Here is an article originally from the blog, Advance the Struggle. The author, Esteban, raises important questions considering the size of the student population in the United States, the role students have played in radicalizing movements, and how they can think about themselves in terms of their own emancipatory capabilities. This is especially pertinent when student struggles break out of narrow university demands and into realms which directly impact the working class. Considering the U.S. has hundreds of public universities where working class students are struggling to get by, it is a matter of time, organization, and self-activity before these questions are bumped into.
There are many more points raised in this piece and I will not go into all of them, leaving it to others to raise insights, agreements, and critiques.
In light of Tuesdays announcement of a 20% increase in CSU stuent fees, we felt it’d be appropriate to post some original writing on the role of the student movement. Is it a middle class movement as some have argued? Or is it part of the struggle against capitalism?
For what seems like the past decade, California students have been taking busses to Sacramento to lobby legislators to stop gutting and gentrifying university education. These efforts have been spearheaded by organizations like the faculty union CFA and student government officials (ASI) from various schools.
These efforts have achieved very little in terms of battling against Sacramento’s cuts. While there have been glimmers of more confrontational, militant resistance coming from groups like SUP in San Francisco, and similar organizations at other campuses, they have not spread throughout universities or gained enough of a foothold at their campuses in order to challenge their local administrations and the power structure in Sacramento yet.
With this in mind, check out Esteban’s analysis of the relation between students and the class struggle. In light of the most recent failure to stop pushing out working class students of color from the university system, we should take a moment to re-consider our strategies and perspectives on what a student movement is.
Students as Positive Proletarian Actors
students are workers. the logical implication of that fact is that students should organize as workers and with the rest of the working class. i think the success of a working class movement (ultimately culminating in total victory, ie, socialism) is largely based upon the extent to which students/intellectuals facilitate the process of workers becoming students/intellectuals. this seemingly obvious and simple fact is neglected by the great majority of established campus organizations including socialist and ethnic ones – both of which are products of the last round of historically relevant student struggle in the era of the “new left.” students have a crucial role in developing the class struggle, but those who fetishize workers in terms of some one dimensional blue collar fantasy as well as those who sideline class (let alone class struggle) in favor of cultural, national or other ascribed identities refuse to see this fact. this is a huge opportunity that is being thrown away and the working class as a whole suffers for it. below are some thoughts on how students can be positive proletarian actors.
the attack on public education is just one facet, one symptom, of the capitalist crisis in this acute stage. to defend public education requires a fight on every front of the class war, and thus requires broad class unity. although broad proletarian unity is always needed, the crisis provides a material basis for realization. students must see themselves as part of the proletariat, right along with the day laborer, the single mother on welfare, and the auto worker. together they must launch a coordinated attack against capital – a revolution. of course this is a long and painful process that goes through ups and downs, and hasn’t even really begun yet. we have a lot of catching up to do, but once students see their true role in society as workers and potential actors on the historical stage clearly, they have taken the first step toward defending their immediate interest (public education) as well as having taken the first step toward the socialist revolution which is the only thing that can crystalize in the long term those same material interests. once the identification of the student with the worker has been realized, they have to begin to organize and resist.
what does organizing along these lines mean? the traditional reformist way of “organizing” for students is the ritualistic signing of petitions and politely taking afl-cio provided buses to an annual convergence on sacramento to do charade lobbying sessions with congress people. oh yes and of course the conventions and conferences where they get together with all the branches of their organization from across the country and shmooze, playacting a fantasy future as middle level manager or state employed bureaucrat. this is bullshit and must cease. this is the time for proletarian resistance, not middle class opportunism.
real student resistance means first of all taking ownership of their education, putting their analytical and writing and computer skills to use for the working class movement (which is non-existent and thus has to be created). they should make propaganda that is relevant to the wide and diverse sections of the working class and disseminate it (in print on the street and on the internet and any other way possible). students should fiercely protect the freedoms that exist in campus environments and use the somewhat unique campus atmosphere to demonstrate what militant resistance looks like. not conferences, potlucks, anti-coca-cola petitions but walk-outs, marches, blockades, occupations, student strikes, etc.
these militant actions have to be taken off the campus (or to campus workers like food service and janitorial staff) so that other workers can see the possibilities in action. students should walk out and go to the street for massive outreach, calling on everyone to strike and shutting down streets or whatever else along the way. realistically, nobody will go on strike just because some crazy students tell them to, but it will plant a seed and can crack the fear, which are first steps to building organic networks and organizations that can make strikes happen.
students should also do consistent work in the community even if its just propaganda. the biggest asset students have to offer the working class is being more highly literate than most other workers. they should use their literacy to study – hard – the movements of the past. once they have some good ideas about the pluses and minuses of those movements and know generally what is needed today, they need to start sharing that perspective with the working class. “sharing” is actually a way of testing their theory too, because if workers reject a theory that probably says something about either the content of the theory or the form in which is being delivered. study, present, test, reflect, and through every cycle, recruit working class people into the process that it becomes more and more of an organic product of the working class itself, rather than staying in the abstract loop that academia trains students to operate within.
students have to prioritize the spread of those literacy skills because its not beneficial for the proletariat to be functionally illiterate and (mis)led by a “vanguard” intelligentsia layer (wassup Stalinists). none but the proletariat can liberate itself, and this liberation requires literacy and intellectual development which the bourgeoisie has denied us with their stupid ass media and fucked up educational system. this is the concept of ‘organic intellectuals’ in action, unleashed from a classroom where ethnic studies and sociology teachers love to quote gramsci yet shy away from the street and real struggle. thats intellectual alright, but it isnt organically connected to the proletariat (as per what gramsci actually says).
beyond theory, student militants’ eyes should be open for individuals in the community and at workplaces who want to struggle against their conditions and the students should provide some vehicle for them to do so; not as a vanguard party that concocts perfect plans and to whom workers must subordinate themselves, but as a partner who has some unique skills to offer; not as a substitute for other workers in the community, but as a conduit that facilitates communication between workers and casts some analytical light on the situation from a broader perspective than most working class people have been exposed to. the point is for students to rebel and to spread the rebellion, infusing it with perspective that hopefully students will have gained by independent study of radical histories and theories. their literacy skills can thus be put to best use in action.
just as students are workers, workers must also become students. students can both learn and teach by participating in working class struggle, and making a conscious project of intellectual development (their own intellectual development as n individual and that of the working class to which they belong). i call this perspective of reciprocal learning between intellectuals and non-intellectuals mediated through class struggle and organized in a professional and revolutionary manner, “freireian-leninism.” dont steal the term . . . it will be famous one day.
all of the suggestions above imply the existence of student organizations, but consistent with the assertion that students are proper members of the working class, these organizations have to go beyond student status and assume a proletarian character. really an organization open to all serious militants with a proletarian class consciousness is what im talking about, but of course every organization starts from a particular social milieu and is flavored/biased by it; students will produce a student flavored working class organization. ultimately, though the goal should be overpower that particular flavor with a generalized proletarian character that comes from inclusion of broad sections of the class. thats a far way off, and we are looking here at the role of students in particular in building organizations that can move the struggle forward.
such an organization does not exist despite the many claims that are made to that effect. the Communist Party certainly is not such an organization, as was illustrated perhaps most graphically in the role they played in France ‘68 when one of the measures they employed in order to dampen worker militancy (expressed organically through wildcat strikes in the auto industry – hint hint, US worker) was to divorce the radical student movement from the proletarian insurgency. most communist (small c, including maoist and trotskyist) organizations actually have no base in the working class and just sell newspapers, so im not just trying to pick on the stalinists. none of them embrace students as workers, or effectively make students of workers (that is, provide them the tools for independent reflection and analysis – at most they indoctrinate with dogma, which is NOT synonymous with making someone a student).
as far as existing student organizations go, none of the big name ones are of the character im talking about. mecha, bsu and the like (although they vary significantly campus to campus and some chapters are more active and more radical than others) in general ascribe to middle class illusions and function more like “greek” organizations of an ethnic type than as vehicles for militant activity. most students see these as social networking opportunities to make friends, party, and get contacts for good jobs when they graduate, all within the context of an outer shell of cultural pride and exploiting a tradition of militancy hasnt been refreshed through major struggle for 4 decades. this is tired. the main marxist student organization is the ISO and although it presents a decent analysis in its many forums and movie showings and meetings, participates little in organizing concrete resistance and has the main focus of selling newspapers. their mainly privileged membership interacts little with the working class in anything other than uni-directional ways (selling workers papers, volunteering as union bureaucracy proxies to tell union members what the misleading sell out bureaucrats tell them, etc).
i know that at San Francisco State University, there is a militant student group that has organized a couple of good walkouts, protests, and stuff. They are called Student Unity and Power (SUP), and last year they were known as Fight the Fees (the change in name signals an evolution in consciousness from the purely economic to a more political character, which is good). This past March 12th they organized a march of about 300 students about 2 miles to the community college called City College of San Francisco with the aim of breaking down fake campus boundaries. they shut down major streets along the way. the past two years they have walked out on May 1st to go to the main pro-immigrant demo and shut down streets along way, arriving with big numbers and usually infusing a militant spirit to the otherwise drab march. their propaganda and flyers are very conscious and scorn the official labor movement. they are anti-capitalist, multi-racial, gender balanced and working class.
as groups like these (innovative, class conscious, free from baggage of the past) develop and grow, the tired cultural nationalism and the fake marxism which pass for student activism on most campuses will be swept aside. knowing that groups like SUP could render their claim to radicalism redundant, both the fake marxists and the stale cultural nationalists tend to talk shit and sabotage them (calling them “white” organizations from the one side, and “identity politics” from the other, just because they are multi-racial and class conscious) rather than recognize their vitality and join forces. in that sense you can see their reactionary potentialities, and the time will come when the battle for hegemony, a confrontation between the new radical forces and the old crustified ones, will be fought out. before the Black Panthers was founded Huey was a student and used to go around debating all the radical groups on campus and smash on them. the clarity of thought he achieved in this process unleashed his genius to be applied in action, in the community amongst the proletariat. now it is time in the US for a similar reckoning with a similarly restrictive past (now it is the vestiges of the “new left” rather than the vestiges of the old, but the dynamic is parallel). we have to debate the old guard and build fresh organizational vehicles. the afl-cio is stale and proves itself useless in the face of crisis, and i think there’s a corallary with student organizations. its time to re-organize our thought and action to connect organically with the mood of the masses and provide a way for them to magnify their discontent with reality and channel their dreams of alternatives. when that happens new 1960s type interventions can emanate from the student strata of the proletariat and new Huey P. Newtons can be born. new IWW’s and new BPP’s can offer us outlets toward the socialist future the proletariat subconsciously yearns for. we can smash the widespread frustrations and emancipate the necessary actions.