For a week last March normal life in the London School of Economics was violently disrupted. For nine days and nights students maintained permanent occupation of the lse buildings, braving suspension, police intervention and constant obloquy from almost every newspaper, magazine, television commentator. Classes and lectures were largely boycotted. Under student pressure the administration were forced to keep the School running continuously. Their efforts to deny the students heat, light and even access to sanitation were thwarted. In the main hall, during normal teaching hours, the students were lectured by someone whose contract had been refused renewal by the economics faculty a year before. During the nine days, the students received messages of solidarity and support from 357 student bodies: from outside Britain, they received support from France, Spain, Latin America, the United States and Scandinavia. With the exception of just one person the entire National Union of Students endorsed their action at the Easter Conference.
A measure of the presence of the students’ revolt was the extent of the denunciation it prompted from public figures. Not just petty pundits such as Kingsley Amis chimed in with unctuous propositions that the students ‘be punished for breaking the rules’, but Labour’s Minister of State for Education thundered his disapproval. In words that rise automatically to the lips of any Labour spokesman when confronted with social upheaval, he hastened to excoriate the ungrateful foreign elements that sowed such seeds of untimely discord, and of course, the small band of agitators and extremists, once again busy at their task of voracious disintegration. In a testy fugue of abuse Grimond reminded us of the profounder instincts of his party. Not since the seamen’s strike had there been such a hubbub of reactionary passion.
What detonated this explosion—one without parallel of the history of British student agitation? The elected Presidents of the Students’ Union and of the Graduates’ Association had been suspended for three months for exercising the inescapable functions of their office. The nine days of protest led not only to the reinstatements of the two Presidents, Adelstein and Bloom, but provided also a specific and a concrete perspective to the question of student power, and the question of the organization and content of university education.
What follows is an attempt to provide an account of these events, and what prompted them. We regard it as important that the specific narration that follows should be provided along with the more general discussion of student power. Unquestionably students in other universities cannot take the course of events at the lse as a specific model, though they can learn some lessons from it, both as regards the scale of the demands they may make, and the mode they may chose of attaining them. In every university students have a specific structure to deal with —the organization of their union, its relation to the various political societies, the money available. In a large-scale student revolt the organizers have to bear in mind not only the ultimate logic and direction of their demands, but also specific organizational tasks, from an abundance of mimeographed information to, if it is necessary, the proper organization of a press office. Sooner or later in such struggles, the students must confront the whole ideology of further education in this country—the notion of the servicing station zealously maintained
Even before the announcement of the appointment of Dr Adams as Director of the lse, at the beginning of the summer vacation of 1966, there had been some pointers to later events. David Adelstein was prominent in a struggle within the lse Union over its attitude to the affiliation of the National Union of Students to the right wing International Students Congress and to the nus’s ban on political discussion. In itself this struggle helped to transform the union into a political organizational body. Previously it had been merely a debating floor. More important was student involvement in the protest against the School’s refusal to renew the appointment of Sean Gervasi, an assistant lecturer in economics. This news was released right at the end of term: few students were still present. But a crowded union meeting discussed the question of whether students had any rights to challenge decisions of this sort, and decided they could. Thus, before Adams’ appointment was announced, two fundamental questions had been raised: students’ relation to wider areas of politics, and their relation to the running of the school.
In early summer 1966 the School announced that the post of Director was to be filled by Dr Walter Adams, Principal of University College, Rhodesia. Students had never asked for any consultation in the choice of a director, and at that time his role in Rhodesia was largely unknown. But the Private Eye carried an article denouncing the appointment. The story attracted the attention of the Union Council and of the Socialist Society, and the Socialist Society magazine Agitator issued a pamphlet on the Adams appointment as a special number, using official reports on events in Rhodesia since udi, and on Adams’ role in these events. The charges it levelled against Adams were as much of bureaucratic inefficiency as of effectively compromising the University with the Smith régime.
On the first day of the Michaelmas term, October 17th, 750 copies of this pamphlet were sold and a further 500 two days later. It was sent to Adams, to all members of the staff and the Board of Governors. On the 17th the Union Council agreed to support a private motion opposing Adams’ appointment. Four days later they passed a motion seriously questioning the appointment of Adams, and requesting him to furnish a reply to the charges levelled against him. By October 24th Adams answered that he had not seen the pamphlet: the union sent him a copy, but at the same time the Standing Committee of the Court of Governors decided to ‘request and advise’ Dr Adams not to reply. He never did.