‘Mobilizing Conference’ for Public Schools Revives ’60s-Era Campus Radicalism

At last weekend’s ANSWER’s “teach-in” on Afghanistan, one of the speakers was Tamara Khoury of Students Fight Back, a college protest group out of Cal State Fullerton. Ms. Koury denounced the “war economy” that was siphoning funds from public education: “I can’t get into my classes, my tuition this year was doubled, and yet hundreds of billions go wage criminal war against innocent people each year. This must end.”

It turns out that Students Fight Back is a campus front group for the ANSWER Coalition, and the group’s support from terrorist-backing organizations is just the beginning. With the the slow pace of economic recovery in California, radical activists around the state are taking advantage of the current “crisis of capitalism” to decry budget cuts and organize “collective action” for the “struggle” of the working class. Check the website for the Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education. And notice the classic raised fist of international solidarity at the announcement:

Actually, a number of campus “direct action” campaigns have been taking place over the last few weeks. Just this week, activists at CSU Fullerton mounted a protest called “Furlough Fest” to resist the three-day cutbacks that idled the campus. Students “occupied” the college green, and activists set up tents and camped out overnight to decry cancellation of classes.” ANSWER’s Students Fight Back was a key organizing cell for an earlier action on September 29th. That event came on the heels of the September 24th mobilization at UC Santa Cruz, which was billed as a part of “a day of action at all UCs across the state.” Dubbed the “Occupation of the Graduate Student Commons at UC Santa Cruz,” the mobilization was an element of the larger campaign of grassroots resistance. According to organizers, “a single day of action, announced in advance, is not enough. Escalation is absolutely necessary.”: 

The UC Santa Cruz action was quite a serious business. Students occupied campus buildings for five hours, and the university has released a formal policy on police reactions to the demonstrations. One student announced that protesters were sending a message about “an actual shift in power relations.” He said, “We have the capacity, if we act in concert, to stop the university from functioning.” Photographs from the occupation show protesters marching with militant signs, for example: “Demilitarize and De-Privatize Our University,” and “Dismantle UC Regents – Demand Student Collective Self-Determination.”

Marc Bousquet, a hardline professor at Santa Clara University, published an interview with a student cadre at the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Will Occupation Become a Movement?” The interview followed a second round of direct action at UC Santa Cruz. Bousquet asked what were the next steps for Occupy California!:

We should all look forward to, and prepare ourselves for, a far longer struggle, a struggle for which these actions, regardless of what one thinks of them, do not serve as inspirations but rather as concrete expressions of what is felt by countless others across the system and world.

The is clearly the language of international solidarity and revolutionary struggle.

In the fact, Socialist Worker, the Marxist-Leninist organ of the International Socialist Organization, published a big background report on the student mobilizing conference, of which the occuption movement is clearly aligned, “Organizing the Fight for Public Education“:

There are different political ideas among of these groups of people, running from moderate liberals to socialists and anarchists, and all points along the spectrum.

And there is no agreement on tactics. Some students and teachers believe that lobbying elected officials is essential, while others have taken direct action to occupy buildings or liberate libraries closed due to budget cuts.

The socialists are particularly invested in the potential of the events to bring about a revolutionary crisis in the state educational system. Last week, Professor Julian DelGaudio, who is the faculty organizer for Long Beach City College’s local ANSWER cell, distributed a letter to the editor from the Berkeley Daily Planet, written by Eugene Ruyle, an emeritus professor at Long Beach State: “Don’t Let the University Interfere with Your Education“:

As a congressional candidate of the socialist Peace and Freedom Party (District 10, 2008), I would remind everyone that, ultimately, the solution to California’s budgetary problems lies in the socialist transformation of the global economy, based on the principles of peace, democracy, equality, and ecology, and led by the workers of the world organized as the ruling class. I do not suggest that students and workers simply wait for The Revolution, however. Instead, I urge them to challenge the existing system …

Again, clear talk of revolutionary transformation. And while Ruyle’s manifesto was actually quite bourgeois in its program (salary rollbacks and budget reform are among the planks), it’s unlikely that the restless youth will sit around for too long waiting for the legislative and electoral initiatives needed to actualize the left’s transformational agenda.

Indeed, students just this week organized a walkout and militant takeover over the library at Fresno State University. According to Indy Media, the occupation was one of the “largest mobilizations since the 60s”:

The rally before the march was well attended, fluctuating from 100-300 students and faculty. People spoke and expressed their shared rage. This was followed by a march of well over 600 students chanting things like “no cuts! no fees! education should be free!” and “hey! hey! ho! ho! Welty’s gotta go!”

It’s unclear what impact all of this protest activity will have over the long term. California holds a gubernatorial election next year, and the budget crisis will be the central issue facing the electorate, combined perhaps with a popular movement for constituational change through the initiative process (simple majority to pass the state budget, for example). But like the antiwar student protesters of the 1960s, radical street activists are clearly impatient, militant, and just can’t wait. Some of the sponsoring organizations have clear ties to international organizations hostile to the United States, and for a genuine revival of the campust uprisings during the Vietnam era we’d need to see direct action leading to revolutionary agitation and political violence against established authority.

Unlike during the ’60s, student protesters today don’t have the draft as the central rallying institution of injustice and oppression to resist. Students today will not be sent to fight and die in the jungles of Indochina in an “imperial” war of aggression against the “indigenous” Vietnamese population. Without that, the current movement will lack urgency and historical inevitability.

What’s not unlikely, however, is the emergence of a new cadre of communist extremists who form a revolutionary vanguard with plans to topple the capitalist regime. Certainly the ANSWER Coaltion continues its work to speed up the contradictions of capitalism and the triumph of the working class. Should the language of “criminal wars” overseas and “catastrophic” corruption and “privatization” of the university elicit a true violent response, California could well be in for a reprise of the campus violence that rocked the nation during the peace movement years ago.

In 1968, student extremists occupied the campus at Columbia University for five days. College dean Henry Coleman was held hostage for 24 hours. Mark Rudd, the leader of the campus cell of Students for a Democratic Society, described the resistance as leading the way toward a Marxist revolution. Tom Hayden, a SDS national leader, claimed that the Columbia occupation “opened a new tactical stage in the resistance movement.” When police cracked down on protesters, many innocent bystanders got caught up in the violence. Militant organizers used the widening confrontation to expand the coalition seeking to overthrow the system. Protests spread to other universities thereafter. Harvard University was gripped with its own student takeover in 1969. The same violent police response in Cambridge turned the radical minority there into martyrs when police stormed University Hall to put down the unrest. Movement organizers sought to exploit the official response to gain sympathy for communism. Campus turmoil continued, and in October 1969 the Weatherman faction of the SDS organized the Days of Rage protests in Chicago to bring down the system once and for all. Thereafter, throughout the early-1970s, domestic terrorist groups and revolutionary totalitarians continued to make war upon the U.S. government.

And so, forty years later, student activists are pushing to reignite the potential violence of the earlier protest generation. One might well hope that California enjoys an economic recovery in the short term, and that the “crisis of capitalism” is delayed long enough to avoid inevitable bloodshed and mayhem that comes from the kind of militant activism that we’re seeing today.

Cross-posted from American Power.

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