The reason for this article came up several years ago when I had a chat with a good comrade of mine. We were talking about the current situation with anarchist and socialist movement in his country, and he pointed that students were in long run actually a counter revolutionary part of the society. The person who said that was not a one-day anarchist rather a comrade that was fighting for revolutionary ideals for years. One of the main points of our discussion was the background of those students that are getting involved in the struggle – mainly this is the people from financially successful families that have little troubles in their lives. Most of them work for the pocket money but their life till the end of university is organized. Of course there are exceptions to those who are the first generation of students in their families, however those are in many cases exceptions in the left and anarchist movement. Apart from that distance from the serious economical or social problems gives them an easy way in and easy way out of social struggles – in case you are giving up your current group, collective or organization there are little consequences of that step. Together with this point comes the issue of short attention span – as a student you can jump to the hot topics as soon as they pop up and switch easily because of the previous issue. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to have a deeper discussion, but this conversation pushed me further into the topic although i never came back to talk to my friend about it. The irony of it was that he was considering doing several more years in university as a student (in his age he would rather fit as a professor than a student).
From one side students in 20 and 21 centuries played quite an important role in social uprisings. In some countries they were the spark that started destruction of authoritarian regimes or brought important social issues to the spotlight. The history of struggle for anti-authoritarian society is full of stories about student movements in the sixties! Burning barricades, general strike, occupations of universities and factories – all of it was almost the revolution happening in industrialized world.
After making more steps through those protests we find ourself in the sea of bitterness where former protesters turned into new generation of rulers applying sometimes conservatives values that can compete with those that they were fighting against at the first place. Second part was way more important to me as the history of student participation in the protests is well documented. For me this question was also quite personal as a lot of good friends ended up moving on with their lives away from political activism.
Of course there are other people – those who made social struggle their main goal, but those are not the focus of this text.
If you decide to stay long enough in the anarchist movement you will notice that big part of it (if not the biggest) is actually composed of students. And I’m talking not about youth in general, but specific part of the youth that got the possibility to get a degree after the school. Those from the working class that went straight after the school to work are rarely participating. And this dynamic is quite common all across Europe.
Looking back historically the anarchist movement was a different beast – read the memoirs of Emma Goldman and you will see the radical difference. The modern left and anarchist culture built around students and pupils against the older movement that had workers at it’s core. Structures, events and life of the revolutionaries was organized around the notion of work. They were mostly workers and thus they were doing things that were fitting into their tight schedule (do not forget that capitalism of first part of 20th century was demanding way more of your time at work and around the work than nowadays). Today this has changed and it is hard as a working person to fit into the modern struggle constructed around constant parties and all the time changing topics.
Short attention span is another true story of the modern revolutionary movement. I think the best example of the matter in last years was the so called “refugee crisis” in Europe. For a short moment huge amount of people from support groups moved into organizing different initiatives to help the foreigners coming to the country. Helping out with language courses, simple communication, confronting racism. But also organizing protests together with refugees on the topics of the state repression and unjust migration policies. Several years later most of the people involved in the struggle are gone, situation with refugee rights is deteriorating. Some migrant groups are protesting but it doesn’t seem to have any power in the society. It took maybe a year to get the leftists and anarchists obsessed with another topic that was overtaken by another theme and it seems that there is no end to this golden fish behavior in the revolutionary movement.
And i would agree that this is possible due to privilege position of those students organized today in the anarchist movement: it would be quite hard to give up the matter of racism if you would be directly affected by it, but as the average white german your possibility of experiencing racism is minimal. So you can move to another topic because the fight was not about your problems and it won’t affect you here and now. And so people are left with their own issues while the revolutionary attention has switched to something else.
Students organized with anarchists or anti-autoritarian leftists groups are dedicated comrades: they are the marching in the first rows at the protests, they are taking tasks that are crucial for development of the movement, they are fighting as if they mean it. Many of them are also amazing people that have truly revolutionary moral!
However next to dedication for many of us comes arrogance. After all as an activist you are making a difference. You participate in one of those anarchist collectives or organizations that learned what cooperation and solidarity is, right? You are affecting political processes in your town, region, country. But it’s still not enough and you start noticing that the struggle so important to you is not the same for people around you. Take climate change, capitalism, racism, authoritarianism – all of it is not capable to raise the masses to barricades. So you start looking at the people from above. They are the peasants who don’t understand the world. They are racist scumbags who eventually get what they deserve.
And this arrogance finds the place next to such values like solidarity, compassion, love. But the last ones are given not to the society, but people within your own circles. Those are the ones who are getting your compassion. Those living with prejudices in their hearts deserve only aggression.
But activism for many does not last long. Wait till you finish university and you get your first job. Here comes the first challenge for many politically active students – lack of free time will challenge your habits. You will be asked what is more important for you and which part of your student life will you be able to keep. Unfortunately at that point many of the former students go the same way as most of the people before them.
So here we are several years later after joining struggle against climate change – the issue of the modern generations unresolved can lead to the end of the humankind. It is extremely important! However, slowly day after day capitalism starts killing you. Those rebel traits that were not destroyed in the education system will be destroyed by exhaustion from employment and daily routines. And you will notice how fast you will end up being the person you were looking at from above at the first place. And the irony will be there, that the new generation will be calling for revolution while you will have no time for it, because there are more important things.
Modern western way of life have destroyed generations of revolutionaries. And I’m not talking about direct repressions, prison terms and losses in your life. I’m talking about power over the world. Power to travel, power to shop as much as you want, power to own the rest of the planet. And many of us give up to this power, forgetting our ideals from yesterday.
Does it make those generations of activists who gave up their struggle after university bad people? I don’t think so. Today they moved on, but tomorrow they might be back there, when the promises of the capitalist world are broken. Was my anarchist comrade right, that students are counter-revolutionary class among the revolutionaries? I don’t think so.
What is the point than? Is this circle of political activism will last forever, and we have little power over it? Don’t get desperate! This text is just pointing one of the problems around our way of organizing and interacting. Problem that is directly connected with you. What are you going to do when the capitalist exploitation will really kick in?
And you might be arrogant to think that you are special and those who gave up are just weak, but this will be the first step to failure. There should be no space for arrogance in the revolutionary movement. Nobody here is better or worse. Thinking that you are a special snowflake and that’s why you won’t go the same road is not going to change anything.
Instead of that sit down for a moment and look at your life. Think what is really important for you in this life. Start sorting out the things before it is too late. Capitalism is a wild beast that will requires part of the life of the worker. It is up to you, dear student, to decide what are you going to give up for the sake of the future.