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Proletarian writers

May 3, 2024

Scenes reminiscent of the anti-Vietnam war movement are playing out as US students refuse to stay silent in the face of academia’s complicity.

The steadfast resistance of the people of Gaza, pitched against the continuing inhuman genocidal assault they are suffering at the hands of the zionists, threatens to inspire a whole new generation of youth revolt from within the very belly of the imperialist beast.

And the more blatantly the apologists for zionism seek to smear the protesters as antisemites, or openly to crush the solidarity movement with brute force, the more swiftly will ‘democratic’ illusions be shattered and the steel be tempered.

In the space of just a few weeks, the youth revolt against the genocide in Gaza has grown from just a local activist flurry on one campus into a mass movement convulsing over two dozen universities all over the United States and sending a shiver up the spines of the educational establishment.

Mass arrests galvanize the protestors

According to the Washington Post, at least 900 protesters have been arrested at pro-Palestinian demonstrations on college campuses in the last ten days – the largest police response to student activism in many years.

Encampments and protests were seen first in New York, but have since erupted elsewhere across the country, affecting over two dozen campuses. Columbia was the first university to see a major pro-Palestinian encampment form on campus, and among the first to be accused of antisemitism.

The BBC quoted congresswoman Ilhan Omar, whose daughter had been one of the more than a hundred protesters arrested by police. The police were invited in by the university’s president to clear the encampment, but this backfired badly. The mass arrests simply galvanised the movement, according to demonstrators who remained onsite one week later.

Ilhan Omar told the BBC that the movement started with just a few students but quickly spread following the mass arrests. “This is a movement that started with only 70 students. And because Columbia University decided to crack down on them and violate their First Amendment [right to free speech], this has now spread nationally and internationally.”

Universities working with state forces to stifle dissent

Such appeals to the traditions of free speech and academic freedom are destined to fall on deaf ears however – ears that are stuffed full of dollar bills from the arms industry. So paranoid are they about losing their cosy relationship with Israel that they are prepared to sacrifice their own supposedly democratic tradition of open debate to preserve it.

US universities have a tradition of singling out for special praise the most shining example of academic achievement and all-round involvement in campus life, known quaintly as the ‘valedictorian’, to make a speech celebrating the special virtues of the institution and welcoming newbies. But this year everything went horribly wrong when the University of Southern California, thrown into a panic by false accusations of antisemitism, cancelled the valedictorian speech.

The sole crime the valedictorian had committed was to post a link to a website critical of Israel. Not content with cancelling the valedictorian speech, the authorities decided to cancel the whole freshers’ event as well for good measure, citing unspecified threats to campus security, disappointing the 65,000 students who had been expected to attend.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that going into panic mode, calling in the National Guard and cancelling everything left right and centre does not make the stench of greed, hypocrisy and genocide go away, it only spreads and intensifies it. And what holds true for the panic-stricken universities also holds true at the macro level.

US imperialism, and moored to its heel, British imperialism, simply cannot help themselves. When they feel their power slipping away from them, as it surely is in the middle east, policy must needs give way to panic.

Common sense would dictate that continuing to support Israel when it has turned the whole world against it, and when all those corrupt feudal sheikhdoms that opted for ‘normalising’ relations with Israel are now living in mortal terror of being held to account for their treachery by their own people, is no longer a winning strategy.

But common sense goes out of the window, as it does equally when universities, caught with blood on their hands from lucrative investment and partnerships with the Israeli arms industry, would sooner plunge in yet deeper and summon the police, National Guard or private security to beat up on students in the full glare of social media publicity than see a cent of their blood money slip from their hands.

Or as the Financial Times told it: “New York City police stormed Columbia University’s campus on Tuesday night, arresting dozens of pro-Palestinian protesters in an attempt to quash unrest that has spread to campuses across the nation and inflamed US divisions over the war in Gaza.

“The incursion by hundreds of police officers, many in riot gear, was prompted by protesters’ seizure of a university building overnight, an act reminiscent of anti-Vietnam war demonstrations in 1968, when students took control of the Columbia campus.

“The arrests marked the culmination of a stand-off that began more than a week ago, when students pitched tents on a lawn in the centre of campus and demanded that the university divest from companies that have profited from Israel.

“The Gaza Solidarity Encampment, as they dubbed it, has tested the resolve of the university’s president, Minouche Shafik, and intensified a debate about the boundaries between free speech and harassment and antisemitism at a university renowned for its social activism.

“Police breached the occupied building, Hamilton Hall, at about 9.00pm on Tuesday through a second-floor window. They lined up dozens of students with tied wrists on Amsterdam Avenue to the south of the campus and had prepared vans to take them away. Police also detonated flash grenades, according to CNN, and used pepper spray.

“As they did so, protesters behind barricades blocking nearby streets chanted ‘Palestine will be free’, ‘Let the students go’ and ‘NYPD-KKK’. It was unclear how many were affiliated with the university. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

“University officials said police intervened at their request … An earlier decision by its administration to suspend students and call in the police to arrest them sparked widespread copycat occupations and clampdowns in the USA and at universities abroad.

“The campus was virtually crippled by Tuesday, with security guards ringing the perimeter and authorities asking all but essential employees to stay away. Crowds of keffiyeh-clad, pro-Palestinian protesters gathered by the gates outside the campus, waving flags and chanting now-familiar slogans: ‘There is only one solution … intifada revolution!’” (New York police storm Columbia University and arrest pro-Palestinian protesters by Andrew Jack and Joshua Chaffin, Financial Times, 1 May 2024)

On other campuses in the USA, notably UCLA, counter-gangs have been organised to attack pro-Palestine encampments before state police move in. As a writer for the Class Consciousness Project pointed out:

“The USA is once again showing its weakness through the brutal oppression of students who have occupied campuses across the country.

“The use of counter-protest gangs to violently attack students is a timely tactic to manipulate useful idiots into doing the dirty work, after which the heavily militarised police mop up and make arrests.

“The USA’s, as well as the UK’s, support for Israel and the genocide it is committing in Palestine is proving unshakable due to Israel’s strategic importance as a vital component of western hegemony. Their heavy-handed approach is steeped in the understanding that they have built a house of cards that the workers are more than capable of knocking down.”

As Chairman Mao Zedong said: “All reactionaries are paper tigers. In appearance, reactionaries are terrifying, but in reality, they are not so powerful. From a long-term point of view, it is not the reactionaries but the people who are really powerful.”

Solidarity and the power of a good example

Around the world, from Pakistan to Jordan and beyond, students have been staging protests in support of the actions of their US counterparts and against the genocide in Gaza. In Syria, one of several students interviewed by Press TV told reporters:

“As the students of Damascus university, we support our fellow students protesting against zionist actions in American universities, which have exposed the United States’ claim to support freedom and human rights. In reality, it is the foremost supporter of the zionist entity and its terrorist actions in Gaza. It is also the state that seeks to dismantle Arab and other countries to control them.”

With the first such pro-Palestine encampment established at Warwick university in Britain, and now joined by similar ones in Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield, this spirit of antiwar resistance amongst US students shows every sign of spreading across the imperialist world, in the teeth of the panicked but vicious attempts to stifle it by state forces.

They must receive every possible support from British workers, trade unionists and antiwar activists.

No cooperation with the genocide in Gaza!Victory to the just resistance of the Palestinian people!Death to zionism! Imperialism out of the middle east!

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