A Perspective On The Student Movement In The United Kingdom By A UK Maoist
— Joseph Ball
(Some months before when the great students movement in UK was going on, we requested author Joseph Ball to write about this historical movement. unfortunately mail written by Joseph was deliverd in our spam folder. we are posting this article late but it is still very relevent because we are witnessing a great renewal of the mass movements around the world specially involving students and youths. these movements are presenting great hope and chellenges among all the revolutionary students of the world. we hope readers will forgive us for the delay in posting. –Editor)
The current student protest movement is the most militant mass protest movement that has occurred in Britain since the anti-Poll Tax campaign, twenty years ago. Students are occupying their colleges and school students are walking out of lessons to join the protests. Young people have confronted state power and attacked symbols of wealth and inequality. This movement is a response to two UK government attacks on youth in Britain. The first is a proposal to raise tuition fees for British students to a maximum of £9000 a year. Students will have to take out a loan to pay these fees, which they will pay back by instalments after graduation. This measure was announced in October by the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. The second is the government policy to abolish the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for new applicants from January 2011. The EMA gives children from lower income families up to £60 a fortnight if they stay at school after 16 (the age at which children can legally leave school). The movement is therefore composed of both school students and university students, with efforts being made to attract the solidarity of trade unionists.
On 10th November students who broke away from a march organised by the National Union Of Students stormed the headquarters of the Conservative Party. Weekly protests in central London have occurred since then, along with protests in other cities and college occupations. A massive protest took place in central London on December 9th when Parliament voted to pass the legislation introducing the higher tuition fees. Most students protested outside Parliament, while others targeted shops in London’s West End owned by capitalists who are allowed to avoid taxes by the UK government. One group in the West End ran into Prince Charles and his wife and blocked their car shouting slogans.
Despite the vote in Parliament new occupations of Universities are beginning up and down the country, even as I write these words. It is unlikely that the struggle will die down.
The police have responded to protests by the tactic of ‘kettling’ or detaining groups of demonstrators for long periods of time where they are demonstrating. There has also been savage violence. One student protestor is currently in hospital with bleeding from the brain after being beaten on the head by a police officer.
The student protests have been led by more or less spontaneous groups like the National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts, that do not seem to be controlled by any political party. The politics of these protests is very difficult to pin down. 48% of students voted Liberal Democrat at the last election because the Liberal Democrats said they opposed the existence of tuition fees. Now the Liberal Democrats have endorsed a trebling of tuition fees, disillusion with British ‘democracy’ is spreading among students. This has been made worse by the fact that a secret document has shown that the Liberal Democrats were planning to drop their commitment to abolish tuition fees before the general election, despite passionate public declarations the contrary.
Anarchism appears popular among those students more inclined to radicalism. There is some Trotskyist influence. Workers’ Power and its youth organisation ‘Revolution’ seem to have a fair degree of involvement. The Socialist Workers Party, another Trotskyist group, is pursuing an extremely right-wing line of attempting to replace the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition with a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition. This is despite the fact that the old Labour administration was proposing massive cuts before the May 2010 election and despite the fact that Labour introduced tuition fees in the first place! The Socialist Workers Party probably has pretty limited support among the students.
The problem is that the radical students have certainly lost their faith in bourgeois politics but can see no alternative except the dead end of anarchism, which is simply an ideology of eternal protest, with no strategy for taking power and destroying the existing state institutions.
It must also be acknowledged that the university students are the more privileged section of the protest movement. In terms of militancy, the school students fighting against the loss of EMA constitute the vanguard, although we must not discount the many brave actions of university students.
We must also understand that the protests are taking place in an imperialist nation. Students will not have to start repaying the loans for their tuition fees until after they have started earning above £21000 per annum. This is a salary most of the world’s people can only dream of (though it is a fairly typical salary for a British worker.)
So why should Maoists support the student protests?
(1) Because University students are uniting with the poorest school students.
(2) Because Liberal Democrat lies expose the true nature of the UK’s so-called democracy.
(3) Because free education is a basic socialist principle.
However, we do have to tell University students that we are not fighting for a world where they get to enjoy the high salaries they might enjoy at the moment. In a socialist world, resources must be re-distributed from rich countries to poor countries. Imperialist exploitation has enriched the peoples of the imperialist nations at the expense of the oppressed nations which have remained mired in poverty and under-development, as the fruits of their labour and their resources have been plundered by the rich nations. In a socialist world, university students in the former imperialist nations will have free education, without having the stress of having to pay back huge debts. However they will be expected to perform manual labour as well as mental labour. They will not be allowed to stay in their ivory towers but will be sent down to learn from the workers in their own countries and the workers and peasants in the former oppressed nations and also to share their knowledge with the workers and peasants.
The student movement in the UK must be seen in the context of economic and social upheavals sweeping Europe and the USA. The basic message for the people of the oppressed nations is that the imperialist nations are in crisis and now is a good time to step up the struggle to smash imperialism!
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