“Millennial” was a marketing term before it was a category of political analysis, but after the global financial crisis in 2008 we heard the first whispers of Western youth rising up in decades. In 2011 Occupy Wall Street and the “movement of the squares” kicked off, inaugurating some real intergenerational conflict, even if we didn’t generally understand it that way at the time. But when voters went to the polls in America and the UK, the tensions were clear: Age cohort was an unexpectedly valid predictive instrument, and young voters were supporting marginal old socialist candidates.
A few years out from the first Millennial roar, Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn are serious contenders for state power thanks to young voters. Scholars and political commentators are getting used to talking in terms of generational cohorts, even if they’re not always happy about it. Once a popular cluster of jokes about interns and avocados, the generational label has become a political football, with Democratic presidential candidates vying for the votes of angry, indebted young Americans.
While some researchers were caught flat-footed by the Millennial political turn, Keir Milburn, lecturer in political economy and organization at the University of Leicester in the UK, was ready to interpret. In his new book, Generation Left, he writes:
During a period of declining wages, welfare rights and living standards, stories that chip away at young people’s expectations are useful to the Right. But the Generation Snowflake stories are not really aimed at the young. They are best seen as self-justifying and comforting morality tales for the wealthier sections of older generations.
In the book, Milburn tracks the development of this political cohort from its birth in the streets in the wake of the 2007–2008 financial crisis to its run at political office and perhaps back again. As someone who writes on generational politics, I was relieved to read a book from a theorist who is taking age cohorts seriously. There has been a serious rupture in the political evolution of young people, however well-heeled commenters might try to obscure it with safe-space cracks and fake trend stories.
After we spoke when I was going through the transcript I realized that in our whole conversation neither of us mentioned the “M” word.
How did you come to the topic of this new generation and the left?
I’ve been an activist on the UK radical left for around 30 years. As such I’ve lived through several different waves of protest and politics and have long been interested in those moments when politics and the commonsense understanding of what’s possible seem to change very quickly, and 2011 seemed to be one of the moments.
The spur to writing this book was, in part, to do with my own biography. I wanted to understand the emergence of a new young left from 2011 onwards and think about how veterans of past left generations should relate to the new one. This interest became heightened following the electoral turn of the movements and in particular the 2015-6 battle …read more
Source:: Mother Jones