Thursday 2 May 2024

Trouble at t'campus: where is this going?

I was a teenager when the anti-war protests hit US universities (and Grosvenor Square) and there was one of those historically quite frequent Paris uprisings.  It all seemed fairly apocalyptic at the time, with an undercurrent of Marxism & Trotskyism and something of a 'radicalisation' of a cohort of youth.  University-educated youth, that is, which in the UK at that time was a fairly modest percentage of the whole.  Large books are written on the impact this had - which wasn't nearly as much as its instigators hoped; certainly not as radical or instantaneous as they expected, even if it might have set off some kind of decades-long Gramscian process.

When I was at the university myself in the '70s, things were still fairly 'robust'.  There were pro-IRA meetings in pubs (with the occasional actual IRA man in attendance) and a readiness to resort to occupations of buildings, street-skirmishing, fist-fights etc on a fairly frequent basis.  I recall a spectacular (and very well-organised) pitch battle between the Trots and a visiting band of National Front: a set-piece medieval contest.  The 1980s seemed to put an end to this, and a curiously placid thirty-year period has ensued where very little campus violence has happened at all**.

Well, if the USA is its usual harbinger of trends, this might all be about to end.  In America there's no mainstream political outlet for pro-Palestinian sentiment (not even Bernie Sanders), absent which something ad hoc is bound to occur.  And there's a fairly violent anti-anti reaction, seemingly from off campus.  As happened in the '60s, it falls to an out-of-touch Democrat to preside over this, so a statesmanlike resolution seems unlikely and matters will fall to the frequently less-than-impressive local authorities.  The university authorities also seem fairly clueless as to what to do.  And elections loom.

Any lessons for us?  Well, Starmer is dead set against having the 'official' Labour Party offer any sort of mainstream political outlet for pro-Palestinian sentiment; and the university authorities are fairly clueless ... so we're also in a position where revolting students - in a vastly bigger overall student population than 50-60 years ago - are left to their own devices++.  Oh, and yes, elections loom here, too.

There are many dimensions to this but one that interests me particularly is: how does it play out in the GE?  Will the malcontents all vote for Galloway's party?  The Greens?  I just can't see a political pressure-valve for pro-Palestinian students, or indeed anyone with those sympathies.  Or maybe we find there aren't so many malcontents at all.

The 'traditional' student rebel never wanted a mainstream political outlet anyway, as a matter of pride.  They wanted to hate The Man in all his besuited manifestations.  Maybe, then, they are quietly happy at their rebellious work today, and will just graduate in due course to get on with the rest of their lives.  Could be a few smashed windows in the meantime, however.  Oh, and no statesmanlike resolution from Prime Minister "DPP" Starmer, either.



** Oddly, though, the little dears are so permanently petrified (of whom?) that there are key-pad locks on every door, where once everyone came and went as they pleased.  I have various fairly regular contacts with undergraduates and sometimes over a drink they will say - it seems your generation had more fun than we do ..?   I think they are right.  It's sad.

++ I haven't been to Germany for a while but from a distance it looks like many of the same factors are at work there, too.  France?


Anonymous said...

I started my university life at Leeds in 1978. As you say things were quite robust, my dept sent the second year students to RSA for 3 months on the mines to get some practical experience during the long vacation. Jolly good fun we got a trip to the Kruger at the end of it and we got paid. The anti RSA lobby got frightfully excited but it did not stop anyone.

We also had the Yorkshire Ripper at large which meant there were police everywhere. I think the fact that a smaller population were students meant that they really wanted to be there. Today it just seems like a phase to go through.

Good blog this, covers a wide variety of interesting topics.


Bill Quango MP said...

Just been reading about France 1968.

I never knew before that De Gaulle was only hours away from resigning and letting the government, and the Republic collapse into anarchy.
The old President said he was stepping down. Preparing to flee Paris to prevent the burning and looting of the whole city.
Was going to his to country home to await his fate. From the revolutionaries.

He did flee Paris. But went to Germany instead. Met with the French equivalent of the Army of the Rhine. Whose soldiers backed The President.

Next day, he was transformed. Made a radio speech in the morning, ( no tv. So people couldn’t see how old and tired he looked.)
Very short speech. Just enough to inspire and not bore. And called an election.
On the sort of populist single issue platform that makes it easy for the voters.

“Choose me and France. Or Communist revolution. There is no other choice.”

The strikes that had paralysed the country for weeks ended. The students gave up.
It was all over.

De Gaulle quit the next year.

But it was a very, very close run thing. Caused mainly by the repressive and incompetent, inconsistent responses to the situation by the government.

Sackerson said...

Ever seen this?

djm said...

I lived through that period, BQ & with the greatest of respect,there was zero/zip/nada chance of France disappearing down the road of serious civil dispute.

Paris ? ... Perhaps in "certain" arrondissments

La France Profonde ? Nah

Bill Quango MP said...

I’m sure you are correct, DJK. I was an egg at that time.

However, the disputes appeared unmanageable. Leaving the radical students aside, the big unions had been given pretty much everything they had asked for when the strikes began.. They had accepted the governments’s offer. But the members refused to agree to the terms.

Very hard to resolve a dispute when people don’t even know what they want.

dearieme said...

I was an undergraduate in '68 and could see that the student thing in France was just play-acting. I was struck that older people couldn't see that and that de Gaulle lost his head and fled to Germany.

As for the US, that was probably different: the "kids" were against the Vietnam War for the excellent reason of cowardice - they were not prepared to fight a deadly jungle war for what seemed to them no sufficient reason.

Just think of the people who evaded military service - Clinton, Trump, Biden, and (kinda, sorta) Bush the Younger. The only top tier politician of that generation who fought was Kerry, and so inept was he that he managed to turn that into a disadvantage.

iOpener said...

I'm stealing this from someone, Heinlein? Dunno. Misquoted? dunno. Accurate? Yes.

We are hairless monkeys with a taste for trouble, gin and bad women.

jim said...

I suppose people can see Israel is America's creature and American politics is Israel's creature. The Palestinians being piggy in the middle. Not an attractive sight.

All part of a very very long strategy 'some day all this will be ours'. This game looks like dragging on till the US elections when we see a bad situation or a worse one.

Anonymous said...


You suppose wrong.
I for one have not a clue what you mean by creature.
Non sequitur.

Jan said...

The draft in America was a very real thing and no-one wanted to fight. We were all hippies then and into "peace and love". I had a cousin (he was English)living in the US at that time and he got called up. He managed to get out of it somehow but it was all very scary. That's definitely why there were demonstrations in the US which also spread to France and the UK. We didn't know anything much about Vietnam other than what we were fed by the MSM which we all believed in those naive days. No-one had the same mindset as our parents who had gone through the war and were brainwashed into thinking it was a good thing to fight for your country.

I definitely understand where today's students are coming from wrt Palestine. For years people in far flung countries thought of the US as "The Great Satan" and now we all know about the "Military Indudtrial Complex" and the "for-ever wars". People are waking up.

Jeremy Poynton said...

"University-educated youth, that is, which in the UK at that time was a fairly modest percentage of the whole. Large books are written on the impact this had - which wasn't nearly as much as its instigators hoped; certainly not as radical or instantaneous as they expected, even if it might have set off some kind of decades-long Gramscian process."

It had a terrible effect, in reality, Nick. It was my generation of university grads who have over the passing decades completely destroyed the education system, from top to bottom, with those far too young being taught all about the glories of anal sex, and that men can be women and that we must worship those who effect this magical change, and those at the top now graduating with brains turned to mush, hating the West and utterly incapable of productive work or indeed, benefitting society in any quantifiable manner. Most of them now with Firsts, now dished out like Smarties. Leaving Oxford in 1972,those who left with Firsts really were REMARKABLY smart.

Not for me. I thought all my peers who flocked to the IMG and IS morons. Peers of mine who ran to man the picket lines at Cowley and Didcot were treated (rightly) with contempt by the workers there.

Awful, really, looking back at this. 1968 was a disaster for the West - as Scruton, who was in Paris at the time and witnessed the riots there, noted made him a conservative for life.

Anonymous said...

- There may be more students - but far less are active - many more are on devices.
- They are a lot more concerned with the loans they are taking on, this has made a lot of them more capitalist in nature. University is now much more transactional.
- I suspect less are doing humanities degrees.


dearieme said...

"I suspect less are doing humanities degrees"

It probably depends on how you classify Grievance Studies.

Nick Drew said...

it's a a sub-faculty of the Department of Critical Intersectional Thought and Reparational Justice

BlokeInBrum said...

"University is now much more transactional"
As befits us turning into a low-trust society.
One of the many benefits that mass immigration has brought us.

When the date for the general election is announced and candidates start announcing new policies to garner votes, who is going to be the first to float the idea of student debt amnesties a la Biden?

dearieme said...

Well, BinB, I can remember in '97 Blair promising that the student grant would be preserved by Labour but, lo, they won the election and promptly scrapped it.

So I'd guess that the amnesty proposal will come from Labour, especially if the General Election is to be held during university term.

jim said...

The pleasures of the bum go back a long way in human history. But of course one would not want one's servants to get to know about it. Mostly for the elite and only allegedly among the lower orders as a means of contraception - or was this a middle class FOMO? Now we can relax, safe in the knowledge we won't go to hell even thinking about it.

We don't seem short of bright graduates, a trawl of top mathematicians discovers a fair number of British ones. I suspect most fields of new discovery are a bit sparse, not so many easy wins. Anyway, these things go in cycles. Remember Oxbridge only started doing Natural Sciences in the 1850s. And for chemistry one would be lucky to find any tuition, one had to go to Germany where the universities were rather more vigorous.

Things did wake up in Britain a bit before 1900 when the upper echelons realised there was a fair chance they could lose their land - a serious matter - if the lower and middle classes were not a bit more industrial. Now that danger is over we have gone back to quatrains and couplets.

Jeremy Poynton said...

Hitchens P agrees with me (as an aside, I was at school with both)

"PETER HITCHENS reveals truth about 'Communist infiltration of Britain'

Forget Corbyn, the real Marxists in Labour were the BLAIRITES - and I should know because they were my comrades when I was a young radical, writes PETER HITCHENS"

Anonymous said...

As Peter Hitchens put it

"The student revolutionaries now occupy the corner offices"

This lady was head of the student union at Leeds when IIRC we all voted to support the IRA after the pub bombings.

Anonymous said...

The student debt amnesty will come (if at all) well after the illegal immigrant amnesty (then they'll bring their extended families in as well).