Published by Matthew Davidson on Mon, 25/11/2013 - 9:44am

Uncanny portrait by my pal Ruben.

A recent exercise at uni asked for a history of one's personal political development. What I came up with was probably as close as I'll ever get to a definitive bio, so here it is:

When I was a teenager, I was very taken with an interview with Abbie Hoffman for a documentary about the 20th anniversary of the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper. I wish I could find that bit of the video online, but essentially he described the reaction of his generation to the repressed, plastic, disposable world their parents had created as "Yuck!" I suspect that, coming of age in the 1980s, I was among the last to have the luxury to be able to afford that reaction.

My first proper job was basically unskilled office work. My father was terribly pleased. "Get your foot in the door of a company like that, and you've got a job for life." I was mortified. However, one only has the freedom to say "Yuck!" and explore other ways of living if you know you can fall back on a little well-paid indignity when you need to. I was able to alternate quite congenially between paid work and more meaningful pursuits (well, mostly sitting in the pub reading, to be honest). Looking at the positions vacant today, the same unskilled office job now requires a Diploma in Office Administration. You go into debt on spurious "human capital" before you've made your first dollar.

In my brief and undistinguished time on the margins of political activism, I used to get quite irritated with the vanguard intellectuals who were very good at formal meeting protocol, but very bad at understanding how the world actually works. They welcomed gleefully the tearing of each page from the post-war social contract, confident that once things got bad enough, the masses would seek them out and follow them onwards to revolution. Unfortunately they failed to grasp the most salient point about desperate people: they generally devote little time to political activism, because desperation is in itself actually quite time-consuming.

It's up to others to calll me names, but I would say the most likely label for me would be "libertarian socialist". Not all forms of government are necessarily illegitimate, but it's up to the institutions to regularly demonstrate their legitimacy. I was a member of the IWW for about a decade, and am still sympathetic; I only formally left because I moved to regional Australia, and the effort involved in mailing a few dollars in dues to Sydney every month seemed faintly ridiculous. Wobblies tend to like paperwork, official stamps, cards, badges, and so on.