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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Student Bulletin issue 1, September 2010 + AF STUDENT extra pullout

Date Tue, 28 Sep 2010 14:51:10 +0200

First Bulletin of the Anarchist Federation Student Network. Featuring articles on cuts in HE, lessons from the Sussex Against Cuts campaign, postgraduate study, setting up your own anarchist cinema project and a complete guide to the student Left. If you are an anarchist currently in full-time education and would like to find out more about the AF please get in touch - studentafed.org.uk --- Download ANARCHIST STUDENT issue 1 September http://www.afed.org.uk/pdfs/afed_anarchiststudent1.pdf ---- AF STUDENT extra pullout : http://www.afed.org.uk/pdfs/afed_anarchiststudent1_pullout.pdf --- Pay more for less? - what HE cuts mean for students ---- With the recession over, the pain is only just beginning for students. With rises to VAT and tuition fees looming, already stretched budgets are looking tighter than ever. But not only are we going to be paying more (and working longer to pay off mountains of debt), we’ll also be getting less bang for our buck, as vicious cuts at universities across the country will significantly damage our quality of education.

More than three quarters of English unis will be affected, from Oxford and Cambridge to Leeds and Manchester. Some face cuts of over almost 14% compared to last year. University bosses have already begun to swing the axe, with hundreds of redundancies planned at scores of universities. This means larger class sizes and fewer contact hours for students. A total £135 million of cuts have been announced for the coming year, with more likely to follow in future years.

The prospects for students are pretty bleak. Firstly, in addition to cutting staff, closing courses and shutting down faculties, university bosses have responded to the cuts by clamouring for higher tuition fees – and they look likely to get their way. Proposed increases could see fees rise to £5-6 thousand pounds a year for those reading for an arts degree, or as much as £14 thousand for those studying sciences. That would mean more debt (a rise of about 25% compared to current levels) and more time spent working to pay them off. It will also have a massive impact on who can attend universities, with students from poor backgrounds effectively barred from higher education.

On top of this, we’ll actually be getting less for our money, as lower budgets mean less money spent on students (university bosses themselves seem less than eager to shoulder the burden of budget cuts; the average salaries of university vice chancellors rose by10% last year!) as teaching staff and facilities come under attack. And that’s just in the short term.

In the long term, sweeping changes to higher education in Britain are likely, with universities’ priorities shifting away from providing a decent education and towards chasing corporate funding and investment. Education will become increasingly privatised, and our courses will become a kind of glorified training programme run at the whims of private investors with little to no regard for the needs of students.

As students, we have to organise against these cuts or we will suffer the consequences. Last year saw occupations and strikes against cuts at several universities, with students and university workers standing shoulder to shoulder in our opposition to uni management and the government on whose orders these attacks are being carried out. Now, facing a fresh round of cuts, we have to build on these struggles and fight back at a national level, or we’ll pay the price in rising fees and a declining quality of education for years to come.

Sussex Stop the Cuts a retrospective: lessons for anti-cuts campaigners

Last year’s Stop the Cuts campaign at Sussex Uni (currently gearing up for action after a summer hiatus) provides both inspiring examples of mass action, and lessons on what to avoid when organising anti-cuts campaigns. The campaign witnessed 2 day-long strikes by lecturers, an overwhelming vote of no-confidence in management by a student’s union EGM, some of the biggest ever protests on campus, 2 stormed buildings and 3 occupations, the longest of which lasted over a week. However, sidetracked by management retaliation in the form of riot police, suspensions and fines for student occupiers, the campaign also ultimately failed to avert over 100 redundancies, only managing a downgrading from compulsory to ‘voluntary.’

Further, despite the savagery of 2009/10’s cuts, this year is set to see even more, both at Sussex and across the country, so now is the time to get organised and learn from previous struggles. While the campaign at Sussex made impressive gains – especially in winning the unconditional reinstatement of 6 suspended students after a week-long occupation – those small victories only hint at a fraction of the strength that the campaign could have wielded, had it learned the lessons that it did earlier in the year. With the Con-Dem government and more cuts on the horizon, these are lessons that will be of use to all student anti-cuts campaigns.

Anti-cuts feeling was already building among Sussex staff and students at the start of Autumn term last year, and was quickly translated into public meetings and demonstrations. Indeed, the Autumn term saw frustrations lead to two of these demonstrations storming the building in which university Senate meetings were taking place, demanding a vote against proposed cuts. However, the campaign was also slow to formally organise itself. Regular ad-hoc open meetings that followed demonstrations were able to keep the campaign ticking over, and even to grow it significantly over the course of the term, but this year the campaign will be that much more established from the offset, thanks to the recognised importance of clearly advertised mass meetings for drawing people into a campaign. The strength that the campaign showed in winning the reinstatement of suspended students was due to the mass of students and staff involved in it, with organising meetings of over a hundred people and over 800 attending the EGM. This is not a strength that could have existed were the campaign left to a small (formal or informal) organising committee, or, indeed, to a squabbling alliance of sectarian leftist groups – it relies on mass participation.

Equally, the campaign recognised early on the importance of student and staff solidarity. The first two occupations of the campaign were explicitly framed as shows of student support for staff strikes, and campaigners were in regular contact with staff unions on campus, putting the case for direct action. These activities ultimately bore fruit in the two strike days that UCU called, helping to win the downgrading of redundancies from compulsory to ‘voluntary,’ but again they were slow to get off the ground. This year, Sussex Stop the Cuts campaigners will already have these links established, and will hopefully be able to push for earlier and stronger action. Equally, perhaps one of the most significant developments towards the end of the campaign was increased focus on communicating with non-academic staff, a university demographic equally threatened by cuts, but often forgotten by student campaigns. The week-long occupation of a lecture theatre showed the importance of a space in which students and staff can come together to share information and coordinate struggles – for a truly successful campaign, each meeting should approach this form of mass assembly, where all those threatened by cuts can work in solidarity with each other.

However, perhaps the most important that lesson that the Sussex campaign learned, and one it learned fairly quickly, is that mass direct action is where our strength lies. From the student side, the storming and occupation of buildings was a strong feature of the campaign, and the constant reiteration of support for staff action helped to mobilise UCU. When this action was directed towards physically preventing management’s administration of university, they showed that they were threatened by responding with heavy-handed retribution: they fabricated a ‘hostage situation’ during the occupation of the admin building in order to bring riot police onto campus, took out a High Court injunction on further occupations, and suspended six students. Despite this, the campaign had learned where their strength lay, and 700 students demonstrated in support of the suspended six, with 300 of them occupying a lecture theater, openly defying the injunction and demanding full reinstatement of the ‘Sussex Six’. Students, in seizing an organising space, provided an open forum on what education might look like were it freed from the constraints of hierarchy and profit, and management gave in after just 8 days of occupation, proving that direct action gets the goods!

These suspensions were presented by management as the singling out of ‘ringleaders’ of the campaign. However, they fundamentally misunderstood the fact that Stop the Cuts provides an example of organising without ringleaders. All the decisions of the campaign were made openly at meetings that welcome everyone, and the campaign therefore had no head to cut off, and was all the stronger for it. The occupation stood as an example of how people can organise together not only in opposition to attacks on their well-being, but also to create alternative structures.

The fight is still far from over, but the solidarity and unity recognised between students and workers, at Sussex shows the way that the campaign might be won, as ordinary people organise themselves and assert their ability to run their own lives in their own interest better than any boss or manager.

Postgraduate study should be open to all!

Many of you will be well aware of the general squeeze in higher education funding, places and teaching and support staff that has been carried through by the government in the past two years. What has got far less attention is the dire state of investment in postgraduate education that has pretty much cut off further study to all but the richest few students. MA courses can cost upwards of £3,500 (as high as £7000 in some cases) while PhD courses can cost as high as £11,000 a year to enrol. On top of this you have living costs as well as research materials and travel expenses. A career development loan can help ease the financial burden, but not everyone will be eligible (those with a bad credit history will be refused) and these loans are often an addition to an already hefty level of personal debt following higher education.

For many the only viable route is to apply for research funding either through competitive university schemes or external bodies like the Economic and Social Research Council. However, these sources have also seen massive funding cuts in recent years. They are also highly politicised with, for example in the social sciences, funding councils favouring applicants who can demonstrate their research has some application for the business world or bureaucratic state management. The result is that radical research, and those most likely to pursue radical research, are effectively excluded from postgraduate study. This also fosters a competitive environment, continuing into academic life, where students are encouraged to compete with each other’s research instead of looking for areas for co-operation and common study. Initiatives like the “anarchist studies network” represent an alternative to these structures – effectively building a self-help network for anarchists in the academy – but what is really needed is a generalised fight back uniting all those involved in the higher education system, from the support staff right up to the full-time academic staff. Only then can we start re-shaping the kind of education system we want - one open to all who desire to study, not one based on economic advantage.

Cinema Syndicate: building a libertarian cinema

Cinema Syndicate is an anarchist film society at Sheffield University, initiated a couple of years ago by students there who are members of the Anarchist Federation. It continues to the present day, with membership of the society collective open to all who hold an anarchist perspective politically; though of course anyone can come and see a film, whether they are anarchist or not. The society holds film screenings every week, with a focus on showing films or documentaries that feature some kind of libertarian/anarchist perspective, or that deal with issues of power in the world. The purpose of the society is to essentially get people thinking about such issues, but instead of having to read a paper or pamphlet, they can just sit down and watch a stimulating film or documentary. It’s a popular event, with a good number of people regularly coming to screenings, and with new faces often coming to see a film.

The way the society is run is along non-hierarchical lines, by consensus. As a Union society, the society has to have elected officer positions, but in Cinema Syndicate these positions are nothing more than names on paper. All members of the collective have an equal say in proceedings, and anyone who agrees with the anarchist perspective of the society can get involved on an equal basis to everyone else. Films are picked by essentially each person in the group being able to have so many slots they can show a film in – so that everyone ends up having an equal number of their film choices being shown; though if a member disagreed with a particular film being showed, then this would be debated, or if a member wanted to show more than their share of films, another member could potentially take on the previous members suggestion in place of one of their own. We also leave some weeks on the screening program purposefully blank, so as members of the audience can make their own suggestions as to what films to show.

The film screenings are also useful opportunities for displaying literature and spreading a message; for example if there is an up coming political event, this could be mentioned before or after a screening. The film screenings have also served as a useful opportunity to meet like-minded individuals. The society can also be used to book stall spaces etc. around the university to allow anarchist flavoured or community run campaigns to get their message across, as well as booking room spaces for these campaigns to hold their meetings. All in all, quite a successful little endeavour.


Student Bulletin issue 1, September 2010

AF STUDENT extra pullout

Freshers’ Fair Special: Your “No Bullshit” Guide to the Student Left

The Complete Guide to the Student Left


“how not to become completely jaded and sack it all in”

So it’s Freshers’ week. Everything is new.
You’re entering a new, vibrant community.
You might have been “into” politics before
you came to Uni. You might be still just
trying to figure out what you think about
the world. Well what better place to find
out than at University? At your freshers’
fair you may be greeted by a whole host
of left-wing and radical organisations
which will (if you come from a conserva-
tive shit-hole like I did) seem exciting,
new and worlds away from what’s going
on back home. What better way to start
figuring out the world than joining one of
these socialist groups? What better way
to challenge injustice and inequality than
standing by like-minded individuals? Well,
think again.

Now I know what you’re probably think-
ing at this point. The reputation of the Left
precedes it I’m sure. What I am not going
to argue here, as many other of the social-
ist groups you will encounter will do, is the
superiority of the People’s Front of Judea
to the Judean’s People Front. The Left is
horribly sectarian, filled with bitter little
grouplets who despise each other. If that’s
the kinda thing you’re looking for I’m
sure your latest issue of Weekly/Socialist/
Communist Worker will provide, I’m not
interested in that bollox.

There are many reasons why you may
want to get involved in socialist politics
- you may feel disillusioned, angry (and
rightly so!) – but the best reason to stay
involved is to be to able challenge and re-
think your preconceptions of how society
should and can be organised. This implies
a process of education, REAL education
that is. You see, for all the pretence that
Universities have about being spaces for
free thought, the fact is that radical ideas
are under-funded, badly taught (usually
by highly unsympathetic lecturers) and
generally marginalised. Unfortunately, the
only real opportunity you have to really
explore radical ideas is either through
independent study (something that is very
difficult to sustain) or through discussions
and practical action with like-minded
people. Accordingly involvement with the
Socialist Party/Socialist Workers Party/
Communist Party of Britain/Commu-
nist Party of Great Britain/Alliance for
Workers Liberty/International Bolshevik

What these groups traditionally won’t tell you, however, is that they are not just “so-
cialist” groups but identify with a very specific tradition of socialism – Leninism.

Tendency/International Committee of
the Fourth International/Student Broad
Left (No, I’m not bullshitting you, there
are literally this many groups) may appear
to be an appealing option.
What these groups traditionally won’t
tell you, however, is that they are not just
“socialist” groups but identify with a very
specific tradition of socialism – Leninism.
Leninism is the interpretation of Marxist
theory forwarded by Lenin, leader of the
Russian Communist party, in the years
leading up to and after the Russian revolu-
tion. Now you can argue until the cows
come home the ins-and-outs, triumphs
and failures of the Russian revolution, in
fact I’m sure these people will indulge you
if you were to ask. Whatever conclusions
you may draw, the fact is that Leninism,
as embodied by the practice of many con-
temporary socialist groups, has changed
very little since 1917. It is still based on
Lenin’s original vision of an authoritarian,
highly disciplined organisation of “profes-
sional revolutionaries” who need to “win”
leadership over the working class. How
does this translate into everyday prac-
tice? Well typically the people who will
be manning the stalls and megaphones
during you first weeks of university won’t
be students; they’ll be paid recruiters
working for the party. The leadership of
these organisations are well aware that
many students are interested in left-wing
ideas and will typically exploit these first
few weeks to swell their organisations
membership. The party requires a passive
and obedient rank-and-file to unquestion-
ingly carry through the “strategic vision”
of the leadership. The very reason that so
many different lefty sects exist is a culture
in which it is preferable to simply expel
dissidents from the party than allow for
open and honest debate - debate that may
bring the “wisdom” of this leadership into
question. The result: hundreds of little
Lenins in hundreds of different groups
all proclaiming their one and “correct”
revolutionary strategy.

Leninism is also a highly manipulative
practice. Organisations will often set up
“front groups” like Unite Against Fascism
or Another Education is Possible which
are seemingly admirable attempts to unite
activists around a common cause, but in
reality are firmly in the control of paid
organisers and provide a steady recruit-
ment stream for the party. These are not
spaces for debate, discussion and common
action but are cynically exploited for party
building. For example, if you have at any
point put your details down for a petition
“against the BNP” or for “free education”
on a freshers’ fair stall you can guaran-
tee that those details will go no further
than the organisers list of “sympathetic
contacts” (recruiters will often be quite
candid about this if you ask them). The
“what is socialism?” or “socialism 101”
meetings that these groups will host in the
first few weeks will always be filled with
party members (to give the impression of
inflated interest in their group) who will
ask sympathetic questions from the floor -
“where do I sign up?”, “your group sounds
great, where can I find out more?”. The
talk itself is likely to be nothing more than
the party-line handed down from the
leadership and discussion tightly control-
led by the chair (so as to save the embar-
rassment of a few awkward questions).

All in all, it’s anti-democratic, it’s ma-
nipulative and it’s total bullshit.

Students who do end up getting in-
volved with these groups will typically
follow two paths; either they will eventu-
ally join the party, maybe even become
a paid organiser or they will get bored of
the lack of control, the sectarianism and
the pointless activity (endless newspa-
per sales and badgering from regional
organisers to fulfil your monthly quotas)
and sack off all lefty politics convinced
that this is all it has to offer. I think this is
a real shame.

Now, I know what you are thinking:
“he’s just going to say, ‘join the anarchists
instead, they’re awesome!’”. Well you
know what? I’m not going to do that.
Radical politics is about challenging the
world we live in and that should include
those who identify as “the left”. It should
be about empowering people to have the
confidence to take action, not indoc-
trinating them with party positions or
wasting their time in petty squabbles. My
advice therefore: question, discuss and
debate. There are plenty of open websites
and discussion boards, like Revleft and
Libcom, that can be used to debate and
discuss ideas and are independent of any
organisation or political group. Indymedia
is a good resource for discovering what
activism and events are going on in your lo-
cal area; you can see which groups are active
and if it takes your fancy maybe go along
to a meeting and check it out. Many cities
have radical, social centres that act as a hub
for political activism. There has also been a
recent resurgence in class struggle forums
or communist discussion groups which
provide an excellent opportunity to explore
and discuss ideas without the pressure of
recruitment always hanging over your head.
Get out there and get involved - just don’t
be duped into thinking that the boring,
dead-end and authoritarian politics offered
by the socialist left has anything to do with
the kind of fair and free society we hope one
day to create.

You have been warned...

libcom.org presents the top five best
Trotskyist pick-up lines to use on the
cute Marxist-Leninist at your local

5 “Hey sweet thang, wanna dictate my

4 “My revolutionary Party has a huge,
militant membership - wanna lesson in

3 “Is your father a commisar of pro-
duction and distribution? Because he
surely expropriated some bourgeois
diamonds for your eyes”

2 “Do you believe in love at first sight?
Or do you need to be broken of your
false consciousness by the vanguard
since without us you’re only capable of
trade union consciousness?”

1 “Is that a deflected permanent revo-
lution in your pocket or are you just
pleased to see me?”
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