martes 28 de mayo de 2024
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The school is a struggle, the struggle is a school: A preliminary summation of campus encampments

New York (Liberation News): Students at Columbia University, City College of New York, UCLA and so many other schools have set a beautiful example of defiance this past week against one of the most extreme mobilizations of cops in recent memory.

Although the students were pulled out of the encampments and school buildings they had been holding, they did so with their heads held high, maintaining the chants that have ricocheted across the world in the last three weeks: “Disclose, Divest-We will not stop, we will not rest!”

The corporate media hacks rapidly took their place on every station to try and spin the scenes unfolding before the world’s eyes, with headlines designed to distract and divide. But all their smears and misinformation combined will amount to nothing in the long run.

As with the anti-war student occupations of the Vietnam era, and then of the anti-apartheid struggle in the 1980s, those who sicked the police on students will be condemned by history. The students who refused to back down in the face of violence, suspension and possible expulsion, will be absolved by it.

The next weeks and months will undoubtedly show that, no matter how intense this repression has been, the youth movement will continue to expand so long as the genocide in Gaza does not end.

The university encampments demanding divestment and solidarity with Gaza have already spread nationwide since Columbia was initiated three weeks ago.

All Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) branches have mobilized to provide them support, and our student members are directly involved in over a dozen encampments, and playing key roles in several. A significant number of our comrades are facing not just arrest, suspension and expulsion, but also targeted police harassment, firings and criminal charges -all because they’ve stood up to defend and expand the encampments, as part of the global movement for Palestine.

While it is too early to fully synthesize the experience of these last three weeks, and we are learning new tactical and strategic lessons every day, several key principles and patterns are already evident that we believe are important to share.

As many campus encampments are now facing the end of the semester, while staring down police attacks and administrative intimidation, it is important that no student activist give into defeatism or cynicism; instead, we are taking stock of our lessons and pressing forward. The school has become a struggle and the struggle has become our school.

From speaking every day with the comrades involved in dozens of student encampments, all of which have their own particularities and are in different phases, several universal lessons stand out for a preliminary summation.

1: The student movement is a specific terrain of struggle. There are unique qualities of the university reality that are often conducive to the rapid setup of encampments, and there are unique campus politics around which all encampments take shape. This wave of encampments is not just because young people are more radical on average than the rest of the population. University students form dense social networks that live together and develop shared identities, especially where large numbers live on or near campus. Less likely to have demanding jobs and families, undergraduate students in four-year schools tend to have far more control over their own time. They have a greater sense of “rights” to the university’s common spaces around them and direct access to the buildings of institutional power. These particularities create significant tactical and psychological advantages. An act of repression against the students, especially if it is seen as unwarranted, tends to draw in more of the student body. Even where arrests can be affected, the students often live close to where they had camped out, and are in constant proximity and communication with one another, making it fairly easy to return or regroup. For all these reasons, and more, the encampment tactic can be replicated in similarly situated campuses nationwide, even if it is not easily transferable to the working class as a whole. It can start with relatively small groups and draw in more students as the struggle unfolds.

2: No campus is an island and student “exceptionalism” is a dead end. While every university has its own specificity that those outside of it should appreciate, drawing sharp lines between “the students” and “outside support” cuts off the alliances necessary to win. In the emotionally moving moments when an encampment is set up, in which you enjoy the feeling of defiance, freedom and self-governance, it can appear that the students have all the power and the balance of forces on campus is totally in their favor. After all, the administration is a few people; the students are many. But this is an illusion. Behind the administration is not only an elaborate system of rules, laws and property rights; but the whole ruling class, the corporate media, the police and, if need be, the National Guard. The immediate question becomes: Who will stand behind the students? As soon as the administration begins to take action against the students, the necessity of outside mobilizations and an integrated on-campus and off-campus strategy becomes apparent. This is why the ruling class media focuses so heavily on creating an “outside agitators” narrative, to shift the balance of forces in their favor. We reject this. In a relationship based on trust and comradeship, those organizing on campus and outside of it are functioning as co-strategists, in constant consultation, and thinking always about how each action is rippling into the larger political moment. In the long run, the balance of forces at every university will be determined not just by the tactical reality of the encampment or building occupations but by local, state, national and international politics. Ultimately, expanding the movement into different sections of youth and workers, and growing consciousness widely, is what creates the momentum for new advances, while broadening the defense of the encampment. See for instance, the coming strike authorization vote of UC graduate students to protest the universities’ failure to protect employees from police abuse; or the unionized graduate students at Columbia and MIT who invoked protected labor picketing rights to help defend students. These are just a small showing of how the organized working class has tremendous power that can widen the struggle. On the flip side, capitulations, disorganized retreats and political blunders on campus also negatively impact the morale in the broader movement. We are all in this together.

3: Divestment will be a long-term struggle because it revolves around the politics of imperialism in the belly of the beast; it is not just about the rate of return on investments. If divestment were just about “socially responsible” investing, that would be one thing; but because Israel serves as a garrison state for US imperialism, to win divestment requires accelerating larger contradictions against the ruling class and among the ruling class. We know that the Palestinian struggle for liberation will be based first and foremost on what happens in Palestine and no amount of action from the imperialist center can substitute for that. Our role in the imperialist metropolis is to produce such a political crisis for the ruling class that it serves as a restraint on the funding and backing of the apartheid regime and its genocide. Divestment is one aspect of this. So long as the US ruling class is on the political defensive, the movement can remain on the offensive (and vice versa). Divestment may be more achievable in the short term in certain schools and institutions that are less essential for the US-Israeli relationship. This creates important momentum and precedents. Other universities, which are central organs of the US ruling class and imperialist administration, will be more challenging. For Harvard to divest from Israel, for instance, would be equivalent to a total break between the US foreign policy establishment and Israel -and thus set the stage for the dismantling of the Zionist project as a whole. Its president was made to resign by ruling-class pressure for not cracking down on students enough; imagine the backlash by their class for divesting from Israel and accepting student demands. Even if these elite schools do not immediately divest, because they are violating the wishes of their student body and surrounding community, this exposes the hollowness of their leadership, diminishes their ideological hold, and puts these institutions on the defensive. Unlike in the case of apartheid South Africa, which by the 1980s already was seeing a split US ruling class, at present the US ruling class remains highly united behind the Zionist project. There are small cracks in this unity but the US-Israel relationship is so integrated at the highest summits that the US ruling class would only throw Israel overboard as part of a world-shaking change in the relationship of forces. Students are starting to play their role in shaking the Empire from within -a huge step forward.

4: The student encampments’ main power is that they have produced a political crisis for the ruling class. The encampments are causing disruptions to the schools of higher learning, but they are generally not stopping schooling entirely (which is more challenging in an era of remote classes and exam taking). Divestment is yet to see a massive success, but that could come soon. Yet the encampments are dominating headlines and now being met with massive police force. Why? What makes some tents so dangerous? Their power is that they symbolize and represent how the US ruling class, and Zionism, has lost a whole generation, including at its most elite schools that it uses to produce cadres for the bourgeoisie. The encampments thus serve as visual proof of where the youth stand, indicting the ruling class and causing embarrassment of the Democratic Party in particular. Rather than an undercurrent of frustration, this reality is now visible and audible. The encampments are driving conversation nationwide and indicating that divestment from the apartheid project will become a major cause for years to come. Whether or not divestment is won in the short term, the youth have thrown down the gauntlet and declared what side of history they will be on. Given this, we have prioritized maintaining and defending the encampments wherever this helps retain the mass character of the student movement, creates a base to return to, and extends the ruling class’s political crisis. Sometimes an encampment cannot be preserved for a range of factors, and in these cases, we seek other tactics that are equally impossible to ignore, and which retain the dynamic of mass participation in the struggle.

5: Every encampment needs a political and practical strategy to defend itself and keep going, and this means contending against the state. It might in fact have been smarter for university administrations to leave encampments alone, and hope they lose steam, but with few exceptions that has not been the case. Every struggle under capitalism inevitably comes into conflict with capitalist law, and thus the forces of the state for which the police are just the front-line soldiers, as well as the far-right. Any illusions about the police or the Democratic Party will be rapidly swept aside by the experience of police repression. It is through the experience of these conflicts that people rapidly develop genuine class consciousness, and see the necessity for a whole new system. Security is ultimately a political and collective question, not an individual one. Individual tactics like covering one’s face or using pseudonyms to avoid doxing etc. may have operational value in certain circumstances, but an excessive focus on these measures can create a one-sided conception of security that breeds excessive caution or fear on the one hand, while providing a false sense of safety on the other. Yes, the struggle will produce consequences for some individuals, but the only real security we have against that is in building a powerful enough movement that can push back against the ruling class, and a strong enough network that can sustain individuals when repression and reprisals inevitably come. Some moments demand advances, and others require temporary retreats; that is part of the struggle. But to safeguard morale, we strive so that every advance has a plan to hold new territory and every retreat can lead to an organized regroupment rather than total dispersal.

6: Maintaining the unity of an encampment is an important task that cannot be taken for granted. A shared student encampment does not make everyone ideologically homogeneous; they inevitably reflect all the contradictions of where students are starting from. But consciousness and political lines of demarcation can rapidly shift through the process of struggle. We have seen levels of consciousness grow quickly in the last three weeks. We have sentiments of sectarianism and distrust melt away based on close proximity in a shared struggle, and as participants develop a common vocabulary to struggle through problems that they then experience together. At the same time, all the contradictions of the left remain and all the contradictions of society still find their way into the encampments since they are made of real humans, not superheroes. Instead of sorting into rival camps and leaderships, it is generally best to keep one united camp that can confront the state and the administration. We do not need total ideological unity to have tactical unity. Navigating all this requires channeling all the qualities of a revolutionary: a high level of political clarity and organization; consistency; patience and sensitivity towards each other; audacity and creativity in the field of tactics; and much more. It requires comrades to consult with one another constantly to compare notes and share information. The push and pull of a mass movement makes this harder, but also makes it all the more necessary. It requires putting forward one’s views honestly, but also accepting the sentiment of the body. Encampments have remained more united when they develop decision-making structures that engage all those who are involved. The notion that structurelessness and “everyone doing their own thing” will produce more internal unity or prevent co-optation has been disproven at several campuses. To have neither leadership structures nor collective decision-making creates the space for self-declared leaders to impose themselves on everyone else.

7: Beware of the administration’s bureaucratizing tactics: toothless promises, secret negotiations, stalling and hand-picking student leaders. Meeting across the table from one’s enemies is a necessary part of all struggles -in wars, labor fights or student encampments. There is nothing in principle wrong with it, and all negotiations reflect the shifting balance of forces. But this negotiating room with students is largely the ruling class’s terrain and their hope is to sap students’ energy and dynamism through Byzantine bureaucratic processes, or divide them with half-measures that they dangle as “concessions.” But all that glitters is not gold. With all their money, they can easily throw around this or that scholarship for students in Gaza or a new “safe space” for Muslim students. It is all a pittance compared to the billions they’re making on apartheid, and by not divesting; it is a pittance compared to the headaches caused by the encampments. Anything that bogs down the struggle is a setback at a time when student encampments have enormous moral power and political leverage. The question of how best to advance a mass radical anti-war movement is not identical to a conventional labor struggle; students’ core leverage is in maintaining the encampment itself as a space of mass movement outside of the administration’s political control that has the capacity to grow and take further action. The continued radicalization of young people is itself a form of leverage. To make the encampment more “manageable,” exclusive to student participation and so on, only undercuts this leverage. And once the encampment is gone, almost all of the students’ leverage is gone too. We recommend that all negotiations be opened as a form of mass exposure of the administration; otherwise, they create inordinate power for a small, generally unaccountable group of negotiators. In situations where encampments are simply unable to continue, and their unraveling or total repression is likely, it is understandable why some would feel the pressure to accept some negotiated end. But even in those cases, there are only a few negotiated concessions short of divestment that would have any real political value for the next stage of struggle and which the administration can’t wiggle out of. Anything that routes this struggle, while it is in a stage of popular mobilization, into bureaucratized processes, non-binding agreements and endless advisory committees, plays into the hands of the administration. Because endowments are integrated into highly complex investment portfolios, managed by third parties, this gives universities additional opportunities to drag things out with legal technicalities. In the cases where a negotiated end is inevitable, the important thing is to not call a setback a victory as some have erroneously done. It is stronger to go out with the integrity and principles of the student movement intact; this creates a more solid foundation for the next wave of militant struggle and exposes the administration, the state and the ruling class. This is the model set by Columbia and several other schools. Of course, even where errors are made or people succumb unnecessarily to the pressure of the administration, this is not the end of the struggle; even bureaucratized processes can be utilized as targets and timelines for the next stage of student mobilization, a means to expose the administration’s broken promises and hopefully rebuilding an even stronger movement.

Conclusion: Palestine has won the narrative war, its victory is inevitable

Two quotes from opposing sides of the barricades confirm the monumental impact of the mass movement in solidarity with Palestine and the student movement in particular:

“We salute the free American students, and we assure them that victory on the awareness front is more important than victory on the military front because this is the only way to avoid war.” -Mohammed Al-Bukhaiti, Ansar Allah Political Bureau

“Some think these things happening across college campuses are a sideshow; no, they are the show. If we lose the intellectual battle, we will not be able to deploy any army in the West ever.” -Alex Karp, CEO Palantir

Strategists from both the imperialist and anti-imperialist camps recognize the movement in the United States as part of a larger narrative war, which sets the overall political environment in which the combatants operate, and thus the long-term trajectory of the struggle.

What Bukhaiti calls the “awareness front” Karp calls the “intellectual battle.” Fidel Castro famously called it the “battle of ideas.” General David Petraeus, who devised US counter-insurgency for the occupation of Iraq, recognized that the Pentagon’s domination of all five domains of warfare -land, sea, air, cyber, and space- were useless if it could not win the “human domain.” If the occupation could not win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, in the long run the United States could not win.

All these terms describe the same thing, and in the case of Palestine’s liberation struggle, the narrative war has already crossed its tipping point. Israel and the US empire have lost. All of imperialism’s tools -from military to media to culture- cannot overcome this political and psychological defeat, and it can’t be reversed by a bloody Rafah invasion either. After seven months of live-streamed genocide, nonstop protests and mobilization, disruptions of politicians wherever they go, and now dramatic student encampments -there is no going back in the consciousness of the world’s people, and among young people in the United States in particular. And every day the war on the Palestinian people goes on, imperialism loses its ability to project power not just in the Middle East but to “deploy any army,” as Karp put it, “ever.” Regardless of whether they repress the encampments or stall on divestment, the long-term arc of history is evident. Israel, and its backers, from now on will be isolated. Whether the battle is short or long, Palestine’s victory is inevitable.

Identificador Sitio web Ecos del Sur
Newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation

Newspaper of the Party for Socialism and Liberation

The Party for Socialism and Liberation is comprised of leaders and activists, workers and students, of all backgrounds. Organized in branches across the U.S., our mission is to link the everyday struggles of oppressed and exploited people to the fight for a new world.
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