No State, No Nation: a Co-operative Federation


The Student as Producer book I am writing ends with a discussion about the co-operative university and the revolutionary teaching out of which it is derived, not as a new type of independent institution but as a form of political settlement.

The theory and practice of creating a co-operative university has focussed up to this point on the university as an independent institutional form, with its own intrinsic critical dynamic, model of ownership, radical democracy and curriculum content. But the creation of a radical alternative university can only be achieved through a transformation of the social relations of  capitalist production: this is the basic lesson of Student as Producer. This transformation means the co-operative nature of capitalist production should be further enhanced so that workers can take control and ownership over the means of production,  as an association of workers (Winn 2015). This is a logical and historical development but needs to be considered politically and, in this review, geographically as its effects are socialised  beyond the workplace.

This transformation of the practice of co-operation can be considered beyond the institutional form of higher education to include a wider explication of pedagogic space and spatiality (Lefebvre 1991, Neary and Amsler 2012). The university has a strong affiliation with space exemplified by the notion of the campus, originally meaning field, as well as its attachment to specific geographical locations: the University of Bologna, Oxford, Harvard, Seoul National University…etc (Bender 1991 ). If  revolutionary teaching is grounded in the general intellect or general knowledge at the level of society then  revolutionary teaching requires a new form of ‘public sphere outside of the state’  as  ‘a political community’ (Virno 2001), or  political settlement, even, implying a signficant geographical component.

The nation-state  is the dominant geo-political spatial formation (Smith 2010). Since its inception in the 17th century, the nation state has operated not just as a form of violent political sovereignity (Benjamin 1921), but,  fundamentally, as the spatial arrangement by which labour power is organised and managed as a process of capitalist and colonial administration (Holloway and Picciotto 1978, Kay and Mott 1982). The capitalist nation-state is a nodal point in the system of global capitalist social relations, as the ‘political regulation of class antagonism’ which is manifest in different ways across the globe (Bonefeld, Brown and Burnham 1995 25).

Analyzing the capitalist world system is not only an empirical issue, but must pay attention to the methodology  through which that analysis is carried out (Wallerstein 2004 ). Wallerstein offers a unity of the sciences as the methodological framework for the  subversive university,  with profound implications for the organisation of higher education (Wallerstein 1996). Lefebvre supports this scientific unification with a university grounded in a critique of everyday life or subversive knowledge  based on the meta-principle of communist science: which he calls  ‘dialectical anthropology’ (Lefebvre 2003 65), rather than an appeal to philosophical universal principles. In this way, the university is recognised as a form of  social pedagogy which involves ‘self criticism and continuous active scrutiny of the relations between the functional and the structural limits of a self managing entity and society as a whole’ (Lefebvre 1968 87).  

Lefebvre set out plans for an urban space in which such a university might be located in  New Belgrade in the former Yugoslavia (Bitter and Weber 2009). He describes his plans for New Belgrade as  ‘the Capital of a Federal Republic where all the nations that compose it may find, through new modes of appropriation of the space of the city, their own character’ ( 2009 32).

The Federal Republic to which Lefebvre is referring has proved the inspiration for another profound organisational presumption around which the question of pedagogical space might be assembled:  ‘balkanisation’ (Grubacic 2010). Balkanisation is a term that usually has negative connotations as a process of national fragmentation that is detrimental to the whole. But Grubacic provides a  guide  to how the concept of balkanisation might be appropriated as a revolutionary principle, with the motto: ‘no state, no nation: Balkan Federation’  (Grubacic 2010). Writing in the anarchist tradition, inspired by Kropotkin and the principle of mutual aid, Grubacic’s balkanisation is derived from the historical development of  Balkan politics as  ‘an organic, dialogical, shared and participatory activity of the self-governing public ‘ (2010 215), a history that has been denied by what he refers to as ‘ “political balkanophobia”: an elite fear of autonomous spaces’ (2010 210) that might undermine the European nation-state building project.  In a very practical way balkanising leads to a show of ‘concrete support to the projects of mutual aid, mutual solidarity, poly-cultural identity and the politics of freedom’ ( 2010 218). Not then ‘state formation …[but]… state de-formation’ (Grubacic and O’Hearn 2016 17). This regional focus is substantiated by the promotion of labour-managed co-operative enterprises as the organising principle for progressive social development in the former Yugoslavia ( Vanek 1977). Grubacic and O’Hearn refer to these balkanised sites as exilic spaces: ‘those areas of social and economic life where people and groups attempt to escape from capitalist economic processes, whether by territorial escape or by the attempt to build structures that are autonomous of capitalist processes of accumulation and social control’ ( 2016 1-2). They have described these exilic spaces as living at the edges of capitalism. They find examples of exilic spaces in  Zapatistas villages, Cossack communities and Supermaximum Prisons. My own co-research has found examples of what could be referred to as exilic spaces at Mondragon University in the Spanish Basque country, a region with a history of separatist politics (Kashmir 1996,  Bakaikoa et al 2010 ), where members of this co-operative university work on ‘solidarity economics’ projects in the Global South (Neary, Valenzuela-Fuentes and Winn 2017).

Grubacic is aware of the value-form theory on which Student as Producer is based (Grubacic 2016), although value-form theory does not form part of the methodology by which he describes his Balkanised federated model. For Student as Producer exilic space is not  only mutual aid as an empirical political issue but involves a critique of political economy in action focussed on the principle of co-operation. Revolutionary teaching is not then a radical university that is located within an exilic space:  but a methodological principle: dialectical anthropology or communist science, around which an exilic space  might be  organised: no state no nation: a co-operative federation. And so, in this way, revolutionary teaching  becomes much more than the basis for an independent co-operative institution and asserts itself as the organising principle for a new form of political settlement.

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