Can Students Become a Revolutionary Force?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 8 Apr 2019
1 Apr 2019 – As often remarked in this blog, the world is in such a mess that we need radical action. In fact we need revolutionary change.
But where can it come from? Who can be the revolutionary actors?
A century ago, it was thought by some that revolution would come from industrial workers.
They were constantly and obviously exploited by their capitalist bosses.
They were concentrated in large numbers in factories
They had the power to stop production by going on strike.
Today there are few such factories in the rich countries of the North. Factories have been automated or transferred to China and the poor countries of the South.
We don’t hear anymore that factory workers will change the world.
On the other hand, as described this month on CPNN, it seems we are now starting to see student strikes to demand that their governments address the problem of climate change. Can this movement become revolutionary?
Students are beginning to see that their world is being exploited by their governments and that their schools seem to be in complicity with the governments.
Students are concentrated in large numbers in schools.
Their strikes do not stop production in the short term, but in the long term their compliance is necessary if governments are to continue their inaction. At least that is the hope of the American Youth Climate Strike who say in their mission statement that
“if the social order is disrupted by our refusal to attend school, then the system is forced to face the climate crisis and enact change.”
Students today have a tool that was not available to workers a century ago. They can connect up rapidly everywhere by means of social media. An example of this is the initiative of Greta Thunberg whose actions have inspired the student movement around the world. Her twitter accounts and her website list events in 1325 places in 98 countries going on strike on March 15, including Washingto DC, Moscow, Mumbai, Shanghai, Lagos, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, Nuuk, Paris, Nairobi, Santiago, New York, London Hong Kong, Berlin, Tel Aviv, Toronto, Beirut, Zurch, Kyiv, Havana, Cork, Kampala, Buenos Aires, Seoul, Cape Town, Kyoto, Mexico City, Brussels, Por Vila, Los Angeles, Rome, Kuala Lumpur, Madrid, Auckland and Södertälje just to name a few.
What else does this student movement need to become truly revolutionary?
They would become more powerful by broadening their agenda to include other issues related to the question of environmental catastrophe. One such issue should be nuclear disarmament, given that a nuclear war would be even more catastrophic than global warming. In the long run both are important components of a global agenda to move from the culture of war to a culture of peace.
And they need to develop alliances with other movements that contribute to a culture of peace. One such alliance is the movement for equality of women, given that women have always been exploited and kept down by the culture of war and have usually taken the lead in movements for peace.
The largest mobilizations of the student strike movement have taken place in the rich countries of Europe and North America. To become more effective they need to link up with students in the poor countries of the South, understanding and supporting their needs for education and development. This is not simple, since schools in the North may seem irrelevant, even oppressive, while education in the South is more often seen as liberation.
Insofar as the student strike movement broadens its agenda, other movements would be wise to accept their leadership. It may not always be easy for older generations to accept the leadership of the young. This was a problem in the 60’s in France when the organized workers refused to march with the revolutionary students and in the US when the older peace activists refused to accept any leadership from the youth such as those of SDS (the Students for a Democratic Society). On the other hand, in South Africa, when the students took up the struggle against apartheid, their leadership was widely accepted by the older generation who were in prison or exile, and, as a result, this led to one of the greatest victories for justice in our times.
All this may seem fantastic in the face of the monolithic American empire and its alliances throughout the world, but, as often remarked this blog, the empire is crashing and we are coming into times of extraordinary change – and opportunity as well as danger. Let us hope that the students can rise to the challenge of leading us towards a better world.
Dr. David Adams is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and coordinator of the Culture of Peace News Network. He retired in 2001 from UNESCO where he was the Director of the Unit for the UN International Year for the Culture of Peace. Previously, at Yale and Wesleyan Universities, he was a specialist on the brain mechanisms of aggressive behavior, the history of the culture of war, and the psychology of peace activists, and he helped to develop and publicize the Seville Statement on Violence. Send him an email.
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