50 Years Ago – Students against democracy

Liverpool was proud of The Beatles and its connection with that Cunard Line. What the city thinks of the conference of the National Union of Students held there early April is another thing. Hundreds of delegates from universities, polytechnics etc. assembled for their annual jamboree. Over the years, this conference has endorsed some pretty queer ideas, but 1974 will go down as a vintage year.

This assembly debated students’ grants; elected a new President (a political loner we are told) by 21 votes; didn’t agree to send a delegation to Czechoslovakia to see if the Czech students’ union were democratic enough to form links with the NUS (would their journey have been really necessary?). Then came the body blow to democracy and the right of people to express their views. The outcome of this debate intimated they had a lot in common with the Communist-Party-dominated Czechoslovakia.

A majority of the delegates “voted yesterday to take whatever measures were necessary, including disruption of meetings, to prevent members of racialist or fascist organizations from speaking in colleges” (Guardian, 5th April, 1974).


The Socialist Party of Great Britain has personal experience of what happens when such a decision as that of the NUS is operative. We arranged a debate in North London against the National Front. An opportunity for the audience to weigh up the two conflicting schools of thought — socialist or nationalist. We were of the opinion that the audience would be able to judge for themselves the validity of the arguments. But our dear “lefty” types thought otherwise. They broke up the meeting. Did they consider the audience to be such a bunch of morons that they could not judge? Obviously they did, and this might just be the reason why these “revolutionaries” wish to appoint themselves as leaders of the masses. They know what is good for us — they know what we should hear.

Democracy, never a favourite word in their vocabulary, means a method of conducting affairs where a majority decision is reached on the basis of all information being readily available. Who are these self-styled dictators, who in the name of democracy, wish to decide what we shall or what we shall not hear? The suppression of “unpopular views” by violence does not eradicate these ideas. This can only be done by a free exchange of ideas.

(From Socialist Standard, May 1974)

Next article: Action Replay – Abuse of position ➤

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