The bickering, backstabbing and pseudo-intellectual debate of student socialism.

Friday, August 15, 2008

NUS to support a new war in Georgia?

In an internal debate Tom Stubbs and Dave Lewis of the NUS National executive are arguing for NUS to call for NATO troops to occupy South Ossetia. Yes NUS really seems to want to call for a war between NATO and Russia - what a good idea. Obviously I can't post their internal emails so here is my response:

Their position flys in the face of the facts as everyone bar George Bush and david Milliband understands them (what do they teach in schools these days...) No one is denying Russia was and is an imperialist force that occupyied what was refered to rather grotesquely as the "USSR" or that it repressed both Georgia and South Ossetia. Unfortunately Georgia is so bad to its national minorites they were one of the only groups to vote to try and stay in the USSR as an alternative to georgian nationalism in 1991.

To finish your analysis here however is to pretend the following 15 years have not happened. The Caucasus (a bit like the Balkans but to a lesser degree) is made of many minorites but with a much less bitter history of conflict between them. South Ossetia is one such area and has always tryed to have a degree of autonomy (as is pointed out by some more shrewed commentators its economy is not strong enough to become truely independant. Georgian governments over the last few years have pursued two interlinked stratergies 1) attempt to enter NATO to increase its own power in the region (and be sure of military support in any conflict with Russia), it is no secret that Georgia is viewed as the most pro western country in the region, the 3 most important oil pipelines run through it (and on a side point the main road from its airport is named George Bush avenue.) 2) repressing the rights of minorities within its borders.

For this reason the majorty of people in South Ossetia have in recent years not simply overwhelmingly supported some form of independance but have repreated expressed a desire to more closer to Russia. South Ossetia has been effectively autonomous from Tbilisi since the easly 90's and Abkhazia actually voted to remain in the USSR in 91 because they knew they would get less autonomy under a "historic Georgia." This is the "historical" context of the on going border clash but does not explain why it has split into a hot war in recent years. Why did Georgia decide now to launch a military attack on it's minority risking escalation it could not match from Russia? It can't be simply read as the government continuing its stated project of recreating a historic Georgia...

The answer is the Georgian government miscalculated. It read the escalation of US aggression in the middle east and its bullish stance against Russia and China as an oppotunity. It thought it was as good as in Nato and it thought Russian imperialism would not risk challenging a US ally. In other words NATO expansion gave the Georgian government the confidence to militarily repress a seperatist minority movement on it Russian border (military repression is a bad thing Tom.) The Georgian Government had been given the greenlight to test how far NATO could push into the Caucasus and the US helped the Georgian army in trying to destroy the autonomy of South Ossetia to see if they could risk trying it in the more significant area of Abkhazia. This was a conflict driven by the compertition between NATO (lead by the US super power) seeing how far it could spread its influence to hem in Russia as a lesser (but still 'great' power.) What started the current conflict was The expansion of the NORTH ATLANTIC treaty orgainsation into the Caucasus. If Georgia had been in NATO formally the US and UK would have been bound by treaty to declare war on Russia.

If we call for Nato intervention we will be both siding against minority rights in Georgia (for the sole reason that Georgia is a Nato ally) and more inportantly calling for our government to escalate conflict with Russia. Does NUS want to call for a new cold war between Russia and NATO? Because that is what your position would amount to. Oh and what right do we have to talk about not invading a soverign nation? I wonder where Russia got its justification from...

All troops out of South Ossetia
No to NATO expansion

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Solidarity with Turkey's first Students' Union

GENC-SEN, Turkey’s first and only students’ union was founded in December 2007 to defend students and fight for their demands on a national level. Starting as a small concern GENC-SEN has grown to over 1500 members and 27 university and college branches with backing from a national trade union federation. GENC- SEN branches have run a range of progressive campaigns that would be familiar to many student activists and officers in Britain.

However since its foundation their branches were targeted by the government one by one. Branch meetings were unlawfully barred posters and leaflets confiscated. Some state officials have arbitrarily declared some branches “illegal”. Now such attacks have become nation with the Governorship of Istanbul on behalf of the ministry of the interior taking a court case against the union. They are claiming that the “Trade Union Act no.2821 does not provide for the freedom of association for students.” The case has been pushed back to the 27th of July and may continue for some time.

NUS have sent messages of protest and support as well as raising the matter with members of the government. Our Turkish comrades have asked for unions and activists to fax messages of protests to:

Ministry of Interior, Fax: 0090 3124181795
Governorship of Istanbul, fax: +90 212 512 20 86

Messages of solidarity should be sent to:

Sunday, April 06, 2008

NUS saved from the brink of destruction

"This conference will go down as the year Student Respect arrived as the official opposition”
Wes Streeting (National President-elect & Labour Students leader)

NUS Conference 2008 saw the defeat of 20 years of democratic cuts by Labour students. It saw NUS elect anti-war campaigner Rose Gentle as its honorary Vice President, vote to support occupations in the event of any attack on Iran, student respect emerge as the official opposition in the fulltime elections and get elected 1st and 3rd onto the national executive “block of 12.”

Conference started with the Save NUS Democracy campaign, lead by Student Respect and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), defeating the right wing’s “review”. Against all odds we mobilised 355 delegates to stop the leadership gaining the two thirds needed to destroy NUS democracy forever. Defeat caused the leadership lose the plot with vile denunciations of those opposed to the review and abuse directed at leftwing speakers explaining where the union should go next. Policy debate for the next two days was marked by red-baiting against free education and campaign orientated motions. The leadership cheered as speakers said we had to drive “Bolsheviks” out of our union and “stop the NUS being a Marxist debating club on wheels” in response to a motion calling for joint work with the lecturers union UCU.

Conference shifted left under the combination of the debate around Darfur (when a respect speaker from Sudan rocked conference with a speech against intervention) and our spectacular full time election results. Where our decision to contest elections as “Student Respect (Save NUS Democracy)” paid off; Hind Hassan came second with 379 (39%) for VP Welfare and Rob Owen second for VP (Higher Education) with 201 (27%). The highest votes for any left candidates won through our intervention around Save NUS Democracy and strong left speeches. The left then passed motions opposing military recruitment and calling for college occupations against any attack on Iran with the right unwilling to speak in defence of the government.

The most impressive result of conference was Student Respects showing in the “block of 12” elections where our candidates came in 1st with 94 votes and 3rd with 73. This is the strongest showing for any left faction in recent NUS history. Unfortunately both the Galloway backed Student Broad Left (33 votes) and the Alliance for Workers Liberty (44 votes) failed to get re-elected onto the national executive. This leaves a National Executive of 27 with only 4 clearly opposed to the attacks on democracy and 16 in open support.

Having mobilised over 100 delegates and won strong presence on the national executive Student Respect can now take the lead in rebuilding a student movement to fight for free education and against racism & war. Recent results at Essex and Goldsmiths have shown we can win leadership of Unions when we are leading left wing campaigns and able to win a wider layer of activists to standing on a united and principled platform.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Respect Councillor joins Tory Party

Although no one could have guessed Cllr Ahmed would have gone to the right he was always the loose cannon, the councillor who described Galloway as a "mad dog" and the least solid of the four Respect councillors. The group was very much driven by Oli, Lutfa and Rania who have a clear political direction. They managed to bring one councillor with them and seemed close to pulling one more from renewal.

In a way it symbolic of the recent crisis in Respect that the SWP have been fighting so hard to counteract. The Tower Hamlets councillors group was to politically weak to resist becoming sucked into the mainstream world of electorialism and town hall politics. Galloway was able to exploit the pull on the councillors and the figure of Abjol Miah to isolate the left and move renewal further into electorialism.

Since the split the alliance of Abjol, Galloway and Yacoob has been enough to stem defections to labour from renewals council group which has done little to pull away from the comfort zone of council politics. Unfortunately the move of respect towards Trade Union activists and the social movements on radical politics broke one of the councillors who came over with us. In doing so he has radically broken with the politics he was elected on, crossing class lines, and should resign his seat to fight re-election as a tory.

Do I thing the defection proves Respect was wrong? Not exactly. I think it does prove that radical left formations need a clear anti-capitalist current in them which can pull others to them.

The problem in Tower Hamlets was that to much was compromised over the selection of candidates and the council group had a marginal left within it. This was proved when only one councillor came over with Oli, Rania and Lutfa the fact he eventually left progressive politics altogether is more damaging but less relevant. Even communists and anarchists renouncing their radicalism is not unheard of after all.

The general point it proves is not controversial - That when the left is moving forwards confidently it pulls around it other forces which are attracted to its ideas. In these scenarios it is possible to pull together broader coalitions over various points of program. When a crisis hits (Brown bounce, economics crisis, new movements etc) the degree to which they hold together depends on the strength of the organised left within them. That’s doubly true in representative chambers like council or parliament where politics is "the distorted echo" or real life politics and the radical left is one step removed from the everyday politics whish give movements strength.

The renewal councillors adapted by accommodating themselves to electoral labourism and ours by radically distancing themselves from labour. As part of a small group excluded from the "official life" of the council Cllr Ahmed clearly became demoralised with the project and lost his tie to leftwing politics in the process while maintaining his hatred of the war and new labour. As such he broke both with the radicalism of respect and the labourism of renewal and went to the other side which seemed to offer support in the chamber and a new base for some form of "community" politics. Respect's offical statement

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Bhutto & Pakistani politics

Linked is a response to Benziar Bhutto’s assassination from the International Socialists in Pakistan. It stands out from most reports of both the left and the mainstream in focusing on how it will effect the movement against the dictatorship. It also explains the dubious role both Benziar and the Pakistan Peoples Party have played in the recent period.

Despite the neo-liberal policies she implemented and continues to support she was closely associated with opposition to the dictatorship. Her death will be seen as a direct blow against the movement and an attempt to drive politics off the streets. The left faces the difficult task of responding to the assassination without being co-opted by liberal imperialist opinion.

Here is a background piece by Chris Harmen

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

5 days to save NUS democracy?

All our best interests drive us away from discussing the running of NUS and the left has distinguished itself building campaigns for peace, justice and equality when many student officers shy away from “politics.” Monday’s “governance consultation” revealed the flip side of that coin with a discussion removed from a debate on the type of movement we need to build to win.

Business Speak
Substituting “mission statements” for real political vision is a symptom of a bigger problem - NUS is turning itself away from a mass campaigning federation into a centralised professional lobby group. Staff are more central to a conception of campaigning based on tinkering within the limits set by parliamentary committees rather than ideologically opposing the government’s marketisation of education. With this mindset, NUS conference is an unwieldy, expensive bolt on to the process of creating specific campaigns to be “actioned” by the national office; The National Executive (NEC) is “too diverse, large and political;” and matters of finance, accounting and process are the determining factor in deciding a new structure for the organisation.

The proposals appear to be:
-A cut down conference with reduced powers over setting campaigns
-A cut back, less political, sabbatical led NEC with no “policy setting powers.”
-An expanded National Council which would meet a few times a year and contain the token “political diversity.”
-A bigger separation between areas of NUS work
-Liberation campaigns regulated by the “financial side” of the central organisation.

A political NUS
To rebuild NUS we need to start from the sort of campaigning and vision we need to win and then work out how to pay for it. NUS’ central role most be pulling together the widest number and range of students to discuss their experience and build up an understanding of our education and the world around it. Only then can we start discussing how best to campaign effectively. To move NUS forwards we need to be working out ways to re-engage activists on the ground and politically debate the way to lay a base for our campaigns. To do this we need at least,
-A large as possible conference focused on debating our experiences and political understanding of events of developments.
-A broad, diverse National Executive representing political experience and range of student opinion (containing some form of block of 12.)
-To put liberation campaigns at the heart of NUS campaigning
-Supported local campaign groups/areas to link our debates and decisions to our activists on the ground.

We have until the end of this month to get our ideas thrown into the mix, simply rocking up at conference and hoping for the best will be too late. To organise to make sure a vision of a democratic campaigning Union is widely discussed among activists we need to start now. Email ways to expand NUS’ campaigning and democracy from your union, campaign group, society or labour club to and CC before the end of the month.

Lets unite for a political, democratic and campaigning NUS.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Pride in politics

5 hours at London Pride was enough to leave anyone tired, wet through and confused as to why the yearly marches seem to be the lgbt movements’ only public expression. 10’s of stalls for every variety of lgbt campaign and organisation sided Trafalgar square representing their own niche campaign (or more normally caucus) but only Pride seems to bring them together. The international scope of the movement is ever present but it seems like the movement has lost its edge at home, solidarity with Pride’s abroad has to be built on struggle at home as well. The domestic tone of pride has to much focus on community issues like drug deaths with a minority openly taking up issues such as real inequality at home. The multitude of “gay businesses” on display helped depoliticise the event combined with cheese on the stage interspersed with appeals for the pink pound to support gay companies in what became an increasingly naked marketing opportunity.

For all that Pride still retains an inspiring sense of liberation contrasting so starkly to the oppressively homophobic atmosphere the remains in much of the UK. Pride remains and should always remain of central importance but the movement deserves a liberation campaign that can really start to push beyond the limits of the commercialisation. The response to political intervention stood in marked contrast to the indifference to the multitude of dating/club/corporate rubbish that was being distributed as proof that people do and always will see pride as political.