As 2012 begins, students everywhere confront a worsening social crisis, attacks on their right to an education and the rising danger of war. Amid the breakdown of the global capitalist economy, every region of the world is becoming a potential flashpoint as rival powers battle over control of key markets and resources.
Using similar methods that they used to launch the war on Libya, the US and its allies are now plotting a no less murderous regime-change operation in Syria. The aim is to install a compliant government that will unconditionally serve their interests—against their rivals China and Russia—and provide a base of reaction to suppress the growing unrest among the workers and oppressed masses of the Middle East.
The US and Israel are ratcheting up their threats to attack Iran on the unsubstantiated claim that the country has a functional nuclear weapons program. These provocations are escalating tensions with China, which depends on Iran as a major supplier of energy.
New Zealand is not isolated from these explosive tensions. Over the past decade Labour and National governments have fully restored New Zealand's military ties with the US. Labour dispatched troops for the criminal wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to safeguard commercial deals—including dairy giant Fonterra's lucrative contract to supply Iraq—and US support for New Zealand's own neo-colonial operations in the Pacific.
In Australia, the Labor government has fully aligned itself with the war preparations of the United States against China. Without any public discussion, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has opened up northern Australia as a base of operations for the US military and volunteered the Australian military to participate in provocative naval actions in the Indian Ocean that openly target China. Washington played a central role in the anti-democratic political coup that ousted Kevin Rudd in 2010 because of his hesitation at fully supporting an aggressive US stance against China.
In New Zealand, the National government is escalating its assault on the conditions and democratic rights of the working class. Funding for health, education and other basic social services has been slashed and thousands of jobs cut from the public sector. The government is selling shares in publicly owned power companies and has announced a trial of for-profit “charter” schools in poor areas. Draconian welfare “reforms” are underway, designed to push thousands of people off benefits — including single parents and the disabled.
The government has allowed a social disaster to unfold following the earthquakes in Christchurch and the entire political establishment — including Labour and the Greens — insists that ordinary people must pay for the rebuild through spending cuts or levies.
For students, the right to free, high quality education is being torn apart. Jobs and courses have been cut on campuses across the country, including more than 300 layoffs at Canterbury University, and entry criteria has been tightened.
Conditions facing students in the US and Britain give a glimpse of the future for New Zealand. In the US, state after state has announced spending cuts of upwards of 20 percent to education, resulting in massive hikes in tuition fees. In Britain, fees have been tripled, while last year over 200,000 students were denied places.
This offensive against public education is taking place amid widespread job destruction. Official unemployment has almost doubled to 6.3 percent, or 150,000 people, since the onset of recession, but the real number out of work is much higher.
Youth endure the worst conditions. The number of 15- to 24-year-olds who are not in work, training or education stands at 83,000. Most young workers and working students can only find poorly paid and insecure casual jobs.
The explosive re-emergence of mass social struggles in 2011 showed that workers and youth around the world are refusing to accept the future they are being offered by the capitalist system. From the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, to the struggles of workers and youth in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Ireland against vicious austerity measures, to the Occupy movement across the US and internationally, tens of millions of ordinary people have expressed their opposition to inequality, the assault on democratic rights and the domination of society by a tiny, wealthy elite.
What these movements have demonstrated, however, is a crisis of political perspective. Even though Mubarak was ousted in Egypt, the military regime remains intact, along with gross inequality. Governments across Europe abetted by the unions and pseudo “left” organisations are destroying the jobs and social conditions of the working class. The Occupy movement has been largely dissipated, despite widespread sympathy and support.
The lesson that must be drawn from the events of 2011 is that what is required, above all, is a revolutionary socialist and internationalist perspective. The only way to end social inequality is to destroy its cause, the profit system, which is rooted in the private ownership of the means of production and the division of the world into competing nation-states.
Students must turn to the international working class, the only global social force capable of carrying through a progressive solution to the twin catastrophes of mass unemployment and war.
The first step is a resolute break with the Labour Party and the Greens, the unions and the pseudo-left organisations, such as the Mana Party and Workers Party. Students must reject the bankrupt slogan of “no politics”, which was used to keep the Occupy movement confined to protest appeals to the very governments that serve as instruments of corporate and finance capital.
The ISSE is the youth movement of the International Committee of the Fourth International, the world Trotskyist movement. We fight on campuses in Australia, New Zealand and around the world to promote the intellectual traditions of classical Marxism associated with the names of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky.
The ISSE fights for internationalism. We reject all attempts to divide workers and young people along national, racial, religious or ethnic lines. In particular, we oppose the efforts of the ruling class to whip up anti-immigrant sentiment and insist on the right of workers and youth to live wherever they choose, with full citizenship and democratic rights.
The ISSE insists that a high quality, well-resourced education at every level is a fundamental social right that should be freely available to all. We oppose student fees and all other charges imposed by the government for basic university services. Resources for extra-curricular sporting, cultural, social and political activities should be provided automatically to all students free of charge, because such activities are a critical component of a genuine, all-rounded education.
The ISSE’s socialist program calls for a massive redistribution of wealth. We insist that the major banks, corporations and utilities be taken out of the hands of the billionaires and placed under public ownership and the democratic control of the population as a whole. These political demands are essential to securing the social rights of the working class, including the right to a well-paid job, quality education, health care and housing, a dignified retirement for the elderly and a world free of war, catastrophic climate change and repression.
ISSE branches hold regular political forums where all are welcome to participate in discussions on current political developments. The ISSE distributes statements and analyses from the World Socialist Web Site among students on university campuses, polytechnics and high schools. The ISSE also organises meetings on the struggle led by Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International against the betrayals of the Russian Revolution and socialism by the bureaucracy headed by Joseph Stalin.
In 1938, under conditions of capitalist breakdown and revolutionary upheavals, Leon Trotsky wrote: "Only the fresh enthusiasm and aggressive spirit of the youth can guarantee the preliminary successes in the struggle; only these successes can return the best elements of the older generation to the road of revolution.”
In the face of the manifest failure of capitalism, we urge all students and young people to take up the struggle for socialism by joining the ISSE and fighting to build a new, revolutionary leadership of the working class.
Join the ISSE !
Open Meeting at Victoria University of Wellington
Wednesday March 14th, 4.15pm
Room SU219, Student Union Building