Across the world, events are moving at a rapid pace. The last few years have shown an increasing amount of politicisation, especially amongst young people and the working class. Revolutionary movement after revolutionary movement has exploded onto the streets, reflecting the volatility of the global situation.
COVID has exacerbated this, exposing the contradictions of capitalism. At the time of writing, over 100,000 people have died from COVID in Britain. It is clear to see that most of these deaths are avoidable, and have happened because of an underfunded NHS, the lack of proper PPE, and the push by the bosses and the Tories to keep businesses open, putting profits before lives.
The Tories have explicitly stated that their number one concern is the survival of the economy. Yet this rotten government of the rich has failed even on this front. The UK economy has struggled more than any other advanced capitalist country, apart from Spain.
The Tory leaders have their heads in the clouds, imagining that Britain is still a great power. This, however, is no longer the case.
Ultimately, the ruling class have lost control of their main political representatives. From Trump to Boris: the ‘sensible’ sections of the capitalist class are in a state of complete dismay and pessimism about the actions of these mavericks, who are supposed to defend the interests of big business, but instead care only for their own personal ambitions.
The last year has seen young people facing crisis after crisis, as we’re thrown from pillar to post at the whims of this government.
Back in August, in what now seems like a time ago, the class-based nature of the rigged education system was demonstrated clearly, when the government used a ‘postcode lottery’ to decide the futures of students across the country.
From there, the situation only grew worse. University students, including many freshers who had just suffered from the A-level fiasco, were lulled to campuses under the promise of some form of normality. Once they got there, however, they were trapped in halls, given no support and little food. In the case of Manchester University, students were literally caged into their accommodation.
All the while, schools remained open. Again, this comes down to the fact that the Tory government is more worried about working-class parents going to work and making profits than about the safety of students, staff, and the wider public.
The science clearly showed that schools – forced to stay open by the government – were contributing to rising levels of infection. But Boris Johnson ignored the facts, before finally making a hasty U-turn at the 11th hour, under pressure from a mass movement of teachers that demanded schools be closed until health and safety concerns are addressed.
All of this has, unsurprisingly, has led to an epidemic of mental illness amongst young people. Some reports suggest that there was, on average, one suicide per week across university campuses during the first term.
It is clear that the Tories are to blame for thousands of avoidable deaths. Yet they have spent time and money peddling the myth that young people are somehow to blame. For example, health secretary Matt Hancock told teenagers “don’t kill your granny”, pointing the finger at young people for the huge numbers of deaths amongst the elderly. Meanwhile, many high-level Conservatives have been caught flouting the rules themselves.
These tumultuous times have not gone unnoticed by young people. More than ever, students and youth have been fighting back against this treatment.
Last year’s Black Lives Matter protests were yet another spark for the radicalisation of the youth, with millions of young people flooding onto the streets and questioning the powers that be. In Manchester, for example, over 15,000 protestors stormed the city centre, angry against systemic racism, in Britain and across the world.
The dust from this was barely allowed to settle before young people had to, once again, stand and fight. After the government fiasco over A Level results, protests broke out across the country, with strong demos seen in places such as Liverpool. Students directly called out the class based nature of education, forcing another government U-turn.
Only a month later, and demands for rent reductions were being raised by university students. In response, rent strike groups have mushroomed on dozens of campuses. Now there is a growing national rent strike movement, reflecting the desire amongst students to create something that genuinely changes higher education.
As 2021 begins, it seems there’s no slowing down in this student and worker militancy. The NEU teachers’ union, for example, organised a mass online meeting of nearly 400,000 attendees to mobilise against the callous and idiotic decisions of the Conservative government.
2020 was a year of hardship for young people. But for many, this has led to revolutionary conclusions being drawn. 2021 shows no signs of letting up. The situation for students will likely become worse. But the radical mood will also grow. As has been seen throughout history, it is the youth that will move into action first.
The ongoing crisis of capitalism – with a collapsing economy and a rotten ruling class – will not disappear easily. Even the departure of Trump from the White House cannot make the turbulence go away. Having had their system bailed out by governments across the world, the capitalists will now be looking to make the working class foot the bill.
Students and workers must fight back against this oppression and exploitation with united action. The constant government U-turns have shown what can be done through militant movements and bold demands. More than ever, we need revolutionary leadership to offer a way forward in these struggles. We must show the bosses that we have the power. Students and workers: Unite and fight!
Interview with an A Level student
During the pandemic, the government’s catastrophic mishandling of the response, and the economic and social fallout which has resulted, school students have been particularly affected. Schools have struggled to cope with online learning, limited resources and staff shortages, as well as social distancing within classes which schools are not prepared for either.
Add to this the government decision to allocate A-level and GCSE results using an algorithm which discriminated against state schools and in favour of public schools, followed by a hasty u-turn when student’s fought back.
But this didn’t prevent the education secretary Gavin Williamson from threatening schools with legal action if they failed to reopen in the New Year, in the face of opposition and resistance from the NEU. Outside of school students have also been given woefully inadequate support, with the size, price and nutritional adequacy of food packages to students being widely shared and derided.
What follows is an interview with Reuben Balch, a six form student who became a supporter of Socialist Appeal late last year. He spoke about the problems facing school students on the ground, the Marxist Student Federation ‘Tell the Truth’ campaign and the possibilities for radical demands and action going forward.
How have you found school during lockdown?
For me personally, the lessons have been similar, teachers have a similar amount of work, while the structure of school days is different. The hardest part is not seeing friends but I’ve been catching up with them via social media.
Have you had the resources necessary to learn?
We’ve been having lessons over Zoom. I am fortunate enough to have reliable internet connection, but some have less access. Some teachers haven’t had training in use of Zoom or delivering lessons online, in the first lockdown some students were impacted by this, although they’ve adjusted now.
Were you affected by the government’s decision to allocate test scores on the basis of an algorithm that reflected social inequality, or the subsequent u-turn?
I wasn’t directly, but my friends who were in the year above me were affected and had a lot of stress about it, before the government u-turned and based scores on teacher assessments. In particular, people without a clear idea of what they wanted to do after school were affected as it might have limited their options.
What differences have you found between online and physical classes?
The main difference is that there are fewer people around. Some have felt this makes them more productive, but distractions at home can make learning more difficult sometimes.
What do you think about the recent news of companies being contracted out to provide food packages to students, which are very inadequate for the amount of money they have been given.
It’s really concerning. The catering company in charge of the provision serves big meals in private schools but they are being given £30 for food parcels that are a fraction of that. On top of that food vouchers may not be able to be cashed in by some families.
Would you feel safe if sent back to school during or after the lockdown?
I would personally feel quite safe but I’m not at risk; it would put a lot of staff and students at risk, it would increase risk to vulnerable people. Learning from homes gives me assurance that I’m not passing it on to friends and family. I’ll feel more safe about returning to school when staff and students, as well as friends and family are vaccinated.
The Marxist Student Federation has started a “Tell the Truth” campaign. The government recently banned the teaching of “anticapitalist materials” in some classes. Do you think the pandemic has called into question what people are taught about capitalism?
I definitely think the pandemic has called people’s views into question: the government’s herd immunity strategy caused 100 thousand preventable deaths. There’s been massive strain on the NHS which has been underfunded for a long time. Students are questioning capitalism. In history we are generally taught that communism is a force for bad, that in the UK we’re a democracy and that that’s always been the case.
In English, we use socially conscious texts like Priestly and Dickens which were raising awareness of poverty and inequality at the time. That’s a noble cause but it doesn’t address the underlying causes of those problems. Why is there poverty in one of the wealthiest countries in the world?Welfare and social democracy can’t address the need to go beyond capitalism, which is inherently exploitative. The focus is on how we can reform capitalism, not move beyond it.
How had a decade of Conservative governments affected your school before the pandemic?
Since 2010 there’s been a massive failure of funding, in the six form hours were reduced, staff were fired and not replaced. Mental health services were also reduced with many students not getting the access to those services they need. Add to that sky high uni fees, which causes more concern for students. We had school trips cancelled due to lack of funding. The syllabus also changed abruptly, top down changes have made students and teachers confused and affected learning.
School should never be so underfunded that it’s reliant on donations. It’s extreme, funding cuts have built up year on year. It will discourage people from becoming teachers and lead to even greater increases in class sizes.
What should students be demanding from the government in terms of education?
University education and accommodation should be free, people should have time to focus on personal issues. Mental health should be prioritised, that means reducing homework and having smaller class sizes. Students should also have more power to call out problems in their own schools and change them. In my school we have a school congress that is elected, but they don’t have much power to improve students’ school experience.
Hopefully this pandemic will serve as a wake up call and people in all sectors will realise how capitalism has had such an instrumental role in the damage on the pandemic. The “Tell the Truth” campaign seems to be on the forefront of that.