Tomorrow, Wednesday 15 November, there will be a demonstration in London calling for free education. Marxist Students will be there and we hope as many people as possible will be able to come along too. We want to see free education, full living grants for all students, and an end to education cuts.
The demonstration has been organised under the banner of ‘tax the rich’. We want to see the rich and big business pay for our education, because they’ve made profits from an educated workforce for many decades and centuries. We’ve written before, though, about why simply taxing the rich leaves the door open for the rich to move abroad to avoid the taxes. We can’t just ask politely for them to pay their taxes and expect them to do so – the Paradise Papers prove that. We have to expropriate the rich and the biggest businesses, and use their wealth and resources to plan proper investment in education to make it free.
The Tory government is obviously never going to agree to provide education for free. Our best bet is a Corbyn-led Labour government, and Corbyn has already promised to scrap fees as part of Labour party policy. It seems likely that, potentially very soon, we could have a Corbyn-led Labour government. Such a government would immediately be faced with economic sabotage by big business leaders who don’t trust Corbyn and the movement behind him. If Corbyn is elected on a radical programme, like the manifesto for the 2017 general election, there would immediately be a strike of investment, a flight of capital, and a run on the pound, as was acknowledged by John McDonnell at the Labour party conference earlier this year.
Faced with sabotage like this Corbyn will have only two options. The first would be to water down his programme in order to placate big business and the capitalist establishment. That would mean scrapping almost all of his most popular policies, including free education. This option would mean defeat and surrender for the working class movement that backs Corbyn.
The only alternative would be to fight back against this sabotage by the capitalist class. In order to stop them moving their money abroad, and in order to force investment in the economy, Corbyn’s government would have to expropriate the biggest businesses, without compensation, and put them under the democratic control of the working class. The logic of the situation that will face a Corbyn government when it comes to power means that expropriating the rich will be the only way he can fulfill his promise to provide free education.
The demands put forward by next Wednesday’s demonstration need to face up to this reality. The policy of taxing the rich is a halfway house in the class struggle which exists only in theory, and will be nowhere to be found in practice. We need to adopt a revolutionary socialist outlook which doesn’t look for compromise with the capitalist class who see us and our education as commodities through which they can make a profit. The Tories and big business are ruthless in the pursuit of their interests, and they will not grant us any concessions just because we ask nicely. If we want free education we are going to have to take it – and that means expropriating the rich and big business.
It’s worth noting that students can’t achieve this on their own. In fact, it’s only the organised working class who have the ability to seize the businesses and workplaces necessary to make expropriation a reality, rather than just a statement written on a piece of paper. This means that demonstrations like the one next Wednesday should be organised in conjunction with the labour movement, for example via trade unions.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to have been done by the student group that has organised the demo. In fact, by calling it on a weekday, they have more or less guaranteed that workers will not be able to attend. What should have been done is to link the demand for free education to trade union and labour movement struggles that are taking place now. And if it’s important to hold the demonstration on a weekday, then work should be done to build for strike action on that day by education sector and other workers, with a perspective of achieving free education, decent working conditions, etc. by bringing down the Tory government and bringing Corbyn to power on a socialist programme. Otherwise the risk is that the demonstration will not be seen as part of a serious strategy for achieving free education.
Free education funded by expropriating the rich, and unity between students and workers. These are the demands that Marxist Students will be calling for on next Wednesday’s demonstration. If you agree, please join us there.