Rooted on campus

Communist Students have been winning supporters at freshers fairs Chris Brandler reports from Manchester

Manchester Communist Students have gone from strength to strength over the past 12 months. At this year’s freshers fair we recruited three times as many students than the previous year, with nearly 170 signing up to the society.

For three days comrades staffed stalls inside and outside the University of Manchester Students Union, handing out thousands of leaflets, as well as the new edition of Communist Student, and selling the Weekly Worker and other leftwing papers, including The Commune. As well as getting through a mountain of literature comrades spent hours discussing and debating with freshers on topics ranging from ecology and the English Defence League to sexual liberation and the legalisation of drugs.

We were situated next to the recently established ‘Men’s Society’ and saw first hand the true nature of this new formation - members of Conservative Future staffed the stall and its members were calling for the abolition of the students union women’s officer position. The CS Manchester secretary has written for the women’s magazine The Riveter polemicising against the society and we will also be laying out our opposition to this misogynist club in the paper Student Direct. CS comrades will be standing shoulder to shoulder with women’s rights activists against any attacks on the women’s movement and the gains it has made over the last few decades.

Many freshers wondered why the left was so varied and fractured - there were stalls from the Socialist Worker Student Society, Socialist Students and the very dull and ultra-sectarian International Students for Social Equality, which is the student front of David North’s post-Healyite International Committee of the Fourth International. Alongside the organisations of the left, many campaigns were also present and out in force, including Action Palestine, which led the month-long occupation at the University of Manchester at the beginning of the year, Stop the War Coalition and Unite Against Fascism.

Manchester CS was the only left group to hold a meeting on campus during freshers week. We invited Mark Fischer from the CPGB to speak on Karl Marx, his ideas and the relevance of Marxism today. In a varied discussion we managed to get to grips with Karl Marx and ecology, the Spanish civil war and how to avoid another catastrophe like the Soviet Union. A member of the Socialist Workers Party was forced to admit that he secretly is a communist, but that we should not tell those outside the movement - after all, communism is associated with Stalinism, isn’t it?

In the next few months Manchester CS will be inviting speakers from different organisations, including Israeli socialist Moshé Machover, who will speak on November 4.

CS comrades also helped other supporters of the Hands Off the People of Iran, taking shifts on the Hopi stall and signing students up to the Hopi Society. Hopi showed Marjane Satrapi’s wonderful film Persepolis during freshers week, which drew over 40 people.

Peter Grant from the train drivers’ union, Aslef, and Ste Monaghan from the Anarchist Federation spoke of the importance of Hopi’s work in view of the current situation in Iran. The brief discussion we managed to have ranged from whether it is right to support the Iranian ‘reformists’ against the conservatives as the lesser evil to the massacres of the 80s in Iran.

Manchester CS is now looking to the future and has set out an ambitious timetable for study and action. We will be reading  Gramsci’s Prison notebooks over October, culminating in a public presentation and discussion. To facilitate this comrades have devised study packs and guides for all those interested. In November we have a French series, which will be kicked off with a study of Karl Marx’s The civil war in France, followed by a look at ‘The French Resistance and the Communist Party’ and the ‘Lessons of 1968’, and finishing off with a discussion on the New Anti-capitalist Party (NPA) led off by Tina Purcell. Comrade Purcell was at the NPA’s founding congress and reported on it for Permanent Revolution.

We have stalls planned over the coming term and will be helping other anti-war activists on campus get as many students down to the October 24 demonstration to end the occupation of Afghanistan.

We still have a long way to go in fleshing out our organisation, but we are firmly rooted on campus and have a new generation of young Marxist organisers preparing to study and educate, agitate for our politics and organise struggles on campus and beyond.