Tag Archives: education

The “triple selection” of Indian America

Caravan Magazine recently published an excellent review/essay of two books on the history of South Asian immigration to the United States: The Other One Percent: Indians in America (2016), and Desis Divided: The Political Lives of South Asian Americans (2016).  It seems that a key theme of both books is to examine and unpack differences with respect to the South Asian diaspora in the US, specifically around the issue of the “model minority” stereotype.  Indian Americans today appear to be the single most socio-economically successful ethnic group in the country.  Why?

The authors of The Other One Percent argue that Indian America is largely shaped by processes of a “triple selection”, that has created a population that “does not resemble any other population anywhere: not the Indian population in India, nor the native population in the United States, nor any other immigrant group from any other nation.”  This “triple selection” consists of 1) the caste system selecting upper-caste men for education, 2) limited access to higher education selecting for an elite strata within the first group, and 3) the post-1965 US immigration system, designed around importing skilled techno-scientific workers, selecting the cream of the second group.

What really caught my eye, however, was the commentary around the nature of education systems in post-Independence India, which echoes what I’ve been attempting to study and write about, about the relationship between Asian America, mid-century anti-imperialist politics, and the production of skilled technical workers:

The Indian government had invested heavily in English-medium public higher education in science and technology—in places such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, which were mostly fed by urban English-medium private schools—even while grossly neglecting public primary education. This system soon produced tens and later hundreds of thousands of engineers amid a sea of functionally illiterate people. This talent pool was composed almost wholly of men from elite castes and classes, who were only too eager to escape from a country that could not offer them enough opportunity to apply their skills. And so the demands of the US labour market were met with a ready supply.

This gets at the central irony of the efforts of postcolonial nation-states, that they attempted to modernize a supposedly free and independent country, but did so in a manner that was easily and rapidly recuperated by global capitalism.

So what then are today’s organizing opportunities in Indian America?  I still think there is a lot of potential in merging efforts around radical tech worker organizing with parallel efforts in India America, given the disproportionate number of Indian techno-scientific workers.  Between upholding and spreading radical philosophies and histories around science and technology, organizing against contemporary racial oppression, and merging these efforts into class struggles, there are good avenues to stoke rebelliousness among workers who may otherwise happily continue petite-bourgeoisie and yuppie lifestyles.

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Some takeaways on the division of labor, technocracy, and the Cultural Revolution

I recently finished reading Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China’s New Class (2009), an excellent analysis of how different social classes formed and contested one another during China’s socialist period, and an effective look at the dynamics and evolution of the Cultural Revolution.  The main point of analysis is on the way the two elite groups that remained after the victory of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 1949—educated people, and CPC cadres—slowly fused together.

In 1949…very few members of the educated classes belonged to the party, and very few party members had higher education.  Those who had a foot in both camps—the Communist intellectuals—were tiny in absolute numbers and a small minority within each group.  As children of the educated elite gained political credentials and children of the political elite gained academic credentials, the number of people who occupied the intersection of the two groups—the Red experts—grew steadily. (272-3)

This process began almost immediately after 1949, with the advent of a massive expansion of education policies modeled after the Soviet Union that focused on technical and scientific fields.  It was interrupted, however, with attempts by Mao and his allies to fulfill the official goal of building communism and eliminating class hierarchies, as seen through the tumultuous—and often horrific—events of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.  These “class-leveling” campaigns (specifically, the ones during the Cultural Revolution) gave the two elite classes strong reasons to stop fighting teach other (as was the case during the Great Leap Forward) and unite to protect their power against the rebellious masses and lower-level CPC cadres.

The two elites also converged politically as members of both groups came to recognize a mutual interest in preserving social stability and halting class-leveling campaigns.  During the first decades of Communist power, these campaigns were facilitated by a gulf between the new and old elites.  Communist cadres saw the educated elites as representatives of the old order and believed that undermining the privileges they derived from cultural capital was party of the party’s revolutionary mandate, while intellectuals saw Communist cadres as unqualified usurpers and resented the privileges they derived from political capital.  In 1957, members of the two groups lined up on opposite sides of battle lines defined by political and cultural capital.  In 1966, the same kind of inter-elite antagonisms exploded at many elite schools, but simultaneous attacks on both groups ended up forging inter-elite unity…Budding Red experts of all class origins took umbrage at radical slogans denouncing party-affiliated college graduates as “new bourgeoisie intellectuals” and they came together in the moderate camp to defend both political and cultural capital.  (273)

Perhaps the most interesting thing about all this was how clearly serious the more militant communists were about actually abolishing class, and eliminating the divide between “manual” and “mental” labor.  Obviously these efforts not only failed, but backfired; the violence and intensity of the campaign lead to the convergence of two previously hostile elite classes and the creation of a pro-capitalist technocratic ruling class that continues to hold power today.  But it’s still interesting to see a revolutionary movement grapple with the problem of the division of labor, and raise arguments and debates that seem entirely absent from modern radical circles—a problem that will likely need to be rectified if modern communists are serious about revolutionary struggle, and engaging with the increasing stratification of the working-class based on differential skill-sets and knowledge bases.

Another interesting line of analysis in the book was the way it traced the evolution of 20th-century socialist states from being initially committed to Marxist socialism (and its intention to build a classless communist society), to eventually becoming much more defined by the utopian socialism of Saint-Simon, which explicitly theorized the need for an elite technocratic class of planners and bureaucrats who governed society according to the common good, and on techno-scientific principles.  Like the dynamics around the division of labor, modern communists should make sure to study the collapse of Marxist socialism into utopian socialism, and ensure that similar trends don’t emerge in contemporary revolutionary movements.

Capitalist recomposition = educational recomposition

A recent NPR Marketplace segment covered an expansion of government-backed student financial aid to include for-profit “nontraditional training and education programs”, many of which are geared toward technology work; the featured company is a coding bootcamp that produces software engineers via an intensive 3-5 month course.

We can expect these kinds of changes to the national education system–away from traditional avenues of university-centered higher education, toward more rapid, industry-centered schools — to accelerate as the economy becomes more and more dependent on software and programming.  This will be driven both by increased demand from workers who are looking to gain skills for entry into a world of relatively high wages, and by corporations looking to fight these high wages by increasing the supply of labor.  And as this process accelerates, we can expect an intensification of the attacks on subjects, fields, and departments that are not geared toward producing workers (i.e. ethnic studies, history) — attacks that have already been underway with the seemingly inexorable privatization of public colleges and universities that started back in the early 1990s.

How will leftists on the campuses respond?  I’m not particularly optimistic; for the past couple of decades, the student movement seems to be stuck in a reactive, defensive position that continually fails at influencing the general direction of how higher education is funded and run.  This is probably because of the class and social position of students and other people in academia; its far too easy to abstract campus struggles away from the rest of society, and without any concrete connections to movements outside the ivory tower, student/academia struggles are impotent against administrators, who have many friends in government and industry.

Off-campus, the growing “tech-ification” of the workforce points toward a future where tech workers face proletarianization, and lose their ability to negotiate high wages and maintain a professional and upwardly-mobile status.  Radical leftists should take stock of this emerging trend in the recomposition of capital and class, and begin right away to try to influence and organize leftist and progressive engineers, scientists, programmers, etc.  One important task is to investigate what kinds of ideology are being produced by new forms of tech education (presumably, some kind of libertarian and professional mindset), and how to intervene against it.

Sunday Interesting Links

  • Essay on the connections (and lack thereof) between Althusser and workerism, the relationship between Marxist theory and practice, and the nature of the communist parties in France and Italy in the ’60s and ’70s, from Viewpoint Magazine
  • Polemic by Matt Taibbi against the recent cover story in The Atlantic arguing that the US has too much democracy and not enough of an insulated political establishment
  • Report on the increasing unrest in Kashmir and anti-police attitudes
  • Analysis of renewable energy’s negative impact on nuclear power and carbon mitigation goals

Sunday Interesting Links

  • Critical analysis on the “Fight For $15” minimum wage campaign and the absence of political organization, from Orchestrated Pulse
  • Argument for “selfish solidarity” over “allyship”
  • Article about recent scholarship on the politics of land reform in Afghanistan

Saturday Interesting Links

  • Lengthy reportage on the Ambedkar Student Association in Hyderabad, in the context of Rohith Vemula’s suicide and the subsequent political drama
  • Transcript of a lecture by Naomi Klein on Edward Said, imperialism, environmentalism, and climate change
  • Lengthy reportage on the ongoing war in south-east Turkey/north Kurdistan between the Turkish state and the PKK, from New York Times
  • Analysis of the role that organized crime plays in the selection process for Supreme Court judges in Guatemala

Saturday Interesting Links

  • A liberal critique of shoddy anti-capitalist analysis of the role and functions of capitalists/managers/bosses
  • Essay on the history of boxing in Filipino-American culture in Los Angeles
  • Analysis on how rebels in the Damascus suburbs are violently fracturing
  • Reportage on researchers across the world pirating research papers and bypassing paywalls via the website Sci-Hub