1960s >> 1969 >> no-773-january-1969

Student Unrest

An LSE student comments on recent unrest there

In America, France, Czechoslovakia, Japan — practically wherever you care to look in the world you can find evidence of student unrest.

The universal nature of student complaint is not surprising in view of the increasingly rapid development of international capitalism which confronts students all over the world with basically the same problems.

But it is not only the student who recognises the situation. As Sir Eric Ashby has said:

    The paradigm for a graduate 40 years ago was the conventional man, ready to take responsibility for preserving a set of values which he felt no need to question, deferring to his elders because they were older, not because they were wiser; obedient to principles, constitutions, traditions. That sort of young man cannot cope with the flux of the modem world. The contemporary paradigm is a man educated for insecurity, who can innovate, improvise, solve problems with no precedent. [1]

This is the core of the student problem. The education system does not provide an adequate preparation for life in the late twentieth century. Students, having no power to change the situation, agitate for representation on various committee and boards to participate in the organisation of education.

Into this pool of unrest others delve, using the dissatisfaction within the colleges to promote causes other than internal re-organisation. The recent developments at the London School of Economics illustrate this point.

General dissatisfaction at the LSE led to the appointment of a Committee on the Machinery of Government of the School in March 1967. In July 1967 five students joined the Committee. No action resulted from the two reports which emanated and in consequence student unrest and agitation continued, to obtain greater student participation in the government of the LSE. Now any group within the school seeking support has only to tie its action with the fight for internal democracy to obtain considerable backing.

The occupation of the LSE over the week end of 24-27 October aimed to support the pro-NLF march and demonstration of 27 October by providing opportunity for discussion and as a first aid base. The student organisers were under some pressure to connect occupation with Vietnam. Their answer fully substantiates the argument above about how to win support.

If the Director’s position is accepted, free speech, free assembly, and staff-student control of their community go right out of the window. We cannot accept this.
A few days ago the student left was accused of being unable to make the connection between Vietnam and the occupation. By now, it is clear to all that the Director has drawn the connection for us. [2]

In fact the conflict in Vietnam is between rival capitalist groups for control of an area which is strategically important and of potentially economic significance as a source of production and a market for commodities. Not one drop of working class blood should be shed for either side.

The conflict in the colleges and universities is a totally different situation. Forty years ago the graduate was largely recruited from the capitalist class and could easily accept the situation outlined by Sir Eric Ashby. To-day in Britain the majority of graduates are working class. For many students, of all shades of political opinion, education is totally unrelated to their needs. The student left, for example, complains of the limitation of discussion within the classroom and lecture hall of the major issues of the day. [3] It recognises that the governors of the colleges are people with industrial, commercial and political interest in maintaining society as it is. [2] It shouts for student and workers control. [4] The occupation is seen in the light of a factory take-over. It merely needs time to gain strength and such take-overs will cease to be temporary and become permanent.

History has shown us the fallacy of this argument and action. In the political sense the police are the muscles of the government, When workers heads are cracked by truncheons it is the echo of their vote for the continuation of capitalism. Any occupation of college or factory will be permitted grudgingly as long as it is not destructive or restrictive of other capitalist activities. If removal of the occupiers becomes necessary to the capitalist class, and dividing the workers by offers such as differential wage awards is not possible, then workers, including students, will be ejected by force. The muscle men, that is the police and if necessary the armed forces, will physically evict occupiers on government orders.

The majority of students fail to recognise that the class division of society is reflected in the class organisation of education. It cannot be otherwise in capitalist society. No society educates for its own destruction. Capitalist education can only aim to promote its own development—to produce managers, scientists, technologists, skilled and unskilled workers who are complacent and pliable. Capitalist education cannot be critical of the wage-labour and capital relationship. It must concern itself with the preservation of private property and the promotion of commodity production, the basis of capitalist society.

If students want full and free participation in education it can only be obtained in one way: by removing the class basis of society and establishing Socialism. But they must recognise that Socialism cannot be established piecemeal by isolated attacks, which never succeed, on aspects of capitalism; or by occupying colleges and factories. Demonstrations against war or for lower rents or the occupation of buildings, do not advance the spread of socialist knowledge one iota. In fact they confuse the issue by suggesting that there are solutions within capitalism to its own endemic diseases. War, Want, and Insecurity in all their facets.

Ken Knight

[1] L.S.E. Magazine No. 35, June 1968, quoting The Illustrated London News 16.3.68.
[2] L.S.E. Ad-Hoc Occupation Committee leaflet: OCCUPATION: THE BROADER ISSUES 25.10.68.
[3] L.S.E. Ad-Hoc Committee for Occupation leaflet: THE OCCUPATION – WHY? about 23 or 24.10.68.
[4] L.S.E. Socialist Society leaflet: WHERE NOW FOR THE STUDENT MOVEMENT? about 28 or 29.10.68.