In the recent wave of demonstrations and occupations by students across Britain there has been a wide range of ideas and slogans put forward. Whether in discussions, on placards, or chanted while marching, the protests have not been limited to ‘Down with the rise in tuition fees!’
The understanding that the increasing problems facing students are not in any way isolated from the experiences of workers, the unemployed, the sick and pensioners is widespread.
It’s because of the range of ideas thrown up, about how to organise the struggle, about the nature of society, that leftist groups like the Socialist Workers Party have thrown a lot of energy into putting their propaganda to students.
Characteristically they are currently selling the idea that the British government could soon be in serious crisis because of the force of the student movement. On the front page of Socialist Worker (4/12/10) as they look forward to another episode of parliamentary charades they headline with “When MPs vote on fees it’s… A day to break the coalition”. They claim that “government ministers are in a spin” as students enter into “battle against this vicious Tory-Lib Dem coalition.”
Elsewhere, in the same issue, they say that “The scale of the students’ revolt, and the splits inside the coalition, mean we can stop the attacks on education—and strike a hammer blow at other cuts too.” As they prepare for actions on 9 December there is an insistence that “The student movement has grown in size and militancy over the past three weeks—and if workers and students unite this can be the beginning of the end of the coalition government”. And if others were to copy the response of students, who knows what could happen? For example: “If our trade unions were to take up the Tory’s challenge in the same way as the students, the government’s days would be numbered.”
All this gives the impression of an imminent collapse for the coalition government which doesn’t really tie in with recent experience elsewhere in Europe. Note the scale of recent struggles in Greece, France and Italy and the fact that each government is still in place.
Of course, the focus of the SWP is on a potentially ‘divided’ government, yet the differences between the Tory and LibDem views on the maintenance of capitalist order are mostly superficial – as are both parties’ differences with Labour. After all, in the Labour Party there is a ‘coalition’ between those who emphasise the needs of business and the market economy, while others, on the left, talk of nationalisation, planning and even socialism. This hasn’t stopped Labour’s essential unity in defence of the needs of state capitalism whether managing capitalism in government (for instance introducing student fees) or undermining and diverting workers’ struggles when in opposition.
The struggles of students today are a response to one of the latest attacks of capitalism in Britain. The SWP are trying to drag them into engagement with the parliamentary game. If the current government is ‘vicious’ it is certainly implied that an Ed Miliband Labour party would be an improvement. Although he’s not been portrayed as a left wing figure he is seen as partly breaking with New Labour and Blairism. On his election Socialist Worker (2/10/10) observed that “those with some connection to the left and the workers’ movement were chuffed to bits.”
For the SWP the ‘workers’ movement’ means institutions like the unions, the institutions that sabotage workers’ struggles. And yet for many students involved in recent demonstrations and occupations there is a very low level of confidence in the National Union of Students, particularly because of the denunciation of their struggles by some of its leading figures.
The SWP, wherever it finds struggles, tries to rein them back into a focus on parliament, support for the unions and the Labour Party. It also pushes illusions in the possibility that capitalism can be reformed, that it can operate without crises or austerity. Socialist Worker (13/11/10) says that “The money is there for education, but the government chooses to spend it on wars, weapons and bailing out the banks.” Imperialist wars and the vital role for finance are not ‘choices’ for the capitalist ruling class. They are at the heart of its very being. There are no alternative ways for capitalism to function. Only the destruction of the wage labour system can bring the satisfaction of human needs.