With angry street protests spilling over into riots and occupations across the country, various groups are jostling for position as the self-appointed leadership of the movement. After the NUS made itself irrelevant in the wake of the Millbank Riot, the National Convention Against Fees And Cuts (NCAFC) took pole position.
Given the state of things at the moment, it might come as a shock to learn that self-styled NUS alternative the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) decided to delay 5 December, which was to be a day of united action for students and workers, to the 11th. Leaving aside the question of what gives them the authority to change the weekend of action-- after they'd already assumed cooperation from other groups to begin with-- it is always clear that when leftists delay action, what they are actually doing is restraining a movement and attempting to stifle it. This movement has been gaining momentum for weeks, and it seems that the NCAFC is now seeking to control it.
The NCAFC is a perfect example of what is wrong with leftism and why it can never, ever lead a movement or do anything except destroy it. Leftists, whether they are members of dogmatic parties or not, do not have anyone's best interests at heart except their own. They are the NUS without the authority. They are liberals with a veneer of revolutionary glamour. In the end, they will always turn back to traditional authority figures, be they Labour or NUS or their own appointed ones. The real movement does not come from above but from the students and other people out on the street.
I've never believed in vanguardism. The idea that the proletariat need bourgeois intellectuals to lead them from ignorance into the revolution is so ridiculously self-aggrandising that only the most deluded bourgeois would-be revolutionaries actually believe it. Unfortunately this viewpoint seems to have taken hold. The NCAFC is finally showing itself for what I refused to believe it was: a venue for Leninists to insinuate their greasy ideology of power and domination into the genuine anger that so many people feel right now, to corrupt a movement of the people and turn it to their own ends. There is nothing revolutionary about this. It is the behaviour, through and through, of politicians and bureaucrats.
But let us rewind. Let's go back almost a year, to the inception of this group at the Convention Against Fees and Cuts, which I attended in February of 2009. Let's go back to the time I spent as a key part of the group-- and what made me leave it behind. The story is pretty typical: unfocused student outrage that the UK wants to imitate the debt-ridden and deeply unequal American higher education system. I found an outlet for this outrage in leftist politics, then abandoned leftism when it became clear that leftists are far more interested in jockeying for prominence and recruiting for sectarian parties than in changing the world.
I can say with no small amount of embarrassment that I was a liberal when I came to university-- Sussex University, whose reputation for student activism is a little more radical than it actually deserves. What pushed me further to the left at Sussex (and ultimately the 'ultraleft') wasn't interminable meetings dominated by power-hungry leftists under orders from a home office. It wasn't the dogmatic Leninist propaganda. It was watching my fellow students beaten and abused by police-- brought there by a false hostage situation-- for trying to defend their education. Nothing brought home the facts like those batons did, and no proselytising leftist prompted me to action like those snarling police dogs. This is a feeling that I'm sure students all over the UK are newly familiar with, after the brutal policing that took place on the last day of action.
I linked up with the NCAFC in the hope that I could help build a nationwide movement that wasn't dominated by petty party front groups like Another Education is Possible or the Education Activist Network. I liked the fact that the NCAFC was composed of independent activists as well as full-time party stooge, and for a while I thought that we could overcome the self-interest of professional revolutionaries to build a real student-led movement.
I spent months spent trying to coax a lumbering, sluggish machine into action. I helped set up the anticuts.com website, and I puzzled over the apparent tension between Workers Power and AWL. It seems AWL lived in constant fear that WP were going to try to seize control of the NCAFC. I heard from countless people that NCAFC was just a front for AWL, and I denied it. After all, I was an independent activist in the NCAFC, and I certainly didn't consider myself a part of either group.
Not that they didn't try. Over the course of my months with NCAFC, a Workers Power hack did his best to get me to join. I needed the structure of a revolutionary organisation, you see, not having the power on my own to make a difference. I had to be told what to do by a 'revolutionary' party instead of thinking for myself. This sort of disempowering, insidious nonsense is exactly why leftists can't be trusted with the movement, and it's unfortunate that it took me so long to see it.
In the months since, I've realised that the only reason these so-called revolutionaries were there was to maintain control over the NCAFC and the wider movement. I watched them attend occupations specifically to promote their party agenda and position themselves as would-be gurus. Being the self-appointed vanguard, clearly they were the only ones with the experience and ability to tell students how to feel and what to do.
My break with the NCAFC came just a few months after I got involved. The group's national meeting had already been scheduled on the day that the Gaza flotilla demo was called in June of 2009. Despite calls to move the meeting or delay it to later in the day, the meeting went on as scheduled, dealing with a massive backlog of administrative details. At the end of four long hours, with me chairing, Workers Power attempted to force through a motion to call for an academic boycott of Israel. Those familiar with the groups in question will not be surprised that AWL took issue with this motion (as did I and several other independent activists), and there was perhaps 20 minutes of hostile discussion.
The resulting row was cut short when the group agreed that the end of a four-hour meeting was not the time or place for such a controversial discussion. When I commented that I felt the practicalities of running the group were more important than leftist grandstanding, the aforementioned member of Workers Power told me I needed to 'get my priorities straight.' Indeed. I quit NCAFC the next day. I had had my fill of leftist 'priorities.' I didn't bear the NCAFC much ill will; I just thought they were incapable of leading a sing-a-long, much less a movement. I didn't hold their patronising attitude or bourgeois arrogance against them. Until now.
Now I find this group of posturing vanguardists thinks they have the right to throttle a movement that's quickly gaining power. True to form, they've backtracked on their calls to action and tried to force the anger we're all feeling into a neat, leftist-controlled box. Their behaviour reminds me a great deal of another group of bureaucrats feigning interest in student issues for the sake of a little power: the NUS. It's painfully ironic then that the NCAFC has tried so hard to paint itself as a better alternative to Aaron Porter's collection of shameless careerist politicians, given NCAFC's recent attempt to squash the legitimate anger of students and channel it to the group's own ends.
The only difference between the NUS and the NCAFC is that the NUS has the veneer of respectable authority, as evidenced by its squeamish attempts to distance itself from the occupation of Tory party HQ-- a position that Aaron Porter is now backtracking on. It makes the perfect foil for NCAFC's posturing as the 'radical' wing of the movement. But now the NCAFC have tipped their hand. By trying to rein in student anger and delaying action, they will smother the spark that has been lighting this country up from Brighton to Aberdeen. With this ridiculous decision-- made by people I used to consider friends and genuinely concerned activists-- they have shown that they are not the radical wing of anything.
So it is no surprise that a member of the NCAFC tried to argue with me that Aaron Porter of 'despicable idiots' fame is now allegedly on-side. He's apologised, he's very sorry, so can he please lead the movement again? It is beyond satire that the same people howling at the Lib Dems over their tuition fee lies actually give any credence to Aaron Porter's turn around. Only leftists could condemn one group of spineless liars and welcome another back into the fold in the same breath.
I didn't realise how prophetic it was when I said not to trust leftist politicos-- less than 24 hours before the NCAFC attempted to turn a day of action that they co-opted into a day of leftist dogma and rhetoric. The NCAFC will try to sanitise this movement just as the NUS have. They are not to be trusted any more than a political party, because the pillars of the NCAFC are political parties. Experience has taught me that you cannot work with leftists, because they are always working against you. There is always another agenda, there is always a party pulling the strings. If the anti-cuts movement, student and otherwise, is to succeed, we must shake off the attempts of leftists to control us and make us more palatable to their 'revolutionary' sensibilities. We do not need them. All we need is our own conviction, our own action, our own power to change the world.