In the fascist and semi-fascist countries, the militant students (a minority of the students everywhere) find support among the industrial and agrarian proletariat; in France and Italy, they have been able to obtain precarious (and passing!) aid from powerful leftist parties and unions; in West Germany and in the United States, they meet with the vociferous and often violent hostility of “the people” and of organised labour.
Revolutionary in its theory, in its instincts, and in its ultimate goals, the student movement is not a revolutionary force, perhaps not even an avant-garde so long as there are no masses capable and willing to follow, but it is the ferment of hope in the overpowering and stifling capitalist metropoles: it testifies to the truth of the alternative — the real need, and the real possibility of a free society. To be sure, there are the wild ones and the non-committed, the escapists into all kinds of mysticism, the good fools and the bad fools, and those who don’t care what happens; there are the authentic and the organised happenings and nonconformities.
Naturally, the market has invaded this rebellion and made it a business, but it is serious business nevertheless. What matters is not the more or less interesting psychology of the participants nor the often bizarre forms of the protest (which quite frequently make the absurd reasonableness of the Establishment, and the anti-heroic, sensuous images of the alternative more transparent than the most serious argument could do), but that against which the protest is directed.
The demands for a structural reform of the educational system (urgent enough by themselves; we shall come back to them subsequently) seek to counter¬ act the deceptive neutrality and often plainly apologetic teaching; and to provide the student with the conceptual instruments for a solid and thorough critique of the material and intellectual culture. At the same time, they seek to abolish the class character of education. These changes would lead to an extension and development of consciousness which would remove the ideological and technological veil that hides the terrible features of the affluent society.
The development of a true consciousness is still the professional function of the universities. No wonder then that the student opposition meets with the all but pathological hatred on the part of the so-called “community,” including large sections of organised labour. To the degree to which the university becomes dependent on the financial and political goodwill of the community and of the government, the struggle for a free and critical education becomes a vital part in the larger struggle for change.
What appears as extraneous “politicalisation” of the university by disrupting radicals is today (as it was so often in the past) the “logical,” internal dynamic of education: translation of knowledge into reality, of humanistic values into humane conditions of existence. This dynamic, arrested by the pseudo-neutral features of academia, would, for example, be released by the inclusion into the curriculum of courses giving adequate treatment to the great nonconformist movements in civilisation and to the critical analysis of contemporary societies.
The groundwork for building the bridge between the “ought” and the “is,” between theory and practice, is laid within theory itself. Knowledge is transcendent (toward the object world, toward reality) not only in an epistemological sense — as against repressive forms of life — it is political. Denial of the right to political activity in the university perpetuates the separation between theoretical and practical reason and reduces the effectiveness and the scope of intelligence. The educational demands thus drive the movement beyond the universities, into the streets, the slums, the “community.”
And the driving force is the refusal to grow up, to mature, to perform efficiently and “normally” in and for a society which compels the vast majority of the population to
• “earn” their living in stupid, inhuman, and unnecessary jobs,
• which conducts its booming business on the back of ghettos, slums, and internal and external colonialism,
• which is infested with violence and repression while demanding obedience and compliance from the victims of violence and repression,
• which, in order to sustain the profitable productivity on which its hierarchy depends, utilises its vast resources for waste, destruction, and an ever more methodical creation of conformist needs and satisfactions.
To the degree to which the rebellion is directed against a functioning, prosperous, “democratic” society, it is a moral rebellion, against the hypocritical, aggressive values and goals, against the blasphemous religion of this society, against everything it takes seriously, everything it professes while violating what it professes.
The “unorthodox” character of this opposition, which does not have the traditional class basis, and which is at the same time a political, instinctual, and moral rebellion, shapes the strategy and scope of the rebellion. It extends to the entire organisation of the existing liberal-parliamentary democracy.