Sunday, March 23, 2008


New interest seems to have been aroused by the 40th anniversary, though I don't remember anything much for its 20th or 30th. I was only a teenager at the time and never really understood much about what was happening in London, Paris and Prague. I remember seeing violence on the tv, though it was, of course, skewed coverage; wicked students attacking poor innocent coppers. Plus ca change.
The most important aspect of it was probably the emergence of the New Left. Stalinism had long lost it's appeal for anyone outside the USSR's nomenklatura with Kruschev's revelations and the crushing of the Hungarian uprising. Still this made little impact on the reporting of the time, as Tariq Ali's article shows, branding the demonstrators as "agents of Moscow". Dinosaurs then, dinosaurs now. They probably hadn't moved on since the Zinoviev letter.
What also seems so interesting is the crossing of two different strands of thought within popular culture - hippy peace and love against leftist revolution. This also reflects in a couple of songs of the time, the beatles's soppy "Revolution" against the Stones's inspirational "Street Fighting Man". Skin deep in retrospect as Lennon turned out to be much more the revolutionary as "Power to the People" and "Working Class Hero" attest, compared to the Stones's new aristocracy lifestyle. But they were hardly unique in that respect, we were left with a legacy of Hippy Capitalism.
The 2 strands had fallen apart by the time I left school and the longhair culture had moved much much to the insipid West Coast stuff; I'm thinking Crosby Stills & Nash here (I'll let Neil Young off for his excellent song "Ohio" at minimum). As the Young Trotskyite it left me somewhat alienated, I didn't fit in the hippy (or rather "freak" thing as it became known in the uk) and the other alternative, skinheadism was way too right wing for me, though latter-day fans, too young to have known the real thing, might deny that.
One of the most charming things of the 60s would have to be Thatcherite hatred of it, not just Norman Tebbit's vilification but the right's general blame of everything that's gone wrong on the period's permissiveness. This nonsense is still being put about after 18 years of Conservative rule and 7 of its clone, New Labour. While most such quotes seem plain silly, Nicholas Sarkozy's is just bizarre.

"May 1968 imposed intellectual and moral relaivism on us all," Sarkozy declared. "The heirs of May '68 imposed the idea that there was no longer any difference between good and evil, truth and falsehood, beauty and ugliness. The heritage of May 1968 introduced cynicism into society and politics."

He even blamed the legacy of May '68 for greedy and seedy business practices. The May '68 attack on ethical standards helped to "weaken the morality of capitalism, to prepare the ground for the unscrupulous capitalism of golden parachutes for rogue bosses". So the 60s generation is held responsible for Enron, Conrad Black, the subprime mortgage crisis, Northern Rock, corrupt politicians, deregulation, the dictatorship of the "free market", a culture strangled by brazen opportunism.

They might also reflect on how so much of today's "intellectual property", one of the west's few sources of income now manufacturing has fled was created then, and how the counter-culture has fuelled the new digital economy.



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