By M. D. Jempson of Sussex University
°TODAY'S students were -Ionce the babies of postwar bulk years. There are a lot of us. and we are frequently described as a tragic generation. Last week John Braine attempted to explain why, and warned that we may also be dangerous. But he missed the point of our dilemma.
Our tragedy extends beyond a lack of sympathy for the complacent individualism of Braine's generation, or even the brackets of World War II and nuclear disaster. It originates in a deep concern for humanity, and a rejection of the established values of Western society, and is heightened by the realisation that we live in a particularly crucial era.
And yet our dissatisfaction is paradoxical—we rely upon the language and methods of ideologies which have lost their appeal. Whilst we can no longer accept capitalism, nor can we find an absolute faith in alternative secular ideologies, and this distrust restrains us from suggesting a new one.
The contemporary student differs from the archetypal adolescent because his rebelliousness is in earnest, not merely an emotional response to his environment: it signifies a recognition of his function as a responsible critic of society.
Possibly because he is regarded as of society but not in it, and certainly because he has time and enthusiasm to .study problems which others try to avoid. the student is quick to react against exploitation.
Machinery of the Right
Capitalism is exploitative— the manipulation of men for money. For me it is the subtle machinery of the Right, succeeding only because it is extremely well organized, highly sophisticated, and self-regenerative (viz. neo-Keynesian economics).
The institutional components of our social structure are designed to utilise resources at the greatest possible profit margin, with little concern for the human beings whose lives are spent feathering the nests of the employers. Further education is no exception—young people are trained specifically to become part of the system and maintain the status quo.
Government and industrial research grants and the development of 'new sciences' bear a direct relation to the predictable needs of society. Students are in revolt not because they are unemployable, but precisely because they are being selected to perform carefully pre-arranged functions in a society which they cannot tolerate.
This sort of indoctrination by the Establishment destroys the myth of free learning which has been perpetuated by LEA grants, the opening of new universities, and liberal reform of administration within universities and (colleges. The reformative zeal of internal student politics is misdirected; reform merely alters emphases and placates the gullible, it does not change the institution. Only radical change will shake people free from the chains of exploitation.
The failure of the 'second revolution' in France serves as an illustration here. Frcnch students realised that they were being welded as tools of the financiers and politicians to play a dual role in their society; as middle-men, the administrators of industry and social services, and the slaves of the Establishment. They still are.
By raising wage levels and offering compromise reforms in the educational system the Gaullist elite successfully quelled the rise of participatory democracy in Western Europe. And no qualms about the methods employed by police in dealing with 'the future leaders of society.'
Our government. industry, mass media and social services are also devoted to self-preservation, and this is at present achieved by constant communication between those complementary institutions which make up the official structure of society—exclusive only of the workers, immigrants, 'social deviants' and some religious groups. The universities are not separate from this complex procedure, but students wish to opt out.
They feel a responsibility to those oppressed by the imperialism of money. They join with adolescents in an enjoyment of iconoclastic art forms—though 'pop' culture exemplifies the worst of capitalistic enterprise. They demonstrate against injustice, willing to lose their personal identity in order to impress society with the dehumanising effect of exploitation and war.
serve no other purpose than to illustrate the united intentions of the participants, but, as with liturgy, they also express a desire to participate in the consummation of their aim.
The dilemma of student revolutionaries is their lack of direction. The New Left as represented by students is a disorganised movement which might easily be cornpromised by a better co-ordinated power elite. This danger is offset by the tactical strength of a 'floating' revolutionary movement.
It can attack on different levels, polemical, political and practical; it can identify with a variety of oppressed groups; no one group is entirely dependent upon another; the victimisation of any one group strengthens rather than destroys the others; and there can be no positive identification of leaders.
Occasionally one group may incur the disfavour of others (as, for instance, current • activities at the LSE) but such disagreements help to produce coherent policies rather than in-fights and disintegration.
Eventually revolutionaries may bring about an intolerable situation (as did the suffragettes) where change must occur, or martial law announce civil strife. It depends upon both the agitators and the Establishment as to which solution is employed.
John Braine is too panicstricken to appreciate just how neatly the powers-thatbe have the situation tied up. Police and Press comfort the people, and vested interests and traditional values are strong enough barriers to withstand 'peaceful' reformation of our society. Bloody revolution would soon bring in the allies of Britain to reinstate the totalitarianism of Western democracy.
Though the altruism of the revolution may seem doomed, there remains the important function of student unrest, demonstrations, civil disobedience and militancy as criticism of the inherent corruption of capitalist society. Such public manifestations of anger and distrust provide a mirror reminding society of the ugliness beneath its make-up. A community is not what it thinks it is, but what it is revealed to be on close examination.
Social work done by students and others at a local level has acted as a reminder to residents that there are poor and lonely people amongst them, dossers, drug addicts and drop-outs, and that the arrogant self-righteousness of comfortable people has caused this misery.
The revolution is all about communication; even demonstrations and the resultant publicity serve as warnings of the oppression which our way of life has sanctioned for generations, making people more aware of the truth about their society. Mass media, the legal system, and the administration determine what should be known by the vulgar populace — students have the means of filling out gaps in the knowledge of the people, by researching and demonstrating and by agitating for justice.
.Responsibility of a Christian
It seems to me that the Christian has a special responsibility in this respect. Christ, you remember—that young Jewish rebel-martyr who looked like Che Guevara —devoted his life to the destruction of secular values, setting up in their place a community based upon mutual love and sympathy (agape). Don't we still have a duty to do thi—ours is a secular society after all.
The conversion or commitment process through which we give ourselves to Christ is a personal revolution—we reject the values of the world, attempting to transcend the social and cultural limitations placed on us by the world. Christ's death was a revolution because He rose again, the most perfect person in that ultimate communication which is the intention of faith—atonement with God. We achieve the salvation He offers us by fulfilling the potential of our humanity. Our whole lives are concerned with communication with our environment, and between ourselves and God. It follows therefore that we should further communication between people instead of oppressing others for our own benefit.
Liberating way of life
Christianity is all about finding a liberating way of life, a social pattern which enables man to realise his human worth and not be exploited for his economic value. This is revolution.
Because revolution is an unpleasant procedure, and requires selfless devotion. it is rejected by officialdom, and brutally suppressed. Christ was rejected and crucified. He never said His way was easy but He trusted in man's humanity. Today's revolutionaries are idealistic, but they share this faith.
A radical transvaluation of values, the emergence of a new society, and the destruction of the supremacy of money will take a long time. Like Christian unity it is prevented by the selfishness and petty scruples of comfortable people, and will need continual reassessment as old corruptions creep back.
Nevertheless, despite the hardship involved, the sacrifices required, and the fear which restrains every advance into the unknown, the revolution must come. Because it alone means liberation, means peace, means hope.