I gave a keynote lecture recently to the Marx and Philosophy Society Annual Conference. The title of my talk was Critical Theory as a Critique of Labour, ft. academic work; or, how do revolutionary teachers teach? One of the questions asked was what is the difference between my version of revolutionary teaching and critical pedagogy. It was a good question. My answer was a bit garbled. Having had time to consider the question I have set out a more organised answer below.
Critical pedagogy in the way of Henry Giroux or Paulo Freire promotes a collaborative relationship between the teacher and student so that each have much to learn from each other. The teacher maintains a leadership role to guide the student to an awareness of how the world can be transformed for the benefit of humanity.
The real secret of revolutionary teaching lies in not teaching (Vygotsky 1927 339). For revolutionary teaching there is no teacher and student; rather, revolutionary teaching establishes an event, or better an institutional form, out of which critical practical knowledge can emerge, as a type of anti-positivist science (Gunn 1989).
In an event with no teacher there is no personal authority. The authority is the knowledge produced by the group which participants can draw on for inspiration and energy. This knowledge becomes the basis for a new institutional form, or ‘living knowledge’ as Gigi Roggero describes it.
For revolutionary teaching democracy is the essence of this arrangement as democracy is the essence of science and knowledge, after John Dewey’s notion of Producerism (Westbrook 2015). Revolutionary teaching is politics not pedagogy.
The Marxist version of critical pedagogy is based on a mainstream version of Marxism as well as western Marxism and cultural Marxism. For critical pedagogy based on these versions of Marxist theory workers struggle to appropriate the means of production so that wealth can be distributed more equally (Hill). This is underpinned by a focus on the relationship between knowledge and power (Apple). These versions of Marx imply a privileged position for critical thinkers somehow outside the realms of perverted class consciousness, yet unable to ‘account for its own existence and must present itself in the form of tragic stance or avant-garde pedagogy’ (Postone 1993 38-39).
Revolutionary teaching recognises students and teachers in the capitalist university as academic workers whose labour power is exploited for the production of capitalist surplus value. Revolutionary teaching is grounded in a reappraisal of Marx’s value theory of labour: a critique of labour in capitalism, or a value-form analysis (Postone), which seeks to overcome capitalist relations of production for a post-capitalist society in which work is no longer the organising principle of society, and where money has ceased to be the supreme form of social power (Clarke). Communism is not only ‘the ruthless critique of the existing order’ (Marx), but a society of abundance based on the reconciliation of the needs and capacities of humanity in nature (Kay and Mott).
Critical pedagogy is based on praxis, or immediate action in response to capitalist repression as a form of unmediated violence. In that sense it mirrors the instrumentality of capitalist logic: to read the world in order to transform it. Revolutionary teaching avoids praxisism through an awareness of the ways in which immediate activity is mediated by the value-form. This does not mean do nothing. Revolutionary teaching is grounded in action based on an awareness of the contradictoriness of the world. Paula Allman’s reading of Marx as a value theory of labour, which she describes as revolutionary critical pedagogy, and Glenn Rikowski’s analysis of the value form with regard to education, are very helpful in this regard. The world cannot be read, rather it has to be translated, to use an idea developed by Ana Dinerstein, which compares the mediation of language with the mediation of the value-form. Translation includes non-capitalist indigenous knowledge, not as a counter worldly wisdom (Kahn) , but as a contribution to critical practical social knowing, i.e. revolutionary teaching.
Critical pedagogy is based on an affirmative understanding of humanity or creativity as a natural capacity which has been suppressed. Revolutionary teaching is based on a negative critique of humanity, in which, following Adorno’s maxim ‘the negative can never be negative enough’. The most developed version of revolutionary critical pedagogy is by Peter McLaren. I have written a response to his approach in an article, The Pedagogy of Hate.
The logic of revolutionary teaching points to a co-operative university (Winn) as a democratic institution based on the principle of solidarity (Hall) ran for the benefit not only of its members but the society out of which it has emerged. This form of knowledge at the level of society, what Marx refers to as ‘the general intellect’, suggests an extended form of political settlement, beyond the idea of a political party or even the national state (Virno ; Grubacic and O’Hearn ).
We might think of this political settlement as a co-operative federation, like Rojava , an autonomous region in North Syria since 2014 that operates a co-operative based economy, providing social cohesion for a no-state democracy. Any such federation must retain the capacity to challenge its own foundational principles, like democratic confederalism (Ocalan), through a practical reflexive critique based on the practice and principles of revolutionary teaching.