TELOSscope: The Telos Press Blog

The Roots of the Knowledge Factory: Coercion, Exploitation, and Pedagogy

As an occasional feature on TELOSscope, we highlight a past Telos article whose critical insights continue to illuminate our thinking and challenge our assumptions. Today, Matt Applegate looks at André Gorz’s “The Tyranny of the Factory: Today and Tomorrow” from Telos 16 (Summer 1973).

“There is a link between the crisis of School (school instruction) and the crisis of tyranny in the factory,” André Gorz proclaims in his 1973 article “The Tyranny of the Factory: Today and Tomorrow” (64). An Austrian-born social theorist, Gorz is known primarily for his interventions in political ecology and social analysis of capitalism. His focus on capital and education is not unrelated here, however. Substantively more than an abstract analysis of working conditions in the contemporary factory or a sweeping statement concerning the state of education in France, Gorz links the culture of factory labor to the imperatives of discipline and command in educational settings. The underlying claim here is that the logic of capitalism and the raison d’être of state-run education have become synonymous, resulting in both an auto-social response to capital’s hegemony in all forms of life and the elimination of pedagogical forms that inspire critical thought and practice. With this claim, at least three points of focus must be highlighted.

Gorz begins on a different foot than that of his concluding claims concerning pedagogy and the tyranny of the factory. At its outset, the article outlines the primary social relation through which capital has both thoroughly infiltrated all aspects of contemporary life and asserted unmoving global economic authority: coercion. Gorz is clear on this point, writing that, “the accumulation of capital can be maximized only if it is imposed on workers as an alien demand to which all others must be subordinated” (62). For Gorz, it stands to reason that workers, in opposition to the capitalist mode of production, would labor in their own interests, allowing for a more balanced life between work, leisure, etc., but also work according to their own physical needs. Capitalism disallows both a need-based economy to function and a more tolerable balance between work and all other aspects of life.

At the same time that the imperatives of capitalist accumulation are felt as imperatives over the whole of life, Gorz claims that capital has successfully abstracted itself from the labor process to such a degree that one can scarcely link the two in contemporary contexts. To restate this claim, Gorz argues that capital has not only successfully insulated itself from the interests of the laborer but from the labor process as well. The prescience of this claim is self-evident in a post-2008 global economy, and academics have noted this of Gorz’s work. For example, in an article written in 2007 and reprinted in the edited collection Ecologica, translated by and commented on by Chris Turner, “The Exit From Capitalism has Already Begun,” Gorz echoes himself, writing: “the real economy is becoming an appendage of the speculative bubbles sustained by the financial industry.”[1] However, in “The Tyranny of the Factory” it is the roots of this process that are an interesting phenomenon for Gorz. For it is only through the coercive deskilling of labor and the creation of a management class that capital has been able to insulate itself in such a way. The tyranny of the factory thus manifests: “By withdrawing the conditions and methods of machine production from the workers’ supervision, the factory hierarchy serves, in the last analysis, to make supervision a separate function. Only in this way can the means and process of production be set up as an alien, autonomous power which exacts the workers’ submission” (63). It is consequently when the means and processes of production are alienated from workers themselves and a management class begins to form that capital begins to transform into an alien autonomous force over the whole of life.

What is interesting about this intellectual echo in Gorz’s work is that it mirrors his argument in “The Tyranny of the Factory” concerning the function and role of education. The third and final driving point of Gorz’s article combines the first two claims and reorients them. Where workers are coerced into laboring for an economic system that exploits and disallows them from their equal inclusion, a social phenomenon must explain the workers’ acceptance of their coercion and exploitation. Prefacing the quote that opens this thread, Gorz accounts for this phenomenon pedagogically, claiming that the tyranny of the factory manifests socially because “teaching is not and has never been the aim of School. People are not taught by school education; they are taught by being placed in ‘pedagogical situations’ which lead them to teach themselves according to the practical-theoretical demands of their praxis” (64). In other words, workers of all kinds are ill equipped to combat the tyranny of the factory because pedagogy is implemented by and for the imperatives of capitalism. Again, we are taught to struggle with and for our own exploitation rather than to think critically and situationally to our advantage.

Beyond its claims concerning the insulation of capital from the means of production, Gorz’s article is important in light of contemporary scholarship on capitalism and education. A large body of scholarship on this issue has developed in the past decade, perhaps accelerated by the 2008 economic crash. Thinkers like Gigi Roggero, George Caffentzis, Sylvia Federici, and Gerald Raunig have contributed much to this discourse and popularized the contemporary comparison between the factory and the university. Roggero is the cofounder of the Edu-factory Collective and coeditor of an anthology titled Toward a Global Autonomous University, which in some ways mirrors Gorz’s work here. Offering both a diagnosis of university settings managed and compelled by the imperatives of finance, Roggero and others work where Gorz began and extend arguments like his to characterize the contemporary university as a “knowledge factory.”

“The Tyranny of the Factory” thus should not only be included in contemporary scholarship on education under capital, but also recognized as a founding document of its analysis. Indeed, reflection on Gorz’s article motivates productive questions that push us beyond critique: What would education against and beyond the metrics of profit look like? How might a de-financialized vision of education take root in situations where pedagogy and capital seem inextricable?


1. André Gorz, “The Exit From Capitalism,” in Ecologica (London: Seagull Books, 2010), p. 25.

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