Statement to the student march, 21 Nov 2012
SHUT DOWN LONDON
★ Bring down the coalition Government
★ Reestablish the principle that education is a Right, not a privilege
★ Restore EMA — Reverse the fee hikes and cuts
★ Keep the doors of higher education open to poor, working class and specially oppressed students
★ Stop the closure of London MET and other institutions that serve poor, working class, minority, returning and international students
★ Win free equal quality education for ALL
★ Stop the scapegoating of the black, Asian, Muslim & immigrant communities for the economic and social crisis — WE ARE ALL THE NEW BRITAIN. The crisis has been caused by the inequality, irrationality, and inhumanity of the existing economic system
★ Create a massive program of public works jobs
★ Nationalize the banks
★ Electing a Labour government is not the answer
★ Build the new independent, integrated mass youth led Civil Rights, Immigrant Rights and Student Movements
Fight to Win!
Boy it feels great to be marching through London again. For those of us that built the student movement two years ago and loved every minute of the conflict, this day has been too long in coming. For those who are new to the movement, welcome. We need your energy and unjaded enthusiasm. Students and youth new to the movement, especially black, Asian, Muslim and other minority youth who have suffered the greatest setbacks because of the cuts, younger students who are facing greater obstacles to receiving an education, poor and oppressed students of all races and international students who face unparalleled uncertainty and increasingly desperate conditions of life—are the activists most likely to grasp and act on the lessons that the more veteran activists in the movement should have grasped a long time ago.
The three most important and obvious lessons from the last phase of heightened struggle are: 1) that we needed to use our defeat to figure out how to build the movement stronger and win, rather than allow it to be shut down; 2) that nothing short of a mass uprising can stop the downward spiral of the living conditions and aspirations of the great majority of people in Britain, and 3) we need to build a leadership and organization that wants to win and believes that we can win and to reject leaders who, while acting on a right set of moral principles, believe that the movement can never win and if it actually does become strong enough to contest for power must be suppressed at all costs. Put plainly, Movement for Justice (MFJ) must grow and lead for us to win.
MFJ is certain that we can build an integrated youth-led movement that can unite everyone who wants to win together, fighting to restore and protect public education and the whole social welfare system that continues to be relentlessly attacked without justification by the Government. To those who want to win but have heard too much bad advice already, we say: Do not be shy or embarrassed if you are angry and want to show it. Symbolic civil disobedience makes us look like weak victims. Let’s act, but with the determination and power that expresses our strength and will to win. The rich and the powerful are not the only force with the power to make history and direct this nation. The power of the oppressed—if we unite and fight to win—can bring down governments, make revolutions, change the direction and character of our society completely. Meaningful sweeping social and political change is never gradual. Those of us who are more experienced and want to win will embrace the new activists because, frankly, we are tired of the half steppers, the posers and the wannabe politicians. We want to win and believe the time to do so is now.
The last two years have been a living hell for too many of us. Everything bad we thought would happen, happened. All the predictions of greater class and race disparities in higher education have proven to be true. Access to affordable higher education, once a right, is now a privilege reserved for the privileged, a dream deferred for the masses.
The loss of EMA forced hundreds of thousands of us to abandon school and instead fester as part of the growing army of unemployed youth. Tens of thousands more of us are being buried in debt and even with the loans and strains on our families’ income, we are barely hanging on at the universities. Black, Asian and other minority youth have faced the worst setbacks. Racism, anti-Muslim bigotry and immigrant-bashing are on the rise. Asian, African, Middle-Eastern and other non-white, non-EU international students— who were once coveted by universities because they paid huge fees to attend the universities—are being threatened with mass deportations. Those who are ready and qualified to come are being denied visas and kept out altogether. Program cuts, course reductions, the stripping bare of liberal arts educational offerings, job loss, whole sections of universities eliminated—yes, the last two years have been a disaster.
We all know that what we are fighting for is right. The great majority of us know that we march not to persuade the rich and powerful or the Government that it is in their interest to educate us to keep Britain a dominant world power, but to change the balance of power in favor of us. Today’s march must be the first of many continuing actions. We should set a date for our next action now.
The official NUS leadership will try to direct our energies into getting Labour elected. Labour will not break from the pro-austerity policies of the current Government. Labour has signed onto anti-immigrant bashing and jingoism. Electing Labour does not get EMA restored or the fee increases reversed. If we build an independent movement that has the power to shake up the foundations of this society, we will win back EMA and rollback the cuts and fee hikes, no matter which party controls the Government.
LEARNING THE LESSONS OF THE PAST, MILITANT ACTION BY ITSELF IS NOT ENOUGH. BUILD MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE TO WIN.
In October 2010, the first phase of our movement began with a march that stormed the Millband and sacked the Tory headquarters. Over the course of the next two months our young movement met many important political tests. We successfully mobilized tens of thousands of students and youth to march, walk out and demonstrate on several national days of action. We stormed Government buildings, built occupations on campuses across the country, and grew accustomed to ignoring the shrill denunciations and/or pathetic pleas for respectability from timid and vacillating student spokespersons, some of whom we once regarded as our representatives. We kept pushing forward, leaving behind those who deserted the cause because they feared the power and anger of the oppressed. Our ranks grew and changed as more youth who hate the suffocating hypocrisy and cynicism of the current social order and feel an urgent desire for freedom joined the struggle.
Police tactics aimed at demoralizing us and limiting the power of our movement failed. We turned freezing police kettles into raves one week and the next week defeated the police plans to kettle us again by charting new secret routes for our march that kept us free of kettles. By December our movement had developed new tactics aimed at shutting down central London.
Many of us could not wait for the next opportunity to shut down London. Fighting was exhilarating, emotional, uniting, and fun. It brought out our deepest and most positive expressions of our shared humanity. But despite all the courage, grit and determination of the movement, we lost.
Too many of our supposed leaders had seen the whole effort as nothing more than a glorified lobbying effort. To them, the point of all the actions was to expose the antistudent, anti-public education character of the LibCon government while giving the Labour Party a chance to cast a certain-to-lose no vote on the cuts and elimination of EMA. To these leaders, most of whom quickly abandoned the movement they successfully misled and demoralized, winning was never the aim.
We were meant to lose, after putting up a good fight. By December, those misleaders regarded the main danger facing the movement as its growing strength, militance and independence from their leadership. The Labour Party helped to demoralize and demobilize the movement by making sure that they rushed through a second Parliamentary vote to end EMA, when they knew students would be away from school because of the Christmas holidays. The movement did not die but did go into retreat. The urban uprisings of black, Asian and white youth made clear that the cuts would not continue to go unanswered. This march is a chance for the movement to go forward on a stronger and clearer basis and for the youth to once again take the lead in the fight to save Britain.
The best and most militant leaders of the movement must not let our opportunity to lead the movement slip away by adapting to the anarchist view that all leadership is bad, that groups should never advance beyond being a squad and that we should resist building a national organization with a democratically elected leadership. We failed two years ago to shut down London precisely because the best fighters never advanced to the point of building a coordinated and planned action. Instead, many brave students and youth carried out plans worked out in secret small group meetings that never had a chance of succeeding because they were never conceived of as mass actions.
London is a big city. Our opponents are well staffed, well armed and function like an army in battle. They can be defeated, but not through random acts of “terror.” Smallgroup actions inevitably lead the participants in the action to be vulnerable to repression unless they are regarded as leaders with authority among the masses of people who support our cause. Too many anarchists were witch-hunted and arrested in the months following the ebbing of the struggle. The leaders of this struggle cannot be cavalier or unserious, and we cannot rely on individual bravado to take us forward. Stretching before us is a struggle that is difficult but winnable. As the struggle heats up again, we must convince the most serious young fighters who identify as anarchist to abandon the tactic of squad action and instead bring their talent, courage and knowledge to the leadership of mass organization. One thing is certain about the rich and powerful: they are not scared to be leaders of society, no matter how bad their leadership is! The oppressed deserve far better leaders. We are fighting for the great majority of society. As daunting as it might seem, we cannot abandon our duty to be leaders capable of challenging for power and winning.
We invite anyone who wants to fight to win to join Movement for Justice. Together, we can build the power of our new movement, defeat the attacks, and make our vision for a new Britain real.