My back pages

Posted by Ian

"Read Marx and watched the Brits."

– so ends my diary entry for Tuesday 21st February 1995.

It’s a sentence that seems totally pretentious out of context. What on earth was I up to – planning a revolution before catching up with the latest musical movers and shakers?

In truth I was reading Marx under duress. I was a first year student at Liverpool University, and the Communist Manifesto was one of my set texts for that week. I was also living in a hall of residence, and would have had to squeeze in the principles of dialectical materialism between tea in the canteen and a pint later on in the common room.

That sentence rather neatly sums up, though, the distance travelled since May 1968 when, as Tariq Ali recalled in Sunday’s Observer, students in various cities around the world thought nothing of swapping studies and socialising for hand-to-hand combat with the police. (As he quotes from a reporter on the scene in Paris: "They’re storming the barricade – oh my God! There’s a battle raging. The students are counter-attacking, you can hear the noise…")

I wonder what, if anything, would ever get UK students so riled that they would take to the streets nowadays. Not that they made much fuss in 1968 – compared to their foreign counterparts – but in 2008 I can hardly believe students would raise as much as an eyebrow, never mind a fist, in support of this or that cause.

We were hardly a political bunch back in 1995, mind. Rather than speculating on how to hasten the end of John Major, my diary tends towards noting "a night of frustrations and broken hearts and then some beans on toast afterwards" (Sunday 5th March).

University is allegedly a time for the opening of minds and the challenging of conventions. I don’t think it ever has, and ever will be, like that in the UK. British students are a selfish lot, more concerned with themselves than the rest of the world.

Still, something or someone must have been inspiring me, or at least impressing me, back those rather barren years, for here’s the closing line from the entry for Sunday 26th February:

"Nothing’s perfect, nothing lasts, you can only grab at memories and feelings that rarely, magically and suddenly appear."

Now that’s something worth taking the streets for.

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45 Responses to My back pages

  1. peter says:

    the late 1968-1969 student anti-vietnam wars epitomised the hypocrisy of students, Marcuse couldnt be more wrong. These anti-war demos were attended by middle class students many from boarding schools who were given their first taste of freedom. Those that attended the demos which later became riotous were students including Giles Brandreth, former heads of MI5, Jack straw MP who was head of NUS at that time, Clarissa Dickson_wright etc. You think these types of people are going to be radical? Far from it. Furthermore, the middle class students nowadays are totally devoid of radicalism, they really are MIDDLE CLASS middle of the road types. Its really down to working class students to provide the ammunition for student demos, however, working class students I\’m afraid just dont have the time for demos, most of them have to work during term time to fund their course. And final nail in the coffin…is that the Jack Straw types are set the trend….be free and loose and enjoy your student years…when you graduate you work hard and become a member of the establishment. Radicalism and revolt I\’m afraid is just a passing fad for most youngsters, they no longer have the same views once they become employees and that shows they weren\’t real Marxists in the first place.

  2. peter says:

    The vietnam war caused students to protest because of conscription in US of young people who were the same age as university students. There were american students in the uk who were deeply affected by it and had relatives fighting in vietnam, so it seemed very real. Then, the students relied heavily on the media for information, newsreels, footage, newspapers, they had not experienced or seen such carnage and death before and were affected by it. However, todays Students have all seen shocking things on youtube by the age of 12, they have access to the internet and can find pics of dead bodies if they want, they played violent computer games from the age 10, so todays generation have become desensitized to it all, the internet images of death etc are seen as online virtual entertainment, not really real at all. I think the only thing that get todays generation out to protest is if this war on terror continues to drag on and on forcing the UK and US govt to bring back conscription of 18-19 yr olds to fight.

  3. robin says:

    I agree with the second comment-does anybody really care at Uni anymore? And when did going on a protest change anything anyway? Think of the 2002 protests in London. Perhaps its more efficient to change the systems we have rather than tear them down and try and put something inferior in their place. Its not that bad here-its certainly no Zimbabwe! Perhaps the more boring and less glamorous way of changing things through local politics is the way forward.

  4. B says:

    I\’m a student now, and from my point of view we have it too easy to get passionate about any cause, the greatest achievment of the SU in many eyes is the cheap alcohol prices (diregarding the fact other things suffer, for example a pint of milk is about 15p more expensive than the local tesco). But what does anything matter when at the end of the day most students can go home to their fridge full of cheap cider and Guitar Hero? They don\’t see the need to fight because they have nothing to fight for. Top up fees? Daddy will pay. War in Iraq? It\’s in *Iraq*. Government a bit useless? Busy, Mighty Boosh is on TV. There are too many armchair romantics waiting for somebody else to stir things up, and even if they did they\’d lack any support because it\’d be the day after \’Pound-a-Pint\’ in the Union Bar.
    I joined a couple of the political societies, one was full of people who were there because their family expected it of them (specific political party), and one was bossed by a girl so intent on pushing her own pro-religion, anti-male dogma that it was embaressing!
     
    I agree with no name (16:44) – I have to work so I can afford to be at Uni, while the Middle Class students sit in Starbucks discussing how terrible it is that McDonalds, an evil capitalist American company, gets all over the place.
     
     
    Bring back punk, that\’s what I say.
     
    "He said \’Men I tell ya, they don\’t like our kind,Though it starts with your fist, it must end with your mind"

  5. peter says:

    its interesting but I\’ve just discovered that MSN has an official student blogger.. http://studentblogger.spaces.live.com/default.aspx 
    The blogger is probably an average student…about as apolitical as you can get…no views about anything…the blog is just …Monday: went to a party, Tuesday:woke up late with hangover, Friday:yeah its weekend what shall i wear, saturday: yeah lets hit the town and get drunk! …..dont read it unless you have insomnia.

  6. Peter says:

    modern former students who are now celebrities for example are just as bad. take Konnie Huq for example, the former Blue Peter presenter and ex-university student, she has spoken out against the Chinese in Tibet, oh its bad she says……however, as soon someone flashes fifty pound notes in her face and gives her the honour of carrying the olympic flame as part of Beijing Olympics…..did she turn it down on moral reasons for the Tibet cause? No, she jumps at the chance!! She couldnt careless as long theres a honour, title or money at the end of it!! 

  7. Beatrice says:

    Actually, Sussex Uni (British home of the student uprising) students just staged the biggest on-campus protest in 20 years. That was three weeks ago. Formerly apathetic people were driven out of their beds at 9AM on a Friday morning to protest against the sell-by-the-pound attitude that Britain\’s academic climate is falling victim to! We make banners and make tea, and discuss direct action and national campaigning. So you tell me where you find the \’selfish attitude\’ in that programme of events. Take heart!

  8. connor says:

    i have just exited university from the university of ulster jordanstown. i hated university it was drab and boring partly due to my own apathy. everyone seemed to be an \’individual\’ with an ipod plugged in. the norm seems to be this approach of individualism which i feel seperates and divides us. has anyone walked down the street with someone while that perosn had earphones in and also tried to hold a converstaion with you? that is the most annoying thing in the world. even i havent bothered reading the other points made above cause mine own is the most important! i was at a small festival if you will, called tennents vital in belfast. after i paid with my arm and leg, i suddenly realised the problem and solution and the thought was inspired from a live recording from arlo guthrie playing at woodstock with his song "coming into los angelese." he said, "theres a million and a half people here… thats a lotta freaks". Freaks yes but they were united and if i recall was woodstock not a free event once it got so big that day? the line above " Read Marx and watched the Brits" inspired me to write this as the brits makes money of you! tennents vital makes money of you, music producers have raped the art of music for what its worth and you the student believe that the bands that we see today which are supposed to sum up are student days (artic monkeys, killers etc) are raping you for their gain (duh you might say) but every generation has its sound track though earlier generations created those sound tracks for themselves we have bought ours. yet what inspires the biggest collection of students these days is music festivals and i have always wondered how many people would it take to gather together so we can be seen from space? cant we mark our time with something spectacular with something free in every sense of the word? ill meet you there!

  9. Gaylie says:

    Students? Protest? The concept of students protesting died at the same time as  the ideal of free education for all. Universities are filled with right wing middle class students and limited working class students. No name 16:44 and Angry, young and poor are quite right about that. Dont expect students to bat an eyelid at mass genocide in Sudan, War in Iraq, child poverty, UK suicide rates. . . the middle class students don\’t care and the working class students are too busy working to pay for their evermore rightwing education.
     
    Raise a fist? Dear me no. One might get oneself an ASBO and they are so passe!
     
    There have been many mass demonstrations across Ireland/N Ireland over the years for Civil Rights, workers rights etc we had an Anti War rally in Belfast last week!!! People do still take to the streets, in Britain and Ireland there have been recent protests over Fathers rights, police and fire fighters pay, civil service job cuts and office closures, hospital and post office closures though notedly hardly a student in sight!
     
    Thankfully I was too poor to go to University and so being working class born and bred (and damn proud of it) I got a job instead and immediately joined a Trade Union, wherein as an activist I can protest and demonstrate to my hearts content and also raise awareness of issues, support and campaign for just causes and advocate Workers Rights throughout the world as well as at home and of course take to the streets as appropriate! Not erm making banners and drinking tea?
     
    Ps – In hindsight I\’m sure you are glad you didn\’t spend time speculating on how to hasten the end of John Major, given that the New Labour government are really old school Tories and your time would have been utterly wasted!!

  10. Mark says:

    yeah,like protest at what?yawn.the ayatollah of canterbury?

  11. patricia says:

    I come from an Eastern European country and went to Oxford Uni and to the LSE. In all those years, I had one British sort of a friend, whose family had come from Sri Lanka – and she was energetic and a fighter. The \’real\’ Brits – yes, could not be bothered, except to find better college accommodation or better food at the cafeteria. For this they fought. They had ideas, but would not move to the streets for them. No despise meant.
     

  12. Matthew says:

    Isn\’t it incredibly stupid to riot about a war like Vietnam in a country like France that had no involvement?
     
    "Mr. President, they\’re rioting in Paris."
     
    "And I should care because…"

  13. Matthew says:

    Oh and in regard to Gaylie\’s comment, being middle class doesn\’t equate to being right wing. People can\’t help what they\’re born into and I would say that right now it is the middle class of England that is far more to the left of the Sun-reading working class. I hate to say it, but I think it\’s true.

  14. Patricia says:

    Totally agree. I have always believed in justice and standing up for any just cause and have taken part in many protests. Most students today are apathetic and it comes from being too comfortable , too well off and basically having everything they need. Is it just a middle class thing? i doubt it.  There is  a culture today of \’not getting involved\’ and this obviously filters through to the youth. It seems that today, It\’s not until something effects you personally , that it is important enough to get involved. We could learn a lot from other nations such as France , where standing upfor your rights and protesting together is a given!

  15. peter says:

    plenty of reasons to protest in France during vietnam. France is a powerful nation and has an executive veto in UN council. France was also the former colonizer of Vietnam, hence french-indo-china, the french troops pulled out only a few years before the americans stepped in. but its just added international pressure via protesting at their embassies trying to force the Americans to wtihdraw via a snowball effect. similar situation to Tibet at the moment with protesters trying to force the international community to back their protests and put pressure on China to cave in.

  16. jimmy says:

    as usual everyone sits about debating trivia rather than do something about it, forget bush, the cia, and freemasons etc
    the only reason they have power is because we give it them cos we cant co-operate with each other, everything in the system is designed to exploit this, wot we need is a \’silent\’ revolution

  17. Unknown says:

    This is actually the most hilarious thing i have read in a while.
    Uninformed people making rash statements.
    Some people, god bless them, evidently have read about half the main article and just go off at a tangent making up a load of rubbish.
     
    This is not a class issue, i am a university lecturer so I do understand.
     
    Gaylie you need to calm down..
     
     

  18. Wrik says:

    Well to perfectly honest and simple, the main reason why you dont have students taking out a protest is because of the very value system that exists here. Somehow, people do not believe in the outright expression of protest but rather to have it on to them without complaining, which I find very discomforting. From education to politics, nothing gives you any space for complaint. Even if there are ways you can voice your opinion, its just there for the heck of it, and not to do anything worthwhile. Nothing will come of your complain, because people just dont care and avoid complains. Also, the rules and regulations are such, if you do complain, then you will be at the loosing end of things.

  19. Gaylie says:

    no name 11.50 I suppose that I did make a rather crass generalisation re the middle class being right wing, and perhaps that warranted your comment about working class Sun readers, that being said I really must point out that obviously not all working class people read such tripe. Better that though than the Daily Mail.
     
    no name 13.29, I must beg to differ as I do believe there is a class issue. I have calmed down after my rant though, with wonderful jam on toast and a nice cuppa!

  20. sam says:

    first of all thank you for this article…
    secondly i totally agree…as a student myself I think the education we receive should take some responsibility for the docile nature of students today. i remember a few years back i was told that i would receive a formal warning for missing an afternoon of school to attend the anti-iraq rally in the city- naturally we went anyway but it just goes to show how we\’re taught to accept what comes our way and preserve the establishment and its follys!
    lastly as a w/c student i think the biggest struggle we fight for is acceptance at uni and a \’right to be there\’ (although thats a personal experience so i can\’t speak for everyone)

  21. Richard says:

    "I wonder what, if anything, would ever get UK students so riled that they would take to the streets nowadays"
     
    Consider this: What would us British Students get out of protesting in this way \’nowadays\’ anyway?.. New ways need to be thought up in how to protest which would actually get results, rather than looking like nothing more than stoned hippies standing around in a pointless peaceful protest or mere adrenaline-fueled (maybe even drug or alcohol fueled) hooligans in a violent one. I know I\’m stereotyping these two extremes, but this is to get my point across. Students won\’t actually have any strong desired effect on society by taking to the streets because all it would do is empty seminars and lectures for a while, or at the very most a couple of people less at your local supermarket or fast food retailer. Wow. Who out of the public would actually care? However, people in important jobs involving society like the Emergency Services; it gives them that extra bite if they went out on strike because they would make society panic.P.S. I\’m willing to respond/debate to any comments you may have if you e-mail me…

  22. Peter says:

    students are mostly words begin with A\’s…. Apathetic, Apolitical, Addicts, Alcoholic and some complete a**holes, but perhaps the only word that students arent begin with A…is Asexual…these debauched students have no problems screwing around. 

  23. Peter says:

    i agree if you want to take a look at what students really think of the world…go to facebook groups which are filled full of students and you will see just what a pathetic bunch of drunken wasted immature clowns they are, you cant expect anything from them. Do students make serious political groups? NO! the facebook groups students make and join are "how big is my butt group!" i\’m bored so I\’m joining this group group!" etc

  24. Peter says:

    (no name)31 March 00:16
    (http://cid-2914935fc6e0ad28.spaces.live.com/)

    first of all thank you for this article…
    secondly i totally agree…as a student myself I think the education we receive should take some responsibility for the docile nature of students today. i remember a few years back i was told that i would receive a formal warning for missing an afternoon of school to attend the anti-iraq rally
    I agree, I had the same problem with my lecturers, they wanted as near to 100% attendance at all times and disliked students who had radical views largely because they thought we underminded them, lecturers are after all part of the establishment. But its also true of students too, they dont like talking about politics and they dont like you if you have extreme views, it makes them feel uneasy and they tend to avoid you because theyre so docile and have never come across anybody with radical views before, its major shock to their system.

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