Shaw and I have both assumed that as students are intellectuals, the issues of student politics must be discussed in the context of the problem of the role of intellectuals in the socialist movement. David Adelstein squarely attacks this view, and suggests that both our position and Martin Shaw’s are incorrect. Whereas many of Adelstein’s concrete criticisms of Student Power: What is to be Done? are telling, I am rather less happy about the concept of the ‘student worker’. For many purposes this slogan is adequate and effective, as it would be a considerable advance on the present position if student unions and the nus considered themselves as trade unions rather than debating societies, taking seriously their role in the defence of students as a social group—in this context the idea of the nus affiliating to the tuc is worth considering. Adelstein is quite correct to contrast this approach with the major functions of the English university system up to the present, dominated as it has been by Oxford and Cambridge: the acculturation of a ruling class and the stifling of any radical culture. But is an ouvrierist reaction the best way to promote the struggle for socialism—precisely when the old liberal education is at last under attack, not from a revolutionary standpoint, but from the standpoint of the neo-capitalist demand for highly trained labour? The alternative to situating student struggle in the field of the relations between intellectuals and the socialist movement may be to reduce it to a form of white-collar militancy. Whitecollar militancy has undoubtedly played a progressive role in the last decade; students as white-collar workers and students’ unions as a training ground for militants in some kind of radicalized ascw, would be a great advance on the present situation. But liberal higher education has been a barrier to the emergence of a revolutionary culture as well as to a university-trained proletariat. Does this pose the problem of alternative strategies, one intellectual and one ouvrierist?
Adelstein claims that it does not, for a radical intelligentsia can and must imply ‘the close adherence of higher education to industry’ and the intellectual work that Lenin saw as necessary to the practiee of a revolutionary movement can and must be performed by intellectuals who are workers and workers who are intellectuals. He agrees that this is not at present a reality, but as a possibility of the future it should govern present strategy—particularly the strategy of egalitarianism in higher education. But a strategic perspective should not fall into the utopian stance of ignoring the gulf that at present separates students and workers. For at present the slogan is far more likely to encourage the anti-intellectualism which is the common feature of the old liberal
The production of a revolutionary culture is as crucial a task in the present conjuncture as the creation of a radical student movement. The confusion of the student and worker, and the implicit reduction of student union activity to trade union activity ignores one of the crucial aims a student movement must set itself: the promotion of intellectual criticism of the content of higher education today.