The Red Base is usually discussed in an ahistorical way, and like anything else, when subjected to such treatment, it doesn’t make much sense. In a brief outline, I hoped to place it firmly on the ground of historical process, and to point out at least one of the potential advances.
The leftist political movement among students had its roots in relatively inauspicious days when students were involved in the campaigns of the Labour Party, on a large scale in 1964 and on a much smaller scale in the jaundiced years between 1965–66. Doubtless we could suggest other basic reasons in the development of the movement to that point, the relative sexual liberation of young people, the decline of the cnd and hostility to its methods, but I think there is little doubt that the existence prior to 1964 of Conservative Governments was a key factor in mystifying the potential of the Labour Party, and many people fell prey to it. The two and a half years from 1966 show a parallel development of the leftist student movement along three tracks. In the first place there was a feeling that active participation (take over) of the student organizations was the order of the day, and effort shifted to local student unions and to the nus. Talk was of ‘student trade-unionism’; it took a short time for many advanced cadres to recognize that such a notion was absurd outside the orbit of mass action and participation. We had made the first moves: these institutions were obviously designed to lead nowhere. At the same time, the first radical broad based movements were forming, and although the rsa has somewhat given way to the rssf, the change is rather more profound than it is apt to look. That is illustrated by the third parallel change.
When the first student sit-ins took place two years ago, it was not clear that the effects of the action would stretch very much further than the walls of the College or University. The fact that they did was illustrated in action, and the realization has remained with us ever since. It is again a profound change, from fighting for something ‘better’ or ‘more democratic’ ‘in’ the College, to see that one is dealing with a corporate social institution. rsa is a child of the first era, and the fact that it hasn’t ever fully escaped into the second, whose political lessons are so much more crucial, is illustrated by its persistence in playing nus political games, rssf is bedded on the ground rock of the realization of the social complicity of the University, its wide manipulative functions and its hierarchical purposes.
At each stage in the development sketched, from institutional participation to anti-institutional action, from a relatively constitutional movement to highly radical movement, from internal, bourgeois action to widely committing radical social action, new and more vigorous demands have been made. Those formulated in the rssf manifesto will not be the last, for there are no ultimate demands, but they do represent an acknowledgement of the previous history of the movement and they do move in the direction shown by its dynamic. The major innovation in those demands is the imperative to form red bases. Were one to imagine that this requires militants to abandon all other work to establish them tomorrow, the scepticism mentioned would be justified. Clearly, the rssf prognosis has learnt the past and its lessons and sees red bases as the outcome of actions at a moment in the (near) future when the politicising ground work has been achieved and the concrete issue in which everyone of a radical disposition and analysis will have a crucial stake has been made plain.
Nor will the red base be an end in itself except in the limited sense of the student role as distinct from any other role. The seizing and holding of the red bases is clearly the last act the students can undertake as students, for once they have engaged in that course, they are a fair way down the road to abolishing the intellectural—manual worker distinction, as they will have liberated the University from selectivity. If the old role will have dismissed itself, it at the same time heralds the new possibility of progress which exists when the red base comes into existence, for it could undoubtedly engenders its own dialectic.
In the first place, the red base is both inward and outward looking. It is the former since it becomes a secure zone within a hostile society for the length of time it can be held. It allows an area to be consecrated in the name of revolution in which the formulation of an entire alternative ideology, carried on the back of essential demands, can be instigated. The cordon sanitaire becomes traversible for everyone who wants to cross it, whatever their background, student or worker. This was surely the reason why the Sorbonne was focal and symbolic. It is outward looking since the entire function of its inner self is to offer the most and profound radical critique of what surrounds it. In the first place it will be a critique—but not one which will have to propose its own solutions. If its critique, shown as much by the example of praxis as by its intellectual fury, is adequate, then it shouldn’t stand alone for too long. Already in this country, workers have been discussing the reawakened memory of the factory sit-ins, occupations of the ’thirties. When the young workers come in, or we are allowed into the areas they occupy, we shall have reached the point of construction, for it is certainly not for bourgeois intellectuals to formulate the institutions of the new society.
It is essential that the step is taken whereby some social institution becomes perverted from its designed intention. Where better then the university, designed to produce the governers of the workers, yet capable of producing ideas which sustains their overthrow of the bosses?