The existing structures of knowledge emerged during the nineteenth century as an integral dimension of a world-system characterized by colonial domination of vast regions of the planet by seven European powers. In the 1960s, anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial movements in the Third World reached an advanced stage, and they impacted political consciousness in the core, exposing the contradictions between the democratic pretensions of the global powers and the fundamental colonial and neocolonial structures that sustained them. A dimension of the world-wide revolution was its critique of the functional relation between the structures of knowledge and the global structures of domination. Because of the impact of the global revolution, the social roots of knowledge became widely recognized, and the epistemological consensus that had been evolving and consolidating since 1789 collapsed, a phenomenon that is one symptom of the terminal crisis of the world-system. Although some adjustments have been made, such as the creation of departments of African-American studies and women’s studies, the pre-1968 structures of knowledge remain intact. And although various scholars are working in disparate new directions, an alternative epistemological consensus has not emerged.
The emergence of an alternative epistemological consensus must be an integral part of a transformation of the world-system from a neocolonial world-system to a just and democratic world-system. This social transformation has begun in peripheral and semi-peripheral zones of the world-system, and it thus represents a possibility for the future. But a revolutionary social process has not yet emerged in the core, where the major centers of higher education are located. A transformation of the structures of knowledge will require that a popular revolutionary process emerge in the core.
How can we imagine a popular revolution in the core? In accordance with the methodological guideline of cross-horizon encounter (see “Universal philosophical historical social science” 4/2/2014), we must encounter popular revolutions in other lands in order to learn from these experiences. Of course, we cannot apply strategies developed in one context to another, at least not without creative adaptation. But we are able to understand general revolutionary structures by observing the various revolutionary processes that have occurred in the world, focusing especially on those popular revolutions that have been able take power, to deliver on many of the promises to the people, and to maintain themselves in power for a reasonable period of time.
Drawing upon observation of popular revolutions in general, what are revolutionary structures that we can imagine as having possibilities for the core? First, there must occur the education of the people, the formation of a vanguard from among the people who have an understanding of the structures of domination of the neocolonial world-system and of the historic and contemporary movements of the Third World that seek the development of a just and democratic world-system. We need to form local groups that meet regularly to study, to dialogue, and to act locally; and to elect delegates who will participate in the emerging alternative political structure at the regional, state, and national levels. From this vanguard that combines study and action, charismatic leaders must emerge, leaders who can lead the people in the transformation of the fundamental structures of the world-system, in solidarity with similar efforts in other nations throughout the world.
In the formation of a vanguard, intellectuals have a necessary role, as a consequence of the educational function of the vanguard. Many of these intellectuals, but by no means all, will be academics. But they must be academics who are aware of the limitations of the assumptions and boundaries of the academic disciplines; and who are prepared to sacrifice their careers, that is, to advance less in prestige and bureaucratic authority within the structures of higher education. They must liberate themselves from the disciplinary assumptions and bureaucratic structures of academia in order to discover relevant questions through cross-horizon encounter with the social movements formed by the dominated. They must dedicate themselves to popular education and to the raising of political consciousness among the people, working in structures of popular education being developed by the unfolding alternative revolutionary political structure.
The ultimate goal of the alternative revolutionary political structure must be the taking of power. We must move beyond protesting the policies formulated by those in power, beyond “speaking truth to power.” The goal must be to take power, with the intention of governing in a form: that defends the social and economic rights of the people in the nation and the world; that conducts foreign policy on a basis of respect for the sovereignty of all nations; and that develops policies that promote ecologically sustainable forms of production.
As the vanguard forms, and the revolutionary process unfolds, the revolution will be able to attend to one of its tasks, which is the reorganization of the division of knowledge within the universities. The revolution can call upon social scientists, historians, and philosophers to reorganize knowledge. As a rising political force, the revolution will have the possibility of overcoming the resistance of petty conservatives in academia, who presently defend the turf of their various disciplines. As the general social transition occurs, the reorganization of the university becomes possible. An alternative university can be created as part of a more just and democratic world-system, a university that seeks to develop knowledge that serves the needs of the people and not the interests of the powerful.
Keeping a vision like this in mind, intellectuals and academics of the North today need to personally liberate themselves from the assumptions and bureaucratic structures of higher education and to search for ways to encounter the movements of the Third World, seeking to develop alternative forms of understanding that grasp colonial and neocolonial structures of domination, and searching for strategies of popular education and political action in the North that are connected to and work in solidarity with the Third World national liberation movements that seek a more just and democratic world.
We intellectuals of the North today confront a situation in which our people are confused, and they are divided between reactionary conservatism and moderate liberalism. Furthermore, public discourse that shapes popular consciousness is superficial and ethnocentric. It thus does not seem possible that the people would support a revolutionary process. Confronting a similar situation of ideological confusion in Cuba at the end of the nineteenth century, José Martí asserted that the task of the revolutionary is to make possible the impossible. He formed the Cuban Revolutionary Party, which took the first decisive steps toward the liberation of the people from structures of domination. We should take a lesson from Martí and concentrate our energies on creative strategies for transforming popular consciousness.
The peoples of the North have the right to understand the world and the options that are available for future human development. By organizing fields of study in a form that systematizes the blocking of relevant questions from consciousness, the structures of knowledge in higher education deny this right. We intellectuals of the North must creatively search for ways to overcome this obstacle.
Above all we must believe in the possibility of social transformation. We will never be full citizens until we believe that we can be subjects in history: reading, thinking, creative and politically active subjects who are forging our destiny.
The most powerful weapon of social control is the generation of ideas that convince the people that they must accept things as they are. When I was a child growing up in suburban Philadelphia, I often heard the expression, “You can’t fight City Hall.” We should invent an alternative saying, “You can fight City Hall, and you can win. But it will be a long fight that will require discipline, determination, and courage.” How do I know that this is possible? I have seen it in other lands.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Wallerstein, world-systems analysis, historical social science, Lonergan, cross-horizon encounter