How do people shape their surroundings? And can self-organizing structures redefine their relations to the institutions of power? Could they ever replace traditional forms of education? Or can they place enough pressure on institutions to draw them into the process of self-education, transforming them?
Today, more and more people are haunted by a sense of impotence. The world seems impossible to change, though something is clearly going wrong. Sure, you can have a career and manage to save up some money; you can work endlessly and bend over backwards for your boss, and you can relax yourself to oblivion by watching TV… And no matter how addicted you are to that lifestyle, you will always sense that the everyday is somehow becoming more and more petty and squalid, vapid and pointless, despite all that comfort and success.
But very few people are in the position to grasp the reasons for what is going on, understanding the world in all the fullness of its contradictions. Very people have the privilege of reflecting upon their place in the world and in history. And very few people realize that the time to act is now.
The things you know as to how the world works can only be tested in practice. And all practices give rise to new knowledge. Thought and action are inextricable from one another; they are always an integral process. But to really change the existing order of thing, you need to know how society actually works, and how it is composed. But where can you get that today?
Today, there is a crisis in education all over the world. One of its symptoms is the decline of both the theories and practices of the disciplinary, humanist educational ideal, which traditionally empowered their subjects, instilling not only a sense of civil rights and responsibilities, but also a means for changing and overturning the present state of affairs. But today, people no longer learn solidarity, dignity, historical subjectivity, or the ability to participate in political life. None of these things are part of any educational process. Disciplinary autonomy no longer shields education from the market, especially when its basis in state funding erodes. Education has effectively become an instrument or bargaining chip used in corporate market politics, which are only interested in producing a cost-efficient, obedient work force. The growing servility of education to market demands represents a serious threat to the creativity or vibrancy of a society’s development, one that we can only resist by finding alternative forms to spread and produce a knowledge that emancipates the subjects it creates.
Such emancipatory practices of self-education have been extraordinarily important in Russian history. Nikolai Chernyshevsky’s novel “Chto delat? / What is to be done?” (1863) is but one brilliant literary example. Often half-criminal and in opposition to official institutions of power, such confidential circles were able to give form to some of the most striking things in Russian thought and culture. Notwithstanding their marginal position, the collective knowledge they produced was an invaluable contribution to the historical victory over the repressive superstructures of tradition. Their experience still inspires us today, as we once again look for ways to educate ourselves.
This form of learning begins once we realize that we are oppressed and that this is something we need to change. Self-education is for the oppressed. Its goals are emancipation, dignity, and love. We try to try how we can be more, breaking with our own insufficiency and weakness, finally attaining equality. The only answer is to be found in the practices that make up our lives; once we look at these practices, we can clearly see that we aren’t just talking about the abstract categories of an ideal world of the future, but about the reality of our everyday lives.
Direct actions are always based upon spontaneous reactions to the problems of the reality that surrounds us. That is, they are based on the ethical necessity of doing something that cannot be done yet. These actions are not PR for a certain brand, even if that’s what the assorted spindoctors and privatization advocates would have you think; they can’t understand that there is something beyond this logic, and beyond the legitimacy instilled by the institutions of power. The point of these actions is to raise the consciousness of their participants and to create preconditions for new forms of solidarity capable of resisting oppression, humiliation, and day-to-day injustice. It is here that we can develop and test the possibilities for other forms of social relations. Together they make up a new collective experience of the everyday, an experience of freedom. Each action is “stolen air,” a recapture of social space, now inhabited in those forms that the action’s participants will imagine.
This issue presents a critical selection of activists today who are consciously continuing the tradition of auto-didactic initiatives in direct actions. We would like to place this new local experience of today into the international context of independent educational structures and its history.