On May 7th 200 students and staff demonstrated against a talk to be given by Dr Inch of Porton Down, the government germ warfare establishment on Salisbury Plain. On the 10th, despite the fact that the demonstration was eventless, the Vice-Chancellor suspended three of us. A mass meeting convened within minutes of the suspension and, aside from a break for the weekend, carried on continuously until the 20th. On Friday 17th, students jubilantly acclaimed a victory because, by a technical device, Pete Archard, Rafi Halberstadt and I were reinstated. But what in fact had we won, and what had we lost?
A number of conflicts were highlighted by these expulsions. Firstly, there was a conflict which greets every demonstration here. We are on a remote campus near a remote town in which political activity is non-existent. Not, lamentably, having created political situations in town, we have engaged in demonstrations against particular political objectives on campus. The result is that we are always acting within the bounds of control of the University. Secondly, there is a critical difference between the cultural attitudes of the Senate members and ourselves. They are from a generation which is paranoid about both Communism and Fascism on the grounds that they inhibit ‘free speech’—a mystified absolute. We are a post-cnd generation, taught our final lessons in Grosvenor Square. Against Inch we knew the value of demonstrations, and would repeat the demonstration tomorrow.
The issue around which the mass meetings coalesced was the fact that three people were victimized without even being told what they were supposed to have done. Essentially this is a liberal issue if it is not seen that the University is engaged in manufacturing degrees, and the investors in the factory will not tolerate dissent. (Here they won’t even
The lessons are these. We must not be afraid of polarization. If there is a moderately large minority committed to action, as there was, they must begin as soon as is possible to hold sanctions over the University. We had a chance to do this on Monday 13th, taking part of the building and confiscating the property of the administration, but we mis-timed the attempt. Secondly, the staff must not be encouraged to come in too soon. They cannot help being a moderating influence since they can scarcely incite us to seize the University. What we should do, if the situation were to arise again, would be to behave as provocatively as necessary and to effectively sanction the University to the extent that they need to use force, probably the police. Complete occupation of offices rather than corridors will achieve this. It is at this stage, that the administrations commit their ultimate folly, and it is at this stage that the staff and less political students will feel encouraged to enter a situation already politically structured.
The crucial point is this. Universities are linked to a set of productivity norms which, in order to be met, need a system as authoritarian as any other factory. Expose that, by linking it with outside repressive forces, police, demands for action from the University Grants Committee and so on, and the first cracks will appear in the façade. When the outside insists on coming inside, we will know two things. One, we will lose; but the loss of ‘socialism on one campus’ is inevitable and should stimulate support in all the others during the really hard struggle. Two, we will have won, because we will force the Administrations to openly show their relation to the capitalist machine, and the institutions’ implicit aim of producing a new generation of managers to rule the working class. Maybe, at that point, the students who will go from a position of militancy into the outside world—who will be expected to fit in, to teach children to leave school at 16 to work the rest of their lives on a shop floor, to socially engineer the decaying capitalist structure to keep the whole nauseating apparatus from collapsing—will ask exactly what the point of their education was, and what use it could be towards making a socialist society. And maybe the workers will begin to ask why they are bearing the brunt of the cost to finance the production of their future governors.