Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Students and "The Never Ending Party".

The recent "demos" over the decision of the coalition government to make tuition fees all privately funded has seen lots of hyperbole and the usual idiots trying to claim that its time for a real revolution.

In response to a piece of rad right on journalism by Laurie Penny about the student rebellion in London, Alex Callinicos has been getting cross that he and his Trotskyist acolytes are not getting a fair share of the coverage.

The potty prof, a leading figure in the "Socialist Workers Party" wrote,
....the first real social movement Britain has seen since the early 1990s exploded in the dying weeks of 2010. It took the student protests – largely organised outside any official structures – to expose the deep fractures in a Conservative-Liberal coalition that had previously carried all before it.....
The student protests do not represent a "social movement" irrespective of the rightness or not of their cause. There is no broad backing from most of society and unlike 1968 the trade unions have not posited a general strike or unions seriously considered strikes in solidarity with the students.

The only chance direct action would have is if a broad swathe of society were prepared to go beyond individual and material self interest and act on a large scale in strike action which looks very unlikely to happen. The students have thrown up no eloquent leaders. Agree with the protests or not, these are the facts.

More importantly, many in the adult world cannot see why students should not pay for their own education if it is they who will benefit from it. The way students have acted makes the carnival style atmosphere of the protests just look like what students enjoy doing. And cancels out any serious points they could have made. It looks like they just want attention-"look at us we're having a revolution".

And much of it is the Grand March of Kitsch, to use Kundera's attempt to explain why radical movements tended to either to be either dangerous, in a context of totalitarianism, or simply ineffectual in free societies.

Education ought to equip citizens for life, to promote what is referred to as civil society and the interests that go beyond mere consumerism. Yet the frustration with society students complain about looks like boredom with the unwillingness to pay for an education in a university sector itself greatly expanded.

The quality of that education has gone down with expansion and it was used by New Labour to get more young people into university where many will do little work of a truly academic or serious nature. Fewer people believe that many students are not just "going to uni" because its a good time.
Penny's polemic was uncharacteristically ungenerous, picking out "sour-faced sellers of the Socialist Worker" as symbols of "the traditional hierarchies of the left", and comparing them to cockroaches. In fact, Socialist Worker has simply been where it has always been, in the thick of the struggle – with the students in 2010, as it was with the dockers in 1972, the miners in 1984, the Genoa protestors in 2001, and the anti-war marchers in 2003.
This is drivel. The SWP has simply tried to hijack protests and direct it towards a neo-Leninist and Trotskyist agenda that has little relevance to Britain in 2010 and which led to totalitarianism in the Soviet Union. The SWP has never ignited protest but has sought to co-ordinate them into "building the party" ready for "the revolution".

Callinicos has just seen an opening to try and convert the young to this cargo cult form of "socialism",which "seriously" talks of a revolution on the Leninist model, and does not want to be left behind by the new anarchical styles of struggle created by students. But, of course, it will merely end up with rich university students going into corporate work and poorer ones not.

The reason is that the 'neoliberal capitalist order' is what it is and the university system is now about training the young for a world of material gratification instead of getting people to think intelligently about how the country or the world could be improved as individuals. Those who do think just join think tanks to advance power agenda with unquestioning conformism.

Not "The Party".

The kitsch of Laurie Penny is here,

"This isn't just a student protest. It's a children's crusade: Those too young to vote, yet with their futures at stake, have organically come together to be heard".

What hell does it mean to "come together organically" ? Perhaps, spontaneously through twitter and so on. But that makes a flash mob. Not some "organic unity" of those organised to say a great no to a future of corporate work and consumerism. And still seen as "counterculture". Which often means just 'no culture'.
"Outside Downing Street, in front of a line of riot police, I am sitting beside a makeshift campfire. It's cold, and the schoolchildren who have skipped classes gather around as a student with a three-string guitar strikes up the chords to Tracy Chapman's Talkin Bout a Revolution."

'The diversity of the protest is extraordinary: white, black and Asian, rich and poor. Uniformed state-school girls in too-short skirts pose by a plundered police van as their friends take pictures, while behind them a boy in a mask holds a placard reading "Burn Eton".'

1 comment:

  1. Good points. I don't put too much stock in student movements or in movements of young people generally. I will take notice when the adults with families start to cause a commotion. I can't speak for other countries, but the original American populist movement was comprised of angry farmers and industrial workers, not fashionable twentysomethings. But that was a long time ago, I am not sure if we will ever see anything similar again, or at least in the near future.

    Still, I imagine there are some good young people that are trying to make the world a better place, but they probably don’t get much press.