Defending the 1960s

Marcuse Peter Marcuse in In These Times:

The protests of 1968 — symbolically, the occupation of the Columbia University buildings, the student uprisings in Paris and the street protests in Berlin — are now in danger of being denigrated as the actions of spoiled, confused, if not neurotic, students and rebellious youth who were “finding” themselves in making trivial demands of their uncomprehending and benevolent societies.

An April 23 op-ed by Paul Auster in the New York Times calls 1968 “the year of the crazies.” Another op-ed, by Jean-Claude Guillebaud, on May 24, calls the protesters “useful idiots,” and the current attention on them a “frenzy of nostalgia.”

In the process, the serious changes brought about by the events of ‘68, the substance of the protests, the reasons for the discontent, and the desire for change, are either ignored or superciliously dismissed as childish daydreams.

Even Slavoj Žižek, in the July issue of In These Times, quotes with approval French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s comment about the students of ‘68: “As revolutionaries, you are hysterics who demand a new master. You will get one.”

That that much was, in fact, achieved is beyond doubt.

The Columbia protests stopped both military research at the university and the construction of a gym in a park that was seen by Harlem and its black residents as an insult by a rich, dominant institution.

Internationally, the ‘68 protests changed the character of post-war politics, helped end the Vietnam War, and legitimized concerns about peace, welfare and democracy beyond the prevailing mainstream consensus.