David Adelstein writes: There are two current views held by the socialist left on the value of a radical student movement. One sees the waste of student militancy through identifying the students’ social role as essentially intellectual. If students can be encouraged to make an intellectual assault upon society then they offer a potential ideology to a working-class movement. This seems to be the position taken in your article entitled ‘Student Power: what is to be done?’ The other view holds that the only useful task students can perform is to actively assist in the class struggle. The sole purpose in student institutional struggles is thus to recruit for the ‘real struggle’.
Although both views express what will become important functions of the student movement I believe that to concentrate on either is to misunderstand the actual potential of student revolt.
The basic conflict in higher education is that between the supremacy of liberal dilettantism and economically necessary technocratic education. This conflict is concisely embodied in the ‘Binary System’ and all other contradictions focus on it. The ideal-type product of the first culture is the non-specialized graduate trained to cope with unstructured situations. The ideal-type product of the second is the person trained to combine a specialised and applied training with an ability to deal in unstructured situations, i.e. combined with the qualities of management and leadership.
This conflict exists more extremely in England than in any other advanced capitalist system. Its resolution in higher education offers the socialist great opportunities. For in order to overcome the feudal tradition a much more extreme alternative than the mere bourgeois technocratic model can be realistically offered. This involves specifying a third ideal-type: the student-worker. In its essence the concept of the student-worker hold the unity of intellectual and practical work. It says that students should work and workers should study. Both are socially necessary. It sees the relationship between student and worker as a continuance rather than a disjuncture, as mixed rather than segregated.
The concept of the student worker implies an extension of the feeble policy of The National Union of Students for the comprehensivization of higher education. Such a system would embrace the three million students in part-time further education as well as those in apprenticeship, adult education and industrial retraining schemes. The concept highlights the contradiction between the stratifying and individualizing functions of education and the economic need for collective, critical and productive work. The resolution of this lies in the concept of student power: complete, democratic, student control over courses, teaching methods and examinations as well as the administration of institutions.
The concept of the student worker implies the close adherence of higher education to industry. Both the ‘intellectualists’ and the ‘real strugglers’ oppose this. One sees critical thought as independent of work; the other wants critical thought to be independent of the capitalist system. The student-worker view asserts the identity of critical thought with social needs but challenges the actual power structure through which social needs are decided.
In postulating the notion of a student-worker I am not supposing that it corresponds to reality. I am suggesting that it approximates to a future socialist possibility and ought therefore to be the theoretical kernel of the student movement.