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A.M. Glotzer

Student Youth and the Workers Movement

(June 1931)

The Young Vanguard, The Militant, Vol. IV No. 11, 1 June 1931, p. 8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The rôle of the student in the class struggle has not always been answered with sufficient clarity, nor adequately dealt with in recent years. For the revolutionary youth movement which is concerned with the problem of the student, a correct solution and understanding of the question is indispensable.

It is necessary, in order to understand their relation to revolutionary movement, to define the position of the student under capitalist productive relations and to view this position historically. The students are not a separate class in society but in their transitory character make up a defined category. In speaking of this category we are concerned in the main with the advanced sections of the student and intellectual group who prepare themselves for their “future” as executors, technicians, managers and theorists for capitalism.

The higher the educational institutions, the more marked are the class lines. In the elementary and intermediate schools we will find the most numerous sections composed of proletarian children and youth. The children and youth of the petty-bourgeoisie are also great in numbers here, while the off-spring of the bourgeoisie who happen to find their way into the “public” educational institutions (the great mass of them are either privately tutored or attend their own institutions and academies) are in a small minority. It is when we look to the advanced school, the colleges and universities, that the pictures changes. The proletarian students are in the main eliminated – the “free” education of capitalism, proving to be far beyond their means. These students are in the main the representatives of the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie. The proletarian university and college student, with exception of a few large cities, are few and far between. The schools are one of the main bulwarks of capitalist society. It is here that capitalism trains the youth in a capitalist ideology. The perpetuation of capitalism, the indisputable correctness of this system, its permanent character, the maintenance of law and order, together with respect for the ruling class, nationalism, militarism, all these and many more make up the food on which the intellectual stratum of capitalism is raised. These institutions turn out intellectual prostitutes and apologists for capitalism. They become the brains and the leaders of the system. Under imperialist capitalism the students are in the main a reactionary section of the population who in decisive class struggle play the role of enemies of the revolutionary movement.

At times the students have played revolutionary rôles with heroism and self-sacrifice. Such instances have occurred during the period of capitalism’s birth, or in countries of a backward development, where the system was yet in the process of development. Under such conditions, the students being an advanced section in a backward social system, saw in capitalism the saviors of their highest desires. They saw in capitalism the opportunities to rise above the mass, the enactment of the “liberties” which are so akin to their desires, and which would make possible the achievements of longings.

However, the moments such revolutionary situations reach a proletarian class character, the students participating therein desert the ranks. This was their role in 1905 in Russia. This Kamenev rightly remarks in his introduction to the Russian edition of Lenin’s pamphlet on the youth;

“The revolutionary student, with whom comrade Lenin had to deal in the early stages of the revolutionary movement, was to his mind a man originating from an alien class, a possible ally, an echo of the past, as one who had PASSED INTO THE LIMBO OF HISTORY.”

How much more is this true, in a period of advanced capitalism, when the system has entered on the road of decline, and when the proletarian revolution is today on the order of the day. The inability of the students to make any very audible protest to the inequalities of the system and its brutal exploitation, attests to the above characterization. Hardly a protest is recorded anywhere against the enforced and voluntary military training instituted in the schools. The students remain meaningly silent during the present mass unemployment and wage-cut drive against the working-class. The struggles of the working-class pass them by as if they did not exist.

There are however sections (the petty-bourgeois student) of the students, who during the time of acute revolutionary struggles, and faced with a collapse of the system, will be driven to the ranks of the working-class – but they will be few.

The task of the Communists in relation to the student is to recognize that in the main they are a reactionary section in society. When Lenin stated that. “The injustices and pin-pricks which the students have to suffer is but a drop in the ocean of oppression of the people”, he states in simple language their class-character and rôle. We must not forget that they are not a revolutionary grouping. With this in mind we will be able to understand way the 2nd Congress of the Y.C.I. was able to define the tasks of the Communist youth movement among the students as:

  1. To weaken the forces of counter-revolution.
  2. To tear a gap in the threatening sabotage front of the bourgeois professional intelligentsia.
  3. To secure the scientific and technical forces necessary for carrying through the revolution and for Communist construction.

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Last updated: 31.12.2012