Rank-and-file students and their national leaders are travelling in opposite directions. At college and university level, students are preparing for further action against soaring tuition fees. At national level, the Labour-led leadership of the National Union of Students (NUS) is heading for the hills.
Behind the rhetoric of a “decapitating” Lib Dem MPs, the NUS is actually trying to behead the spontaneous movement that erupted on London’s streets last week. The NUS wants to direct student energy towards – wait for it – collecting signatures with the aim of making Lib Dem MPs face by-elections!
This is not so much a strategy as a travesty. The proposed law about recalling MPs is not even published yet and it will simply be restricted to issues of corruption like expenses fraud. Meanwhile, the majority party in the Coalition, Cameron’s Tories, are simply let off the hook.
The aim of NUS president and aspiring Labour MP Aaron Porter is to postpone, hinder, divert and fragment a growing social movement against the Coalition government. Simply marching from point A to point B with the aim of winning over “public opinion” won’t bring about change and frustration with a failed political process exploded at Millbank. Naturally, Porter – who is not opposed to tuition fees in principle – condemned as “despicable” the students who went on to attack the Tory Party HQ.
The reality is that the struggle against the Coalition’s massive spending cuts, which are driven by a deepening global debt crisis (with Ireland this morning on the verge of bankruptcy), cannot be contained within “normal” boundaries of protests and one-off strikes. And the state is conscious of this and will learn from the police’s obvious unpreparedness for the size and anger of last week’s march.
According to the Observer, defence firms are working closely with the government on a "militarisation" strategy to meet mass resistance to the impact of the cuts. Firms are apparently in negotiation over possible orders for armoured vehicles, body scanners and surveillance equipment. Scotland Yard's National Public Order Intelligence Unit and other state bodies are said to be stepping up monitoring of left-wing groups.
So while the NUS and the leaders of the major trade unions in Britain sit around in la-la land, the state, as always, is getting tooled up. This has to be the case because, ultimately, the emerging struggles revolve around and are decided by the central question of state power – who wields it and for what purpose.
The present capitalist state will everything and anything to sustain the very system upon which it rests. If that requires massive spending cuts and propping up failed banks, that is precisely what it will do. If that obliges the state to bring out the iron first, it won’t hesitate.
In these unprecedented times, where existing political processes are reduced to a cul-de-sac against a background of insoluble economic crisis, direct action and extreme forms of protest will in themselves not be enough to defeat the Coalition and the state. Students, however, having taken the lead in the struggle against Cameron-Clegg, are in a position to inspire a significant shift.
They could achieve that by going outside of their campuses to the local communities and workplaces with an appeal to create People’s Assemblies. These could become a democratic alternative to a failed undemocratic political system. A network of People’s Assemblies will have the capacity to facilitate a transition to a society based on co-operation and self-determination instead of profit and corporate power. Then we could repudiate the state’s debts to the banks and create an education system free for all.