Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Meets to Build Student Movement

RSB Now Student Group of Party

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 1, No. 2, November 15, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Over 500 students from all over the country met at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus, November 8, 9, and 10 for the second annual convention of the Revolutionary Student Brigade. The three days of discussions, workshops and speeches were characterized by the spirited and serious participation of all the delegates. They reflected the rising anger and struggle of students against the capitalist system, as well as enthusiasm among increasing numbers of students for revolution and socialism. This was especially clear in the large number of new members at the convention and the many who stepped forward at the convention itself to join the Brigade.

The convention marked major advances for the Brigade. The RSB voted to accept the proposal of the newly founded Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP) that the Brigade become the mass communist student organization of the Party. The convention set the Brigade’s aims to build a powerful student movement allied with the working class and aimed at the monopoly capitalist class.

As a key step to carrying out this aim at the present time, the RSB also united around a nationwide campaign against cutbacks, tuition hikes and other attacks on education.

The level of discussion reflected the seriousness of the task before the convention–building a revolutionary student movement as part of the overall revolutionary struggle in this country. Students from all parts of the country, of all nationalities, and from campuses ranging from two-year community colleges to Ivy League universities, struggled over the problems facing the Brigade and the student movement, as well as summing up the advances since the last RSB convention 15 months ago.

In that time, the Brigade has expanded and now has chapters from coast to coast, and in Hawaii, but it was clear that there was still a good deal of uneven development in the Brigade. In some areas of the country it is more and more seen by the students as the organization to look to and join in order to fight back against all the attacks that the deepening crisis of capitalism is bringing down. In other areas, the Brigade is still relatively small and only beginning to play a significant role in organizing students. Struggling to develop a unified battle plan to take out to the students all across the country was one of the most important jobs the convention set for itself.

New Phase for the Student Movement

Becoming the student organization of the RCP marked a new phase not just for the Brigade but for the whole student movement in this country. As the Party Programme states: “Historically, students have played an important role in the fight against the ruling class in this country, but especially since the beginning of the 1960s struggles of students have had a tremendous impact on American society, dealing blows to the ruling class and fueling the revolutionary movement.”

Students, with their daring and their desire to understand and change the world, had played a key role in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Their struggles hit hard at the bourgeoisie and sparked struggle throughout society, but alone they did not have the power to defeat the system.

Their social position was both relatively isolated– from the masses of people and the functioning of society-and temporary-coming from particular class backgrounds, individual students have not yet established their role in society. Thus they lacked the consistency, determination and power to continue the struggle through to the end through setbacks and difficulties. The struggle of the working class was beginning to surge ahead in this period, but it was unable to give the support and leadership to overcome these difficulties, particularly since the class itself still lacked its vanguard Party.

Three years ago, the Attica Brigade, the forerunner of the RSB, was built. Summing up its development and the situation of the student movement nationwide, communists, with others, formed the RSB, as an independent, anti-imperialist student organization, to build the struggles of students and to give leadership to them.

Since then, it has gone among the masses of students and built ties with them in the course of participating in and leading struggles around particular attacks on students at individual campuses and around broader issues like Throw the Bum Out {around Watergate) and against superpower meddling and Zionist aggression in the Middle East.

Communist Organization

With the base it has built on the campuses and the experience won in struggle, it became clear that the RSB would be strengthened by closer ties to the rising struggle of the working class and that the advanced students who had come forward were eager to take the stand of the working class and become communists.

The change in the Brigade from an independent, anti-imperialist organization to the student organization of the RCP means a better basis for forging stronger links between the student movement and the overall class struggle. The RSB is a communist student organization open to all fighters on the campus who want to apply Marxism-Leninism, Mao Tsetung Thought to building the struggles of students into a broad student movement that will be a powerful ally of the proletariat in all its battles, including its battle for revolution and socialism.

At the convention there was a tremendous amount of unity around the need for this to happen. One of the first speakers on the question summed up the feelings of the whole group: “Students all over are struggling against cutbacks, tuition hikes and a thousand other attacks the system is hitting them with. Who’s going to take up the job of building an organization ro unite those struggles if we don’t? Who’s going to build an organization that will explain the need for revolution and socialism if we don’t? Who’s going to build this organization? We are!”

In building the struggles of students, linking them to those of the working class and pointing the road towards socialism, the RSB will also develop active fighters among the students as communists.

As more and more students get involved in battle and see that their future does not have to be one of “getting by” or surviving somehow under this system, the potential exists for thousands to become conscious fighters for proletarian revolution.

In the opening speech of the convention, Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, emphasized the importance of Brigade members going out among the masses of students arid practicing the mass line. He brought out that Brigade members must “go broadly and deeply among the students, understand their actual conditions and struggles and develop policies that will unite them against the enemy.” In applauding the second convention of the RSB, Avakian stated that the “working class encourages and supports the desire of students to fight every manifestation of imperialist rule in this country and internationally, and recognizes their great contributions in this struggle.

Key Struggles

It was in this context, of building a student movement that would fight against all manifestations of imperialism, as a part of the overall struggle of the American people, that the Brigade took up the discussion of what are the key issues to build struggle around over the next term and in the future.

In preparing for the convention and discussion on the floor. Brigade members summed up from their work among the masses of students that the sharpest issue among students at this time is the sweeping attack against mass education being mounted by the ruling class in the form of budget cuts, tuition hikes, etc. This is part and parcel of the ruling class’ desperate attempts to shift the burden onto the working class and masses of people.

Thousands of students are being forced out of school. Just to hang on, thousands more have to take full or part-time jobs. Classes are cut from the schedule, the remaining ones more and more crowded, and teachers and campus workers are fired.

The main attacks are coming down at state and local colleges–some state school systems are shutting down whole campuses. Many private colleges are hard hit, too, particularly around tuition hikes. There are, of course, schools which are not affected by cutbacks yet, but more and more these are in the minority.

The importance of this battlefront has been underlined by the widespread resistance to them, both spontaneous and organized.

Many students at the convention had come into contact with the Brigade in the course of fighting cuts like the ones at the state university in Illinois or in NY where thousands of students are saying “No way!” to a budget cut that would drive 40,000 students out of the City University of New York.

The week before the convention, the RSB in New Jersey organized a statewide Armband Day under the slogan, “If there’s a hike, we’ll strike.” Ten thousand state college students wore armbands and many took part in rallies to protest a 50% tuition increase proposed for next term.

People at the convention struggled to deepen their understanding of how these cuts are connected to the deepening crisis of capitalism. It was summed up that while the past period has been one of real expansion of U.S. education, the present attacks are bound to grow in the future.

Capitalist Crisis Hits Education

During the 1950s and ’60s, American capitalists, sitting on top of the imperialist world after WW 2, were expanding their corporate empires frantically, and needed great numbers of skilled people: managers, scientists, technicians, teachers and other professionals. To fill these needs, they had to train more youth from the lower petty bourgeoisie and the working class in their colleges. From 1955 to 1970, college enrollment tripled from 3.5 million to almost 10 million. Huge city and state college systems sprang up. However, the “tracking system” in high schools, which railroads poor and working class students out of “college preparatory” programs, remained and the majority of working class youth still didn’t get a chance to go to college.

But, the struggles waged by the American people during the ’60s further “opened up” the college systems. Both the Black people’s rebellions and the student movement fought for many programs on the colleges to enroll minority and poor youth, like the open admissions policy which says students who graduate from New York City high schools can go to the City Colleges with no fees.

But with the crumbling of the U.S. imperialists’ worldwide empire, they face a severe economic crisis, a crisis they are trying to duck by upping their profits out of the increased exploitation of the working class. In addition, they are cutting back every kind of government expenditure that doesn’t directly increase profits–and this means social services for the masses of people.

Colleges have been feeling the axe. The ruling class can no longer put to profitable use all the trained people they turn out. The Labor Dept. has told college deans that by 1980 they’d better cut enrollment by at least one and a half million–nobody want them.

In addition, the capitalists are “cutting costs” by slashing federal, state and local funds to public colleges, and donating less and less to private schools. Every state college in Massachusetts has been told it has to figure out how to run on 15% less next semester.

National Campaign

In the light of the sentiments and struggles of the masses of students, the RCP put forward a proposal at the convention that the Brigade should take up as a national campaign this year, a program for fighting the attacks on education. This program called for the Brigade to join in the struggles already being waged, seeking to link them up and broaden them to area-wide or regional struggles. In effect, it must work to develop a unified national campaign among students to beat back these attacks as part of the resistance of the American working class and people to all the attacks caused by the profit crisis of the ruling class.

The proposal pointed out that in taking up this campaign the Brigade had three tasks: win as much as can be won in the immediate struggle and weaken the enemy; raise the general level of consciousness and organization among the masses; and develop the most active and advanced in these struggles into communists.

The proposal put forward general demands for the campaign which were adopted unanimously by the convention: No Cutbacks! No Imposition or Increase in Tuition! No Attacks on Special Programs! No New Taxes or Increases To “Pay” for Education! Fight for Decent Mass Education!

In building the campaign, students at the convention pointed out, the RSB must remain flexible, able to take up other key issues (around which students begin to move), such as the growing danger of war.

The desire of students to fight all the outrages the capitalist system has been shown in the student movement of the ’60s and in the wide range of struggles Brigade chapters have taken up in the last three years. Today some chapters work on campuses where cutbacks and related attacks are not presently sharp issues, and must use the mass line to determine the key struggles where they are and how best to build them.

All the work of the Brigade, whether around cut-backs or any other struggle, is aimed at building a mass student movement, not limited to any single issue but fighting on different fronts, and with increasing consciousness, against the ruling class and the capitalist system. The cutback campaign is a key front on which to fight the capitalist attacks and to bring masses of students forward in struggle and develop such a movement.

The Tool of Marxism-Leninism

In discussion around the campaign, Brigade members deepened their understanding of what it means to put forward Marxism-Leninism to students in a living way, how it actually comes from and serves the struggle of the masses.

As an example of this, one student described how he had joined the Brigade. He became involved with the Brigade through the fight against a particular cut. Originally, concern about the cutbacks led him to the Brigade, who were the only people offering a program to fight them. In the struggle he came to understand and agree that the ruling class was at fault, and not just for the cutbacks, but other things on his mind– the decay of his city, what the hell he was going to do for a job, and so on. He summed up by saying he wanted to go back to the campus and organize.

It was stressed by both new and old members that Marxism-Leninism was not something that gets tacked on the end of a leaflet or added on to a struggle, but has to be brought out as something that answers the very real questions that arise as people fight.

For example, in the cutback struggle, people want to know about why the attacks are happening, who’s responsible, what role do politicians play, etc. Marxism-Leninism explains the nature of the struggle and the enemy and in doing so ties the particular struggle into what’s happening in society as a whole and thus builds and broadens the struggle.

The convention was marked by a tremendous amount of excitement over the growing revolutionary movement and especially the recent formation of the Revolutionary Communist Party. The unity of the RSB was firmly cemented in the plenary sessions and workshops, in which old and new members participated fully. This carried over into informal raps and get together throughout the weekend.

The enthusiasm and unity was further fueled with skits and songs presented by Brigade groups from four cities, and a performance by Prairie Fire, a singing group from the Bay Area. The convention closed with the unanimous election of the new national officers to coordinate the work of the RSB over the next year.

The task that the Brigade has before it is to turn the plans it made at its convention into a reality. The numbers and energy at the convention were only the tip of the iceberg compared to the thousands of students who are either already fighting or are ready to fight the system, thousands of students who can be organized as a mighty force in the revolutionary movement. The change in the nature of the Brigade and the new national campaign both are steps forward in accomplishing that task.