In May 1968, the Situationist-inspired Paris riots set off a chain reaction of refusal against consumer capitalism.
First students, then workers, then professors, nurses, doctors, bus drivers and a piecemeal league of artists and anarchists took to the streets. They erected barricades, fought with police, occupied offices, factories, railway depots, theaters and university campuses, sang songs, issued manifestoes, sprayed slogans like “Live Without Dead Time” and “Down with the Spectacular-Commodity Culture” all over Paris. The first wildcat general strike in history spread rapidly, first around Paris, then France and then to hundreds of cities and campuses around the world. For a few heady weeks a tantalizing question hung in the air: What if the whole world turned into Paris? Could this be the beginning of the first global revolution?
But the moment passed. Order was restored and “normal” life resumed. For the next 40 years, Spectacular-Commodity Culture not only ruled, it intensified in strength and scope. Its hold over us tightened, choking our collective imagination and quieting our revolutionary spirit. For three long generations, it’s been the only game in town.
But now the embers of insurgency are beginning to smolder again.
Young people in the West are pissed off as they stare into an increasingly empty and precarious future. If Obama’s stimulus packages fail and Sarkozy’s “new capitalism” doesn’t catch hold, “hope and change” will be mere campaign slogans — bearing no connection to reality. Left with forfeited promises, ravaged planetary ecosystems and forced to deal with the massive debt left to them by their parents, no amount of rhetoric will douse their generational discontent. Out of this frustration and anger, a charismatic new leader — a “Lily the Red” — may suddenly appear in Berlin, or Berkeley or maybe Beijing and spark a wave of protests around the world.
The recent food riots may also be a harbinger of things to come. The world’s one billion slum dwellers are the real victims of the economic collapse and it’s only a matter of time before a leader emerges from among them to call for a jihad against the decadent West. His fiery speeches will trigger massive protests against the richest one billion, whose economic philosophies and immoral five-planet lifestyles are accelerating climate change and propagating misery and inequity throughout the world. He will lead the call for a radical new frugality in Western lifestyles, repayment of the West’s ecological debt and a democratic overhaul of the UN Security Council, the IMF and World Bank.
This year, or maybe next, our neoliberal world order will explode like a million fireworks against the night sky and we shouldn't doubt or fear, but celebrate, because one dream is ending and another being born.