The Russians were hungry, war weary, and dispossessed, and in 1917, they rallied behind the slogan "Bread, peace, and land.” Their revolution was followed by famine, civil war, and collectivization. Nevertheless, "bread" on a banner still scares authorities — when the masses are actually hungry.
Should today’s plutocrats be alarmed by Elizabeth Renzetti’s introduction of the phrase “have-not generation” in her shout-out column about comic Russell Brand’s viral call for another revolution?
Here’s how Elizabeth Renzetti defines our bracing times:
“Mr. Brand’s rant struck a big, brassy chord; he’s given shape to an inchoate sense of anger and frustration, especially among the have-not generation. The clip of his appearance was forwarded to me by a talented, ambitious and politically disengaged 21-year-old with the words ‘All of my beliefs were verbalized by an unlikely fellow yesterday. All of my friends/colleagues and I agree wholehearted with it.’”
Are radicals and their colleagues finally going to take the lead — or does it still matter which best-selling class analyst wins Toronto’s by-election next week? As a phrase-maker, is Renzetti making history? Does the phrase even ring true?
She may have captured a young man’s "beliefs." But does the phrase "have-not generation" capture his circumstances? This is an important question: revolutionary slogans are telling, not argumentative. They mustn’t leave you bemused or scratching your head.
Does "deprivation" properly define today’s generation of ambitious young adults living in the West’s great cosmopolitan centers of inequity and greed? Are their politics and private choices being radicalized by an awful awareness that they are going without all the things we had when we were young?
Before listing a few things they don’t have, here’s the big thing they share with young adults in the sunny days well before globalization and Ronald Reagan: double-digit unemployment, even among middle-class whites. Today, the pain is aggravated by uncertainty about long-term job prospects. The big problem isn’t that central governments are less sophisticated in responding to recessions or that those legendary great jobs in manufacturing are rarer than ever, but that the white-collar job market is increasingly global — and fairer.
A revolution against xenophobia and sexist and racist education, employment, and promotion practices has put young men on a level playing field. Yet for revolutionaries, this is about managing a liberal accomplishment, not launching one.
While waiting for your next contract or standing in line with students at Starbucks, think about the frustrations and fears that once inspired revolutionary one-liners and aren’t useful anymore:
* Compulsory military service
* Old-fashioned ground wars in Asia
* Mutually assured destruction
* Co-existence or nuclear winter
* Armed division of Europe
* Acid rain and an approaching ice age
* Double-digit inflation
* Double-digit mortgages
* Population bomb
* Peak oil
* Police without civilian oversight
* Governments without ombudsmen
* Parents who immediately took the teacher’s side
* Parents with small houses and no pensions
* Parents that wouldn’t finance even your first degree
* Parents who never said, "I’m sorry"
* Fathers who said, "Do better than I did"
* Margaret Thatcher’s lectures
* Bill Clinton’s innocence
* Papal infallibility
Renzetti notes that only 19% of Americans trust the federal government today. Is America ripe for revolutionary change? In the '60s, parents were far more trusting, and students called presidents “Baby Killers” and police officers “Pigs”. Certainly, it’s safer to talk revolution today. However, youth’s list of common grievances isn’t especially intimidating.
Of course, rather than trying to find a fresh hot button for an entire generation, proselytizers today could pick up some of the unfinished minor themes of the past — poverty, mental illness, and nuclear proliferation could could use greater attention.