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International Socialism, Autumn 1967


John Booth

Student Revolt, 1909


From International Socialism, No.30 (1st series), Autumn 1967, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Central Labour College
William W. Craik
Lawrence & Wishart, 30s.

Student revolts are not a phenomenon of the 1960s, but despite the upheavals at Berkeley and LSE, they may be getting weaker in their fundamental challenges to the educational establishment. Oxford colleges originated from dissenting students of Paris University, and Cambridge dissenters from Oxford. William W Craik, ex-Principal of the Central Labour College and dissenter from Ruskin College, has now given his view of the Ruskin strike of 1909.

We now know that it was not because the Ruskin Governors wanted Jevons taught instead of Marx that Dennis Hird was sacked, but because Convocation were worried at the depth of Hird’s teaching of sociology and dialectic. Convocation sought to kill off the Ruskin upstarts by pressing for the absorption of the college into the University. So convinced were the students that Hird was right that they broke with Ruskin on the principle of absorption and followed their Principal to London where the only independent Labour College survived until 1928, when the TUC administered the coup de grace where the Oxford Convocation had failed.

Craik shows clearly the machinations to keep control of the seats of learning and thereby the working-class vote by deposing Hird at Ruskin. The later reaction of the TUC and others denigrating the CLC and subsequently destroying it indicates how successful was the work of the earlier reactionaries. We must be grateful to the author for outlining the reasons for the closing of the CLC; not as Cole and Postgate claimed ‘owing to internal disorders,’ but pressure in the General Council of the TUC against the CLC’s independent educational policy and the failure of the Swansea TUC in 1928 to commend support of the CLC by a trade-union levy.

Residential long-term teaching at the CLC ended when the TUC decided to back the National Council of Labour Colleges but it was inevitable that when the reservoir of tutors from the CLC dried up that the NCLC would not survive. The TUC took over the functions of the NCLC in 1964 and the teaching is now shared with the WEA and the TUC Education department. One important link remains, Plebs itself, begun by the Ruskin students in 1908 as a voice of protest and now continuing under the protection of the Fabian Society. Old subscribers to Plebs know they can now turn to Volume 1 for Noah Ablett’s article on The relation of Ruskin College to the Labour Movement, and in the June 1909 issue the reasons for the students’ strike. Also Sevan’s essay on the Communist Manifesto in 1924.

Finally one is impressed by the curriculum of the Central Labour College; it is a testimony to the tenacity and singleness of purpose of the Ruskin strikers and one can appreciate why they did not wish to exchange this for the effete Oxford alternatives. There is a suggestion that at the LSE there is a student opposition to the administration of the school and the method of teaching; it is regrettable that the reasons do not also include the content of what is taught. Bill Craik has performed a valuable service to the labour movement and socialists by filling this gap in our knowledge of the Central Labour College. It should make chastening reading for many who doubt the importance of a command of dialectic.

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