The McGill Daily: You say the argument that Quebec universities are under financed is “hogwash.” There’s a division in the student movement about this: QSR says universities are under financed; FEUQ says it’s not important. Do you think FEUQ is pursuing the right policy?
Eric Martin: There’s two student movements: there’s a more combative one, which I’ve always been more sympathetic to, and there’s another one, which has been more into lobbying. The problem with the lobbying movement is that they’ve become entrenched in this economic thinking. They cannot escape this economic thinking and see the political issues that are at play here. The issues that at play here are, ‘Is education going to become a commodity?’ and is it always going to serve integration into the development of finance capital. When you have this debate, you can not have a debate or resources: ‘O we need more money or less money.’ First of all, there is a lot of money in universities now. Now we have this gigantic machinery: universities are… catering to the business class with MBAs and stuff, that we were not doing before. So of course this costs a lot of money, especially with high-end research: it costs a lot of money.
MD:You don’t think lobbying the government on a wide range of political issues if the right way to go?
EM: No, because if you’re lobbying them, you’re playing they’re game. You’re using their language, the language of economy. FEUQ has been doing this for a long time: trying to convince the government that, for example that it’s worth it for universities to invest in people because they’re going to pay their taxes in the future, they’re going to pay seven times as much as anybody else, so it’s a good investment. When you use this language, you’re using the economic categories by which knowledge is being destroyed. So you’re not putting yourself in another theoretical vantage point from which you can attack. Even if you don’t believe in what you’re saying, you know ‘It’s just public relations, strategy, whatever,’ at some point you can’t do it. Because the very issue here is what is the nature of universities, what is the nature of education and what is it’s relation to political freedom. And opposed to this is the commodification process of the knowledge economy. FEUQ, for example, and FECQ, have been using the knowledge economy as a positive term. They’ve been putting out press releases saying, ‘We love the knowledge economy, we just want it to be more for us and less for them.’ So they’re in the same paradigm. They’re not attacking the categories of what’s happening, they just want a piece of it. I’m not sure if it’s out of ignorance, or bad political analysis or dishonesty, I don’t presume of anything. [In terms of underfinancing] they’re using the numbers of the principals. You have to be wary of this. You’re not supposed to get your numbers from the governing class: this is a very elementary trick. When you want to argue something, the left must make their own numbers. So the only way to attack this is to, first of all, have a good analysis of what’s happening and not saying, ‘Oh we’re lacking 500 million and if we put it back, everything’s going to be OK.’ No, no, no. The problem is not resources or money, the problem is a sense of purpose about what we’re doing.
MD: So what do students do about it, in terms of tactics?
EM: It’s not sufficient to oppose the tuition hike: you have to oppose the whole model of universities in the economy of knowledge as a patent-producing factory. To do this you should use any means necessary.
MD: You said the response from students should be “violent.”
EM: I’m not saying to oppose this by violence against people, I’m saying that it has to be stopped. So there must be mass demonstrations, there could be some occupations [of buildings] or some economic blockages. You have to be combative because the way to fight this is not by going to the Prime Minister’s office with a nice little document with numbers. They know all about that: they don’t care. They have decided they are going to destroy education in Quebec and with it the very possibility of forming a youth that will be able to critically resist what’s going on with capitalism. They’re bent on this. They have the principals with them, they have the business class, they have the political class, and the media have been put into the fold because they don’t understand what’s going on. This must be opposed. If you take away the spaces in which a society can think about itself, you are building a society for authoritarianism.
MD: Do you think the Movement pour un Quebec lucide, the right-of-centre intellectual movement, is authoritarian?
EM: I think this whole thing is very authoritarian, because it’s based on one thing: the people are not able to think for themselves and govern themselves. And the experts and the economists must tell the people what to do. There is contempt in this for the people. If this is not authoritarian, it’s from a despising of the people, by saying people cannot govern themselves, and so we are the economical class and we know what’s good for them. We’re going to take education and transform it into this mechanism for value production and accumulation. So it’s contempt and it’s contempt that has concrete implications because they are effecting these transformations as we are speaking. And they’re preparing a future for future generations where people will enter university just to become mind power for cognitive capitalism. So I think, if this is not authoritarian, what is it? It’s Orwellian. It’s Orwellian because it’s saying people don’t have to think anymore and now they just must adapt to this reality to which they have nothing to say about where it’s headed. It’s the very opposite of the ideal of democracy. It’s saying people have to submit to a reality to which they have nothing to say about this reality.
MD: What does it mean for McGill and for Quebec education that Heather Munroe-Blum sits on all these different boards of governors?
EM: I think Heather Munroe-Blum is a particularly good example, but the problem is all the principals now—it’s not just Munroe-Blum—it’s everywhere, because the function of the rector is supposed to be the person who keeps…rector means in Latin the person who holds up high the values and protects the values—the rectitude—of the university. Now the presidents—they call themselves presidents and CEOs now, because they have nothing more to do with the rector idea. And now we pay them like managers, and this is everywhere: the salaries have gone up. Some of them earn 100, 200 thousand; some more, some 300 thousand. They see themselves as go-betweens of the business class and the universities. Because for them universities are mainly to favor economic development. It’s OK if they think this, but they have no place in the university if they think this. Because they have no ethos of what it means to be at the head of an institution. Basically they bring a business ethics into an institution that has always been a stranger to the business ethics, because the university has its own moral foundation, which is academic independence, critical thought, transmission of knowledge. It has nothing to do with this business ethics these people are bringing in there. The practice that they have to be on all these boards of governors; it becomes like a new class of people. You see that this shows the dissolution of these barriers and frontiers that were separating these different walks of like [business, political, academic]. Now there is basically a movement of indifferentiation between the university and the business. The lines are becoming fuzzy. Disintegration of everything into an integrated complex of value production means that there are no institutions that can live outside of this, to serve another purpose, like culture. Everything must be mobilized in favour of maximizing growth and value production. And universities must be turned into instruments to make societies kill themselves, basically. Nothing can exist in its own right.
MD: Why is that going to kill society?
EM: Well first of all, the environment: the ecological crisis is there. But in a more global sense: the destruction of the possibility of collective judgement is being destroyed and moved aside. Because the places that were meant for thought are being transformed into bodies for value production. Basically it’s saying nothing can exist if it is not converted into a commodity. In the end this means we will transform everything into something that can be bought and sold. First of all it would destroy the ability to experience the social link as anything but merchant exchanges, which is already a problem. The possibility to live, together, a rich and meaningful life is already destroyed by this. But then, in the long run, you have the ecological crisis, which is really the destruction of the physical world. But before we get there, life become meaningless. Because, in university you study something completely insignificant to you and to the rest of society—as long as it makes money, it’s worth it, to entertain this useless thing. So I guess you see: it offers a meaningless experience of living together and of thinking. Thinking becomes something that is not thinking for the better life, justice—it becomes something that is mobilized just to maximize value production.
*-compiled by Eric Andrew-Gee*