Really Open University article for Shift
Any response to this interview should note that Mark Bergfeld (should he win) will be a far better president of the NUS than Aaron Porter. Porter has been worse than useless in the fight against tuition fees and education cuts, fulfilling the traditional NUS role of limiting the extent of struggle wherever possible.
However, we must ask the question – does Mark Bergfeld have the skills, the analysis, or the viewpoint required to forsake the traditional role of the NUS, to transform it from the policeman of student protest into an organisation that can actually threaten the stability of the government? Probably not.
First, it is telling that he is unashamed that his candidacy is entirely unilateral. He is candid about the United Left Slate – it was put together behind closed doors, in a process of negotiation between established left factions in the student movement. This top-down process is unlikely to lend it much legitimacy amongst students beyond the small left groups involved.
Second, Bergfeld appears to ignore the massive political obstacles placed in the way of any radical elected bureaucrat. The NUS is (by law) a registered charity, and as such, it is forbidden from encouraging illegal activity, and it is technically forbidden from making political statements that do not directly affect its members. The NUS office is run day-to-day by highly paid managers, and veto power is held by a board of trustees composed of businesspeople and other ‘great and good’ figures. I say this to emphasise a point – there is a whole host of reasons why NUS presidents do not support radical student action – reasons deeply embedded in social structures, legal codes, and balances of power. Not all NUS presidents started their term as ’spineless ditherers’, but all have ended that way (see Kat Fletcher for example). Bergfeld must be more vigilant than he could ever imagine.
Third, I doubt whether Bergfeld has the strategy to win a major student struggle. This is no harsh criticism – currently no-one seems to have a strategy that could lead to success. However, he appears to be unaware that a one-day shut down of education, and a big demo with the TUC are simply not going to do it. Continued occupations of lecture halls are not going to do it. He calls for ‘the broadest possible movement against the cuts’ but seems unaware of the fact that, in most parts of the country, the movement has continuously shrunk in size and breadth since November 24th. It is obvious that we haven’t done everything right – it is worrying that any student activist should be oblivious to this fact.
By Patrick Rolfe