Students supporting the creation of a Royal Holloway Marxist Society have been told that their application for ratification with the Students’ Union has been turned down. The Student Activities Committee assessed the application last Thursday and concluded that the longevity of the society was questionable, the society’s aims and activities would overlap with other societies, and that ratification might restrict the group as it would be bound by the Students’ Union Constitution.
The Marxist Society has clashed with the SU a number of times during this term. The group has 48 members in its Facebook group including the SU President, Daniel Cooper. It collected 100 signatures last year in support of ratification but it has been criticised by the Students’ Union for ‘disregarding rules and authority’ and subjecting SU staff to ‘rude and abusive comments’ during this term. The Marxist Society’s principal organiser Malcolm Adams believes the Students’ Union has been deliberately seeking to bully the society out of ratification for ‘political reasons’.
The SAC, which has received 20 applications for new societies this year, says it was concerned that the Marxist Society might be exclusionary, stressing that societies should be ‘inclusionary and open to all’. Contrastingly, the process by which the SAC chooses which societies receive ratification is described by the Students’ Union as ‘closed business’. Neither the minutes nor a breakdown of the societies that were or were not ratified are accessible but there are widespread rumours that a Royal Holloway Anarchist Society was discussed.
Malcolm Adams has made a personal statement, saying: ‘we are unashamedly a political society. This is not unprecedented – until last year there existed a Conservative Future society – as is typical for almost all student unions across the country. There are other political societies on campus, including People and Planet and Amnesty International. Being a political society is no more exclusionary than being any other society which organises people with common interests…given the context of harassment that we have faced from the Vice President of Student Activities, I am personally not surprised by this but am nevertheless annoyed.’
Conflict began during Freshers’ Week, when the Marxist Society set up a stall and distributed literature outside the SU Main Building. After the event Malcolm received an email where the Jake Wells, Vice President (Student Activities) appeared to be denying the society ratification before his application went to the SAC:
‘…I have decided to not take your proposal forward to the Student Activities Committee and cannot further this ratification attempt. The manner in which you conducted yourself on Thursday and Friday throughout Freshers’ Fayre is not how I would expect or believe a potential society should respond to the Sabbatical Officer who oversees them, and this disregard for the rules and authority is not something which is (and never will be) welcome within our clubs and societies…’
Malcolm has described Jake Wells’ attitude towards the society as a ‘violation of democracy on the part of the VPSA as under the constitution he does not have the power to do this and it goes against procedure.’ Malcolm says he received mixed messages from the Students’ Union regarding the use of tables and leaflets but that he complied with the SU’s demands. Jake Wells has disagreed, restating that Freshers’ Fayre is organised for ratified student societies: ‘As we clearly communicated to them, we did not have a problem with them collecting signatures elsewhere on campus, it was simply by doing so right outside of Freshers’ Fayre that was completely against Students’ Union policy…the request for them to move away from the building and take down their stall was ignored. I was also subject to some fairly aggressive and nasty personal verbal abuse on more than one occasion when making this request and explaining the rationale behind it.’ Malcolm denies there was any verbal abuse.
The ratification of societies at Royal Holloway requires at least 20 signatures from current college cardholders. The Students’ Union says the assessment of the Marxist Society’s application was delayed until last week due to the timing of elections, affecting the voting restrictions of SAC meetings, as well as the need to go through the other 20 applications presented to the Students’ Union since the beginning of term. The VPSA has stressed that the ‘Marxist Society was not treated any differently than any other society looking for ratification.’
A few weeks after Freshers’ Fayre the society was again being considered for ratification but a new stumbling block appeared in the form of the November 9th protests. The Marxist Society was told via email that it could not attend the 9th November marches under the banner of the RHUL Marxist Society:
‘…I’ve been informed that you guys are planning to go to the National Demo on November 9th as the RHUL Marxist Society. Just thought I’d email you and let you know that if you were to take such action it would seriously harm your ratification attempt, and would be fraudulent seeing as there is no RHUL Marxist Society. I therefore strongly suggest that you reconsider your plans and do not promote yourselves as the RHUL Marxist Society anywhere until you are actually ratified.’
Malcolm regarded this restriction as ‘political bias’: ‘There is nothing in the constitution which states that what we are doing is “fraudulent” and indeed there have been numerous societies unaffiliated with the Student’s Union that have identified themselves as being societies based at Royal Holloway. This was again a clear example of political bias against us in the Students’ Union and an attempt at preventing students from exercising the right to organise and discuss the sorts of issues and perspectives that we aim to discuss.’
The Marxist Society has been organising educational discussions based around Marxist theory. Their discussions have so far been based on classic Marxist-Leninist texts such as Lenin’s “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” and Marx’s “Wages, Prices and Profit”. They hope to start campaigning, particularly over Israeli-Palestinian issues and austerity measures in the UK, as well as organising film nights and speakers. Their next meeting will be on 23rd November, where the group will be discussing the issue of cuts and the economic crisis.