Workers Vanguard No. 950
15 January 2010
Protests Against Education Cuts and Fee Hikes Sweep California
Students Must Mobilize Behind the Social Power of the Working Class!
Break with the Democrats!
(Young Spartacus pages)
In the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, universities across the country have been hit with increasingly devastating blows: tuition has skyrocketed, budgets are being slashed and faculty and workers are being laid off in droves. In California, the world’s eighth-largest economy, there have been nearly $10 billion in cuts to education. These attacks are aimed against the working class, blacks, immigrants and the poor, who have been priced out of university education or on the receiving end of racist purges with the elimination of affirmative action programs. In 2008, black students were only 1 percent of the undergraduates at UCLA!
Last November, the Board of Regents of the elite University of California (UC) raised tuition by 32 percent, so attending the University of California will now cost triple what it did a decade ago. By next fall, tuition alone will cost more than a whopping $10,000 a year for in-state students, slamming the door shut to “public” higher education for thousands of youth. At the California State Universities (CSUs) and community colleges, fees have gone up by 30 percent this year. At the same time, these colleges, where there are substantial numbers of black and minority students, are reducing enrollment—according to the CSU Trustees’ plan, by 40,000 students over the next two years! Ballooning class sizes, axing student aid and cutting “unprofitable” department programs are also part of the package. Even if you can get into the California system, graduating will be harder and your debt higher. Today, paying back student loans has become a new form of indentured servitude.
Campus workers, some of whom are not unionized, are also being hit hard. Two thousand UC workers have already been laid off, and those who kept their jobs have been forced to accept wage cuts and mandatory furlough days. The university has threatened “temporary layoffs” against the CUE (Coalition of University Employees) and UPTE (University Professional and Technical Employees) unions, whose contracts expired in 2008. As part of their overall union-busting scheme, the university bosses have especially targeted union activists for layoffs. While faculty and university employees are being told there is “no money,” administrators and staff executives are generously lining their pockets with bonuses and kickbacks. Mark Yudof, the widely hated UC president, makes more than $900,000 a year, and UC chancellors rake in as much as $450,000 a year plus their campus mansions.
In response to cuts in education, large, integrated protests have erupted around the country, most dramatically on campuses across California. Last September 24, over 5,000 people protested at UC Berkeley in the biggest demonstration on that campus in years. On November 19, the day the Regents met at UCLA to approve the 32 percent fee hike, some 2,000 students along with contingents of unionized workers protested; at UC Berkeley, students joined with UPTE in a two-day strike and walkout, followed by an occupation of Wheeler Hall on the third day. Hundreds also protested or carried out occupations at UC Santa Cruz and UC Davis. The occupations were met with an army of riot gear-equipped cops. At UC Berkeley demonstrators were bludgeoned with batons, while at UCLA at least one student was shot directly in the chest with a taser gun. In all, more than 110 protesters were arrested (see “Police Assault UC Protesters,” WV No. 948, 4 December 2009). Cops off campus!
In December, students at UC Berkeley reoccupied Wheeler Hall to transform the “dead week” before finals into a “live week.” Students at San Francisco State University (SFSU) occupied the Business building and renamed it for Oscar Grant, a young black father executed on New Year’s Day 2009 by a Bay Area Rapid Transit cop. Cops raided both buildings in the middle of the night, arresting 26 at SFSU and 66 at UC Berkeley. After a protest at the chancellor’s house at Berkeley, another eight were arrested on multiple charges, including attempted arson and felony vandalism. Ominously, California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger accused the students of a “type of terrorism.” Hands off the protesters! As the Bay Area Spartacus Youth Club wrote in a December 21 protest letter to the university administrations and the Alameda County D.A., “these arrests again make clear the class nature of the campus administration, who are the representatives and enforcers of bourgeois rule on campus. We stand in solidarity with the protesters and demand that all protesters be released and all the charges be dropped now!”
A statewide and a national call have been issued for a March 4 “Strike and Day of Action to Defend Public Education” to protest cuts, layoffs, fee hikes and the shrinking numbers of blacks and minority students on the campuses. Various coalitions are calling to make March 4 a major walkout, including with appeals to unions. The SYCs will intervene into this protest, as we have at previous ones, with a class-struggle program that points the way toward overthrowing the very system that is responsible for the attacks on education: capitalism.
For Free, Quality, Integrated Education for All!
Our revolutionary perspective was laid out by a Spartacus Youth Club spokesman who addressed the protest at UCLA on November 19:
“As socialists, we in the Spartacus Youth Club stand for free, quality, integrated education for all. We start from the understanding that to successfully fight the attacks on education, the attacks on working people, the racism and exploitation endemic to the system, you need a revolutionary program aimed at overturning the entire capitalist system. You can’t win unless you know who your friends are and who your enemies are—and the Democrats, no less than the Republicans, are the enemies of the working people, of the workers and the oppressed! Obama is the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism, director of mass murder in Afghanistan and Iraq. The UC Regents and the administration are likewise the vicious representatives of capitalism on campus. The illusions peddled by everyone from BAMN to Student Worker Front to PL [Progressive Labor Party] that the Democrats and the Regents are pressureable—these reformist pressure politics have derailed struggle for years. We say: Abolish the Regents and the administration! For worker/student/teacher control of the university! We fight for a revolutionary workers party that fights for workers revolution!”
At organizing meetings to build the various protests, our fight for such a perspective went decidedly against the grain of the protest organizers. For example, at a UCLA Fights Back coalition meeting, after an SYC member laid out our political program, a representative of the Student Worker Front, Jason Ball, went apoplectic, declaring that this amounted to a call to “smash the UCs”!
No, we want to “smash” race and class privilege in education. We think everyone should have access to the same quality education available to the sons and daughters of the bourgeoisie. We call to nationalize the private universities and for a state-paid living stipend so working people and the poor can attend. We demand the expansion of remedial programs for students relegated to inner-city public schools, an end to the racist “tracking” system in the high schools and their genuine integration, including through the aggressive implementation of busing. Whether this is possible or not is in reality determined by the outcome of class and social struggle. Under capitalism, gains wrested from the ruling class through social struggle are limited and reversible. As communists, our goal is not what is possible within the framework of capitalist society, but the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist class rule and the establishment of a workers state as a transition to the construction of a classless, egalitarian society where scarcity has been eliminated and education is the right of all.
The pseudo-communists of Progressive Labor Party, on the other hand, are doing their part to defend the “politics of the possible.” An integral part of the UCLA Fights Back coalition, they are building protests on the basis of liberal pressure politics like all the other reformists. Typically, despite formulaic injunctions to “fight for communism” in their newspaper, Challenge, on the ground when we argued for our Marxist program at a planning meeting, PL told us there would be time for discussion of communism later but not when a political protest was being planned!
Likewise, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and Socialist Organizer (SO) are doing their level best to confine the protests to what is acceptable to the campus administration and bourgeois liberals. Although usually found mindlessly enthusing over any type of protest, they have actually criticized the occupiers from the right.
In an article titled “Where We Go Now at SFSU” (Socialist Worker online, 14 December 2009), the ISO proclaimed its “solidarity with and support for the occupation” but went on to complain:
“This action disorganized the General Assembly that had been planned for Wednesday, and had to be put off because of the occupation. Faculty and staff as well as students openly expressed their dismay at this unilateral overriding of the democratic process. Building a genuine democratic assembly that unites students, faculty and staff is a sometimes difficult, but definitely worthwhile and necessary project. The action on Wednesday set that project back.”
What rattled the ISO’s chain was that the “undemocratic” building occupation screwed up plans for the General Assembly, planned the same night, with the main demand that SFSU president Corrigan “attend
and answer to the student body”! In fact, although the occupiers used more determined methods, they shared the same aim. On their blog, they also demanded that Corrigan “have an open discussion with students,” promoting the illusion that Corrigan, whose job is to administer SFSU on behalf of the capitalist class that rules this exploitative, repressive society, would take the side of the students fighting budget cuts!
Following the September 24 Berkeley protest, a Socialist Organizer article railed against “impatient ultra-left students [who] are already arguing that the movement has to move on to ‘more militant tactics’ such as occupations” (“What Next After September 24?” The Organizer online, 4 October 2009). Calling building occupations a “distraction” and, grotesquely, “a pretext for the administrators and the police to repress the movement,” SO took particular offense at the Santa Cruz occupiers’ statement: “We do not seek structural reforms. We demand not a free university but a free society. A free university in the midst of a capitalist society is like a reading room in a prison.” Actually, that’s not a bad statement. But SO berated it as “bizarre,” saying: “All activists with at least one foot in reality know that the path to a ‘free society’ passes through building a grassroots resistance movement today to defend public education.”
Socialist Organizer’s appeals for the unity of the “movement” are premised on the lie that organizing right-minded people in large enough numbers can convince the profit-driven ruling class to address the needs of working people, blacks and the poor. Today it is the movement to stop budget cuts; yesterday it was the antiwar movement in which the reformists argued that mobilizing masses in the street on a program of “peace” would be sufficient to stay the hand of U.S. imperialism from its bloody wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Such movement-mongering serves only to reinforce the rule of the bourgeoisie, by sowing illusions that the government, particularly Democratic Party politicians, can represent the “will of the people.” As Lenin explained, capitalist democracy is nothing but a form of the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. For the result of liberal pressure politics one need only look to the fate of many previous movements that ended in the graveyard of the capitalist Democratic Party.
Student Vanguardism vs. Revolutionary Working-Class Perspective
Eclectic groupings of self-proclaimed anarchists, pseudo-Marxists and liberals promote building occupations as a more effective tactic to change the way the university is run. Various blogs proclaim the need to “occupy everything” and “reclaim space” and echo a popular chant of the protests, “Whose university? Our university!” However, 24-hour occupation or not, universities are capitalist institutions.
We fight against the use of the universities and schools as direct agents of U.S. imperialism: ROTC, military recruiters off campus now! Nonetheless, under capitalism, the capitalists and their agents run the education system to serve their interests, including propagating bourgeois ideology and training the next generation of administrators, CEOs, military officers and Dr. Strangeloves of U.S. imperialism. The working class is to get just enough education so the capitalists can extract profit from its labor power. Under American capitalism, which is rooted in the racial oppression and segregation of the black population at the bottom of society, the masses of blacks in the inner cities are increasingly considered a “surplus population,” no longer needed as a reserve army of labor and thus not “worth” providing with even the basic means of survival, much less educating.
As the Russian revolutionaries Nikolai Bukharin and Evgeny Preobrazhensky wrote after the Russian Revolution in The ABC of Communism (1920):
“In bourgeois society the school has three principal tasks to fulfill. First, it inspires the coming generation of workers with devotion and respect for the capitalist regime. Secondly, it creates from the young of the ruling classes ‘cultured’ controllers of the working population. Thirdly, it assists capitalist production in the application of sciences to technique, thus increasing capitalist profits.”
The campuses are not separate from the rest of bourgeois society, and cannot be wrested from the control of the rapacious capitalist class short of the overthrow of the whole system through a workers revolution.
A prominent demand at UCLA and other campus protests has been the call to “democratize” the Board of Regents. The UC Regents, who banned affirmative action even before anti-affirmative action Proposition 209 passed in 1996, are the capitalist watchdogs over the university. They are a rogues’ gallery of many of the most powerful figures in the California capitalist class, from bankers and top executives to close friends of the governor, real estate moguls and more—including financier Richard Blum, husband of Democratic Party Senator Dianne Feinstein. It is laughable to think they can be “accountable” to anyone other than to the class they represent. Abolish the Board of Regents and the administration! Those who work, study and teach at the universities should run them—for worker/student/teacher control!
Compared to the “democratize the Regents” bleating of the liberals and reformists, statements by the occupiers sound much more radical. For instance, the occupiers of UCLA’s Campbell Hall—which they renamed Carter-Huggins Hall in honor of the two Black Panthers murdered there 40 years ago—said in their statement, “We are under no illusions. The UC Regents will vote the budget cuts and raise student fees.... We know that the crisis is systematic. It reaches beyond the Regents, beyond the criminal budget cuts in Sacramento, beyond the economic crisis, to the very foundations of our society.” That’s true. But the question posed is what political program is needed if you are going to wage a genuine fight to get rid of this system. In other words, the question posed is revolution versus reform.
An article in the London Guardian titled “A Communist Revival?” (8 October 2009) points to the UC Santa Cruz occupations as indicating “the return of communism, in its original sense.” In their statement “Communiqué from an Absent Future,” the Santa Cruz occupiers describe the need for imbuing the occupations with “a truly communist content.” In fact, what they put forward amounts to little more than New Leftist “it’s right to rebel” radicalism. Thus, they point to the mass protests in Greece against the coldblooded killing of a 15-year-old student by the cops, arguing that “the rioting was the obvious means to enact the destruction of an entire political and economic system.” But “rioting” has never ended capitalism and it never will; what’s required is working-class action under the leadership of a revolutionary internationalist party. Anything else comes down to the same old pressure politics.
Our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece fought for the defense of the anarchist and other youth against state repression, demanding the immediate release of all those arrested in these protests and that all charges be dropped. As they wrote in a leaflet distributed to a massive one-day general strike:
“The protests against the cop terror need an organized expression—one that welds the anger of the youth protesters with the social power of the proletariat. The working class must be mobilized not only to defend youth protesters against the violence of the cops, but as part of a struggle against the capitalist system itself
. Although anarchists may seem ‘militant’ to some youth, they are opposed to building the one instrument that is indispensable for getting rid of the capitalist exploiters and their state—a Leninist vanguard party.”
—“Greece Rocked by Protests,” WV No. 927, 2 January 2009
While anarchists claim that their aim is to “smash the state,” they are opposed to replacing it with a workers state. History has proven time and time again that anarchists invariably end up on the side of reformists in defense of capitalism, as in the Spanish Civil War (see “Trotskyism vs. Popular Frontism in the Spanish Civil War,” Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 61, Spring 2009).
A group centrally involved in leading the occupations at SFSU is Student Unity and Power (SUP), which includes many self-proclaimed anarchists. SUP mainly embraces a rehashed version of student vanguardism similar to what was touted by the New Left in the 1960s. Student vanguardism is premised on the notion that students are inherently revolutionary or can enact revolutionary change. SUP is fond of using the example of France 1968—a student-sparked but working-class-led incipient revolution. Although betrayed by the Stalinist and social-democratic trade-union misleaders, the mobilization of the French working class in revolutionary struggle in ’68 blew a hole in the student-vanguardist view of many New Leftists who had previously written off the working class as “conservative” and “bought off.” When the proletariat rebelled, it brought France to a halt.
During the recent occupation, students around SUP had banners calling for “working class unity” and for “class war.” But this is just window dressing. According to SUP, “California’s budget cuts can only be defeated by a militant student resistance movement, building awareness and uniting both student bodies in a statement of solidarity with the education sector as a whole” (“Who We Are,” Student Unity & Power, 21 September 2009). Students are a petty-bourgeois layer who have no relation to the means of production in capitalist society and are thus divorced from the levers of social power. In contrast, the strength of the working class to fight capitalist attacks lies in its access to the means of producing wealth—its ability to withhold its labor power—as well as its numbers and social organization. Students must therefore ally with the working class, not the other way around.
Dead-End Pressure Politics
The fake socialists can’t even choke out the demand for free tuition. In contrast, the demands of the December 9 student occupation at SFSU included “that education from kindergarten to PHD, be free of charge,” and “that the university system be run by the students, faculty and staff, not administrators.” Solidarizing with campus workers, they also called to end the furlough program and layoffs. Nonetheless, these apparently more militant student occupations fundamentally share the reformists’ view that the racist American ruling class can be pressured to serve the interests of working people and the oppressed. Take, for example, another demand of the SFSU occupiers: “that prisons are closed and defunded.” The prison system (along with the army, cops and courts) is an integral part of the repressive apparatus of the capitalist state, whose purpose is the forcible suppression of the working class, the oppressed and any perceived challenge to their class rule. This apparatus of violence can be destroyed only in a workers revolution—certainly not through student occupations!—and must be replaced by proletarian organs of power.
Likewise, the occupiers’ demand “that the imperialist wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Gaza are ended, and that money is used to feed and clothe the poor” is a rehash of the timeworn reformist plea, “money for jobs and education, not for war,” which is based on the delusion that spending money on war instead of human need is just a question of misplaced priorities by the capitalist rulers. The truth is that imperialist war is not a policy, but a necessary outgrowth of capitalism and the defense of imperialist interests abroad.
These demands are cut of the same cloth as the call put out by various liberals and reformists to “tax the rich” as a supposed solution to the budget crisis. This slogan was emblazoned on the T-shirts of members of the International Socialist Organization at an October 24 “Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education” at UC Berkeley that drew 800 participants from various campuses. A month before, the ISO had an article in their paper titled, “Is It as Simple as ‘Tax the Rich?’” (Socialist Worker, 8 September 2009) that answered, “Yes. It is. It’s that simple.” Also seeking to advise the financiers of American imperialism, Socialist Organizer suggested: “There are many alternatives to the cuts: UC Regent and CSU trustee executive salaries could be slashed immediately; new building construction and other non-essential projects could be put on hold; reserve funds could be used; the rich could be taxed their fair share; Obama’s bailout money and/or war spending could go to saving state services” (“What Next After September 24?” The Organizer online, 4 October 2009).
At SFSU, the ISO is active in a coalition called SFSUnited, whose banner at recent protests read, “Another Budget Is Possible”—another attempt to tinker with the capitalist system to make it “fairer.” The group Speak Out Now/Revolutionary Workers Group (SON/RWG) waxes on about the need to create a “true stimulus” and fills its paper with pie charts and graphs to show where the bourgeoisie’s money could be going! In a 15 March 2009 article titled “Education Is a Right—Not a Privilege,” they state: “We have the numbers to force the state and the bosses to spend the money on the needs of the majority” (Speak Out Now). Such pressure politics are an ideological support to the capitalist system, spreading illusions that it can provide for the needs of working people and the oppressed through the “lesser evil” capitalist Democratic Party, a political dead end for those who want to see real social change. In fact, after protests broke out on campuses across the state, Republican governor Arnold Schwarzenegger did propose “another budget”—one that cut welfare and Medicaid instead of cutting funds for public universities. (For more on the California crisis, see “The California Budget Crisis and the Bankruptcy of American Capitalism,” WV No. 941, 28 August 2009.)
Break with the Democrats!
Not surprisingly, just a little over a year ago many of these same organizations were crawling over each other for a front-row seat on Barack Obama’s Democratic Party election bandwagon. Progressive Labor actively participated in Obama’s campaign (Challenge, 26 March 2008; see “Obama, Clinton: No Friends of Workers, Blacks, the Oppressed,” WV No. 913, 25 April 2008). Eric Gardner and his UCLA Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) staged a “No to McCain Rally” on the eve of the elections, and BAMN greeted Obama’s impending election with gushing praise, saying: “Barack Obama’s victory in the November elections must be recognized as far more than a question of the victory of one very gifted, moderately progressive black American or of his moderately progressive party.... It would represent, even taking into account all necessary qualifications, truly a victory of reason against unreason” (“The Obama Era—Renewal of King’s Dream or the New Jim Crow?” Liberator, January 2009). Declaring a “reversal” of “conservative dogmas and prejudices” (“What’s at Stake in the Battle of the Budget?” Socialist Worker online, 3 March 2009), the ISO greeted Obama’s federal budget proposals by arguing they would “increase spending on programs for the poor, set a goal of ‘universal’ health care coverage, expand access to higher education.” What a joke!
The election of Obama as CEO of American capitalism was to provide a much-needed facelift for U.S. imperialism to further its predatory interests abroad and grind down the working class, blacks and immigrants at home. While handing out billions to bankers and auto bosses, Obama has appealed to everyone else to embrace a “spirit of sacrifice.” His education policy is a continuation of the hated Bush regime’s, based on the anti-education No Child Left Behind Act. Obama is pushing through the privatization of public schools and union-busting through “merit pay” and charter school expansion. Meanwhile, he repeats the disgusting tirade that crumbling schools and poverty are “no excuses” for the black masses and that “hardships will just make you stronger.”
As we wrote after the arrest of black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.:
“The myth that black oppression exists in people’s minds, rather than being inherent to American capitalism, serves to blame the oppressed for their oppression. Ghetto schools are nothing but holding pens for minority youth with no future in society because, especially with the deindustrialization of this country, black ghetto youth are not wanted or needed by America’s capitalist rulers. The daily reality of black life in America can be measured by the nearly one million black men and women who are incarcerated in the country’s jails and prisons.”
—“Obama’s ‘Change’ Is More of the Same,” WV No. 940,31 July 2009
Our fight against the racist purges of the universities and every manifestation of racial oppression in bourgeois society is part of our program of revolutionary integrationism, which is based on the understanding that full political, social and economic equality for black people requires the destruction of the capitalist system in which black oppression is rooted. The fight for black freedom must be central to the fight to free the working class as a whole from the chains of capitalist exploitation. Black workers, who constitute one of the most conscious and militant layers of the American working class, will play a leading role in this struggle.
The main obstacle to building the revolutionary workers party necessary to lead such a revolution is the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy, which, through its support to the Democratic Party, politically ties workers to their class enemy—politics that the reformist left tails. The interests of workers and the oppressed are irreconcilably counterposed to those of the capitalists. But for today’s union leaders, the militant struggle that was required to forge the trade unions in the first place is anathema. Instead, the trade-union leaders pursue a policy of class collaboration, preaching reliance on their Democratic “friends” in government. In fact, the big-time, big-sellout trade-union misleaders, like the United Auto Workers’ Ron Gettelfinger, have shoved down the throats of the organized working class the lie that they must sacrifice hard-won gains for the capitalists’ bottom line in the current economic crisis.
While the campus unions brought members out to the protests, the leaders made sure they were not mobilized as workers whose interests were at stake, but as atomized individuals in a supporting role to the student protesters. Neither were there mobilizations of other unionized workers, who have an interest in educating their sons and daughters. While the Alameda Labor Council “sanctioned” (on paper) the November 18-19 UPTE strike, they did nothing in the concrete to bring out Bay Area labor to the pickets. Likewise with the Communications Workers of America—UPTE’s parent union—nada!
At the UCs, campus workers are divided into several unions, including CUE, UPTE, AFSCME (which includes food service and maintenance workers) and the United Auto Workers (graduate student instructors). One out, all out—for the mobilization of all campus unions to fight budget cuts! For one campus union! On the second day of the UPTE strike at UC Berkeley, unions negotiated with student activists to hold teach-ins on campus, behind the picket lines! The only way to shut down the campus is to make sure it’s not business as usual—picket lines mean don’t cross!
The Road Forward
To drive back the ruling class’s assaults, students and minorities must be mobilized behind the power of the multiracial working class. As the Spartacus Youth Club’s predecessor, the Revolutionary Communist Youth, stated:
“It is wrong...to pretend that the fight against budget cuts can be won within the framework of that issue alone and involving only teachers and students. Revolutionaries must point out that there is no ‘program for the budget cuts’ as such, but that a fight against these cuts can only be successful if linked to the struggles of the working class against capitalism—through a vanguard party. At the same time, we do not sit back and ignore these struggles—we support and initiate demonstrations against the cuts and for free higher education with stipend, seeking to use these times when students are aroused, and thus more open to political ideas, to win individual student militants to the working-class struggle against capital, based on the full program of revolutionary Marxism.”
—“Budget Cuts Hit Campuses—Only Workers Can Smash Phase III!” Revolutionary Communist Youth Newsletter No. 17, May-June 1973
In our interventions into campus protests, the SYCs seek to win students and youth to the perspective of building a revolutionary workers party. Our model is the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky that led the workers to power in the Russian Revolution of October 1917, shattering capitalist rule. Despite its subsequent degeneration under Stalinist bureaucratic misrule, the Soviet Union remained a workers state until its destruction through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92. The overturn of capitalism made possible enormous economic and social gains for working people in the USSR, including in education. The essential precondition for human emancipation from starvation, exploitation, ignorance and inequality is a planned, socialized economy on a global scale. Only in this way can the accumulated knowledge and culture of civilization be truly appropriated by those who are today deprived of that right.