Making Marx

Socialist sentiments rise on campus

If you pay any attention to the various announcement boards around campus, chances are you’ve noticed many posters advertising all sorts of political events.

Socialist sentiments rise on campus

If you pay any attention to the various announcement boards around campus, chances are you’ve noticed many posters advertising all sorts of political events.

Socialist student group meetings, the Occupy Portland protests and workshops on anarchism, socialism and other radical politics are all on the rise. This could be due to the fact that Portland State students are starting to show an active interest in political beliefs that lie outside the normal “Republican vs. Democrat” field. And who can blame them? With the current Occupy protests going on around the world, it’s no wonder students are taking some time to question their personal political beliefs and explore their options.

Socialism is a political belief that the means of production are either state owned or commonly owned and cooperatively controlled. Socialist beliefs developed in reaction to modern industrial capitalism. Karl Marx, one of the forefathers of socialist thought, believed that it is circumstance which determines people, not that people determine the social circumstance they’re born into. That idea reigns supreme in today’s radical and alternative political spectrum.

The local Occupy Portland protest is inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest that started in New York City on Sept. 17. Though the goals of the protest are a bit disjointed, the basic demands concern social and economic inequality (the top 1 percent of the population is more wealthy than the entire other 99 percent combined), corporate greed (those damn CEOs!) and a lack of corporate accountability.

“The Occupy protests are not a socialist movement. At best you could say they’re calling for a myriad of social-democratic reforms akin to what exists in Western Europe, but the occupations don’t have any clear set of policy prescriptions and I’m not even sure they need to for right now anyway,” said Garrett Mutchler, the editor-in-chief of Portland State’s The Rearguard, “Their mere existence has forced the media and talking heads to change their narrative and engage in a lot of important conversations about corporate power and wealth inequality that simply haven’t been had until now.”

Students have reacted differently to the socialist media seen on campus. Some have expressed dislike for it. Others, such as biology freshman Kyla Marino, enjoy it. “I like it because it allows me to see my options as far as my political beliefs go,” Marino said.

Richard Clucas, a professor in the political science department and executive director of the Western Political Science Association, thinks the presence of so many different groups is a positive thing. “The university should be a place for an exchange of ideas,” Clucas said. “I am happy to see media on campus from all ends of the political spectrum.”

Mutchler agrees. “I think it’s fantastic that some of these traditionally marginalized voices are able to get out there. Part of the explanation for a rise in interest is the deteriorating state of the economy. Lots of students at PSU are making a serious gamble by going to college. Many go tens of thousands of dollars into debt, hoping that at the end of the day it’ll be worth it because they’ll have a good job,” Mutchler said. Also a student in addition to editing The Rearguard, Mutchler has had to make these considerations himself.

“It’s getting harder to justify that with unemployment being so high, especially for recent graduates, all the while corporate profits have returned to pre-recession levels,” Mutchler pointed out. “I think those kinds of conditions make people turn toward political alternatives, and I think it’s good that we can have open discussions about what some of those alternatives are.”

Mutchler makes an excellent point; with Portland State’s tuition increase this past September for the 2011–12 school year, it’s easy to see why students are starting to take an active interest in alternative politics. And with the student groups and workshops so readily available for student access, radical enlightenment is just a walk through the park blocks.