Note: This is the text of a keynote address to  the ‘Rethinking 1968’ Conference on September 21st 2018. There is a video of this presentation  and a linked powerpoint elsewhere on my website.

The party spirit

Googling Festschrift ( as one does) I discovered  that it is a relatively recent practice, inaugurated by intellectual emigres from Germany  to the USA , after the rise of Hitler.  Dating from the 1940s, the festschrift became  a way of  celebrating  their achievement in assimilating into  American culture. It evolved within the Academy as a form of  institutionalised peer recognition which had  less to do with  vocation,  than with career.  That last bit is me not Wikipedia!

However  a festschrift literally translates as a party script . So the question is what kind of party? What kind of script?

Certainly not  a vanguard party  where  everything is  pre-scribed , that notion went out of the window in 1968. But perhaps not a rave either  where we all get high on Ecstasy and magically dissolve  our  differences through a mindless and  short lived democracy of the body .

Still a certain kind of dance cannot be written out of this party script, especially  as its  about 1968. We have just heard  as we came in how important music was to the creation of that particular memoryscape.   And don’t forget, dialectics is commonly called  the dance of the mind . But if we want to turn it off its head and onto its feet, to  tap dance our way into  the future,  then , we might   need to  get back in touch with  Nietzsche’s   notion of a gay science, by which he meant  the joyful pursuit of knowledge through its  playful  application to the world. Michel Serres in  his book The Troubadours of  Knowledge takes a leaf out of   Nietzsche’s book   but also Gramsci’s, whose notion of the organic intellectual was modelled on the itinerant scholars and mendicant Friars of the middle ages  , those journeymen of the spirit  for whom the road was more important than the inn.

Here is Serres  advice to  the young:

‘Study, work, something will always come of it. And after? For there to be an after, I mean some kind of future that goes beyond a copy, leave the library––to run in the fresh air. If you remain inside you will never write anything but books made of books. . That knowledge, excellent in itself, contributes to instruction, but the goal of the other kind is something other than itself. Depart, go out, become many, brave the outside world, split off somewhere else. These are the initial means of being exposed to the world. For there is no learning without exposure, often dangerous, to the other, to foreign things’.

There speaks the spirit of 1968 and the ferment of ideas and social experiment it released. It is a  spirit first and most famously articulated  in relation to an event which many soixantante huitards claimed as their inspiration namely the French revolution.  Here is Wordsworth, in panegyric mode, on  the events of 1789 :

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!

For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood

Upon our side, we who were strong in love!

Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,

But to be young was very heaven!—Oh! times,

In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways

Of custom, law, and statute, took at once

The attraction of a country in romance!

Interestingly, Wordsworth highlights the re-enchantment of the world that is brought about in the revolutionary moment, only to  frame it with his precautionary title : The French revolution as it appeared to Enthusiasts at its Commencement, already foreshadowing the  advent of Robespierre and the Jacobin Terror to come. There has been no shortage of commentators (,e.g Luc Boltanski  and Thomas Frank )  who have adopted a similar reading of 1968, seeing it   as marking the point at which capitalism goes  cultural as well as global, and becomes hip. In this view the so-called  ‘Youth Revolution’ creates a platform for disseminating  the hedonistic pleasure principles of consumerism  and makes  possessive  individualism – doing your own thing  – sexy,  addictive and above all cool.  In this optic, recreational  sex, drugs and rock’n’roll  may not exactly be the devil’s work, but they promote the  dispositions of creative self-invention, underpinned by a whole  culture of narcissism that post- Fordism, and the just- in-time production of the self requires

This Jeremiad  has  provoked a furious response from the Libertarian Left  who see  1960’s counterculture  in a very different light , as a great disseminator of a popular anti-authoritarian politics, a  generational  revolt  against  the patriarchal structures  of the family and the bureaucratic structures of  state and corporate culture. So here  1968 is  embarked on a quest for new and more directly democratic forms of collective self-organisation, based on a moral economy of  mutual aid. For many  68ers  it is also about an aesthetic revolt against the dead weight of  elite bourgeois  literary and artistic canons and cultural taste

Lauren Berlant for example in her essay on ‘1968 or something’ argues for   ‘a refusal to learn the lessons of history, a refusal to relinquish utopian practice, a refusal of  the apparently inevitable movement from tragedy to farce that has marked so much of the analysis of social movements generated post 68 ‘

This is clearly a debate  that is going to run and run  because it has a direct bearing on a wider  set of issues  on the Left :a debate between its authoritarian and libertarian tendencies,  between  cool  analytics  and passionate commitment . My granddad , a keen member of the ILP,  was rumoured to have slept between a picture of Lenin  on one side of the bed and Kropotkin  on the other side and never to have had a bad night’s sleep. My generation have not been so lucky . The  struggle to reconcile Marxism and  Anarchism,  Machiavelli and Mutual Aid, direct action and  party politics, Utopianism and pragmatism has been a nightmare from which many of us are still try to awake.

In trying to understand what is at stake here   we have to recognise  that ‘1968’ functions in two dimensions of discourse at once. It is a metonym that has come to stand for a whole gamut of  actions and attitudes  which directly or implicitly set out to disrupt the post war settlement between capital and labour and the cosy consensual  political culture based upon it. Just as importantly ‘1968’ is a powerful metaphor  of radical cultural and political change initiated by a younger generation who rise up against the old order they have inherited from their parents,  in the name of some principle of hope for a better future that is incommensurate with the status quo. The paradox of ‘1968’ is that its legacy  has survived as a metaphorical statement of  intent to overthrow an ancien regime, while the events themselves  actually mark the end, or at least the supersession, of the revolutionary narrative in which this project has been embedded in Europe since 1789.

If festscrifts are generational markers, then like generations we should regard them as occasions for looking forwards as well as back. That at least if  what we have tried to do in organising this event  creating a dialogue between the generations, between people involved in  60’s counter culture and those who were not even born in 1968. .

It is all too easy for those of us who  were in the forefront of things in 1968 (and  now find ourselves fully paid or  in my case unpaid members of the pedagogic gerontocracy we once railed against),  to set up that conjuncture and those involvements  as a benchmark against which to measure  subsequent moments and movements  only to find them wanting . Or alternatively to detect in everything  that  emerged  post 68  from  Left field  ( gay rights, the green movement, feminism)  the traces of our influence , in other words  to deny our children and grandchildren’s generation the radical innovatory spirit we claim for ourselves

Moreover there is a legacy  politics on the Left which in the name of learning lessons from the past,   practices a lazy historicism ,one that actually forecloses  the long duree  .Lets be clear: 1968 did not start in 1965 or in 1959 , but in 1945 . It emerges from Left field as long delayed response , at first subterranean and fragmentary, and then suddenly coalescing into  an complex narrative of social change , in response   to a number of factors : the traumatic aftermath of the WW2 ,  the  austerity  regimes that presided over post war reconstruction,  the cold war ,  the sublimation of class struggle in bureaucratic , the persistence of an ancien regime of  patriarchal and neo-colonial power, and  above all  it was  a reaction against banality of  popular culture and music.  The soundtrack of my childhood and early adolescence was dominated by  the likes of Max  Bygraves singing Tulips from Amsterdam and Petula Clark  petulantly complaining that  she was a lonely little petunia in an onion patch.

 Coming of age stories now and  then

1968 was a central feature in the coming of age story of my generation , in which the personal and the political were intensely  interwoven. Like  generation,  coming of age stories are also prospective and retrospective, they are forms of anticipatory socialisation, imagining who or what we might become, and they are  platforms of collective remembrance, a way of looking back at our youth  and at what might have been .  In principle coming of age stories need  never come of age, they can  continually be revised in the light of subsequent experiences and events . However in practice  , they tend to behave  like the daemons  that accompany the characters in  Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials:  they tend to lose their early plasticity and harden into fixed narrative shape as  we retell them  again and again over the years  .  Its doesn’t have to be this way. The best coming of age stories are the ones which surprise their  tellers as much as their  listeners, and  explore counter-finality as well as counter-facticity.

I want to look at what has happened to the coming of age story as a narrative genre  over the past  fifty years , because that has been very much the focus of my research with young people in East London over this time. This period has seen a  pervasive   shift  in the role of the state and key institutions in civil society, in particular  schools and universities, a shift  away from adapting capital to meet the needs of people , and  towards  adapting people to meet the needs of capital, a  shift which has much more intimate and intricate consequences than can be subsumed under the rubrics of globalisation and neo-liberalism, however useful they are as short hand terms. In the case of East  London we are dealing with the deep impact of the closure of the docks, and a whole pattern of de-industrialisation this set in motion,  opening up an opportunity to  establish a new financial services centre in Canary Wharf and  for a process of intense gentrification moving from the inner to the outer East End ,  culminating  in the advent of the Olympic  Park and related developments in and around Stratford.  Coming of age stories are always over-determined  by what is happening in particular places  as well as times.

I am first going to outline  a possible  framework for understanding  the grammar of coming of age stories, and then draw on my fieldwork with  young East enders to illustrate  some of the key shifts that have taken place.  I’ll finish   by drawing out some of the implications of this analysis for understanding contemporary  forms of class identity politics.

Lets begin by looking at how the life course has changed in the transition from an industrial to post industrial society ,  comparing how growing up was organised and narrated then and now.

How   do these structural changes impact not just on livelihoods and life styles but life stories ?

To try to grasp  this I have developed the concept of  ethno-biographical code i.e. codes which furnish narrative templates  and cultural  tropes  through which auto-biographies  are parsed and related and reproduced.  This framework is concerned to identify the normative  codes  or grammars of life story telling  . In  their  strongest form, these  codes throw a grid of periodization and predicament over the life course and  map out key moments of transition between   gender and age specific  positions ,   editing the syntax of experience accordingly. Once  institutionalised, these markers of im/maturity not  only define certain developmental ideals associated with different types of social ,cultural and intellectual capital, but relay the dispositions that have to be acquired to realize them. But as their normative strength weakens so their forms of articulation becomes ever more variegated, unstable  and difficult to decode.

Identity issues used to be regarded as  an exclusive feature of middle-class adolescence, a staple ingredient of the bildungsroman, a conjunctural rite of passage, a bit of ‘storm and stress (or dress)’ to ease the transition into the bourgeois life world with its stable career structures and secure livelihoods. The working classes had their own stable principles of the life course. Growing up working-class – until the second half of the twentieth century – usually took the form of a cultural apprenticeship to a quasi biological  inheritance negotiated through the family and the labourhood.. You have coal in your bones. Hairdressing in your fingertips. Seafaring in your blood You are a Scouser or a Cockney born and bred.  Yet these  fixed chains of association  have to be transmitted  to an up and coming generation and this is accomplished through a  narrative  in which life is unfolded as so many incremental stages in the mastery of a  set of dispositions and  skills, linked to making ones way in the world.. In other words an apprenticeship.  Within this narrative frame jobs and the social knowledge they entailed were regarded as held in trust by one generation of workers for the next  and as long as this frame the psycho-social dynamics of apprenticeship/inheritance routinely involved ritualised forms of quasi-oedipal conflict between ‘apprentices’ and masters or mistresses who  pass on their know how in the bitter sweet understanding that they are enabling these young people to replace them.

Today, old heads are no longer so easily placed on young shoulders, and even young fogeys tend to deny that they are chips off the old block. Growing up working-class no longer means being apprenticed at an early age to an inheritance of trade or domestic knowledge passed on from parents or elders in the workplace and community. What now counts is the disposition of intellectual, cultural and social capital entailed in practices of learning, both physical and mental, mediated through the apparatus of extended scholarisation. But while this opened up new horizons for the lucky few, it was not linked to any realistic opportunity structures for the majority.

Apprenticeship, although it nowadays scarcely exists in its traditional indentured form, has nevertheless led a vigorous afterlife as an existential metaphor and learning model .Informal  apprenticeship, uncoupled from inheritance and the power of elders –who know -better, offers a viable model of peer-to-peer transmission within informal communities of practice both inside and outside the workplace. Just think how skateboarders learn how to do their moves from each other, graduating from an initial position on the edge of group observing what the ‘old hands’ do to a more central role as they gain in confidence until they in turn become expert. In the contemporary service economy we find a whole array of coaches, trainers and mentors who have mastered not only specialised work skills  but also the values and attitudes of mind and body that go with them. The apprenticeships they offer through their various mimetic disciplines involve forms of labour which have been  individualised, ,abstracted from specific workplace cultures and communities and, rendered transferable between different contexts  , often being translated into middle-class idioms of vocation or career. Meanwhile for those who are having to grow up working-class without work, and often without a language of class to articulate their experience, the code of inheritance can still  provide a sense of life historical continuity and identity, albeit an all too easily racialised one.

On the other side of the class tracks it’s a very different story. For quite large sections of the  middle class, the material basis of inheritance in the transfer of wealth and property  not only continues to over-determine life chances, but achieves ever higher salience with the financialisation of personal assets. The spectacle of  generation rent, waiting for long-living parents to die so that they can at last to afford to buy a place of their own,  conjures up the whole  oedipal psycho-drama of dis/inheritance which was once such a staple plot line for Victorian novelists, not to mention the classic who-dunnit ..

The codes of vocation and career have undergone their own   convoluted process of transformation. Under the imprimaturs of the original vocation code (SLIDE)the self is the bearer of a calling which may be moral, spiritual or social, but whose existential imperatives  centre around the pursuit of authenticity . In this model the adolescent search for identity becomes  a life time quest. This trope  is privileged in various humanistic psychologies and toda has been used to give a glamorous halo to the precarious conditions of the free lancer and portfolio worker.  In contrast the grid of career (SLIDE)  is centred of the pursuit of ambition . Almost as soon as the child can walk its feet are placed on a  ladder of achievement and its progress, monitored , measured and marked at each step of the way associated with  acquiring   some increment of skill or status or reward. Careerists are people who have had the misfortune to grow up under this regime  and are driven to compulsively  measure themselves competitively against their peers  in every sphere of their lives, at work, at play, in public and private . Under the imprimatur of career the  contingencies of a life history are reduced to the predictabilities of a business plan, which is made to unfold according to a rigid timetable of developmental norms.  Developmental psychologies have helped to make   career the authorised version of the life course in western societies.  But although it remains the referential model to which we are all supposed to aspire, even delinquent have careers, in reality its performativity is confined to the children of a diminishing elite. Careers are not quite what they used to be. They now subsume internships, portfolio working, and other forms of pseudo apprenticeship. Orderly incremental progression has been replaced by intermittent and erratic forms of self-promotion. Career is beginning to approximate to its original sense of ‘careering about’.

Today  there are many sources of tension and confusions between the life historical messages about aspiration and identity conveyed by these four codes. Once sons could no longer follow fathers and girls, mothers, into the same occupational culture and community, other life journeys became imaginable.   Many of these tensions come to a head during the transition from school to work  and much of the emotional labour of traditional adolescence consisted in learning to decode, differentiate and if possible reconcile competing life story lines. But , As Jennifer Silva put it : How would you tell your coming of age story without the milestones – that propel it forwards? How might you make sense of the  broken promises, unused qualifications, unexpected layoffs or failed relationships that disconnect the pieces of yourself that you spent a life time assembling? What happens when the taken for granted models for organising ones life become obsolete, unattainable or undesirable?  Jennifer de Silva Coming Up Short :working class adulthood in an age of uncertainty (2013).

But how do these shifts work out in practice ? Some examples  from  my projects can be found in the powerpoint which accompanies this text.

MARK  A Patriarchal posture  , and depiction of the male line – but  he asked  Jane to  show him some dance moves !,

LYNNE gives a fairly conventional and depressing portrait of a young working class woman, but its interesting that she rejects the association between autonomy and the wage, but just thinks that you learns ( and not just earn) more at work than at school. Another take perhaps on learning to labour.

JANE  the two versions – the story of the kettle –  refusing domestic apprenticeship .



THE APPRENTICES TALE   Punk meets the labourhood

The captions : Heading for the job – Capital or Labour –  Danger  low flying stones –(Under the paving stones) Beckenham Beach- My next work of art (pride in craftsmanship)  – Got the Little bleeder- What do you call this – a jacket ? Better than that flea bitten thing you’ve got on – try this for size  ( a bit of ritual banter)  Bleeding apprentices ,cant leave them for a minute –Passing the buck-et- These kids do make a mess ( He has to sweep up after them , role reversal time, as this is usually the apprentices job) –Packing it in – Stiff Little fingers ( Punk band and too much wanking)

JASWINDERS MEMORY MAP ,on one side    cultural  heritage entailed in a nations struggle for political independence  in the Indian subcontinent , on the other her  struggle for personal independence as young Bangladeshi women growing up in East London. . The personal and the political , the past and the present, , are stitched together ,  and the colour  coding

These are all examples of negotiations over subject positions taking places within the framework of apprenticeship and inheritance. But what happens when that framework is not available or is experienced as an oppressive .

The Coming Out Story

In the last 15 years the coming out story as a rite of passage for young people ( and not only young people) into the LGTBQ community has established itself as a new and very robust narrative genre. Through its reiteration across social media platforms, in countless memoirs, and in Young Adult Fiction,  the classic bildungsroman has been effectively queered.  But it is not always easy for young people growing up queer in working class neighborhoods  to come out , either to their friends or family.

Jamie was 16  and went to George Green school in the Isle of Dogs. . He was popular with the girls, who often confided in him but he also came in for a lot of homophobic abuse  and some bullying from the other boys on account of his rather camp persona. Jamie had few school friends and said that he preferred the company of animals ‘because you could trust them’. He had lots of pets at home, and by his own account was turning his bedroom into something of an animal sanctuary, with a stray cat, a tank of unwanted goldfish, and a gerbil with only one leg!

In this project we invited  the young people to create a storyworld in a box. Jamie’s storyworld featured a ‘ghost horse’ which in the course of its journey turns into a real one that he used to ride. Here is an extract from his interview:

Int.: Can you tell us a bit about what is going on in this box?

Jamie: The idea just sort of developed as it went along. It’s about people’s fears and how they overcome them. It’s got three sections. It started off with the idea of just showing me on my horse, the steps I’m doing, like cantering, walk, trot, and then all of a sudden it all changes completely, goes completely weird like in a dream.

Int.: You mean the story idea took off and became more dreamlike, or the scenes in the box change?

Jamie: Well, I did a background, which is like the past, and then I’ve got a picture of me in the background and pictures of me on my horse. The horse in the background is a ghost horse and a spider.

Int.: What’s that represent?

Jamie: The spider is a phobia.

Int.: But you’re not afraid of horses? Jamie: No, that’s funny, that is.

Int.: Do you believe in ghosts? Jamie:

I don’t believe in ghosts, but if I was to see one, no matter if it was a horse or a dog, I would be scared.

Int.: Can you say a bit more about the background?

Jamie: It’s a picture of Mile End Cemetery. I go there quite a lot. People ask me if it’s because my family are buried there, but I just go there as a place to relax. There’s some funny people in there, like drunks, but I feel quite at home. People leave you alone. I used to go riding there, but people complained, jealous probably. Of course it’s not a playground, people are buried there. It could be scary. Now it’s a bit out of bounds and we go riding in the Lea Valley.

Int.: So what happens in the next section?

Jamie: The horse is half in and half out. It’s supposed to be leaving the world of fear to go out into the world of no fears whatsoever. The sheep dog, the rabbits and the other animals are all friends – they make a pact not to kill each other. Their forest gets chopped down, so they’ve got to move to a different forest. And they make a note saying the adder won’t eat the mice, the fox won’t eat the birds, stuff like that. The rabbits are scared creatures, they’re more scared of you than you are of them, that’s why I show them there.

Int.: So it’s a hopeful story in a way?

Jamie: Mmm. Well, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about an ending, I suppose it’s a kind of journey, it’s still going on.

Jamie uses the symbolic envelope of the box to objectify, control, dissipate, and finally move on from an initial phobic landscape associated with his dread of spiders. These stages describe an inner as well as outer journey and are represented by his beloved horse; it begins as a ghost, belonging to the ‘other world’ as if frightened into invisibility, but then, step by step, takes on flesh and blood existence as it is born out of a state of frozen anxiety into the real world. The Mile End Cemetery provides an initial stage setting that allows Jamie to focus – and bring together – his feelings of anxiety about abandonment and his longing for an environment where he would at last be safe from bullying because entirely alone. Its actual  transformation into a gay cruising ground was still in the future.

Jamie was growing up in a very  homophobic environment where he had to keep his feelings and gayness’ invisible’. The horse is here his chosen avatar  and as it comes out of hiding, it also moves in to safe space where its true being  can be recognised  . This is a Utopian space where  fear has been vanquished and all conflicts are magically  resolved .The Lion lies down proverbially with the lamb.

There is twist to Jamie’s ghost story. This may be a tale proverbially told  out of the horse’s mouth, but it is very much as  told to  an interlocutor  and its plot is actually  beholden to a Young Adult Fiction he had read called The Animals of Farthing Wood. Its authenticity lies precisely in its strategy of indirection, which allows Jamie’s Daemon, in the figure of his beloved horse to do  the coming out for him.

One reason for the success of the coming out story is   the way it hybridises elements from all four codes .  Its telling is a performative statement about identity  which at once represents  the quest for  a more authentic mode of being in the world ,  enables a possible acknowledgement of a  quasi biological destiny,  of being born that way,   is often an anticipation of or accompaniment to the mastery of new  sexual techniques and/or  the adoption of a new persona and  style  and, who knows it  might even launch the teller on a gay career.

The coming of age story has necessarily  been reinvented in a hybrid, I guess you might say post modern  form. It is no coincidence that the most popular literary and cinematic version is the triumph over adversity narrative which play an increasingly powerful  role in contemporary identity politics. This is a story  which can include 1) overcoming inherited or otherwise imposed disadvantages, 2) a do it yourself form of apprenticeship , mastering survival and advocacy skills,  3) a quest for  a more authentic and creative existence and 4) the successful pursuit of a middle class career. Different stories accentuate one or other of these elements but their elementary plot structure conforms to the same basic proposition, that bad beginnings can be overcome through personal struggle , with or without the help of friends and mentors , and lead to happy endings. Increasingly this story line has been weaponised and politicised,as it is inscribed in a normative life trajectory  of victimhood in some of the more toxic instances of identity politics.

Another response to the fragmentation of ethno-biographic codes, and  to the fact   that there are no longer accessible road maps for how life is to unfold except for a privileged few is that  the journey  has emerged as the consensual  or common sense metaphor of how we should proceed  . No one , in this digital age aspires to read the book of life, to open a new chapter, or  turn over a new leaf. Instead we are all supposed to be on a journey, corporations write mission statement in which they invite us to join them in their journey, politicians and political parties do likewise. Brexit is a  journey, a great adventure story. It doesn’t  doesn’t really matter where we are going  on all these journeys, the journey itself is the thing , all that matters is that we are going somewhere different from where we are now and anything is better than standing still , taking stock, digging in and refusing to go with the flow.(SHOW SLIDE)

 Class identity politics or Left Fields Forever

This brings me back to  the question of class and identity. All these young people are in different ways  negotiating  what it means to grow up working class at a time when the links between growing up , working  and class are weak or broken and no longer furnish a viable grammar for their coming of age story.

In both pre- and post-Brexit discourse we have seen working-class identities being re-composed – so that the class becomes once more a unitary being, native to these Disenchanted Isles – set over and again its  Other Scene which is  inhabited not just by people of colour, but by all who come to these shores without  the proper  cultural passport. Within this populist re-framing, the now aboriginal working class get to play Tribe (at last at home in and for itself), while Johnny Foreigner is cast as a to-and-fro-ing Multitude. This move is facilitated by the familiar device of setting up a zero-sum game, in which one side’s gain (in jobs, housing, education and social amenity) is always the other’s loss, and won at their expense. Conspiracy theories are ready to hand to prove that the rules of the game are rigged so that ‘Multitude’ always trumps ‘Tribe’, and the ‘indigenous’ always lose out and end up as proverbial ‘strangers in their own country’, in a paradoxically predictable switcheroo of victimhood.

The rival memes of the Remain and Leave Campaigns dramatised the splitting apart  of working-class identity politics. ‘Better Together’ evoked – unconsciously and in a suitably displaced but scaled-up form – the lost solidarities of the labourhood and its civic attachments, now better enunciated by urban multicultures; while ‘Take Back Control’ carried an echo of working-class syndicalism and its now hollowed-out forms of territoriality, but transposed into a cartography of exclusion drawn around the fault-lines of religion and race, and inscribed within the fictive physical geography of anglo-ilishness.

We will understand nothing about the dynamics of  the working class Brexit vote unless we recognise that it was not just a knee jerk reaction to globalisation by the so called ‘left behinds’  but a profound response to  the  de-regulation not only the market and civic economies ( the neo-liberal agenda ) but  of  the moral economy of the labourhood. Its replacement by the gig economy with its just –in time production of the self, its  permissive unfixing of gender and generational identities, has had a profoundly dislocating effect. The traumatic impact of de-industrialisation on working class communities  is not just about the loss of jobs, but of a whole way of life, a mode of social being – and becoming- in the world based on a sexual and generational division of labour which has been rendered obsolete.

Against this background we need to argue for a new life-course politics. This does not imply a return to a one-size-fits-all cradle-to-grave welfarism, but, rather, a re-assertion of the value of apprenticeship as a life-long biographical trajectory embedded in structures of collective aspiration and a  legacy open to all. Failing that generational inequalities within working class families will continue to be  focussed  around an endlessly deferred apprenticeship  disconnected from viable markers of maturity,  or alternatively, the passing on of  an embodied (and racialised)  inheritance  uncoupled from any incremental process of gaining the know- how,  the cultural memory, or aspirational horizon required  to become a fully fledged citizen .

But this is only half of the story. We also need to re-align the code of inheritance so that is no longer beholden to a sense of privileged   entitlement  or authenticity associated with being the backbone of any nation,let alone an island race, and uncoupled from the transmission of property and material wealth. Instead the code has to articulate a  common birthright still to come,  entailed in a democratic struggle to make resources available to the many and not the few.

Looking back at this  work in East London  has helped crystallise a number of questions  about the future of the Left which I hope  we will debate today. Do we have  the capacity to reclaim our  imagination of the future  from  recuperation and perversion by  corporate capitalism and its imagineers? Can  our  memoryscapes be more and other than an involuntary response to the ruin of  those dreams of a better world vicariously  bound up with Social Democracy, Communism and the labour movement, dreams  which were supposedly guaranteed by laws of history we optimistically thought were on our side?  Is it possible to enunciate realistic principles of hope which articulate popular demands for  social justice  without falling back into   pragmatic opportunism or Utopian fantasies ? Or to put it in another more cultural idiom  , There may be trouble ahead , but before the fiddlers have fled, before they ask us to pay the bill and while we still have the chance , can we not  face the music and dance.

If the answer is no, then we only have a permanent nostalgia-fest to look forward to,  a prolonged mourning for a world of hopefulness we have lost.  We arrive at a negative historicism in which  1968 serves as a benchmark  against which  all subsequent  events and movements are judged  and found wanting.  What kind of legacy  is that to pass on to future generations?

The  critical  futurology  and memory work  I am advocating,  and which my book Archive that Comrade argues for,  may be the only honest way to remain faithful to the zeitgeist of 1968.   For , to return to Wordsworth’s   poem with which I began , he concludes  with this injunction which I think we need to take to heart:

We are called upon to exercise our skill

Not in Utopia, subterranean fields

Or some secreted island, Heaven knows where!

But in the very world, which is the world

Of all of us, the place where in the end

We find our happiness, or not at all!

Powerpoint Presentation: ‘1968’ ,Coming of Age Stories and the View from Left Field