As I and other students, graduate assistants, professors, adjunct faculty, and office and campus support employees begin to return to school for fall semester, we find remarkably similar challenges to those faced by university communities since the 2008 economic collapse. Tuition continues to increase (40% at my public university since 2011), funding programs are being defunded and scholarships become increasingly unmeritocratic and unattainable, post-graduation employment rates remain stagnate, post-graduation salaries range wildly down on field of study, there remains a major disparity in racial and gender representation in professorial faculty, and in the era of Trump campuses have endured alt-right provocateurs and violence (before being driven off), attacks on DACA students, and the growth of xenophobic student groups like Turning Point USA. Betsy DeVos also recently committed to bolstering the rights of rapists, and protecting universities from facing consequences for their inaction in sexual assault cases.
The response to the issues we face in academia has been insufficient from all sides of the left spectrum, from liberal to social democratic, with the democrats being particularly egregious offenders. Hillary Clinton could offer nothing more than a laughable promise to lower college costs by 2022, and progressive candidates within the party who endorse free college tuition have been rebuffed from leadership positions. Barack Obama repeatedly spoke of lowering college tuition, but tuition increased steadily under Obama and continues to increase under Trump. Obama’s answer to “electoral deadlock” (a product of non-voters, not systemic failure, we’re assured) regarding the college question was to push for free community college and an associates degree for every citizen, a half measure that was never even realized. The democrats have also, despite their supposed dedication to civil and social rights, offered no substantive answer to the question of prejudice and fascist violence on college campuses—instead condemning those who struggled against these things in a militant way.
The last several years have proven to us what we have learned over time as youth and students in the United States, and as Malcolm X observed in “The Ballot or the Bullet:” “you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last.” The youth and students fail to turnout to elections, like the one that put Trump in the White House, because they have learned from experience that the democrats will not substantively facilitate or alleviate their struggle against austerity, tuition prices that increasingly turn college into a way for the rich to secure a future for their sons and daughters rather than as a mechanism for social mobility, prejudice, and fascist violence on our campuses. We can’t accept a candidate who promises not to hurt us any further, we are already hurt, already suffering under the financial burden of tuition prices, already working several jobs just to get by—we want solutions, not democratic compromises. 60+ years later, we are still waiting for the “explosion” Malcolm X saw as imminent the more democrats, “nourish these dissatisfactions.”
But the social democrats in the DSA and elsewhere also propose half measures and analyses that fail to reckon the true scope of the challenges we face on college campuses. The goal of the DSA is to bring the US up to the standard of “other industrialized nations” in making college tuition free. Free college tuition should be the goal of any progressive person in the United States, but something like the “Nordic model” that the “democratic socialists” claim to support will not alleviate the problems we face as students and teachers. The adjunctification of teaching labor has resulted in poverty conditions for a growing number of college professors, and nationally-funded tuition in a capitalist society will only hasten the speed at which capitalist administrators further pursue adjunct labor as an alternative to humane employment with tenure, benefits, and job security. This is why Karl Marx saw the shift in ownership of the means of production as necessary for any movement that calls itself socialist: you cannot inject money into a capitalist-owned and administrated system and expect it to become socialist in nature. Free tuition of the European model would of course increase access to higher education, a goal for all teachers and students, but it would not democratize it, and it would not eliminate prejudice, field-specific sexism and racism, unpunished sexual violence, fascist violence and organizing, vast economic differences between graduates of “prestigious” and non-prestigious schools, and poor wages for graduate students, instructors, and professors that so plague universities in our era. To address the issues we face as university students in 2018, we don’t need the oppurtunist “socialism” of the UK or Denmark where graduate students struggle mightily to attain funding, we need the socialism of the Soviet Union that produced more women chemists in the mid-20th century than the United States produces today.
Though we face many challenges and many enemies, the growing movements for unionization and against sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and fascism on college campuses show us the way forward. Rather than throwing our lot in with the reformists who will never achieve what is necessary in the deadlocked and paralyzed american state, it is time to begin building a socialist movement against capitalist administrators and opportunists who try to seize the power of revolutionary youth sentiment for their tepid half-measures. As Huey Newton said, the revolution “has always been in the hands of the young,” and it falls to us in these critical moments in the history of the United States to reject what the capitalist and opportunist parties tell us is “achievable,” and fight for a university that is controlled by those who work and study there, and diligently defends its students from bigotry of all kinds. Thus, with the turning of the academic year, we students, teachers, support staff, and all those suffering under a system that profits off the hopes of the youth, rededicate ourselves to fighting for free education for all, in an authentic socialist society that empowers all people to pursue their intellectual curiosity towards the enrichment of humanity.