Everywhere in the UK now people are graduating. The years of anxiety, stress and coffee-fag-and-adderrall all-nighters are beginning to feel like they are paying off. Families are overjoyed with pride, and for many this is the first child in the family who has successfully made it through the academy. Momentarily, gleaming students are forgetting the heavy weight of debt hanging over them as they don their awkward gowns, collect their degrees, and smile for photographs with their peers, partners and lecturers.
With the deepest heartfelt sincerity I do want to congratulate my friends who have been celebrating this past week, we're all very proud of you and it's been genuinely touching seeing so many of your photos and the excitement and pride captured on the special day.
But - as students we train to think critically. And even this special day cannot be considered without a critical eye and a moment to reflect on the institution of higher education. For many students, they didn't make it to graduation. They couldn't. The university is a factory and as the commodification of HE becomes more palpable in every department, as students stop being treated as learners with desires and ambitions and instead be treated as 'service users', the access to an education without barriers becomes ever more fleeting. Even for those who are graduating, some do so with a bitter taste in their mouth because it was against all odds, and despite the lack of care from the University. Mental health services being stripped, disability services cut, lecturers and staff seeing pay freezes, over worked and under paid, unable to access vital support in order to offer pastoral care to their students: many of whom are under increasing pressure because of mounting debt, no access to grants, worsened conditions in bars and coffee shops they are forced to work in for longer hours to make it through their degree. Police violence enacted on to students who want to protest their University.
Today I found out that a revered Marxist intellectual whose work is so often cited and studied, Louis Althusser, murdered his wife by strangulation after a campaign of abuse against her that spanned decades. Hélène Rytmann was her name and she was a communist. Her memory has faded into the shadows of time while Althusser remains celebrated and protected. How precious the academy is about the reputations of its bastions of intellectual integrity: Althusser isn't the first white, male thinker and writer to brutalise women and be remembered for his academic feats, and he won't be the last. This enormous fact is conveniently omitted by the academy - many people I've spoken to this morning are shocked and didn't know. I had no idea. And yet we've been force fed his writings throughout my time in the institution. (I will comment below extracts from his posthumous memoir where he articulates, almost poetically but graphically, the murder of Hélène Rytmann.) Now more than ever this is a potent time to capture the significance of this omission. As many of you know the UK Left has recently become caught up in another shit-storm caused by abusive lefty men, while the women and survivors bear the brunt of the turmoil and fall-out. Again, we allow the intellectual man a free pass because 'he is useful to the movement'. How useful? How useful are these men that rid the movement of the vigour and determination and commitment that so many brilliant women bring to it - who are rendered unable, ill, burnt-out, abused: invisible. Dead.
The academy is violent. It's elitist, and it's not been a linear process of decline - but its foundations were built on elitism and deep inequality. I have celebrated two graduations, and yes I've been proud, but always with a heavy heart and a resounding resentment that will permanently taint the sense of achievement. I'm okay with that. I remain vigilant, critical, and weary. If you are graduating be proud of your achievements - not least of all having to sit through the self-indulgent, hypocritical ramblings of your vice-chancellor who profits from the misery the institution churns out. Be happy, but be prepared, remain vigilant and always critical. Fuck the academy. We will struggle for a world that values us and doesn't exploit us.
Author: Rosa Soros is a writer, agitator and revolutionary communist
As worker commuters waited this morning at the station for their trains to work-joy, the Metro headline ‘Coalition of Chaos’, following last Thursday’s General Election, seemed to be on everyone’s mind. If Theresa May hadn’t actually won outright, why were the Tories still clinging to power? Many would argue in response that the first-past-the-post system doesn’t fairly reflect the actual votes of the electorate. Moreover the overwhelming media bias against Jeremy Corbyn and the boundary changes designed to favour the Tories expose the lie of liberal ‘democracy’ while, of course, the treachery of a Labour right-controlled Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) must be put in perspective. Against all these odds then, Corbyn, without actually winning, has been vindicated and strengthened, sending his many party opponents into a calculating, sycophantic race to now try and capture positions in a possible government-in-waiting, with The Guardian naming ‘big hitters’ such as Ed Miliband and Lisa Nandy as possible appointments.
The Labour careerists, not least the Welsh ones, are in shock that ‘pro-worker’ policies such as free education and the scrapping of tuition fees are popular, something those of us on the socialist left have been campaigning for since Tony Blair’s Labour Party actually introduced the fees in 1997, a blatantly anti-working class policy supported by endless, self-serving Labourites in the NUS, the PLP and too many of the unions. Welsh Labour has consistently refused to use its limited powers to try and stop job losses and cuts and doesn’t support ‘devo max’ for Wales or fight for control over the Welsh budget, with Wales historically underfunded by the Barnett formula. Wales has never voted for the Tories yet we keep getting stuck with their governments ruling us. Welsh Labour politicians remain part of the problem, not the solution.
Meanwhile May is delaying the Queen’s Speech as she tries to scramble a deal with the horrifying DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), a sectarian, sexist, homophobic, austerity-loving and utterly reactionary party with links to loyalist terror groups - a deal which could threaten the Northern Ireland Peace Process. A deal breaker for the DUP is abortion, which is still illegal in Northern Ireland - May is planning to legislate to reduce the time limits on abortion to win their support. A demo in London is already planned to protest this disturbing partnership and the threat it represents to women’s reproductive rights (Women’s March on Downing Street against the DUP, Central London, June 24). Never has extra- parliamentary activity been more essential and it’s been frankly over-due a long time now.
Corbyn plans to challenge her right to rule and put forward the case for an alternative government, hoping for another General Election in an attempt to win a decisive mandate for Labour. The DUP are especially dangerous and threaten working class unity and an escalation of ruling class Unionist reaction in Northern Ireland and also Scotland.
Following the result with Corbyn calling for the discredited May to resign, Caroline Lucas of the Greens is indicating that her party would be willing to partner with Labour and the other ‘anti-austerity’ parties (I put speech marks around this as all the proposed parties in this possible but highly unlikely alliance have actually implemented austerity whilst in power be it the SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and yes, the Greens themselves in Brighton). Despite my scepticism about any of these parties so-called anti-austerity record (please remember that Corbyn has previously ordered Labour councils to pass cuts in order for council budgets to be ‘legal’), the entire labour movement needs to mobilise now to demand May resigns, oppose any Tory / DUP coalition and insist on an end to austerity now. But what we also need is a clear anti-capitalist vision and an end to parliamentary illusions in the first place.
This task cannot be left to Labour alone, nothing changes without the mass independent action of the working class. The entire movement needs to mobilise with protests, marches, strikes, mass meetings and rank and file union organisation of both unionised and non-unionised workplaces. Whilst many Labour activists have been celebrating this weekend, the reality is that people are still sleeping on the streets this morning and many of us are in workplaces facing closures, cuts and job losses with trade unions (where we have them) generally missing in action.
Even if Labour were able to form a minority government with the support of other parties (an outcome certainly preferable to the Tories and their sectarian friends being in charge), the real risks of compromise and betrayal of workers lies ahead - and it’s far from certain that’s on the cards. But even if it did happen, first of all, it still wouldn’t be enough seats. Secondly, Corbyn would have to make compromises with the right in the Scottish Nationalist Party, the discredited Liberal Democrats (remember that ConDem coalition), Plaid Cymru who have also implemented austerity in power and the right-wing of his own party, including Machiavellian opportunists such as Stephen Kinnock.
Labour’s programme, apparently progressive in the context of decades of neoliberalism, is not as radical as it seems. Aside from maintaining Trident, supporting NATO, promising to work with business and not supporting the free movement of labour, it is informed by Keynesian capitalist economics and already opportunist right wingers are pouncing on the chance to serve in the shadow cabinet whilst the hardest of the right continue their plotting. Corbyn is speaking about how the unity of the party must be maintained and there is the real danger he will continue to compromise even further with his new found ‘moderate’ allies who like power-hungry hyenas are sniffing and foaming at the mouth at the chance to rule again in the possible near-future.
Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell represent a revival of second internationalism (the ‘international’ which supported WW1 and for many, many decades has capitulated to capitalist economics and maintaining imperialism). The outpouring of working-class support for Labour in last week’s election is undoubtedly encouraging but people’s hopes stand to be dashed if May clings on with the utterly reactionary DUP, or if Corbyn and McDonnell pursue a new election without the mandatory re-selection of MPs. In reality, the Labour Party is two parties and the members need to assert democratic control - a task never previously achieved - or more likely, start to learn some lessons about the impossibility of this task. Parliament has never been a vehicle for socialism which is why the second internationalists degenerated into capitalist conformity in the first place, many, many decades ago. But still the current revival of it is welcome only in the sense that it indicates an increasing confidence of workers and especially young people to move into struggle again - however, the obstacles are huge.
For Corbyn, the ideal would be a fresh General Election with a clear and overwhelming mandate. However, as myself and others have consistently pointed out for the last two years, it is essential that Corbyn uses this opportunity to introduce mandatory re-selection of MPs if he wants any chance of decisively winning the internal civil war and ‘democratising’ the party. The two parties in one is untenable. But that doesn’t look likely given Corbyn’s misguided belief in the Labour ‘happy family’. Momentum is ostensibly triumphant but seems more interested in stopping so-called Trotskyist ‘infiltrators’ (or in more neutral language, new party members) than pursuing the re-selection of MPs. The Labour Party has never been democratic and this myth that it has ever been socialist needs to be challenged, not reinforced by self-described revolutionaries who uncritically champion Corbyn’s limited state capitalist programme and establishment approved Keynesian economics, not explaining that, however preferable it is to full-blooded austerity, it still represents a continuation of capitalism which is still in the grips of a long-term ‘great depression’. To quote a recent blog post of Marxist economist Michael Roberts, 'UK election: British capital in disarray':
“The UK economy is set to enter a period of stagnation at best. The OECD’s economists are already forecasting that the UK economy will slow down to just 1% next year as Brexit bites. And there is every likelihood of a new global recession in the next year or two…
“…This minority Conservative government is going to find it difficult to survive for long. There could well be a new general election before the year is out and that could well lead to a Labour government aiming to reverse the neo-liberal policies of the last 30 years. But if the UK capitalist economy is in dire straits, a Labour government will face an immediate challenge to the implementation of its policies.”
Not only is another recession very likely, any reformist government will have to deal with hostile and unaccountable institutions such as the EU during Brexit negotiations, the World Bank and IMF, etc. Politicians hoping to make capitalism nicer would have to contend with the fact that the dictatorship of the international market will never passively accept any attempts to redistribute wealth to the masses. Capitalism exists to make profit, not pay workers fair wages (and all profit is created by the unpaid labour of the working class, the real generators of wealth).
The capitulation of the left-wing SYRIZA government in Greece is a stark warning, as are the many historical examples of the inevitable, and frequently bloody, resistance of the ruling class to any attempt to fundamentally threaten their profits and power. It’s worth remembering the tragic events of Chile in 1973, where the more radical Salvador Allende was overthrown in a CIA-supported fascist coup. Augusto Pinochet murdered not only the democratically elected Allende, he and his armed thugs of the state executed thousands of socialists, anarchists and trade unionists to crush the mass movement behind Allende. Certainly the ruling class are not averse to threatening flights of capital, denial of loans, economic blockades and yes, even military coups. Our struggle has to be international and with no illusions in the capitalist state.
Whilst there are encouraging developments with the recent election result in terms of giving the Tories a well-deserved bloody nose and a crisis in the establishment, it’s important to be sober and make an honest and unflinching assessment of the huge obstacles our side is up against. We suffer from shockingly low levels of workers’ struggle, with union membership at an all-time low. No one on the left has anything better to offer us than Labour, a party which has consistently betrayed workers and the oppressed over the last century or so. There is presently no coherent anti-capitalist vision, or strategy beyond A to B marches, and yet there is dangerously misguided co-operation with the police to keep protests neutered. On the police, the left needs to stop sowing illusions in their so-called neutrality - look at the role of the police and military in the Miners’ Strike of 1984-85, Hillsborough in 1989 and so on. According to Friedrich Engels, in the last analysis the state represents the armed bodies of men who protect private property and, as Angela Davis and so many black activists have pointed out, maintain a profit system based on racism and oppression of all kinds. We need genuine socialist internationalism, updated for the 21st century, if we are ever to succeed in our tasks. Whether this happens remains to be seen. But the politics of tinkering with the system and appealing to the capitalists to be a bit nicer to workers is naïve at best, at worst deluded and dangerous. But still we must struggle…
Author: Sa Kollantai is an education worker, trade unionist and left communist writer from Wales
Today, May Day 2017, sees the launch of the independent, activist-run webzine, Collective Action. Dedicated to a libertarian socialist ethos, our editors aim to outline an anti-capitalist vision that includes counter-hegemonic political, social and industrial struggle. Libertarian socialism is a set of anti-authoritarian, anti-statist political philosophies within the international workers’ movement. These include anarchist communism, anarcho-syndicalism, autonomism, council communism, Luxemburgism, revolutionary unionism and other similar outlooks. Viewers can expect to see articles about some or all of these ideas over time. And we trust that any imparted information will serve as an inspiration and spur to action in the class war. Happy reading!