Mistakes of the occupation: SocSoc discussion paper

This Socialist Society discussion paper dates from some time in the summer term, 1970.

Mistakes of the Occupation:  lessons and future strategy and tactics

The aim of this paper is to attempt to formulate a coherent long-term policy for the student left at Liverpool. Naturally this will involve a strategic analysis of the broader student movement. To comply with this an organisational form capable of adapting to the strategical re-orientation is essential, if a successful student movement is to emerge.

Class nature of students

Students do not represent in themselves an economic class although they are mainly drawn from the petit-bourgeois class by their origins,even more by attitudes and by destiny. The ‘student powerists’  must realize that only the working class can lead and carry forward the social revolution in an advanced capitalist society,the petit-bourgeoisie can be an ally of the working class in this but if the revolution is to be successful the petit-bourgeoisie must be in the subordinate role.

The petit-bourgeoisie are by nature a vacillating class but in the present stage of advanced capitalism the growth of monopoly, of increasingly large-scale industry the petit-bourgeoisie are more and more adopting an elementary working class consciousness in tactics, especially in Trade Unions, eg ASTMS, CAWU, NUT,DATA. In large-scale enterprises social status which has been one of the few bribes held by capitalists over the petit-bourgeoisie has increasingly less relevance as their wages are being outstripped by manual workers using trade union methods.  However the petit-bourgeoisie often glorifies the role of the individual and is unwilling to accept any form of discipline.

In the case of students, with the expansion of higher education to meet the needs of industry, the prestige and status once held is declining. There is increasing unemployment among graduates, particularly scientists.  The universities are becoming less concentrated on the academic aspects, and a more naked use of universities to provide manpower for industry as a ‘degree factory’. Big business is playing an increasing role in the universities with research contracts offering employment, donations. The University, under control of big-business, more blatantly shows the University as playing an integral role in the capitalist system.

General political trends

Recently, the gradual transition of the Labour Party – the traditional left – from a social democratic party to a bourgeois-reformist party,more than ever willing to turn on its supporters, the working class, has become more obvious than ever before. Hence we have ‘consensus politics’ and now increasingly so, a realisation of the truth and continued validity of Marxism – and of revolution as the only way to change society.

Integration: the answer

It follows from this that students as such have no independent role, no economic power, and the only way in which they can help tho cause of Socialism, the cause of the working-class – is to integrate themselves in the working-class and involve themselves in the working-class struggles.

Mistakes of the Occupation and of Socialist Society

  • Firstly, lack of strategy, eg by concentrating on mass-meetings, and tending to regard these,and later the occupation as ends in themselves.
  • Secondly, the lack of political ‘indoctrination’ and ‘education’ during the occupation by involving a large mass of people only on the liberal issues. There was an increase of political consciousness but such has happened can be termed as ‘spontaneous’ in the sense that it was purely a reaction to the tactics used by the University. Thus showing up fake liberalism and exposing ruling class tactics of repression. Additionally, the ‘objectivity’ of the press was exposed. Because of this control over the press, by capitalists. The spontaneity was not consolidated or exploited and many of the gains were subsequently lost in every way.
  • Thirdly,there was throughout the year a lack of political direction and leadership of any kind, Socialist Society has no decision-making process. No committee, or other body able to take rapid decisions, plus a general horror of pushing things to a vote (SocSoc’s own brand of consensus politics!). As a result, this always benefits the liberals – the reformists- who regard compromise as everybody coming to their support. Connected with this, indiscipline is lack of any outside political groups having a majority of support. This results in an incestuous university – political atmosphere. No work outside the university

The role and function of the university in capitalist society

The call for a new strategy is based on a re-examination of the university and students in capitalist society.  The central function of the universityty is ideological mystification, that is the system whereby the nature of class society is emasculated. The second function is the production of ‘knowledge’, ie, improved technical competence and as a result of this technically educated cadres themselves, ie. the means of application of this technical competence. The mystification process is a means of control as is the final form that of physical or material bribery.

It is because these methods of control are left to go unchallenged that they and capitalist society itself easily prepetuate themselves. This ideological control is the central mechanism by which a ‘reactionary and mystifying culture can be inculcated in universities and colleges’ (Perry Anderson).

As Louis Althusser has said: ‘within the system of higher education, the number one point of action of the dominant class is the very knowledge that students receive from their teachers’. This propagation of bourgeois ideology is the ‘true fortress of class influence in the university.’

This makes nonsense of the view often pushed by various ‘left groups’ that students have no or little role to play within the education system. And that they have to work outside to be of relevance to the revolutionary struggle. This will be dealt with in more detail later.

We state that students do have a vital class role to play by combating bourgeois ideology – a struggle which by its very nature has a class character. As Gramsci has said:  ‘A political science capable of guiding the working class will only be born within a general intellectual matrix which challenges bourgeois ideology in every sector of thought and represents a decisive, hegemonic (total) alternative to the cultural status quo.’

The practical experience

Before we go on to see what this means in terms of strategy, let us look at a few examples of the effect that ideological control has. Generally there are two levels of ideological mystification – firstly ‘academic knowledge’ which is presented to students as the objective truth, we are subjected to an ideology that has been produced and handed down as the ‘academic standard’ for students to acquire and learn. This ‘knowledge’ thus imparts bourgeois theories like the emasculation (ie the blunting of critical and ideological content)of certain concepts like class, alienation and exploitation. Another example is pluralist theory (ie. society is harmonious and its powerbalanced) or in the science and other related departments the ignoring the historical role of science and its social consequences. It also imparts bourgeois values like exaggerated respect for lecturers as instructors or disseminators of knowledge; in other words broad academic deference.

The second level of ideological control and mystification which is complementary and interrelated to the first and is extra- as well as inter-university is the propagation of media (‘common sense ‘ or ‘world outlook’) knowledge. This involves the presentation of capitalist society as not only the most desirable but the natural order of things. An example of this is the presentation of the false dichotomy between the ‘free’ (ie. capitalist) world and the ‘totalitarian world’ (ie. those societies which have overthrown the capitalist order). Bourgeois deference is again produced here by deference to certain structural institutions, e.g. Parliament, MPs, Monarchy, town bureaucrats,  student government by Guild etc.

Strategy and tactics

Srategy and tactics must be worked out to combat these two levels. But firstly why hasn’t this form of strategy or attack emerged in Britain as it has in other counties like Germany? Perry Anderson sees the cause as the lack of a revolutionary tradition in British history. He says that, ‘Britain is the most conservative major society in Europe; it has a culture in its own image: mediocre and inert.’ While this remains unchallenged it is a profound obstacle to the furtherance of revolutionsry politics in Britain. Other reasons can be identified, for instance the’ hostile attitude of most left groups who fear for the collapse of their own static and mystificatory stances and their possible future failuro to recruit students once they feel they have a positive role to play within the education system.’

This role is a direct attack on the reactionary and mystifying bourgeois ideology propogated in universities and other educational establishments. Only where revolutionary ideas are freely and widely circulated will large numbers of students be radicalised. An assault on this ‘fortress of class domination ‘ is a necessary pre-condition for the take off of an effective student movement.

What does this mean in terms of strategy at the first ‘academic ‘ level? It means the setting up in as many departments and for as many courses as possible, groups, caucuses, cells, call them what you wish, which will attempt to combat bourgeois ideology. The tactics within different disciplines ie. science , arts etc. will obviously vary to meet different conditions and moods. The degrees of difficulty varies as wo got nearer the science and engineering departments. Nevertheless it can and has been done.

Especially in the arts faculty, lectures must be utilised as a primary tactic. This involves standing up in lectures with a coherent line and the individuals within tho group putting that counter line in front of the maximum amount of people. It is not enough to argue with tutors in the privatised environment of tutorials in front of five people. Those attacks are not on lecturers as individuals but the ideology they disseminate by their nature as lecturers. These are not demands for alternative course structures or ameliorative departmental reforms (although those may be also desirable).

We will not be satisfied by concessions of any kind – it is a constant ideological assault on class values. One useful by-product of this strategy is the destruction of bourgeois values and inhibitions which afflict so many on the left . There will be a need for regular group meetings (at least once a week) where the ideology peculiar to that course can bo examined and the Marxist alternative formulated. To counter bourgeois ideology you must first begin to understand it. It is not enough to have a rough idea of the opposition’s ideas and even less of your own.

As stated before, this tactic may not be immediately realisable in certain departments but it must be remembered that this is a long term strategy. Where this is so the individual groups must decide what short term strategy is both correct, relevant and possible to their own situation. Obviously a major long term strategy like this will involve a lot of hard work and effort. Let us have no illusions about immediate successes: hard work over a long period will be needed before appreciable results begin to show.

Strategy for the second level

Above we specified strategy for combating the first level of mystification. But what about the second level, that of media knowledge and resulting deference and adherence. What is needed in this field is a constant effort to challenge their interpretation of world affairs like over Vietnam, Cambodia, Palestine, etc. Also challenging in the sphere of  ‘media-value struggles’ – socialism vs capitalism;  ‘free world’ vs ‘totalitarian world’; ‘unofficial strikes’, etc and other values such as the super individualism of such publications as International Times! It is with that in mind that action including the forms of direct action must be placed. This includes the initiation of a magazine, though not necessarily of a high theoretical level. This would be supplemented by the circulation and production of various ‘papers’ for discussion and use. Another useful addition to our propaganda machine would be the introduction of a daily ‘wall newspaper’ for the union.

What this means for other areas of struggle

Naturally these strategies are not tho only areas of struggle within the university and outside. In the past Socialist Society has concentrated on ‘campaign politics’.  Some campaigns have been successful, others politically fruitless. In the future, we must not exclude campaign politics;  we must not leave in abeyance issues that have been nurtured and created this year. But more important, this does not mean we carry out campaigns in the same way.  We must learn in a positive manner from our past experiences and mistakes. The utilisation of and creation of issues around which to struggle and politicise must be a constant part of student socialist strategy. What must be avoided is letting those campaigns become the totally time and energy consuming efforts they have in the past.

The Guild

Many of our efforts in the past have been orientated towards effecting some kind of change in the Guild structure. We feel that time and experience has shown that this is an incorrect policy. The running of Guild by mass meetings would probably be a disaster and of marginal political usefulness to the left. Other proposals, for instance leaving the running of Guild to the bureaucrats but making them responsible to regular general meetings where they can be mandated are equally dangerous. Why? Because they perpetuate and maintain the bourgeois values of deference and respect for ‘official structures’. The reliance on even a more favourable alternative within the framework of official structures will do nothing to counter the values that are reinforced by reliance on them, whatever forms. We must go outside tho norms of officialdom and create our own structures. This may be a slower and a more difficult process but incalculably more politically advantageous in the long run.  This does not mean we ignore Guild – where we wish to call for or use official mass meetings we should do so or when we want something out of Guild Council we should strive for its realisation as long as it does not become of primary and total importance.

Students and the working class

Many of the  views we have put forward on the role of students directly clash with those who regard students as little more than servicing agents of shop stewards. They say, for example, that ‘students must integrate and put themselves at the service of the working class and its leadership.’ These are false and empty slogans which mean little when translated into reality.

First of all it is it erroneous to talk of the ‘working class’ as if it is a cohesive political entity with a clearly recognisable leadership.  Terms like ‘integrate’, ‘leadership’ etc. mean little except to the left groups who think that they are a substitute for the ‘working class’ and who are convinced they are the leadership to tho point of virtual megalomania!

This is not to say that we see students as a class or the workers as having no potential revolutionary consciousness. We of course see the value and NECESSITY of establishing links and working with the working class no matter what their level of consciousness.  But students are more than servicing agents; they have a definite role to play, the class struggle is in the universities and colleges as well as the factories and streets.


The practical realisation of the first level of strategy that is the ‘academic’ level will mean structural change within Socialist Society. This will mainly involve the implementation of a CELL structure , that is the coordination of the individual with the nucleus of Socialist Society. Aside from this functional use it should also mean a considerable improvement in organisation for strategy on the second (media) level: as information and propaganda will be imparted quicker and more efficiently.

Paul Thompson, James Rees, Mike Baker, Chris Davies, Robb Evans, Nev Bann, Mike Keating et al (the views in this paper do not necessarily accord totally with the views of each individual).

A dissenting note concerning Guild by James Rees

We have talked about the two levels of mystification: ‘ academic ‘ and ‘media’.  Each calls for a different strategy and it is in the second area that I see the importance of altering the Guild structure. It is in this sphere that I dissent from the main paper.  We all know of the crucial importance of tho present ‘feudal structure’ in maintaining if not creating the present turgid political atmosphere and in the maintenance of deference to bureaucracy, etc. A universally elected executive accountable to regular general meetings would go a long way to breaking down this deference and greatly help the smashing of ‘media’ knowledge. This is not a call for government by mass meeting, but is an attempt to give some ‘power to the people’.


One thought on “Mistakes of the occupation: SocSoc discussion paper”

  1. Ploughing through this, I found myself asking: who wrote this long-winded and tedious crap, being pretty sure it wasn’t me on this occasion. Then I saw the names 🙂

    Well, guys, your ‘generation’ (69-72) inherited the aftermath. You wrote the critique. How did it go? I especially liked this devastating comment:

    “…throughout the year a lack of political direction and leadership of any kind, Socialist Society has no decision-making process. No committee, or other body able to take rapid decisions, plus a general horror of pushing things to a vote (SocSoc’s own brand of consensus politics!).”

    Things presumably improved once these ‘errors’ had been corrected 🙂

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