Sunday, 5 December 2010
In Praise of Student Protest
It’s great to see students in England fighting back so vigorously against both the massive increase in university tuition fees that the coalition government is about to impose upon them and the swingeing general cuts to public services that are now under way. And young people more generally are getting radicalised too, as with the very lively UK Uncut campaign against alleged tax avoidance by many major companies and banks (Vodafone initially, but now Boots, Barclays, Lloyds and HSBC).
At the same time, under a Conservative government (albeit with their Lib-Dem poodle in tow) we see the police becoming predictably more aggressive towards protestors. There was the nasty ‘kettling’ of students in London the other day, and now we learn that undercover plain-clothes police officers are being used against UK Uncut. We recall too how Margaret Thatcher unleashed the police and MI5 as her private army against the mining communities in 1984-5.
We know perfectly well where William Morris would stand in all this. Between 1883 and 1885 he was regularly preaching Marxism and revolution to undergraduates at Oxford; he was a keen admirer of the very vigorous Edinburgh University Socialist Society; in 1887 he wrote enthusiastically that ‘in Russia the universities are closed in order to damp down the revolutionary fire spreading so quickly among the students’. And he knew equally well how aggressively the police would be let loose on protestors by an Establishment that felt threatened in a period of capitalist economic crisis.
So, in the admirably Morrisian words of the Edinburgh students’ 1884 manifesto, which are as true in 2010 as they were then, ‘Utopia now: we can bring it about. The power is ours if we have the will’!