Monday, 27 January 2020

The Spirit of '68 - Gerd-Rainer Horn

The Spirit of ’68
Written By: Gerd-Rainer Horn
Date: April 2008
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 31: Summer 2008 

The Spirit of ’68: Rebellion in Western Europe and North America, 1956-1976 By Gerd-Rainer Horn Oxford University Press, 2007 264pp Hardcover: ISBN 978-0199276660

My study contradicts recent reinterpretations of 1968 which seek to denigrate or deny the central challenges to the socio-political status quo inherent in the turbulent events of this era. 1968, it is argued, opened up the possibility that the economic and political elites on both sides of the Iron Curtain could be toppled from their positions of unnatural superiority to make way for a new society where everyday people could become masters of their own destiny. Furthermore, this monograph argues, the moment of crisis and opportunity culminating in 1968 must be seen as part of a larger period of experimentation and revolt. 1968 is understood as a symbolic marker for a much larger period of upheavals which began in 1956 and ended in the mid-1970s. The ten years between 1956 and 1966, characterised above all by the flourishing of iconoclastic cultural rebellions, can be regarded as a preparatory period, which set the stage for the non-conformist cum political revolts of the subsequent ‘red’ decade (1966-1976).

The geographic centre of attention is Western Europe, including notably the Mediterranean countries, and North America. Particular emphasis is placed on cultural nonconformity, the student movement, working class rebellions, the changing contours of the Left, and the meaning of participatory democracy as an anticipation of a non-alienated future. Employing a thematic approach, this monograph investigates the interplay of culture and politics from a consistently transnational angle, notably including a number of smaller European states, such as Belgium or Portugal, which normally fall outside the purview of comparative studies.

The opening chapter surveys non-conformists in the realm of the arts, presenting vignettes of the early days of Mersey Beat, the counterculture in the Swiss capital city of Bern, the Amsterdam Provos, and the like. Central to the argument in this part of the book is the crucial role this artistic revolt played in preparing the terrain for subsequent and/or simultaneously operating political rebellions. The chapter on students is noteworthy for its attention to student rebellion in Belgium and in Italy, where it came to campus explosions long before the occupation of the Sorbonne. Particularly in Mediterranean Europe, workers (Chapter 3) played an indispensable role in making 1968 a moment of crisis and opportunity in society at large and not just in the ivory towers of the education sector. The transitions from Old to New Left and then from New Left to Far Left are presented and analysed in Chapter 4. Participatory democracy (Chapter 5) was the method and the goal for both students and workers throughout the period under study in this book. The concluding comments attempt to place 1968 in the larger context of world historical time.

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