There is a long-standing trend across society of people feeling alienated from the political establishment. This is not a movement with ideology or leaders behind it but more a broad feeling of disaffection felt by many. Individuals have sought to express this through music, film and political action drawing many who feel the same towards them but without forming a tangible movement. In recent months in the UK this has grown more apparent as opposition to the Tory government and their program of austerity has grown. I suggest the coining of a new phrase to describe this movement of the dissatisfied and how the feeling is expressed as the culture of resistance.
The culture of resistance is a general anti-establishment view point. Best described by a friend of mine as the 'fuck the police' mentality. It incorporates those against the established ideology of neoliberal free market capitalism but, in its actuality, is a broader dissatisfaction with the status quo and the dominant political philosophy. It covers a spectrum of people from those who wear Che Guevara hoodies to squat dwelling anarchists. It can be manifested in those who subscribe to specific anti-establishment ideologies such as socialism and those who take direct action against the establishment in the form of protests. However, it can also be seen in those who feel alienated from the main political discourse and social norms. The culture of resistance is not specifically opposed to or against anything that can be easily defined. That is a characteristic of a more defined movement with influential figures and a more defined ideology. The culture of resistance is more of general expression of dissatisfaction felt by many who do not fit within the establishment and are disenfranchised by this.
In one aspect it can be summed up in the general anti-establishment vibes given off by bands like Kasabian but it encompasses such diverse songs as the anger of Anti-Flag’s Die For the Government to Tracy Chapman’s more subtle Talking About a Revolution. It encompasses a range of films, from James Dean's non-specific rebellion in Rebel Without A Cause to the anti-big business rhetoric of Michael Moore’s documentaries. From the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists to Iain Bank’s Complicity. It covers those who feel disenfranchised from the political and social establishment by their gender, sexuality, race, poverty or sub-culture.
For those of us on the left to be a more effective political force we need find a commonality in these disaffected individuals covered by the broad term of the culture of resistance. We need to seek out the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection and mobilise people against their oppressors. I am fully aware of many on the left who feel alienated and disaffected by lack of a strong left-wing voice in mainstream politics calling for progressive change. Many also feel dissatisfied that Labour frequently fails to be this progressive voice. Individuals form isolated causes or individuals take direct action as they feel disconnected from a larger political movement. This in essence is the culture of resistance.
It is job of those on the left to form alliances between dispirited groups and people who fall under the culture of resistance. Many of the root causes of political alienation and social disaffection are conflicting problems. Power structures within the culture of resistance make this difficult, as is forming connections within such a diverse group of people. However, forming alliances between dispirited groups has always been one of the great strengths of the right. Consider the many differences between neoliberal, free-market corporate conservatives and the faith, family and flag social conservatives who sit together (not always happily) on the benches of Republican Party. In the British Tory party we see a similar uneasy alliance between the anti-immigration lobby and supporters of the interests of large companies who exploit the cheap labour migration brings. The right counts forming political alliances as one of its strength and so too should we on the left.
There are recent examples of direct action taken by large groups of members of the culture of resistance against their political oppressors. The main instance of this is students demonstrating against tuition fee rises. A diverse group students of different ideologies and different social backgrounds united by their opposition to a single issue and their general disenfranchisement with the political establishment.
The student tuition fees protests are a clear example of the increasing degree to which young people are disillusioned with political establishment. The protests of thousands of young members of the culture of resistance in the lead up to the Iraqi war were largely ignored by mainstream politicians and thus alienation of those outside the main political discourse is continued. In recent student protests the culture of resistance were driven to property damage and occupation in response to the feeling that the voices had been ignored or silenced before. Through the media branding them as violent trouble makers, the alienation and disaffection of the culture of resistance is perpetuated.
In the Arab world we have seen a string of uprising by the political oppressed. Again a broad cross section of society has been united in a common movement of the politically alienated and the socially disaffected against their oppressors. In Egypt, a country fraught with religion divisions, Christians and Muslims were brought together against the dictatorial establishment. This should be an example to those who wish to effect social change that through a common culture of resistance very divergent groups can be brought together and ultimately topple their common oppressors.
Very recently in Tottenham, north east London the poor and disaffected lashed out at an establishment which they felt was repressing the community. This is an example of an entire community and culture falling under the label of the culture of resistance due to the disenfranchisement of poverty, the alienation of the lack of having adequate political influence to effect necessary local development and perceived over policing. The culture of resistance does not only cover isolated individuals but can incorporate entire social groups or movements.
The culture of resistance has only grown larger and more pronounced as time has gone by and more people felt alienated from mainstream politics by the dominant ideology. We have seen that there is a great power in this disenfranchisement once mobilised. Those of us on the left need to work on building bridges that unite the disaffected in a common movement if we are to effect serious and lasting social change.