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Andr Gorz 1970

Destroy the University

Source: Les Temps Modernes #285, April 1970;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.

1. The university cannot function, and we must
thus prevent it from functioning so that this
impossibility is made manifest. No reform
of any kind can render this institution
viable. We must thus combat reforms, in
their effects and in their conception, not
because they are dangerous, but because
they are illusory. The crisis of the institution
of the university goes beyond (as we will
show) the realm of the university and
involves the social and technical division of
labor as a whole. And so, this crisis must
come to a head.
The occasions and the ways of making it come
to a head are subject to discussion. They are
more or less good. But the discussion and the
critique can only be carried out in a worthwhile
fashion by those who recognize that the
rejection of reformism is necessary, and its
stakes global.
2. The open crisis in the university in France
goes back to the beginning of the 1960s, to
the Fouchet Plan. When the majority of an
age group strives to present itself for the
baccalaureate and the majority of those with
diplomas strive to enter the university, the
mechanisms of social selection put in place
by the bourgeoisie take a beating, its
ideology and its institutions thrown into
The ideology of the academy is that of
the equality of chances for social
promotion though studies. This equality and
Bourdieu and Passeron have demonstrated this
has always been fictitious. Nevertheless, the
mechanisms and criteria of academic selection
in the past were sufficiently objective for
their class and arbitrarys character to be
masked; one was eliminated or chosen in
function of a group of aptitudes and
competences that were defined once and for
all. Traditionally the left fought, not against
class criteria of selection which would have
forced it to fight against selection itself and
against the academic system as a whole but
for the right of everyone to enter the selection
The contradictory character of this demand
remained masked as long as the right was, in
theory, recognized for all while, the practical
possibility to use it was denied to the vast
majority. From the moment when, with the
assistance of the diffusion of knowledge, the
majority strives to obtain the practical
possibility to use a theoretical right, the
contradiction is made clear; if the majority
accedes to higher education the latter lose their
selective character. The right to study and the
right to social promotion can no longer go
together; if, at best, everyone can in fact study,
everyone cannot be promoted to privileged
posts. The mechanisms of academic selection
having been beaten down, society will either
seek to put complementary mechanisms in
place, or to restrict the right to study through
administrative limitations.
3. These administrative limitations numerous
clausus, exams for university entry are
such delicate matters politically that the
successive governments of the Fifth
Republic have retreated before their
application. In fact, the limitation ex ante of
the number of students is the frank and
brutal negation of a juridical principle and a
social fiction, i.e., that the chance of social
promotion through studies is equal for all
and that the possibility to study is only
limited by the aptitude for doing this.
Destroying this juridical fiction means
exposing the illusory character of bourgeois
freedoms, and above all means confronting, in
the name of a technocratic rationality study is
expensive and it isnt profitable when graduates
cant be promoted the middle classes or
those so- called, whose support the capitalist
regime can only preserve by dangling before
them the possibility of social elevation
limited by merit alone. Numerus clausus, pre-
selection, and entry exams for universities, by
destroying the illusions of the meritocratic
ideology, will raise up against the capitalist
state the middle classes and will reveal their
condition to them as a social fate; they are
composed, not ofpotential bourgeois, which the
chance of birth and fortune prevented from
become real bourgeois, but of a riffraff of the
needy and of subaltern workers fated to serve,
and not equal, the bourgeoisie.
Politically and this is the meaning of the
Faure reform the bourgeoisie must thus
maintain the fiction of the chance of social
promotion offered to all via the free access to
studies. However, it is reality that takes on the
task of putting the lie to this fiction; the access
to studies is free, but the studies lead nowhere.
The number of graduates devalorizes the
diplomas. There are many called and few
chosen: there are few posts. The numerical
reduction that academic selection wasnt able
to carry out will be carried out by a selection at
the point of hire.
While waiting for the force of circumstances
to be understood, i.e., that parents point their
children towards good professional school,
which are yet to be created, giving them access
to good jobs rather than towards universities
which theyll leave jobless, the state keeps the
universities open, but little by little removes the
value (e.g. Vincennes) of the diplomas they
grant. In short, they give the university enough
rope so that in the end they hope it will
hang itself. In the meanwhile, they send cops
into the universities in order that, in setting
them ablaze, their discredit might be
4. These contradictions in the bourgeois
university are related to fundamental
The market value that has until now been
recognized in diplomas rested on their rarity
and on the rarity of aptitude for study. If the
latter becomes general the bonus attached to
the diploma must logically disappear and,
with it, the hierarchical division of tasks.
If the aptitude for study consecrated or not
by a diploma tends to become generalized,
it ceases to be able to serve as a criterion for
selection: social stratification can no longer
claim to be based on competency and merit.
The right to studies and the right to
promotion can no longer march hand in had.
If studies no longer assure promotion, it will
result in either one thing or the other; either
they are considered a waste of time and a
useless social charge, since they are
profitable neither for those who do them nor
for capitalist society; or
they are considered as a non-
functional general education which society
can, after all, afford the luxury of. But in
this case the affirmation of the inalienable
right to studies has as its corollary that these
studies, which open onto no career, must
present to those who enter them and who
later will become employees, workers, or
whatever an intrinsic interest.
It is at this point that the contradiction of the
university becomes clear. Against the selection
system, the student movement had affirmed the
inalienable right to studies. The logic of this
demand (which remained petite
bourgeoise insofar as it was a defense of the
possibility of promotion for all) had led it to
anti-hierarchical and egalitarian positions: in
order for everyone to have the right to study it
was necessary that studies, ceasing to be a class
privilege, should also cease to confer the right
to an privilege whatsoever. It had to be
accepted that those with higher degrees should
work with their hands, which led to putting in
question and refusing the social division of
labor, the technical division of labor which
bears its imprint, and every form of the
hierarchization of tasks.
But it was impossible to stop there, for the
moment we accept that studies dont lead to a
career, we must redefine the nature of studies,
their content and their meaning; since they
dont confer a useful culture they must confer
a rebellious culture; since they dont
correspond to a demand of societys, they must
respond to the demand of those who make it
and who intend to destroy that society, abolish
that division of labor.
But the university is by nature incapable of
responding to this demand; it isnt functional
either in relation to the demands of capitalist
economy or in relation to the demands of those
who want to overthrow capitalism; it dispenses
neither a useful culture nor a rebellious
culture (which, by definition, is not
dispensed); it dispenses a university culture,
i.e., a knowledge separated from any
productive or militant practice. In short, it is a
place where one can pass ones time in neither
a useful nor an interesting fashion. No kind of
reform can change this situation. It can thus not
be a question of reforming the university, but
rather of destroying it in order to destroy all at
once the culture separated from the people it
incarnates (that of the mandarins) and the social
stratification of which it after all remains the
5. Such are the facts that the university
guerrilla brings to light: it shortens the
agony of a moribund institution and reveals
the hypocrisy of the corporations that
defend it. Can it be said that the leftist
students will not be able to either put
something else in its place or change society
so that that other thing becomes viable? It is
obvious: students cannot, on their own,
either produce another culture or make the
revolution. What they can do, however, is
prevent the heightened crisis of bourgeois
institutions, of the division of labor and the
selection of elites from being masked.
This is what they are doing (and is what all
the partisans of order of this order or of
another, every bit as authoritarian and
hierarchical reproach them for). Alone
they cannot go any farther; the effective
destruction and even the contesting (and not
only ideological) of the division of labor
cannot be carried out in the universities; it
can only be carried out in the factories and
enterprises; it supposes the critical analysis
of a productive organization whose apparent
technical rationality is at one and the same
time the objectification and mask of a
political rationality, of a technique of
domination. It supposes a practical
knowledge of the process of production and
the practical enterprise in order to change it;
in order to submit it to the associated
producers, to replace the hierarchical
division by the voluntary division of labor.
It is only from the starting point of this
effective critique of the division of labor that,
in its turn, the critique can become effective of
the education which, directly (in technical and
professional schools) or indirectly, forms the
managers, the enforcers, and the losers of
capitalist production. The destruction of the
university and class education is thus not only
the affair of the taught alone; it is above all the
affair of the working class if the capitalist
division of labor, of which the school is the
matrix, is to be surpassed.
The crisis of the bourgeois university and the
working class revolt against the despotism of
the factory confer an immediate relevance on
the question of this surpassing. And if the
conjunction between these two aspects of the
same crisis that of the division of labor
doesnt arrive at the effective joining of the
students and workers and a reciprocal critique
of the methods of education and domination,
the fault doesnt lie with the student movement;
it lies with the traditional organizations of the
working class movement, who are doing
everything possible to lock the students in the
university ghetto in order to better control the
workers demands. If the necessary violence of
the student struggle thus tends to wear itself out
in symbolic insurrections on the university
level alone, it is not due to a perverse taste for
objectless violence; it is because violence alone
is capable of smashing, if only temporarily, the
encirclement of the university ghetto and of
posing a problem whose existence the
reformists of all stripes prefer to ignore. This
problem that of the crisis of bourgeois
institutions and ideology and the division of
labor is a political problem par excellence. It
isnt enough that the political parties refuse any
political meaning or expression to student
violence for it to be simple vandalism; it is a
matter of a violence both political and
politically necessary, if not sufficient.