Everywhere in the UK now people are graduating. The years of anxiety, stress and coffee-fag-and-adderrall all-nighters are beginning to feel like they are paying off. Families are overjoyed with pride, and for many this is the first child in the family who has successfully made it through the academy. Momentarily, gleaming students are forgetting the heavy weight of debt hanging over them as they don their awkward gowns, collect their degrees, and smile for photographs with their peers, partners and lecturers.
With the deepest heartfelt sincerity I do want to congratulate my friends who have been celebrating this past week, we're all very proud of you and it's been genuinely touching seeing so many of your photos and the excitement and pride captured on the special day.
But - as students we train to think critically. And even this special day cannot be considered without a critical eye and a moment to reflect on the institution of higher education. For many students, they didn't make it to graduation. They couldn't. The university is a factory and as the commodification of HE becomes more palpable in every department, as students stop being treated as learners with desires and ambitions and instead be treated as 'service users', the access to an education without barriers becomes ever more fleeting. Even for those who are graduating, some do so with a bitter taste in their mouth because it was against all odds, and despite the lack of care from the University. Mental health services being stripped, disability services cut, lecturers and staff seeing pay freezes, over worked and under paid, unable to access vital support in order to offer pastoral care to their students: many of whom are under increasing pressure because of mounting debt, no access to grants, worsened conditions in bars and coffee shops they are forced to work in for longer hours to make it through their degree. Police violence enacted on to students who want to protest their University.
Today I found out that a revered Marxist intellectual whose work is so often cited and studied, Louis Althusser, murdered his wife by strangulation after a campaign of abuse against her that spanned decades. Hélène Rytmann was her name and she was a communist. Her memory has faded into the shadows of time while Althusser remains celebrated and protected. How precious the academy is about the reputations of its bastions of intellectual integrity: Althusser isn't the first white, male thinker and writer to brutalise women and be remembered for his academic feats, and he won't be the last. This enormous fact is conveniently omitted by the academy - many people I've spoken to this morning are shocked and didn't know. I had no idea. And yet we've been force fed his writings throughout my time in the institution. (I will comment below extracts from his posthumous memoir where he articulates, almost poetically but graphically, the murder of Hélène Rytmann.) Now more than ever this is a potent time to capture the significance of this omission. As many of you know the UK Left has recently become caught up in another shit-storm caused by abusive lefty men, while the women and survivors bear the brunt of the turmoil and fall-out. Again, we allow the intellectual man a free pass because 'he is useful to the movement'. How useful? How useful are these men that rid the movement of the vigour and determination and commitment that so many brilliant women bring to it - who are rendered unable, ill, burnt-out, abused: invisible. Dead.
The academy is violent. It's elitist, and it's not been a linear process of decline - but its foundations were built on elitism and deep inequality. I have celebrated two graduations, and yes I've been proud, but always with a heavy heart and a resounding resentment that will permanently taint the sense of achievement. I'm okay with that. I remain vigilant, critical, and weary. If you are graduating be proud of your achievements - not least of all having to sit through the self-indulgent, hypocritical ramblings of your vice-chancellor who profits from the misery the institution churns out. Be happy, but be prepared, remain vigilant and always critical. Fuck the academy. We will struggle for a world that values us and doesn't exploit us.
Author: Rosa Soros is a writer, agitator and revolutionary communist