The annual conference of the Socialist Workers Party, which took place in London last weekend, was enthused by the excitement of the new student movement.
Over 700 delegates and observers from every part of Britain came together to discuss opposition to the coalition government, the racist right, and war and imperialism.
The gathering was young, with many delegates from schools and universities.
Most had led walkouts, protests and college occupations in recent weeks. Their energy and enthusiasm was felt in many of the sessions.
In an opening address, Alex Callinicos from the SWP’s central committee formulated the key tasks of conference.
“Every political situation can be seen as a cluster of contradictions that cause a knot. The test of a revolutionary is to find the right threads to pull to cause the knot to unravel,” he said.
“In Britain, the student struggle is that thread.”
“However,” he added, “it is important that we put it in context. We are in the third year of a severe economic crisis.
“It is true that there has been a limited revival of economic growth in many countries recently, but these economies have emerged loaded with the debts of the bailouts of 2008-9.
“Now financial speculators are targeting those they think are overburdened—like Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy—and demanding more cuts.
“But the problems are not confined to the debtor nations—they are also a source of tension in the creditor and debtor states.”
Alex pointed to Germany, which has been a major source of credit to struggling European economies and banks, and is now arguing for deeper “austerity programmes” at home and abroad.
“There is conflict between different sections of the global ruling class,” said Alex. “But they are all agreed that it is the working class who must pay for the crisis.
“Their problem is that their demand for even greater cuts is provoking resistance, with general strikes in many countries, including France, Spain, Portugal and Greece.
“Of course, that resistance is spread unevenly across Europe. Britain, for example, has not yet witnessed a general strike, but we do have the student struggle.
“This combines a wave of militant university occupations, a phenomenon we have witnessed before, with something quite new for us—the elemental class rebellion of school and further education students often from poor working class backgrounds.
“What has made the student movement so explosive is the coming together of these two elements.”
Understanding the class nature of the rebellions is crucial to grasping why the students have shocked the political establishment, said Alex.
“Their struggle has become a lightning rod for millions of others in Britain,” he said. “And, in that sense they constitute the first genuine social movement since the anti-poll tax struggle of the early 1990s.
“Our most important task is help to spread the militancy and imagination shown by the students to the broader working class movement. And here we face some difficulties.
“First, the rhythm of student struggles is normally much faster that those of the working class.”
Alex said this reflected the way the discipline of wage-labour means the cost of collective action can be much higher for workers.
“Second, the working class has to contend with the problem of the trade union bureaucracy.
“On the need to fight the cuts, there is a marked gap between their rhetoric and the action they are prepared to call.
“Even the left wing trade union leaders have so far failed to announce any concrete dates for the coordinated strike action we need.
“So we cannot simply rely on them to deliver action.
“Instead we have to fight for a strategy that rests on the unions’ rank and file. We need to find ways to give them the confidence to act independently if necessary.”
Alex concluded by arguing that the SWP has a crucial role to play in that process and that it must urgently grow in numbers and influence.
Events of recent weeks provided ample evidence that this was possible, he argued.
“We need to win a whole new generation of young fighters to revolutionary Marxist politics,” he said. “
- Sat 29 Jan: national protests against education cuts, London and Manchester. http://educationactivistnetwork.wordpress.com
- Sat 5 Feb: UAF national demo against the EDL, Luton. Go to www.uaf.org.uk
- Sat 12 Feb: a people’s convention against the cuts, London. Go to www.righttowork.org.uk
- Sat 26 March: national TUC demo against the coalition’s attacks, London