Educate, Organise, Politicise!
This is the text of a leaflet distributed by CS members at the NUS anti-cuts demonstration on Wednesday 21st November. Click on the image to download a PDF version.
The world is in economic chaos – and social devastation is everywhere the result. Around 40,000 Greek children are starving, living standards across Europe are plummeting and the spectre of war is once again haunting the Middle East.
The international austerity offensive, which was supposed to return us to economic growth in a few years, is as incoherent as it is ill-conceived, and has obviously failed. Trillions of dollars lie dormant in banks, thanks to a capitalist class afraid to invest. The ruling class once used Keynesian state spending and large-scale wars to pull out of crisis, but these tools are simply not available to it today. Despite the obvious havoc it will wreak, our rulers seem intent on destroying our hard-won democratic rights and welfare, battering the population as a whole. But this fails even on its own terms: with incomes hit hard, the UK government “deficit” is actually bigger than it was just 12 months ago.
Students are one group of victims among many. Despite what the paid persuaders of capital claim, the marketisation of education has nothing to do with raising standards and increasing efficiency. It has everything to do with consolidating the economic and ideological influence of capital over our thought, and thus dumbing down education. Moreover, the bitter irony is that the outcome of such reforms is an increasing role of the state (in the form of targets, quotas and bureaucracy).
The logic of profit and the baleful influence of the bureaucratic state are inimical to an inspiring, rounded and critical education. Corporate funded provision of taught material; the funding of research, courses and tuition of prospective employees; and the fees system itself: all of these further instrumentalise education. In this grey vision, education is a means to secure employment for the student and skilled labour matching the specific needs of businesses. We are ‘taught’ to simply become uncritical dolts for capital in the workplace. (If we are ‘lucky’ enough to find a job after graduation, that is!)
Communists are clear: there is no good reason why we should pay for access to the historically accumulated knowledge of humanity. We call for student grants and the scrapping of fees. We are also clear that there was no ‘golden age’ of education, to which we need only return. Even when higher education was free, it always ultimately served the needs of capital, expanding and developing alongside the development of industry and the increasing need for skilled workers.
The current changes are part of capitalism’s increasingly cannibalistic tendencies since the onset of the turn to finance capital in the 1970s. Such tendencies have intensified with the onset of the crisis, and actually obstruct the reproduction of the system. Education under capitalism is becoming more and more geared to the short term interests of capital and so will be less able to produce critical thought and innovation. The dismal failure of economists to predict or respond to this crisis is one example of this. Only the elite universities offer something approaching a proper education.
It has been over two years since students stormed Millbank, in an inspirational and highly symbolic act of resistance. The resulting movement has long since ebbed away, after a real (and predictable) setback with the passing of the tuition fees bill. It is in the nature of student politics that struggles will often fizzle out as quickly as they appear.
But the fact is that we on the left must also take some responsibility for the movement’s demise, failing to build anything serious and enduring from these struggles. We sowed the illusion that the student protests themselves could “bring down the government”, and contented ourselves with building our own little groups, instead of uniting our forces into an organisation capable of providing revolutionary answers for those questioning the system for the first time. This, of course, led to exaggerated hopes – followed by inevitable disillusionment. As one unforgettable Socialist Workers Party placard put it after the tuition fees vote had passed: “What parliament decides, the streets will undo.” If anyone was fooled then, they aren’t now.
Instead of just moving from one defensive battle to the next, allowing the ruling class to set the terms the struggle, our movement urgently needs to propose an alternative to the source of all the problems we see around us: the capitalist system itself. This requires a vision for another society, and – crucially – a serious plan to get there. It is simply not enough for the revolutionary left to limit our politics to what we oppose, or to say that we must “overthrow the government”. We must also think about what we are for. This means fighting for a student movement that has a revolutionary political approach to all questions (imperialism and war, democracy, the state, the environment) facing society as a whole – not just education.
Communist Students exists to fight for the propagation of the ideas of Marxism on campus. We think students can and must play a role in the fight for a revolutionary, political alternative to the crazy logic of the capitalist system: a communist party uniting millions to its banner. We fight to arm the student movement with revolutionary politics and to organise students interested in finding out more about Marxist ideas.
- Abolish student fees. Everyone should be encouraged to develop themselves and their intellectual and critical abilities to the fullest degree.
- For academic freedom in teaching and research.
- Students over the age of 16 should receive grants set at the level of the minimum wage – at least £300/week under today’s conditions.
- The right of every young person on leaving education to a job, proper technical training or full benefits.
- Remove all obstacles to the participation of youth in social life. Votes and the right to be elected from the age of 16.
- The provision of a broad range of sports and cultural centres under the control of representatives elected by youth.
- The extensive provision of education and counselling facilities on all sexual matters, free from moralistic judgement, is an essential prerequisite to enable youth to develop themselves in all areas of sexuality and reproduction.