BY: Pedro Mzileni.

The UN predicts that we are currently undergoing the biggest living cost crisis in the 21st century. No economy seems to be able to escape the debt crisis, rising unemployment and inflation since the pandemic.

De-industrialisation continues to worsen the unemployment of the younger population. This has the potential to cause massive social instability and threaten the legitimacy of any democracy. There are two dominant theories concerning the “youth reaction” to this crisis. Functionalists believe that young people will remain resilient, seek further higher education and training opportunities and invent entrepreneurial options to survive.

This viewpoint is largely Euro-centric and would probably work best in more advanced economies that have functioning public finance and institutions in place to incentivise these developments.  But for a young person in Yemen, Lesotho, Pakistan and Bolivia the functionalists can only speak up to a certain point.

There are no functioning institutions in place that would enable every innovative talent with deserving opportunities to thrive there. In other words, this is the youth that feels the greatest impact of this living cost crisis.

Social developmentalists believe that young people will utilise their human right to activism and pull trade unions, business and government into a common dialogue. This approach places responsibility on every role player in society to fix major economic problems and create sustainable welfare for those who are vulnerable.

This approach, though, always ends up being market-orientated and governments bend over for private interests. They offer bailouts and lucrative subsidies for businesses to save their losses, retrench workers and avoid national transformation targets. Young people get left behind to face big capital themselves and they are either left with the option of either tolerating the system of unemployment or choosing to revolt.

Revolt is different from protest. To protest is to play according to the rules set out in the constitution. It is to organise for a specific cause through respectable platforms of dissent. The youth who protest in this manner tend to be institutionalised. They are students, young workers, NGO volunteers, bloggers, party leaders and members or followers of popular hashtag movements. One way or the other, they have a form of income or social wage that protects them and enables them to keep their protests running.

A revolt, on the other hand, is a totally different story. It is radical and is targeted at overthrowing the status quo. Fanon reads it as a violent movement. It consists of people who are sick and tired of systems. They are the unemployed, the poor and the de-institutionalised class that is forgotten, neglected and disregarded. To some degree, they also consist of the institutionalised class of students and young workers who have been dehumanised by capitalism.

Society reaches a stage of complete instability and of being a direct threat to democracy when the youth is mobilised to the point of revolt. The status quo knows perfectly well that once such a revolt gets infused with conscientisation it can potentially lead to their overthrow – a revolution.

As a result, all manner of strategies get implemented by capitalism to disengage the working class. The living cost crisis is one of the challenges that threaten activism. A people that only focuses on surviving for the next meal will never have the capacity to theorise and organise for their total liberation.

The pandemic might have destroyed hundreds and thousands of livelihoods across the world but the other story of the pandemic is that it created more billionaires and more inequalities. The gap between the rich and the poor became larger. The possibilities of revolt against capitalism severely depreciated.

The beliefs of functionalists and social developmentalists are slowly becoming irrelevant in the process and today’s living cost crisis further multiplies the growing hopelessness. In this context, young people have nobody else but themselves to resist this reality.

In a state of relative obscurity like this one, Fanon reminds each generation to discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.


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