The generation that made 1968 sought to change the world and to change themselves, shaped by three political conflicts—the Second World War, the Cold War and the Third World Revolution—and the youth cultural revolution of the 1960s. Paris is generally seen to be the epicentre of protest in 1968, but it was just one site of a global revolt that stretched from Mexico to Prague and from Belfast to Cape Town.
Professor of Modern History Robert Gildea (University of Oxford) examines the May 1968 protests in France and the impact that continues to be felt 50 years on.
In partnership with the Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University.
Image: French singer and activist Dominique Grange
*Speakers: Ben Mercer (B), Robert Gildea (R)
*Location: National Library of Australia
B: Good evening and welcome. I’m Ben Mercer from the School of History at the Australian National University, I’d like to welcome you all to tonight’s public lecture on the events of 1968.
As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land, I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home.
This event is organised in cooperation between the Research School of Social Sciences at the Australian National University and the National Library of Australia. I’d like to thank Professor Catherine Waldby at the ANU, Catherine Martin and Guy Hansen at the ALA.
1968 has long captured the historical imagination. A year of global revolt, of mass protest, of the spectre of revolution. A general strike in France, the war in Vietnam, assassinations in the United States, Prague spring, and winter in the Communist bloc.
Historians have often found it difficult to explain a revolt that crossed continents, that occurred simultaneously in sites so far apart, that appeared so spectacular in the short term but the long-term legacies of which are sometimes difficult to discern.
Few historians are better prepared to grapple with this topic than Professor Robert Gildea. Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford, Fellow of the British Academy, he is a specialist in 19th and 20th century French and European history. Among his numerous books are Marianne in Chains, In Search of the German Occupation, Children of the Revolution, The French, 1799-1914, Fighters in the Shadows, A New History of the French Resistance, and he coordinated a five-year international project involving 15 historians working on activists from Spain to the Soviet Union for the project of Europe’s 68 Voices of Revolt and some of these books will be available in the book store after the talk for Robert to sign.
His latest book is a work on the entangled histories of British and French imperialisms. These are scholarly works of unrivalled breadth and depth and reveal the personal stories amid the great historical lens of the modern era and challenge the myths of past and present. The title of his lecture tonight is 1968 Then and Now. Please join me in welcoming Professor Robert Gildea.
R: Thank you, Ben, for that very warm introduction and thank you to all of you for coming. It’s a great pleasure to be here, my second visit to Australia and I'm particularly pleased - I think that my cousin’s in the audience – my cousin who left Britain in 1958 and it’s very nice to meet up with him.
Okay so 1968 Then and Now, I’m going to talk about 1968 as having three characteristics. First of all it was a political and a personal revolt. These were people -the people who made 1968 were people who wanted to change the world but also to change themselves. It was a generation revolt and when we talk about generations, not just people of age X but a generation is created, is forged by conflicts of a particular time. And ’68 was part of – it was a global revolt as Ben said, a global and transnational revolt but it wasn’t just one thing, they – people were divided by these different conflicts.
So I’m going to talk first about the lead-up to 1968 and how the 1968ers were shaped. I’m going to then talk about the global 1968 then about post 1968 then I’m going to talk about the eclipse of political protest in the 1980s and ‘90s and then I’m going to talk about the return of protest sort of 1968-style after 2000.
So one can imagine that the 1968ers were shaped politically and shaped culturally by various events. They were shaped politically by two wars and one revolution. They were shaped by the second world war and the cold war and they were shaped by the third world revolutions against colonialism and imperialism that raged in the 1950s and 1960s.
Those who made 1968 were born during, just before or just after the second world war. Their parents had been in the thick of the war either as villains who had collaborated with Fascism or Nazism or they’d been heroes who had resisted the same Fascism or Nazism or they were Jews who had been persecuted and forced to hide or they were parents who’d been vanquished in antifascist struggles, the people who had lost the struggle in Spain as a result of the Spanish civil war or in Greece as a result of the civil war there.
But these 1968ers were also defined by the cold war that divided Europe into two. It divided Europe into the Communist world and the so-called free world but these two worlds had something in common. They each – the governments of those spheres each exploited the threat of the other to build up military, industrial and security complexes to develop the atomic bomb and to clamp down on nonconformity and dissent.
Now this was opposed by a number of movements. The first one as you see here was the Ban The Bomb movement which you saw in both western and eastern Europe and they were aimed both against Washington and Moscow. Here on the left we see the CND, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Aldermaston Marches from 1958, and on the right the struggle against atomic death in West Germany. There was also the student movement in Japan against US military bases and threats of nuclear war there. And when you look at these, these are not really students, they’re you know very – some of these are mature people, grownup people, some of them with babies in pushchairs so this is 1958 you see, the 1968 movement hasn’t really taken off.
There was an opposition among young people, though, who were increasingly joining Marxist movements and these Marxist movements were opposed both to capitalism and indeed to Stalinism. They wanted to combine the socialism and freedom, whether it was the so-called socialist humanism of the new left in the west or socialism with a human face in eastern Europe. And there were similarities between this statement here, this is the famous Port Huron Statement of Students for a Democratic Society in 1962 and you can see what they’re opposed to.
But if you compare this to the famous open letter of a couple of young students and activists of the Polish Worker’s Party which was the Polish Communist Party in 1964 you’ll find that they are campaigning – they are different but they are kind of campaigning against the same things, they’re campaigning against party bureaucracy, lack of freedoms and so on.
Very important also at this time was the civil rights movement. So there were young black and white activists who founded the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee which in 1961 organised freedom rides to test the official desegregation of interstate buses in the south of the United States. A lot of them were beaten up and some were killed if any of you have seen the wonderful film, Mississippi Burning.
In the autumn of 1964 the freedom rides students returned to their home universities at Berkeley which you see on the right. They campaigned to publish their work and to collect donations. This was banned by the university authorities and the administrative building was occupied in December 1964 and triggered a strike by 10,000 students. This forced the university to concede the principle of free speech and to provide a model for other campus struggles both in the United States and elsewhere.
Meanwhile marchers in Alabama from Selma to Montgomery in March 1965 to claim the right to vote were brutally beaten up by police and troopers and I’ll come back to that ‘cause this starts to be the origin of black power.
But the third thing that shapes politically the ‘68ers is revolution in the third world against colonialism and imperialism. Now the gospel of these people was a book called The Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon who you see top left. He was a doctor and writer of French Caribbean origin. He had been a doctor in a psychiatric hospital in Algiers and he was opposed to the French use of torture against the rebels in the Algerian war which lasted from 1954 to ’62. And he argued in his book that the violence of the colonialists had to be confronted by the violence of the colonised. This he said would cleanse them of their sense of powerlessness and bind them in their struggle for liberation.
And I'm just going to go very quickly through a number of liberation struggles that you see at this time. So first of all you have the Cuban revolution organised by Fidel Castro against the American-backed Batista regime in 1959. He immediately became a figure on the world stage as did his comrade in arms, the Argentinian, Ernesto Che Guevara.
There was a struggle against – as I’ve mentioned a struggle against French military repression and torture in Algeria which was seeking its independence. Young people in France refused the draft to go and fight the Algerian rebels and acted as so-called bag-carriers for the Algerian nationalist activists. That meant they carried messages, they provided safe houses.
The French police acted very severely both against Algerian nationalists demonstrating in Paris. There was a massacre of these people on the 17th of October 1961 and French activists were – French student activists were also massacred – well they were – a number of them were killed in a scene in February 1962.
In 1962 Algeria finally gained its independence from France and became a centre of transnational revolution. Che Guevara visited Algiers in July 1963 and was interviewed by Frantz Fallon’s widow, Josie. There was an international youth camp that was set up at City [Farouche] 11:13 on the Algerian coast and this became a sort of north African 1968 [avolalette] 11:18. One activist later recalled that all the young people who made 1968, whether in France, Italy or Germany, passed through that camp.
Meanwhile in west Africa, in central Africa, Patrice Lumumba came to power in the Congo when the Belgians suddenly granted independence and he was proclaimed by Jean-Paul Sartre as a black Robespierre, the French revolutionary. Lumumba was overthrown and murdered in January 1961 by African rivals who were supported by a coalition of Belgian forces, western governments and the CIA and this produced demonstrations in cities from Montreal to Lahore. At the end of 1964 Che Guevara addressed the United Nations and berated it for betraying Lumumba. He said the free men of the world must be prepared to avenge the crime committed in the Congo. And he himself the next year formed a band, The Freedom Fighters, to go and fight in the Congo. And this brings us to black power.
The entrenched social and racial inequalities in the United States were dramatised by riots in the black ghettos of the northern cities which to some people seemed like inner colonies during the three hot summers of 1965, ’66 and ’67. But the Student Nonviolence Co-ordinating Committee became divided between activists who opposed violence and those who were prepared to embrace it. And in June 1966 Smokey Carmichael who you see there announced we want black power and the Black Panther party was formed later that year.
Lastly we’ve got the Chinese cultural revolution of 1966. Now China became a focus of attention in 1960 when it broke diplomatically with its former mentor, the Soviet Union and in 1966 Mao launched the cultural revolution. This offered an alternative of revolution that challenged Soviet bureaucracy and it also challenged what would look like Soviet’s detente with the United States. Mao famously scorned that what he called the paper tiger of western imperialism.
The mobilisation of young people in the red guards as the vanguard of revolution against the party bureaucracy in 1966 to 1969 may be seen as a sort of Chinese 1968 and it certainly had a galvanising effect on young activists in Europe. In France enthusiasm for the cultural revolution provoked a breakaway of young Communists in 1966 and some of these young people who called themselves Maoists went on a pilgrimage to China in 1967. One of them, Jean-Pierre Le Dantec, recalled that there was quote a spiritual time bomb in Mao Zedong saying that a revolution is not a dinner party. He said we liked Mao’s idea that there had to be trouble.
It was however the Vietnam and massive American bombing on the north after February 1968 that catalysed and universalised the student and youth movements. Vietnam was seen as a battlefield on which the struggle between imperialism and anti-imperialism would be decided. Che Guevara called in April 1962 for what he called two, three, many Vietnams before he himself went to fight in Bolivia. He was killed by government forces in October 1967 and as you know became a global revolutionary icon.
Here we have some of the protests against the Vietnam war. Here we have the Berlin Vietnam Congress in February ’68. We’ve got movements, many – we’ve got demonstrations in Berkeley, demonstrations in London, demonstrations in Tokyo and here of course demonstrations in Canberra. Now this was actually a bit later. In your exhibition there’s a wonderful representation of SOS, the mothers – the Save Our Sons mothers who were active in ’68 but this is a reference to the anti-Vietnam war moratorium movement which doesn’t get going until 1970 to ’71 but I think you have to – one of the things I’m saying in this lecture is 1968 isn’t just ’68, it goes right into the 1970s.
So until now I’ve been talking about how these young people, especially students, were shaped by the events of their time but they’ve also – they were not just shaped by political events, they were also shaped by cultural revolutions. In the first place they were part of a much wider youth culture. Now youth culture you might see as situated somewhere between mass culture and counterculture. It was largely defined by enthusiasm for rock music, jeans and mini skirts and later the hippie long skirt and long hair. This in itself was a rebellion against conventional family values and social respectability but it often gave rise to violence.
So The Beatles visited Hamburg in 1968 and the US in 1964. It’s important to note that The Beatles were also a global phenomenon and they were copied all over the place so for example in Mexico there was a group called Los Dug Dugs who did cover versions of The Beatles and the Mexican youth were caught up in something called La Onda, The Wave. I’ll come back to Mexico later.
Here we have The Rolling Stones doing a concert in Berlin which led to clashes with police. This is in 1965. And about the same time the east German youth were also clashing with police in Leipzig. So the general framework is the youth culture.
Within there there’s a sort of subculture of hippies and dropouts which we will call the hippie subculture. This began on the western coast of the United States and the aim was to build an alternative society in which war, violence, racism and poverty were replaced by peace and love. The high point came with the so-called summer of love in the Haight-Ashbury districts of San Francisco in 1967 and here we have the Monterey Pop Festival of 1967 which featured Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janice Joplin and Jefferson Airplane. And we also have the hippie trail here, the hippie trail that goes to Mexico, to Morocco, Afghanistan, Kathmandu in Nepal, ultimately to Goa in India and to – and on to Bangkok.
So you got political forces and cultural forces but there are also – you can also talk about hybrids which are both political and cultural. In the mid-1960s a number of groups emerged to challenge the existing order by provocation through art, spectacle or what was called at the time happenings. The idea was to shock society through collective transgressive gestures that were symbolic, theatrical and non-violent. So the first thing you will recognise here is Oz which was founded by Richard Neville in Sydney in 1963. It was subversive both culturally and politically. Obscenity trials took place here and then in London they all went off to London in 1966 and the London edition started appearing in 1967.
In Berlin a group called Subversive Action threw stink bombs at the Congolese Prime Minister, Moise Tshombe, who had helped overthrow our friend, Lumumba. While its successor, a group called Kommune Eins, Commune 1, planned what they called a pudding assassination of US Vice President, Hubert Humphrey, in April 1967. In Amsterdam the so-called Provos made their mark in March 1966 when they threw stink bombs to disrupt the wedding of Princess Beatrice with a German diplomat who had fought in the Wehrmacht.
Back in the United States former civil rights activist, Abbie Hoffman, and antiwar activist, Jerry Rubin, founded the Youth International Party otherwise known as the Yippies in December 1967. Their most famous stunt was to run a pig called Pigasus for the Democratic Party nomination in 1968. You could say that it wasn’t really a stunt because a pig could probably do better than many a US president.
So I’m now going to talk about the global 1968. 1968 saw a chain of protests or revolutions from the United States to Japan and from Iceland to South Africa. And we’ve already seen it got as far as Australia. They used common tactics. These common tactics included street protests, the occupation of universities and factories so we have the occupation of the Sorbonne in Paris, you can see them putting up their posters and graffiti. And there were open meetings of – open meetings which sort of dramatised what they really wanted which was participatory democracy or direct democracy. This is a bunch of French feminists having a discussion.
Now for many protesters these movements were what they called bringing the revolution back home. The revolution was going to be brought back home from the third world to the capital cities of the west and indeed the east. There were many encounters between activists of east and west, between activists of north and south but this you know it wasn’t just one movement. There were a lot of misunderstandings and differences that were pointed out. So for example – and here’s an example of bringing the revolution back home and this is a march in Paris but you can see you know this is obviously our friend, Che, this is Trotsky, this is – and indeed Rosa Luxembourg so they’re carrying their heroes above them.
But there were some issues between east and west. So for example in January ’68 in Prague Alexander Dubcek took over as First Secretary of the Communist Party. He abolished censorship and a public debate ensued about whether Communism could be reconciled with market forces and other – and freedoms. The German student leader, Red Rudi Dutschke, who you saw in the first slide, visited Prague in April 1968. He couldn’t understand why the students there were abandoning Communism for democracy and free speech. Poland too had a student revolution in March 1968 and one of the activists, this guy here, [Blumstein] 22:10, who was interviewed by one of my colleagues as you can see in 2010, said this about the differences between east and west. He said we, we in Poland, were fighting for what they, in the west, were rejecting. Yeah, that was all quite obvious. For us democracy was a dream but for them it was a prison so I simply could comprehend their Marxism, their Communism, all that leftist ideology of theirs. Nevertheless, he said, I did feel a generational sympathy. That’s how I’d label it. I felt there was a bond between us.
So there was a certain amount of lack of sympathy and lack of understanding between east and west and when the Soviet tanks invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968 there wasn’t actually much demonstrating – much protest demonstrating in the west.
There was also a difference – a big difference between north and south. So for example in the USA protests centred on democratic process. In Chicago the students were demonstrat – for a democratic society, the Yippies and the Nonviolent Coordinating Committee led a challenge to the Democratic Party Convention that was nominating Hubert Humphrey as Presidential candidate. A crowd of 10,000 gathered in Grant Park at the end of August but when the US flag was lowered by the students the police charged and used tear gas. The leaders including Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden of the SDS and Bobby Seale of the Black Panthers were arrested and put on trial for conspiracy. They were the so-called Chicago Eight.
But if you thought they had it difficult you have to look at what happened in Mexico City. The granaderos or riot police attacked a student demonstration at the end of July 1968. Strikes on occupations spread through the universities and high schools mobilising a quarter of a million students. The government was desperate to restore order before the opening of the Mexican Olympics and on the 2nd of October 1968 the police and army were sent to break up a demonstration in the square of the three cultures, Tlatelolco Square, killing over 200 students. The repercussions were legion and here you have a few days later, 16th of October, two black American athletes who had won gold and bronze in the Olympic men’s 200m raising the black glove of the Black Panthers on the podium.
And the last distinction I want to make is between colonising and colonised societies. And you can see for example Northern Ireland as a colonised society. The Catholics there who were kept down by the Protestants and by British power regarded themselves very much as colonised and students from the Queen’s University, Belfast set up an organisation called People’s Democracy in 1968. They very much copied the civil rights movement and at the beginning of 1969 organised the march from Belfast to Derry which was modelled on the Selma to Montgomery march. This was broken up by which you might call the colonial forces of the police and Protestant loyalist thugs.
In South Arica which was much more obviously a colonial society at the University of Cape Town 300 students of the National Union of South African Students occupied the administrative building on the 14th of August 1968 after the University had withdrawn a job offer made to a Cambridge-educated black South African anthropologist. But this student organisation, NUSAS, represented white, mostly English-speaking students. Black students who were confined under the apartheid regime to what were called tribal or bush universities such as [Fort Hair] 25:54 and [Turflu] 25:54, set up their own student – their own South African Students’ Union, SASU, which was led by medical student, Steve Biko. Here he is and we’ll come back to him later.
So I’m now going to come to post ’68. You know the stories tell you basically that the ’68 movement was crushed in June 1980 and in Prague by the Soviet tanks in August 1968. But it wasn’t – things were not completely over and there was a sort of – people went in two directions if you like after that. There were those who favoured what you – what we’ve seen as cultural revolution or sometimes called lifestyle revolution and there were those who favoured political revolution and sometimes would entertain the use of violence.
By and large in democratic countries which had enjoyed what you might call a good in inverted commas second world war, ie, they were on the winning side, there was a greater tendency for cultural revolution. But in countries which had had a bad second world war, which had endured Fascism or Nazism or which were currently enduring dictatorships such as in Greece and Spain, there was a greater tendency for political activism and violence. France is kind of somewhere in between the two.
So if we look at cultural or lifestyle revolution here – I think this story is the many former activists felt themselves burnt out if you like by 1968. They left the street battles to experiment with communal living. They lived in squats or communes in the city or in the countryside so here is an English commune. The idea was that rather than confront the state and capitalism head on they skirted ‘round them. They took part in a sort of inner immigration to find free spaces in which they could build communities of equals. They pooled resources, they did away with authority, private property and nuclear families and the project that I organised showed that these communes were current from a place - this is the place, called Eel Pie Island in the Thames to a commune called the Yellow Submarine which was actually in Leningrad.
We have the feminist movement. Women were heavily involved in the movements that made ’68 but they often came to realise that these movements were very male-dominated. Aggressive theoretical debates left women voiceless, military style tactics alienated them and the sexual exploitation of women by male leaders in 1968 was standard. So feminist organisations sprang up and there was a global dimension to these. So there was a group called The Red Stockings that was set up in America in 1969 to challenge their American laws against abortion and they were copied by a Danish group that you see there of the same name. And there you have our friend, Germaine Greer, who published The Female Eunuch in 1971 which was an international bestseller.
We also have the emergence of the gay rights movement. Here we have the Stonewall riots of June 1969 in the United States and there was a French – a gay rights group called The Homosexual Front for Revolutionary Action run by a very charismatic character called Guy Hocquenghem. Also coming out of 1968 you have the ecology movement. This is Earth Day, 22nd of April 1972 so that also is another cultural consequence by 1968.
But there were also political revolutions which deviated into extreme violence. And one way to explain this is to say that whereas for most 1968ers, when they talked about things like bring the revolution home or two, three, many Vietnams or revolution within the revolution they were thinking symbolically, rhetorically. But there were some violent groups who took these literally and as I said in countries which had endured Fascism and Nazism such as West Germany or Italy or in countries which had lost – where the antifascist had lost in a civil war such as in Franco’s Spain or in Greece under the Colonels post 1967 there were – the young people were more inclined to go in for violent movements. Former ‘68s, they set up organisations to continue the revolution post ’68, their original idea was to try to mobilise workers who had gone on strike in 1968 or to remobilise them but if they couldn’t, which was the case for example in West Germany, they would directly attack state and military institutions and the bosses of big corporations.
So in Italy you have [Lotta Continual] 30:56, the continuing struggle and then The Red Brigades. In Germany you have the Red Army faction and one of them, [Goodram Ensolin] 31:12, came up with this famous phrase talking of their parents’ generation, she said this is the Auschwitz generation, there is no arguing with them so they were still caught up in the struggles of the second world war with their parents. In Japan you have the – this is the Japanese Red Army and in France you have an organisation called the Proletarian Left and then it called itself The New French Resistance. And here is a particularly interesting one, it’s called the Iberian Liberation Movement. This was composed across the Spanish-French border by the children of Spanish republicans who had become exiled in France after their defeat in Spain and former ‘68ers in the south of France, they set up this organisation which declared a guerrilla war against Franco in 1971. And one of their number, a young man called [Pwi Gonti] 31:59, was actually garrotted by the Franco regime in 1974.
In countries that – which were subject to colonial violence or which were in solidarity with those countries, they also saw revolutionary violent political movements. After the six-day war in 1967 when Israel defeated the Arab states, Nasser’s Egypt, Syria and Jordan leadership – Arab leadership passed to the Palestinian resistance in exile. These became the spearhead of the Arab struggle. They were crushed by the Jordanian government in what was called Black September 1970 but they fought back. In France for example Palestinian committees were formed in France which linked student radicals with north African immigrant workers.
And in France there was something called the Arab Workers’ Movement which organised strikes in 1973 but by then a schism had appeared because you probably know this famous, rather horrific picture of the Munich Olympics when the Palestinians massacred Israeli athletes and this drove a wedge between student radicals or former student radicals in France, many of whom were of Jewish origin and the Arabs who were prepared to support the PLO. The Red Army faction in West Germany fought alongside the PLO and the PLO hyjacked a plane in 1977 in order to obtain the release of Red Army faction prisoners.
Here we have Northern Ireland where the brutality of the British army against Catholic and nationalist demonstrators on Bloody Sunday, 13th of January 1972 led to the intensification of violence by the IRA so you go from what looks like 1968 to the troubles. And in South Africa black students organised by Steve Beco’s movement formed a black people’s convention. This was designed to undertake youth and community work in black communities. It led the way to a strike by 100,000 South African workers in 1973 to the trial of nine of these activists in 1975, 1976 under a terrorism act and ultimately to this, the Soweto uprising of 1976. It also led to the arrest, torture and death in 1977 of Steve Beco. What I’m trying to say here is that it’s possible to see movements like this in South Africa and someone like Steve Beco as being a product of the 1968 movement in its widest sense.
Now not everyone went down the road of violence or not everyone went down the road of feminism or communes and here are two interesting examples of what I call – what you might call nonviolent, political movements. There was a growing understanding that political violence could not achieve anything, that political violence was delegitimised as terrorism. If the government or the press called a movement terrorist it wasn’t going to succeed and terrorism also alienated public opinion.
But here are two examples of groups not of students – well students are involved but this is a group of workers and peasants who promoted local, decentralised symbolic and nonviolent forms of resistance so here on the left are activists in a watch factory. It’s called the [Leap] 35:40 Watch Factory. It’s in [Bisonco] 35:40 in the east of France and they went on strike in 1973 and not only did they go on strike but they kept the factory going and they kept selling watches and this was a model for what was called auto-gestion, self-management. This was going to be a new form of running factories by the workers themselves. It didn’t last that long but it was a tremendous inspiration.
On the right we have something called The Larzac. The Larzac was a movement on a plateau in the Massif Central in the centre of France. It was a plateau where there were a lot of sheep farmers. The French Government wanted to expand a military base over it and there was a resistance movement of farmers and of thousands of former ‘68ers who came to these big demonstrations all the way through the 1970s, nonviolent demonstrations. And when Francois Mitterrand came to power in 1981 he cancelled plans for expanding the military base and so this was actually an example of the ’68 movement that succeeded.
So I'm now going to come onto what I call the eclipse of protest in the late 1970s. I said earlier that the third world provided this source of inspiration to young activists but there came a time when it was no longer a source of inspiration and it was felt that countries liberated from European colonialism or American imperialism were descending into civil war, dictatorship, massacre, even genocide. So here we have the boat people fleeing from Communist Vietnam after the Communist victory in 1975. Here we have evidence of the so-called killing fields of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia so there was a feeling that the third world wasn’t working and we’d even get books like this coming out, The Tears of the White Man where some people were saying that you know colonialism was a good idea because these newly liberated countries weren’t doing things very well. Unfortunately there are people with similar ideas still around today.
The Islamist revolution in Iran in 1979 gave a completely different aspect to third world anti-imperialism and this generated Islamophobia. This did not provoke sympathy in the west or imitation in the west apart from later which is a completely different story. So the third world ceases to become a source of inspiration. And then the cold war, we’re getting to the end of the cold war and there’s a rise of anticommunism, there’s dissidence in the eastern bloc and a new discourse of human rights starts to evolve. And many former ‘68ers come to criticise Communism. And they argue that it led to concentration camps that were no better than Germany’s concentration camps. And the key moment here is the publication of Solzhenitsyn’s, Gulag Archipelago in 1973.
So in Czechoslovakia you get this – Charter 77 Movement, it’s called and the trial of this man here, Václav Havel, and this movement in the east of Europe wins over many former ‘68ers from Marxism. You remember I said earlier that people like Rudi Dutschke looked down their noses at democrats in the east and now they’re coming along to – well not Dutschke himself who’s been shot and was injured but here is a quote from a former Trotskyist who discovers this movement and he talks about – I’m not going to read this out – he talks about how he goes to Czechoslovakia and then he goes to Poland and he’s inspired by these people’s campaigns for human rights and even their campaigns for freedom of religion. I mean there’s a way in which this movement, this human rights movement, this anti-Communist movement in the east leads to the velvet revolutions of 1989 which end Communism. And some people see that there’s a link between 1968, eastern European dissidence and these revolutions of 1989.
And the other thing that happens I think is that people say that these cultural revolutions kind of ran out of steam in the 1980s. The communes broke up, people went back to their nuclear families, feminism became mainstream, gay rights encountered a backlash with the AIDS epidemic. And arguably in the 1980s collectivism was replaced by individualism, anti-consumerism was replaced by consumerism and protest by nonconformity. In 1988 the French television staged what it called the trial of May 1968 and former 1968ers were paraded in the TV studios and more or less had to repent for what was called the 1968. They were told that 1968 had degraded into hedonism and violence and they should apologise. And the dominant narrative around 1988 came to be that 1968 wasn’t really political but it was cultural and it had brought in individualism and consumerism. So just bear with me for about five more minutes.
So I’m now going to talk about the return of protest after the millennium and you remember I’m dealing with three themes all the time, the third world, revolution, war and cultural revolution and here they come back again. You could argue that there was a new wave of revolt in the third world which was now called the global south against what you might also call the global financial imperialism of the IMF, the World Bank and the G7 or the G8 and these institutions, particularly for the 1980s are using third world debt to impose draconian neoliberal measures on developing countries and they are forcing open the doors of those countries to multinational corporations.
From time to time you see revolts by peasants and marginal populations in the global south. Some of these were being cleared off the land by businesses and governments who were selling food and raw materials to the north to pay these debts. Here we have an extraordinary character, a guy called – who was known as Subcomandante Marcos. He was a Jesuit-educated former lecturer who arrived in the southern Mexican region of Chiapas where the local Mayan population were being driven off the land by big producers and organised them into a Zapatista, a liberation army that went into action in 1994 occupying a number of towns.
There was on a slightly wider framework or more – there was a more western dimension of this in the anti-globalisation movement or the global justice movement which began to disrupt meetings of the WTO or the IMF or the G8. Here in the middle we find what’s called the battle of Seattle in 1999. And this example here is the World Social Forum which in 2001 brought together 10,000 people to its first meeting in Porto Alegre in Brazil and this was timed to challenge the annual closed meeting of the global political and corporate elite at Davos in Switzerland and this was open to activists from all social movements, trade unions, political parties and NGOs which shared its values and its values – it proclaimed as its values quote concrete actions at levels from the global – from the local to the global in order to build another world. Build another world was their mantra.
So that anti-globalisation movement was one dimension but there’s also antiwar, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist movements. Here we have the world – there were worldwide demonstrations as you know, you probably went on them on the 15th of February 2003 against the imperialist war being driven through by Bush and Blair. But this war happened and then there was a pushback from Islamist groups both in Iraq and in Europe so here we have an Islamist attack, the Islamist attack which was known as 7/7 in 2005 in London and here we have the riots in the [Bollier] 44:18 suburbs of Paris which were generated by alienated immigrant populations usually of Muslim origin.
So that’s a kind of false peace for some of these freedom movements but at the same time the protesters relaunched as a new anti-capitalist movement after the crisis of 2008 and in response to government austerity programs. This provoked a generational revolt by young people who were born after about 1980, the so-called millennials. These were angry and are angry at global capitalism, growing inequalities, lack of access to housing, jobs etc and angry about ecological crisis.
As in 1968 their tactics were to occupy and to liberate spaces, to practise direct democracy but now they’re connected by a new technology, the internet, social media. So we find protests in Greece and in France in 2010, in Spain in 2011, in Britain students demonstrated and occupied campuses in 2010 against the tripling of student fees in the first significant student movement since 1968 while the so-called UK Uncut movement targeted corporations that were felt not to be paying their taxes. And most obviously in New York the Occupy Wall Street movement took off in September 2011 as young people protested under the slogan we are the 99% against the 1% who owned all the money and controlled the political system by what they called legalised bribery.
And lastly, and this is completely speculative but I’m proposing that we have a new cultural revolution that’s happening under our eyes and this is around LGBTQ. We’ve had feminism and gay rights in the 1970s and now we have a trans revolution and I think we can see this as a challenge to binary patriarchy, to a kind of capitalism that is always dividing his products from her products and indeed it’s a protest against some forms of colonialism.
People have seen a peak in transgender referrals and transgender and interest in the west in 2005 after an interview with American, Miley Cyrus, who identifies as pan sexual. Meanwhile in India the Supreme Court recognised the transgender community as what it called a third gender in 2004. Much of the global south as well as much of the west was and is hostile to the trans movement but this is – you could argue this is another frontier that’s opening and here is a quote from a man whose big book is yet to be published who says in colonial times Cecil Rhodes vowed to paint Allah in pink, the colour of the British dominion on the maps from the Cape to Cairo. Now a century later a new pink line seems to be drawn across the globe, a new human rights frontier around sexuality and gender identity that divides and describes the world in an entirely new way. So watch this space.
And the last slide comes from [Nontare] 47:55, 10th of April 2018. I should have said earlier on that [Nontare] which was this new university to the west of Paris was the place where the 1968 movement started in March 1968 and here we have April 2018, they’re still demonstrating. Thank you very much.
B: Thank you, Robert, for that extraordinary overview of before and since 1968. We have time for some questions and we have a couple of microphones on that side of the room.
A: Professor Gildea, thanks very much for a fascinating Tour de Force. I wonder, do you see the sexual revolution as a product of the ’68-type thing or as a cause?
R: It’s a sort of – it’s a product. I mean I don’t think ’68 was in itself a sexual revolution and the point I was trying to make is that there’s a lot of talk about free love in 1968 but that free love is often regarded by women as sexist free love and as I said earlier on a lot of women found themselves silenced by some of these rather macho intellectuals and they were also you know if you were a sort of group leader, a student leader you know you felt yourself entitled to you know access to the most beautiful students. So in a sense – I think the feminist movement comes out of ’68, a lot of the women are active in ’68 but they also say well you know that kind of ’68 is you know we didn’t agree with that so we’re going to go off on a tangent so you have the feminist movement and you also have gay rights and other things which are you know you can’t imagine them without 1968 but they are to some extent a reaction against it.
A: Do you have any views on the Samuel Huntington view – take on the clash of civilisations and whether fault lines will be around religion in coming years?
R: I mean the Huntington view comes out in the 1990s, Clash of Civilisations. Is that what you’re referring to?
R: I mean I think what I was saying about – where this clash of civilization and the challenge of Islamism comes in, I think I would argue that it interrupts this kind of protest movement because you have a new generation of activists, of freedom fighters who are Islamists and who are against western values and it makes it very difficult for this kind of protest to survive. And so I mean it has been shown for example that the antiwar movement that you had in 2003 and some of the anti-globalisation movements that you had sort of you know 1999 and the early 2000s get closed down or marginalised because after these Islamist attacks security is so great and hostility to any form of terrorism is so enormous that it makes it very difficult for these kinds of protest movements to assert themselves. So my argument is that it takes that – that kind of clash of cultures has to sort of die away a bit and be replaced by the challenge of the economic crisis after 2008 for these movements to resurface.
A: Thanks very much indeed. I was just wondering whether you could talk a little bit about what happened in France after ’68 and in particular the extent to which what happened in France in ’68 was in large measure a protest against De Gaulle and against authoritarianism and the sort of generation gap that De Gaulle represented? So could you just talk about those sort of things, what happened in France after ’68? Thanks.
R: Well that’s a very good question. I mean as you may know when things get very, very difficult in France at the end of ’68 De Gaulle does a runner. He leaves the country and he finishes up in – I think it’s [Bardon] 52:31 in West – somewhere in West Germany where one of his generals from the Algerian war is stationed and you know people are wondering whether he’s going to bring in the army to crush the movement. He comes back to – he flies back. He doesn’t bring in the army, he makes a broadcast and says that there’s now going to be an election, a general election and when he calls a general election he in a sense changes the agenda and all the political parties start to run around to fight the election. He also at the same time bans all these movements, the Trotskyist movement, the Maoist movement, all these radical movements are banned.
De Gaulle himself has always been a bit of a problem for the ‘68ers because although you know one of the famous you know slogans was De Gaulle au musee you know De Gaulle should be in a museum and 10 years, that’s enough you know so there was anti-Gaullist movement but the thing about De Gaulle was that he was always the man of the resistance. And because the ‘68ers kind of lay claim to being the heirs of the French resistance De Gaulle was a bit of a problem with them. I mean curiously they were more hostile to his wife, Yvonne, because she was a terrible prude and she disapproved of people having fun and so they had a huge dislike for her.
But in a sense the big chan – there was a big change after De Gaulle went and was replaced by Pompidou in 1969. The ‘68ers were very, very hostile to Pompidou. Pompidou had no past in the resistance, he actually went on the record saying he was fed up with all this resistance rubbish and he starts to put some of these more radical resisters, particularly from a movement called the Proletarian Left, in prison. So this guy, Jean-Pierre Le Dantec, who I quoted finishes up in prison and so it’s - from about 1970 there’s a kind of appropriation of the resistance heritage in a much clearer way by former ‘68ers who are part of these you know more revolutionary movements that come out of ’68.
A: I was wondering if you could please explain what you meant when you said that trans – in some ways transgenderism was a protest against capitalism.
R: Well it was slightly flippant but I mean if you - I mean the argument that I – the example that I gave is that a lot of commercial products are you know specifically for men or specifically for women you know and you get his this and her that so it was - in a slightly flippant way I was saying the transgender movement kind of challenges that kind of – that sort of binary and kind of very traditionally sexual way that you know sexual tropes that are played on by advertising. So it was slightly flippant but I mean I think that last slide on the transgender revolution as I said is purely speculative and you know there - books and articles are beginning to be published on it and it’s quite a recent development in this sort of – but I think all I’m saying is it’s worth watching. If you know if the feminist and gay rights movements you know were powerful movements to come out of 1968 and the 1970s then what is the equivalent now? Of course we still have feminism, we still have gay rights but we also have the transgender movement.
All I’m saying is it’s interesting – it will be interesting to watch whether you know that kind of movement links up with anti-globalisation movements and which link up with the anticolonial movements for example to produce some sort of movement with sufficient convergence and critical mass to do anything. You know I’m a historian, historians don’t predict the future but they do see trends and all I was doing in the last part of my talk was to say you know if a 1968 were to happen and you could say you know as far as they’re concerned that is it happening again. But if it was to happen in any serious way what would it look like? And what the historian can do is to say that there are these movements across time, they are convergences, divergences, developments and you know you know if something was – if some deep movement is going to challenge you know Brexit, Trump and all the other horrors of our time what would it look like? Well I’ve sketched out something that you know what it might look like but you know who knows because we can’t read the future? On the other hand we can you know as somebody said – as Marx said the purpose is not just to understand the world, is to change it.
B: <inaudible> 57:39 finish on but we can conclude there. <inaudible>.
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