Space for questions and arguments

Dave McAllister attended a day school that drew out differences

Over 20 people attended the Communist Students day school in Manchester on Saturday October 17. Most were from the city, where our comrades have been working hard to build the event, though there was a good contingent from London and the south.

Entitled ‘Fighting for Marxism on campus’, the day school was intended to introduce the politics of CS, provide a space for questions and arguments around communism in general and CS in particular, and also to stimulate discussion around the critical questions facing revolutionaries today. The introductions to the sessions were filmed and will be available to view on the CS website soon.

Opening the first session, ‘A world in crisis: how can Marxism help us to understand and change it?’, Ben Lewis argued that crisis was inevitable under capitalism, but that it could only be understood by studying the underlying laws of the system and not by looking for an explanation in the actions of a few ‘greedy bankers’. Ben went on to argue that our task is to positively supersede capitalism, because it can never be run in the interests of the working class majority. There are no short cuts to be had through diluting our politics. Revolution, as the conscious act of the majority, will require a lengthy process of education and organisation to prepare our class for the assumption of power through the fight for radical democracy.

This introduction stimulated a good deal of debate on the nature of the current crisis and the likely political results. Some comrades thought we would see an intensification of capital accumulation across the world. Others argued that we would continue to see a cooling of the economy. The prospect of increased protectionism and national rivalry, the role of the EU as a supra-national power bloc and the rise of China’s economic power were also subjects of discussion.

Cat Rylance introduced the next session on the theme of internationalism, and began by emphasising that capitalism is a global system and Marxists see class, not nation, as determining people’s real interests. The working class, above all, must have an internationalist outlook, which takes its highest form in a workers’ international. But much of the left is steeped in left nationalism - while we might expect members of the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain to come out against open borders and for immigration controls, what should we say about the Socialist Party in England and Wales and its silence on the awful British nationalism of the CPB-inspired No2EU platform?

Then there was the Socialist Workers Party, whose ‘internationalism’ involves uncritically cheerleading various reactionary forces, such as Hamas and the Iranian government, just because they are against US imperialism. Cat contrasted the SWP’s belated recognition of democracy struggles in Iran with the consistent work of Hands Off the People of Iran, which was set up to fight for principled internationalism in the anti-war movement.

In the final session Chris Strafford gave an introduction on ‘Communist Students: who we are and what we fight for’. Chris maintained that CS was unique on the student left. Though initiated by members and supporters of the Communist Party of Great Britain, it enjoyed real autonomy as an organisation. We have our own conferences, where motions are voted on. Not rallies, where lines are handed down by a party apparatus. Debate is encouraged rather than stifled - indeed debates started in CS have been taken up by the CPGB. We are not interested in turning out conformist drones. CS was also unique in that it was the only left student group that campaigned for unity on the basis of Marxism. But we should recognise our own role in achieving such unity and try to win people to CS, argued Chris.

In the various contributions following the openings, comrades discussed the relationship between youth movements and ‘adult’ organisations, and what our political priorities should be in the coming year. In between sessions comrades were photographed with solidarity messages for our student comrades in Iran, who face beatings, arrest and torture when fighting the Islamic regime. Our solidarity work provides a great morale boost for these comrades, as well as practical assistance in terms of funds, etc.

The day school was a definite success in terms of introducing new comrades to the organisation and drawing out differences in analysis and politics, which can hopefully feed into a lively conference in spring 2010.

CS members held a business meeting the next day to discuss our plans for the new academic year. It was agreed that, with the help of new comrades who have recently joined, we should up the tempo of our work, with weekly stalls in Manchester, Oxford and various locations around London. We will also be standing candidates in student union elections.

The crisis of capitalism will not automatically turn the younger generations left - the most popular political society at Manchester University freshers fair was Conservative Future! There is a crying need for leftwing politics, however, but the divided left is incapable of producing an organisation that can provide the answers. Communist Students is here to agitate and organise, but also, crucially in this period, to educate. Our day school was a small contribution to that process, and a fine example of the open and democratic culture our class needs to practise.