Published on
The Guardian/UK

Student Protesters: Teaching the Left's old Guard a Thing or Two

The new generation seems determined to avoid the ideological nitpicking that has for so long blighted the British left

Billy Bragg

The student protesters of this winter of discontent are my heroes. Instead of giving up on politicians who failed to deliver their promises on tuition fees, the students have been galvanised into action. Their demonstrations and occupations are the antidote to the cynical bile that is spewed out on internet forums against anybody who dares challenge the notion that free-market capitalism is the answer to all our problems.

The ubiquity of the camera phone among the young has turned every protester into a citizen reporter, capable of accessing images that instantly refute the claims of the authorities. Those same handheld devices allow the protesters to communicate so swiftly that they are able to avoid being corralled by the police and unlawfully detained. They know their rights because they can Google them.

This was supposed to be a generation of slacktivists, willing to stop Simon Cowell from getting the Christmas No 1, but not prepared to take things any further. Instead they have taken the initiative, not waiting for the Labour party or the TUC to tell them what to do, making their own connections with others in society facing painful cuts and demanding that tax avoiders take their share of the pain, too.

From what I've experienced, they seem determined to avoid the ideological nitpicking that has for so long blighted the British left. This is the first generation to have the opportunity to create a form of socialism that is not tainted by totalitarianism. Those of us who fought the Tories in the dying days of the last century should listen and learn.

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Billy Bragg is is an English alternative rock musician and activist

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