The Spirit of '68: Rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976

The Spirit of '68: Rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976

The Spirit of '68: Rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976

The Spirit of '68: Rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976

Synopsis

In virtually all corners of the Western world, 1968 witnessed a highly unusual sequence of popular rebellions. In Italy, France, Spain, Vietnam, the United States, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, and elsewhere, millions of individuals took matters into their own hands to counter imperialism, capitalism, autocracy, bureaucracy, and all forms of hierarchical thinking. Recent reinterpretations have sought to play down any real challenge to the socio-political status quo in these events, but Gerd-Rainer Horn's book offers a spirited counterblast. 1968, he argues, opened up the possibility that economic and political elites on both sides of the Iron Curtain could be toppled from their position of unnatural superiority to make way for a new society where everyday people could, for the first time, become masters of their own destiny. Furthermore, Horn contends, the moment of crisis and opportunity culminating in 1968 must be seen as part of a larger period of experimentation and revolt. The ten years between 1956 and 1966, characterised above all by the flourishing of iconoclastic cultural rebellions, can be regarded as a preparatory period which set the stage for the non-conformist cum political revolts of the subsequent "red" decade (1966-1976). Horn's geographic centres of attention are Western Europe, including the first full examination of Mediterranean revolts, and North America. He placed particular emphasis on cultural nonconformity, the student movement, working class rebellions, the changing contours of the Left, and the meaning of participatory democracy. His book will make fascinating reading for anyone interested in this turbulent period and the fundamental changes that were wrought upon societies either side of the Atlantic.

Excerpt

This is a study of the spirit of '1968'. Pride of place is given to the dynamic towards personal and collective liberation unleashed in '1968' and the rise of social movements at that time. Written at a time of widespread pessimism experienced by social movement activists in the age of Blair and Bush, it appeared important to recall a very recent period in modern and contemporary history when, to paraphrase one of the ubiquitous Situationist graffiti gracing the walls of Paris in 1968, it was considered realistic to demand the impossible.

In November 1967, student leaders from across Catholic Europe gathered in Paris to air their worries about what they considered as the most important problem facing their cohort: generalized student apathy. As happened to Lenin, who, in January 1917, predicted that a Russian Revolution would be unlikely to occur during his lifetime, fast-paced events soon proved dour predictions to be wrong. Within a few months, if not weeks, students around the world—to once again paraphrase imaginative Parisian graffiti—began to take their desires for reality, inspired by the sudden recognition of the reality of their desires. Then workers joined up in the forward march of societal revolt. and other previously subordinate population groups began to smell that spring was in the air. 'Let us open the gates of nurseries, universities, and other prisons' read a slogan daubed on the walls of a concert hall in a Parisian suburb. Radicalizing women, activists within the student new left, were some amongst many who interpreted this injunction as a call to action, and they embarked on the long and winding road towards a feminist society of the future precisely in the years of greatest contestation on university and factory floors. 'Run forward Comrade, the old world is behind you' was yet another slogan capturing the mood of that era. It is the reconstruction of the simultaneously radicalizing and liberating dynamic of those years which lies at the heart of this transnational study.

This book is expressly not intended as a treatise to dissect the multiple reasons for the failure of this period of popular unrest to give free rein to utopian longings. To understand why this remarkable sequence of turbulent upheavals failed to usher in fundamental socio-economic and political changes is an enormously important task. But a serious account of not just the rise but also the fall of '1968' would have required an additional volume, for many of the factors influencing the ultimate fate of this promising cycle of popular revolts were often only vaguely related to the factors responsible for the flowering of the emancipatory initiatives in '1968'. Almost forty years later, the most important task remains to rescue these experiments in 'participatory democracy' and the corresponding social struggles from the historical distortion and condescension to which much recent . . .

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