In this talk given at Socialism 2013, Bevan M. discusses the global 'Generation of Anger', the challenges it faces and the possibilities of the moment in which it comes to age.
I have been asked to talk to you guys about the international rise of a generation in anger. For those of you who I haven’t met I’ll just give you a bit of background about who I am. It’s not impressive or anything like that – I just give it to give you some context, so you see where I am coming from, and why I hold my opinions. My name is Bevan, I’m from Auckland but for the past few years I have been living overseas – I lived in New York for a year starting in September 2008 right as Lehman Brothers were just starting to tip the first dominos of what would be become the recession that we are all still feeling and paying for. During this time I also saw the rise of optimism surrounding Obama that while unfulfilled in many ways, was an incredible grass root movement that turned the American electoral system on its head. It was one hell of an election night I can say that much.
I came back to New Zealand for a bit to pay off debts and plan next trip, and this time I went to the UK for two years. This was a whole different experience again from the USA, as this time I was trying to survive and make a living in austerity Britain. I worked in Britain for a radical booksellers called Housman’s who initiated many meetings, and was located in this old building in King’s Cross that opened before World War Two and was the publishing HQ for Peace News. The whole thing was a radical bookstore, non profit, co-operative, and it was my favourite place in the whole city. And through this I got involved in activism etc, etc, so that’s me, and why I am commenting on these countries.
As I said I would like to just talk about this idea of a generation in anger for a few minutes, and what I mean by it.
THE GENERATION OF ANGER
For the first time in most western capitalist countries worldwide, since World War One a generation is going to be left worse off than their parents, and thus will probably leave the generation after the worse off, and so on, and so on, and so on. It hasn’t been a global war like last time that has caused it – it has been short term, share market inspired economic policy, and an incredibly hawkish and outdated neo-conservative realist foreign policy that have combined to leave a generation in trouble. This lifestyle that has been lived is impossibly unsustainable and understandably many young people are pissed off about being sold an impossible future. Many can now finally see that the Tory approach to economic policy has been like a plumber borrowing washers from one part of the house to fix a leak in another, and then when this didn’t work, cutting the pipe out altogether and pretending the flood isn’t there, while the customer’s children drown in the ensuing damage – in other words the effects have become impossible to ignore.
The following are just some of the international trends that this shift has caused, which have led to the creation of a generation of anger, and are worth briefly looking at:
Privatisation of education. Young people are told almost daily that they need an education and that they will need to go to University to get jobs. This has a twofold effect. First we have an indebted generation. In the USA there is currently 1.2 trillion dollars worth of student debt that has been privatised and is building profit for financiers. In NZ it’s growing by a billion dollars per year. In the UK it is set to grow as student fees have increased by hundreds of percentage. People can’t fight or organise under these conditions. They have a mortgage before they even attempt to get a home. In the UK universities fees have increased thousands upon thousands of pounds, after the students elected the Liberal Democrats to the coalition government, and Nick Clegg to the Deputy PM's job purely on the platform of no more increases. This is the reality – the system has abandoned the youth of the USA, the UK, and NZ to face mortgage sized loans before getting a mortgage. This of course works out beautifully for employers, because people who are completely dependent on their employment to survive will not stir any waves, and will do anything they are told to do out of fear of not being able to eat. We stifle creativity and innovation by doing this also – when people are tied into a job that is not utilising their skill set to the optimum level, they will not search for opportunity or look for change. Their focus will be on maintaining the status quo, which helps enforce the notion of the employee as ‘human resource’ rather than ‘person’.
Secondly our best and brightest go into actively destructive fields like finance and banking rather than going into truly public services such as the sciences or medicine. And if they do go into these fields, they can make exponentially more money in the private sector, rather than in the public sector so they go there anyway. Essentially we reward people for completely and utterly the wrong things – case in point somebody like John Key for example.
The Puzzle of Home Ownership. In New Zealand we have adopted a very Anglo-Saxon model of home ownership. We love to buy houses and we have been led to believe in the quarter acre kiwi dream, in the falsely construed narratives we imbibe continually. However, private home ownership is becoming increasingly more out of reach for more and more working kiwis. Along with the student debt, the credit card debt, and the financier debt that has been accumulated due to the fact that most working class kids are making what their parents were on thirty years ago, a 20% deposit is increasingly out of reach. Furthermore the National government are destroying the very concept of a retirement fund by encouraging people to reach the unattainable goal by giving them access to Kiwi saver – a system originally instituted so that people would not have to rely on their home for their retirement. Such a short sighted band aid perspective is what got us into these situations in the first place.
This has been seen overseas even more dramatically. In the USA the subprime mortgage crisis swindled literally millions of people out of their homes. Probably double the population of New Zealand had their homes taken from them by bankers. They were sold dodgy loans, by fraudulent lenders who broke the miniscule amount of rules there were in place, to transfer the wealth of collective home ownership of the working class, to the very rich. This is unprecedented in our history everybody. It was the largest single transfer of wealth in our history, and it was probably the easiest and most unpunished theft in all history. This has understandably annoyed a few people.
The Stripping of Benefits. This is the big one. Kids today are being told that all benefits are evil, and that anyone who seeks assistance is asking for a handout. We are seeing a generation that is being ruled by a bunch of people that used government assistance to further their own skills and drive to succeed in life, as is the very purpose of it, take this gift away from the next generation. It is being taken by men like John Key – men who don’t have to worry about public facilities because they are wealthy enough to afford private facilities for their own children, such as their daughter who is currently studying art in Paris. Benefit has become a dirty word, as has union, and has until recently, Socialist. There is one generation who are being told they have to work that much harder than their predecessors just to struggle to break even.
The UK is currently facing this in a very real and bombastic way presently. According to the Trade Union Congress
- On average people think that 41 per cent of the entire welfare budget goes on benefits to unemployed people, while the true figure is 3 per cent.
- On average people think that 27 per cent of the welfare budget is claimed fraudulently, while the governments own figure is 0.7 per cent.
The Chancellor George Osborne has used this brainwashing to make as many deep cuts to as many poor social services, including the privatisation of the famed NHS in ways that could never have been imagined by Nye Bevan. A new era of suffering is being undertaken by the poor of Britain who are inevitably the first to feel the brunt of these substantial cuts. People are being told to see these essentials as ‘benefits’ – that dirty term that means freeloader. Yet once upon a time these state services were seen as sacrosanct. A young generation in the UK are going to enter adulthood knowing that their healthcare blanket and thus their basic dignity will no longer be intact.
As for the USA we saw very explicitly how this clash played out on a national stage at the end of 2012, where much like with our own PM, we saw Republican candidates Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, both men who have used government assistance to make exceptional gains in life rather than merely being unproductive freeloaders, attack those that attempt to use assistance to make something of their lives. Romney’s infamous 47% speech crippled his campaign as slowly the American left started to act outraged as opposed to just feeling it.
No rights in the workplace. Young people today are either currently working in, or are about to enter a workplace where they have no rights. The luxury of working eight hour days, with a salary to support a family, with a pension at the end is a luxury no young person has seen or will see on this trajectory. I won’t touch on this too much as there are others who know much more about this than me and will talk about it.
Freedom of Information. This is two pronged and again, I know others will be discussing this more so I will only touch on it briefly, but essentially you have the strange situation of there being a generation who have unprecedented instantaneous access to information and current events through the internet which moves revolutions and movements in ways never seen before. On the other hand though there is unprecedented clamping down on this freedom, to the point where the NSA has become an all encompassing, all snooping presence on the daily lives of everyone. They are trying to brainwash a generation into thinking this is normal, and that constant surveillance is for their own good. The seemingly endless ongoing revelations about the NSA clearly demonstrate just how much the US government has lied to the world over and over again, and just how badly they have abused the trust of the international community. This is rightly causing resentment, and the grossly disproportionate punishments for computer hacktivism will eventually become too mainstream and too common to continue.
This is just a minute sampling of some of the big issues that are disaffecting a massive body of youth worldwide. It isn’t taking into account demographic changes, social evolution, cultural evolution, artistic trends, and the millions of other tiny factors that have all been affected also.
THE FUTURE AND MARXISM/SOCIALISM
Now this all sounds admittedly quite bleak and pessimistic. But it doesn’t have to be. We can use this moment to finally take back control.
Capitalism has made the world a better place in many ways. This can’t be doubted. Even in Marx’s time he spoke admiringly of capitalism and all the wonders that it had already, and would give to the world. Marx’s view of a socialist revolution was totally global so that the nation state could be destructed once and for all, and that wealth and resources would need to be predistributed and redistributed for the benefit of all. And largely due to capitalism we are currently in a period of unsurpassed wealth in the world, and this is important because it makes revolution feasibly possible.
It has raised the living standards of countries internationally. It has globalised the world to the point where borders have started to dissolve, and have become more and more ambiguous.
But Marx argued it was unsustainable and after the events of the past thirty years, this is a point that can no longer be disputed. We now know that unhinged capitalism does not work other than for a very few.
Capitalism has still produced extreme wealth though, and it doesn’t need to be concentrated in the hands of the 1%. The only reason they get to hold it is because we say so. That’s all there is that holds the system in place. When people know that the system is broken, and they can make the connection – despite all the misinformation they are bombarded with on TV, Radio, school books, etc – that it is this very system that is responsible for their struggles and for the ongoing fighting that is their live, they get angry and want to change.
We have a generation currently who will be looking for answers and looking for change once it eventually reaches them just how badly they have been screwed by neo-liberalism. We must be ready for this, and we must be ready to occupy this power vacuum with ideas because otherwise we all know that the far right will jump on this. We have a leftward movement currently going internationally, and we live in a wealthy, increasing borderless world. This is the start of the crumbling of capitalism, and we need to be there to help the generation of anger see that there is an alternative to the status quo, and a future of happiness awaiting them.