Socialism not individualism: Glasgow students resist identity politics

Taken from Challenge Magazine:

Identity politics is parasitic: its sucks the radical potential out of progressive movements and diverts the energies of workers away from unity, towards individualism. Glasgow comrades organising in the student movement are struggling against this process on campus. Ignorance of industrial struggles, combined with a riptide of liberal feminism, have produced a culture that normalises and proliferates commercial sexual exploitation of women. 

As evidenced by the neoliberal university’s legitimisation of prostitution as a career choice through the rolling out of ‘sex worker’ toolkits, identity politics is a main driver and precondition for forms of exploitation on campus. It puts a false individual consciousness ahead of the collective, class consciousness required to build real power.

This blunts the edge of the student movement, meaning it poses no threat to the fat cat capitalists sitting comfortably on the boards of our universities, racking up profits from student debt. It poses no threat to their business interests, as they sign off on sponsored events with their fellow class criminals in the boardrooms of Scottish Power and BT. The only threat to the power of the rich is class struggle on all fronts.

To remain organised and disciplined in the struggle on our terrain, the Glasgow Student Commission have regular meetings where we discuss the necessary work on campus and delegate action points. Our first objective was to establish a strong Marxist-Leninist presence at Glasgow and Strathclyde Universities. Communist societies then began to hold fresher’s stalls on both campuses and ran a Back to Basics educational on The Communist Manifesto. This allowed us to engage students directly with Marxist concepts and begin to offer real solutions to the problems at each university. 

From this, we agreed there was a pressing need to tackle students’ lack of knowledge around and participation in industrial action. Our “GUCS SUPPORT THE STRIKES” banner was very well received and encouraged engagement with us from trade unions and other students. A comrade in the society also delivered a memorable off-the-cuff speech at a Unison picket at the main gate of Glasgow University. In such ways, Glasgow student comrades take strides to promote the extracurricular learning of our peers and ourselves through practical struggle.

Cementing strong working relationships with union representatives is how we legitimise ourselves as leaders of the student movement and realise its potential to drive the class struggle forward. We want working students to engage with unions on campus, to keep morale high and build momentum, and to resist at the same time the student identity politics that distract from this struggle. We prioritise being present on every picket line possible, not just to express solidarity with striking workers, but to help educate working students on trade unionism. 

Undoubtedly, we are a most welcome and vivid presence on campus picket lines. But enhancing our visibility was only one step on a much longer journey. We always recognised the need to build solid connections with trade unions both on and off the picket line. This led to initial discussions about hosting strike educationals delivered by the UCU. After communicating with other trade unions who expressed their interest, we decided to organise a trade union panel event comprising speakers from five trade unions: the UCU, the GMB, Unite the Union, Unison and Betterthanzero. A food bank collection will also be held at the event and donated to Unite’s Christmas Food Drive. 

Strengthening the bonds between working class students and the broader movement is another of our top priorities. An example of this is Glasgow student comrades’ contacts with progressive external organisations like the Scottish Cuba Solidarity Campaign, who we are working with to bring an educational about Cuban politics onto the campus. Such work allows us to offer students an alternative to the neoliberal university – to facilitate class conscious learning that tuition fees simply can’t buy. 

Of the various ways neoliberalism seeps into and maintains its grip on the university, promotion of the sex industry is perhaps the most potent. This usually stems from the narrative – bound up in confused identity politics – that “sex work is work”. This is more prudent in English Universities with the creation of NUS-approved ‘sex worker’ toolkits, which contain advice on the “Legality of the UK Sex Industry”.

The rape crisis contacts and revenge porn helplines in their glossaries do nothing to conceal the power dynamics at play. It is blatantly obvious to us that university boards prioritise tuition fees and profit above the safety and security of their students. They would rather students sell and endanger themselves whilst being plunged deeper into poverty, than provide additional financial aid to the students who need it. 

Commercial sexual exploitation exists in Glasgow and is exacerbated by the same identity politics. Its function here is to cloud the horrors of homelessness and the overcrowding crises on Glasgow’s campuses. This pushes students to the brink of desperation and makes joining the sex industry seem like a way out, when in fact it sets off a spiral of further exploitation and powerlessness. The “sex work is work” mentality preys on such desperation.  

We are taking preventative action against the industry with the introduction of a campaign against sexual exploitation and using our communist societies as catalysts for this important discussion on campus. Although the campaign is still in its infancy, our goal is to educate and organise against any and all forms of sexual exploitation, from pornography to prostitution.

Further, during the 16 Days of Activism Against Sex-Based Violence, we will be running an educational produced by the YCL Women’s Commission on the Morning Star article: “Why do Marxist feminists oppose liberal feminists’ claims that porn and prostitution are liberating for women?”. We will also be running a Women’s Stall, led by the women of the YCL and our Communist Societies. 

Glasgow’s Communist Societies serve as real opposition to the liberal status quo that creeps into every sphere of our lives on campus. It is our duty to vehemently reject this as an attack on the organised working class. We strive to eliminate the toxic identity politics that control higher education institutions across Britain. A working class student’s place is in the struggle for socialism, not identity politics!

Robyn Martin, is Student Officer of the YCL Glasgow branch

Source: Challenge Magazine