Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Question of Leadership

Only now do I find the time to return to the question of Leadership, a question that very much has arisen in the context of student protests, and we take a look at it subsequently and since the overflowing activism of thousands of students these last two and soon to be three months, which arguably has lit a fuse paper that many in all walks of life and in the broader Labour and Trade Union Movement have found a renewed inspiration.

The visual perception and scene of thousands of young people, comprising of school and higher education students taken over and occupying universities and schools or taking to the streets in large numbers are indeed without precedence in modern times, and I for one don’t or can’t remember the last time that the young vigorous and fresh made such an impact politically of such a magnitude.

Now some will and have referred to the Vietnam War and the protests by students and others here in Britain during and especially in London outside the US embassy in Grosvenor Square and of course around the world during that time in the 1960s.

Tony Blair and George Bush may have stood ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ on most issues, but the vaunted ‘special’ relationship between 10 Downing Street and the White House has not always been so cosy. The years 1964-68, when the Labour government of Harold Wilson and the Democratic presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, which back then, saw pronounced strain at the highest levels of Anglo-American bonds, caused to a significant extent by differences over America’s war in Vietnam. Opposition to the war within and please note the Labour Party and among the British general public in general meant that the Wilson government could not satisfy the United States’ desire for support; certainly, Labour back then had to reject the frequent American requests for combat troops. In the absence of direct British participation, the Johnson administration tended to regard Wilson’s various attempts to moderate the war largely as an irrelevance or even as a downright nuisance. Tensions over Vietnam helped ensure that the Wilson-Johnson relationship was probably the worst between any British prime minister and US president, oh such happy days then.

We are of course talking about a totally different Labour Party and to some extent Trade Union movement, and of course a totally different time really, and if you were a time traveller a very different Britain which you would indeed find on arrival as you stepped out from your time travelling machine; although its not that long ago actually, very much still within living memory. But unfortunately the truth is that nothing, and as they say truthfully lasts for ever, particularly under capitalism which is constantly and invariably moving the goalposts in order to harvest through exploitation the financial gain it hungers for which will never squelch and quench its thrust for more and more profits.

Some background and scenery intended only to bring and put today’s struggles into real context, it is not my intention to draw a comparison based on any similarities and differences with students then and now, because put simply there aren’t any, yes I do understand that there are those who think a common footing and ground can be found with the French students of 1968. During this time, France saw the largest general strike, resulting in the economy coming to a virtual standstill, commencing with a series of student occupations and protests. Strikes involved eleven million workers for a whole uninterrupted and unbroken two weeks, and its impact was such that it almost induced the collapse of President Charles de Gaulle's government. In staging wildcat strikes, the movement contrasted with the leadership of labour unions and the French Communist Party (Parti Communiste Fran├žais, PCF), which began to side with the de Gaulle government. Groups revolted against modern consumer and technical society and embraced left-wing positions that were critical of authoritarianism and Western capitalism.

Many saw the events as a chance to shake up the "old society" and its traditional morality; focalisation was especially on the education system and employment.  It began as a long series of student strikes that broke out at a number of universities in Paris, following confrontations with university administrators and the police. Now there is indeed a wealth of information and piles and absolute masses of written material about those events, and all with one interpretation or another, you pay your money and take your pick. From our point of view we don’t see any relevance whatsoever in then or now, a different time and a different set of political circumstances, for one thing capitalism is in a deep toxic world crisis, that wasn’t the case back then, living standards were rising along with capitalist production and world expansion. In Britain more young people were leaving full-time schooling and taking up jobs or starting an apprenticeship in some industry or other rather than go on to higher education and university. In the reign of Margaret Hilda Thatcher many things changed during the late 70s and early 90s which I am sure that there is no need to highlight; industry as we knew it disappeared from our landscape in a great many case’s for good leaving behind industrial desserts and a disposed population who some thirty or so years latter are still paying with their families a very heavy price.

So in a kind of condensed and compact critique, this brings us back to today, what I left out has been any mention of what must be said is an ineffective (in comparison to yesteryear) and weakened Trade Union movement, deliberately impaired by diminution over a thirty year period of attack from the Tories and then inaction by Labour in the 13 years they were in power, something that would be unthinkable in Harold Wilson’s time.

This is the background, the backdrop of our present situation, a situation were the ruling class has never had it so good, a situation were the majority, the working class have never had it so bad as austerity becomes the only game in town. And like tumbling in the dark we look for a way to defend gains made over a hundred years of struggle by the Labour movement, welfare, education are under the butchers knife how are we to defend ourselves is the question of the day, students have taken the first tentative steps in that direction, they have along with many others started to build a new movement which is kissing goodbye to the old movement and its obsession of leadership and instead building a groundswell of real effective opposition.

To Be Continued…

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