It has been suggested that radicalism cannot survive the aging process. A quote widely attributed to Churchill states: if you aren’t a communist at 20, you have no heart; if you are still one at 60, you have no head. The implication is that revolution is a game for the young and that, eventually, cooler heads will prevail. A greater (false) argument for the gerontocracy has never been made. Old men are very good at holding on to what they have.
Still, I find my own desire for manning the barricades has diminished with the passing years. I really never was much of a marcher; I preferred to plot my revolutions in ivory towers or, more often, in the back rooms of political parties. In my twenties, I was a Marxist of sorts but certainly no hardliner. I had a distaste for the more violent proponents of revolutionary change. I believed – still do – that change can be achieved through the ballot box as well as through direct, but peaceful action, through labour negotiations and strikes, the courts, social protests, boycotts. Gradualism was my mantra; evolution rather than revolution.
Now, as I pass through my sixties, I’m not so sure. The patience of youth has been replaced by the impatience of age. I no longer want change to occur ‘someday’ but ‘right now.’ I suppose I want to see it happen in my lifetime not in some mythical future that will, for me, not exist.
Not that there hasn’t been tremendous progress in the course of my life – most of it brought about through the lurching mechanisms of human progress, rather than through sudden upheaval and revolutionary destruction. Certainly some of the change that has occurred in Africa and South America and China has flowed out of the revolutions and wars, the social experiment of the Cultural Revolution and the greater evils of genocide and ethnic cleansing. But these changes were not because of the violence but in revolted response to its consequences. Perhaps the old ways had to be broken – perhaps – but the breaking did not in any way lead to the utopia promised by the breakers.
But I digress. In many parts of the world poverty has been reduced, the chains of serfdom have been thrown aside, women have achieved some measure of equality – more some places than others – the hold of ancient religions have been (mostly) loosened, the worst excesses of capitalism have been moderated. Yes, all that is true.
Yet, the forces of reaction – the power of old men – remain strong. Far too many people are too cowed or too easily bought with bread and circuses, are too easily frightened by the spectre of change (and after all, some of the revolutions I mentioned have been pretty fearful) to ever embrace the possibilities of real democracy, real liberty, real equality.
Some days, it makes me so angry… but I’ve also reached a place where ‘old men shouting at clouds’ seems particularly futile. So I do what I can. Propose changes to the status quo that move my part of the world towards a more just place; use my limited money and time and energy to do some good. And trust that the fire of youth will forge a better future.
And that’s ten minutes.