The huge student protest on 10 November and the anger generated by the betrayal of election promises by the Liberal Democrats marks a new phase in British politics argues Neil Faulkner.

MK Students

The student demonstration in Central London on Wednesday 10 November was a turning-point in British politics. The first mass protest against the cuts shattered the Con-Dem Coalition’s self-proclaimed ‘consensus’ about their austerity programme. It revealed a sharp polarisation between a militant minority determined to fight and a vicious right-wing government determined to cut. Millions are watching.

The demonstration was remarkable for its size, youth, and militancy. Around 50,000 took part. The great majority were 21 or under, and many were on their first demonstration. Most were university students, many from outside London. Hundreds of Scottish students travelled down on coaches the night before. Sheffield sent 20 coaches, Leeds eight. Some hundreds joined the march from each of several big London colleges.

In addition, there were groups of students from both FE colleges and school sixth-forms. The press reported that almost one in five of the 50-odd arrested were school-students.

Attempts by NUS national officials, in collaboration with the police, to corral the demonstration broke down. A large, noisy, confident feeder-march from ULU that the police had refused to sanction and the NUS leadership attempted to sabotage swelled to many thousands as it was joined by contingents from UCL, SOAS, LSE, and King’s. Twice, first in The Strand, later in Whitehall, there were surges through the police line to occupy the width of the road and re-energise the demonstration.

At the end of the march, the lobby of the Millbank building where the Tory Party offices are located was occupied. The resulting clash between police and demonstrators escalated into an attack on the building which became a magnet for thousands of students. The confrontation in and around the building lasted for several hours. The numbers involved and the mood – a mix of elation, festival, and raw anger – was extraordinary. A militant minority had taken direct action. A much larger minority – both at the time and since – supported it. One snapshot survey of London student opinion immediately after the demonstration reported that one in three backed the militants.

Equally, a large minority of workers clearly found the militancy of the demonstration inspiring. Lecturers at Goldsmiths College came out strongly in support of the students as soon as they became targets of media hostility. Several trade union leaders said that students and workers needed to link up. They reflected the view of millions of ordinary workers pleased to see that someone, finally, was hitting back.

The demonstration throws up many questions. What has caused the sudden explosion of student anger? What is the character of the new movement that may now be beginning to emerge, and what sort of relationship should it develop with the working class, the trade unions, and anti-cuts groups? And what is the way forward for both students and other activists?

The neoliberal incubator

Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a new movement bursts onto the stage of history. But it is not from nowhere. Beneath the gaze of the ruling class, the chattering classes, and their media echo-chambers, it has been forming and growing inside the incubator of the old order.

Repeatedly, in periods of relative calm, the official view is that society is harmonious and consensual. The current version of this is the oft-repeated government claim that most people ‘recognise that the cuts are unavoidable’.

But a class society based on exploitation and alienation, in which some are rich at the expense of many who are not, is never harmonious and consensual. If it is calm, it is not because the people at the bottom endorse the greed of the rich; it is because they think they are powerless to change it. But that does not alter the reality of exploitation and alienation. It does not abolish the contradictions of class society. It merely drives them underground. And there, unseen, they incubate.

The neoliberal era (1979 onwards) has been dubbed the Age of Greed. The Eighties were a decade of massive set-piece class struggles, in which, generally speaking, the workers were defeated. Because of this, in the Nineties and the Noughties, the rich got much richer. Wealth was redistributed from the working class and the welfare state to the bankers, big business, and everyone who lived off profit rather than wages. The average chief executive earned 25 times the pay of an average worker in 1990, but 120 times as much by 2008. Because of that, between 1990 and 2008, the number of people worth at least £5 million doubled, and the number of billionaires tripled.

Ordinary people have been at the sharp end of this world of greed and growing inequality. Privatisation has turned public services like transport into rip-offs run by profiteers. Cutbacks have led to spiralling charges for things that used to be free or low-cost. The universities epitomise this world of private greed and public squalor.

Corporate capital is invited to build new glass-and-concrete monuments on campuses even as departments close and lecturers are sacked. Student numbers soar, but maintenance grants are abolished, tuition fees are introduced, and the cost of university education ratchets upwards. The plan now is to send tuition fees through the roof, in effect privatising the universities by slashing the teaching budget by 80%, and making students pay almost the full cost of their education. Graduates used to start working life with a clean slate. Now, in homage to the Age of Greed, they are saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of debt.

But it is very different at the top, where bankers have been paying themselves six-figure bonuses, and MPs helping themselves to public money to maintain their multiple luxury homes. And because there has been no organised opposition, the greed, corruption, and self-interest of the elite has been blatant. Exposed stuffing their pockets, they have shrugged their shoulders and carried on. There is an arrogance of power. An echo of ‘let them eat cake’.

Meantime, the world is on fire. Giant energy and transport corporations burn the planet in the interests of profit. Latter-day imperialists have been killing Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan to make the world safe for Shell and Texaco. ‘Democratic’ politicians condone torture, deportations, and backstreet racism.

The student revolt is, in part, an expression of the accumulated revulsion and resentment evoked by the Age of Greed. But two other factors play critical roles: the failure of traditional forms of opposition; and the rise of the extra-parliamentary protest movement.

The trade union movement has not yet recovered from the defeats suffered in the 1980s. One by one, the big battalions of organised labour – the steelworkers, the miners, the printers, the dockers – went down to defeat. Since then, union membership has been cut to barely half its 1970s peak, and the strike rate has been stuck at rock-bottom for two decades. Millions of young workers have no experience of trade unionism at all, and millions of unionised workers have little experience of workplace activity or any real sense of collective strength. Union action is usually limited to bureaucratically-controlled token strikes, hedged in by legal restrictions, and ground down by interminable balloting and re-balloting.

The Labour Party, traditionally the political embodiment of trade-union opinion, has been partially hollowed out by the decline of its organised working-class base and its embrace of the dominant neoliberal ideology of free markets, privatisation, and competition. In policy almost indistinguishable from its Tory and Liberal-Democrat ‘opponents’, and responsible in government for driving through a series of neoliberal counter-reforms at the expense of its own supporters, Labour’s membership and core electorate are deeply demoralised. Blair, Brown, and New Labour have created an ‘oppositionless’ Parliament, in which the aspirations of ordinary people – against privatisation, for the NHS, against war, for welfare, and so on – are no longer represented in mainstream politics. Little wonder that more than 45% of 18-34 year-olds quizzed in 2008 said that they had ‘little or no confidence in Parliament’.

Little or No Confidence in Parliament

The ‘democratic deficit’ was exploited by the Liberal-Democrats in the May 2010 general election. Clegg made a series of clear-cut commitments, among them an unequivocal undertaking to oppose any increase in student tuition fees. His abandonment of all these commitments, in particular that on fees, seems to have become a lightning rod for accumulated bitterness about the democratic deficit. Hundreds of thousands of students, voting for the first time, took him at his word and ‘agreed with Nick’ at the ballot box. The lies, corruption, and self-interest of the political elite are things to which the middle-aged have become hardened. Not so – and rightly not so – the young. The sense of betrayal, and the consequent anger against Clegg, was visceral on the 10 November demonstration. The trashing of the Tory Party offices was blowback from the democratic deficit.

In sharp contrast is the Noughties tradition of mass protest. During the decade, hundreds of thousands participated in a series of massive demonstrations against imperialism and war. As recently as January 2009, around 150,000 took part in a militant demonstration outside the Israeli Embassy in response to the Israeli attack on Gaza. Other issues have also mobilised large numbers: 100,000 marched against climate change in December 2009, and around 50,000 participated in the March-April 2009 protests during the G20 summit. These demonstrations have involved huge numbers of students. A wave of small-scale university occupations followed the January 2009 Gaza demonstration, and a large proportion of the marchers on the December 2009 climate demonstration were school students. During the Noughties, then, the gap left by the oppositionless politics of the mainstream was filled, to some extent, by a new culture of mass street-protest involving large numbers of young people.

In short, the student revolt has been fostered by three factors in combination: the greed, profiteering, and inequality of the neoliberal era; the weakness of the organised working class and the hollowing out of mainstream politics; and the recent experience of mass street-based protest. But its eruption has been precipitated by two more immediate events: the September 2008 Financial Crash, and the May 2010 election of the Con-Dem Coalition.

For a generation, while politicians preached the virtues of the free market and privatisation, the rich had got richer at the expense of the rest in a casino-economy fuelled by debt and speculation. Then the bubble burst, and suddenly, in the mother of all U-turns, we witnessed the biggest state bailouts ever seen. Across the globe, trillions of dollars were shovelled into the banks. In the batting of an eyelid, a bubble of private greed was transformed into a black hole of public debt.

Then, as the banks stabilised, and profits and bonuses were restored, European governments, now saddled with debt, inaugurated the Age of Austerity by announcing comprehensive attacks on the jobs, wages, pensions, benefits, and public services of ordinary people. In Britain, the scale of the attacks is at the extreme end of the spectrum.

The Con-Dem Coalition Government, 18 of whose 23 Cabinet ministers are millionaires, has announced public spending cuts unlike anything attempted since the 1920s. The Liberal-Democrat members of the Government have reneged on every significant commitment made during the General Election. Tory members of the Government welcome the opportunity they see to ‘roll back the state’, destroy the welfare state, and transform British society in the interests of the rich, the banks, and big business. When Chancellor George Osborne sat down in Parliament after announcing the cuts, Tory MPs cheered and waved their order papers at the prospect of a million more on the dole, cuts in benefit for the poorest in Britain, and a tripling in university tuition fees.

The economic threat to students is extreme. Fees already mean poverty and debt. The proposed fee increases mean much greater poverty and debt, and the certainty that working-class students will be deterred from applying, so that university education will be increasingly skewed by wealth. But that is only half of it. The Con-Dem cuts will add a million to the dole, perhaps more, if, as seems likely, the economy nosedives into a full-scale depression. That will leave hundreds of thousands of graduates without jobs.

The Con-Dem Government has not only launched a class war to bail out the system and the millionaires. Such is the arrogance of the business and political elite after 30 years of neoliberalism that they are bragging openly about how they are going to transform Britain in their own interest. The factors that have given rise to the student revolt have been operative for a generation. But it is the crash, the cuts, and the open class character of the Con-Dem regime that have detonated it.

The power and the glory

Student protest can suddenly break the surface calm of decades. When it does so, its spontaneity, dynamism, and self-confidence can be an inspiration. It can express the sullen bitterness and outrage of millions who, at first, remain passive, ground down by the routines of the workplace and the home, cowed by the boss, fretting about the mortgage and the bills.

What is it about the social position of students that enables student protest to erupt suddenly, achieve rapid momentum, and become a lightning rod for wider social discontents?

Much time was wasted during the upsurge of 1968-1975 debating whether or not students were part of the working class. The matter is fairly simple. The student body at any moment is drawn from all social classes, though disproportionately from the ruling class and the middle class. Equally, its members are destined to fill positions in all social classes, though again, disproportionately positions in the ruling class and the middle class. It is inherent in the student condition that it is a transitional state of being. Because of this, students, considered as political actors, are influenced by a) their class of origin, b) their immediate material circumstances, and c) their aspirations for the future.

A good proportion of students in Britain today are, in fact, from working-class backgrounds. The working class (including families) forms about 80% of the population, ranging from professional workers like teachers and lecturers to unskilled manual workers and poor people living on benefits. What defines this class is that none of its members shares in the distribution of profit; the wages, pensions, and benefits received are worth less than the value of the work actually done.

On the other hand, there are around 50 billionaires and 250,000 millionaires in Britain. With their families, they constitute about 2% of the population. The bulk of their wealth has not been created by their own work; whatever form it takes – executive salaries, bank bonuses, property portfolios – it represents a share in profit: a share in the surplus created by the work of others.

Between the working class and the ruling class is an intermediate class of mixed character. Some own medium-sized businesses. Some work as senior professionals, administrators, or managers. Many, in one way or another, are involved in directing and policing the labour of the working class. Their relatively high incomes and comfortable lifestyles are their reward, and their outlook tends to be correspondingly conservative and smug.

How do students fit in? To repeat, the student body is recruited from all three main classes, and its members are destined to fill positions at all three levels. Most students are young and all are in transition. They are, in a sense, suspended in an ill-defined space between their social origins and their social destination. But this makes them, as a group, fluid and volatile.

School, college, and university education are preparation for the world of work. Poverty and debt poison student life, but at least they are not compounded by the fear of unemployment, home repossession, and family destitution that afflicts workers. Students are relatively free of wider responsibilities; freer, therefore, to take the risks inherent in rebellion.

They also enjoy greater control over their own time than workers subject to labour discipline. Students can join a demonstration by skipping a lecture; for workers to do so, they must strike, a far more serious matter. And the student milieu is one in which reading, thinking, and debating are encouraged; new ideas – in theory at least – are the very stuff of academic life. Workers, on the other hand, are expected to apply operational knowledge and otherwise to do what they told; they are not required to question or think critically about the status quo.

Students carry minimal political baggage. They are not hidebound by the routines of either electoral politics or the trade union committee. New to politics, they have not yet been ground down by the bureaucracy, conformity, and repressiveness of the system. Older activists are often afflicted with a world-weary cynicism and pessimism. Many workers, once active, have long since relapsed into apathy, their youthful dynamism and idealism worn away by long years of apparently futile effort. Many more have succumbed to the relentless bombardment of reactionary argument: ‘there is no alternative’, ‘there will always be rich and poor’, ‘everyone has a chance to better themselves’. The young, by contrast, are fresh to struggle, and carry none of this baggage.

By the same token, the injustices of the system, and the lies and hypocrisy of the political elite – things which might yield only tired resignation in the middle-aged – provoke outrage in the young precisely because they are new and unexpected. Young people are taught the virtues – and they are virtues – of honesty, tolerance, free speech, democracy, and equality of opportunity. Then they discover that politicians are liars, voting does not change anything, and society is riddled with injustice and racism. So, outraged and affronted by the hypocrisy of it all, they rebel.

The age and social position of students mean, then, that they have a greater freedom and propensity to fight back. For the same reasons, spontaneity, volatility, and dynamism are characteristic of student revolt. Student protests can spread and escalate rapidly, and as they do, drawing large numbers of young people into political activity, there is excited debate around new ideas and mass consciousness can change fast and chaotically. Workers are held down by the heavy ballast of exploitation, alienation, everyday routine, and the bureaucratic sclerosis of traditional labour organisation. Students are not; in consequence, their anger can erupt suddenly and with extraordinary militancy and radicalism.

In what Chris Harman has called ‘the fire last time’ – the mass upsurge of struggle between 1968 and 1975 – the students led the revolt. On the night of 10-11 May 1968, thousands of French university and high-school students erected barricades in the streets of Paris and fought a pitched battle with paramilitary riot police. It was the culmination of a student revolt that had been gaining momentum for months. On 13 May, the city was witness to the biggest demonstration since the Second World War, as hundreds of thousands of workers marched in solidarity with the students. A week later, millions of workers were on strike, and hundreds of thousands had occupied their factories: France was on the brink of revolution.

The movement was defused – but only with the granting of massive concessions by the government and an all-out effort to defuse the movement by the leadership of the unions and the old left parties. But we learn a valuable lesson: the students could not win alone. The struggle turned critical when the mass of the working class joined the battle.

The students are a minority of society, they are a transitional group of changing composition, and they do not have direct access to the levers of economic power. This remains true even today, when the student population is four times its size 40 years ago, and the student body has therefore become a much more proletarian one, both in social origin and in economic destination. Bigger and more proletarian, but still a minority, still transient, still without economic clout. The students, on their own, can win some battles for limited reforms, especially within their own institutions. What they cannot hope to do, on their own, is to win major class battles at a national level. With the full apparatus of capital and the state mobilised to implement the cuts, there is only one force in society with the potential power to stop them: the working class.

The power of the working class depends on two simple facts: a) it is the overwhelming majority of society (about 80% of the population), and b) it works collectively to create society’s wealth and therefore has the capacity both to stop the economy by strike action and to take over the running of the economy by seizing control of the workplaces. The students may have the glory of leading the struggle; but only the workers have the power to win it. Quite simply, except for big business and the state, there is no other force in society remotely comparable with the working class in terms of potential power.

The key issue in coming to terms with the student revolt is to understand both its potential and its limitations, and, on the basis of that understanding, to work for an alliance of students and workers in struggle – a coalition of resistance – that can break the regime.

The potential is greater today than it was in the 1960s. During the events in France in May 1968, many young workers joined the students on the streets, and it was this as much as anything that spread the infection of rebellion into the workplaces. This happened despite that fact that the student body at the time was much smaller and more middle-class than it is now.

Because of the example it sets, our rulers have every reason to fear the student revolt. Our job is to make their fear a reality.

Students, workers, and resistance

The accumulation of social contradictions in British society is now so acute that we are almost certainly entering a period of mass struggle. The student revolt may represent the first detonation. The future course of British society for a generation or more could be determined by the struggles of the next few years. The historical stakes are very high.

There are two ways to fight. You can fight wearing a blindfold, simply jumping about, lashing out, and hoping by chance to hit something. Or you can study the enemy, analyse your own strengths and weaknesses, learn the lessons of earlier fights, and develop strategy and tactics to maximise your chances of winning.

There is a rich history of popular struggle from which we can learn. But before discussing this, certain caveats must be entered. Each upsurge of struggle produces new forces, new methods, new organisations. Each upsurge is forced to bypass old institutions that have become sclerotic and conservative. Each upsurge leaves a backwash of cynics and sectarians who are unable to relate to a new mass movement.

Since 2007, when the credit crunch set in, the Old Left has failed to respond effectively to the greatest crisis of capitalism since the 1930s. Despite the collapse of Stalinism in Eastern Europe, and the hollowing out of Social Democracy in Western Europe, the Far Left, a small but significant political force created during the 1968-1975 upsurge of struggle, has failed to give an effective political lead.

Far Left organisations have had a major impact at several points in the history of the last 35 years – creating the Anti-Nazi League in the late 1970s, supporting the Great Miners’ Strike and other mass resistance to Thatcher in the early to mid 1980s, leading the Poll Tax Revolt of 1989, and, more recently, building the Stop the War Coalition into the biggest protest movement in British history.

All these successes involved relatively small revolutionary socialist organisations working with much larger social-democratic, trade union, and community organisations to build broad-based, inclusive, democratic mass campaigns. Instead of this, since 2007, different Far Left organisations have set up rival anti-cuts campaigns that are, in effect, party fronts. None has succeeded in reaching beyond the political ghetto of the party’s own members and close supporters. None has come anywhere near matching deeds to needs.

Yet the potential is clear. The Noughties was both a decade of neoliberalism and a decade of protest. To repeat: as recently as January 2009, 150,000 people – more than on any of the famous anti-Vietnam protests 40 years before – participated in a militant anti-war protest outside the Israeli Embassy; and in December 2009, 100,000 took part in Britain’s biggest ever demonstration on an environmental issue. In the protest movement – still very much alive – we can discern the shape of a New Left.

The ‘war on terror’ and its racist cousin, Islamophobia, have mobilised British Muslims in unprecedented numbers, and forged a strong political bond between Muslim community organisations and the Left.

Uncontrolled global warming has moved climate change to the top of the international political agenda and produced an upsurge of green campaigns and protests – an upsurge symbolised by the election of Caroline Lucas to Parliament as Britain’s first Green Party MP. Many British Greens – including Lucas herself – are part of the Left, and there is a strong relationship between the Green Left and the Red Left in the fast-growing Coalition of Resistance formed to co-ordinate a national campaign against the cuts.

A third dimension to the New Left is now represented by the anti-cuts campaigns springing up all over Britain. At present, in general, the lead is not coming from the workplaces and the union branches. Rather, activists from different unions are linking up with one another, and with other community-based activists, to build general anti-cuts campaigns and to organise street protests. The centre of gravity is the street, not the office or the factory.

This can change; indeed, in the long run, it must change if the cuts are to be stopped, for only the economic power of the working class will be sufficient to defeat capital and the state on what has become the central question of British politics. But the starting-point is the recent tradition of street protest. It is here that we find the bacillus of revolt which can infect the workplaces. It is pointless to counterpose a mechanical ‘syndicalism’ or ‘workerism’ to this reality. Right now, workers are more likely to find the confidence to fight back marching alongside students on the streets than in attending a small union branch meeting.

So we return to the students, who are now at the forefront of the struggle against the cuts, and who represent another constituent element of the New Left. We need to broaden and deepen the student movement, and we need to plug its dynamism into the rest of the working class. How should we do this?

The starting-point is the campus (using the term generically to include schools and colleges as well as universities). The aim should be to involve the largest possible numbers and to have the maximum amount of democracy. Most universities have student unions with democratic constitutions. If these can be activated so that union general meetings become the basis for debate and decision-making involving the largest possible numbers, they should be. But where the student union is bureaucratically controlled, or in schools and colleges where no student union currently exists, activists should call and build open meetings to discuss fighting the cuts.

Students need to link up with union activists on campus – the NUT (teachers), UCU (lecturers), UNISON (admin staff), and others. The education sector has around 55% union density; in manufacturingm industry, it is around 20%. Not only are universities, colleges, and schools a major part of the local economy; they are also centres of union strength. The 10 November demonstration was called jointly by NUS and UCU. The Goldsmiths lecturers immediately supported the students when they were attacked by the media. The cuts will lead to more closures and redundancies at the expense of campus workers. Campus workers have an interest in fighting the cuts alongside students.

Union density by industry
But this does not mean allowing the conservatism of lecturers to hold back the militancy of students. Students need to build their own organisation and action, and use this to galvanise wider resistance, seeking to draw lecturers and other campus workers into activity behind and alongside them.

It is the responsibility of every university, college, or school management to defend their institution, their staff, and their students; that is, it is their responsibility to fight the cuts. Any university vice-chancellor supporting increased tuition fees, or college principal cutting staff and courses, or school head seeking academy status is taking a stand alongside the Con-Dem Coalition against their own staff and students. Students should fight inside their own institutions for a policy of no closures, no redundancies, no fee increases, no collaboration of any kind with Con-Dem cuts or counter-reforms. Students should expose and oppose privatisation, corporate influence, and the commodification of education.

But the cuts affect everyone, and students need to look beyond the campus. In many towns, the local university is the biggest workplace and a key part of the local economy. Colleges and schools are central to their communities. Campuses can become centres of resistance in each locality infecting the wider working class with the spirit of revolt.

We need strong anti-cuts campaigns on every campus and in every town. But the cuts are a national issue and can only be defeated by national action. So the aim must be to use local campaigns to build national protests directed against the Con-Dem Coalition. The Government cannot afford to lose. The cuts are the central political issue. So we should be under no illusion that we have to prepare for the battle of our lives. Stopping the cuts will mean nothing less than a wave of giant demonstrations, mass strikes, and direct action to make Britain ungovernable.

That means creating a national organisation that is broad, inclusive, and democratic – not something controlled by bureaucrats or sectarians, but something open to every activist who wants to fight the cuts, and controlled from below by its own members. That is the vision behind the Coalition of Resistance (CoR). Wherever there are existing anti-cuts campaigns, we need them to affiliate to CoR. Wherever they do not exist, we should set up CoR groups to bring activists together – on campuses and in the community. CoR can become the organisational framework where we break down all sectional barriers, prevent any attempt to divide us, and stand together in opposition to every cutback.

The struggle against the cuts will be long and hard. We have to build a strong, stable, mass organisation – like the Stop the War Coalition – because we are in for a long haul. We have to create the basis for a sustainable struggle over many years. And we are going to have to fight hard. The gloves are off. The rich have launched a class war and the aim is to destroy the welfare state. We should not heed ‘moderate’ counsels on our side. We should not entrust our future to a parliamentary system hollowed out by lies, corruption, and careerism. We should not seek salvation in the ‘podium politics’ of bureaucrats and sectarians. Our fight will advance through direct democracy and direct action; that is, through mass struggle from below.

Within the growing network visualised here – linking campus and community, students and workers, the local and the national – we need to mix two different but complimentary elements: the (new) dynamism of the student revolt and the (traditional) politics of anti-capitalist struggle. The class struggle is always a fusion of the new and the old – present-day protest and the experience enshrined in people’s history.

The radicalism of the students can energise the rest of the movement. It is not a matter of student protest being reduced to the level of the more conservative; it is a matter of the students infecting the workers, the young inspiring the old, the most militant giving a lead to the rest. We want the revolt to burst through the barriers of bureaucracy and legalism. We do not want it channelled into ‘moderate’ lobbying; we do not want ‘the unity of the graveyard’. And we do not want the sectarian backwater of some party front controlled by apparatchiks. The student revolt needs to develop its own democracy and dynamic.

On the other hand, the more students can learn about how society works and how previous generations of activists have fought back, the better. People will become more determined and focused when they grasp the connections between the cuts, the war, climate change, and Islamophobia. They will organise themselves more efficiently, and adopt more effective methods of struggle, if they know about the student revolt in 1968, the fight against fascism in 1936, and the revolution in Russia in 1917. A growing movement is a ferment of debate, its horizons and ambitions for change expanding as understanding of the world’s inequalities, violence, and oppression deepens.

A high level of politics will also enable us to undercut the arguments of the government and the media, to develop an alternative programme, and create effective links between economic and political issues, the national and the local, the general and the specific. And this in turn will make it harder for the Con-Dems to divide us.

History is in the balance: do we go forwards to a better world, or do we let the millionaires return us to a 19th century world of profit without welfare? The students can never be history’s motor. Only the workers have the power to smash the Con-Dem Coalition and save the welfare state. But the students could well be history’s catalyst.

Thanks are due to Ady Cousins, James Meadway, John Rees, and Alex Snowdon for critical comments on the first draft of this article.

Neil Faulkner

Neil Faulkner is a freelance archaeologist and historian. He works as a writer, lecturer, excavator, and occasional broadcaster. His books include ‘A Visitor’s Guide to the Ancient Olympics‘ and ‘A Marxist History of the World: from Neanderthals to Neoliberals‘.