stayed there” and who yearned to consume .

Those typically capitalist production relations, based on the exploitation of relative surplus value that innovation and the increase in labor productivity made possible at the center of the system, will only appear much later (albeit without replacing those based on the exploitation of absolute surplus value). ), when here the pattern of organization of production and consumption of companies in central countries is disseminated.

For several reasons that I will not recall here, the peripheral socio-economic formation is characterized by a significant dependence on the central countries. Our cultural dependency engenders an imitative internal market. Its demand tends to make the company located here produce goods and services (especially industrial ones) very similar to those manufactured in central countries.

The joint effect of cultural dependence, the adoption of technology from central countries, the relative scarcity (or underutilization) of existing techno-scientific capacity, economic and political power and the technological superiority of multinationals and their penetration in the local productive fabric, makes it economically It is irrational to develop techno-scientific knowledge to produce something already demanded by the imitative internal market and already engineered elsewhere.

What can be seen, also due to the much lower remuneration of the labor force existing in the periphery, is that the company that operates here, whether national or foreign, assumes a clearly reflexive innovative behavior. Imitative, tailing and relatively modest, it feeds back the primary-export and rentier tendency of our proprietary class. As it does not need to effectively innovate, the company can profit without having to worry about “diverting” public resources so that its employees (or outsourced workers) can “qualify”.

The analysis of how these socioeconomic and political aspects condition youth and adult education also involves recognizing that our cognitive policy, much more than in advanced capitalist countries, has been guided by our scientific elite.

She is the one who “says” what a child who enters kindergarten must learn in order to pass the entrance exam at a public university. It is what defines, ultimately and by default, due to our peripheral condition that means that other actors have little participation in the elaboration of this policy, the characteristics of our education.

The “antennas” of this scientific elite have always been guided, and it is natural that this is the case, due to what is done in the central countries where the knowledge that they “worship” originates in the institutions that, as an enclave, were – in the image and likeness – here created.

As a consequence of the adoption of teaching, research and extension agendas from there, cognitive (or techno-scientific) demands embedded in many of the collective needs for goods and services, especially those of the working class that remain unattended, despite their high complexity and originality, remain unexplored.

Concluding this part, it is important to point out that, contrary to what happened in central countries, the effectiveness of the education pact did not result in a situation that was minimally favorable to the working class. Due to the characteristics assumed by our capitalist social formation, the pact established here did not present even the limited benefits achieved there.

The realization that the weak “performance” of our education, especially when evaluated according to the indicators of the central countries, is a consequence of the fact that, as it is, it corresponds to the cognitive needs demanded by the property-owning class, leads me to borrow one of the lapidary phrases by Darcy Ribeiro: “The education crisis in Brazil is not a crisis: it is a project”.

Preparing a new pact for Brazilian education

Having outlined at the end of the section “The current situation in central countries” the characteristics of the desirable scenario, the new corporate project, the role that the solidarity economy will assume within it and how, from its implementation, a proposal will be generated to be negotiated with the proprietary class for the establishment of a new pact, I now mention a few more aspects of our reality. Despite the importance of doing so, since this is how actions can be conceived, I do it in a very synthetic way since I have written a lot about it in the left-wing media.

With regard to the socioeconomic and political aspects that I simply understand as conditioning the evolution that the pact will have, two strategies are present in the Brazilian scene that, although not exclusive, delimit very different courses of action in terms, among others, of cognitive policy.

On the one hand, there is the “employment and salary” strategy based on stimulating business activity to generate economic growth. Very much in line with the national-developmentalism that for decades guided our public policy, and despite having been relatively successful 20 years ago, it is increasingly considered insufficient to combat the legacy of iniquity, injustice and environmental degradation that the current government of left.

Inspired by the experiences of the “industrial revolution” and the potential for generating development in the solidarity economy, the strategy of “work and income” gains strength. Without claiming exclusivity and understanding that the balance of forces will maintain the privilege of "corporate reindustrialization" and the private capture of the State's purchasing power, its supporters emphasize the convenience of complementing, through the proposal of "solidarity reindustrialization", the strategy of " employment and salary”.

Among their arguments, they point out that of the 180 million Brazilian men and women of working age who make up our working class, only 30 have a formal contract”; and that there are 80 who have never had and probably never will have a job.

And they draw attention to the international historical experience of leftist governments that failed to implement their socializing policies. The dedication of these governments to making the capitalist state and economy work in order to obtain resources to pay for the reorientation of policy would have been one of the historical causes of their failure.

In order to prevent social policies from becoming hostages to the good functioning of capitalism and to rebuild democracy, they say, similarly to what has been happening in the North, it is necessary to have another governance that encourages productive and consumption arrangements based on collective ownership of the means of production, solidarity and self-management.

Based on the observation that deindustrialization was an option for our owning class, that it is not interested in our potential for public techno-scientific knowledge, and that its path of insertion into the global market implies inordinate privileges, the strategy “of work and income ” and the proposal of “solidarity reindustrialization” imply a radical reorientation of cognitive policy.

For this, in order to make it possible to meet those cognitive demands embedded in unsatisfied material needs, it proposes that the elaboration of cognitive policy incorporates, in addition to the scientific elite, an actor so far little listened to. This actor, the knowledge workers, who work in teaching, research, planning and management of cognitive policy is what holds our significant and growing techno-scientific potential.

He is effectively responsible for its operation. This is because, on the one hand, it is the best way to represent the public interest with the government and other actors involved in cognitive policy. And, on the other hand, what better way to identify those collective material needs, decode them as techno-scientific demands (many of them of evident originality and high complexity), and “bring” them to the environment where teaching, research agendas are defined and extension of our institutions.

In conclusion, it only remains to say that the path that seems most appropriate to me is marked. The conditions for it to be immediately trodden are given. Among them, I call attention to an auspicious convergence. Many of those workers and knowledge workers defend the strategy of “work for income” and the proposal of “solidarity reindustrialization”. And they also argue that cognitive policy is solidly linked to the interests and values ​​of the working class.

All of this implies that, immediately, Youth and Adult Education and, increasingly, education as a whole, should be focused on meeting the cognitive demands of the solidary economy. Its capacity for accumulating political forces is high and, very important in the immediate term, for guaranteeing governability for the current government. It is from the knowledge potential that its members possess that overcoming functional illiteracy will leverage the working class to conceive a new pact.

* Renato Dagnino He is a professor at the Department of Scientific and Technological Policy at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Solidarity Technoscience, a strategic manual (anti-capital fights).


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