How to deal with students: the tsarist solution

In the face of continued unrest among the students during the last years of the tsarist autocracy in Russia, especially students who supported the communists, the autocracy deployed a well-tried response. As Lenin comments in 1901:

Decades of experience have taught the government that it is surrounded by inflammable material and that a mere spark, a mere protest against the students’s detention cell, may start a conflagration. This being the case, it is clear that the punishment had to be an exemplary one: Draft hundreds of students into the army! “Put the drill sergeant in place of Voltaire!” (Lenin, Collected Wors, vol. 4, pp. 415-26).

Makes one wonder why the government in the UK hasn’t tried that one. Then again, they probably don’t read much.

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5 thoughts on “How to deal with students: the tsarist solution

  1. They hardly need to; the single large protest alienated as many students as it inspired. No significant action has happened since. Still, with rumors of the army being drafted in to replace striking prison guards, and Prince William busy with the wedding there may be some vacancies in bomb disposal units in Afghanistan.

    1. Eh? We had the largest wave of student militancy since 1968 – since November 10th over 40 universities were occupied (creating open radical communised spaces) and there were three large autonomously organised student protests of thousands, all of which fed into UKUncut, a movement of direct action agains banks and tax avoiders. We also managed to prevent the ineffective idiot at the head of the NUS from standing for re-election and there is a fair chance a militant leader may take over. All things considered, I think we did pretty bloody well – causing MPs to defy the whip en masse for the first time in this parliament.

      On this see http://bit.ly/fightbackuk – for Fightback,which can be read online here – http://felixcohen.co.uk/FightBack/

      1. Don’t piss on my partially nationalized leg and tell me its raining in the workers’ republic.

        “Over 40 universities were occupied” means – as it did with the Gaza occupations in ’09 – a few dozen students occupying a lecture theatre here, or an under vice-provost’s office there… while the overwhelming majority of students go about their lives totally unaware of this momentous uptick in militancy.

        Student politics too often descends into a self-congratulatory subculture that judges its actions and achievements by totally subjective standard or takes comfort in its own activist argot. Student actions haven’t, and won’t, change government policies.

  2. VM,

    That’s annoying. Assessing the objective situation means actually assessing it, not simply defaulting to a knee-jerk pessimism which has for so long been the reaction of the left to anything that happens, so much so we seem to have forgotten how to do anything else, like organise.

    The occupations here were significantly larger in size and impact than those of ’09, which I was involved in to the point of arguments with university muscle as they dragged people out. I will gladly say those 2009 occupations in terms of their immediate goals (forcing universities to reconsider their relationship with Israel’s military machine and in particular the arms trade, to provide scholarships for Gazan students) failed, but in terms of the their proximate goals (raising awareness of Gaza war on campus, raising immediate money for disaster relief) they did fairly well – hell, campus debate was fierce – more importantly though, they established the networks of people and contacts locally and nationally to allow this wave to occur and honed people’s skills in effectively dealing with the press, campus reaction, the SU, the management, police and so on that came in handy this time around. These 2010 anti-cuts/marketisation occupations were different, and I think overall better. In the wave of ’09 I didn’t see national newspapers of all stripes popping down near daily to find out what was going on or Newsnight bringing down their cameras – the FT and the Economist covered them! The wave of ’09 didn’t have the head of the TUC congratulating students for waking up the trade union movement from its slumber – http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/dec/19/unions-students-strike-fight-cuts – or have the government sufficiently worried about mass strike action that they began war-gaming scenarios and hiring reserve scab armies. Equally, the London Evening Standard wasn’t running double page spreads on how disruptive student protests were going to be three weeks in a row. In terms of radicalising a significant minority of students, and not just university students, but secondary school students particularly from more deprived areas fighting against the removal of the EMA, and thus laying down the basis for a longer term fight with connections to people trying to reverse cuts in their council ward, unions and benefits campaigners as well as linking up with other international students, particular those more militant European cousins, it was significant. Not in the way that overthrowing governments is significant, but in the way that building social movements require this sort of thing – unsurprisingly, students didn’t manage to convince every member of their peer group to throw off the neoliberalism they have been indoctrinated with, but they went further in a a shorter amount of time than others had done previously (it was).

    Student politics in the NUS mould is self-congratulatory, and of a radical mould there can be at least the possibility of subjective rather than objective perception of the situation and self-congratulation. However, this current wave has been ruthlessly self-critical, to the point where it was almost debilitating to action as a whole. I spent the whole of the Christmas period involved in exhausting debates as to whether or not we had done anything or had just been the politics of the spectacle and student adventurism – whether everyone was doing enough to create bridges with workers (yes we had a few RMT branches on board, but was this enough?), whether we had allowed ourselves to be portrayed as purely self-interested, whether the taking of space had been a valid tactic, how we should escalate, whether we should abandon the fight in universities altogether as it is hardly the most socially destructive type of cuts and so on. The quantity of students involved in some locations, with patchy support, was one of the many things considered in a flurry of writing – but this neglects that in other locations support wasn’t patchy, but was sufficiently mass to force the local NUS to take a more radical stance, often through voted emergency general meetings. Indeed, the whole activist milieu is something that has been put under intense scrutiny since 2009, with declamations of the sub-cultural dimensions of activism you mention emerging from all sorts of sources, including me. Insular this was not.

    So in short, no students didn’t overthrow the government, though it should be noted they managed to get Tories to vote against the whip. But they did catalyse resistance to cuts and the Tories in general and will continue to play a significant role for a variety of reasons. If you want to go toe to toe on this, by all means, but it would be good to have some evidence that these were as utterly insignificant and worthless as you claim.

  3. Dude I can’t read all that. I just wish the Israelis took the same approach to ‘occupation’ in Palestine as British students did. It’d be like 30 guys hanging out on a hockey field in Bethlehem telling the kids who wanna play hockey there to go use the field across the road.

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