Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Mark Steel on 1968

'Clearly something big and exciting was happening, yet the most common appraisal of the time now is to dismiss it as a frivolous episode involving a few hippies and students. Partly this is because many of the articles are written by posh ex-radicals, who fill magazines with pompous drivel like, "For I and my fellow compatriots of the Harrovian Order of Revolutionary Iguanas, it was a time of infinite mental universalness. We'd read Pitkin's essays on biscuitology, we staged a production of The Tempest in which all the characters were spring onions and debated 'This House supports Woldemort's theories of elongatable pugnocity' with such vivacity we had to capture the cleaner and bury him alive in the forest to calm ourselves down."

Another problem is that some figures from the time are now prominent members of the establishment. And they try to claim they're still pursuing the egalitarian ideals of their youth, but in a modern globalised setting, which is why they're thrilled to have landed the contract for selling land mines to the military police in Burma...

Yet all this courage and imagination is dismissed by so many, such as one columnist who recently derided the whole movement as "self-loathing twaddle." So Martin Luther King and the protesters in Prague and the French strikers could have stopped themselves getting so worked up if they'd just learned to enjoy a little "me" time. And then the Viet Cong could be laid out one by one, while a shrink said gently, "So when your family owned half an acre of a rice field and shared a mule, and then the mule was napalmed – did this make you angry in any way?"

Another writer complained that 1968 was a vile year because it had saddled us ever since with "horrid anti-authoritarianism." Because life's so much less horrid if people just put up with having tanks roll over them or with being made to wait for a blacks-only ambulance without making a fuss.

The other accusation made against 1968 is that it made no difference. But in one regard it must have done, because from the anti-war movement and gay liberation campaigns to its wildest hippiest forms, the events of that year suggested to a generation that if you're unhappy with the unfairness of the world, the best thing to do is something yourself. Alternatively you could hope it's put right by Gordon Brown, or David Cameron, or that other one.'

Full article here

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