The road to revolution: the work of the Marxist Student Federation in 2016

This document is a brief outline of the ideas and tasks of the Marxist Student Federation (MSF), as discussed, amended and voted on in Marxist societies around the country and at the national conference of the MSF in February 2016.

These proposals are designed to provide a skeleton for the work of the MSF over the next year. They should be supplemented by reports and resolutions from the groups that make up the Federation.

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One solution: revolution

This year has seen movements of students and young people all over the world, demanding an end to cuts, privatisations and austerity. In just the last four months of 2015 South Africa, Greece, Brazil, Italy, and the USA all witnessed massive youth mobilisations.

Everywhere young people have taken to the streets in the face of attacks from a whole series of governments, from Obama in the USA to Syriza in Greece. This assault on living standards cannot be reduced simply to a question of ideology. It has far deeper causes.

In reality these attacks are the product of a capitalist system that has exhausted itself. It is unable to provide a better life for successive generations. What young people are experiencing today is not a product of badly managed capitalism; this is the only life that capitalism has to offer our generation. As long as governments prop up the capitalist system they will be forced to carry out austerity, regardless of their political positions.

Students and young people in Britain must take this lesson on board. We support the demand to tax the rich, but we argue that in a crisis-riddled system managed by the rich for the rich we need to go much further. Likewise we support free education, but we recognise that under capitalism this will never be fully realised – to make this a reality something more is needed.

We therefore argue for a fundamental, revolutionary change in society. We fight for the overthrow of capitalism and its replacement with a socialist system based on democratic working-class ownership of the economy so that it can be planned in the interests of need and not profit. Only on this basis can we solve the social and economic problems that are causing the rebellion of young people all over the world.

Defend Corbyn, fight for socialism

The election of Jeremy Corbyn is a welcome step forward because he stands for an anti-establishment, anti-austerity programme that offers many people, particularly young people, hope for the future. Inevitably Corbyn is under attack from the Tories, the capitalist media and the right-wing of the Labour party because of his support for radical, socialist change. Marxists should participate wherever possible in the fight to defend Corbyn against these attacks, including by advocating the mandatory reselection of Labour MPs.

During his campaign for election as leader of the Labour party Corbyn put forward the idea of a National Education Service (NES). Marxist students should campaign for an NES that provides free education for everyone from cradle to grave, including:

  1. The introduction of real living grants for all students and an end to tuition fees.
  2. Allow parents, teachers, staff and students to run educational institutions democratically and put a stop to academies and privatisations.
  3. The introduction of free education throughout an individual’s lifetime and an end to the extreme division of labour under capitalism.
  4. Education to be funded through expropriation of the economy and the introduction of a socialist plan of production based upon the nationalisation of the major monopolies, banks etc.

These demands, if implemented, would put an end to exploitation under the capitalist system. They act as a bridge between a popular but ill-defined idea about what education should look like and a socialist society based on common ownership.

Corbyn’s political programme is generally good as it stands, but we should go much further. He is seeking a solution to the problems faced by working class people within the broken capitalist system. Marxists must highlight the lessons from Syriza’s experience in Greece, in which Tsipras was forced to give in to the blackmail of the capitalists. If you accept capitalism you must accept the logic of capitalism, and that logic requires austerity. The only solution is to break with the capitalist system.

Students and workers: unite and fight

The working class, which has never been more powerful than it is today, holds the major levers of the economy and therefore is in the unique position to transform society. The proletarianisation of the middle-class, epitomised by the 98% vote for strike action by junior doctors in December 2015, is complemented by the falling living standards of students. School and university students are often forced to work to support themselves while studying. At University College London and other universities students are threatening rent strikes over the spiraling cost of living.

Students must ally themselves with workers to change society, their problems share a common root, the capitalist system. Supporting strike action, attending picket lines and demonstrations, and spreading revolutionary ideas are all ways in which students can unite with workers. One concrete issue uniting students and workers that can be taken up by Marxists is the Youth Against Blacklisting campaign which aims to get blacklisting construction companies banned from university campuses. The KCL Marxist Society has already passed a motion through its student union calling on King’s College London to deny construction contracts to firms known to engage in blacklisting.

The exploitation of university workers is another rallying point for Marxists. The increasing casualization of labour at universities has resulted in pay cuts and job losses for both academic and non-academic staff. Meanwhile several vice-chancellors boast annual wages of £600,000 with six-figure bonuses to boot, reaping the spoils of exorbitant student fees. Furthermore, despite a number of successful living wage campaigns (in which MSF societies have been prominently involved) several universities – notably Russell Group institutions Durham, Newcastle and Southampton – still do not pay all of their staff a living wage. In addition to standing alongside university workers at strikes and demonstrations, Marxists students should utilise the political structures available to them to combat the exploitation of workers at their universities. For instance, a Swansea University comrade successful stood for the position of NUS representative, which will allow him to present revolutionary motions at the NUS’ upcoming national conference. Additionally, KCL Marxists have passed a resolution through their student union demanding fair and equitable treatment for General Teaching Assistants (student teachers) at King’s. A student teacher comrade at King’s has also attained a position on the executive committee of his branch of UCU as a GTA representative.

The Tories recognise the potentially powerful union between students and workers and are cynically using the excuse of “terrorist threats” to implement their ‘Prevent’ strategy. This aims to divide students amongst themselves, to divide staff against students, and targets any students advocating “political change”. Marxists must campaign against ‘Prevent’ by arguing for a socialist solution to religious extremism, and for an end to racial profiling and the victimisation of political students.

The revolutionary road ahead

Marxism, or scientific socialism, is the historical memory of the working class. By studying the successes and failures of the revolutionary movements of the past Marxists aim to help guide the revolutionary movements of the future. Promoting the ideas of Marxism is the primary purpose of the societies that make up the Marxist Student Federation. Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement.

Capitalism is in turmoil. The world economy is plunging into a new depression, one that will be
qualitatively deeper than 2008, because the ruling class has already exhausted all of its reserves, and owing to the more globalised character of this slump. Tremors like the impending collapse of the Chinese economy (the saving grace for capitalism during its last historic crisis), flat-lining international stock markets, crises in the Eurozone and plummeting oil prices bear the hallmarks of a financial crash on par with or worse than the 2008 recession. The inevitability of this economic disaster is such that major banks such as RBS are advising their investors to sell up immediately to minimise losses. Revolution and counter-revolution are on the order of the day. Our task is to prepare now for this new epoch that is opening up before us.

Theory is a guide to action and comrades in each Marxist society must consider how best it can apply the ideas of Marxism to the situation in which we find ourselves today. Campaigning for socialist policies, and building those campaigns with workers and students all over the country and internationally, is essential for spreading the ideas of Marxism.

The Marxist Student Federation is expanding and strengthening its forces year-on-year. If we continue to fight with clear ideas and an audacious approach Marxists will play a pivotal role in defining the future political landscape of Britain and the world.