The American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a right-wing establishment think-tank founded by the Vice President’s wife, Lynne Cheney, and last year’s Democratic Vice-Presidential candidate, Senator Joseph Lieberman, issued a report in November under the implicitly racist title, Defending Civilization: How Our Universities are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It.
ACTA denounces 117 faculty, students and campus organizations that had the nerve to either question or – horror of horrors – actually denounce the U.S.’s international role. The report keyed off with a demand for unanimous support for the American ruling class’s war on Afghanistan:
In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks, Americans across the country responded with anger, patriotism and support of military intervention. The polls have been nearly unanimous – 92% in favor of military force even if casualties occur – and citizens have rallied behind the President wholeheartedly. Not so in academe... . While America’s elected officials from both parties and media commentators from across the spectrum condemned the attacks and followed the President in calling evil by its right name, many faculty demurred. Some refused to make judgments. Many invoked tolerance and diversity as antidotes to evil. Some even pointed accusatory fingers, not at the terrorists, but at America itself.
While the 117 names have subsequently been removed from ACTA’s website, clearly the report was an attempt to intimidate those named and to suppress further dissent on the campuses – even though it claimed to speak in the name of academic freedom and the like.
The LRP is proud that one of its leaders, Walter Daum, who teaches Math at the City College of the City University of New York (CUNY) is cited three times by ACTA, for denouncing “American imperialism” and for asserting that “the ultimate responsibility [for the attacks] lies with the rulers of this country, the capitalist ruling class of this country” at a City College teach-in.
These citations were accurate – despite the fact that the source used in this case was a slanderous New York Post article. (see New York Post Attacks CUNY War Opponents) ACTA added to the misrepresentation by distorting the Post‘s account: it attributed to CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein the “piteous tale” of a student who felt that his grades would suffer “retribution” from “the professors who spoke” at City College. In fact, this tale came not from Goldstein but from Post columnist Andrea Peyser. It was also Peyser who lyingly had accused the forum of “fondly” describing the terrorists as “freedom fighters,” which no one did. Peyser is so unreliable a reporter that the Post‘s publisher, right-wing magnate Rupert Murdoch, was compelled to issue a public apology to one of her defamees. Peyser had characterized international correspondent Christiane Amanpour as a “CNN war slut.”
As for ACTA’s survey of campus opposition to the war, we can only wish that the portrait they paint of academia was the true one. For in general the problem is not that there has been too much dissent on the campuses, as ACTA hysterically claims. Rather there has been far too little – on campus or anywhere else. And there has certainly been only a small amount of serious and consistent opposition to what imperialism is doing. (See our statements on this website)
ACTA cites statements by faculty members, students and campus organizations that are “short on patriotism and long on self-flagellation.” But aside from the forthright statements by Daum and several others, most of the citations are pretty innocuous. (Examples: “ignorance leads to hatred,” “our grief is not a cry for war,” “we need to hear more than one perspective on how we can make the world a safer place,” “there needs to be an understanding of why this kind of suicidal violence could be undertaken against our country,” “there is a lot of skepticism about the administration’s policy of going to war.”) That ACTA attacks many statements which do not even condemn the U.S. war shows its intent to smear even the most moderate dissent as anti-American.
Although ACTA’s picture of campus opposition to the war is overblown, it is true that support for the war, while prevalent, runs thin in many quarters. The problem for U.S. imperialism in the future will not just be the campuses; “patriotic” support for the war is hardly unquestioning or rigid in the working class at large. While the LRP believes that the working class must be at the center of any anti-war effort that is to be truly successful, the political wind on campuses is an important factor. Control of the universities is no small matter for the ruling class.
ACTA’s clear aim of discouraging anti-war sentiment and activity on campuses reflects the fact that the establishment knows that rebellious students can often provide a spark for a bigger movement among working people. But ACTA has had its own agenda years before September 11.
ACTA’s report urges colleges to adopt “strong core curricula that include rigorous, broad-based courses on the great works of Western civilization as well as courses on American history, America’s Founding documents, and America’s continuing struggle to extend and defend the principles on which it was founded.” ACTA’s “Defense of Civilization Fund” is campaigning vigorously for this agenda to be imposed or re-imposted on campuses across the country, taking advantage of the patriotic atmosphere.
ACTA’s argument is that a supposed overemphasis on “cultural diversity” and “political correctness” has been at the root of much growing evil in American society. In fact, the rise of the Black liberation and anti-war movements of the 1960’s led to gains on the campuses. Blacks, Latinos, women and working-class youth in general won reforms like wider admissions and academic programs that partially reflected their needs. To remove these gains is a key part of ACTA’s racist agenda.
Revolutionaries understand that under imperialist capitalism, “academia” has always been intended to serve as a prop for this exploitative and oppressive system. From the day we enter kindergarten, capitalist education is intended to brainwash as much as to educate. For those who can make it to college, ACTA’s agenda of pro-Western propaganda is intended to fortify the universities to groom the next generation of intelligentsia to support the system. The system needs politicians, economists, scientists, philosophers, administrators, academics, technologists, lawyers, teachers, social workers, psychiatrists, etc. as much as they need military recruits to their armed forces. These middle-class layers are required for covering for and defending the system – in every sphere of life and in ways both large and small. This goal is endangered by campus dissent, and above all by actually fighting against the system.
From ACTA’s point of view, there have been too many concessions to untrustworthy people like foreigners, Blacks and Latinos. Now, as with the rollback of affirmative action, ACTA wishes to push back even the more moderate gains that encourage “tolerance” and “diversity.” It is no accident that in 1999 ACTA championed the Giuliani-Badillo attacks on CUNY in favor of “instituting more selective admissions standards,” i.e. barring remediation programs from four-year colleges that enhanced opportunities for the poorest layers of Blacks, Latinos and immigrants. It is no accident that ACTA now decries the addition of courses on Islam to college curricula in the wake of September 11. In their mind it all undermines “Western civilization,” i.e., imperialist ideology.
It is no accident that ACTA’s report comes in an atmosphere where attacks on civil liberties, especially against immigrants, have escalated sharply. These attacks are all connected to the escalating imperialist war campaign, at home as well as abroad. Under the conditions of an economic system heading toward a plunge, the ruling class requires further repression on immigrants as well all people of color, workers and the poor. Imperialist “patriotism” means whipping up national chauvinism against “foreigners” – especially Arab and other Middle Eastern peoples. This goes hand in hand with increased racism against Blacks and Latinos. The working class must fight every racist and chauvinist attack and every attack on our civil liberties, including the ACTA agenda and the attacks on the anti-war teachers and students on campuses.