Who we are and what we fight for
From CS Issue 6
The brute facts of student life are rather more harsh than in the past. Grants, not loans. Fixed fees, not free education. Spying on ‘radical’ student groups on campuses. Petty harassment of young people on the streets and authoritarian attempts by the establishment to micro-manage our lives – from our alcohol intake, through our diet, to the types of ‘ultra-violent’ computer games we play.
Clearly, something has changed. We don’t have a misty-eyed nostalgia for the past, but life for students – like a great many other people in society – is tougher, more policed and constrained than in the past. As in the past, the world we live in is dominated by a global mode of production – capitalism – that is driven not by the needs and desires of humanity, but by the need to expand, to make profits. But communists don’t just offer glib platitudes like ‘It’s all down to capitalism’. Obviously, politics explains where we are today – in particular, the way that the balance of forces between the ruling and working class has shifted in favour of the former over the last quarter of a century.
Before you sigh and tell us that the working class is ‘dead’ or some other piece of punk-sociology, we should clarify what communists mean by the ‘working class’. We don’t just have in mind burly men with hammers who look like they’ve walked out of a Diego Rivera mural. We mean the entire class of people who own no means of production and are thus either forced to sell their labour for wages or rely on those who do (eg, children, housewives/husbands, students). Because of its unique social position, the working class form associations, unions and means of mutual support; collective struggle and decision-making comes naturally to it. This means that, with its arrival as a force in society, communism – a stateless, classless society based on production for need – becomes not only ‘a nice idea’, but a real possibility.
What is Communist Students?
Others says more or less the same thing, so what’s so special about Communist Students?
CS was formed, two years ago, largely on the initiative of student activists and contacts of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). It was formed to offer a positive alternative to what passed for a left on campuses; to the shoddy politics of these campus groups and the bureaucratic internal regimes that the leaders use to police the members.
So we started out on our own, and agreed a platform in December 2006. Our starting point was a simple one. Only Marxism and its attendant political programme, can be of any use to students in organising themselves politically. It can do so precisely because it is no cryogenically-preserved, already-immaculate dogma to which the Marxist adheres unthinkingly, but a living theory that produces living knowledge. This has two key consequences:
> The standard practice on the far left of kowtowing to and tailing various political forces to its right (always to its right) is disastrous. These forces – be they mainstream greens (People and Planet), liberal NGOs (Amnesty, Oxfam) or pacifists (Stop the War – though this last is led in fact by badly-disguised far left groups) – do not have aanswers. It is not enough to denounce the state of affairs that sends millions to a slow death of starvation in Africa; you need to understand the mechanisms at work, spread that understanding and organise on the basis of it. Our job as Marxists is to patiently and slowly educate, agitate and organise. It is not to set up some non-Marxist, get-rich-quick ‘broad fronts’ that propagate politics that wrong and positively harmful.
> The groups’ endless attempt to simply focus their members’ minds on building ‘the next march’, ‘the next meeting’ is equally harmful. Students, in the first instance, study. The point of being one is to acquire skills necessary for decently paid labour. Students who are also communists (and all communists are, in this sense, students) have an extra duty – to become competent (at least) with theory, and able to integrate it with their political activity. Marxism doesn’t develop itself – if it drops off the mental radar of new activists, then it will become a frozen dogma, and thus useless. Railroading people into endless protests and action without paying due attention to their political development and education ultimately means that the actions will lose purpose and most activists will burn out.
This does not mean that communist organisations must be debating societies or book clubs – just that actions and campaigns should be taken seriously not only in activist terms, but intellectually. CS, for example, has been very deeply involved in building the Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi) campaign, which integrates steadfast opposition to imperialist war – including the ‘soft war’ of sanctions – with full solidarity with campaigning workers, students and progressive movements of the oppressed in Iran.
And we do so not on a moralistic basis, because the theocracy is a blood-splattered pack of murderers (which they are, of course). We do so because we have a theory of anti-imperialism and genuine internationalism that drives us to the conclusion that anti-war work is hopelessly compromised by the movement associating (and in the case of the SWP, apologising for) with such a regime.
Put concretely, this means taking up democratic questions. It means opposing attacks on our democratic rights on campus and putting forward our own, positive, demands. But it means going far beyond a narrow focus on our position as students. At the core of our work as communists who happen to be students must be demands such as the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, for full trade union rights in the army, for its replacement with a democratic popular militia, for the abolition of MI5 and the whole secret apparatus of the state, for MPs to be instantly recallable and paid no more than a skilled workers wage; for free abortion and contraception on demand, etc.
We are always lectured by the economist left (see inside this issue for an explanation of this trend) that demands such as these are not exactly on the lips of millions just yet. Indeed, they are not. However, they are objective necessities. If we are any use as Marxists at all, it’s our job to raise them and be prepared for a long, patient battle to build support for them.
Communist Students does not aim to just join the feeding frenzy of different groups to nab a few green recruits from freshers’ fairs. We want to bring our understanding of Marxism, and the needs of the movement, to the existing left and fight to change its rotten sect culture. It is composed largely of sincere and intelligent activists, whose desire to ‘make a difference’ has placed them at the mercy of dubious leaders and party full-timer regimes.
Those who do choose to join Communist Students – whether ‘green recruits’ or experienced left activists – are not required to agree with everything we say, but simply accept the existing programme. We aim to have a lively open culture of polemic and debate that actually means the possibility of minority positions becoming the majority by organising and changing our platform. This, incidentally, is another thing that is only really possible if you have a ‘full’ programme to begin with – otherwise, all ‘blank spaces’ are filled in according to the whims of the incumbent leadership. All CS officers and leaders are instantly recallable.
The culture we aspire to create in our ranks is the same culture we aspire to for humanity – transparent, extreme and radically democratic. Communism, in other words. If you think that is a project worth fighting for, then join us.