Break with sect ‘broad fronts’
Communist Students is preparing the ground for the kind of student movement we need, writes Ben Lewis
Anybody who watches television or reads the newspapers will have noticed that these are not exactly the best of times for the capitalist class. Stock markets have crashed, the banking system nearly went into meltdown and unemployment, house repossessions and war are back with a vengeance. Hitherto so confident about its victory over ‘socialism’ (which in reality was nothing of the sort), it is now experiencing a profound crisis of ideas. Intelligent commentators and journalist hacks alike appear dumbfounded by what they see around them and have little or nothing to say about the way out.
Such conditions present massive opportunities for Marxists – we are armed with an analysis of capitalism and its declining forms and a programme of extreme democracy and internationalism and the organisation of the working class into a mass Communist Party. That is the only realistic way to get rid of capitalism and achieve our goal of socialism and communism. Such a society will replace the principle of profit and accumulation for the sake of accumulation with the principle of need. The wealth already more than exists to properly feed and house everyone on the face of the planet, as well as give them a decent education and heath services. And yet in the midst of plenty millions in the so-called third world go hungry, live in atrocious conditions and die of easily curable or preventable diseases.
Quite clearly if the left got its act together, and broke with the idiocies of bureaucratic centralism and the confessional sects, we could quickly move from the margins of society to organising millions.
In this sense, I found Laurie Smith’s report of his recent election campaign for president of Sheffield University student union far too downbeat (Letters, March 12). Three hundred votes for a candidate openly talking about the need to overthrow capitalism and for communism (universal human liberation) is certainly not to be sniffed at – especially given our limited resources and influence.
Although beginning very modestly Communist Students is preparing the ground for the kind of student movement we need – a movement for Marxism. By this we do not mean gagging critical minorities in public, getting members to sign up to an almost religious set of beliefs. No, what we are interested in is a programme of definite demands and goals – which members are asked to accept as the basis of common action, not necessarily agree to. A vital distinction.
By contrast, there exist a near omnipresence of the ‘broad front’ approach to students from other left groups. The basic idea is that, as they cannot recruit more than handfuls to sign up for the full package of the sect, the road to mass politics lies in constructing ‘broad fronts’ (in reality watered down politics, but with control being exercised by one group or another group). As would be expected, there is little more than a cigarette paper between them politically. Hence the three main campaigns: Another Education is Possible (Socialist Workers Party); Education Not for Sale (Alliance for Workers’ Liberty) and the Campaign to Defeat Fees (Socialist Party) all peddle the same insufficient ‘student trade union’ demands, shunning the idea of actually standing on the politics that they purportedly believe in.
Concomitant with this cynical frontism is a focus on getting people elected to positions of influence within the student union bureaucracy – whether as local sabbatical officers, national ‘liberation’ committees or the upper echelons of the National Union of Students itself. This is partly why groups such as Workers Power’s youth group, Revolution, and the AWL seem to have lost the plot and now advocate forming a new ‘political centre’ as an alternative to the NUS – they know that the recently passed governance review makes their small-scale manoeuvring to promote their groups/fronts much more difficult.
The manifesto of AWL candidate Gemma Short at Sheffield University embodied this approach. Her emphasis on winning the election overrode all other priorities, such as, well, maybe arguing and agitating for the revolutionary project of Marxism she claims to uphold. This populism may have won her over 1,100 votes, but what did it actually achieve? She had nothing to say on capitalism and the need for its revolutionary overthrow, nothing to say on the need for a party of the working class to achieve this, nothing on Marxism as the only way to understand and change it.
Now, the more idiotic response to this is that saying such things is “propagandistic”. But, given where the left is, and given that she did not even get elected anyway, it is obvious that all the left is doing at the moment is propaganda. Why not then actually make decent propaganda for what we actually hold to be true and the solution to the world’s problems and contradictions?
Oddly, Permanent Revolution, a Trotskyist group that has criticised the approach of the CPGB and CS, also goes along with this ‘common sense’ when it comes to day-to-day politics. Its candidate, Vicky Thompson, won the welfare officer position at Manchester University on a platform that did not mention the need to fight to overthrow capitalism and for socialism (although as a platform it was much better than Short’s narrow trade unionism – mentioning the need to fight for the legalisation of drugs and the internationalist approach of Hands Off the People of Iran). Clearly, our movement has a long way to go.
The left needs to cease regarding Marxism as some sort of conspiracy which is relegated to annual schools, branch meetings and pub conversations amongst the ‘trusted’. It must break with politics it knows to be insufficient in the forlorn hope of using them as some sort of ‘sign post’ towards (their usually garbled interpretation of) Marxism. These are not ‘sign posts’, but manifestations of the politics of other classes – ie, Labourism and reformism. ‘Broad front’ campaigns that are actually recruitment transition belts to this or that left group must be rejected.
We Communist Students are convinced that there is a growing body in society which rejects capitalism and is beginning to look for alternatives. Everyday experience confirms that. Our approach is simple: Marxism is powerful because it is true – not as some dogmatic schema, but the only consistent way of understanding the world in order to change it. That is why we argue for, stand on and agitate around these politics.