No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Youth radicalism 2010

In 1930, the Communist thinker Antonio Gramsci wrote in his Prisons Notebooks that ‘the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying, and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.’

The mass, radical demonstrations of young people in the last months have caught many by surprise. From Greece to France, from Italy to Britain, crowds of young women and men, often teenagers, have taken to the streets and protested against their governments. This protest has been mostly characterized by direct action and the refusal of political affiliation. In addition, young protesters have shot thousands of photos and videos to visualize their protest. By disseminating these images in the internet, young people have been able to tackle the official media representations of the protest and recount their stories by themselves. Unexpectedly, youth radicalism has become again one of the main issues in the political agenda. Reactions from politics and the public opinion have ranged from stereotypical scaremongering to open support. What has become clear very rapidly, however, is that the demands of young people can no longer be ignored.

What these protests tell us is that the new generations are not necessarily distant from politics, as generally argued. The real point here, is what we mean by politics. If politics is a party game played by a limited elite of white male adult upper class lads, young people are effectively distant from politics. If politics is the process of conflict and negotiation between different groups of society, the protest of young people is the most political act, for it is the way in which young people assert their public presence as a collective group. In this sense, the protest of young people is not simply occupation, but repossession of the public space by a "subaltern group" (subaltern for young people are not a constitutive part of the ruling class that decides upon their lives - the protest of schoolgirls and schoolboys who cannot vote and stand up against the rise of the tuition fees that the government wants them to pay is a case in point),

What students protest tells us is also that the narcotizing representation of society promoted by mainstream media, however hegemonial it is, cannot completely stifle conflict where the rifts between different groups of society become too evident (as in the case of tuition fees). In addition, the skill of young people in using the new commercial media (e.g. Facebook) and consumption object (e.g. iPhones) as a means to protest shows us how subaltern groups are never passive targets, but agents able at using the new consumption items to their own ends.

Of course, young people by themselves cannot save the world (differently from what the Italian writer Elsa Morante wrote on the spur of 1968 in her book Il mondo salvato dai ragazzini). First, they are far from being a homogeneous group. The most important rift is between those who are in education and those who are outside education, which is intertwined (but does not coincide) with class divisions. Among students, those who seem most militant seem to come from a middle-class background (especially where the parents work in the public administration) or from a working-class background. These young people are those who experience more directly the collapse of the post-war consensus – and of its “meritocratic” rhetoric based on personal improvement through education. Many students coming from a middle class background know that they will be asked to work more, in more insecure conditions, and with less (or no) welfare insurances as compared to their parents. Students coming from a working-class background are aware that the reform of the school and university system will thwart the possibility for working-class teenagers (e.g. their siblings) to improve their social condition through education (as themselves are trying to do).

A new “political generation” arises when a group of young people enter collectively the public arena on the basis of a new, pervasive and urgent issue. This issue becomes the defining trait of the political identity of those young people. For the 1917 generation of Communists, for example, that issue was revolution; for the 1945 generation of resistance fighters, that issue was Antifascism; for the 1968 generation, that issue was the Vietnam war and anti-authoritarism. It is too early to say whether we can speak of a 2008-2010 generation. In case, we might probably speak of a “generation of the crisis”. The real point, here, is what the term crisis refers to. So far, the Western governments have tried to turn a crisis of the financial economy into a crisis of the welfare state, of public education, of all the remnants of social justice inherited from the Keynesian era. If young people and all the other groups who are affected by these policies are able to form a new “historical bloc” and fight back, however, the meaning of the term might shift into “crisis of neoliberalism”. This would be the best legacy that the 2008-2010 generation might bequeath to the generations to come.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Support Sussex and fight back on 24 November!

We support the student occupation of the Fulton building in Sussex campus: education is a right, not a privilege!

We encourage peaceful, colourful and loud protest against cuts in education spending on all UK university campuses on 24 November!

Saturday, 13 November 2010

why I side with the Millbank protesters

I am a non-violent person. The idea of physically harming someone else is deeply alien to both my personality and beliefs. From my experience of radical left-wing militancy, I have reached the conclusion that often young male militants see in violent behavior something heroic and intimately manly – somehow, a way to stress their virility. I do not share this attitude, as well as I do not share simplistic “fuck-the-police” views, for they do not contribute to anything but ghettoizing the movement.

And still, on Wednesday I sided with the women and men who have participated in the Millbank protest (aside from the idiot who threw the fire extinguisher, of course). For a very simple, and sound reason: they are defending, and asserting, democratic values. They are asserting these values not only for themselves, but for the generations to come – their younger siblings, their children, their nephews and nieces. They are asserting these values not only for students, but for all those groups - women, ethnic minorities, unemployed people, disabled people, and many others - whose rights are now under threat. They are asserting these values not only for the sake of Britain, but of democracy itself, beyond any national border.

Democracy means much more than going once every four year to the polling booths. Democracy means having an open, creative, fair society, where all of us have the right to fully express themselves, to improve themselves, and to dissent. Democracy means providing everyone with free education, free health care, and everything we might need for our well-being.

Nowadays, in Britain, and more generally in Europe, democracy is under serious threat. Selected elite of white, adult, male, upper-class people are making any effort to recast the fabric of society, replacing all democratic values with one watchword: unrestrained profit.

How democratic is a society where the new generations are burdened with scores of thousands pounds of debt without having any voice in the decisional process?
How democratic is a society where hundreds of thousands of working class people will be forced to move out of their neighborhood by the government?
How democratic is a society where unemployed people are dubbed by a Secretary of State as “sinners”, while bankers without any kind social conscience are supposed to be the benefactors?

The psychological and moral strain that these policies exert on young people is intolerable. Young people are asked to passively accept the perspective of living in a future world which looks less and less democratic, less and less fair, more and more unhappy. Anxiety, uncertainty, if not proper dejection, are widespread feelings among the new generations. The only answer to this is radical, collective action for change – as happened last Wednesday.

This is why I side with the protest at Millbank on Wednesday. At the moment, institutional politics is utterly unable to provide an answer to the just, democratic demands of young people. On the contrary, institutional politics can be perceived as a source of oppression for the younger generations. The only answer to this situation can come through grassroots, direct action from civil society.

The Millbank protest was nothing but a way for young people who do not feel represented by politics to assert their presence in the public space. It was not occupation, but repossession of a political space to which the majority of young people (unless they are white, male, upper class) are denied access to. It was not an irrational gesture, but a way to protest collectively without abiding by the rules that the political elite want to impose from above. It was a truly democratic act, in line with a tradition of British dissent that stretches back to the age of Ned Ludd.

Nowadays, true democracy lies not within, but outside Parliament. We have to say this clearly, we have to say this loudly, we have to say this collectively. If this generation of young people will be able to turn individual, impotent anger into collective action for democracy, radical change can come about. This can be a historical turn after three decades of neoliberal attack on people’s rights, on the idea of a fair society. Another world is not only possible, but urgently necessary!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

March and vote!

We hope to see many of you tomorrow at the national demonstration against the cuts in London... meanwhile you can vote for protest in this survey!