University College London Union recently held spring elections for full-time and part-time positions to represent students. Standing in the elections were three members of the Marxist Student Federation and, whilst they did not win, by presenting a clear socialist perspective on student issues their campaign has shown that a real, socialist alternative is possible, and it greatly helped in the task of spreading Marxist ideas among students.
The three candidates, Timur Dautov, who ran for Education and Campaigns Officer; Sam Bayliss, who ran for Ethics, Environment and Operations Officer and Algar Epps, who ran for External Affairs and Campaigns Officer, campaigned on an openly Marxist platform, linking student issues with the wider struggle for socialism. They demanded the end to student fees, whilst explaining that the current attacks on education are not merely a result of minor ideological differences in Westminster, but an inevitable outcome of capitalism as bankers and big businesses pass the cost of their crisis on to students and workers.
They further demanded an end to the extortionate rents that leave students struggling to survive, causing their education to suffer. The solution to this would be for university housing to be made available to all on a non-profit basis, with rents capped at running cost price. Whilst these demands are necessary, the candidates recognised they cannot be achieved by a single student union, instead a mass student movement united with workers must be mobilised to accomplish these goals. UCLU needs to link with the labour movement, getting students working with the local trade unions to fight against austerity and the capitalist system which inevitably causes it.
This clear socialist programme stood in stark contrast with the other candidates who, whilst mostly self-identifying as ‘left’ or even socialist, all failed to link any of the issues with their root cause, capitalism, and instead offered the tired old reforms that are completely ineffective at giving real change. The weakness of those unwilling to offer a real alternative was reflected in the campaigns, many of which seemed to make every effort to avoid talking about the issues, with campaigns based almost entirely on puns and other irrelevant gimmicks. The Marxists on the other hand campaigned consistently on the basis of their solutions to the issues.
As well as an extensive postering campaign the candidates were able to give a platform for their views by giving interviews to student media groups and answering questions publically in a hustings, where again they were the only candidates to offer a clear, real alternative to austerity. The UCLU Marxist Society ran several stalls throughout the elections, leading to a greater visibility of the Marxist forces on campus. Through these means they engaged with a large part of the student body and it is clear that the Marxists are being recognised more and more as a serious political force in the university.
The elections took place against the backdrop of an apathetic student movement reflected by the fact that far fewer candidates ran this year than last year. Several candidates also claimed to be running on an apolitical platform although, as the Marxist candidates made clear, this is not only impossible but attempting to do it is a betrayal of the student movement. The elections were further marred by accusations of sexism and racism against some candidates, as well as general electoral misconduct.
Despite these issues the candidates running on an unflinching Marxist platform all got well over 100 votes out of around 1500-2000. This reflects a sizable and growing discontent of students with the reformist policies which accomplish nothing, and a desire for a clear, rational alternative. This is why the Marxist Society has grown so rapidly. It shows that, given the right platform, it is possible for Marxist ideas to reach a large section of the student body, with the call for a Socialist transformation of society resonating throughout.
by UCLU Marxist Society