1960s >> 1968 >> no-767-july-1968

The New Narodniki

On June 15 a “Revolutionary Socialist Students Federation” was founded by students representing groups all over England. As might be expected at a meeting in which trotskyists (of various hues) were prominent the air was thick with such words as mobilise, orientate, perspective, programmatic, transitional and, of course, vanguard. The programme adopted in fact declared:

  “Revolutionary students can play a vanguard role by detonating a wider social conflict in which the working-class becomes decisive. Students must seek to ally themselves with working-class struggles: they have also shown that they may anticipate and instigate them.”

So yet another group has appeared to liberate the working class ignoring the long-established Socialist principle that the workers must free themselves.

In Russia in the second half of the 19th century many privileged young men and women decided to “go to the people”, by working and living among the peasants whom they believed to be a revolutionary force. They were thus known as Populists or Narodniks. A similar theme dominated the meeting: only the workers could overthrow capitalism, so students should go to them by leafleting, and perhaps working, in, the factories. As one (Widgery) put it “the talk about the new Narodniki going to the factories is right”. A small minority, from the South Coast, were still in favour of “working within the Labour Party” (as they all were two years ago), but their views were not well-received.

Prominent were members of the alleged “International Socialism” Group. Also, frequently to be seen hovering in the background was Pat Jordan, the trotskyist who runs the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign. The anarchists and another trotskyist group (the SLL) did not seem to be present.

The RSSF programme commits it to Student Power, Anti-Capitalist Alliance with Workers and Struggle Against Imperialism. These aims are to be achieved by so-called direct action (that is, occupying college buildings, fighting the police, preventing exams taking place, shouting down speakers). As one (Fishman) frankly put it: they are out to “seize the leadership of students as a group”.

At a meeting the previous evening a member of the Socialist Party was prevented from continuing his speech after he had criticised talk about “parliamentary rubbish” and support for the nationalist and state capitalist Vietcong. For his troubles he was called a “fascist” (“Against fascists there is only one weapon: physical force“, one LSE student leader, Harman, has written). This is perhaps the shape of things to come for any who dare to stand up to this self-appointed vanguard.