Friday, January 3, 2014

"I wouldn't tolerate the neanderthal priorities of the average student council"

If you wanna see me crash and burn in what I'm hoping will be a meaningful discussion, I've sent in the proposal below to a student politics panel at Historical Materialism 2014 in Toronto.

The title is a quote from Doug Ward, the 1966-67 Canadian Union of Students president. It was directed at the student press and student council candidates. He was criticizing campus student councils for debating and passing motions on the "contemporary problems of society" at annual CUS conventions, then returning to their campuses to focus on "yearbooks, dances, model parliaments and the budget of the outing club."

For some background on this matter, check out this statement on defederating from the Canadian Federation of Students, and my response.


“I wouldn’t tolerate the neanderthal priorities of the average student council”:
Revisiting the English Canadian campus radicalism of the late 1960s

Based upon the organizational experiments of the Canadian Union of Students (CUS) executive and independent student radicals between 1965 and 1969, questions arising from the Quebec student strike of 2012 about the present organization of the English Canadian student left and its relations to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) are critically re-examined.

The question of democracy and democratic representation within the CFS is revisited by reviewing the radicalization the Canadian Union of Students national executive after 1965 and, in the absence of direct democracy at the campus level, its inability to generate a sufficiently broad base of support capable of transforming the political priorities and culture of the English Canadian student movement amidst the tumult of the late 1960s.

The various relations and perspectives of the student left towards CFS are explored through the rise of and fall of English Canada’s numerous Students for a Democratic University (SDU) chapters. From their independent origins in 1966 and 1967, to their CUS-sponsored expansion across English Canada in 1968, the SDU experience usefully frames current debates of how the independent student left ought to relate to the CFS.

Drawing upon these two case studies of the CUS executive and SDUs between 1965 and 1969, the current English Canadian student left’s instincts to develop either general assemblies or a new student federation separate from the Canadian Federation of Students, are both flawed and destined for failure at the current conjuncture. A tentative proposal for strategic priorities and organizational principles are proposed for an independent student left organization, including historically-informed parameters for a useful, concrete debate regarding relations with the CFS.

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