1968: the global legacy

Linked with Fred Halliday – Ireland.

(The romantic celebration of a year of protest misses its silences and failures – and thus its true, long-term global political significance, says Fred Halliday)

Published on openDemocracy, by Fred Halliday, June 11, 2008.

With the coming of the dawn, the promises of the night fade away”. In politics, as in love, the old Spanish saying sounds a pertinent warning; not least in regard to the memorialisation and assessment which the events of 1968 (and particularly the Paris uprising of May of that year) are receiving on their fortieth anniversary.

Anyone who lived through those exhilirating and formative times – as I did at the age of 22 – can testify to the hurricane force of that year. Like every such phenomenon it carried multiple elements: in this case a generation’s visceral rejection of the accumulated conformism of post-1945 Europe and north America; a heady encounter with new forms of music, art, thinking, and debate; and a many-centred solidarity with global movements of protest and revolt – be they in Vietnam and Latin America, in Czechoslovakia and Russia, or in the United States among African-Americans and anti-war protesters …

… The cunning of history:

The most dramatic events of 1968, and the ones with the greatest long-run consequences were not, however, in either Europe and north America or in the “third world” – but in the “second” (that is, communist) world. Two events here in particular – the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 which crushed the liberalising “Prague spring” under Alexander Dubcek, and the apogee of China’s cultural revolution in 1967-68 – signalled the brutal imposition of authoritarian and coercive bureaucratic communism.

In Prague, Moscow and Beijing – a world away from the liberal and culturally experimental world of Paris or Berkeley – it was not the emancipatory imagination but the cold calculation of party and state that was “seizing power”. Yet in the longer run the counter-cyclical reinforcement of hardline communist rule in its two major centres proved less durable than appeared likely at the time.

Indeed, the repression of 1968 contained the seeds of the demise of the regimes that deployed it … (full long text).

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