‘Towards 2000’: NUS manifestos of the Revolutionary Communist Party, 1992

This was originally posted on my Patreon here.

This is the third instalment in a series of posts on the manifestos of the Revolutionary Communist Students for NUS elections from the early 1990s. The first two are here and here.

In 1992, it looks like the RCS put forward to most amount of candidates for election out of three consecutive years that I have looked at. While in 1990 and 1991, there were four RCS candidates up for a number of positions, there were 9 candidates. As well as 3 candidates for the NUS Executive, the RCS put forward people for the President, National Secretary, Treasurer, VP (Welfare), VP (Further Education) and VP (Education) positions.

Similar to the 1991 manifestos, those published in 1992 focused on the RCS’ programme, rather than including a profile each candidate (which was featured in the 1990 manifestos). But unlike the previous year’s manifestos, the 1992 ones highlighted different aspects of the RCS programme. What is also worth noting is that the manifestos featured the moniker of the Revolutionary Communist Party, rather than the RCS, which was on the previous two years’ manifestos.

As mentioned in the previous posts, the relationship between the RCS and the NUS was strained and the RCS/RCP continually critiqued the NUS for being too reformist and conservative in its approach towards the Tories. This had been part of the RCS platform in 1990, as discussed here. In Dominic Wood’s statement as a candidate for the NUS Executive, it charged that the ‘NUS response to student poverty is… out of touch with reality’, adding ‘[w]hile the government is riding roughshod over students, the NUS begs MPs for tea and sympathy and argues over the number of conferences we should hold each year’. The RCP’s solution to this was ‘put politics back on the agenda’, suggesting that they had done this during the 1992 election and sought to do this with student politics as well (although it is difficult to tell what ‘putting politics back on the agenda’ meant in this context – their 1992 election manifesto was quite vague)

The NUS were also criticised for their ‘liberation campaigns’ not being ‘about fighting oppression’, but ‘about inviting women, black people and lesbians and gays to find their identity and define their own oppression’. The candidate statement for Suke Wolton argued that this meant ‘an inward-looking spiritual journey’ for oppressed people that would lead to defeat, rather than liberation. For the RCP, it was ‘capitalist society which categorises us as oppressed people’ and ‘[i]nstead of NUS-sponsored navel-gazing, the struggle against oppression requires a systematic challenge to capitalism’. This outlook was shared by many of the left at the time, but within this outlook, you can also see the opposition to identity politics that would become prevalent in the Spiked era.

Kayode Olafimihan’s statement for his candidacy for NUS President focused on lesbian and gay rights, challenging ‘Tory morality’ and ‘rising anti-gay hysteria’. The RCP had long campaigned against this and as demonstrated in Olafimihan’s statement, the party argued that the ‘Tory government has used the Aids campaign to promote a crusade of conventional family values on the one hand and on the other to target lesbians and gays as the real problem’. But this extended to a scepticism of the promotion of safe sex to combat AIDS, with the RCP claiming since the mid-1980s that the ‘principal threat to homosexuals in Britain today is not from Aids, but from the safe sex campaign.’ In this election manifesto, the RCP chastised the left for ‘going along with the Tories’ safe sex campaign’ and ‘endors[ing] the message that sex was dangerous’.  In contrast, the RCP, the statement put forward, stood ‘for equal rights for lesbians and gays, proper funding for Aids research and opposition to the Tories’ “Victorian values”.’

Following on from the previous year’s manifestos which were dedicated to the RCS’ opposition of the Gulf War, two candidates (Kahlid Deverill for VP Welfare and Alan Miller for NUS Treasurer) had statements on Western intervention in the Middle East. These statements highlighted the Western focus on the Muslim world in the post-Cold War era and the panic about Islamic fundamentalism and the ‘Islamic bomb’. The RCP suggested that this panic was ‘setting up Muslim states for the same kind of treatment that was meted out to Iraq’, which would ‘legitimise Western militarism abroad and give substance to a racist onslaught at home’.

Although the term wasn’t prevalent in 1992, the RCP seems to be highlighting the threat of ‘Islamophobia’ and the role it played in the increasing demonisation of Muslims in the 1990s and 2000s, leading to further Western intervention in the Middle East and the heavy policing of Muslims in the Global North. This is interesting because Spiked, the successor to the RCP and Living Marxism, has often argued against the concept of Islamophobia or downplayed the level of Islamophobia in Britain.

Another issue raised in the manifestos is Scottish independence and the Scottish National Party. The SNP had made in-roads in Scotland amongst Labour supporters, particularly in opposition to the Poll Tax. This had led to Labour MP Dick Douglas defecting to the SNP in 1990. But the RCP saw the SNP’s Scottish nationalism as an example of the ‘disenchantment with the current political arrangements’, but argued that the push for Scottish independence was only a ‘negative, passive rejection of tired traditions, not a positive move towards an inspiring new alternative’. For the RCP, the SNP’s vision of independence did not make difference to rule from London, with Rachel Fox’s statement for the NUS declaring:

Rather than worry about whether we want a talking shop in Westminster or Edinburgh, or whether redundancies would be better implemented by Scottish or English politicians we should start thinking about how to create a real opposition. We need to change society not just the accents of our rulers.

Even with the wider range of candidates in this election, I have been unable to determine whether the RCP was able to gain any positions within the NUS leadership. This is the final document in a series of NUS manifestos presented by the RCS/RCP. It illuminates the changing priorities of the RCP during a time when the party started to shift its focus from the class struggle to the battle of ideas. We can certainly see a continuity of the politics that the RCP put forward in the 1980s, but there also instances of the new political outlook that would be in the pages of Living Marxism in the 1990s or taken up by Spiked.

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