This piece is a critical look at an article featured in last weeks Weekly Worker on Students and Politics see http://www.cpgb.org.uk/worker/708/drivenideas.html. I find that from time to time this paper produces some interesting articles, although I'm not keen on their politics of orientating themselves towards the existing left rather than the wider working class. I don't agree with quite a few bits underpinning the article, but some discussion of the questions it raises can be useful
The first thing I want to take issue with is his arguement that student politics is centred in 'old universities' and former polytechnics that have made themselves like the 'old universities'. He sees this as being due to large numbers arts/humanities and social science students.
This doesn't bear up to my experience at all, perhaps it might be analogous to 'traditional student politics' but not revolutionary student politics. Our student politics grows up around activists, true perhaps there is a skew towards the area's suggested above, but i think that is due to things I will discuss below, not an inherent feature of the only students who become political. In fact at both universities I've been at (University of Huddersfield and Bangor University are both quite different) we've had people from a range of degree areas including Music, Journalism, Chemistry, History, Psychology, Sociology, English, Languages, trainee Nurses, Marine Biology and even Buisness Studies.
Our politics as I mentioned grow up around activists, usually groups of a few or more people who will organise stalls, petioning, protests etc. These from the core of the group who usually attract other people around them. The more established a group, the more likely it is to have links with local colleges or local universities depending on where the group starts from. True it is easier to organise at university, but this is becuase of the existence of large student unions, freshers fayre, and the ability to get easy funding for your society. But it a society iether won;t exist or go anywhere without activists.
I do agree with the article that events politicise students, ideas are important.. but they are certainly not the only factor as I shall explain. Ideas always have a larger impact on young people becuase generally speaking they are more open to our ideas. And suprise, suprise many students are young people.
Ideas however, in my opinion, seem to be more of a driving force for more middle class layers of students (or perhaps it may be becuase it's the only driving force for them whereas in others layers of students it is one of several). But there is a contradictory nature to students class position. They are drawn from across the various layers in society. Of course the children of the rich go to university, many students are from middle class background and there a sizeable number from a working class background (like me!). I wouldn't want to speculate on the proportions of each, but i'd say that those from a working class background are sizeable and the same from a middle class background.
I would say generally, that the rich students won't be interested, middle class students are interested from an ideological point of view and thus are somewhat unreliable - they turn up to whatever they fancy - whereas working class students have some real bad material obsticles to get over. The biggest one is usually having to work either whilst at uni (like me) or over the summer (like me again!). Then you've got the overpriced and crap accomodation, cuts (which disproportinately affect poorer students as they can't afford to do extra activities or restarting their degree etc. to overcome this) and so on.
I would argue that it is possible to build struggles in response to students material cirumstances - their have been campaigns against cuts, against cuts to halls of residence or their privatisation, and although the fight against fees at the moment hasn't been that big (due to the pernacious role of NUS), it's important to remember that fees were scrapped once before.
Because of the contradictory class nature of students as a whole, they are undoubtedly influenced by workers moving into struggle - the highpoint of the students movement doesn't coincide with the high point of working class struggles in this country for no reason whatsoever.
Although I don't think the article is particularly good, what it tries to discuss is an important question in terms of how we develop a fighting students movement, that is of a sound theoretical base from which to organise from.