No one with any strong commitment to some kind of action which might prise us out of torpor can fail to hear the frustration apparently inherent in our current intellectual life-function, the noble restlessness of spirit shut up in a cage of professionalism and, maybe yes, career anxiety. How can an urgent and deep-rooted loyalty to freedom of thought accomplish expression in common cause that could find and open a route (instigate a route) to revolutionary action? Is this a protest-situation, closed in as such by its own rhetorical drives; or does it open any kind of prospect towards transformative direct action: some version of action that would not involve the intellectual class of researchers and teachers in throwing down their reading glasses and taking to the streets (merely), but which could make the democratic argument about shared knowledge and understanding into itself a revolutionary principle, even though by definition it can hardly expect to carry with it a mass-support activism? Indeed, is this very ‘by definition’ a complacent defeatism?
For it is profoundly true that the procedures of knowledge are orderly, even if the best insights which they can support are not; and this hankering for order can so easily mute the precise and determined drive to revolutionary expression, to action not just against a recognisable enemy function ideologically speaking, but towards a goal that would shift the working basis of knowledge inside social culture and social action. To attempt these tasks would be a truly historic enterprise, to seek to alter the history of pan-European servile complacency in which intellectual freedom (‘enlightenment’) has been diverted into middle-class professional careerism, hedged in by caution and hesitation and loneliness.
Our little group (perilously little) has made some progress of great value. We are now not deluded that internal factional argument about bureaucratic management of intellectual activism is the real target. The target closest to us is the clear indication of a government programme to suppress intellectual life and commitment, to even further enslave and demoralise any kind of intelligensia, by chopping back to a shattered stump the function of teaching that promotes freedom of thought in new generations to come. Every intelligent student who drifts into becoming a lawyer or an accountant has been recruited into professionalism that immobilises the drive to understand and to act on the consequences of understanding. Any active young prospective student who doesn’t already have a middle-class funding support base is confronted with a steep and complex mountain of debt as the price for his or her bid for understanding. Everywhere we can watch these things happen: and now the market-function that is set to become the dominant social template will complete this enslavement by inducing the internalisation of this slave-function: we shall pay to learn how to become enslaved, and the debts of such payment will cement the walls of our captivity. This is overt and target-driven counter-revolution, not any longer against the unions (because artisan-labour has been outpaced by technology) but against those potential sparks of revolution within the career of knowledge, teaching and learning
how this captivity has been constructed and enforced.
I do not think that we can effectively take to the streets, as in 68, or at least not yet; and the outcome of 68, which did truly shift some social boundary lines, did not result in a better, more active freedom for intelligence in social life, anywhere in Europe except perhaps in societies which were already seeking out routes towards freedom from within overtly totalitarian regimes. Thatcherism was by contrast not *overtly* totalitarian because it sought to internalise, in the minds of thinking men and women, the passive will to conform to a management control every bit as interventionist as an eastern European police state.
The analysis for us must be painful as it is also necessary. Are we involved in escalating protest, or are we inching towards revolutionary action? Must the latter at some point if we reach it, break links with the former, and diverge into a different path? Do we have any conception of revolutionary leadership and discipline that would focus an incipient democratic collectivism into a revolutionary programme? Would we strongly and truly want this, in any way potentially damaging to our bourgeois selves, faced with the extreme traditional sluggishness of British gradualism and conformism? For it is easy enough to set out the face of wanting what we intuitively know there is little risk of our attaining, of our self-bluff being called by a to us unexpected turn of events. A revolutionary commitment calls for a certain sincerity of meaning what one says.
These are questions that should twitch the intellectual conscience, but they don’t so far as I can see point to clear answers or even routes towards such answers, or not yet. If we mean business we have to work it out. In particular, since we have hitherto adopted the method of protest and the build-up of a protest-motivated social base, can this tendency be re-directed towards channels of social action, even socially transformative action, without losing the protest base? If the thinking of this base is, instinctually, conformist, how dangerous to a collective support in shared attitudes would be an attempt to move the whole argument along, well past this stage? May we have in due course to risk damage or loss to this base, in order not to be held back by it?
The White Paper, even more than the Browne Review, is a blueprint for dogmatic repression, of the free intellectual function in social life. I know that such usage of the word ‘free’ is utopian and maybe facile; but for these reasons not to use it at all is to be driven out of whatever grounds our argument might rightfully claim. The White Paper arrives at a seasonally low point in our collectivist resources, and must have been timed to take advantage of this trough-like rhythm. But it is an ugly, boring challenge to conscience and commitment, and the penalties for lassitude could be most severe. Forgive me if I try to work out a few of these thoughts on-screen: the cries of frustration that have instigated this effort are acutely painful to me, and laden with powerful meaning that at present I cannot join up to a directive for strategic future action. I think we have to mobilise our best minds to work this out collectively, as best we can. I wish also to add that I am proud to take part in this debate; it is surely a most important part of what we are for.