David Sabbagh reports on the excellent result that Communist Students achieved in the University of Sheffield elections
On March 1 the election results for the University of Sheffield student union sabbatical positions were announced. Naturally members of Communist Students who stood, together with supporters, were present for the results. While we never expected to win, given the current state of class-consciousness and the openly Marxist platform upon which we were standing, obviously we were still very interested to see how many people voted for a revolutionary change in student politics.
Whilst CS did not win any sabbatical position, our vote count was actually surprisingly good. Ben Lewis received 267 votes for president; Laurie McCauley (finance) won 313; David Sabbagh (welfare) got 343; Jamie Tedford (activities) picked up 243; and Carey Davies (education) did best of all with 503 votes. Our share of the vote varied between 5% and 11% - a result that will hopefully show that student elections do not have to be characterised by apolitical candidates and apathetic voters.
While comrade Lewis was some way short of being elected as union president, he was successful in his bid to be a delegate to the National Union of Students conference, which takes place in Blackpool at the end of the month. Communist Students will be arguing, among other things, for NUS to take a principled stand over the crucial question of Iran in a motion calling for support for the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign.
As for Sheffield student union's new officers, it was not so much their politics that was significant, but the fact that not one of the winners had declared their political or religious affiliation during the campaign. There was one member of Student Broad Left, one former leading member of Conservative Future and five from the Christian Union. Unlike CS, none of them saw fit to disclose their political views and beliefs to students.
Last week we noted that Sheffield University student union frequently harbours bureaucratic careerists, but with the success of the Christian Union there is now another element to be considered. Their membership of the CU came as a revelation to many and caused quite a stir - not simply because of their religious views and the politics that spring from them, but because of their failure to even mention them. Either they thought their CU affiliation was not important or they deliberately concealed it for fear of losing votes.
Some people were arguing that, unlike a person's politics, their religious beliefs are a private matter and therefore there was no need for the five to have revealed them. However, they were not standing simply as unconnected individuals who just happen to be religious, but as part of a CU bloc making a coordinated intervention into student politics. Even if they lack anything as sophisticated as a fully formed student programme, every proposal they make will certainly be coloured by their religio-political beliefs.
CS candidates, on the other hand, based our whole campaign on our revolutionary politics. Yet, instead of being praised for our honesty and openness, we were dismissed as insane by a few wiseacres on the left who just could not understand why we were standing on a communist platform, instead of adopting some anodyne, 'sensible' set of demands.
Unlike the CU, however, we believe in telling it like it is. The purpose of our election campaign was threefold: agitation, education and organisation - to have been elected would have allowed us to further those aims at a higher level. But there is no point standing as a communist and not telling the truth - how does this help? While it might have been easier to run on a straightforward 'no fees, bring back grants' campaign, this would hardly help students to understand the cause of their problems or show how and why it is possible for students to live a full and decent life.
Sam Durk of the Socialist Workers Party, standing for Respect, did beat comrade Tedford by around 125 votes on his simplistic 'fund education, not war' platform, while Louise Gold of the Alliance for Workers' Liberty (standing as No Sweat) gained 667 votes for her own eccentric soft left campaign for women's officer. But neither came anywhere near being elected and did not even attempt to win students to the politics of the working class.
Of course, we knew that standing on an openly Marxist platform would mean fighting an uphill battle (with the left, as well as with the general student population), but in a sense it was a battle we won. No, we did not get elected or even come close, but this was never the main point. In the past few weeks Communist Students have challenged many, many people to think, to view things differently - for some it has been the first time in their life that they have come across communist ideas. Also we ensured that CS will now be recognised as a significant player on campus. Hopefully a much wider number of students will now realise that university elections can be about the biggest, the most important issues.
We are not currently living in a period where communists can expect to get elected easily. However, we can raise our profile and, just as importantly, paint a picture of communism rather different from the Stalinist nightmare that many perceive it to be.
Over the last two weeks we addressed students directly though hustings and posters and gave out over 5,000 leaflets. We showed that communist ideas are not only relevant in the here and now, but are essential to equip workers and students with the means to fight for a better world.