Common Destiny: A Comparative History of the Dutch, French, and German Social Democratic Parties, 1945-1969

By Dietrich Orlow | Go to book overview
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Chapter Eight
THE TROUBLED 1960s

T he 1960s were a decade of paradoxes, contradictions, and upheavals. The amount of disposable income and leisure time available to most Europeans continued to increase, while the processes of bourgeoisification and secularization accelerated. As a result the concept of "working class" took on new meaning. "The worker as consumer" was Albert Détraz' characterization of the French industrial proletariat. At the same time, Europeans were reminded that the "golden age of capitalism," as Eric Hobsbawn recently called it, would not continue indefinitely. For the first time since the early 1950s there was a noticeable downturn in the economy, and that, together with a series of studies issued by the Club of Rome, gave rise to (decidedly exaggerated) pessimistic visions of the future among intellectuals, who seemed to delight in hearing messages of gloom and doom. 1

Politics, too, were changing rapidly and radically. The 1960s were marked by a profound generational shift, most dramatically manifested in the upheavals of 1968. At first glance the revolutionaries of 1968 seemed just what the Socialists needed to recoup their political fortunes. However, while most members of the 1968 generation described themselves as leftists, they had little interest in the established Social Democratic parties. The young radicals talked about societal revolution and grass-roots democratization—concepts that by this time had little place in the vocabulary of the established parties. The young revolutionaries also questioned long-established postulates of postwar Social Democracy. Was the continuation of the Cold War really inevitable? Why not recognize the German Democratic Republic? Should not western

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