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Back to the future?

Something of an impassioned debate has been taking place re; the future of the student movement. Despite seeming new and exciting its my view that this debate has run pretty much along firmly established lines. One side, throws the baby out with the bath water and declares everything that has gone before is rubbish. The other says ‘hold on a minute’ and makes some timely and no doubt prescient arguments about the things from the past that were not all that bad. We then enter the stage of completely false counterpositions. For example, leadership is counterposed to the ‘spontaneous movement’ as if one existed without the other. For every demo there are people behind the scenes organising in at least a rudimentary fashion and where would those people be and what would they organise if not the people who attended to ‘spontaneously’ express their anger? On the left, sometimes even the debates are distinctly old-hat.

Neither side expresses a wholly rounded truth; they merely express one-sided truths  and bicker endlessly and pointlessly with each other and that is a problem. Also, it should be noted that I have seen little involvement in this debate by the students themselves. Another problem. Personally, I would rather see this debate taking place in Universities up and down the country than in the pages of the Guardian’s Comment is Free. I am sure many students assiduously (to slip into lazy stereotyping) study the pages of The Guardian but nonetheless the point is the debate is still taking place above their heads and in their absence to some degree.

It seems to me the opponents of hierarchy lack something in terms of their inability to enunciate their critique in a consistently democratic way. This not only makes their criticisms largely ineffective and easily flattened but in some regards, in cack-handed dismissals of ‘sour-faced paper sellers’,  it also shows them up as being pretentious and only interested in establishing a new hierarchy that only differs from the old in the people who occupy the designated roles. In our past there is a rich tradition of struggle, self-activitity and even spontaneity that has as its locus the democratic struggle not just for greater political rights but also for social justice (an absolute precondition of a democratic society) and too arrogantly dismiss this is, well, very silly indeed.

Democracy is an over-used and abused word. For the right it means the freedom for things; markets and property to do as they please and trample over the rights of human beings. However, for the left it should be the central clarion call of the struggle to transform society. It is furthermore the glue which binds diverse movements, always a coalition of different interests and agendas, together and forges them into a singular fighting force capable of storming the great citadels of vested interest and social elites and tearing them down. The struggle for democracy scares capitalism much more than the struggle for socialism does because it has managed to separate the two in the popular mind.  If this movement wants to succeed then its top priority must be to reunite the two;only then will it succeed.

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