Review Column from the June 1968 issue of the Socialist Standard
Why Students Demonstrate
As any surviving Suffragette will agree, demonstrators, in their time, are rarely popular—a fact which contains the seeds of its own consolation. Most workers, accepting their lot, are quick to condemn anyone who tries to disturb their apathy with protests drawing their attention away from the television set and onto social problems.
So it is that the students are denounced wholesale, as long haired layabouts who dissipate wildly generous grants in promiscuous sex and punch ups with the police—and their horses.
This, of course, is a maliciously distorted picture. The majority of students scrape by on meagre grants, and have to swot hard for the simple reason that, being workers, they must pass their exams on schedule. Even the small minority who may go in for violent demonstrations are by no means the dirty villains they are made out to be.
It is more than a formality to condemn the violence of some of the demonstrations. There was certainly some inexcusably ugly behaviour from the students when the pro-Smith Tory M.P. Patrick Wall went to speak at Leeds University last month. This sort of activity gets nobody anywhere, although it does arouse sympathy for Wall.
It is not being kind to the students to point out that an inescapable—and useful—feature of youth is its desire to reform the world, confident that it can do better than the mess which, it thinks, its elders are responsible for. At the same time a student has every encouragement to investigate and discuss the world—and under capitalism that means world problems, like nuclear war and poverty.
Perhaps some of the scorn for students springs from the suspicion that they might be thinking, probing and responding more than the ordinary worker in his semi-detached.
But how much cause for concern have they? The demonstrations are at the moment about the wrong issues—about the symptoms of capitalism's malaise instead of its root cause. The real issue, the one worth demonstrating about, is whether we keep capitalism or have a society fit for humans to live in.
The Local Elections
With each successive test of their electoral popularity, the Labour Party falls to undreamt-of depths. The results of last month's local elections almost defy belief; it is impossible to imagine what emergency, what gimmick, would be enough to save them in a general election.
Perhaps we are at a turning point in political history—no less than the break up of a major party of capitalism and a consequent reshaping of the political set-up. It is not surprising that Labour's debacle has come so soon after the triumphs of 1964 and 1966. This has happened before; in 1906, for example, when the Liberals swept in on a landslide on massive promises of reform.
The anarchies of capitalism, its disputes and conflicting interests—and finally the First World War—exposed the Liberal pledges, soured their image and in the end finished them as a political force. What would follow, if a similar fate befell the Labour Party? At the moment there is no sign of a comparable alternative; if none emerges the Tories will be opposed by only fragments—by what remains of the Labour Party, by a few Liberals and Nationalists and, who knows, perhaps by some neo-Nazi M.P.s.
Another major reform party may grow out of the ashes of Labour's defeat, but the experience of this government, if of no other, should have been enough for the working class. It should teach them that no capitalist party can solve their problems, that capitalism cannot be run in their interest, that this social system smothers and kills the strongest of reformist intentions.
It should be a standing warning against political promises and tricksters, and persuade the workers of the urgency of establishing a new society.
Integration into What?
In the uproar which followed Enoch Powell's odious speech, it was inevitable that certain facts on immigration should be overlooked.
It would be idle to pretend that there no problems connected with a movement of population—within, as well as across, frontiers. But at most the immigrants may aggravate problems in housing, hospitals and schools; they cannot cause those problems because they already exist. Immigration may expose social inadequacies, which can also be uncovered by events like war and slump. And, as usual, the people who face up to the problems and deficiencies of capitalism are the working class; not racialist politicians living in comfort, dreaming of Greek poetry in Belgravia.
We should also not forget that the immigrants themselves may be ignorant of the facts of their situation. They plead for integration; it is pertinent to ask, integration into what? The assimilation of the immigrants would mean that they join the labour market on the same terms as other workers, that they can be legally swindled by the insurance and hire purchase companies on the same sort of agreements as the native born, that they can take on the lifetime debt of a mortgage at the same rates of interest as anyone else.
Their children will be trained, in schools and universities, to take their place as workers alongside others, They will be subjected to the same degrading exploitation. the same poverty, the same waste of their lives in servitude to the master class.
Immigrants have as much to learn as the rest. As they become integrated into the working class they must realise their social situation. and that no worker can escape the repressions of capitalism.
They must also come to understand what has to be done about it.