A call for autonomous struggle, and to smash the National Union of Students.
In a recent twitter post, Sussex University Student Union President Kelly McBride wrote of the NUS conference, ‘Most draining and disappointing 3 days of my entire time involved in student ‘politics’ – where on earth is this movement heading?!’ Indeed, the NUS conference is draining. An outhouse privy to the bureaucratic relief of gestural best-practice. What can be deadpanned from the sluice mouth? Perhaps this speech, or perhaps this. But together these are a full ten minutes, and we are running out of time for speeches. Let us just say that, for us at least, and seemingly Kelly, we can discern that #nusnc13 is where politics goes to shit.
By politics, we mean the local. We mean the self-organised struggle led by direct action on our own campus. For us, politics is the active and affective participation in immediate struggles, remarkably different to a performance of ‘political’ representation. Our politics is a practice opposed to the dominant and ordinary model of bureaucrat organisation, establishing new models of solidarity. Ours is an experience of real democracy, without mediation, and fundamentally opposed to the charade of representation and legalism that is the current student union.
The two ideas of struggle are incompatible. The NUS proposes a centralised national polity, a hulking monolith which, even if it had the inclination, is incapable of supporting our political form. Its entire clumsy apparatus is orientated around a notion of the national, rendering its local participants passive stakeholders or ‘shareholders’ in the process. The NUS is a body dedicated to political lobbying, not the mutual assistance that the increasingly autonomous struggle cries out for. It operates as a mechanism of containment rather than in a dialectic with the local direct actions of its members, however contentious that membership. The union has a policy of recuperation and neutralisation resistant to the dynamics of local struggles. Where we need resources, energy and protection, the NUS writhes in the throes of administrative technicalities and regulations.
It is not that they are unable, however, to assist and protect us at Sussex. The student’s union’s capitulation to corporate strategy, in anticipation of future careers, means that, rather than abandon its members, it is invested in a practice of violent censure. Thus, the demonization of activists, the refusal to protect the victimised, and the dedication to negotiation and consultative vacuity. Attempts to galvanise are met with outrage by those who would perceive an existential threat in every outburst of energetic and affective agency. The activist union is all but dead, the birth of the inactive bureaucracy has now been enacted in nearly every one of our institutions. As a recent tweet stated, the NUS is an amorphous monster. Every time we insult it, it just grows in size and vacuousness. Indeed, the NUS, leech like, is gross; but it is also vulnerable. We have seen this vulnerability at Sussex University.
The spontaneous expression of horizontalism within Occupy Sussex typifies the immediate desire for structures that facilitate direct actions and democracy. This has found us in conflict with USSU. This is not to say that all the sabbatical officers in the union are inactive. One officer in particular participated in direct actions, and in that instance they were our comrade. But this does not contradict our assertion that the very structures of the union at Sussex have taken on the characteristics of the NUS. Its officers are for the most part distant from the student body, ceasing to engage, and beginning to exist in mere passive capitulation to administrative models. Hence, Kelly McBride’s disorientation. In her tweet we sense the remnants of that agency, those affective resonances that demand there be something more than this passivity. But in her role she is mediator not facilitator, and she is disappointed, always.
In some cases, however, the union officers have replaced support with apathy, and, sometimes, apathy with direct antipathy. The USSU was slow to recognise Occupy Sussex, dawdled in protesting at the “siege conditions” enforced on the occupiers, and are unwilling to provide material assistance for those involved, even as those students face criminal persecution. Today, after nine days of legal victimisation, USSU has yet to address the student body on campus. They have continued to remain quiet, only to state that they will not donate anything to legal costs incurred by peaceful protesters.
The USSU, like the NUS is rendered vulnerable by its inaction. Its defunct form of politics could have been preserved, even rejuvenated, had its support for Occupy Sussex been forthcoming. Instead, the union, as a bloated corpse, reflects the status of the university as necropolis: a site without futures. All that exists is the parasitic reality, the relentless sucking of ardour and capital from the unwilling host. The NUS has grown fat on us, rendering the student movement a myopic corpse. The bureaucrats have dug their own graves; their politics is death that lives a human life. Yes, the university is very much a cemetery. Only here there are no dirges, no prayers, only the repeated testing of our threshold for anxiety, humiliation, and debt’
But the ground is shaking; students are dancing and things are beginning to fall apart. Students have been radicalised by events at Sussex, but the union has not. The very rigour of its engorgement has rendered it vulnerable; what we now observe are its feeble attempts at self-preservation. A mass exertion of energetic agency from below could burst the vacant structures of its echo chambers.
The union will not disappear, its role in the providing of services and advice will no doubt continue, but as a political entity it is all but dead. Its recent elections indicate this. Students who ran on political manifestos were largely defeated, yet the mass student support for the anti-privatisation campaign indicates a political consciousness inherent within the student body. The union has begun to ignore majority votes at emergency general meetings; it has abandoned its principles, forcing students into debate after debate without finality. Those who understand the necessities of immediate struggle are witness to this startling contradiction: students do not see the union as a political organisation. USSU is fostering its own political destruction, disengagement breeds disengagement, and at Sussex, student politics is beginning to exist autonomously from the Union.
Without the lifeblood of political discourse it seems likely the split will become total. The union will provide services, the students will provide politics. This imminent breakup may be catalysed by a particular event, but it seems more likely the cleavage will be gradual rather than immediate. It is unclear whether USSU could avoid this even if it had the inclination. We are not surprised to witness wilful-ignorance, even suppression, by the NUS on this issue at Sussex. Where was the support from the NUS on #Mar25, where was the solidarity? Great labour has been forced into ensuring absolute. Fingers are stuffed into ears, hands cover eyes, fists fill mouths, to ensure that this moment passes, and the threat to bureaucracy is endured
We do not accuse the NUS of a betrayal. An act of betrayal would be premised on a presumptive contract- a contractual agreement between sides of fit terms and conditions. But there is no willing contract between the NUS and students. The NUS is a farce. It is not US. The NUS has no force; it is part of the object it is supposed to exert on. So complete has been the civics’ domination of the union that it has become incorporated.
Where on earth, then, is this movement heading, asks Kelly McBride. As the ground beneath them trembles, the so called leaders of the student unions are disorientated and without direction. The time has come to move away from this shit heap. Comrades, let us smash the NUS!
Originally published at Absent NUS.