In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

A lesson from the class of ’68

Posted by seumasach on January 21, 2012

Cailean Bochanan

21st January, 2012

Reports, if confirmed, that the captain of the Concordia remained indifferent as his ship hit the rocks should not surprise us. A whole number of recent reports from disaster survivors point to a similar and strange phenomena: even when life itself is at stake people remain unable to respond. Can it be that denial is now so deeply rooted in our psyche that it robs us of our most primal instincts? Can our denial over malfeasance, coming economic catastrophe, dangerous brinkmanship in the Persian Gulf, Fukushima etc.etc. have extended itself like a blanket over our response to each and every danger we face even the most obvious and immediate? We now exist it would appear within a delusional fantasy bubble which protects us from awareness of terrible realities and, unfortunately, does so without exception.

If that is so it is also no surprise that it is, in the first instance, to youth that falls the task of addressing our existential problems. The coming to adulthood brings with it at least a glimpse of the reality ahead and, in this case, a glimpse is more than enough to reveal a complete and total mess. This glimpse has led youth to spearhead the Occupy Movement and to do so, for the most part, without the support of the older “bubblers”, the majority lemming faction who head on gamely to the cliffs. So we face for the first time since the sixties a radicalized youth who seek to define the agenda for the years ahead. This seems an enormous task in a moment which is more than a multi-generational  recurrence and perhaps even an epochal shift in the very foundations of human society.

“The great swing of 2012 is also that of the people. Because 2012 will be also the year of people’s anger. It’s the year when the people will massively enter on the global systemic crisis’ stage. 2011 has been a “warm-up lap” where the pioneers tested methods and strategies. In 2012, the people will assert themselves as the forces at the origin of the major swings which will mark this turning point.”

This “warm up lap”is, I think, a characteristically precise characterisation of the Occupy Movement by the GEAB. It closely corresponds to my own experience in Occupy Glasgow where high hopes gave rise to inevitable set-backs but where a core have regrouped and begun to reassess their experiences to date. What lessons must they learn?  I intend to look at one aspect of it only. Since we have a movement which, at least superficially, resembles that of the sixties what can we learn from failure the 68ers, the failure which dumped the new generation where they are now.

On the first weekend of the occupation of George Square, Glasgow, Scotland an attempted outreach to the wider public, a day supposedly for the family, descended into farce thanks to the intervention of a Trotskyist grouping who had evidently used their caucus within the assemblies, with the connivance of persons unknown, to turn it instead into another far left rally. There are a lot of people in the world firing off their last shots at the moment. This one couldn’t have been more blatant in undermining the spirit of the movement not just because this was expressly not a party political movement but because it expressly wasn’t a socialist or a class or a trade union movement. For whatever motives, the trots had delivered a body blow to the movement right at the start by associating it with the same old ideas, the same old suspects and the kind of political methods which had led us nowhere for forty years. In particular, they had dragged in ideology to a movement which had perfectly located itself as being nothing more than the movement of the many against the few, the 99% against the 1%, the long-awaited democratic movement which oligarchy inevitably engenders. This clash had an almost surreal character. The trots  present may not  have been exactly old but their leadership is safely esconced within academia, within their “bourgeois” sinecures, awaiting retirement. This was nothing other than the class of 68 gate-crashing that of 2011.

And it is on ideology that the class of sixty eight define themselves. Not any particular ideology but the fact of having one. There are hundreds of them. This is partly a peculiarly British reality. As Voltaire said France had one religion and a hundred sauces whereas Britain had one sauce( a reference to custard, I believe) and a hundred religions. Whether you accept that a man who ceases to believe in God will believe in anything many people in the sixties did cease to believe in God and did end up believing in anything from Marxism to Buddhism, from Leon Trotsky to the Dalai Lama. It was hard to move without being enveloped in an ideology. The post-60s period was one of the proliferation of ideologies, of organisation around these ideologies, of the clashes between them and, more typically, over their interpretation. We defined ourself by our particular ideology. It was not what you happened to think about a particular issue but what you thought “as a socialist”, “as a liberal”, “as a Christian”. Ideology was all-powerful and your ideology would win out, your gods were better than everyone else’s. Which ideology won? Unsurprisingly, neo-liberalism since the god of money had the most worshippers and pulled the most strings. Since the Occupy Movement finds itself pitted against neo-liberalism does it then have to resuscitate the ideologies slain by that awesome god?

Fortunately not. The world has suddenly become an awful lot simpler. This was the pleasant realisation attendant on my showing up at on the opening day of Occupy Glasgow proudly displaying my political programme: No more bombing!-No more bailouts! The truth was that no one disagreed with it, it was hardly worthy of attention- it was a “no brainer”! The youthful glimpse of reality which revealed the awefulness of what lies ahead also revealed what simple measures could provide the beginning of a way out. Political agreement around a few simple concrete proposals is suddenly possible because their necessity is becoming obvious to everyone as the bubble of denial bursts. Pragmatism can win the day and the babble of the ideologies is no longer necessary. In fact, it must necessarily cease. This won’t please the ruling elite who have got used to enmeshing us in this game, of playing right against left, deploying the 57 varieties of leftism and ideologically rerunning World War Two or the Cold War. The triumph of neo-liberalism looks like another of their own goals.

And so the Occupy Movement is an inclusive movement, inclusive of people of all beliefs and ideologies because it doesn’t matter anymore what your ideology is. All we need is to be able to agree on those measures which we must take to rebuild our wrecked nation, measures which are so obvious that I won’t further embarrass myself by bothering to point them out.

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