DSM Student Committee Meeting
DSM Student Committee Meeting
Building Support for Socialist Ideas Among Students and Youth
Report by H.T. Soweto.
The student committee of the Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) â€“ CWI Nigeria, held a meeting on Sunday 29 May 2011 at Zik Hall, University of Ibadan. 14 comrades from 6 branches attended the meeting, the purpose of which was to review the state of student branches, our work in the ERC (Education Rights Campaign) and CDWR (Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights), the student movement and the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS).
The Student Movement
The student movement is going through a period different from 2009. In 2009, ERC work was at its height in terms of local actions on fee hikes, inadequate living and studying welfare on campuses, restoration of banned unions, recall of victimised student activists and solidarity with strike actions of staff unions etc., all linked to a national campaign for adequate funding of education. In the last quarter of 2009, the ERC campaign had attracted thousands in protest actions, media campaign and other forms of actions. We also attracted the interest and support of education workers’ unions as a result of our actions and activities during the nationwide strikes of staff unions in 2009.
However 2011 has been characterised by a retreat in students organising to fight back despite mounting attacks on education, proscription of unions and victimisation of student activists. This retreat in consciousness among students is a result of many factors. One, the students’ unions have continued to replicate pro-management and rightwing union leaders hostile to serious struggle for improvement in students’ living and welfare conditions and a national struggle increased education funding. Secondly, the factionalization of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) and the rightwing and pro-state characters of the factional leaderships have remained a stumbling block to a united struggle of students to fight back against the neo-liberal attacks of the ruling class on education. Thirdly, the political situation, where there are temporary illusions in the newly inaugurated government of President Goodluck Jonathan, is also a factor in the condition of student and youth consciousness. However, this is bound to be temporary and will soon give way to a new mood of disillusionment and a renewed vigour to fight back as the anti-poor characteristics of the new government become clearer.
As it is now, these factors are responsible for the retreat in students’ consciousness and the low public activities of the ERC in terms of actions. Even with that, both the ERC and the DSM is intervening actively in the situation in OAU and LAUTECH where the Union and student activists and leaders are under attacks. In OAU, members of the DSM and the ERC have taken the brunt of these attacks targeted at crushing the Union and fighting organisations. In a number of places like AAU Ekpoma, we have also intervened against the attacks on student leaders and union.
Late last year and early this year, the ERC and DSM played important roles in the strike actions of the staff unions in Lagos State-owned tertiary institutions and the Olabisi Onabanjo University (OOU), Ogun State. Side by side with this, we have kept on a steady flow of media campaign on issues of education and welfare of students and education workers. The meeting however agreed that a special Socialist Democracy (SD) is required to analyse the situation in the student movement, the degeneracy of NANS and the way forward in order to educate the rank and file activists and change-seeking layers in the student movement and also orientate them to working class struggles, locally and internationally, and the struggle for socialist transformation of the society.
The factional leaders of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) are planning to hold a ‘unity’ convention later this year to ‘elect’ new leaders. However even if the different factions are able to come together to organise a ‘unity’ convention, such will not guarantee any radical redirection of NANS as new factionalization will emerge because of the underlying crisis of the association.
While a changed period may drive students to begin to discuss seriously the need to reclaim NANS from the pro-state and rightwing elements in its leadership, the only guarantee of a successful revitalisation of the student movement is the building of the forces of socialism within the student movement as well as the strengthening and rebuilding of unions. The question of how concretely to intervene to reclaim NANS is however posed by this on-coming convention. Some elements in the left of the movement and also some DSM members have raised the issue of whether, at the next convention, contest for positions could be an option. This question is very crucial to socialist students and change-seeking student activists in correctly examining the character, scale and depth of the collapse of NANS and for drawing up a clear programme aimed at building a fighting, organised, democratic and mass-based student platform.
For us in the DSM, this question is also very crucial. Right from the early 1980s, the DSM has played crucial roles in the building of NANS and Students’ Unions. In several cases, we have held positions in the leadership of Students’ Unions and NANS at the national, zonal and state levels. However, election is just one means, out of several others, through which we have done this. Intervention in struggle, paper sales, recruitment, symposia, rallies, strikes, protests etc are just several other means through which the DSM has been playing active role in the student movement and education sector. At the backdrop of our interventions is always the understanding that only by building the forces of socialism that can link the struggles of students with the task of the working class to change society can the student movement itself be sustained. Therefore, the condition and strength of the organisation and what it will gain is always the first thing to consider when discussing what to do to intervene in a mass organisation.
Also, the question of at what stage is NANS today and is election a viable means to seek to reclaim it is another key factor to consider. From directly intervening in NANS in the 1980s, which included contesting for national leadership, the DSM has gradually moved to intervening just at the zonal level and now to intervening in a totally different manner. The current stage of our intervention is clearly different from the past and is a product of sharply changed circumstances. From 2004 when it became clearly impossible for socialists to use the platforms of NANS to ventilate ideas and programmes due to the destruction of NANS’ democratic culture and structures of debates, the DSM formed the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) as a campaigning platform to undertake actions and interventions on issues of fee hikes, under-funding etc while still retaining our call for students to reclaim NANS. Our work in the ERC has helped to ventilate our ideas and programs and has also enhanced recruitment into the DSM aside other opportunities of meeting new layers.
More so since 2004, the situation in NANS has grown worse to the extent that it has lost its mass character and membership. Only activists and cultists of local unions, and not the mass of students, still relate with NANS and attend its conventions. And because, most if not all of the local unions are themselves carbon copies of the degeneracy in NANS and go to NANS conventions primarily to benefit from the loots of the fraudulent NANS leaders as well as the largesse from contestants, most of whom are sponsored by anti-poor politicians. Hence, a contest on socialist or radical ideas and programmes does not have any serious effect among this kind of elements. This is why the work of the ERC which allows us to intervene directly with our ideas and programmes among the mass of students has proved more reliable and yielded more results.
Yet even at that, one could say that we should contest not to win but just to present a radical alternative and use the campaign to ventilate our ideas among students and popularise the Education Rights Campaign (ERC) for instance. This we have done at different times between 2005 and 2007. However, there is a need to consider the strength of the organisation in terms of the condition of our branches.
Currently several Students’ Unions across campuses are led by rightwing and pro-state leadership. Where struggles have broken up on campuses, it is often as a result of pressure of the mass of students on the leadership to fight and since they were reluctant leaders of the mass movement, they have always shipwrecked such struggles at the first opportunity. These union leaders are hostile to a radical and fighting NANS, meanwhile, they are the only ones who have voting rights in the convention! The OAU Student Union which could be a launching pad for a general electoral campaign to reclaim NANS is currently banned by management over a recent protest against a fee hike. Both the President and Speaker of the OAU Union have been placed on indefinite suspension, while the ranks of the activists are generally disoriented as a result of the attacks. An electoral challenge for the leadership of NANS conducted against this sordid background will ultimately result in opportunism.
Building the DSM
Instead of contesting in NANS at this period, rebuilding our branches, nurturing younger layers of the organisation to take up roles in our work, orienting student branches towards working class intervention especially through building the CDWR, intensifying the work of the ERC especially among pre-varsity students, building the DSM into a socialist party and intensifying our campaign for a mass-based and fighting working class party appears to be a more reliable option. Against this backdrop of the situation in the student movement and attacks, preservation and nurturing of the forces of the DSM is crucial to positioning the forces of socialism to take advantage of a new period of upheaval and movement in the student movement and education sector.
However the absence of a fighting students’ platform will continue to be an obstacle to students’ ability to organise to fight back on a national scale against education attacks. This also means that the question of whether it is possible to reclaim NANS or whether it is better to form a new platform is an issue that we as an organisation must continue to take up at every point in time both in developing our perspectives as well as in the direction of our work.
This period also raises the question of orientating the work of DSM student branches towards intervention in working class and masses’ struggle. This is the best way to preserve student branches from the ups and downs of the student movement and also building comrades as working class and socialist revolutionaries and not just student activists whose radicalism usually expires after their academic program. The meeting agreed to drawing up a visitation time-table to branches as well as building active Campaign for Democratic and Workers’ Rights (CDWR) units at every DSM student branches with activities and interventions among education workers, poor masses and youths in the communities etc.
The ERC has allowed us to find a way over the heads of the rightwing official leaders of NANS to campaign among students on issues of education attacks and government neo-liberal policies. ERC is a campaign formed by the DSM to intervene in the education sector. It was formed as a result of the abandon of struggle by the leadership of NANS and the destruction of the democratic platforms of NANS through which socialists had been intervening in NANS in the past in spite of the leadership.
The meeting agreed that the ERC need to review and refocus its work and leadership structure in order to position it for the new period of upheaval ahead, an indication of which has been given by the Academic Staff Unions of Universities’ (ASUU) signal of a resumption of nationwide strike actions. Indeed, a new campaign of the ERC among pupils and education workers at public primary and secondary schools and pre-varsity students need to be launched. Also work among youth (in both rural and urban communities as well as graduates searching for employment and young workers) is necessary. While at some point it may be necessary to build a platform to directly campaign among these layers in society, the meeting agreed that in the meantime, the CDWR and ERC should work together for a joint campaign on issues relating to youths.