How “Parasites” Fought for Free Universities: the Czech student movement 2012 in retrospect

At the end of the last year we finished this text which looks back at a student movement that at the end of February and beginning of March 2012 brought about twenty thousand students into the streets of Czech university cities in order to protest against a governmental reform of university education and introduction of tuition fees. One of the reasons for writing this text was the fact that we took part in “the Week of Unrest” ourselves and since that time we have felt a need to relate to our own experience in the soberest way possible, to try and make a compact (self-)critical reflection, which could be added to few attempts at a similar evaluation of those events at universities. With this text we also pay back our debt to several people we met within the initiative Brno for Free Universities and who were interested in an analysis of this kind.

Dedicated to a girl, who regorged her own urine, she had drunk, on an atrium of the Faculty of Social Studies; to other students of the Faculty of Fine Arts, “Parasites for alluring and Zen universities” and all the others, who were exploring the current border, dividing what is possible and what is not, within the student movement.

We do not aim at a detailed empirical analysis of the movement and its various aspects, though we venture into it as well so that we are able to familiarize ourselves with that phenomenon as profoundly as possible. It is not our aim either to measure “the Week of Unrest” against this or that fancied ideal of a “movement” and subsequently produce a list of all universally valid ideas and practices that were lacking and therefore it failed. On the contrary, we would like to understand and theorise the student movement in its own truth – thus to study the movement as it really was and why it looked like this and not any other way.

It was the first mass protest of students since November 1989. As such, it was obviously loaded with a tremendous symbolical significance that necessarily became an object of a fierce ideological battle: do students defend freedom and democracy against a swelling democratic deficit, brought about by neo-liberal politics, or are they irresponsible individuals who just want to continue sponging on the society? Surely, the way in which the movement identified and grasped the apple of discord, the way in which it understood itself and clashed with the dominant ideology, is not unimportant and cannot be completely left unaccounted. Though it is inseparable, it is still just a part of the whole picture and we cannot understand it outside of this totality.

Therefore, our point of departure is going to be the social-economical framework and its historical genesis (i.e. the capitalist restructuring after 1989), inherently connected with the evolution of university education that produced the Dobeš’s reform along with its antipole: the student unrest. We will try to roughly sketch the content, motives and goals of both the reform and the movement rebelling against it. We will do our best to at least slightly uncover a historically specific determination of students’ protests character – thus, in what way they grew out of and at the same time inscribed themselves into the current confrontation between the capitalist class and the proletariat over the latter’s reproduction. After that we will deal with an internal dynamics of the university movement, namely a temporary alliance of the academic community official representations and academic activists. Through the course of “the Week of Unrest” we will explicate how this dynamics concretely materialised and how this strength of the movement proved to be its limit in several key occasions. An attempt to analyse the phenomenon of activism in general and academic activism in particular will lead to an abrupt end of the movement and its repercussions.

A ride in an under-funded Trabant

Factual proposals of laws on universities and financial aid for students themselves, as elaborated in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Physical Education (MŠMT), were not accidentally produced spoilages or a “de-form” stemming either from a lack of competence on the side of the minister Dobeš (a common point of view among protesting students) or obsession of the coalition government with neo-liberal ideology (a point of view accompanying activist workhorses of the whole movement). They were just one particular formulation (and only to this extent they were influenced by personal abilities and specific views of their authors) of currently unavoidable restructuring processes, which have their own common ground. What is it?

As a public service, the education system – including universities – is a functional part of the social reproduction of the exploitative class relation. To be more precise, within the capitalist mode of production it has always been and will be an institution forming, qualifying and allocating labour power commodity. Its particular form and content therefore depend on needs of an increasingly complex division of labour and as such they are historically variant. Thus to support this thesis and understand the current reform proposals, we consider as necessary to deal with, at least, the post-1989 evolution of the tertiary education in the context of the Czech economy trajectory, which is firmly established in the global process of capital accumulation. Let us start.

In 1980, 5 % of the Czech population above the age of 15 were university educated (altogether 393.524 people), while almost half of them graduated from technical and economical departments. Simultaneously, the years 1971-1989 were marked by a feeble average rise in the number of students per annum (only by 1,7 %) so in 1991 the sum of university educated persons reached 7,2 % and more than half of them once again graduated from technical-economical departments. The “real existing socialist” model of an extensive productive capital accumulation, which was in a state of a chronic stagnation in Czechoslovakia since the end of the 1960s, did not allow for a more dynamic development of erudition. Under conditions of the “transition recession” in the years 1991-1994 and the crisis in 1997-1998, a pace of growth of the university educated population did not gather even in the first decade of transition towards free-market capitalism: in 2001 graduates represented 8,9 %. But in the same year there was a breakthrough, as the Czech Republic started to really bring in life the so called Bologna Process, through which the European Union has been trying to continuously harmonise the system of university education with contemporary requirements of the economy since 1999. In order to understand contours of its application in Czechia, it is important to recall what the then era was about.

The crisis of 1997-1998 closed the first stage of transition (capitalist restructuring), when it purged the mostly state-controlled banking sector and opened it to a strategic partnership of foreign capital, while significantly disrupting the original structure of the so called “banking socialism”[1] – later re-baptised as “mafia-like capitalism” – and making a final restructuring of huge industrial enterprises possible (1998-2001).[2] Old (especially engineering) enterprises disappear or they are, heavily downsized, overtaken by foreign investors or they become subcontractors for investment units of big corporations. There are new industrial enterprises and research centres of foreign companies growing as well and a private service sector is further expanding (though only slowly now), while the role of public services is not losing its importance. Across branches of the economy, modern technologies are more and more utilised in the production process of capital. With the economy growing again and changes in its structure, coupled with visions of “the information society” and “knowledge economy” pursued by the then Social Democratic governments, changes in requirements from the education system and the education structure of the population come as well: it was necessary to catch up with the EU as for the number of university educated people, because secondary school students were positively dominant in the Czech Republic (and in comparison to the EU 27 average they still represent a too great share of the labour force on the labour market up to this day).

A growing demand for university graduates was mirrored in linking financial means distributed by the state among individual universities to the quantity of students, which opened the gates to both increasing the number of students and increasing interest in university studies. Numbers of students were growing not only in the public tertiary education, but private colleges began to be set up as well (partially subsidised by the state, but otherwise funded by their owners and with tuition fees). Between 2000 and 2011, 44 private colleges were established (with a total number of 57.424 students) and the number of public universities increased from 23 to 26 (with a sum of 338.883 students). While at the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000 there were 198.961 persons studying university in Czechia, at the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011 there were already 396.307 of them. The most dramatic increase (by 160 %) took place between 2001 and 2010 in departments of “social sciences, commerce and law” that take a 34 % share of the total number of students. On the contrary, a share of people studying “technical sciences, production and construction” dropped from 24 % to 15 % in the same period, though their absolute number also increased. In other departments amounts of students increased more equally.[3]

However, development of public expenditures on the tertiary education was significantly falling behind that pace. In 1993, they amounted to 0,63 % of the GDP and during the critical period of 2001-08 they increased only from 0,71 to 0,8 %. A more dynamic development of expenditures on public services related to the reproduction of the labour power in general and on university education in particular was not possible. The reason of this impossibility was that at the same time a new modus of accumulation, described as dependent industrialisation, was fully launched.[4] This means, that a “servicing and assembling character”[5] of the Czech economy was more and more obviously shaped. It is focused on subcontracting activities, especially for German companies, and export (that accounts for 80 % of the GDP), while what is totally central to it is the car industry and a steady inflow of direct foreign investments, seeking substantial profits. Thus despite all the structural changes, it was low labour costs (including social wage) what remained the basis for an international competitive ability of the CR as in the 1990s. Without them, investment incentives and tax holidays introduced by Social Democratic governments for foreign companies would not have delivered desired results in a form of new plants that do not move to some other country as soon as their advantages expire. Under conditions of low state expenditures, funding of universities was becoming more and more stretched and necessarily posed a problem that right-wing governments have tried to tackle already since 2006. It was no accident that a member of the Academy Senate of the Faculty of Arts at the Charles University in Prague likened the university education to a ride in “an under-funded trabant car that does not have a clue where it is going, but wants to be there as quickly as possible”.[6]

However, already this stage of applying the Bologna Process brings along the beginnings of the neo-liberal restructuring of the tertiary education. Universities accept an “industrial” model of their internal functioning, which is based on an international standardisation of studies and academic labour, while in their evaluation quantitative parameters are emphasised. There is a pressure on homogenising programmes of studies, their structures, outputs of studying (measured in collecting credits) and drawing up graduates‘ profiles; a pressure on concentrating on applied research and therefore patents, technologies, etc. Progressively, there is a growing emphasis on cooperation with the “purchasing sphere”, i.e. with employers, and thus on a production of “competencies” to work activities. What is internally linked to this, is a triumph of the general conception of the tertiary education as “expertise” (expert knowledge) – its graduates did not undergo classical education in the sense of “bildung” (general cultivation of man in the way of sharing common culture), but they are prepared for a lifelong training on the job, according to their employers‘ needs.[7] As one of the first and fundamental steps in this restructuring universities made their long-time rigid programmes of studies, coming from times of “real existing socialism” (or even older), more flexible and introduced a two-tyre studies, divided into shorter time-segments. In the coming years, an increase in a percentage of bachelor programmes students, in relation to all others, could be expected. What has been expressed simultaneously with this development, is an effort to regulate the duration of studies and thus to intensify its course through introducing fees for making one’s studies longer than is expected. Universities have made efforts to develop their own business activities and to link themselves to the private sector. However, neither has brought a desired solution to the dismal funding of the tertiary education. On the contrary, companies often use their cooperation with universities to suck out state funds.[8]

Until the last year, none of these trends had transformed and could not have transformed into a more significant or considerable students‘ discontent. It had always been a question of a few dozens of leftist activists, who had been able to occasionally mobilise once again only a few dozens of their fellow students, especially at several faculties of the Charles University, every time when there had been a proposal on the government’s table to introduce tuition fees as a means to bring more money to the state budget or to universities.[9]

The reason is obvious: so far, university education has guaranteed social mobility or at least an easy entrance onto the labour market to graduates and in this way it has worked as an important legitimisation of the capitalist class relation. During years 2006-10, out of a total number of university educated persons 65.7 % worked in categories “lawmakers, leading and directing labourers” and “scientific and expert intellectual labourers”. In average 49 % of fresh university graduates found jobs primarily intended for university graduates. However, bachelors have been more and more occupying jobs primarily intended for secondary school graduates, thus pushing them down to lower floors of the labour market till the crisis arrived and since that time pushing them out of the labour market (one year after finishing their studies, still 14.5 % of secondary school graduates, who took leaving exams, are without jobs and 20.2% of those, who did not take leaving exams); but real losers have been those people, who completed only primary education (a year after leaving school,
their unemployment reaches 39.3 %).

Unlike other European (or for example North-African) countries, structural youth (15-34 years old) unemployment has not been a problem affecting the Czech Republic. Mostly it has been a short-term and marginal phenomenon. But it seems that here also the crisis tends to reduce economy’s ability to absorb the labour power of labour market newcomers. While in 2008, there were 32.1 % of people graduated from all types of schools without jobs, in 2009 it was already 49.6 % and in 2010 it was 43.9 %. A year after completing studies, 13.6% of graduates (an average for the 2006-10 period) still did not have jobs and total youth unemployment oscillated around 10 % in 2010. This being said, until 2010 (last available statistical data), university students, in spite of their growing share of a total number of students and graduates, had been affected by this trend only negligibly. On average, they were able to find a job in a three months time and a year after completing their studies only 3.6 % of them were still unemployed.[10] As for first job wages, we have not found any complete overview, but generally it can be said that average wages of those employee categories, which are main destinations for university students, oscillate around the national average wage or they are higher. Therefore, we can suppose that the worst situation is among new public sector and non-profit sphere employees. However, as for young teachers and doctors, the last years saw a certain amendation of the dismal situation and still they can have a vision of proceeding higher in the system of fixed wage levels with years of working.

Thus, quite a sure perspective of getting a job with an acceptable starting wage and/or a career as well as wage growth have turned university students into a comparatively contented segment of the population. It has made no difference that insofar they have worked during their full-time studies, they had often done so under precarious forms of employment, because a total percentage of continuously and officially working students in the Czech Republic is very small: in 2010, there were 8 % of university students aged 20-24 working and 23.1 % of students aged 25-29.[11] However, to a hardly determinable extent statistical data on students‘ engagement in the Czech economy are misrepresentative, as many of them work illegally. Others work abroad during their vacations so that they are not obliged to work during the academic year. Nevertheless, it is a fact that for the bulk of students a temporary job is just a bonus source to an income they receive from their parents or from a student credit and unofficial temp jobs or flexible employment contracts do not represent a thorny problem for university students (out of those legally employed 51.4 % get a short-term contract and 59.3 % do part-time jobs; on average they work for 25.5 hours a week), because still they can reasonably assume that their position on the labour market will improve after graduation.[12]

We have made an idea about the existing development of tertiary education and the labour market position of its graduates in the context of Czech economical development. We have seen that a “nonconceptional approach” which appears on the surface of events and which the movement reproached to the transformation of university education by the ministry, has rather been a succession of short-term conceptions. More than anything else, their myopia has reflected possibilities and needs of the economy, which have been changing quickly in relation to a demand for an educated labour power since 2001. Considering a late formation of an export-oriented character of Czech capitalism and a by no means insignificant regulation role of the international financial capital, an existence of a viable long-term conception can seem in retrospect as almost impossible. What remains now, is to understand how and why this evolution was followed by proposed university reforms and introduction of tuition fees or registration fees.

Crisis and fiscal responsibility

The state of university education, as described above, was calling for further restructuring which would “solve” the problem of its funding. Plans began to be devised already in 2006-2009 by a team of a neoliberal hatchet man, Petr Matějů. But the social-economical context of tertiary education has been changing rapidly as well: in 2009 Czechia was hit by first blows of the global financial crisis. Banks did not collapse and no mortgage bubble burst as in the USA, but a partial devalorisation of a segment of financial capital in the biggest economy of the world inevitably caused surf that – within a strongly financialised and internationalised accumulation process of capital – spread from the American epicentre up to here. In this model of accumulation, where international flows of financial capital are sources of not only consumer credit and loans for productive capital, but also a primary instrument for forming a global supply of an exploitable labour power and enforcing international competition over the price of labour power, any disruptions in the financial sphere directly mean problems in the so called real economy. Credit-crunch made companies – despite the German government’s aid in a form of “scrappage allowance” – to optimalise (if possible) their production processes for upcoming uneasy times.

Considering how much the Czech and German economies are interconnected, it is no wonder that changes in the German industry affected Czech subsidiaries and subcontractors too. First in 2009, there was a drop in total employment by 1.2 %. It was the industrial sector of the economy that was hit hardest – according to the then minister of industry and commerce almost 20 % of jobs were lost. After a decade of growing real wages, there was a noticeable slow down of this pace (on average to +0.5 %) and even a decrease in public sector real wages (by 2.1 %) since the following year. In 2009, there was also a 4 % drop in the GDP after an entire decade of economic growth; a year later the GDP got back to a modest growth (+2.2 %) without any recovery o the labour market.

Omnipresent fears of the crisis getting more widespread paradoxically led to an electoral victory of the hard-line neo-liberal Right in 2010. It was promising not to allow any other burdening the Czech state with debts so that it does not have to resort to socially painful measures as Greece. At the time, an important part of right-wing voters were students and university graduates, who – inspired by meritocratic ideology – believe that their decent position on the labour market is a result of exclusively their own diligence: they succeeded in competition and it can do only good if the government stops pouring money to the unsuccessful, increasing the public debt that could endanger their own position one time. It was supposed that the crisis had already been coming to its end, that the Czech economy was essentially healthy and that it just needed to stop wasting money in illegal corruption money-lines and undeserved social transfers for “inadaptable”, “lazy” and “uneducated” ones. The right-wing alliance was promising all that.

However, disenchantment came quickly for the young members of middle strata. There was no end of the “Great Recession”. On the contrary, it was more and more obvious that it was nowhere to be seen. From the very beginning, government’s reform programme represents a gradual accommodation to this unfavourable reality. Once again it is described as lacking in a conception, but nothing can be further from the truth. Its long term conception is implementation of further restructuring measures that are shaped continuously, in an interaction with a current development of local as well as international economical situation and the class conflict. Last time, austerity measures were operatively deepened in connection with an official data release, documenting unsatisfactory economical results of the last and this year.[13]

The Left (parliamentary as well as radical democratic one) and unions grumble about the fact that the government has been introducing those measures – tested in Greece and other European countries strongest hit by the crisis (so called PIIGS countries: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain) – despite the Czech state’s debt being one of the lowest in Europe (37.6 % of the nominal GDP) and in this way it further inhibiting the economical growth. But the state exists as a territorialised expression of capitalist social relations in a determinate international and historical context and it can act only in this context. And this had been distinguished already for four decades before the current crisis by economies slowing down and growing debts that had been postponing the fall of the world economy into a depression. The Czech state, as any other, has to preserve an access to a credit with reasonable interest rates so that it is able in the future to withstand further troubles (for example, bailing out certain sectors of private business in order to save them from bankruptcy) and at the same time to pay back its debt.[14] This necessarily means that it cannot abandon the EU herd with its austere fiscal policies, which is supposed to create willingness to lend on financial markets, because it restores creditors‘ “trust” in a possibility of profits through lowering the value of labour power. Thus, the government does not lie, when it says that what is at stake in the reforms, is the imperative of cost competitiveness. But the Left has got its own share of truth too: the same austerity policy could contribute to further destabilisation of the economy. As testified by the Czech Statistical Office (CSO) report, in 2011 “a fall in the government consumption was as deep as in Greece in the 4th quarter” and primarily due to government’s austerity measures “households restrict their consumption as in the countries hit by the debt crisis”, which has had its negative effects on the GDP development.[15] In this context, we cannot help quoting the British Endnotes:

“That any turn to austerity will also cause deflation, endangering the stability that it is meant to prop up, is a real contradiction, which the state will face in this period. These two pressures—to spend in order to stave off deflation and to cut spending in order to stave off default—are equally implacable. Indeed, it is here, on the balance sheet of innumerable governments, that the crisis is now playing itself out. If in 2008, the solvency of the private economy was preserved by shifting its liabilities onto the public books, then today state action to protect its own solvency threatens to endanger the private sector once again. To paraphrase Marx, all this juggling of debt only serves to shift the crisis of insolvency to a broader sphere, and give it a wider orbit.”[16]

What is the order of the day is a policy of “fiscal responsibility”, which is an integral part and a current form of the capitalist restructuring process as realised today especially in Europe. The fundamental characteristic of an entire era of restructuring is a permanent attack on the value of labour power. In the West, restructuring started at the end of the 1970s and beginning of the 1980s as a response to the crisis of the Keynesian-Fordist model of capital accumulation and class struggles through which, among other things, it manifested itself. In the East then after 1989, with varying paces and courses as a “shock therapy” that was a response to the crisis of the “actually existing socialism” model of capital accumulation and its class struggles. Present acceleration of this process is a current response of the ruling class to the global crisis of restructured capitalism that erupted in 2008. It is an attempt to overcome its crisis and do it in a way which is internal to it – in other words, through further pushing labour power’s value down and undermining the proletariat’s reproduction.

In this context, it is necessary to see the reformatory efforts of the coalition government as steps that should – very generally speaking – make the labour market even more flexible, decrease the indirect wage and open “potential deposits of profit”[17] to valorisation of a part of the international financial capital. As such deposits the capitalist class in Czechia so far identified the pension system[18] and services connected predominantly with the reproduction of labour power, which are still provided here mainly by the public sector. At this moment, concrete ways to those deposits are an introduction of private pension funds, a partial replacement of state employment offices in their functions by private employment agencies, an attempt to introduce “social cards” (as a necessary prerequisite to get to one’s social benefits and pensions through cash dispensers) run by a private bank (still unfinished thanks to a scandal and public outrage), further curtailment of public health-care system and an introduction of an “upper-standard care” paid directly by patients. Thanks to other reforms, similar deposits should be opened in the tertiary education too (a certain share of private business already exists here), but concrete ways will be specified in the future. And once again, it is public services (health-care, education, social security system as well as pension system) what is an object of the attack on the social wage (reduction of services accessibility, their downsizing, decreasing their employees‘ wages, decreasing social benefits and doles, lower valorisation of pensions). In this case, what is at stake, is to contain or even decrease through various ways a tax and insurance contribution of social capital as a whole to the reproduction of the proletariat as a whole and thus to the social reproduction of the capitalist relation of exploitation.

As for various forms of cautious cutting down of the social wage and generous privatisation of state property, including parts of some public services, they are no novelties here. Gradually and with breaks as well as reversals – because their imposition has not always been politically and socially passable – they have been taking place for years. What is an evergreen, is mainly a transformation of the tax burden structure, moving from taxes paid by the capital to taxes mostly paid by the labour force and decreasing the total volume of taxes, which is felt as a relief once again primarily by the capital. Prime minister Nečas’s government taxation reforms continue this course too (increasing the tax on personal income by 1 %, both VAT rates and consumption taxes; decreasing companies‘ share on health insurance by 2 % per employee): in sum they are supposed to decrease companies‘ levy roughly by 30 billions of Czech crowns and since 2014 this burden will be transferred onto workers. One by one, other liberalising steps have been getting on the order of the day: progressive loosening of rents regulation and making those segments of the market that are regulated by the state accessible to new players (for instance, restricting the monopoly position of the Czech Post Office).

“The best” minister of education, his reform and unborn terrors

The austerity policy of Nečas’s cabinet deepened even further a lack of funds in university education, when it has decreased public expenditures directed to it by 16 % since 2010 (till 2015 it wants to reduce the volume of public funds spent on the tertiary education by a complete third), thus fuelling a desire of baffled universities for a reform that would solve this question of funding. In this troublesome situation, chancellors were receiving completely contradictory signals from ministry officials. The only clear task was: reduce numbers of students and you will save money.[19] This intention was also going like a red thread through draft laws on universities and financial aid to students that became a basis of the university education reform. We are not going to thoroughly discuss the content of both draft laws that became targets for protesting students and pedagogues during the Week of Unrest. This task, of course, had already been adequately grasped by the movement at Czech universities itself.[20] For us it is much more important to understand what reformatory propositions mean in the context of the “Great Recession” and austerity measures and further genesis of the capitalist class relation in Czechia.

As a leitmotif of the reform seemed to be an effort to shape the tertiary education in a way that would much more flexibly adapt itself to needs and potentials of capital valorisation not only from a viewpoint of the labour market demand, but also from a viewpoint of making it possible to successfully fund the whole system. This is, indeed, a long-term – though just sketchy – conception (distilled from the so far existing, economically imposed succession of short-term conceptions) desired by the capitalist class, for which talented Mr. Dobeš was called “the best ever minister of education” by the president of the republic himself. This conception was adjusted to the reality of today’s world, characterised by a “setback of the economical growth” as the current “newspeak” says, short “economical recoveries” without a corresponding “recovery of the labour market” and prospectively all the more selective and shifting demand for a skilled labour power. However, in many respects it remained just a draft, falling behind the visions of The White Book of the Tertiary Education – based on critical reactions that were to be heard from all sides – and not only from academicians – it appeared as incomplete.

Nevertheless, the reform put forward three key instruments that were supposed to achieve the above mentioned objects: 1) strengthening the general role of the state through an introduction of contractual funding of universities; 2) strengthening particular state control over and influence of the private capital on running of public universities through curtailment of academic self-management; and 3) introducing tuition fees (now re-baptised as enrolment fees).

Contractual funding was supposed to be about making general deals between individual universities and the ministry of education. Ways in which a university would develop, which output criteria would be used, but also a minimum guaranteed state subsidy, were to be set there. Funding should have been disconnected from the number of students and linked to the output and quality. The contract would be renewed every three or five years and the state could easily shut down a university by not renewing the deal. In spite of that, most university representatives welcomed this proposition as making things more transparent and in a certain way more stable in comparison to the preceding (and still lasting) situation. In fact, they agreed with giving the state a strong lever to set numbers of students, programmes of studies and departments of individual universities and therefore with an internal integration and optimalisation of the whole tertiary education and its harmonisation with demands of the social capital. However, in this aspect the final form of reform measures was unclear, since the Ministry of Finance criticised the several years guarantee of the minimum state subsidy as too rigid – considering the tense and volatile situation in the global economy. Moreover, in the future it is possible to expect a pressure put by the state on an expansion of vocationally directed bachelor programmes, demanded by employers and set by The White Book as one of the fundamental objectives, but provided with no concrete framework in the reform proposition.

Nevertheless, it was newly conceived accrediting universities and measuring their quality, what was to serve the state in regulating the tertiary education. In this respect, the draft law was extremely incomplete (it was not really detailed) and obscure.[21] However, for us it will be enough just to mention that universities were supposed to have their own “internal systems for guaranteeing quality” which would represent another shift towards further standardisation of academicians‘ labour and career ladder, programmes of studies, etc., but also towards further quantification of outputs from studies: output tests to check quality and employability of graduates… On the basis of these parameters, universities would be accredited for ten years to provide education in certain departments (e.g. medicine, physics, dramatic art…). Moreover, colleges (they provide at best Master of Arts (MA) programmes and corresponding scientific activities) would be only accredited to provide specific levels of education: bachelor, MA or both. The accreditation process should have been run by the National Accrediting Agency (reincarnation of the current Accrediting Commission) aided by private agencies chosen by it. This deepening of education’s quality measurement through quantitative parameters was obviously supposed to serve to making the whole system more transparent for the so called “application sphere”, i.e. the capital, so that it could navigate through it more easily and practically decide which sections are worth of being linked to.

According to the former chancellor of the Masaryk University in Brno, Jiří Zlatuška, the draft reform law also reflected a long-lasting effort of the Industry and Transport Union to “significantly restrict powers of universities themselves and link them almost directly with industrial companies”.[22] How this linking of public universities with private capital was supposed to specifically look like that was untold. In what way were companies together with the state (redistributing the total “tax contribution” of the social sum of capitals to the social reproduction of the labour power) supposed to fund a day-to-day running of individual universities? Or should they, at the end of the day, rather sponge on public resources through joint research and development centres (the innovation transfer), which is what representatives of polytechnics are complaining about today? It is also hardly expectable that in future the direct co-funding by capital would exceed already existing trends: in any of Western European countries it is in no way high. In any case, the public tertiary education would potentially not only consume a part of social surplus-value, but in a small scale it could directly take part in its production and in this way partially fund itself. Specific forms are still unknown as is an answer to the question of harmonisation individual capitals‘ interests (those capitals that could prospectively enter administering and funding universities) with the interest of the capital as a whole. The reform, as it left the workbench of Dobeš’s ministry, did not suggest any particular ideas in this respect. The White Book talked of a necessity and desirability of the public element still predominating over the private one in funding of the tertiary education. But how much realistic will be this intention in times, when “fiscal responsibility” in this or that form and of varying intensity will become a permanent feature of the state fiscal policy? Perhaps, it is paradoxically possible to say that absence of a clear project was once again an expression of a conceptional approach of the reform…

What was obvious in the draft law was the first step in this process: restriction of the role of academic self-management and students within it.[23] Representative bodies of public universities, presently possessing some fundamental powers (e.g. passing budgets, electing chancellors), were already considered as “clumsy and ineffective” by the authors of The White Book, while the current government adds that they are closed to employers‘ demands. That is why the reform intended to relegate them to a position of merely consultative bodies. Internal democracy at universities should have been replaced with a managerial model of administration. That presupposes significant strengthening of chancellor’s central power; he would be nominated by a university council, where one third would be composed of businessmen and politicians, appointed directly by the government, and two thirds of school representatives, approved by the minister of education. The council would decide a “business plan” of the university, i.e. its budget and its running and what departments and in what way would be developed and which ones, on the contrary, would be strangled. Even these changes in administration and funding of universities and colleges were supposed to guarantee their more flexible concord with labour market fluctuations, because – as revealed by existing experience from abroad – tuition fees cannot do this job. They have not motivated students en masse to choose their studies according to possibilities offered by the market.

Tuition (enrolment) fees were, and as the only thing from the whole reform which survived, they still are supposed to be primarily individual students‘ contributions to the funding of the tertiary education. In the same way as the growing direct financial share of patients in paying for their health-care treatment (regulatory fees for being examined by a doctor, for being hospitalised or transported in an ambulance, etc.), even proposals to introduce tuition fees in whatever form are expressions of a transforming structure of the labour power’s social reproduction, which means changes in its funding. As the social wage decreases, a partial transfer of costs, associated with the reproduction of labour power, to the individual increases. Therefore, as time goes, the direct share in funding necessarily tends to grow – for instance in the UK, tuition fees were raised by 900 % in ten years and even fees in the Czech health-care system are steadily growing. Thus, tuition fees are exactly what they are proclaimed by their shop-fitters: they partake in a multi-source funding of universities.[24]

However, this is not the only purpose of tuition or enrolment fees. In a certain sense they were really also supposed to help “banks” as was critically remarked by the protesting academic community. But perhaps it would be more precise to say that the “financial aid to students”, proposed by the reform, in a form of loans to pay tuition fees with was supposed to become another instrument for financial capital valorisation. Of course, it would be a continuation of the dream-like valorisation, where money makes more money (M…M‘), that was behind many economical bubbles abroad. After bursting the mortgage bubble, there is a danger now in the US that a bubble of student loans (to pay tuition fees) will burst, since the recession questions graduates‘ capability to pay them back. It is a question, how the total number of students in the Czech Republic will evolve – with respect to the gloomy economical situation and still open re-configuration of the university/college system – but even if it stagnated, it would have a potential to create such a bubble here as well; exactly due to the miserable performance of the “real economy”, where graduates will look for jobs and incomes that would allow them to pay back their loans.

At the same time, graduates were supposed to start paying back interests on their tuition fee credits immediately after finishing their studies (even if they were unsuccessful) and credits themselves after reaching a double of the minimum wage, which is at the moment 640 Euros (gross) and an overwhelming majority of, if not all, university graduates can get this in their first jobs. The trouble is that those, who will not get any higher for many a long day than to their wage oscillating around the average wage (last year it was circa 1.040 Euros gross), represent no small part. Thus, while simultaneously paying back their tuition fee loans and buying and furnishing their own homes or even starting families (all that will generate further indebtedness), it is possible that especially those, who will find their jobs in the public sector, where the first wages are in no way generous, will fall into a debt trap that has been typical for socially excluded people (often with primary education).

Therefore, it is possible to assume that these Hašekian “unborn terrors” combined with ever more stretched household budgets, prospectively even further reducing parents‘ ability to support their studying offspring[25], will probably cause – as a side effect of the tuition fees introduction – a more massive entrance of students on the labour market, seeking to reduce their future debt burden. Capitalists would thus live to see students‘ economical activity, which has been insufficient according to them, progressively increasing; their spokespeople consider this insufficient activity as one of the weaknesses of the Czech economy, depriving them of a cheap and relatively theoretically skilled labour power that would gain practical experience in the production process of capital already during studies. What is most important, their wider presence on the labour market would mean strengthening of a competition among workers, bringing a more global pressure on further gradual decrease in real wages even outside of traditional sectors of student temporary jobs (as for example bars and pubs or supermarkets) and the desired for multiplication of flexible forms of employment[26] with its attendant strengthening of precarity that would even more intensively penetrate more stable forms of employment contracts.

Social determination of the main features of the Week of Unrest

Of course, our sketch of the twenty-year evolution of the tertiary education in social (thus at the same time economical and political) context is not completely exhaustive and some topics would deserve further elaboration, but that would exceed the framework of our text – a deeper understanding of this year’s movement at universities and colleges. On the basis of available data we somewhat clarified the functional connection between the tertiary education (as a component of the social reproduction of the exploitative class relation) and the capitalist mode of production and specific forms of its transforming role within this mode, which we had seen and which had prepared the stage for the entrée of Dobeš’s reform along with its antagonistic counterpart in a form of the student movement and socially shaped physiognomies of both.

If we start from a specific contradictory social practice, in which and through which the institution of the university with its roles of the student and the pedagogue is produced, we can identify basic features, an internal strength as well as a limit of the Week of Unrest, without resorting to normative evaluation – to measuring a real movement against any universal ideal of the movement.[27] We can also establish an organic relation between activities of various actors of the student movement plus ideas, they held about themselves and their own activities, and their everyday social being and thus to understand their present necessity, without futile grumbling about some strategic-tactical mistakes and/or bad ideas of student activists.

Now, what was at stake in the Week of Unrest and what did specifically upset a part of the academic community?

Let us start once again at the fact that it was a specific expression of the clash between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat over the reproduction of labour power. As such, it was a part of the class struggle that is a fundamental determination and a component of the contradictory relation of reciprocal implication between capital and labour. This class relation constitutes university education as one of its social reproduction functions. The contemporary class conflict over the scope of proletariat’s reproduction and over distribution of costs of this reproduction necessarily includes also the future of tertiary education. As a struggle over form of this future, the Week of Unrest was an expression of the class struggle.

However, this by no means imply that every student is a proletarian (currently, by his/her origin or future) or that studying itself is a process of exploitation and surplus-value production. It is simply and purely about the fact that the capital-labour relation structures, in this or that way, not only the institution of tertiary education itself, but also lives of every student and teacher (as well as all other people), even though today, in the continuum of this class relation, his/her own social existence appears to the student rather in a form of adhesion to the middle class identity than to the working class, however sociologically defined. Nevertheless, pigeon-holing of individuals is not an object of the Marxian class analysis – it is to discern in what way the contradictory class relation capital-labour materialises in and through social practice of individuals.

This does not mean either that the Week of Unrest was imbued with awareness of this class conflict. On the contrary, its class nature was, of course, heavily politically mediated through the ideology of civil society and democracy, defence of “academic liberties” and an idealist campaign against neo-liberalism. And this way of its existence was inseparable from specific forms of the movement, which it was expressed in and through, and from basic characteristics of this movement, which we will deal with in this section.

Thus, we believe that what appeared as a key bone of contention in this particular expression of the class struggle over reproduction was the overall question of funding of universities and colleges, including its sub-question: tuition fees. The same overall question significantly partook in a production of a limited space-time for a concurrence of interests between university/college representations and students and pedagogues; we will look at its further specification in a short while. For the time being, let us come back to the tuition fees sub-question. Media tried to reduce the movement to a demand, “Do not introduce tuition fees” (the second one was supposed to be resignation of minister Dobeš), entering thus an ideological war against unsettled students, because then they could easily point out an “objective” fact that the majority of students is not principally against tuition fees and harden the tune coming out of president’s and government’s offices: claiming that the opposing minority was made of anti-social parasites, who were not ashamed to ask an imaginary poor saleswoman to sponsor their bright future, which should be exclusively their own responsibility and investment.

However – judging even according to expressions of the movement itself – the tuition fees were just a partial reason for its mobilisation. Tuition fees – as a debt link with potentially very precarious future engagement in the world of labour, which has not been the reality here – could not exist for students as an acute and central issue. It could not be anything more than a vague reflection of a nightmare within a relatively more comfortable landscape of today’s student life. Let us recall once again that the tertiary education has been still working for many of them as a social lift or a stabilizer (preventing them from falling down from their native middle strata to lower floors of the society) and it has guaranteed to a great majority of graduates a more or less fitting fulfilment on the labour market. Therefore, it is no wonder that students did not have any acute reason to problematise the world of labour (life outside of their school and after finishing their studies) and tuition fees as an investment into their future in this world. Thus, the number of students agreeing on complete rejection of tuition fees was far from being total: some were completely for fees; others were willing to accept them in a different technical version. Only inside a smaller part of students (especially from some humanities and social sciences departments with a precarious fulfilment on the labour market) fees provoked clear or vague fears of the future, thus contributing to the fact that it became active.[28] However, let us remember that those fears are not the same as an immediate awareness of a lack of future, which characterised some student movements in the West (Greece, USA, UK) during recent years, and therefore they bring different fruit. In the Czech Republic, where the structural youth unemployment has only begun to come into existence and so far has not almost touched university/college graduates, they do not see “implosion of their future” to be on the agenda. We believe that these are the reasons why tuition fees could not occupy a much more significant place in movement’s discourse or to a certain extent become independent as a topic for mobilisation and a demand. Instead of that, it remained firmly embedded in the general problem of public universities/colleges funding as a secondary sub-question in relation to it.

It was Dobeš’s style of policy, marked by dull neo-liberal ideologism accompanying the political practice of “rolling” (almost undiscussible dictating of reform measures), what was a far more important problem for the trajectory and amplitude of the movement. Besides funding of the tertiary education, this style became another and equally significant source of provisional harmonisation of interests between representations and activists. As capitalist restructuring in general undermines and displaces the social dialog as superfluous, because in this regime of accumulation (where the labour power more and more plays a part of necessary evil, understood only as costs) it quickly loses its meaning, the policy of Dobeš’s Ministry of Education was a somewhat extreme and quirkily nerdish embodiment of this process. Elitist representations of the academic community that wanted the outlined reforms to be specified and state’s commitments to be made clearer, were enormously outraged and offended by the fact that the ministry almost did not negotiate with them. And as far as it did, instead of a relevant debate they heard just ideological rhetoric about “necessity” of the reform and railing against themselves that they were “enclosed” and defended just their own group interests at expense of competitiveness of the whole country, when they refused to accept the reform as it was.

Naturally, this kind of blind alley negotiations only enhanced negative standpoints of chancellors and senates towards the draft reform laws as poorly prepared and threatening to throw the system into confusion, further wastage of money and favouring political-economical interests of certain clientelist networks within the capitalist class. Thus, Dobeš’s style of policy was able to cement the relation between academic dignitaries and university activists, because both were rejecting the existing form of the reform, even though from different positions, and both were encountering the neo-liberal ideology as an imaginary club beating their heads. It was an active involvement of the vice-chancellor for development at Charles University in Prague, Stanislav Štech, in the movement, what directly embodied this encounter, as he was one of dignitaries and due to his overt critique of the neo-liberal ideology and policies he was very close to activists.

In short, we think that the student movement came into existence as:

  1. a refusal of the reform, because its vagueness combined with decreasing state expenditures on funding of universities and colleges was provoking many unanswered questions, concerning the specific form of further restructuring of the tertiary education, and generating almost tangible uncertainty across the academic community (Will faculties and departments be shut down or downsized? Will un-lucrative departments stand a chance to survive, if universities and colleges are to be much more robustly a flexibly linked with employers‘ needs and capacities of the economy as a whole? What will become of universities/colleges after the introduction of a cliental relation between the student and the school? Will universities pour out mainly bachelors with purely expert education?);
  2. a protest against an actual absence of dialog between the Ministry of Education and the academic community; a dialog that would engage representations of universities as equal partners and contribute to much more legible solving of problems felt acutely by universities/colleges and thus to dispel reigning uncertainty, what will follow; and a protest against minister Dobeš as a person personifying, in an especially disgusting manner, democratic deficit of the neo-liberal style of governance;
  3. a call for a universally acceptable form of universities and tertiary education; a call that accepted necessity of a reform, but constructed differently, while this “differently” was indefinite enough so that all actors of the unrest at universities and colleges could identify with it, whatever their visions of the coveted state were: from chancellors and academic senates to the ambivalent mass of students and citizenly-leftwing oriented student activists;
  4. and a telling defence of academic autonomy with its liberties as an optimal means not only for running of universities, but also for discussing and implementing a “good reform”.

Generally speaking, within itself the movement carried an element of defending principles of the existing situation – there were many impassioned speeches about that. What was among those principles? Preserving or even better increasing funding of universities and colleges from public resources, insisting on the helpful relation between the student and the pedagogue, conceived in an idealised way (as if there was no power aspect within), and refusing the commercial relation between the service provider and the customer, criticising the managerial administration and favouring academic self-management, preserving whatever has been left from the conception of education as bildung, etc. Thus, it was a defence of the university as it had been defined by capitalist social relations during past twenty years in Czechia. Correspondingly, this kind of defence was distinguished by an uncritical relation of the movement to the role of the university in the society and obviously also to the role of the student and the pedagogue. Therefore, it was no accident that a happening organised during a session of the Government’s Legislative Council (the two draft reform laws were discussed there) on February 23 and directly preceding the Week of Unrest was called “We hold our education dear” and another happening closing the Week of Unrest in Brno was named “Passionately for education” with activist couples expressing their love of universities and refusal of reforms through kisses.

But the movement involved also another important element, in which awareness of the fact that the existing status quo is dismal and untenable (as for funding, numbers of schools and students, departmental structure, type and quality of provided education) paradoxically legitimised necessity of the reform, albeit a “different” one, as we have already said, or a need of a “change” that was not clearly defined. This second element was considerably emptying the first one: it was turning impassioned speeches just into beautiful and great words, because practically it was obvious that an outcome of all the movement can be nothing else but a form of compromise with the Ministry of Education.

Therefore, as a synthesis of both elements the movement tended towards prioritising academic liberties – as a political mediation and the lowest common denominator for the whole unsettled academic community – over everything else. In their shadow, there could be sometimes seen favouring of a few big universities‘ defence that cannot be fought out in any other way than through compromises with the enemy in all other questions (the public and free of charge character of the entire tertiary education system) and sacrificing smaller schools to restructuring. Obviously, this tendency existed primarily at the biggest universities in Prague and Brno. Whether it was critically reflected at all by the movement at smaller schools, we do not know, but we strongly doubt about that.

Student activists themselves provided practical testimony of an impossibility to win the public and free of charge university/college education, willingness of stronger actors in the movement to open weaker provincial colleges to the reform and readiness to dig in positions of academic autonomy. For instance on meetings of local groups, when one of the BZSVŠ key figures, while others were nodding in approval, expressed his belief that quality teaching and studies can be maintained only at traditional big universities and therefore they should be the first to receive public funding. Above all, this standpoint was mirrored in their approach towards a dispute between the Accrediting Commission and the Ministry of Education. Motivated by a refusal of university education and degrees inflation that is stemming from a quick and almost uncontrollable growth of students‘ and schools‘ numbers, activists did not hesitate to protest against “high-handedness” of the ministry sabotaging Commission’s proposals to limit or cancel accreditation of various schools, wheeling and dealing with degrees at the Faculty of Law in Pilsen being just the most flagrant case.[29] In this way they themselves converged with the reform line of decreasing numbers of students.

As far as activists have never tried to formulate a coherent and in today’s capitalist framework possible alternative or to systematically think about it[30] and focused mainly on building the movement, it was already mentioned Stanislav Štech, as a person representing an intersection of many features of the movement and expressing them with amazing skilfulness, who came with the purest articulation of this tendency (and nobody in the movement was attacking it):

“Of course, it is necessary to distinguish between the real university and other types of colleges, so to speak. This kind of differentiation is really needed. In fact, universities will be relatively few in this country. Those big, important, that are called research universities, will be even fewer. But they have to be run and funded differently than smaller bachelor, vocationally oriented schools. I can imagine certain concessions in the sphere of management and funding. So that, for instance, the Charles University (CU) would not have to throw themselves into bachelor programmes, especially vocational ones – so that the CU would not have to engage in educating somebody for management within lifelong education. Why it should be done by the CU? Let them give us money for what we are really excellent at, so that we can support and strengthen it even more. But let the school in the Highlands get its own too. So that it does not have to pretend high science, to attempt at writing research projects, if it does not have capacities for that. Why does it have to do that? This is just one of the moments of differentiation that has already been elaborated a lot and many relevant people in the ministry agree with that. But this is only one of alternatives. Then it is necessary to say, if we talk about the true, research university, that the old idea of university has not outlived its purpose. It is still valid and we need to follow it as we did in good years of academic liberties. But I believe that if we will co-operate, we will be able to prepare positive alternatives for both types of colleges, including different models of funding.” [31]

However, it would be a mistake to pin certain positions and ideas on particular individuals and sectors of the movement. We talk about them as expressions of socially-economically determined tendencies, in different moments and to different levels permeating through the movement and its individual as well as collective actors.

Chancellors provide activists with wings

Thus, what appeared in and through determinations, features and goals of the “student” movement in the academia was a confrontation with the capital over the reproduction of labour power which is typical for this era and its social context provided the movement with its internal dynamism that had been constituted even before the Week of Unrest. It was the already indicated dynamical polarisation between university representations (chancellors, deans and senates) on one side and the activist milieu at their schools (both students and pedagogues) on the other and in-between there was an agitated minority of “ordinary” students.

As we have already said, both poles were interconnected through the clash with the reform imposed by Dobeš’s office. Of course, it was no idyllic love relationship, rather an internally conflicting marriage of convenience. University managements had unambiguously upper hand and were looking for strengthening their position in negotiating a clearer and more acceptable form of reform laws. Activists, on their part, did not approach representations uncritically, because they were aware of the fact that representatives are not principally against tuition fees and other important aspects of the reform, refused by activists, and in a matter of fact they were against the both draft laws en bloc just because together they were a poorly prepared reform. But because the main goal of activists was a defence of existing public tertiary education “pillars” (a decisive share of public funding and the academic self-management), which they obviously meant much more seriously than their representatives, and because they saw (more or less consciously) a potential for setting a so far inert student mass into motion in the momentary overlap of their interests, both poles could be contradictorily related.

This relation began to come into existence no later than in December 2011. On the 14th day of that month, there was an activist demonstration “for free universities” in front of the building of the Ministry of Education in Prague; a few hundreds of students and pedagogues protested against the draft laws on universities and the financial aid to students in order to actively support the negative standpoint of the Universities‘ Council and the Czech Chancellors‘ Conference towards both proposed drafts. A day earlier, there was a public discussion on the FAMU[32] (also initiated by activists) on possible effects of the reform of universities and colleges. On the 19th of December 2012, there was a Gathering of the Academic Community of the Charles University in Prague and after it had finished another protest march against the reform took place – once again several hundred people set out towards the Government’s Office and repeatedly activists played an important role.

When academic senates finally received hearing at the Ministry of Education on the 23rd of January and asked for a withdrawal of both draft laws, Dobeš made clear that this was out of question, since the tertiary education needed the reform, because “the existing system is parasitic and asocial”. Thus, we can see how the college movement with its internal dynamism, a momentary concurrence of interests and a contradictory relationship between “mandarins” and activists, constitutes itself within the academic community, faced with an effective absence of social dialog, embodied in the intransigence of the ministry. That dynamism was both an immediate strength and a limit of the movement. We can say that its birth was celebrated with flowers given by activists to chairmen of academic senates and chancellors, following their negotiations with the Ministry of Education (January 23 and 24), to pay them homage for “defending academic liberties with their own bodies”. This was one of the first actions of the initiative For Free Universities (ZSVŠ) that was established then within the described dynamism and was its expression.[33]

What testified that the activist wager on co-operation or just friendly relations with university representations could bring fruit in a form of student mobilisation surpassing activists‘ capacities, was the 1st of February in Brno, where student senators of all public colleges, including the Military University, organised a protest march closed with a happening in front of the Faculty of Law of the Masaryk University (PrF MU) to draw public’s attention to the fact that the reform is problematic and to force Dobeš to take their critical comments into account. After the march, a local group of the initiative For Free Universities (BZSVŠ) organised a discussion about the university reform with high-ranking members of academic communities at the PrF MU. It became evident there that this would be an internally contradictory co-operation, as there was no clear and complete agreement on demands and what to do with the system of tertiary education in the future.

However, this was not decisive at the given moment and nobody was especially troubled by that. Besides Prague and Brno, the ZSVŠ quickly established itself also in České Budějovice, Pilsen, Liberec, Hradec Králové and Olomouc. On the 13th of February, it put forward its proclamation against the university reform and called for a protest Week of Unrest.

Incident in Hradec Králové as a cornerstone of the movement

What kind of flight would be made possible for the movement by its dynamism was laid bare at the University of Hradec Králové (UHK), when the plan for the Week of Unrest was contrived there. First, we have to mention that our resources of information on events there are limited,[34] so we are not able to see behind the scenes of an evolutionary process of relations between individual actors, at the end of which there was the Hradec Králové Student Movement 2012 (HKSH 2012) with a definitively toothless programme of the Week of Unrest. Nevertheless, very important moments leaked out of this process and we deem their description and analysis as really instructive as for general understanding the college movement, because in those moments of a seemingly marginal case in Hradec Králové, most of the essential characteristics and contradictions of the movement intersect and appear in the sharpest way.

As usual, all began with an activist core of students and pedagogues that was close to the Czechoslovakian Anarchist Federation (ČSAF), according to statements (dated February 24 and 27) of later representatives of the local student movement, who distanced themselves from “any kind of political extremism”. We do not know whether it was this or any other fact, what led (in a way we cannot see) the unrest in Hradec Králové to maintain at least a nominal autonomy from the national initiative ZSVŠ, though an interconnection obviously existed. Nevertheless, it was like that and the Hradec Králové Student Movement 2012 (HKSH 2012) was formed thanks to an initiative of the original core of leftwing activists who, naturally, gave it its birthmark in a form of statutes based on direct democracy principles, non-hierarchy, absence of leaders and plenary decision making. Therefore, principles which are not just an anarchist mantra at the moment, because they live, in a contradictory way, within social movement of the Indignados or the Occupy kind all around the world.

The second “anarchising” birthmark of the HKSH 2012 was an idea that an all-week-long occupation strike at the university would be a backbone of the Week of Unrest in Hradec Králové. This was the most radical plan at all that appeared within the college movement and as such it drew a lot of attention and much ado was done about it. Even a well known sociologist-activist and a critic of neo-liberalism, Jan Keller, was determined to go there and support the occupation strike personally. However, quite varying social contents can be hidden behind these words “the occupation strike”. On one hand, it can be understood in the context of the university as a resolute disrupting of the education process, when strikers en masse seize time and space socially assigned to it, while their acceptance is socially naturalised and enforced. Such an occupation strike would not be a mere means, for instance, of putting pressure on the government – it would directly include an element of an implicit critique of the university system as such with all its components. On the other hand, the occupation strike can be understood as a “legitimate means of expressing protest or refusal”[35] – therefore a politically symbolical act.

Here, the dynamism, academic representations – activists, appeared on the surface. According to the dean of the UHK Faculty of Arts, Petr Grulich, who was strongly engaged in the movement against Dobeš’s reform[36] and thus embodied the mandarin pole, an important part of the UHK academic community was thinking about the proposed occupation strike in the former way and logically perceived it as partially directed against teachers. But was the occupation strike conceived in the same way also on the opposite pole? All indicators say, no. When the activist core advocated their idea of the occupation strike, as for its social content they did not talk of a moment of, no matter how much, radical rupture with the current system, but of an empty form perfectly maintaining its continuity:

“In an e-mail the HKSH 2012 sent to the presidium of the UHK Academic Senate, representatives of the movement said that the occupation strike is a ‘standard form of a collective protest, commonly used in democratic societies; its rightfulness is posited in the article 27, the paragraph 4 of the Bill of basic rights and liberties.’ The occupation strike is completely in accordance with the ‘Code of conduct during the student control over educational premises of the University of Hradec Králové.’”

To do justice, it is necessary to say that more radical of activists would probably – and totally rightly – describe their approach as a tactical reflection of the current reality: it was obvious that the occupation strike as a temporary blockade and expropriation of the college space-time was not immediately on the agenda for the mass of students and thus the leftwing activists with their educative approach towards “normal people” bet on gradual legitimisation of the occupation as a political form of protest, an empty vessel, which is not socially-organically linked with any content and later can be filled with anything.[37]

If academic dignitaries feared the occupation strike at the UHK, because it would be spontaneously, “from the soil of modern society”,[38] filled with a social content that would be necessarily critical and directed specifically against themselves, it was – said post festum – a strongly exaggerated fear. With respect to the mood of students and moderation of activists themselves, a possible occupation strike would have a form of a symbolical act anyway. Nevertheless, this exaggeration could be revealed only within the contradictory dynamism of the “student” movement: only within the conflicting and at the same time necessary relation between representations and activists; in its motion we could also see, what was actually at stake for newly activated students.

Therefore, mandarins could not do anything else but to go into a counter-attack with an aim of achieving an acceptable form of the Week of Unrest in Hradec Králové and it was exactly direct democracy what became a terrain of this counter-attack, though according to the activists it should have been strength of the HKSH 2012. Leftwing activists lost their struggle during a “stormy” general assembly of the HKSH 2012 with leading representatives of the UHK on February 22. One of the then movement leaders and a student of the Medical Faculty of Charles University in Hradec Králové, David Řezáč, described the assembly in a following way:

“Representatives put forward ultimative demands and presented them as conditions of further co-operation. Among their demands there were elections of movement’s leaders, which was a change in the working of the platform from the principle of direct democracy to indirect democracy one. Another one was calling off the occupation strike.”

Other student activist adds:

“I felt a big pressure being put on us and an abuse of their superior position on their part. Although, dean Grulich repeated that we were on the same boat, he was unable to discuss peacefully and was attacking us in such a way that students were afraid to speak out.”

However, mandarins were not alone. According to Řezáč, already before them the system of consistent direct democracy had been criticised as ineffective by some of activated students, who took part in the general assembly. What is most important, at the end of the day the assembly accepted the demands, including Řezáč himself, in order to prevent a schism that could put protests themselves in danger – namely, a schism between activists and their representational antipole without which there would be no movement, because most other students would simply refuse to take part in it. Thus, the assembly produced a “narrow group of individuals” that was supposed to co-ordinate the protests and discuss all steps taken with the chancellor. And the all-week-long occupation strike was changed, after a consultation with the chancellor, into a one-night protest sleeping at the college, while students had to take turns in that.

It seems obvious that such an overwhelming victory of the academic representation could hardly be determined only by a power asymmetry between students and the UHK management with its “authoritarian behaviour”[39] at the assembly, almost intimidation of students. It rather testifies that the original activist core got isolated, because students gave up the occupation strike, as a means given to the HKSH 2012 at the beginning by activists, without any significant resistance, since it did not correspond with the nature of the movement as such, with its real capacities and goals. The execrated as well as praised dean of the Faculty of Arts was probably not far from the truth, when he commented on this development that “it was a natural process of forming opinions and orientations within the movement.” Of course, he did not hesitate to help this process out a bit so that it goes in a “good direction”…

Further, it was made clear that direct democracy itself is not a guarantee of anything at all. It is just a form of political mediation, dividing the moment of decision making from the moment of acting and it can easily serve to radical mobilisation as well as to demobilisation. If the movement in Hradec Králové (and in Czechia generally) was based on such an activity of students and pedagogues, in which they would become a subject questioning categories of capital, that define them in everyday life, or possibly pursuing a social immediacy of the individual, constitution of non-hierarchical relations would be its much more organic and solid part, without formalising in institutions of direct democracy. If direct democracy breeds its own hierarchies and bureaucracies in much more vigorous movements abroad[40], we can hardly be amazed in an outraged way about the rise of “leaders” in the HKSH 2012.

Thanks to courageous plans of activists in Hradec Králové, the full meaning of the internal dynamism of the college movement was exposed through plenary democracy: an asymmetrical relation in which activists conflictively but necessarily co-existed with dignitaries, because only thanks to that a so far passive minority of students could be mobilised in order to symbolically refuse particular forms of the university reform. This dynamism scraped, in a plenary way, the idea of occupation strike along with direct democracy and made at least a part of a politically lonesome activist core to leave the HKSH 2012 in a gesture of protest and to boycott the whole Week of Unrest. Its course in all the Czech Republic only confirmed words of already mentioned dean Grulich, that “an occupation of a small countryside public college by students would be in fact like barricading oneself in his/her own living room” and that is why it is good that at the end the student movement made a deal with the university management, that the occupation strike

“will be transformed into a defence of the university with our own bodies, which is much better corresponding to the goal of the entire protest week both in Hradec Králové and the Czech Republic.”

The Week of Unrest

In comparison to the “drama” in Hradec Králové all the Week of Unrest did not bring anything new or fundamental. Except little exceptions, and we will come back to them later, the inner dynamism of the movement was working quite smoothly and again and again was affirming itself: as for actions, activists were inevitably very careful and everything was happening in co-ordination with academic senates, faculties and chancellors‘ offices. We can talk about students‘ self-activity only in a very limited sense. It was true above all for activists themselves and outside of their ranks it existed perhaps only during a collective or individual production of banners and various happenings, where some proved an admirable invention and altogether they were obviously expressing what was the whole movement about: “Scrap Dobeš”, “Reform YES, Deform NO”, “Education is not business”, “Stop demagogy”, “We will ever surrender academic liberties”, “Do not sell us to banks”, “Real dialog”, “Unfree colleges, unfree society”, “Musical science does not want to sing along Dobeš’s tune”, DAMU (Theatrical Faculty of the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts) warns: Dobeš is talented”, “Liberty, Equality, Education”, “For freedom of colleges”, “I cannot afford neither tuition nor enrolment fees – next time there will be cobble stones flying”, “Reform is twisted from its source”, “Degree is not a commodity”, “Parasites for alluring and Zen universities”, “I am an inadaptable social parasite, because I decided to study”, “We are not promising graduates”, “Rich parents for everyone”, “We are not milk cows”, etc.

Besides this creative aspect of the movement, rather one-way communication from activists and college representations to the “mass” of students prevailed and as far as we know, nowhere emerged practices that would subvert and overcome this hierarchy. Most students who joined the movement were thus satisfied with a more or less passive consumption of presentations, marches, debates, concerts, movies and workshops prepared by others – i.e. mainly by student activists, pedagogues and academic representations.

Demonstration

Despite the fact that the highest point of the Week of Unrest consisted of relatively well attended student demonstrations, if we talk about a mobilised student “mass” it is absolutely necessary to emphasise that irrespective of 20.000 students in the streets the movement was significantly minoritarian. For instance, in Brno, which is a university city with a student population higher than 170.000 people, only 6.000 students demonstrated! This ratio would be even worse in Prague, where the main demonstration was also attended by students and pedagogues from other cities. It is also necessary to take into account that all students of the UK and MU in Prague and Brno were granted a special day off by their chancellors so that they could take part in the protest march. In Brno, the number of demonstrators might have been slightly reduced by an inclemency of the weather, but on the other hand it was obvious that “only” those six thousand students, who were dauntlessly marching through the city in a constant rain and chanting “The bad weather will end”[41] really considered the reform (of course, due to various reasons we have discussed above) as a problem they cannot be silent about. In the same way, one cannot expect that “only” 10.000 people gathered in Prague just because it was not raining.

Outside of the biggest university cities, it was quite lively as well and at the same time the situation was in no way different. In Olomouc, 400 people gathered on Tuesday of February 28 at the courtyard of the Faculty of Arts belonging to the Palacký University (UP), to protest against the tertiary education restructuring under the baton of college representatives and the ZSVŠ. On Wednesday of February 29, there were 800-1.000 people marching through Ostrava; they were gathered by the academic community of the Ostrava University (OU). Not only representatives of all OU faculties took part, but also people from the Mining College-Technical University, the Silesian University in Opava and a grammar school. On the same day, there was a protest march of 700 people in Pilsen, organised by the academic community of the Faculty of Arts, belonging to the West-Bohemian University, together with a local branch of the ZSVŠ. Its spirit was summed up in slogans “Our debts, your profits”, “Free schools” and “Scrap Dobeš”. In Hradec Králové, an unexpectedly strong demonstration of 1.500 students took place. On Thursday of March 1, about 500 students and teachers from Jan Evangelista Purkyně University gathered in a happening in Ústí nad Labem; it was dominated by topics like “the poorly prepared reform” and the critique of tuition fees.[42]

The Night of Universities

Apart from demonstrations, the second main part of the Week of Unrest was the so called Night of Universities. This took place in a close collaboration between college managements and activists too. It consisted of a totally acceptable series of public lessons, debates and cultural programmes in college premises, where at best creativity was given a space and the movement was revealing its nature to itself. One of student activists from a Technical University Liberec (TUL) aptly called this Night of Universities “a slightly special day of open doors”. Once again, only a minority of students was interested in it, while it took place at most public colleges: in Prague, Brno, Olomouc, Liberec, Ostrava, Opava, Zlín, Plzeň a Hradec Králové.

Shadows of confrontation

During the Night of Universities, one more case, we know about, appeared, when the internal dynamism of the movement imposed itself in a little bit conflicting way. At the UP Faculty of Arts, the Night of Universities took shape of a “night watch guarding the alma mater against the current cleptoregime”. Roughly 100 students gathered in an assembly hall of the faculty, where there were some music and lively discussions in small bunches. Apparently a few activists tried and succeeded in turning those bunches into a general assembly of all students present there. Among other things, a proposal to transform the “night watch” into an occupation, i. e. not to leave the assembly hall in the morning, was put forward. Without warning interventions of academic dignitaries being needed, a majority of the student “mass” refused the proposition in a vote and even after that some people still sharply criticised the fact that somebody even dared to think about something of that sort. Neither in Hradec Králové nor in Olomouc, except of activists there was no one who considered the occupation as something practically posed by the nature of the movement itself, i. e. by this particular conflict with the capital.

In Liberec, there were squabbles between a leadership of the official TUL Student Unity and a local ZSVŠ branch. It seems they had nothing in common with the dynamism of the movement and we guess that they once again point out that the anti-communist ideology is still influential in Czechia and acts as an enemy of even the most timid social movements.[43] When an assembly of the TUL academic community elected a “coordinating team” (student senators, LZSVŠ, TUL SU, the Erasmus Student Network Liberec representatives plus young pedagogues) to organise protests, the president of the TUL Student Unity, in the words of local activists, “suddenly” placed himself at its head and pushed through a decision that protests in Liberec would be restricted to the Night of Universities. During all the time of preparations he blatantly scandalised activists in front of the rest of the team as members of political organisations that want to misuse the protest and sponge off it. According to the LZSVŠ he was doing that in an effort to intimidate members of the team and deter them from organising even that truly minimalistic event. However, he did not succeed.

The Occupied FaVU

An altogether peculiar event that deserves to be discussed separately was an occupation of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FaVU) belonging to the Polytechnics (VUT) in Brno, which took place on Wednesday of February 29. The occupation was not outside of movement’s internal dynamism at all. On the contrary, it was its expression too. However, what made it so special was an almost idyllic co-existence of both poles, derived from an awareness of an acute danger posed by the reform for art departments. At the same time, it could have been co-determined by a certain “artistic eccentricity” that, in the best sense of the word, characterises an atmosphere of this faculty; both in management/representative organs – students/pedagogues and teacher – student relations. The activist pole was not represented only by a few students – who were not directly involved with the BZSVŠ, though they were in touch with this initiative – but mainly by artistic activism of pedagogues, including two with international experience (e.g. Occupy Wall Street).

All that allowed for a seemingly bolder choice of a protest form, but the FaVU occupation was also just a symbolical act and everything was agreed and in perfect accordance with the dean and mingling with the FaVU academic senate elections that took place on the same day as well. Organisers recommended all pedagogues and students to cancel usual classes, but not all of them did so and before the noon there were still lessons going on. The occupation started at noon. Inside of the building a collective production of banners, screening of movies, workshops, special lessons, discussions, performances were taking place and a relaxed atmosphere of one big party (provisioned by improvised bars labelled as ) and a music festival, going on up till early morning hours, prevailed. A pedagogue made an activist performance: dressed as an Italian “white overall” he was painting slogans on faculty’s façade: “Occupy FaVU” and “1968-1989-2012-For Freedom!”

We must mention Milan Kohout’s workshop “The body of human stupidity” and a subsequent performance in a library and an atrium at the Faculty of Social Studies (FSS). It was interesting not only by the fact that its participants were moving around this respectable faculty half-naked or naked in order to express that “neo-liberalism had fleeced them to the skin”. Through a FaVU student it at least artistically created space and time that otherwise did not exist in the movement: a space-time for desecration of the university, beloved and defended by the movement: this student regorged her own urine, she had drunk, on the FSS atrium. We still pay a deep homage to this performance!

At the occupied FaVU we were also present at perhaps the most interesting discussion among students, pedagogues and a BZSVŠ activist on the meaning of the Week of Unrest that we witnessed in Brno. Though even here “ordinary” students were mainly silent and listening, overshadowed by pedagogues and activists (they were apparently totally interchangeable in some cases), a part of teachers‘ contributions did not dwell on beating a dead horse of academic liberties and commodification of education; they were aptly touching real processes in the development of the public education funding and the neo-liberal restructuring of the tertiary education that has already been long underway, but also perspectives for resistance. Three or four people (both pedagogues and students) expressed a very vague conviction that the Week of Unrest itself was useless and a wider social movement (“a general strike”) would be necessary to definitively sweep away the reform politics (“like in November 1989”).

In accordance with occupation’s programme, after the discussion a “happening in the public space” followed, which became probably the only moment, when there was a glimmer of overcoming limits of the student movement. Encouraged by the discussion and filled with a need to practically confirm what had been just said and enlarge the movement by other segments of the society, they were not content with a mere gathering in front of the building as it was planned. First, there were agitation rides on trams under a slogan “Occupy the tram” and marches back to the FaVU and at the end the situation gave spontaneously a rise to a blockade of the road in front of the faculty building. The blockade lasted about half an hour until several police cars arrived and pushed the students back to pavements. It was in this all too ephemeral moment that the movement implied a step towards overcoming of the mandarins-activists dynamism: for a few dozens of minutes “students” as an active subject symbolically emerged out of it – this was the maximum of what was possible, the maximum only dreamt about by activists in Hradec Králové and Olomouc. Naturally, the leg stretched forward speedily returned back to the ground, to the line with all others…

Activism for free universities and colleges

Before we get to the end and repercussions of the movement, it could be useful to make a little digression and to look a bit closer at the ZSVŠ as a product of an encounter between the activist milieu at universities and colleges and continuing capitalist restructuring which contains a systematic pressure on redistribution – or cutting down – of costs connected with the labour power reproduction. Our starting point will be mainly our own experience made in Brno and mediated pieces of knowledge about other local ZSVŠ branches. We do not think that the geographical point, which we view the academic-activist milieu from, is in any way fundamentally limiting or distorting our perspective. It is because this entire milieu shares the same characteristics as citizen-leftwing activism in general – they are overlapping and we know the latter much more widely.

First, we must say that we do not intend to evaluate and judge current forms of activism, but to understand them in the social context of class struggle in general and university movement in particular. We do not aim at criticising radical democratic or direct action movement activists for an inadequacy or perplexity or even for being a counter-revolutionary barrier that to a certain extent prevents a proper development of a “pure” class struggle. No, we would like to understand both types of activism as they are, as phenomenons that are not outside of the class conflict. On the contrary, they are its expressions, they are specific practices formalising its current limits. And they cannot be transformed or overcome on the basis of finely written polemics, but only in and through the development and mutual confrontation of particular practices of the class struggle.

Two basic types of activism

As activism in general, even the academic one is essentially bipolar: on one hand, there is radical democratism, crystallising around the Pro-Alt association, on the other, there is the direct action movement, mainly centred around anarchist and more generally anti-authoritarian groupings.[44] Their mutual relation is not one of hostility; rather it is about complementarity in action and ideological tension, which frequently latent today. It is because both perceive capitalism primarily as an inherently unjust economical system, polarising the society in an undesirable way and therefore it has to be either politically regulated or significantly de-concentrated or even abolished.

With the passing of workers identity and the old mass labour movement[45] and individualisation of the relation between capital and labour, both types of activism could not have as a subject of a social change, conceived in whatever way, the proletariat as a social class of the capitalist mode of production; it was replaced by the individual as it appears on the surface of the bourgeois society. For radical democrats he/she is unambiguously defined primarily as a citizen, while direct action partisans emphasise the individual as such, crammed into various oppressive social roles (citizen, worker, student, woman, Roma…) and he/she has to “liberate” himself/herself from them.

Activists of both types act as bearers of exclusive understanding and practice so they view “normal people” as an object of their activity (an educative intervention) that is supposed to contribute to their activisation – their transformation into a subject.[46] They try to overcome atomisation and social categorisation of individuals/citizens – which can be, according to them, caused by different reasons – by a voluntaristic appeal on unity, based on invoking something general, which is a real truth hidden behind “semblances” of atoms and categories (e.g. citizenship, conditioning by the “system” as a common enemy or even the class belonging that only must be made an aware one).

Both activisms try to pose variously defined alternatives to the current form of capitalism and that is why they were ostracised and enclosed in a political ghetto – this even more intertwined their developments – by an almost total domination of the anti-communist ideology in the past twenty years after the “Velvet Revolution”. That is also why both pin their hopes on the current revival of the civil society, whose “real” development has been and still is hindered by anti-communism. At the same time, for them the civil society is something that is not historically and socially determined and connected with capitalism in a very specific way. On the contrary, it is rather an arbitrarily defined principle which is also the case of democracy. And the “citizen awakening” is identified with various forms of “real democracy” as a means guaranteeing a social change and at the same time a content of this change.

ZSVŠ

All these aspects make a borderline between radical democratism and direct action movement real, but at the same time strongly permeable for people, ideas and practice. Thus, not only within the ZSVŠ, but within academic activism in general, Pro-Alt activists inevitably met anarchists as well as a new generation of anti-authoritarians that does not belong to any of anarchist organisations, but moves among various alternativisms, NGOs, antifascism, environmentalism, the Real Democracy Now, the anti-ACTA movement or for example the Pirate Party or the Pro-Alt.

We think that the successful commencement of the Pro-Alt is an expression of the current stage in the development of capitalist social relations that leads to the phenomenon of the “civil society awakening” in the Czech Republic, while at the same time the Pro-Alt tries to be its promoter and an active agent. This stage is characterised by: a gradual intensification of effects of the crisis on the living standards of the working class and middle strata; delegitimisation of parliamentary democracy and the system of political parties;[47] weak and futile protests of unions and various citizen associations (e.g. disabled people, pensioners, patients…) against austerity measures generating considerable tension and anger within the society that transform themselves into assaults against a long-term consolidated surplus (from the point of view of capital accumulation) population (i.e. a big part of the Romas) during events like the autumn 2011 in Šluknov region. All that makes Pro-Alt’s critique of globalised capitalism, neo-liberal politics, democratic deficit and its searching for an alternative management of capitalist relations (at least a partial resuscitation of Keynesianism, communitarism, etc.) as relevant as its attempts at interconnecting and generalising the protest movement. That is also why the Pro-Alt became a gravitational point for a big part of the postmodern citizen Left (from Václav Bělohradský and Jan Keller to posthumous children of the extreme Left of the 1990s: post-trotskyist groupings such as the Socialist Solidarity or the New Anti-capitalist Left).[48]

Of course, the discourse of the ZSVŠ was not determined by a frenetic activity of Pro-Alt people. It originated in the current situation of the class conflict that constituted fundamental features of the college movement with its internal dynamism and discourse as an expression of movement’s consciousness. And because the current situation positively matches radical democratic argumentation, Pro-Alt’s influence was visible from internal discussions, public debates as well as presentations of the ZSVŠ. What prevailed was the idea of autonomy of the political management and its predominance over economy and therefore identifying the neo-liberal ideology as the root of capitalist restructuring and crisis, which logically went hand in hand with a vague idea that the democratic mobilisation of the civil society and a renewal of a form of regulation could once again bring the free-of-charge and good tertiary education for everybody. Anarchists and anti-authoritarians were lacking a theoretical apparatus that would even give them a cause for problematising this domination of radical democratism. Their own analysis of capitalist social relations through an optic of power necessarily and often falls into extolling citizen activation from below and supporting many efforts at further democratisation of the society. And because they see theory and practice as two different spheres, while the practical one is for them more important, an activist effort to escape from the political ghetto precisely at the time of the “citizen awakening” logically leads to searching for common points and sharing of starting points with that part of the Left, which is much more civil (and ultimately also much more pro-capitalist) oriented – only different alternatives are posed – while the most radical minorities within the direct action movement are necessarily marginal.

To a certain extent the university movement was extraordinary for academic activists, because the confrontation with capital was touching them personally. This time they did not deal with other people’s problems or try to practice alternative lifestyles against norms of the capitalist society. For everybody in the ZSVŠ the overriding purpose of their activity was a successful student mobilisation that would stop reform measures and that included themselves. Those, who tended more to the direct action movement, shared or at least did not consider as important to question the radical democratic critique of reforms. That was why they did not aspire to an independent theoretical articulation of their own perspective and they could throw themselves with all their vigour into practical building of the movement.

What became their “Bible” for the Week of Unrest was Occupation Cookbook published by the ČSAF. This pamphlet was rather a technical manual how to organise an occupation strike on the basis of direct democracy, distilled from experience of the Croatian student movement of 2008-2009. Its content and application reflected an idea of “good practice” as an abstract idea that can be used anytime and anywhere and by its nature it will bring desired results. Nobody felt a need to analyse how much the ideal of occupation strikes (as democratic acts of a majority of students) corresponded to the reality of the Czech movement, to its content. When this ideal bumped against its effective non-correspondence with the character and therefore the practice of the university movement, its partisans could not do anything else but keep silent and give way to radical democrats and either endorse their position or to leave the ZSVŠ when the Week of Unrest was over as happened in Brno.[49]

The end and repercussions of the movement

Despite the fact, that activists who founded the ZSVŠ as well as those who got involved with the initiative during the Week of Unrest had, following its end, great expectations and plans they have collapsed as a house of cards in a few weeks. As soon as the Week of Unrest was over and the Ministry of Education started retreating manoeuvres that culminated with minister Dobeš’s resignation, the dynamism of academic representations-activists died too and very shortly after the movement abruptly and irretrievably disappeared. Day after day and week after week it was more and more obvious that nothing was left that could be continued: no masses of activated students, thrilled and expecting any further development of the situation; no radical minorities – except of the activist ones that had already existed. The ZSVŠ got into the position of a general with no army.

Moreover, all have been facing an obvious fact that the movement left behind no results, nothing was achieved. Those, who could perhaps short-sightedly rejoice over Dobeš’s resignation and his replacement with a more professional minister Fiala, who let the reform laws to sleep for several months, have probably had their smiles frozen on their lips, when instead of tuition fees he introduced their precursor: the enrolment fees. He also revamped credits for covering costs of studies and he has been working on other parts of the tertiary education reform, towards its neo-liberal restructuring.

When all those activists, who were close to the direct action movement, desired for occupations and did not have a slightest reason to live on a chimerical idea of building a mass democratic movement that would topple Nečas’s government, the ZSVŠ became only a radical democratic association. Shortly after the Week of Unrest, a serious debate took place within the ZSVŠ – among radical democratic activists themselves – whether it would be a tactical mistake to make an open alliance with unions and the Pro-Alt or not, as there was a strong presence of the opinion that in this way the ZSVŠ could get discredited in the eyes of “the average non-leftist student” and lose its potential for a further mobilisation of the student movement. But as soon as it quickly became obvious that the movement was over, even this discussion died: being aware of the fact that there was no student movement organised by the ZSVŠ anymore and there would be none in the foreseeable future, the only possibility it was left with, was an entry into a unionist and Pro-Alt coalition, called STOP THE GOVERNMENT, and partake at their protests.

They brought 100.000 people into the streets of Prague, but they were totally fruitless as well. In those protests radical democratism got once again formalised as the current limit of class struggle: posing an alternative, Keynesian, non-corrupted, more democratic management of capitalism reaches its apogee in Czechia. However, this happens in the time, when the crisis of the restructured capitalism makes similar visions and demands, derived from them and directed towards the government, asystemic. It is possible to expect that the more obviously the local class struggle will hit against their impossibility, the more problematic its current limit will be: social movements will de-alternativise themselves and overcome activist practices and their boards. How it will happen, we do not know. The class struggle does not develop and advance towards its revolutionary overcoming according to formulas born in someone’s head. It can do so only through and in its own practice that will eventually turn against preconditions of its very existence: the capitalist relation of exploitation and therefore classes.

By the way of conclusion

For us, it would be just whiny idealism to evaluate the student movement through ascribing its abortiveness and the abrupt end to some wrong steps taken by academic activists, repressive manoeuvres of official representatives of the academic community, civil immaturity of most students or the domination of bourgeois ideology or possibly to an absence of an autonomous workers‘ movement that would be able to structure even struggles outside of the production. We prefer to start from social determination of this movement, from an existing social matter.

The movement arose out of the current class conflict over a reduction of the social wage in particular and an attack against the reproduction of the labour power in general – both of them implied by the current stage of capitalist restructuring not only in the Czech Republic, but at least also in other European countries. Agents of this movement were university and college students, who had been affected by the disconnection of capital and labour power reproduction circuits mostly indirectly (through their parents‘ decreasing ability to pay for their studies) and definitely not in the hardest way: on the labour market, they had still been able to reasonably expect such jobs that had made a certain amount of privatising social risks not only bearable, but also acceptable for a substantial part of them. Nevertheless, cuts in the social wage have been increasingly affecting even them (underfunding of the public education, the Sword of Damocles represented by tuition fees) and the student movement was the first proof of this. But in this proof, the majority of students did not see a reason to take part in the movement at all and a great part of those involved was rather lukewarm and passive. Above all, they supported academic dignitaries in their negotiations with the ministry and suddenly started to fulmine for academic liberties, which they had been previously more or less indifferent to.

The civil character of the movement was stemming from the current configuration of the capitalist relation of exploitation, structuring the whole society. Restructuring eliminated centrality of the mass production worker from the capital accumulation and thus sounded the death knell to all forms of workers‘ identity existence (both official and autonomous ones) in this country. Restructuring has been individualising the capital-labour relation, it has been breaking the proletariat into a myriad of segments and different situations and has made thus the individual/citizen the main point of reference for the “post-modern” capitalist society. Neither proletarian parents nor their children understand themselves through a class identity that no longer appears on the surface of the society as a peculiar and positively identifiable reality. The first collective identity that is accessible and understandable to all of us is precisely the identity of the individual/citizen – that is why today it is unavoidably meddling in all struggles and on a conscious level many of them exist only through its mediation, including the student movement.

The fact of class belonging today appears only in struggles against the capital as objectified in the capital. Thus, its recognition is no longer a socially and historically conditioned optical illusion of a return to oneself, to a true revolutionary nature of the worker’s being, which is necessary to affirm – today it is a total extroversion that makes it possible for us to understand the revolutionary overcoming of capitalist social relations as their immediate communisation, as a process of proletariat’s self-abolition and therefore a process of abolishing the capital as well and the class society as such together with it. Of course, we do not want to say that this perspective immediately appeared within the Czech student movement. Unlike some foreign student movements, for the Czech one any critique of the student and the university as such was completely out of its horizon; no collective practices appeared that would reflect a critical distance from what they are as students (or pedagogues). No practices of struggle through which a rift would appear between the struggle for a possibility to continue one’s existence as a student and a struggle against studentship – a rift that would reflect a rift in the wider class struggle: the rift between the fact that we struggle as the proletariat against the capital and at the same time we turn against our further existence as the proletariat within this struggle and from its own logic.

Thus, it was only natural that the citizen “defence of academic liberties” became a motto of the movement – especially in the current atmosphere, when the social dialog is effectively becoming void (its institutions persist, but they are rapidly losing any real meaning), which is perceived as a “democratic deficit” on many levels of the social life (not only on the national tripartite negotiations level, but also in the relation of the Ministry of Education towards the academic community). At the same time, this democratic mediation of the class conflict helped the movement to overcome its internal disunity: fragmentation of students into many situations with varying social backgrounds and impacts of reforms on their individual processes of studying as well as on their expectations of upward social mobility or just decent jobs. This internal fragmentation of the movement expressed itself in the absence of unifying positive demands. Student senators from different types of universities and colleges were not even able to agree on what particularly they were refusing from the reform; not to speak about what they would like to have instead of it. Activists were in no better position: perhaps they could mostly agree on an ideal of a somehow revised Keynesian model, but all the time it was not clear how revised. The ZSVŠ came up with legible, but created precisely out of shortage, and more or less defensive demands only when the movement had already died.

All that was uniting unsettled students and what variously echoed in many slogans and attitudes of their movement was just an awareness that different aspects of their studies and all their lives had been changing or could change for the worse. A specific unifying alternative was as unattainable as a critique of studentship and the tertiary education. Therefore, the movement constituted itself as a helpless defence of the academic status quo, while everybody knew that this status quo was problematic and needed to be changed – just not in the way proposed by Dobeš’s ministry. Thus, what became central to it, was the dynamism mandarins-activists, which was setting into motion a minority of students for whom it was unthinkable to go beyond the officially prepared framework of the Week of Unrest and to defend tooth and nail something that is not completely worth defending and most probably is even undefendable, because, as mere empiricism shows to everybody, all similar kinds of defensive movements in the Czech Republic end up in a failure, either an obvious one or a failure hidden behind a concession, which gets annulled in a middle-term horizon in the latest. Thus, with the end of the Week of Unrest even the movement as such ended. Apart from radical democratic activists no-one saw a real possibility and a reason to continue.

After all, all this student movement was about a protest that symbolically delivered a single message: we have begun to feel that the tertiary education leaves a lot to be desired and that our future, whatever ideas we had about it, is in danger. Not even attempts at more radical forms of action were conceivable and realisable in any other way than the symbolical one. However, precisely within those symbolical acts of radicalism new horizons were flashing…

Friends of Communisation, December 2012


[1] A system of clientelist links, which was a remainder of forming the current capitalist class that started with a personal accumulation of financial means in all layers of the grey and black “socialist” economy (from higher and middle echelons of the bureaucratic-technocratic apparatus, which were able to amass money on their private accounts thanks to their official posts, to illegal foreign currency dealers) and continued through capitalising those financial means, especially in the course of the voucher privatisation. In this way, property conglomerates came into existence, controlling many industrial enterprises through subsidiary investment funds of banks without being able to restructure them effectively (they practiced either short-term asset stripping or preservation of a certain state on a basis of an increased rate of exploitation). Behind the scenes, those conglomerates were linked to various political parties that directly defended their interests (unsurpassed in this respect was the conservative party of Václav Klaus). What was also common for the wild years of transformation, was not only corruption linking official business, high politics and judiciary (which has remained a solid part of business and political culture in the Czech Republic), but important enjambments towards organised crime too.

[2] This included also the workers‘ struggles (e.g. Kohinoor mine, engineering factories ČKD Prague and Zetor Brno) whose courses and results represented a definitive full stop behind an existence of the workers‘ identity and validity of a programmatical perspective of revolution as an affirmation of workers‘ power, which was internally linked to it. Put differently, as political autonomy of the working class did not stem, neither as a majoritarian fact nor as a minoritarian perspective, from an involvement of Czech workers in the Velvet Revolution of 1989 (or far more obviously from workers‘ struggles in Poland), it did not stem from struggles in the Czech industry in 1998-2000 either. On the contrary, in exchange for a partial payment of wages (they had not been paid for many months) and redundancy payments workers accepted their jobs being slashed (sometimes complete workplaces were closed down) and therefore they accepted an erasure of conditions defining both them as workers and their struggles as workers‘ struggles. Instead of the awareness of workers‘ power, those struggles were dominated by the awareness of workers‘ powerlessness – of the fact that without capital we are nothing.

[3] Czech Statistical Office, Studenti a absolventi vysokých škol v roce 2010.

[4] Onaran Özlem, „From transition crisis to the global crisis: Twenty years of capitalism and labour in the Central and Eastern EU new member states“, Capital & Class, No. 35 (2011), p. 219.

[5] Švihlíková Ilona, Zapojení ČR do světové ekonomiky, II. část – investice, http://www.blisty.cz/art/59776.html.

[6] Kňapová Kateřina, Reportáž: „Oni nevědí, k čemu jsme,“ znělo Filozofickou fakultou, http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/?p=754.

[7] Kňapová Kateřina, Až na kost reforem se šlo na ČVUT, http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/?p=988.

[8] Petráček Vojtěch (the vice-chancellor of the ČVUT – Czech Institute of Technology – for scientific and research activities), Vysoké školy, věda a výzkum v Čechách – současnost a budoucnost, http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/?p=876.

[9] The last organisational incarnation of those activist efforts (that preceded a birth of the initiative For Free Universities) was an association Education Is Not a Commodity! (http://vzdelaninenizbozi.cz/), which organised the “Products‘ March” (Prague, March 2010) aimed against the White Book of the Tertiary Education, ordered by the Ministry of Education and elaborated by a team led by a sociologist, Petr Maťejů, as an outline of further continuation of the neo-liberal restructuring at universities. Several dozens of students took part in the protest march that was preceded by displaying banners against “commodification of education” on buildings of several Prague faculties (Law, Philosophy, Social Sciences, Polytechnics and Arts) on the Faculty of Arts in the city of Hradec Králové.

[10] All data on graduates‘ employment and unemployment in 2006-2010 come from Nývlt Ondřej (ČSÚ), Význam vzdělání pro trh práce v ČR (analýza), http://www.czso.cz/csu/tz.nsf/i/vyznam_vzdelani_pro_trh_prace_v_cr20111116.

[11] ibid. As for secondary school students, only 1.1 % of them were working in 2010.

[12] As for employment contracts, the general situation of young people aged 15-34 is quite different. 87.8 % of them are employees whose contracts are permanent in 90.2 % and only 4.5% of them have part-time jobs. Though absolute numbers of workers, whose contracts are directly flexible, are low and so far they have been increasing only very slowly, a growing number of people, including students and graduates, has experienced precarisation, for precarity has been increasingly penetrating into “stable” jobs too (through outsourcing and transformation of work and wage conditions associated with a stable job, wheeling and dealing with other employment contracts complementing a permanent contract, etc.).

[13] This year (2012) till the end of the third quarter, the GDP fell by 1.3 % in year-on-year comparison, while the pace of this decrease was slowing down during the year. There is no labour market recovery: in year-on-year comparison 2.000 jobs have been lost, unemployment increased by 0.4 % with its total rate rising to 7 %. After stagnating in the last quarter of 2011, the average real wage has been persistently falling during the first ¾ of the year 2012: in the business sector by 1.9 %, in the public sector by 1 %. See the Czech Statistical Office, Vývoj ekonomiky České republiky v 1. až 3. čtvrtletí 2012 (vydáno 14. 12. 2012), http://www.czso.cz/csu/2012edicniplan.nsf/t/D30020C1CF/$File/110912q3a01.pdf.

[14] Ondřej Schneider, an economist from the IDEA think-tank, advocates circumspection of Nečas’s government fiscal policy: “we and the Slovaks pay as interests from the debt ‘only’ 1.4 percent of the GDP, the Poles twice as much and the Hungarians triple. Such high debt payments, of course, limit government’s possibilities to fund other expenditure programmes.” Respekt, č. 23, ročník XXIII, 4. – 10. 6. 2012, s. 21.

[15] Czech statistical Office, Vývoj ekonomiky České republiky v roce 2011, http://czso.cz/csu/2011edicniplan.nsf/publ/1109-11-q4_2011.

[16] Endnotes, Two Aspects of Austerity, http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/16.

[17] Štech Stanislav, Reforma jako návrat ke kořenům, http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/?p=700.

[18] Although from the viewpoint of valorisation of financial capital, the pension reform will have a different effect than immediate opening of possibilities for new, potentially profitable investments. By transferring estimated 20 billions of Czech crowns from the public system into private pension funds additional financial capital would be created that would also need to find places for its valorisation. Thus, there would be stronger pressure on further privatisation of remaining state property and partial privatisation of public services in order to turn them into profitable businesses. As we will mention, a “bubble-like” possibility for its valorisation could be also loans for students enabling them to pay their tuition fees.

[19] As was said by Richard Fajnor, the vice-chancellor for international relations, science and research at the Janáček Beaux Arts Academy (JAMU), during a discussion at the occupied Faculty of Fine Arts (FaVU) in Brno.

[20] See e.g. Kritický průvodce „reformou“ vysokých škol, http://dl.dropbox.com/u/13814197/pruvodce_reformou.pdf and other texts on the websites of the initiative For Free Universities, http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/.

[21] It was also marked with the same obscurity in the question of private universities‘ regulation; there it just declared its interest in making it more difficult to receive the state sanction in order to set up new private schools.

[22] Zlatuška Jiří, Autonomie a decentralizace v samé podstatě univerzit, http://blog.aktualne.centrum.cz/blogy/jiri-zlatuska.php?itemid=14714.

[23] Today, students can occupy from 1/3 to ½ of seats in academic senates. The reform law intended to strictly reduce their number to 1/3. According to former ministers of education, Ivan Pilip and Jan Sokol, this unusually high students‘ representation in academic senates came into existence after 1989 as a sort of sop for the Velvet Revolution and inevitably it had to be corrected once. See Chlouba Karel, Reportáž: 22 let akademických svobod pohledem bývalých ministrů školství, http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/?p=911.

[24] Student activists are mistaken, when they imply in their argumentation that introduction of tuition fees would make public university/college education a commodity that students would buy like hamburgers in a fast-food. If the tuition fee would be a price mirroring all costs (value) inserted into the production of an education process, it would reach astronomical heights and the tertiary education would be inevitably accessible just to a handful of the super-rich. However, such a situation does not correspond to the needs of the capitalist economy at the beginning of the 21st century and that is why the university/college education is mostly set up and funded socially as a public service (providing the social reproduction of the labour power). Commodification of the tertiary education exists already now, because it was, is and will be an integral part of the capitalist mode of production as a system of universal commodity production and as such it is subordinated to it and itself it is – though a public service – a commodity. With its restructuring, what is more and more used instead of a direct state order, are market mechanisms and methods of management and output evaluation developed in the value production process, but that does not mean that until now education was not a commodity, but will turn into it only due to an additional and partial charging of an access to it. Activists seem too much succumb to the right-wing ideology accompanying the boom of the direct share in funding: an emphasis on individual responsibility, on making business with one’s own life and above all on constituting a customer/consumer relation of direct beneficiaries of a services to their providers. It is nice to oppose this, but it does not equal to a serious critique.

[25] Already now, the average annual rate of university student’s indebtedness oscillates around 520 Euros. See Walach Václav, Školné – tři důvody pro odmítnutí, http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/?p=1001.

[26] In this respect, the Czech economy noticeably differs from the European average. While in the EU 27 there were 13.5 % of the population with temporary contracts in 2009, in the Czech Republic they represented just 8.5 %. It is even more obvious in the case of part-time jobs. During the same year in the EU 27 they were applied for 18.8 % of the population, in Czechia it was just 5.5 %. The same picture is valid even if consider for instance exclusively women as a social group, which is worst affected by flexibility and precarity in the entire world. Here, merely 8.5 % of women work part-time, while in the EU 27 the average is 31%.

[27] We would like to point out that we use the term normative exclusively in the above mentioned sense of a materialist (non-idealist) approach to the class struggle and therefore we do not boast about an objectivist, non-evaluating science, as students of humanities could think.

[28] At this point, it is necessary to mention the composition of protesting students. If we focus on the question of faculties, which were most often sites for organising the Week of Unrest, but also on our personal experience, whom we met mostly, we must state that students of social sciences and humanities and then students of artistic colleges and pedagogical faculties were positively prevailing. In fact, they are students of those departments that have been over-producing graduates in recent years relatively to vacant jobs, corresponding to their education, on the labour market (sociologists, economists, lawyers…). Then, there were students whose employability and remuneration have been precarious for a long time (philosophers, artists…) and students whose primary hope of employment lies in the destabilised public sector (teachers…). All of them were forced to look at their future with fear. Though, of course, even among them those, who full of hope measure their current chances against success of their predecessors, dominate, without recognising that prosperous times are over.

[30] Probably, the only exception in this respect was Václav Krajňanský’s contribution What should be the objective of the student movement (http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/?p=1123). Unlike Štech, he stays on the level of repeating general proclamations of the ZSVŠ initiative and develops them only with an idea – unrealistic for the capitalist society – of a consistent redefinition of the public character of universities towards total openness and philanthropic benevolentness.

[31] O neoliberálním klystýru vysokých škol: rozhovor se Stanislavem Štechem, published on the 15th of December, 2011 in the post-trotskyist monthly Solidarita. It can be also found on the ZSVŠ webpage: http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/?p=293.

[32] The Faculty of Beaux Arts.

[33] Its first congress took place on the 20th of January 2012, customary at the Faculty of Arts of the Charles University in Prague.

[34] Mainly they come from a blog HKSH 2012 http://hksh2012.blogspot.cz/ and from an article by Daniel Veselý, Anatomie královéhradeckého studentského hnutí na pozadí Týdne neklidu, which was published on Britské listy website (http://www.blisty.cz/art/62560.html).

[35] see Daniel Veselý, Anatomie královéhradeckého studentského hnutí na pozadí Týdne neklidu. If not said otherwise, all following quotations will come from this source: http://www.blisty.cz/art/62560.html.

[36] During a debate on the student protests, that took place in the framework of the ProtestFest 2012 in Brno, one of activists from Hradec Králové even said that what was essential for the start and a success of the HKSH 2012 was Grulich’s encouraging students not to be afraid and protest.

[37] We witnessed this approach of citizen-leftwing activists to the question of the occupation strike in the Brno ZSVŠ at the end of the movement so it could be legitimately supposed also within the HKSH 2012.

[38] Marx Karl, Engels Friedrich, Manifesto of the Communist Party, 1848.

[39] As D. Veselý in his essay quotes Dagmar Magincová, a pedagogue from the Department of Czech Language and Literature in the UHK Pedagogical Faculty and apparently an activist close to the ČSAF.

[40] see for example a formation of leftwing bureaucracy in the Greek movement of the outraged, discussed by friends from the Blaumachen group in their text The ‘Indignados’ Movement in Greece (http://www.blaumachen.gr/2011/11/the-%e2%80%98indignados%e2%80%99-movement-in-greece/).

[41] In Czech, there was a play with words hidden in this slogan, as prime minister’s surname, Nečas, means bad weather.

[42] see articles monitoring the course of the Week of Unrest at http://zasvobodnevysokeskoly.cz/.

[43] Another example of the phenomenon can be an article written by academics Stanislav Balík and Jiří Hanuš Příliš revoluce: marxistická argumentace se vrátila v plné síle (Too much of revolution: The Marxist line of reasoning has returned in full force), where they tried to paralyse their “unsettled” colleagues through accusing them of “radicalism” that “indiscriminately refuses everything” and stigmatising the discourse of the movement as “(Neo-)Marxist” http://www.revuepolitika.cz/clanky/1632/prilis-revoluce).

[44] We are using a terminology elaborated by the Théorie Communiste here, because it is apposite.

[45] Specifically in Czechoslovakia, until the 1960s the workers identity used to be an expression of a central social role played by labour in “real existing socialist” extensive accumulation of capital and existing through the mass base of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party, the Revolutionary Union Movement and works councils (all of them at the same time undoubtedly working as managerial bodies of capital accumulation too), but it was also mirrored in the official ideology of the regime as well as in an “unofficial ideology of everyday life” through which the then working class viewed itself. Since the definitive jamming of this model of accumulation in the 1970s (but to a large extent already since the events of 1968) at the latest, the workers identity was more and more strongly perceived as a Marxist-Leninist ideological construct and official organisations, which it existed through, as an ossified and hostile barrier of social life, objectified in the state and national-economical apparatus.

[46] “The man is not born as the citizen,” as emphasised an academic supporting activists, Ondřej Císař, at a panel debate linked with the ProtestFest 2012 in Brno.

[47] Its expression was even the populist movement, the Holešov Call, which unlike other embodiments of the “citizen awakening” did not consider the state as its partner, did not put forward any demands and just called for an immediate dismantling of current politics and judiciary and for a sort of “direct democracy”. This was too much even for radical democrats, who – under the pretext of a few well-known fascists being present in the original core of the Holešov Call – stigmatised this movement as proto-fascist in a generalising and short-sighted way and thus sang along with government officials.

[48] By no means we are saying that everybody in or around the Pro-Alt shares a totally identical perspective and there is no difference of opinions. We just try to name a point of intersection emerging from Pro-Alt’s public actions. No doubt, many people in this association consider themselves in this or that way as “anti-capitalists”, which is quite disputable according to us, and the given point of intersection is for them more a question of a middle-term political strategy. And it is this and not any other point of intersection, because it is exactly this one that emerges from the current situation in the class struggle – as it really is – as that what appears to be “relevant”, “possible” and “realistic”.

[49] At the moment when it was completely obvious that with the end of the Week of Unrest any activation of students was over as well and the occupation strike had become just an empty and moreover a secondary slogan, activists close to the direct action movement simply disappeared one by one from the Brno ZSVŠ. At the same time we left the initiative as well for its internally proclaimed “anti-capitalism” unambiguously stabilised as an ideologically anti-neo-liberal perspective, nostalgically revamping the dead welfare state capitalism.

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