Student union meetings at the LSE thirty years ago were always faintly absurd. Undergraduates with public school accents would stand up and talk about workers’ solidarity. To have suggested they might not really understand working class people would have been to invite a tide of rhetoric accusing one of ‘false consciousness’, or ‘revisionism’, or counter-revolutionary thinking, or whatever pejorative term was in vogue amongst the intellectual radicals.
Of course, when it came to going out, they always had money in their pockets, and could always travel during the long vacation, and would generally go off to some lucrative professional or City career when graduating. There were lines from The Jam’s song Eton Rifles that captured a sense of those middle class radicals who talked the language of the Left, while being secure in their comfortable lifestyles.
Thought you were clever when you lit the fuse,
tore down the House of Commons in your brand new shoes,
composed a revolutionary symphony,
then went to bed with a charming young thing . . .
. . . What a catalyst you turned out to be,
loaded the guns then you ran off home for your tea,
left me standing – like a guilty schoolboy.
For years, Left-wing intellectuals have adhered to the rhetoric of change, while not declining incomes generated within a social and economic system they regularly condemn. Like barstool football fans shouting at the manager of a Champions League soccer team, while watching him on television on Wednesday night, it has not cost much pain or sacrifice to write a column for the Irish Times excoriating the Government, and then go off to a city centre restaurant for a meal that would cost much of the weekly income of an unemployed person.
Much of the critique of the ‘Wild West’ brand of capitalism, that has crippled the Irish economy, and of the Government’s bail out of those who caused the problems, has come from the Left. However, the critique has not been accompanied by viable alternatives: there is not going to be a revolution, nor is society going to suddenly change to something caring and inclusive, where the burden of capitalism’s failure is not placed on the shoulders of working people.
It is odd that the perspective of the right of centre David McWilliams on the government’s bank bailout plans in today’s Irish Independent should sound like something from a student union meeting of long ago:
. . . permanently cheap land would impoverish the landlords and their financial backers — the very people who have got us into this mess and the very people NAMA is devised to rescue. So someone has to pay for the bailout . . . we the people — the outsiders — will plug this gap. This is grand larceny overseen by the insiders. Someone has to shout “stop”!
Shouting ‘stop’ is futile without possessing power to prevent this monster rolling onwards. A revolution is not an option and appealing to the good nature of the government appears to have failed.
The LSE student union would passed a very finely worded resolution commanding the government what to do, and a lot of difference it would have made.