Universities take the side of state repression

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In Iran, one of the Islamic regime's first responses to the massive demonstrations that followed the rigged election result was to send its Basij militia thugs into Tehran university, to beat and murder selected students as an example to the rest.

In France, during the most recent student mobilisations against the ‘reform' of higher education (aimed at sharpening divisions between elite universities and the rest), more than one occupied campus was raided by police armed with dogs and intent on preventing the students from holding political debates in the lecture theatres.

In Greece, during the December revolt, university campuses, particularly the Athens Polytechnic School, were used as a basis for general assemblies open to students, workers and the unemployed. The police were again used to break up the occupations and thus strike a blow against the efforts of the revolt to become conscious of its goals and methods.

In a number of these cases, there were clear signs of complicity between the police and the university authorities.

Iran, of course, is a rigid theocracy, and the French and the Greek police have a long history of violence against social dissent. But surely things are different in liberal Britain, with its tradition of independent universities and of tolerance towards unorthodox thinkers?

Perhaps not.

In June students at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London occupied the college after heavily tooled up immigration officers carried out a raid to identify, arrest and in some cases deport immigrant cleaning workers who had not long ago been involved in strike action. Here again the police acted in tandem with the university authorities:

"Immigration officers were called in by cleaning contractor ISS, even though it has employed many of the cleaners for years. Cleaning staff were told to attend an ‘emergency staff meeting' at 6.30am on Friday (June 12).

This was used as a false pretext to lure the cleaners into a closed space in which the immigration officers were hiding to arrest them.

More than 40 officers were dressed in full riot gear and aggressively undertook interrogations and then escorted them to the detention centre. Neither legal representation nor union support were present due to the secrecy surrounding the action. Many were unable to communicate let alone fully understand what was taking place due to the denial of interpreters.

SOAS management were complicit in the immigration raid by enabling the officers to hide in the meeting room beforehand and giving no warning to them" (from the press release issued by occupying students http://libcom.org/forums/announcements/support-soas-occupation-cleaners-risk-deportation-russell-square-london-430).

At the University of East London, professor of anthropology Chris Knight has been suspended from his job and faces the sack for ‘gross misconduct'. This was mainly because he went ahead with an ‘alternative G20 summit' at the campus (though in the grounds, not inside the building as originally planned) after the university authorities had cancelled it at the last minute. It will be recalled that, in the period leading up to the G20 summit in London, the media and the police were concocting a campaign of hysteria about the threat of violence in the capital - a threat which they themselves brought to fulfilment with a display of hysterical violence which led to the ‘kettling' of hundreds of demonstrators and the death of bystander Ian Tomlinson. No doubt the university authorities were fearful that the UEL campus would operate as a head quarters for the anti-G20 demonstrations. The papers meanwhile said little about the primary cause of Knight's suspension and gave maximum publicity to Knight's jokes about bankers being hanged from lamp-posts, claiming that this was the real reason for his suspension. 

We don't think that the alternative summit, largely made up of leftists like Tony Benn and Lindsay German, offered a revolutionary alternative to the G20, nor are we in agreement with Knight's focus on the ‘street theatre' style of protest and other political ideas (anarchist or Trotskyist) he has espoused. But that does not stop us from denouncing UEL's complicity with the forces of repression, just as we condemn SOAS for unleashing the immigration narks on their own cleaning staff.

Visitors to our website know that we have initiated a discussion around Chris Knight's ideas about the origins of human culture (http://en.internationalism.org/2008/10/Chris-Knight). He is a stimulating and original thinker who is not afraid to step outside the confines of academic orthodoxy. By suspending him, and refusing to host the ‘alternative summit', UEL is setting an ominous precedent: in a time of growing economic and social crisis, unorthodox lines of thought will not be permitted.

This kind of intellectual Stalinism, along with the cow-towing of universities to the demands of the police, needs to be opposed at each step of the way; but the best method for reviving the universities as true centres of learning is the one favoured by the Greek and French students who threw the campus gates open and organised their general assemblies so that everyone with an interest in resisting capitalism could take part in a genuine culture of proletarian debate.  

Amos 26/6/9