The LSE Protests 1966-69

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Martin: I had always wanted to come to LSE, as opposed to any other university, because I had the mistaken idea that it was a radical sort of place.

Mary: It's curious looking back, because what I remember about it is that a lot of the protest was about two things. One was the appointment of Walter Adams as director of the LSE.

Ted: We were about to get a new director, Dr. Walter Adams.

Mary: The protest was about his links with what was then Rhodesia; it was a time when the politics of Rhodesia were highly complicated.

Ted: It led to a great groundswell of opposition to his appointment among the students; and there were some public meetings on that.

Guatam: We were concerned to make sure that student’s voices are heard, and so whichever way it went - until we were satisfied that students had acquired a right to let their views be known and be heard - we were going to go on. I'm not quite sure what the anticipation was; we were just determined to get it, you know.

Martin: That issue came and went in a way, because Adams was appointed; you know, the governing body weren't really particularly bothered by the fact that students had said they didn't want him in this kind of thing.

Guatam: But the meetings were going on for many weeks - there were lots of meetings - and this opinion among the students sort of went more and more radical as we progressed, and as the school decided to be firm.

Ted: One of these meetings was then banned by the then-director Sydney Caine, and the most unfortunate incident happened during this. =mp There was actually a physical conflict-

Ted: There was a pushing through to the old theater.

Mary: …And I think it was at this moment that the porter had a heart attack, and subsequently died.

Ted: Clearly this guy sent shockwaves through everybody.

Mary: So the whole thing changed very rapidly.

Ted: Two people were picked out by the authorities to be put before the governors for a disciplinary action; and that was some someone called David Adelstein, who was then the president of the Students Union, and Marshall Bloom, who was the president of the Graduate Students Association.

Newsreader: Two students - Marshall Bloom and David Adelstein - have been suspended for playing what we consider to be a small part. The demonstration (UNCLEAR) .

Ted: students regarded that as, if you like, victimisation; there were lots of people involved in the pushing and shoving, but two people had been picked out and there was this hearing. So we were all in the Old Theatre, waiting for the verdict. I had the guitar as usual, and was up on stage singing the usual protest songs… I'd always played rock and roll music, played the guitar, but I've morphed into folk music because that was the thing that (UNCLEAR) ‘CMD’ specialised in. Got into Bob Dylan and (UNCLEAR) ‘Rap’. So we were waiting for the verdict to come through. When it came through, it was announced that they were suspended, the two of them, for a term; and there was the vague idea that there might eventually ensue a sit-in. Peter Wollaston, who was the student union present by then, was waiting to put some kind of motion before people. And I just jumped up and said “I am going to start a sit- in.” So that saw us there for several days - sat there singing songs and all that sort of stuff - and it developed into quite a national focus.

Martin: One of the reasons LSE became so notorious was a very simple act of geography; which is that you are a stone's throw from Fleet Street - as then was, where all the major newspapers were based - so journalists were able to pop along here and interview people and write about it.

Ted: And then there were marches throughout the country in support of us, blah blah blah. So that was quite significant.

Mary: The other issue was the way in which the LSE reacted to the possibilities of student sit-ins; because in 1968, of course, student politics were coming to life, if you like, all over Europe.

Newsreader: these people believe world politics are in a mess. A number of these people are students, who call themselves the New Radical Left. They are determined, and believe their most effective weapon is mass action and even violence.

Martin: The October ’68 demonstration, it was like a war was about to start. The whole of Fleet Street was boarded up. It was, you know, ‘foreign agitators’ were alleged to be ‘streaming in’ and what- have-you.

Newsreader: A thousand London policemen will be on crowd control duty.

Newsreader: They railed against the Wilson government; against evaluation; against higher prices; against unemployment; against the wage freeze; in short, against the whole sea of British troubles.

Ted: The people involved in student politics then work from all over the world. There were Americans who were there, mainly dodging the draft; they were quite political people. There were also people from Southern Africa and Rhodesia, who had been (UNCLEAR) regimes there.

Guatam: So once the school was closed down and the occupation started taking place, then I was coming in every day and even stayed overnight sometimes.

Mary: I did take part in a sit-in, and I suppose I was like many people actually. There was a core of people who were always at the sit-ins, who were really committed, and had a sense of what was going on in a very clear way; which I at 19 - or whatever I was then - really didn't have.

Guatam: Students were threatening to occupy - there had been couple of occupations already, I think - and then the management decided that this can't be allowed to go on. You know, there are exam papers, there are secret files on students, et cetera…

Mary: And there seem to be in the minds of the people - or the administration of the school - security issues so the school went in put out the gates.

Martin: Quote/Unquote “Security Gates”.

Guatam: This was very, very hurtful; not just to students. I know academics who were completely for the appointment of (UNCLEAR) , who were terribly upset when they saw the gates.

Martin: And I don't think it was a particularly apposite reaction on the management's part, but they thought they had to do something.

Ted: After we'd occupied the building for several days, there was the decision to put up the gates, which was generally regarded in the student body as not very aesthetic; to put these great iron gates at various junctions, particularly within the old building.

Guatam: The first gate was just as you enter the Old Building and try to go up the stairs; that's where the gate was, and so you could not continue going in different parts of the school. That's how they were placed.

Mary: Just preventing access between bits of the school or making it more difficult.

Martin: And then that clearly enraged the student body.

Mary: This was a real red flag, I suppose, to people who felt that the school was becoming very much committed to a set of values; which for many of us at the time, we didn't feel were part and parcel of the LSE.

Mary: It's supposed to be a centre of academic freedom, a centre of openness, and here you are corralling us into- like cattle. And so that led to the debate in the Students Union that the gates would be taken down.

Mary: Then there was a student- I think there was a Student Union motion which said we should take down the gates.

Martin: I was banned from the school, because I had seconded the motion at the Union.

Mary: There was a rush from some students to the gates downstairs, to try and remove them.

Martin: I hadn't actually done anything any physical taking-down of gates or anything, no. =inter No crowbars?

Martin: No, no, no.

Guatam: I missed the actual removing of the gates, because I wasn't here when the decision was taken in the Students Union. Then one of my flatmates went home and brought some things to remove them and remove them, but…

Mary: I didn't join in them with the breaking down of doors, because… how was I going to break down a steel door?

Martin: And the consequent closing of the university - the banning of some of us - and big headlines again. “LSE” does it again, kind of thing.

Mary: So it was all very complicated; I don't think you can put this down to one issue. The question was this coming together, of issues which were part of European politics - mainland Europe politics - and global politics, decolonisation. And then of course, this very internal issue about a couple of metal gates. So there's a kind of pyramid going on there where these gates became such a sort of central issue.

Ted: I think these sorts of things might have unfolded anyway, but clearly there were flashpoints; and one of them was the hearing in relation to the student union president, the graduate student’s president. If that hadn't happened, then that flashpoint wouldn't have happened.

Martin: The actual optimism that occurs when people do things together, it was very important; because you actually suddenly realised that maybe you had a voice.

Guatam: The idea didn't even occur to them that students might have something to say, and we ended up with all sorts of other benefits. Every department then held meetings with students and allowed them to say what they thought of their courses and so on, and this led to some significant changes. I remember attending one of those meetings and criticising a professor, who was lecturing looking at the blackboard all the time; he just never looked at us and gave us notes and so on, and that changed.

Martin: There was a silly thing about- there used to be two lifts in the old building-

Guatam: There was a staff lift and a student lift.

Martin: - And of course, the students one was always absolutely jam-packed. The staff one was hardly used.

Guatam: And that was got rid off after all this.

Martin: Students liked to use the staff list as well.

Guatam: So there were lots of little changes, that led to improvement in the school's way of handling students and student views, if you like.

Martin: They made people think for themselves; and after all, I always thought the purpose of the university is to make people think for themselves. To make people question and to go and look and discover, and check whether what they've been told is true and what have you.

Mary: I would not claim for myself any major part in this, because quite honestly I had a sympathy; I could see exactly what people were saying about the appointment of Walter Adams. I thought that was very problematic, tactless; but to say that I had some kind of worked out, coherent account of what was happening, it wasn't true of me, I didn't know. But the point was that for me the whole sit in and the various public discussions, were part of an education; was the best bit of Education that I'd had up to that point.

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