Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Canadian Party of Labour

The student movement and class politics

First Published: Canadian Worker, Vol 1, No. 6, October, 1969
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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MIA Note: This paper was written by three student supporters of CPL on the direction of the Toronto Student Movement (TSM)

The following paper is a proposal for a strategy to be followed by TSM in the coming year.

It is divided into three parts. The first part is an historical and ideological criticism of past student politics and strategies.

The second part constitutes a concrete proposal for a strategy incorporating working class politics with the student movement.

The third part is a brief summary of the strategy proposals in the form of resolutions to be voted upon by TSM.

Part I. From student power to class politics

Where we’ve been

The new left on campus has led a very checkered career since its inception in the early 1960’s. It has generally operated on the basis of attacking the system at the point of its most flagrant oppressions (e.g. the plight of black people in the southern U.S.), its most imperialistic foreign policies (e.g. the war in Vietnam), and its most direct domination of students (e.g. the authoritarian structure of the university). In short the student movement generally has attacked facets of the superstructure: it has opposed white racism with integration, the violence of Vietnam with pacifism, and authoritarianism with student power. It has initiated these attacks largely in a vacuum: that is without a comprehensive analysis of capitalist society and without identifying the working class as the only agent of social change capable of assuming real power.

This lack of analysis coupled with an ahistorical perspective has resulted in a series of dead end policies being adopted by the new left. Many of them could have been avoided. Some of them (for example, pacificism) have been so thoroughly discredited as to require no further refutation. Others, however. still plague us and must be discarded without delay if we are going to be able to move forward.

1) Student power. This concept has been floating around now for about three years and has siphoned off a tremendous amount of our time and energies. It is primarily concerned with winning democratic structural reforms for students within the capitalist system. Student power demands operate from the assumption that socialism can be created on one campus at a time and then spread out from there to change society. Advocates of such policies ignore the roots of power in a capitalist society (ownership of the means of production); underestimate the forces opposed to allowing the university to become a red base (the state apparatus), and fail to see that even if they were to succeed, they would have created nothing but “a ghetto of gold in a world of shit.”

Student power because it lacks a long term perspective and a class analysis, must of necessity gear itself to the lowest common denominator of radical opinion. The desire to “blow” the University of Toronto campus within a short period of time requires that non-alienating (classless) demands be put forward such as: total autonomy of student residences, abolition of in loco parentis regulations, parity with faculty on hiring and firing committees, etc.

Student power demands have contributed to extending the gulf separating radical students from workers. It is only natural for workers to view such demands as an attempt by a pampered segment of society to achieve further preferential treatment at the expense of the taxpayer.

Further, an attack on the authoritarian structure of the university ignores the need forthis very authoritarianism. As is pointed out in Praxis, no. 2, page 7: “The same ideological underpinnings of our society underlie the ideological nature of the courses and the structure of the university. It is this fact that is commonly overlooked – that is, the ideology directs the structure and not the other way around.” In other words, the only way bourgeois tripe can be passed off as knowledge is in an authoritarian situation or where socialist ideology is absent.

Student power advocates have decided to overlook the fact that the formulation of democratic structural demands must be directly connected to combatting bourgeois ideas in the classroom. This is true because the strenth and effectiveness of a structural reform movement depends upon the students’ ideological rejection of the present course content. Thus anti-authoritarian struggles should be organized, and only have meaning when their focus is on bourgeois course content.

2) Personal liberation. The essence of this line of thought is that it is possible to liberate society by liberating the individual as individual rather than as a member of a collective whole, i.e. his class. A whole series of misconception are involved here, most importantly that cultural and psychological oppression take primacy over economic exploitation in maintaining capitalism. This has led people to go to great lengths in experimenting with “radical” life-styles, doing your own thing, and ultimately culminating in the apolitical practice of the hippies. We must be clear in our understanding that liberation can be achieved only under socialism, never under capitalism.

3) Anarchism. Anarchist strains have always been rife in the new left. They most often take the form of resistance to organization and the concommitant advocacy of decentralization. A Marxist analysis shows that we cannot afford to decentralize our activities now (this can happen only after the bourgeois structure has been destroyed and no longer poses the threat of counter-revolution), but on the contrary that we must centralize and coordinate our activities as much as possible. By this we mean the adoption of a political program, a coherent strategy, and organizational forms that will ensure implementation. We are faced with a formidable opponent. The bourgeois state is not on the verge of collapsing under its own weight; it will not crumble apart at the slightest provocation as Cohn-Bendit and others would have us believe. We must overcome our fears of organization or we shall never pose a serious threat to the established system. It is sheer fancy to believe that we can build numerous decentralized groups now that will all magically come together when the time is ripe to make a revolution.

4) One dimensional struggle. There has been a continuing reluctance on the part of many new left activists to engage in serious ideological debate. The rationale for this attitude is usually expressed in terms of spontaneity and consciousness. It is argued that experience in action (spontaneity) precedes political consciousness; and that consciousness cannot be brought from the outside. This means that personal experience is the major source of knowledge: that we can gain nothing of any consequence from the experience of other political struggles. While it is true that experience is the major source of knowledge, this does not negate the value of indirect experience; i.e., theory based on past revolutionary practice.

The proponents of spontaneous politics believe that the movement is everything and the end is nothing. This leads them to adopt a non-struggle posture in internal ideological debate.

The new left has often been guilty of believing that involving people in action of any sort was an end in itself (action freaking). This may succeed in bringing a certain number of new people into our movement from time to time, but if we ignore the problem of building a collective consciousness through ideological struggle which is seriously committed to the cause of socialism (with a solid analysis of the forces opposed to us and the road we must follow), we shall never amount to anything more than a sideshow.

5) Anti-communism. This bugbear is still around and may haunt us to our graves unless we take firm steps against it. As a result of the cold war brand of education that all of us have gone through, we have been kept isolated from the greatest theoreticians and tacticians of socialism. Most of us have overcome our implanted fear of Marx and Engels. But many in our ranks still accept the bourgeois interdict against Lenin, Stalin and Mao. These men have been the successful makers of socialist revolutions. To refuse to come to grips with them is to refuse to come to grips with the problems of making a socialist revolution. The anti-communism that isolates us from the thoughts of these men is nurtured by the bourgeois for very good reasons.

Secondly, anti-communism often leads to exclusionary policies and factionalism within mass organizations. Communists have an important role to play in student organizations and they should not be excluded on the basis of bogus arguments such as dual loyalty, external caucusing, and manipulation. Communist members of TSM have been instrumental in moving the organization toward a Marxist perspective and have helped formulate two of the three major strategies of the past year (namely, combatting bourgeois ideology, and the worker-student alliance).

6) Careerism. Politics based on student power demands is subject to rapid dissolution after graduation. There is clearly no automatic carry-over from student power politics to working class politics outside the university. One consequence of this has been that student radicals have been apt to forego politics upon leaving the university and find themselves drawn into careers within the system (teaching, journalism, etc.)

It is to be hoped that a functional worker-student alliance would not only be of direct assistance to the working class struggle but would also provide an antidote to careerism. By taking an active part in the kind of strategy outlined here, radical student activists should be able to get some specific ideas about how they can function as revolutionaries after graduation.

Where we are

The most encouraging aspect of new left history is that after several years of rather nondirective struggle, increasing numbers of radical students have come to realize the necessity for a comprehensive analysis of the way capitalist society operates and an understanding of the dynamics of social change. Marxism, more than any other theory of the workings of society, provides answers in these crucial areas. In addition, it provides a method for examining particular problems of theoretical formulation which have not as yet been worked out. It is only natural then that the new left has eventually been moving towards a Marxist position.

The most fundamental change occurring in the new left at present is the increasing realization that the motive force in history is embodied in the struggle between social classes. A corollary of this axiom is that the only agent capable of seizing state power and effecting a radical reorganization of society into a socialist regime is the working class. As a result of this trend of thought, student radicals are now trying to formulate a strategy based on an alliance between themselves and the working class, rather than concern themselves with issues that are circumscribed by the limits of the university.

Part II. Strategy for class politics

There are two primary considerations which any strategy adopted by TSM for the coming year must take into account. These were clearly set forth by Lenin in ’The Tasks of the Revolutionary Youth’ as early as 1903. Our strategy must be designed to build and broaden the base of students in the movement, and to create a real link with the working class movement. In order to accomplish these two stated goals of our movement, we will advance a two-pronged strategy.

Build and broaden the student base

Our task here, as Lenin says, amounts to ’winning over the largest possible number of students to a quite definite set of social and political ideas.’ It hardly needs mention that we want to win students over to Marxism (revolutionary socialism) on the basis of class demands rather than winning hordes of liberals over to mindless activism on the basis of student demands. We must seek means of building our movement on the solid base of Marxist thought. We suggest below a number of strategic options which can move us in this direction.

1) Combat bourgeois ideology in the classrooms of the university. Recognizing that the content of the subject matter being taught is the primary force in conditioning students to accept the status quo, and further recognizing that the classroom (the immediate point of contact between students and the peddlars of bourgeois ideas) is the logical place to focus our attack, we propose to launch a concerted offensive against the bourgeois tripe being taught in the classrooms of the university.

We propose to conduct our opposition on a principled ideological basis. We shall continually conterpose a Marxist perspective to the irrational, ahistorical and irrelevant ideas put forward in the classroom.

We should write critiques of the syllabus being used in organizing the course work in our classes. We should criticize what topics are included and more importantly what topics are included and more importantly what topics are excluded from the course work. Copies of these critiques should be made available to all students in the class.

We should write critiques of basic textbooks used in our classes. The critiques should point out the inadequacies and absurdities of interpreting society from a non-class basis. Mimeographed copies of the critiques should be made available to all students in the course.

We must repeatedly challenge the authority of the course professor by asking pointed questions at every opportunity. Any non-Marxist professor will necessarily have trouble fielding questions which challenge the basic class nature of society. We must be prepared to counterpose our own Marxist analysis in answer to the questions we raise.

We should also experiment with other forms of expressing our point of view. (We could further seek to discredit the authority of our professors by means of guerrilla theatre skits once we have established our own credibility.) We should demand that pro-working class speakers be brought into the classroom at appropriate times. We should demand that pro-working class movies (Such as ’Salt of the Earth’, ’The Organizer’, ’Ten Days that Shook the World’, etc.) be shown in class.

Further we should demand an end to individual competitive projects and papers because learning is a social process. Grades should be abolished and assignments should be carried out in small groups. In addition we should choose assignment topics that will contribute to raising the political consciousness of ourselves and other members of the class.

Every member of TSM should obviously carry this strategy into every classroom in which he is a registered student.

In addition we should select certain important large lecture courses (introductory courses in history, sociology, economics, psychology, and political science) and certain courses taught by particularly vulnerable professors (Feuer, Porter, Crispo) and send people into them whether or not credit for the course is at stake. This is particularly important for the graduate students in our ranks who are normally registered in small seminars far from the action.

On the basis of our work in the classroom we should seek to establish groups of sympathetic students as a left caucus within the course. These people should be drawn into existing course unions where applicable and eventually into TSM. Once they become interested in TSM we must be organized to develop an increased political consciousness among them. We can best do this by holding on-going internal education in the fundamentals of Marxism within TSM.

2) Oppose class role of the university. The entire educational system from public school through university is stacked against the working class.

In conjunction with the high school movement, TSM should demand an end to the tracking system in the public and high schools which relegate the vast majority of working class kids to the lower rungs of vocational education and reserve university preparatory courses to the children of the middle and upper classes. We must demand the same educational opportunities for the working class students as are enjoyed by more prosperous students. We should prepare a leaflet exposing the anti-working class nature of the tracking system for distribution at all high schools in Toronto. Further we must be prepared to support the high school movement in their struggle to end tracking. We should constitute a committee of TSM to coordinate cooperation with the high school movement throughout the year.

On campus we must demand open admission policy for working class youth. Our demand must include representation for the working class on campus in proportion to their numbers in society. Students admitted on this basis must be accepted by the university on a no-fail basis.

In addition we must demand free tuition, free books, and a stipend sufficient to cover living costs for all students.

These demands will be originally made in the form of agitational propaganda directed toward the university establishment. After an adequate base has been created in the form of course caucuses and course unions, the demands should be taken into the classroom.

3) Expose the agents of the ruling class on campus. The university is not an ivory tower. It is a conscious agent of the bourgeois order and a bulwark of the status quo. The research work being done by professors is clearly not being performed for the benefit of workers. We should mount an attack against the flunkies producing work counter to the interests of the working class, the ghouls doing research into counter-insurgency warfare, etc.

For example, John Crispo, one of the authors of the Woods report is a professor of Industrial Relations at the U. of T. A clear priority for TSM, as part of its general struggle against the Woods Report, is to demonstrate his unscientific ideology and to illustrate how this ideology leads to the exploitation of workers. The political practice flowing from this orientation can take forms geared to the strength and combativity of the student movement. The sequence could run like this: First, mass leaflets exposing the Woods Report and this lackey of the bourgeoisie. Second, guerrilla theater in his classroom and at places he is speaking. Third, call for a mass demonstration and occupation at the Center for Industrial Relations. The occupation could be tied to a demand for firing Crispo. Hopefully we will be able to involve working class militants in this action who are tired of seeing the universities being utilized to defeat workers.

Create a real link with the working class movement

Again, from Lenin, this means “establishing the closest possible bond between the students of a definite political group (TSM) and the members of that group outside the student body” (the working class).

Now this is basic to making a student-worker alliance operative. We need a direct connection, an organizational link with the working class movement. In addition to combatting the bourgeois university, we must contribute directly to the struggle of the working class.

We must be careful to recognize, however, that we are students and not workers. We cannot expect to participate in working class struggles on the same basis as the workers.

But this is not to say that students can play no constructive part in the struggle for socialism. There are a number of functions that students can perform that would be a direct contact with them.

1) Use the vehicle of research to raise the class consciousness of workers. Individual members of TSM should attach themselves to groups of militant workers with whom contact has been made through personal association or participation in strike actions. We are not advocating strike chasing, but rather that a number of people make a serious commitment to a particular group of workers.

We can do research into the particular facets of exploitation and oppression affecting the workers group. For example, we could examine company profits; speed up; automation and attrition; wage increases as compared to cost of living increases; union-management collaboration; the government role in settling disputes; etc. We should make this information available to the insurgent group in mimeographed form for wide distribution among the workers.

We can use research to raise the class consciousness of workers by progressively drawing out the political implications of the various stages of the workers’ struggle. By doing this we can play a direct role in moving the working class struggle away from economism and forward to a Marxist political perspective.

2) Anti-scab actions. A committee to fight scab labor has recently been formed in Toronto. It is being organized on a cross-union basis, trying to forge a group of militant workers from various trade unions in Toronto who will take joint action against scab labor.

Many small strikes have been lost because a small number of striking workers have been unable to set up a picket line of sufficient strength to prevent scabs from going to work. The function of the anti-scab committee would be to beef up picket lines in order to keep scabs from getting into work; organize boycotts of scab-products; harass bosses and scabs by picketing their homes, etc.

Joining this committee would be a golden opportunity for students to gain experience in militant rank and file labor struggles. They would be able to build real comradely ties with workers by their direct participation in workers’ struggles.

3) Strike support. TSM as a group should consider taking part in a couple of selected strikes in the course of the year on the model of our participation in the Weiner strike this summer.

We should choose such strikes carefully on the basis of possible connections with students (companies which employ student scabs, companies which deal with the university, companies which have directors on the board of governors, etc.); on the basis of helping the strike to win; and on the basis of creating an ongoing connection between the workers and students.

4) University employees. We should endeavor to involve ourselves in the struggle of the non-academic employees of the U. of T. (maintenance men, janitors, maids, cafeteria workers, secretaries, etc.) for union recognition, control over working conditions, and a living wage.

As students committed to advancing the struggle for socialism, we cannot overlook the members of the working class whose labor is exploited by the same university structure that oppresses us. These people are our most natural counterparts in a student-worker alliance.

We should make contact with the non-academic employees immediately – help organize those not already in unions – and back their demands on the university by organizing mass student support.

5) Student-worker alliance course. In addition to participating in rank and file labor struggle s TSM should constitute a program of ongoing political education for students and working class militants. The course should be modelled upon the student-worker alliance course held this summer. The course would be concerned with socialist theory, working class history and culture, tactics of the working class struggle, the relationship between working class militants and radical intellectuals, etc. The course could function as a nucleus for research into general areas of concern to the working class movement, such as the Rand Report, the Woods Report, the Anning Security Co. (which is used to break strikes), etc.

Part III. Resolutions on strategy for TSM

Whereas we recognize the necessity to build and broaden the base of the student movement we propose to:

1) Combat bourgeois ideology in the classrooms of the university by forming left caucuses in the classrooms and course unions.

2) Oppose the class role of the university by raising demands for an end to the tracking system in public and high schools; for an open admissions policy at university; and for free university education.

3) Expose the agents of the ruling class on campus by conducting agitational campaigns against John Crispo and the Center for Industrial Relations, and other such apologists of the bourgeois order.

Whereas we recognize the necessity of creating a real link between students and the working class, we propose to:

1) Use the vehicle of research to raise the class consciousness of particular groups of workers.

2) Participate in the Toronto Anti-Scab Committee or other such militant rank and file union organizations.

3) Support various selected strike actions.

4) Support the unionization struggles of the non-academic employees of the University of Toronto.

5) Constitute an ongoing student-worker alliance course.