115 Colleges across the United States demonstrated for free education on 12 November. The demonstrations were organized over social media using #MilllionStudentMarch. Among their demands were free education, $15 minimum wage for campus workers, elimination of existing debts, as well as ending racial and other oppressions on campuses and in society. The campaign Million Student March was inspired by Bernie Sanders’s statement in an interview that if a million students marched on Washington D.C. and demanded free education, their demands could not be ignored. Student debt in the U.S. currently sits at $1.2 trillion. The College Board released a report this month showing the increase in tuition fees by $265 (on average) over the last year, and an overall 40% increase over the last 10 years. The job market crashed along the side the economy in 2008. The majority of college graduates are unemployed or in underemployed jobs.
Despite these facts, the demonstrations were not well received from a portion of society, led by the capitalist media and right wing commentators. These agents of the ruling class mocked and ridiculed young people for demanding free education, called them whiney and privileged, and told them the only solution for a free college education is to join the military. The struggle for free education did not start with the march, for example in California there have been demonstrations and movements kicking off since 2011. 70% of students who graduated in 2014 had student loans. On average they reach around $28,000.
The culture in the U.S. teaches youth that debt is a natural and necessary part of getting a good education. High School education quality is not standardized from state to state. The education system throughout the nation is often biased and underfunded. Many young people and their parents do not even qualify for student loans and those that do end up in crippling debt. With free education, everyone would have access to higher learning. Education has been proved to be the means through which society can progress through technological innovation, social equality, and overall human development. The cost of such progress under capitalism has now increased to the breaking point. These students have decided to stand up against such ridiculous fees and forced loans just to be educated adequately.
The solutions proposed by the movement were taxation of the billionaires and 1%. They declared that if the government could afford to bail out Wall Street, then they could afford to pay for free education. This is a correct demand, however raising taxes would only provide a temporary solution. The real answer and alternative is socialism – fighting to free education and society from the market economy. This movement needs clear, long term answers about how to achieve their demands; those answers being the nationalization of industry and expropriation of the banks and billionaires.
Free Education has been achieved in countries around the world after the post-World War II boom, and has been taken away bit by bit as capitalism has gone into crisis. The demands of these students echo similar student movements happening in countries around the world, such as South Africa. The process of radicalization of students and youth has firmly started in the U.S. Events like the shooting and protest in Ferguson, the riots in Baltimore, and the many other disastrous events over the last year have exposed social and economic inequalities.
The Million Student March campaign could provide the organization and planning needed to create a radicalized student movement across the nation. They should put out their agenda, with clear demands and ways to achieve them – nationalization of the means of production and expropriation of the banks and billions of dollars sitting in the accounts of corporations and billionaires. By coordinating a mobilization across the country and linking their struggle with that of the working class they can put pressure on the government. The campaign has emphasized the power of people coming out into the streets. By taking up the fight for socialism they can effectively call for change. Until the working class is freed from the chains of capitalism education will be expensive, universities will be run as corporations, and society will stagnate.
by Danielle Anderson, KCL Marxists