Saturday 15th February 2014 will go down as a historical day for the student movement in the UK, as it saw around 70 student representatives from 20 Marxist societies across the country, along with international visitors, meeting in London for the founding conference of the Marxist Student Federation.
The founding of the Federation itself marks a big step forward for the work that has been taking place over the last few years on various university campuses around the country. From London, to Glasgow, Leeds, Newcastle, Cambridge, and in many other universities, groups of students have been meeting regularly to discuss the ideas of Marxism and to look at events around the world in an attempt to make sense of the chaos we see all around.
In spite of all of the hopes and dreams that were fostered in us when we were growing up, our generation is destined to be the first in a long time whose living standards are set to be far lower than that of our parents. At the same time, if we look around the world we see war, ecological disaster, pain, suffering and despair on every inch of the globe.
In these conditions is it any wonder that students are getting radicalised? It is becoming more and more self-evident to wider groups of young people that the fault within society is not one purely of this or that individual or government, but rather the problems which we are all facing are an inherent part of the system itself. Capitalism, whilst showing no way out of the current crisis, is itself to blame for the suffering that people face on a daily basis.
Students, over the last few years, have been getting together on a number of university campuses in order to discuss the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, to get to grips with the fundamentals of these theories, and on that basis to begin to fight back in a principled way to transform society for the better. The founding of the Marxist Student Federation is the coming together of this work – of these societies – in order to share the experience that we have all gained and to start to lay down a road map for how we plan on developing our work over the coming years, to fight for Marxist ideas within the student movement and the wider labour movement.
The relevance of Marxism today
The opening session of the conference was a political discussion on the “Relevance of Marxism Today”, which was introduced by Fred Weston, editor of the In Defence of Marxism website (www.marxist.com). Fred himself talked about how, in spite of the fact that Karl Marx has been dead for 131 years, it is strange to note how the bourgeois politicians and academics are continuously at pains to refute his ideas, stating that they’re dead and buried.
Since the crisis hit in 2008, when the crisis hit, after Francis Fukuyama’s much vaunted “end of history”, all of a sudden this consensus was broken and people started to look around for an explanation of what had happened.
More and more people are turning to Marxist ideas, and revolutionary movements are on the rise. So much so that even the leading analysts of the bourgeois are having to admit that Marx was right, albeit with the caveat that his revolutionary conclusions were incorrect.
The discussion which followed included a number of excellent points from student delegates, with discussion ranging from the nature of the working class today to the way in which the movements against austerity and attacks on the living standards of working people have expressed themselves. Questions also rose as to how we as a national federation on as Marxist Societies on our campuses in local areas should orientate towards these movements, with it being generally agreed that we need to take a very flexible approach to any movement of the class that does develop. As Marxists we do not split ourselves apart from the movement of the class but rather intervene in it with our ideas and perspectives and try to prove in action that our ideas are the ones which are correct and are needed to change society. Only in this way will we win over more and more people – both students and workers – to our ideas to try to make Marxism itself a concrete force within society.
The discussion demonstrated the high political level that comrades have developed in their work and study of these ideas and bodes well for the future health of the Marxist Student Federation, with many people contributing and asking questions.
The next session which was held, after a lunch break, was one in which the Marxist Student Federation heard international greetings and reports from a number of different countries. Comrades from Italy, Kosovo, Chile and France made reports on the state of the student movements in their own countries and the difficulties faced by young people.
It was extremely interesting to hear all of these reports, as in many ways it further emphasised the fact that the battles being fought in the UK – against the privatisation of education and other services, the selling off the NHS and the destruction of the welfare state, as well as the attacks to the wages, terms and conditions of working people – are not isolated. Far from it, the global crisis of capitalism, whilst expressing itself in specific ways in one country to another, at root is creating similar difficulties for young people and workers everywhere.
With this in mind, the fight for a socialist transformation of the UK needs to be linked firmly with a movement to change the world, and the Marxist Student Federation is proud to find itself in the ranks of this move towards the re-emergence of revolutionary Marxist ideas on a world scale.
Next up was a discussion on perspectives for the student movement within the UK. Scott Shaw, President of Sheffield University Marxist Society, introduced the discussion, beginning by positioning his analysis within the wider context of the global crisis of capitalism, which is ultimately responsible for the attacks on students and youth in Britain and elsewhere.
Scott highlighted the attacks that students have faced since the crisis and the coming to power of the Tory-led Coalition, with increased tuition fees, education cuts, and the abolition of EMA for college students. In turn, Scott reminded that audience of the magnificent movement of students in 2010 against these attacks, which was the largest student mobilisation in decades. Ultimately, it was a lack of leadership that allowed such attacks to go through, with the NUS offering little in terms of a fight and nothing in terms of an alternative. It is the task of the Marxists to provide such an alternative, which must be a socialist programme.
Fast forwarding to today, Scott discussed how the student movement is now part of a wider movement against the Coalition and their austerity policies, which has been expressed in the universities by strikes of higher educations unions, such as the UCU, Unison, and Unite. It was emphasised what a fantastic role the Marxist societies have played in supporting and showing solidarity with these strikes, and with strikes in other sectors, such as the fire-fighters, postal workers, and Tube drivers.
The discussion focussed in on the need for the Marxist societies to actively campaign for socialist policies on every campus, and in the student movement nationally, by arguing for our ideas in the student unions and the National Union of Students (NUS). With NUS conference coming up in April, and with delegates from the Marxist societies already elected to the NUS conference, a number of amendments and motions that argue for socialist policies have been suggested by the MSF. Fighting for these amendments is the first small step in the battle to win the NUS over to a socialist programme that can actually pose an alternative to rising fees and greater cuts.
Reports from the Marxist societies
The final session of the day involved representatives from the various Marxist societies giving reports on the developments in their local areas. All the contributions highlighted the excellent progress that the Marxist societies are making nationally, with more established societies providing invaluable advice for those who are only just beginning to make their mark on campus.
Every contribution was extremely positive, explaining the activities of the society and emphasising the role of each society in the wider student and labour movement on campus. From the reports, it was clear to all that the Marxist Student Federation is playing an important role in educating a whole new generation in the ideas of Marxism and applying these concretely to the struggles to today, for example, by supporting the strikes of university staff.
At the end of this session, representatives from UCLU Marxist Society tabled an organisational resolution, explaining the way they’d been working over the last few years, condensing the experience of attempts to set up and built Marxist societies around the country. This resolution set out a strategy for the work of the MSF over the coming year, with an emphasis on educating students and youth in the fundamental ideas of Marxism, building up a knowledge of the workers movement around the world, and using this as a means of taking part proactively in the students and labour movements in our areas to build the Marxist Student Federation and to win these movements to a revolutionary Marxist leadership. This motion was passed by a firm majority.
For International Socialist Revolution
The student conference was not immune from events in the wider world, as just days before the conference took place the reactionary opposition in Venezuela had risen once again to attack the Bolivarian Revolution.
As many will be aware, since the election of Hugo Chavez and the attempted coup in Venezuela in 2002, a revolutionary movement has swept the country and Latin America, as working people have risen up in attempts to fight against the deprivation which was being inflicted on them by the oligarchy which historically controlled the region and sucked the continent dry.
During this movement, with nationalisations and the taking over of sections of the economy in Venezuela to tap into the wealth of the country a great many gains have been achieve by working people of the backs of their own struggle. These gains include education for all, ending illiteracy, free healthcare and cheap affordable housing. Whilst the revolution itself has not completed the fundamental tasks of the socialist transformation of society, the benefits which have been created for the lives of working people in Venezuela and the hopes this has sparked for working people across Latin America and the world is not to be thrown away, and with resurgent attacks by the Venezuelan ruling class and the imperialists, this process is an important one for the revolutionary movement around the world to take note of and learn lessons.
The Marxist Student Federation does not stand by idly when the gains of our international comrades are threatened, so an emergency motion, moved by SOAS Marxist Society and QMUL Marxist Society, was tabled for the consideration of the conference in solidarity with the Venezuelan Revolution. This motion itself passed unanimously. The MSF recommends reading and discussing this motion in your local Marxist society.
“The next big thing”
Nina Christou of Southampton Marxist Society gave a closing speech, summing up the ideas and experience of the conference and really motivating all those present to go back and fight for Marxist ideas on our campuses. Nina, pointed out that a bit step forward had been made and that it is only through our getting to grips with these ideas – and with the energy and passion of young people – that these can be made a material force within society. As Marx said: we’ve got nothing to lose but our chains; at the same time we’ve got a world to win.
After the last session, a steering group was elected for the Marxist Student Federation, made up of delegates from the affiliated Marxist societies, which will oversee the work of the Federation on a national scale between conferences, and it was agreed our next conference would take place in a year’s time. At this conference we will evaluate the work of the Federation over the year and take stock of the situation within Britain and on a world scale.
And so, with a rendition of the Internationale sung in English, French, German, Spanish, Greek, Czech and other languages, the inaugural conference of the Marxist Student Federation ended in high spirits.
With the passing of these resolutions, the agreement on perspectives and with the representatives from different Marxist societies getting the opportunity to meet and share experiences for the first time, an important foundation has been created for the future work of the Marxist students in Britain. As James, the representative from the Bristol Marxist society, enthusiastically stated: “Being present at this founding conference really felt like being at the beginning of the next big thing in the student movement.”
We can now go back, with enthusiasm, to our campuses confident in the ideas that we represent – the ideas of genuine Marxism – and on this solid bedrock of theory we will continue to build, to fight for Marxist ideas within our local student unions, and to fight to win the NUS to a revolutionary Marxist leadership; and in so doing we will link up with the wider labour movement to create the forces necessary for the socialist transformation of society and for a world socialist revolution.
by Newcastle Marxist Society