Why should students fight for socialism? The dominance of the market on all aspects of life is crushing students and threatening the public nature of our education system. This was a huge conquest of the working class against capital. Since the government has been opening up education and student life to the market, the crisis of capitalism will inevitably affect education. Of course, students now have to take out loans, sucking them into debt and tying them up with the credit system. Students have to pay interest on their loans, which accrues after only one year of higher education. The interest rate is linked to inflation, so as the cost of living goes up, so does our debt. Students are also sucked into the housing crisis; as fewer homes are built, competition for rented housing intensifies. Rent prices are already going up. This saddling with debt ties students more and more to the problems of society as a whole. Indeed, 87% of students need a job to complete their education.
It is clear that the market is creeping into education through every gap. The stress involved and the subordination of education to the needs of profit, not society as a whole, will lead to a crisis in education. Students already pay fees, but the plan is to remove the cap on these. This will force the working class out of HE, especially as the crisis of capitalism deepens, and will turn higher education into a commodity. In fact, the government has already relaxed the laws on degrees, allowing companies to own universities with the aim of making a profit. In fact, education is already to some extent open to the highest bidder – at Cambridge, there is a Shell chair in Chemical Engineering; an ICI chair in Applied Thermodynamics; BP professorships in Organic Chemistry and Petroleum Science; a Glaxo chair of Molecular Parasitology; a Unilever chair of molecular science; a PriceWaterhouse chair of Financial Accounting and a Marks and Spencer chair of Farm and Animal Health and Food Science. Thus capitalism is unable to develop and advance education. Instead it prices out the majority and subordinates what is learnt to the interests of multinationals who, as we know, do not produce for humanity’s benefit but for their own profit.
It is clear that socialist policies are needed, and that students must be involved in the struggle for them. The market has become so untenable that even this government has been forced to admit it, by nationalising Northern Rock. But this was not done on a socialist basis. Socialists would use the £50 billion spent on Northern Rock to end tuition fees and loans, ending the need for students to get jobs, massively improving and extending higher education. This pro-capitalist New Labour government has instead only ‘socialised’ the losses of Northern Rock, in order to artificially prop up a failing system. As Gore Vidal said, it is ‘socialism for the super-rich and free enterprise for the poor’!
Students, for their own sake, need to join in the struggle with workers to end these disastrous policies! The money spent on Northern Rock could be used not only to extend education, unlocking huge amounts of knowledge for society’s benefit, but also to build houses to end the housing crisis, create jobs, and give students access to much cheaper accommodation.
But this can only be done through socialist demands and methods. We have seen that students more and more face the exact same problems as workers, especially since most of them work. As workers, especially public sector workers in education, see the need to struggle, as is more and more the case, the basis is being laid for united action with students. Grants were originally won by the working class; now that students face similar conditions to the rest of the working class, the possibility of winning grants back is better than ever. And just as for workers those with the lowest strike rates suffer the worst conditions and wages, students who do not struggle will quite literally be forced to pay the price – in Canada, where tuition fees have been introduced, they have only gone up and up, as in Britain. But in Quebec, where there have been 10 student general strikes since the 1960s, fees are the lowest in all Canada.
Marxists understand the viability and progressiveness of any social system by its ability to take society forwards through developing the means of production. And it is clear today that capitalism is no longer able to take humanity forwards. It is in fact a massive fetter on human development, and is thus unable to solve its most basic problems. Everywhere there is an enormous increase in social inequality and a massive gulf opening up between the classes. The rich are obscenely rich, while a growing layer of society, even in the richest countries, is sinking into absolute poverty. According to the US Deputy Treasurer Lawrence Summers, “a child born today in New York is less likely to live to the age of five than a child born in Shanghai.” In Britain 200,000 babies (1/3 of all born) are born into poverty every year. 3.4 million children live in poverty. When the Blair government came to power in 1997, the wealth of Britain’s richest 1,000 was £98.99 billion. Eleven years later, it is now £360 billion.
This is to say nothing of the so called ‘third world’, through which global capitalism expresses its deepest inability to solve humanity’s problems. The wars started in Afghanistan and Iraq, and their disastrous consequences, show imperialism’s bankruptcy. According to the World Bank, a total of 1.2 billion people are living on the brink of starvation, out of which 8 million people die each year because they do not have sufficient money to keep them alive. The global food crisis is massively exacerbating this, and displaying capitalism’s contempt for humanity – it is well known there is enough food to feed the world, but it is not profitable to do so. A corporation is legally bound to put the interests of its shareholders above those of its workforce, consumers or anybody else. This makes it legally impossible for a corporation to increase outlays on anything that doesn’t make short term profit. The same logic applies to environmental problems.
Thus Marx’s 160 year old prediction that the market would come to dominate the entire world and every aspect of life has been proven true. The credit-crunch demonstrates this beyond all doubt. The global credit and banking system was used to generalise market profitability all around the world, extending the boom. But beneath this veneer, the market proved ultimately unsustainable. Once this infected the credit system, the former device for global growth has rapidly become its opposite, and it has sucked the entire world into the mess.
Don’t stand on the sidelines. Join us in the fight for socialism! In the words of Trotsky: “Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it of all evil, oppression and violence and enjoy it to the full.”
This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.
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This post was written by Dan Morley