Friday, 5 October 2018

Comment on 1968: some other angles to the struggle

From London Socialist Historian Group Newsletter 65 (Autumn 2018)

Image result for may 1968

1968: some other angles to the struggle

The fiftieth anniversary of 1968 has seen some fairly muted exhibitions and recollections in the UK, although more are promised this autumn.

After much pondering on whether we should feature ‘1968’ as a subject in the socialist history seminar at the Institute of Historical Research in 2018 I’ve now decided against. I think it may be interesting to do something on ‘what happened next?’ on 1969 in the Spring term of 2019, speaker(s) allowing.

A lot of what has taken place so far has focused on the French May as an inspiration for today. Any centrist who thinks that a Macron-style government in the UK is the way forward might usefully check the 50-year events that have taken place in France so far in 2018… Clearly 1968 can still inspire.

1968 however was more complex than the French May. The anniversary of the Russian invasion of what was Czechoslovakia on 21-22  August and the long aftermath related to it is currently being marked, although not much. The British Communist Party (CPGB) was not in support and there were UK protests from the left. While I do know a good deal about the history of the CPGB, I am not an expert on the impact of 1968 on the international Communist movement.

That said, one way or another, one might see the Russians in Prague as the beginning of a process that led ultimately to the post-Communist governments in office since 1989 in Moscow. That process was mirrored in the UK with the eventual demise of the CPGB itself although the successor CPB is still very much with us.

Prague was matched in just days at the end of August 1968 by the brutality at the Democratic Convention in Chicago. I don’t expect this to get much if any coverage but it reflected the point still at issue about whether the left could ever get its candidate for president selected in the Democratic Party. 

If Russian tanks didn’t suggest a great way forward for official Communism, Chicago didn’t put US democracy in a good light either. Then there was the anti-Vietnam War demonstration in London on 27th October 1968. Huge by the standards of 50 years ago, but not now, one hundred thousand marched to Grosvenor Square in what was seen by some as a revolutionary threat perhaps akin to the events of 1848.

It wasn’t, but as the song has it, the beat goes on.  

Keith Flett


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