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Students and revolt

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Organised students are a vital element of resistance writes Chris Harman
Issue 2134a
Students in Ireland protest against the proposed reintroduction of tuition fees in October 2008
Students in Ireland protest against the proposed reintroduction of tuition fees in October 2008

Greece, Italy, Spain, Ireland. The last two months have seen a new upsurge of student struggles, leading French president Nicolas Sarkozy to recall the student uprising in Paris in May 1968. He warned his fellow rulers of a “European 1968”.

In Britain students were central to the huge demonstrations against the Iraq war six years ago and they have been a vital component of the protests against the Israeli slaughter in Gaza.

The role of students will be no less vital in the period ahead. The “war on terror” still means the bombing of peasant villages in Afghanistan and North West Pakistan.

The instability that leads to these wars will only be increased by the development of the most serious economic crisis since the 1930s.


Often in the past student protests have acted as a detonator for wider movements.

This is because students are not tied eight hours a day to a workbench or office desk. They can get together to discuss and mobilise in a way that those who work full time can rarely do.

Like all young people, students can show a level of verve, imagination and fighting spirit that has often been knocked out of their elders by the daily grind of the existing system.

This was shown in the great wave of insurgency that swept the world between 1968 and 1974.

This went beyond the May events in France, to the struggles against the Vietnam War, the black movement in the US, and the agitation which eventually defeated the dictatorships in Greece, Portugal and Spain.

But not all students share the same interests. The majority will end up in humdrum jobs, but a minority aspire to join the wealthy classes and so identify with the existing system.

Radical students cannot themselves overthrow governments, stop wars or prevent economic crisis from devastating the lives of many millions of people.

That depends on the actions of the mass of people who, by working every day in factories, offices, mines and docks, provide the profits which keep the existing system going. It is when workers move that governments are toppled, as in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nepal in the last ten years.

It was the involvement of workers in the huge demonstrations initiated by students two years ago in France that defeated an attempt to restrict the workplace rights of all young people.

If you really want to transform society you have to be part of a wider organisation that aims to draw together the most militant workers as well as students.

Such an organisation has to win individual activists to see that their struggles are not just over individual issues. They are particular fronts in a struggle against a whole system.


The existing system maintains its power by a combination of economic, political and ideological domination.

You cannot fight it politically without also supporting every act of resistance against its attempt to make workers and students pay for its crisis.

Nor can you fight it without taking on the ideas promoted by those who run the universities and pumped out in a crude form by the tabloid press.

This is what the Socialist Workers Party tries to do, as the biggest revolutionary socialist organisation in Britain and part of an international network of such organisations.

If you want to fight against war, racism and the exploitation of the mass of people by small ruling classes, join us.

Chris Harman is editor of International Socialism journal »

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