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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Book review: Springtime - The New Student Rebellions


As student protests engulf Auckland's streets and the adrenaline that comes from hours of physical confrontations with the police streams through our veins, it's worth picking up a copy of Clare Solomon and Tania Palmieri's excellent 2011 anthology Springtime - The New Student Rebellions to read somewhere between exams and protests.

Through over 60 short contributions with students, activists, lecturers and revolutionaries Springtime tells the story of student rebellions in the UK, Italy, California, France, Greece and Tunisia.

The anthology is an excellent overview of the various tactics available to student movements fighting the corporatisation of higher education from Book Blocks to library study-ins and dance parties. There is also plenty of practical advice such as this from a Californian student - 'To speak of barricades is therefore not, first and foremost, a hearkening back to a language of street-fighting and revolutionary situations. It is a practical issue: if the doors are not blocked and controlled by those inside, occupiers will - and did -shortly find themselves removed, beaten and arrested.'

There is a striking diversity in the political ideology and rhetoric of the contributions and many of the more insurrectionary anarchist influenced manifestos published in this collection jar with the more strategic calls for unity with workers and other sections of society attacked by austerity government. Telling students not to make demands of the government might sound radical, but it can severely limit the ability of students to build the initial momentum to mobilise amongst a yet to be radicalised student body.

Important lessons can be learnt from the contributions. One article addresses the Greek education upsurge in 2006-07 that saw university student occupations and teachers strikes break out at the same time against the privatisation of universities and classroom austerity  - 'As 2006 approached its end, there was optimism on the part of the students. The occupations of May-June 2006 and the teachers' strike offered the possibility of a broad front of struggle across education that might alter the balance of forces, and possibly lead to a wider popular movement against neo-liberal policies.' The article also covers the education movements victory, 'The government had been defeated, the image of its ability to implement whatever policies it chose had been tarnished... The political scene was becoming unstable, and young people were becoming the uncontrollable variable that made an easy return to normality rather difficult.'

The historical significance of student and youth revolts today is well made in the last section which covers the Tunisian revolution, 'Today's social revolts in Tunisia and Algeria were triggered by the same socio-economic discontent, which mainly affects young people who are poorly integrated into the economic system.'


Springtime reminds us that irrepressible student rebellions are a very real threat to the ability of the capitalists to push through attacks on working peoples living standards under the guise of 'austerity'. Springtime is an excellent and readable contribution to the sociology of student movements and should be on the reading list of all those fighting capitalism's assault on students and the needs of the market for universities that 'subordinate intellectual creativity and discourage individual initiatives'.

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