Melbourne Anarchist Archives Index

1973: What is to be Done? (1972)

Since 1970 student involvement in radical politics has declined both in terms the percentage of the student body involved and in terms of the quality or intensity of their involvement. Furthermore the offensive strategy adopted in 1971 became in practice a defensive strategy accompanying a long drawn out defeat. This is true even though the desired admissions policy was adopted. (We do not speak of the resignation of Glenn because even if you believe, as we don't, that the occupations had anything much to do with his resignation, it is still no victory to replace a Glenn by a Smithers. In any case this was always called a 'symbolic' demand and, correspondingly, its achievement can only be a 'symbolic' victory. Its function, if any, is to conceal the fact that nothing has been done about the Council.)

Applying Marx's remarks on the recurrence of historical events, the pessimist might say that tactics are generally tried twice; the first time it is a tragedy and the second time a farce. Which brings up the question as to whether the same tactic of putting the left in a defensive position will be followed next year. That this tactic does not lead to 'great victories' is plain, it is also coming to be recognised that purely defensive struggles have no genuine radical content. The appeal, overt or implied, for student solidarity merely helps to keep the movement on what Lenin would have called a 'student union' level of consciousness.

That our 'marxist-leninists' are not Leninist is proven, above all else, by their theory that the revolutionary importance and radical content of any action is to be measured by the amount of repression it calls forth. Apply this theory to history and one discovers that reformist trade unions and minor pacifist religious sects have been immeasurably more revolutionary than any W.S.A. Apply it in Australia today and terrorism becomes the most radical form of action (and it probably always is on this test). Apply it to the university and you have the current situation.

Although it is strange for an anarchist to say it, the central problem with the various quasi-marxist groups around universities is that they are insufficiently Leninist. The maoists, whilst in theory they don't put students and ex-student lumpen-elements on the same footing as workers, still seem to suggest that students as a whole can form part of a revolutionary coalition with the working-class. Similarly behind the trotskyist idea of anti-war or self-managed universities lurks the idea that students may be able to pull off a french-style 'detonation'. Over all student groups hangs the ghost of 1968. Is this a realistic assessment of Australian students?

This concern with the student as such accompanies a blindness to the fact that the universities fairly successfully produce useful and respectable members of bourgeois society. The average life of a student in the student left is a small part of his total life and his average life in the left is probably not much longer. Assuming that a detonation is unlikely to occur (and there is no parallel to the French university situation) is the concentration on 'radicalisation' that important? There may be much more point in recruiting students for the particular skills they can offer and maintaining contact with them after they graduate. Student struggles' are indeed important when they occur but is it the job of a revolutionary groups to create them? Radicalisation is not an end in itself and radicalisation without consolidation is just purposeless.

If there are changes in the university which would favour the left then we should work for them, but in order to achieve them and not in order to contrive a demonstration of the repressiveness of the authorities. If our aim is to oppose bourgeois ideology then the task should be taken seriously and not left to the ephemeral productions of illiterates who, as Togliatti put it, have not even raised themselves to the level of bourgeois culture.

* This article refers back to the earlier ones on La Trobe University politics.

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