It is Right to Rebel tells the stories of student political struggles at Monash University in the 1960s and early 1970s. Published in 1972, Rebel’s precise authorship is not clear, although it would be reasonable to assume that its makers were, like the student and chief editor Michael Hyde, actively involved in the more radical revolutionary-socialist aspect of the first student political movement(s) considered in the book.
Rebel can be read as a history of the development of student politics at Monash, particularly the Maoist (Marxist-Leninist) trend adopted by the infamous Monash Labour Club and its radicalising influence over the early student movement more broadly. In many ways the book offers unique ‘insider’ perspectives on the mass student unrest, dissent and uprisings that characterised Monash in its formative decades. More specifically, Rebel presents accounts from the more prominent organisers and participants in those student protests and demonstrations, namely the radical Labour Club activists – those who the mainstream press and other authority figures of the day referred to as the ‘ratbags’, ‘idiotic vandals,’ ‘nuts’, ‘pack-raping bikies,’ ‘rabble,’ ‘bastards,’ ‘bums’, ‘wasters of taxpayer’s money’, and ‘communist lunatics.’
The main theme of Rebel, as the title suggests, is rebellion. It is a book about how and why students organised themselves, argued, debated, mobilised and exercised their united power against the authorities of their age (namely the government and University Administration) in the 1960s and early 1970s. As such, the description and analysis focuses on the circumstantial issues of the American and Australian War in Vietnam (conscription), University disciplinary policies (excluding and expelling students for off-campus political activity) and the anti-Apartheid campaign (the South African Rugby team tour).Rebel represents the growth of students’ anti-authoritarianism, from publicly questioning those in power – challenging the merit of administrators’ arguments and demanding more reasonable and democratic tertiary policies – to actively demonstrating against the authorities, disobeying their rules, statutes, laws and orders, obstructing conventional university practices and attempting to subvert unreasonable and repressive political conditions imposed upon the student body. It considers development in political activist strategies from attempting verbal negotiation to ‘direct action’.
Primarily, it was the Monash University Administration and Australian governments at both State and Federal levels which earned the ire of the student masses during this period. Those authorities bore the brunt of that ire in the form of critical pamphlets and broadsheets, news media satire, protest placards, marches, picket lines, “sit-ins” and occupations.
However, the established student governing body at Monash in the 1960s, the Student Representative Council, also came under intense pressure from students and its authority was decisively dissolved in 1968 when it was replaced with the more democratic participatory model of the Monash Association of Students.
Undoubtedly the Labour Club and other more radical student activists played no small role in bringing about this structural transformation of the student union. Indeed, the Labor Club, with its radical political ideas and activities is described (tongue in cheek) in the book’s glossary as:
“A band of anarchistic agitators (‘Herald’), communistic in their sympathies, many alien in their origins, depriving good Australians of their rightful place in University (‘Gippsland Times’). This group of ‘long-haired, uncouth, unwashed, uncultured, rat-bags’ (State Parliament) forms the local cell of the International-Bolshevik-Zionist-Flouridasitionist-Conspiracy, dedicated to fighting against Truth, Justice and the American Way.”
In any case, class and the notion of the student-worker predicament plays a fundamental role in the historical analysis presented in Rebel as it draws directly from Marxist-Leninist ideas and employs plenty of socialist rhetoric in relating events. For the authors of Rebel, the Labor Club featured as a kind of ‘revolutionary vanguard’, and with its increasingly radical Maoist political agenda worked most effectively to radicalise the student body, raise political consciousness and generally inspire and facilitate rebellion with a view to the eventual overthrowing of the state capitalist system and realisation of a new socialist society.
One of the more memorable examples of student rebellion related in Rebel concerns an occupation or “sit-in” of the Monash University Administration buildings in protest against the Administration’s disciplinary policies, which had resulted in the expulsion of several students. This particular occupation prompted a senior administrator’s miscalculated attempt to dilute the radical nature of the student demands by cancelling all lectures, leading to a mass meeting of 5000 to 7000 students mostly sympathetic to and supportive of the “sit-in” cause!
No matter where you place yourself on the political spectrum, Rebel constitutes a stimulating read. Whether you consider yourself a dedicated ‘leftist-revolutionary’, a less avid ‘progressive socialist,’ a fence hopping ‘liberal’, a cheerfully sceptical ‘conservative’, an asocial ‘neo-liberal,’ or an un-categorisable, apolitical, chai latte sipping ‘anti-hipster’, Rebel represents an important treasure trove of student ideological heritage.
If you are interested in better understanding the present malaise of student politics and imagining a viable alternative to such a degenerate situation, or if you are simply after tantalising tales of our ‘revolting’ student predecessors, then reading Rebel will be worth your while.