Spreading Marxist ideas

Ted North reports on the Sheffield University student union elections

Communist Students stood two candidates in elections to Sheffield University student union executive - Laurie McCauley for president and Huw Groucutt for education officer. Both received around 140 first-preference votes (5.2%) in the STV election.

This is not bad, considering the general nature of our period and the depoliticised atmosphere on our campuses. The winners - indeed all the candidates - were, as far as we could judge, apolitical, and very, very dull. The fact that only 2,700 students out of nearly 25,000 voted shows the lack of politicisation - Sheffield had one of the highest turnouts in Britain! The good news is that Laurie McCauley was elected as delegate to NUS conference.

But the primary purpose of our campaign was to spread the ideas of revolutionary politics. Not water them down to try and get elected, the modus operandi of much of the ‘Marxist’ left; to us, principles come first, not training bureaucrats through the NUS machine. Communist Students were on campus every day of the campaign, despite our reduced numbers in Sheffield this year.

The divided, sectarian and ideologically barren nature of most of the left is, unsurprisingly, rather unattractive to most students. Thus, while we distributed a large number of leaflets, it was hard to engage people in discussion or debate on Marxist politics. But many said they admired our standing on principles. It is not just revolutionaries who get pissed off with the annual personality contest that the union elections have become: the people dressed in stupid costumes, the irritating and meaningless chants. By the end, the annoyance of having to take yet another leaflet was clear in people’s eyes.

The student union’s Steel Press (think of a hybrid of the Sun and the Times with a student slant) carries the comment: “Whatever one’s opinion of the Communist Society [sic], their approach to last year’s elections - in a which a communist representative ran for every post - highlighted the fact that we don’t ordinarily expect our candidates to actually stand for very much at all.”

This hits the nail on the head. Whilst most students do not hold radical ideas at the present time, a united left challenge (on Marxist politics, not lowest-common-denominator claptrap) is not only possible, but necessary. Interestingly, at least six of the 15 Sheffield NUS delegates are leftwing to some degree, ranging from Student Broad Left (Socialist Action in a student coat), through Education Not for Sale (sponsored by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty), to Respect (Socialist Workers Party).

So where now? In the short term Sheffield Communist Students will be standing in the next phase of the elections (more on this soon). Communists need to win the leadership of the struggle of the working class, including its student component. The growing depoliticisation and alienation from the bureaucratic misleaders of our unions must be positively overcome. Whilst the left sects fight amongst themselves and water down their politics in a desperate attempt to attract votes, the right wing continues to tighten the screws.