Critical Education Articles Placed in the Teacher Staff Lounge While I Was a Teacher, Part Nineteen: The Oaxaca, Mexico Teachers’ Strike and Subsequent Community Uprising of 2006

This is a continuation of a series of posts on summaries of articles, mainly on education.

When I was a French teacher at Ashern Central School, in Ashern, Manitoba, Canada, I started to place critiques, mainly (although not entirely) of the current school system. At first, I merely printed off the articles, but then I started to provide a summary of the article along with the article. I placed the summaries along with the articles in a binder (and, eventually, binders), and I placed the binder in the staff lounge.

As chair of the Equity and Justice Committee for Lakeshore Teachers’ Association of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS), I also sent the articles and summary to the Ning of the MTS (a ning is “an online platform for people and organizations to create custom social networks”).

As I pointed out in a previous post, it is necessary for the radical left to use every opportunity to question the legitimacy of existing institutions.

The attached article for the ESJ Ning is prefaced by the following:

Hello everyone,

Three articles sent to the ESJ Ning, which I prefaced with the following summary of one of them:

I thought it appropriate, in view of the situation in Montreal and, in addition, in view of the coming sixth anniversary of the uprising in Oaxaca, Mexico, to provide a summary of an article that was written in the heat of the uprising itself.

In his article, “The Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca: A Chronicle of Radical Democracy,”  the author, Gustavo Esteva, outlines a movement for social justice that was sparked by a teachers’ strike in Oaxaca City, a city hundreds of kilometers to the southeast of Mexico City in 2006. The author was not an ivory-tower observer, but a participant in the movement for social justice in Oaxaca. He recounted some of the events up to November 13, 2006—when the movement was still in process.

Given the control of the media by employers, most of those who are concerned with social justice probably are unaware of this movement during those years. Indeed, when reviewing The Manitoba Teacher for 2006 and 2007, I did not see any references to it. I wonder why that was the case. (I include two other articles on the same phenomenon; one of them mentions the awareness of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation of the situation and indeed its recognition of that phenomenon.)

After the fraudulent election of Ulises Ruiz (candidate for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional) as governor of the state of Oaxaca in 2004, many workers and peasants of that state (many of whom are also members of indigenous groups) resisted the evident repressiveness and corruption of his administration.

It was on May 22, 2006 that section 22 (which represented 70,000 teachers for that state and which belonged to the National Education Workers’ Union)) initiated, among other things, a sit-down strike in the plaza (central square) of the capital of Oaxaca to express their dissatisfaction with their wages, with the number of schools in the state and with the lack of free lunches and supplies for students.

The general attitude of the public was either indifference or  hostility (since it inconvenienced in particular parents who then had to find alternative means of caring for their children). On June 14, the governor of the state, Ulises Ruiz, made a tactical error in deciding to bomb the strikers in the plaza with tear-gas from helicopters; some of the tear-gas canisters fell on offices and homes below.

This terrorist act by the governor galvanized the teachers and others to form a movement against Ruiz’ rule in general. The teacher’s union responded to the anger of many Oaxacans over Ruis’ tactics (and corrupt rule) by creating an organization called the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca—APPO). Hundreds of grass roots organizations joined APPO.  An incredible outpouring of support  for APPO (and, undoubtedly, anger against the corrupt Ruis regime) saw at one point about a million Oaxacans participating in a march—about a third of the total population of the state of Oaxaca.

To oppose the propaganda machine of the Ruis government, a group of women took over the state television and radio network through peaceful means and began to broadcast APPO’s version of events. When government forces used police forces to destroy the equipment, the women took over all private tv and radio networks before giving them back—with the exception of one that would provide information to all throughout the state of Oaxaca.

How did APPO deal with the police and military forces? Frederick Engels, well known nineteenth socialist, argued that, when faced with the fire power of modern police and military forces, ethical forces would be key—having the police and military refuse to perform their function. That is in fact what happened. The Oaxaca police force refused to repress the Oaxacans when Ruis ordered them to do so. As a result, Ruiz ordered all police in the city to remain in their barracks, and it was APPO that effectively became the government for the city and for the state. Ruis and fellow bureaucrats held meetings in private, outside the places where they used to meet.  This situation lasted from June until the end of October.

At one point, when armed men in 35 SUVs fired upon the strikers (to scare them and not to kill them), APPO reported the incident through their communication system, and the Oaxacans set up over a thousand barricades to protect various neighbourhoods at night and removed them during the day.

This situation was a result, in part, of a conception of democracy different from the political model typical of capitalist democracies and the corresponding conceptions of the overthrowing of power through the seizure of the political instruments of power (such as control over the military and police forces).

To pressure the federal Senate in Mexico, APPO organized a march from Oaxaca to Mexico City that lasted from September 21 until October 8, when over 5,000 protesters arrived in Mexico City to pressure the Senate to remove Ruiz as governor and appoint an interim governor. On October 29 the Senate finally requested (rather than demanded) that Ruiz resign as governor since, in effect, he no longer commanded the government (APPO in effect did—with the exception of paramilitary forces).

At the federal level as well, however, business leaders pressured President Fox to send in federal troops to solve the problem in Oaxaca.  In the days leading up to late October, federal police and soldiers began to arrive in Oaxaca. On October 27, city police who were still loyal to Ruiz, as well as paramilitary forces, attacked the barricades and killed an American journalist, Brad Will. President Fox used this killing as an excuse to send in federal police (probably equivalent to the RCMP). The result was three dead, many missing, many brutalized and some sequestered by the police to do whatever they wanted with them.

APPO still advocated non-violence, and it succeeded in organizing three marches against the violence of the federal police. Opposition to the police violence also assumed the form of the erection of barricades.

On November 2, when the federal police attacked the university, the Oaxacans repulsed their violence through both peaceful and more violent means (such as slingshots and sticks). Following this victory, it was decided to hold a Constituent Assembly from November 12 to November 14. This move, in effect, meant that the Oaxacan people chose to create their own government independently of the federal and state governments; they were developing a dual power opposed to the power of governments that were either corrupt or who supported big business at the expense of ordinary working people.

On November 5, the largest march in the history of Oaxaca erupted.

By November 13, 1500 Constitutive delegates had reached consensus on a number of issues (such as gender equity)—and had decided that the movement would have to have a decidedly anti-capitalist direction. The delegates approved a charter for APPO, a plan of action and a code of conduct. They also elected 260 delegates as representatives from diverse parts of civil society to coordinate the action plan.

So wrote Gustavo Esteva before the following incident occurred: On November 25, during a mass demonstration that moved to the plaza to take it from federal hands, the federal police and paramilitary forces counterattacked, brutalizing the people through systematic violence and arrests in the following days.

In effect, November 25 saw the end of the mass mobilization of the Oaxacan people.

What lessons can be learned from this situation? In the first place, it is unlikely that an uprising against inequity and social injustice will succeed if it is not coordinated with other movements in other places. The Oaxaca uprising did not lead to mass support from forces that could provide a counterweight to the physical power of the government (the federal and local police).

On the other hand, the use of nonviolent tactics certainly should give one to pause. The lack of violent tactics by APPO is emphasized by Esteva. This tactic worked for as long as it did—because the local police refused to follow orders. Had they followed orders, the nonviolent tactics would have undoubtedly ended in bloodshed (as it indeed did on November 25).

The use of violence or nonviolence as a useful tactic to achieve equity and social justice cannot, therefore, be determined beforehand, and neither should be excluded from consideration. Esteva made the logical and tactical mistake of assuming that nonviolent methods would suffice to empower the people.

At the home front, the draconian measures passed by the Liberal government of Premier Charest in the form of Bill 78 should give those who are interested in equity and social justice pause for thought. The tactics used by some students should certainly be discussed, but just like the use of violence in the case of the Oaxacan uprising, such tactics should be neither condemned beforehand nor seen as appropriate. It depends on circumstances, and an understanding of those circumstances should aid in determining which tactic is to be more appropriate.

The use of the police in Montreal  to arrest students (like the use of police in Toronto in 2010), in addition, should also give those interested in equity and social justice pause for thought. Do the police actually enforce just laws in Canada? Or do they enforce unjust laws? Does the rule of law, in general, express something positive nowadays, or is the rule of law becoming a means by which to crush movements? Why is it that many seem to idealize “the law”—as if it were something sacrosanct? Should not those who are interested in equity and social justice issues ask themselves such questions?

School Rhetoric: Ideological Use of the Concept of Social Justice, Part One

Social justice has now become a buzzword these days. There is social justice this and social justice that, here a social justice, there a social justice, everywhere a social justice. This buzzword forms the ideology of the social-democratic left, for example, as well as the conservative right. After all, who is against social justice?

The winter 2015-2016 edition of Leaders & Learners (the official magazine of the Canadian Association of School Administrators, or CASS) has as its title “Social Justice and Social Responsibility.” The content of that particular journal expresses the limited definition (and views) of its middle-class authors.

Let us look at the most radical article in the publication: “The ‘Great (Un) Equalizer’: Using the Bourdieuian Lens to Understand ,the Paradox of Education,” Victor Brar uses Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of “cultural capital,” among others, to criticize schools. Brar argues that academic achievement is a function of the individual’s cultural capital, which is accumulated as a child experiences the world to form their habitus–the specific way of looking at the world and responding to it. This world, however, is not unitary but riveted by separation through the existence of social classes. Individuals belonging to different classes will have different kinds of cultural capital and different habituses.

In schools, some kinds of cultural capital and habitus will be treated as more valuable than others, forcing those who lack the characteristic cultural capital and habitus of the school system to conform to external requirements–which leads to symbolic violence.

Brar then uses more specific categories of class to criticize the school system. Those children who lack the cultural capital and habitus of schools are “from low SES [socio-economic statu] backgrounds” and will, in a vicious circle, fail to achieve relatively to those students who do possess the cultural capital and habitus of the school; the lower SES students will thus remain in the low SES.

Brar specifically uses the socio-economic status criterion for determining the nature of the lower and middle classes, page 35:

This achievement gap, if further compounded by the fact that because schools are unfairly oriented towards middle class dispositions, then the children from higher SES backgrounds perform comparatively better, thereby widening the achievement gap between themselves and their low SES peers.

Using levels of income (SES) to define class may be useful in some circumstances (for example, in deciding the likelihood of support for certain socialist policies related to housing), the use of levels of income is a social-democratic method of excluding most people from the working class.

The absurdity of classifying people as middle class on the basis of income can be seen from one article on distribution of income in some so-called Third World countries. This article refers to earning $2-$4 a day (presumably in American dollars) as the lower end of the middle class in Guatemala and $6-$10 a day to be the upper end in Guatemala. They justify such a classification in the following manner. From Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, “What is Middle Class about the Middle Classes around the World?,” Journal of Economic Perspectives—Volume 22, Number 2—Spring 2008, page 5:

In what sense should people living on between $2 and $10 per day be called “middle class”? These households are still very poor by developed country standards; the poverty line in the United States in 2006 for someone who lives in a family of five, for example, was $24,385, which when divided by five people in the family and 365 days in a year, works out to be about $13 per day.

On the other hand, the middle class in these countries are clearly much better off than the poor, who live on less than $1 or $2 a day.

This definition of middle class is purely in terms of relative level of income and takes no account of how this so-called middle class obtains its money. It is a definition based on a “standard of living” concept–a consumerist concept.

Consider the situation of my wife. She was born in Guatemala and earned around 2,800 Quetzales a month–around $373 US a month, or $12,44 US a day. How can anyone call her a member of the middle class? Her last job in Guatemala was a salesclerk in Guatemala City. Before that, she was a receptionist (earning about the same amount), but the company downsized and consolidated positions, throwing her out of work. She was unemployed for several months afterwards, with no income. In all her jobs, she had a boss who evaluated her performance and ultimately controlled her work and indeed whether she would work at all (power to fire). This is the situation of a member of the working class.

This does not mean that there is no such thing as the middle class. My sister-in-law’s husband is a doctor in Guatemala and has his own practice. He sets his own hours, fees and so forth. His work life is much more independent than was the work life of my wife. He can be considered part of the Guatemalan middle class.

Using levels of income or SES to define class implies that everyone can become middle class in a capitalist economy. Thus, if only everyone could achieve a level of income above the poverty line, then there would be no “poor” or working class.

Compare this view with the Marxian definition of class. In the Marxian definition of class, classes are mainly defined in an antagonistic fashion: one class emerges at the expense of another class through control over the conditions of work. One class gains what the other class loses, and the class that loses often tries to regain what it has lost, so there is a class struggle that only ends when either the two classes mutually ruin each other, or the lower class defeats the ruling class and creates a new form of society (with or without classes).

In the context of modern society, it is not the level of income but the fact that most workers have to work for an employer that characterizes class relations. Brar, by defining class in terms of levels of income, fails to develop an analysis that looks beyond the relationship of employer and employees; indeed, his definition of class according to levels of income actually hides the real class relations by excluding a concept of class that involves the exploitation of one class by another.

Even apart from the issue of exploitation, there is the additional issue of treating workers as things to be used by others. In a capitalist society, class power relations are linked to control over things–human beings are controlled through control over things that have social power (such as money, but also machines, buildings and so forth). Things gain human-like power, and human beings become thing-like (see The Money Circuit of Capital). Brar’s use of level of income as the basis for defining class not only fails to capture the need for class exploitation but also fails to capture the need for treating human beings as things and the need for things to gain human-like powers (what can be called commodity fetishism, money fetishism–treating things such as beer, money and means of production as possessing inherent social powers independently of human beings).

It is true that there are members of a middle class in modern society, but they should be seen as related to the two other antagonistic classes. Thus, just like my brother-in-law, doctors can usually be considered part of the middle class, but not just because of the level of income but because they control their own work, on the one hand, and they lack control over many workers lives on the other. Supervisors and lower-level managers could also be considered part of the middle class in that part of their function is to control the work of workers while, on the other hand, they themselves are hired workers who depend on a wage or salary to live. Superintendents undoubtedly can be considered part of the middle class.

Principals may also be considered part of the middle class, but approach perhaps more closely to the position of the working class since they are further down in the dictatorial hierarchy. On the other hand, the extent to which principals  function as oppressors of members of the working class also needs to be taken into account. On a practical level, whether a principal is a member of the working class or the middle class would have to be determined organizationally–whether in fact they oppose the working class or support them.

Despite these limitations, Brar’s characterization of lower SES and higher SES does have some usefulness in characterizing school experiences. Some parents who are members of the working class do see schooling (what they call education) as an investment in the future of their children and seek to ensure that their children have the wherewithal to be successful as defined by school authorities. Other parents of the working class do not. Similarly, some children of the working class do identify with such expenditures whereas others do not.

This view of schooling as investment is, however, characteristic not of the middle class per se but of what Hadas Weiss (We Have Never Been Middle Class) calls middle-class ideology. The ideology functions as a competitive belief in “investment,” whether it is in schooling, housing, pensions, stocks and bonds, etc., with the expectation that the sacrifice required for the expenditure will pay off in the future. The fact that those who make such sacrifices have to work for an employer is simply ignored. Such an ideology, another words, papers over the need for members of the working class to accept their subordination to the class of employers if they are to be “successful” in this social world.

This ideology has undoubtedly served to limit the class struggle of the working class since workers then are prepared to subordinate themselves to the power of employers in the present in hopes of reaping rewards in the future.

Since the level of sacrifice needed in neoliberal times has been increasing and the returns for the increasing levels of sacrifice have been diminishing, this middle-class ideology is being threatened.

Returning to Brar’s article, Brar, rather than exposing the limitation of middle-class ideology and criticizing it, relies on the distinction in order to criticize schools. He does not question whether those who have higher levels of income are in fact members of the middle class or not. He assumes that they are. His criticism of the school is therefore limited. His implicit concept of social justice remains entirely bound to the present social order of a class of employers, on the one side, a class of employees on the other, with another class–the middle class being neither one nor the other. The middle class, then, cannot be determined except in relation to the two dominant classes in a capitalist society.

If Brar’s article, which is the most radical article in the superintendents’ journal, forms an inadequate basis for criticizing schools, then all the articles referring to social justice are bound to form an even more inadequate basis for criticizing schools–as we shall see in future posts.

Review of Thier’s Book “A People’s Guide to Capitalism,” Part Two

I recently participated in a group called No One Is Illegal here in Toronto. The group decided to provide a zoom reading meeting every week to discuss the book A People’s Guide to Capitalism, by Hadas Thier, with many participants not belonging to the group but interested in understanding more about capitalism. We read the book in parts, with each participant taking turns to read out loud a section, with questions to be asked and discussed after each section or difficult part. The group did not finish the book–the number of participants dwindled; it is unlikely that there was much emotional attachment to understanding–despite the participants’ apparent interest in understanding the nature of capitalism.

I sent along some comments to the group (but not to the other partcipants) in order to provide the group with my understanding of the nature of capitalism–which does not always coincide with Thier’s view.

The following is what I wrote before the second session:

Page 56:

What Marx is saying is that the specifics of whether linen’s value is being measured against tea or sandals or coats doesn’t matter. What matters is the amount of abstract human labor objectified in each. These items lose their subjectivity as they become simple units of measurements of the value of linen. They can become equivalents only because they, like linen, embody human labor in the form of value.

In a sense, the specific commodity that becomes money does not matter, but once a specific commodity has become money, then it does matter since money becomes the exclusive form of the embodiment of immediate exchangeability or convertibility of one commodity into another.

Page 57:

Her reference to the universal equivalent: Same critique as in the previous post. She fails to link this up to the nature of abstract labour and value and the adequate expression of abstract labour. As abstract labour is not social labour as it is being performed, its social being must be located outside its own use value and outside all other use values—except one.

 Describing the anonymity and boundlessness of this circulation, he wrote

(she then quotes from Marx: Here is my interpretation of the quote, preceded by some preliminaries. From my blog:

The Escape of the Whole Process of Simple Circulation from the Control of the Participants with the Emergence of Money

In the external measure of the value of commodities via money as measure, there is, indeed, all commodities on one side and money on the other side, but in the actual exchange of commodities with money (money as a means of purchase or as a means of circulation) this is not the case; on the contrary, there is necessarily a separation in space and time between the act of sale (realization of the value of the commodity in money) and the realization of money in various use values (purchase).

The unity of value and use value, hidden in the commodity, is expressed as mutually exclusive and external forms of sale and purchase so that crisis becomes a possibility as the gap between the realization of the value of a commodity and the realization of use values of an equivalent value becomes intensified.

Page 79:

Thus, if after you finish making $120 worth of coffee, instead of throwing down your apron and going home, you finishout your eight-hour shift, one hour will be necessary labor, and seven hoursare surplus labor!

To make the following a little easier to follow, we can consider the following:

  1. The owner of linen wants to sell the linen in order to buy a Bible.
  2. The owner of money who buys the linen obtained the money by selling wheat.
  3. The owner of the Bible sells the Bible to the former linen owner in order to buy brandy (but the brandy does not directly figure in the total metamorphosis or total exchange of the linen for the Bible since we end with the Bible owner possessing money and the linen owner possessing the Bible.
  4. At the beginning of the total exchange process, the linen owners owns the linen (a use value for others) but does not want it.
  5. At the end of the total exchange process, the former linen owner now owns a use value useful to her (and the linen also is useful for the farmer, the former owner of wheat).
  6. The money stops circulating for the moment at the end of the process with the former owner of the Bible aiming to purchase some brandy (but not yet doing so).
  7. [linen owner, bible owner, wheat owner, brandy owner?] [wheat-linen; linen-bible; bible-brandy] [the wheat owner depends indirectly on the bible owner to purchase the
  8. linen owner sells linen to money owner, who sold the wheat to obtain the money
  9. linen owner buys bible, and owner of bible sells bible in order to buy brandy
  10. at end of one complete exchange process, two exchangers have use values and one exchanger has money: asymmetrical: two complete realizations of a commodity and one incomplete.

Pages 207- 209:

The circulation of commodities differs from the direct exchange of products not only in form, but in its essence. We have only to consider the course of events. The weaver has undoubtedly exchanged his linen for a Bible, his own commodity for someone else’s. But this phenomenon is only true for him. The Biblepusher, who prefers a warming drink to cold sheets, had no intention of exchanging linen for his Bible [the owner of a particular commodity intends to exchange what he owns for other commodities; but the owners of other commodities need not have any intention of exchanging their commodities for what the owner of the particular commodity owns]; the weaver did not know that wheat had been exchanged for his linen [and the owner of a particular commodity has no intention of exchanging his particular commodity for the commodity owned by another owner but not wanted by him] [the owner of linen may not want any wheat] . B’s commodity replaces that of A, but A and B do not mutually exchange their commodities. It may in fact happen that A and B buy from each other, but a particular relationship of this kind is by no means the necessary result of the general conditions of the circulation of commodities. We see here, on the one hand, how the exchange of commodities breaks through all the individual and local limitations of the direct exchange of products, and develops the metabolic process of human labour. On the other hand, there develops a whole network of social connections of natural origin, entirely beyond the control of the human agents. Only because the farmer has sold his wheat is the weaver able to sell his linen, [to sell a particular commodity, another person had to be able to sell their particular commodity and convert it into money] only because the weaver has sold his linen is our rash and intemperate friend able to sell his Bible, and only because the latter already has the water of everlasting life is the distiller able to sell his eau-de-vie. And so it goes on.

The process of circulation, therefore, unlike the direct exchange of products, does not disappear from view once the use-values have changed places and changed hands. The money does not vanish when it finally drops out of the series of metamorphoses undergone by a commodity. It always leaves behind a precipitate at a point in the arena of circulation vacated by the commodities. In the complete metamorphosis of the linen, for example, linen-money-Bible, the linen first falls out of circulation, and money steps into its place. Then the Bible falls out of circulation, and again money takes its place. When one commodity replaces another, the money commodity always sticks to the hands of some third person.  Circulation sweats money from every pore.

Circulation bursts through all the temporal, spatial and personal barriers imposed by the direct exchange of products, and it does this by splitting up the direct identity present in this case between the exchange of one’s own product and the acquisition of someone else’s into the two antithetical segments of sale and purchase. To say that these mutually independent and antithetical processes form an internal unity is to say also that their internal unity moves forward through external antitheses. These two processes lack internal independence because they complement each other. Hence, if the assertion of their external independence proceeds to a certain critical point, their unity violently makes itself felt by producing – a crisis. There is an antithesis, immanent in the commodity, between use-value and value, between private labour which must simultaneously manifest itself as directly social labour, and a particular concrete kind of labour which simultaneously counts as merely abstract universal labour, between the conversion of things into persons and the conversion of persons into things*; the antithetical phases of the metamorphosis of the commodity are the developed forms of motion of this immanent contradiction.

Page 65: She quotes Jim Stanford from his book Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism. Stanford, however, lacks an adequate theory of money, and he seems to go out of his way to avoid relating money to labour. Thus, his only definition of money is “purchasing power.” He does not explain why one particular thing has this purchasing power, why other things (commodities) do not, and why such power is embodied in a thing rather than in the people who produce their lives. Stanford, by the way, was an economist for the former Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) and then for Unifor. He is a social democrat and social reformist.

Mr. Stanford seems to consciously avoid adopting a Marxian theory of capitalism. One possible explanation is the title of my critique of Stanford’s theory of money (among some of his other economic views) on my blog: Economics for Social Democrats but not for the Working Class.

More generally, Thier occasionally fails to engage critically with the material. Thus, in an earlier chapter, on page 10, we read:

Ideological shifts have been as dramatic as the protests on the streets. Even before the pandemic struck, polls consistently showed that the majority of millennials reject capitalism, and in some cases specifically prefer socialism.7 In the US, where the two-party system has a vice-like grip on the electoral process, Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed socialist, won the support of tens of millions of primary voters in 2016, who “felt the Bern” of his anti-corporate political revolution. By the 2020 election, the previously fringe candidate became a front-runner in the national elections and fundamentally shifted the national discussion on every major issue: from health care and climate change to racial justice and class inequality.

This is very problematic. In the first place, what does “reject capitalism” mean? And what does “prefer socialism” mean? When I was working at the brewery, there was a lab assistant who tested the beer for quality control. We talked in the lunch room occasionally, and he indicated that he was somewhat of a socialist. He later became a foreman–and oppressed us just as much as other foremen. He conceived of socialism in terms of welfare capitalism and not in terms of the elimination of the class power of employers.

In the second place, it should not be forgotten that, before the First World War, many members of the Social Democratic Party in Germany (some of whom undoubtedly also called themselves Marxist) voted for war.

In the third place, it has been my experience here in Toronto that most self-proclaimed socialists aim for enhanced welfare capitalism and not for the abolition of capitalism.

The issue is relevant, politically, since an overestimation of the support for the abolition of capitalism greatly underestimates the work needed to gain support for such abolition.

Thier, page 71:

Ultimately, the only way to change the value of the chair is through reducing or increasing the amount of labor-time that goes into making it.

It is true that Marx ultimately claims this to be the case. However, there are circumstances which seem to contradict this. Thus, on pages 130-31 of volume 1 of Capital, we read:

The same quantity of labour provides more metal in rich mines than in poor. Diamonds are of very rare occurrence on the earth’s surface, and hence their discovery costs, on an average, a great deal of labour-time. Consequently much labour is represented in a small volume. Jacob questions whether gold has ever been paid for at its full value.* This applies still more to diamonds. According to Eschwege, the total produce of the Brazilian diamond mines for the eighty years ending in 1823 still did not amount to the price of 1 years’ average produce of the sugar and coffee plantations of the same country,t although the diamonds represented much more labour, therefore more value. With richer mines, the same quantity of labour would be embodied in more diamonds, and their value would fall. If man succeeded, without much labour, in transforming carbon into diamonds, their value might fall below that of bricks. In general, the greater the productivity of labour, the less the labour-time required to produce an article, the less the mass of labour crystallized in that article, and the less its value. Inversely, the less the productivity of labour, the greater the labour-time necessary to produce an article, and the greater its value. The value of a commodity, therefore, varies directly as the quantity, and inversely as the productivity, of the labour which finds its realization within the commodity.

For substantial periods of time, especically in labour directed more directly to the earth (land), supply and demand can be in disequilibrium, or unbalanced. Ultimately, though, as capital moves from branches of production where profits are low relative to other spheres of production (and where supply tends to exceed demand) to branches of production where profits are high relative to other spheres of production (and where demand tends to exceed supply), there is a balancing of supply and demand (as a dynamic process that never is achieved except perhaps momentarily).

Land is a non-produced means of production and has no value, but it can have a price. This pertains to Marx’s theory of rent, which has two components: differential rent and absolute rent. However, I have not really studied this area to any great extent and cannot adequately comment on it. Marx further separates differential rent into differential rent I and differential rent II.

Differential rent I pertains to differences in land used to produce agricultural commodities, mined commodities, forest commodities and fish commodities. Some land will be, for example, more fertile than other land. If effective demand exists (backed up by money), then capitalists will invest in agriculture where there is more fertile land and less fertile land. With more fertile land, there is greater productivity of labour (more commodities can be produced). The capitalists will invest in agriculture, with different levels of fertility and hence different levels of commodity production per unit of labour. The least productive capital, with the worst land, will result in zero differential rent; all, more productive capitals that are due to the increased quality of fertility, will result in differential rent 1—a surplus beyond the regular level of profit. The capital invested in the least fertile land will determine the value of commodities.

Differential rent arises due to private property in land—and land is, ultimately, non-produced.

Differential rent 2, by contrast, has to do with the application of different techniques within agriculture, within mining, within forestry, etc. In other branches of capitalist commodity production, when techniques are used that enable workers to produce a greater amount of commodities in the same period of time, a surplus profit can arise(hence, there is an incentive to innovate). In agriculture, etc., the surplus profit can be captured by landowners rather than by the capitalists, reducing the incentive to invest intensively in this sector. The extent to which the surplus profit is divided between capitalist farmers and landowners will depend on their economic and political power.

This leads in to a further kind of rent: absolute rent, which has to do with, as Ben Fine and Alfredo Saad-Filho remark, with differences in productivity between different branches of production (such as differences in productivity between the production of hops and beer production) rather than within them (such as differences in productivity between the growing of grapes and the growing of wheat). This issue has to do with what Marx called the composition of capital, or the proportion of investment in means of production and labour power (c/v), or constant capital divided by variable capital) or, in some variations, the proportion between the value of the means of production, on the one hand, and labour power and surplus value, on the other (c/(v+s).

The basic idea is that, due to the existence of landed property (with land ultimately being a non-reproduced and non-reproducible means of production), there is a barrier to the entry of capital into agriculture, etc. This barrier results in a slower rate of development of innovation and substitution of v for c in agriculture, etc. However, since the sole source of surplus value is labour, the lower composition of capital in agriculture (a lower c/v), etc means that more surplus value is produced in this sector per unit of investment (c+v) than in branches of industry where there is a higher composition of capital (a higher c/v). But with different compositions of capital, the rate of profit, which is measured by the proportion s/(c+v) will differ. This difference in rates of profit, however, will spur capitalists to shift investment to the higher rates until there is an equal rate of profit (which is only temporary, given the dynamics of capitalist accumulation).

With an equal rate of profit in all capitalist industries, in agriculture, with a lower c/v than the average, what Marx called the production price of commodities would be lower than the value of the commodities. (In cases where c/v is higher than the average, the production price would be higher than value of the commodity). In essence, what this means is that the production of surplus value in a particular branch of the economy is not identical to its distribution; some capitalists will receive surplus value from other capitalists (those capitalists with a higher c/v than the average)), and other capitalists will see part of the surplus value produced in their branch (due to a lower c/v than the average) transferred to other capitalists; Marx sarcastically called this capitalist communism, since the principle is the distribution of the total surplus value produced by workers according to equal rates of profit.

In the case of agriculture, etc., because land is a non-produced commodity, since the price of production is lower than the value of commodities, the difference can be pocketed by the class of landowners as absolute rent when capitalist farmers invest in new land. This, again, depends on the relative power relations between the class of capitalists and the class of landowners.

The issue of urban rent is undoubtedly much more complicated. As Ira Katznelson wrote (Marxism and the City. Oxford: Clarendon Press, page 227):

As capitalism entered the industrial epoch, the concept of the land-rent gradient that pointed toward the highest economic use by introducing a profit motive into land use and housing was already established. With the explosion in the demand for land for factories as well as for working-class housing, this market logic accelerated the processes oi segregation of both uses and social classes.

A Principal’s Evaluation of My Teaching Basic French, or: How to Oppress a Worker Through Performance Evaluation, Part Six

The following is the sixth of several posts that provide a verbatim reply (with a somewhat different order) to a “clinical evaluation” (a performance evaluation of my teaching) made by the principal of Ashern Central School (Ashern, Manitoba, Canada), Neil MacNeil, in the fall of 2011 when I was teaching grades 6, 7 and 8 French.

I provided Mr. MacNeil’s assessment grade by grade in separate posts, followed by my reflections (response).  In other words, the performance evaluation of the three grades was distributed over three posts.

Further posts followed that included performance evaluation criteria for Domain I (Professional Responsibilities) and Domain II (Educational Environments), with Mr. MacNeil’s comments and my reflections (response).

For the context of the “clinical evaluation,” see the post  A Worker’s Resistance to the Capitalist Government or State and Its Representatives, Part Eight.

As a teacher, I was earning around $85,000 a year at the time. Undoubtedly, according to the social-democratic or social-reformist left, it was a “good job,” “decent work,” and other such clichés. Being under clinical evaluation or supervision, however, was in effect legal torture. Did the collective agreement between Lakeshore School Division and Lakeshore Teachers’ Association prevent such legal torture? Was the collective agreement a “fair contract?”

I responded to Mr. MacNeil’s clinical evaluation with an initial 43-page reply, with the then Manitoba Teachers Society  (MTS) staff officer Roland Stankevicius (later General Secretary of the MTS) providing edited suggestions that reduced it to about 30 pages.

Mr. Stankevicius remarked that the evaluation reflected negatively–on Mr. MacNeil:

You have provided a very scholarly response but it needs to be shortened.  I hope you agree with my suggestions. …

You have made your points here.  NM [Neil MacNeil] does not look good in a lot of how he states his observations (in my opinion).

This commentary by the union rep was made in December, 2011. However, two months later, in February 2012, I was to be evaluated again–this time on “intensive supervision”–under the direct supervision of the superintendent of Lakeshore School Division, Janet Martell. Since I was seeing a counsellor for the Manitoba Teachers’ Society, Degen Gene, under the Employee Assistance Program, he recommended that I go on sick leave. A math teacher at Ashern Central School (where I worked) also suggested that. In February, Mr. Stankevicius (the MTS union rep), Janet Martell, superientendent, Leanne Peters (Assistant Superintendent) and I had a meeting to discuss the issue.

Mr. Stankevicius, the MTS lawyer and I subsequently met. The lawyer indicated that the issue was grievable (I could claim that they had breached the collective agreement), but that in the meantime I would still have to undergo intensive clincial supervision–and that despite Mr. Stankevicius’s earlier claim that Mr. MaNneil’s evaluation reflected badly on him rather than on me. I was already experiencing extreme stress due to the legal harassment of the principal. I also knew, both from experience as a union steward at another place of work and from a course I took on arbitration, that the process of grievance handling could take months if not more than a year before being addressed and a judgement handed down. The implicit power of management’s right to direct the workforce granted the superintendent the right to harass me legally–despite a collective agreement–the principle of following the directives of management and grieving later–hardly expresses any fair situation. I decided to go on sick leave, and I resigned at the end of June 2012.

This post deals with the performance evaluation criteria of Domain III (Teaching and Learning), with Mr. MacNeil’s comments and my reflections (response).  (The final post in this series will be about performance evaluation critiera for Domain IV (Professional Relationships), with Mr. MacNeil’s comments and my reflections (response).

When I refer to “see above” in some of the posts, it refers to previous posts (in the actual response to the principal’s performance evaluation, it was to what I had written earlier).

The radical left should expose both what management does and how it does it. Discussion of the situation that various kinds of employees face need to be openly discussed, but to do that it is necessary to expose, in a transparent way, managerial behaviour.

The radical left (and even many self-proclaimed Marxists), however, these days rarely discuss in any detailed way issues that oppress workers, citizens, immigrants and migrant workers.

Lakeshore School Division

Teacher Clinical Evaluation Report

Teacher: Fred Harris
School: Ashern Central School
Subject/Grade: MY French; ELA Trans. Focus 30S; SY Support

The teacher and administrator will review Administrative Regulations and Procedures Evaluation Process-Professional Staff (2.3)

Domain 3: Teaching and Learning

3a. Communicating instruction

3b. Questioning and discussion techniques

3c. Student Engagement

3d. Effective feedback for students

3e. Flexibility and Responsiveness

Administrator’s Comments

Students are often confused about what they should be doing during classes, and how they should be doing it. Almost all instructions in the observed classes have been giving orally, and as there appears to be very little desire on the part of the students to take part in the activities or learning being asked of them, they are often not listening to these oral instructions. Even when instructions have been presented on paper, as for the family tree assignment in the grade 7 class, Fred and the students engaged in something of a battle as they attempted to focus on the second part of the page, dealing with the actual assignment, while Fred kept insisting that they redirect their attention to the first part of the page – which they never did appear to do. This tug-of-war went on for several minutes.

Any flow in the question and answer sessions between Fred and his students was disrupted by Fred’s continued admonishments of student who were not behaving appropriately in the class. Both I and the students had trouble seeing the point of these sessions due to the interruptions. The sessions at the beginning of classes where personal questions were asked and answered were, as previously noted, devoid of any evidence of progressing in competency in French, or in creating effective relationships between Fred and the students in these classes.

There was little effective engagement during these classes. Through much of the classes, students were looking elsewhere, had their heads down, and/or were engaged in other activities than those Fred wanted them to be engaged in. These other behaviours included such things as braiding their own or others’ hair, doodling, reading other materials, making paper airplanes, walking around the class, sharpening pencils, etc. Students’ body postures appeared in many cases to be “slumped” in their chairs, looking elsewhere rather than at whomever might be speaking at any given time. During the most recent observation (grade 8), 3 of the 5 girls taking the class were overheard by myself saying the same three words, “I hate French”. Students would routinely insist that they were unable to carry out the tasks Fred requested of them, or to respond to the questions he posed to them.

Fred appeared to be either unwilling or unable to be flexible in terms of responding to cues from students during the observed classes. For example, in providing students with a handout about their family tree assignment (grade 7), he attempted to go over the goals of the assignment, while they were (naturally) drawn to the requirements (description) of the project on the second half of the page. They would ask questions about this second section, to which he repeatedly replied, “I only want questions about the first section.” A discussion of the learning goals never did transpire, and the class eventually moved on to the requirements of the project. Fred had previously decided (evidently) that students could use “imaginary” family members instead of their real families. This led to questions about possibly using cartoon or other characters in the family tree, and Fred himself suggested that they might include aliens. While this might alleviate some discomfort that some students might feel about using their own family members, it led to a breakdown in the attempted discussion as students began to speculate about the imaginary characters they might use.

Teacher’s Reflections

Re: “Students are often confused about what they should be doing during classes, and how they should be doing it. Almost all instructions in the observed classes have been giving orally, and as there appears to be very little desire on the part of the students to take part in the activities or learning being asked of them, they are often not listening to these oral instructions.”

I have tried to write a general outline of what we are going to do on the board. I have also been writing the purpose of the lesson on the board for about a week now.

Re: “Even when instructions have been presented on paper, as for the family tree assignment in the grade 7 class, Fred and the students engaged in something of a battle as they attempted to focus on the second part of the page, dealing with the actual assignment, while Fred kept insisting that they redirect their attention to the first part of the page – which they never did appear to do. This tug-of-war went on for several minutes.”

I will admit that I should have separated the two parts of the paper into two papers (see attachment). The characterization of what transpired as a tug-of-war is, once again, inaccurate. There were perhaps two or three students who wanted to know about the family tree. Most questions, though, were focused on the first set. There was no tug-of-war. I simply reminded students that we would deal with the second set afterwards. I did not “insist,” as if I were struggling to have them focus on the first set. Such a characterization is simply inaccurate. We did discuss the learning goals, and I reviewed some of the vocabulary of the family and the possessive adjectives. We also, for example, reviewed avoir with age since it is a frequent English mistake to use etre rather than avoir. One student made that mistake, and I corrected the student.

In the grade 7 class, there were, perhaps, 10 to 15 questions by students with their hands raised. They were certain listening to the answers that I was providing and were evidently participating in the formulation of questions in order to clarify the goals and the expectations of the family tree.

Re: “Any flow in the question and answer sessions between Fred and his students was disrupted by Fred’s continued admonishments of student who were not behaving appropriately in the class. Both I and the students had trouble seeing the point of these sessions due to the interruptions.”

Again, I am not sure if the administrator is referring to the grade 6, 7 or 8 classes or to all of them.

I have given several students detention when they have persisted in misbehaving. 

Re: “There was little effective engagement during these classes. Through much of the classes, students were looking elsewhere, had their heads down, and/or were engaged in other activities than those Fred wanted them to be engaged in. These other behaviours included such things as braiding their own or others’ hair, doodling, reading other materials, making paper airplanes, walking around the class, sharpening pencils, etc. Students’ body postures appeared in many cases to be “slumped” in their chairs, looking elsewhere rather than at whomever might be speaking at any given time. During the most recent observation (grade 8), 3 of the 5 girls taking the class were overheard by myself saying the same three words, “I hate French”. Students would routinely insist that they were unable to carry out the tasks Fred requested of them, or to respond to the questions he posed to them.”

As I said, I have tried to address the issue with the grade 8s by breaking the process into more manageable (analytic) parts.

Re: “Fred appeared to be either unwilling or unable to be flexible in terms of responding to cues from students during the observed classes. For example, in providing students with a handout about their family tree assignment (grade 7), he attempted to go over the goals of the assignment, while they were (naturally) drawn to the requirements (description) of the project on the second half of the page.”

I certainly agree that “they were (naturally) drawn to the requirements (description) of the project on the second half of the page.” The students are, in accordance with Deweyan theory, more interested naturally in the concrete ends rather than in the means to the end. I had misunderstood what the administrator required; I thought that he had meant that it was necessary to review the learning goals before going on.

As for not being responsive, I tried to follow what I thought the administrator required for learning goals.

Re: “Fred had previously decided (evidently) that students could use “imaginary” family members instead of their real families.”

This suggestion was a suggestion from one of the students.

This led to questions about possibly using cartoon or other characters in the family tree, and Fred himself suggested that they might include aliens. While this might alleviate some discomfort that some students might feel about using their own family members, it led to a breakdown in the attempted discussion as students began to speculate about the imaginary characters they might use.”

I am uncertain how the spontaneity of the students’ imagination led to a breakdown in the discussion. Some students were enthusiastic and expressed themselves without raising their hand, probably. It seems, then, that good classroom management requires the absolute mediation of the teacher for students to express themselves. If that is indeed considered good classroom management, I will comply with such a view, but I then wonder about the issue of spontaneity and the effect that will have on student interest.