What’s the Deal with the British Riots? Are They the Trigger for a New Global “1968”?

Lit and thrown instead of “Shaken not Stirred.”

Molotov cocktails and rocks were the weapons of choice as they rained upon Tokyo University as students and faculty joined together and battled University officials, administrators, and Japanese Police.  The students held out for two weeks actually controlling the University in what was the peak of a “New Left” movement in Japan in 1969.

The seemingly inexplicable reasons for the global rise of the “New Left” movements from Paris in May 1968, the U.S. with the S.D.S, the Black Panthers, the Weather Underground, the PROVO movement in the Netherlands, the East and West German student and terror groups, the Japanese student movement and others came about in a completely new direction: from wealthy youth, poor youth, educated, uneducated, black, white.  The New Left movement was not just a political movement as the Old Left had been (Communism, anarchism, socialism) but was a cultural movement.  There were different reasons for all these groups to get started and react, but the point was that there was a reaction, and this triggered  many of the other movements around the world.

The seemingly confounding part of all this was that a great deal of people acting “radical”

Let's Act Radical Mann... Wooo!

was that they came from stable economic households and had no reasonable reason to react.  Where as the Old Left movement really started with the revolutions in 1848 and the rise of Marxism, Leninism, and different sects of socialism to solve the social problems brought on by the industrial revolution (gasp… run on sentence), the New Left came about to combat stagnancy in a world that young people began to see as increasingly two dimensional.  Thus, the civil rights movement, counter-culture movements, “meaningless” violence, and a backlash against authority all came together (although not uniformly) in a reaction against the height of Western society and the fight of West vs. East and “Good vs. Evil”.

Taking the movements in 1968 into though here, we can see how 2011 is much different.  Leading up to this year the global economy has seen the worst economic climate since the Great Depression (how many times have we heard Pres. Obama say that!) and the recovery that was supposed to be happening has now slowed to a crawl that turns out has very little to do with Arab Spring and the Japanese Earthquake (although it has a small bearing).  So now the EU looks awful with 4 countries close to defaulting even after EU bailouts, the U.S. Credit Rating was downgraded from its pristine AAA to AA+, there’s high unemployment everywhere (Actually even higher; numbers are masked by the high number of temp and intern workers), and global economies (minus China and India, a big minus) are facing another chance of recession.

The decade of the 1960s was not hampered by any global economic recession and for countries like the U.S. and Japan, the 1960s were huge boom expansion periods.  What we can see as parallels between the recession period of the late “aughts” up to now and the later 1960s is that there are burgeoning global crises, ie: Japanese Earthquake/nuclear fallout, Arab Spring/Totalitarian violence, and Western Governments deciding on how their policies and money should be used.

signs written in curse-ive

Why did I make the statement in the title asking if the British riots are a trigger for movements around the world?  Because it is quite possible in my mind that citizens of many Western countries are going to experience some very difficult times (this includes myself, mired in funemployment) because the social programs of all countries will suffer significantly.  The British austerity measures put in place were enough to make disenfranchised and unemployed youth take to the streets, but politicians are sweeping the issue under the rug and labeling it as mindless violence, when in fact there are some serious issues here that are now coming to the surface.

It looks as if compromise or gridlock will keep Congressional Legislation in the U.S. on the fast track to cutting “costly” programs particularly in Education and social services.  So, it looks as if many, many, people in the U.S. are about to receive a great deal less help from authority, and we may have similar communities where youth aren’t in school because they’re closed due to lack of funding, and don’t have work because they don’t have the requisite education or options.

He's giving authority a leg up

The mindset of a current British riotershows whole communities of young people of multiple races and backgrounds who don’t respect authority because that authority has failed them.   That could very well happen here in the U.S. and that is an alarming possibility; and I sincerely hope it doesn’t create flashbacks to Los Angeles in 1992.  Another potential domino effect are the austerity measures in Europe that each country will likely have to unveil.  We saw what this caused in Greece and considering the outlooks for Ireland, Spain, Italy and Cyprus we could see a whole generation of people who have lost the respect for their own governments, and therefore creating potential environments for chaos, and “mindless violence”.

So, number 1 are the British riots a trigger?  Well, probably not like the Tunisian trigger in this years Arab Spring, but I would not be surprised if there were many protests that really show people’s displeasure with the economic downturn of 2011 (greatly caused by governments) that is a creation of the Great Recession of 2008-9 (largely caused by the private industry).

Let me see... We'l cut education, healthcare, social security...

And, number 2, is this potential new chaotic environment rivaling the movements of the late 1960s?  Well, let’s see, it would be an anti-authoritarian movement that operated apolitically and involved mostly younger generations. So, some of the main points of  the New Left of the 1960s are parallel, but as far as the creation of counter-cultures and the potential for huge global movements that are huge menaces for governments around the world, well that remains to be seen.

What I wanted to do here was just kind of compare two time periods really quickly because I saw one or two things in common. If you really don’t like this comparison, that’s fine because this was just a chance to get my thoughts on this developing issue very quickly.

Anyways, thought y’all would enjoy the topical subject,

Come back now real soon, and read the next Blog where I’ll likely talk about a current event and try and link it historically in some way.

Your Faithful Historian,

Eric G. Prileson


Richard Jackson, Why I Riot: A View on the London Riots, http://www.e-ir.info

Eric Prileson, Japanese Radical Protest: The Student Led New Left

NY Times

Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy, Oxford U. Press

Michael Baumann, How it All Began, Arsenal Pulp Press


About eprileson

I am a historian and writer who wants to bring to light current events through a historical perspective. It is difficult to understand today's current events without having a grasp of what has occurred before. This is a running thread to help keep people informed about the present and remind everyone to not forget their past. Enjoy and please comment!
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2 Responses to What’s the Deal with the British Riots? Are They the Trigger for a New Global “1968”?

  1. BAAB says:

    are you allowed to cite yourself??

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