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Year 1956

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DOCUMENTE SIMILARE

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Germany and Italy Two Cases
CUBA IN THE LATE 1960S AND THE 1970S
THE IDEOLOGY OF SPANISH ANARCHISM
Fascism and Popular Front The Politics of Retreat, 1930–1938
Challenges beyond Socialism Other Fronts of Democracy
THE SOCIAL IMPORTANCE OF THE REFORMS OF A.I.CUZA IN THE LIGHT OF THE DIPLOMATIC DOCUMENTS
Closure Stalinism, Welfare Capitalism, and Cold War, 1945–1956
Dacians - Myths
Dacians - Armory
The Permanence of Capitalism?

 Year 1956




DE-STALINIZATION  AND  THE TWENTIETH  CONGRESS

Popular unrest threatened to destabilize the postfascist international order. The  East  German  Uprising  of  17  June  1953  grew  from  protests  of  East Berlin  construction  workers  against  higher  production  norms, raising po- litical  demands  for  free  elections.  Military  repression  was  swift, but both the SPD and the Allies in West Berlin observed restraint, closing the border against possible solidarity.3  A general Eastern European strike wave devel- oped after Stalin’s death, with over a hundred factories affected in Czech- oslovakia, including the Skoda arms complex in Pilsen, where troops were sent. Strikes spread through Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania, reaching the USSR itself in July, in the camps of the Vorkuta mining complex in Siberia, following  earlier  risings  in  1948  and  1950.  Eastern  European  industrial unrest  prompted  economic  liberalization  and  loosening  of  repression.  In Hungary,  Ra´kosi  was partially  disavowed and  replaced as prime minister by the reform Communist Imre Nagy. The prisons were massively cleared out.

Then, at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in February 1956, Krush- chev denounced Stalin. The Congress began with the familiar fanfares and speeches,  but  anticipation  was  in  the air. Vittorio Vidali, a delegate from Trieste and transnational citizen of Communism, with spells in Italy, Ger- many, the United States, France, the USSR, Spain, and Mexico since 1917, exchanged news of disappeared comrades in the corridors: “Every day the tone is more shrill, the accusations more specific.”4  Appalling stories, ban- ished to the Communist unconscious, returned:

At dinner Germanetto informed me that a certain Bocchino from Tri- este wanted to meet me. He has served 17 years in jail; now he has been rehabilitated . . . and Russified. There are other “rehabilitated” Italians with him; nearly all of them have spent half of their lives in concentration camps. They came here to work as specialists, techni-


cians. One fine day they were arrested, accused of sabotage and sent

to prison. Probably to avoid torture or death, they confessed to crimes they had not committed, and so they ended up in Siberia. It happened to many people. When I asked about Edmondo Peluso, or Signora Monservigi (whose son died at Stalingrad), or Parodi’s wife, about Go- relli, Ghezzi, etc., I received no answer. Robotti, too, was in jail for more than a year, but he signed nothing and so they had to release him; but he went through hell; he is made of steel. The same thing happened to Gottardi, but he “confessed” to what he had not done. They asked Robotti to “confess” that Togliatti was a spy!5

Detailed  revelations  were  delivered  by  Khrushchev  at  midnight  on  25

February  in  closed  session,  with  foreign  Communists  excluded.  Detailing the  cult  of  personality  and  Stalin’s  megalomania,  the  “secret  speech”  fo- cused  on  the  gross  arbitrariness  of  Stalin’s  power,  Soviet  ill-preparedness for  war,  and  the  dictatorial  “violations  of  socialist  legality”  in  the  terror of the 1930s. Though Stalin’s behavior in the 1920s was attacked, his pol- icies—socialism  in  one  country,  Bolshevization  of  the  Comintern,  central planning,  industrialization,  collectivization  of  agriculture,  and  of  course democratic centralism and the one-party state—were not.6

Communism was cast into disarray. Senior nongoverning Communists were  informed,  and  knowledge  quickly  circulated.  Leading  Communists killed  in  1948–52,  like  Rajk  in  Hungary  and  Kostov  in  Bulgaria,  were rehabilitated. Stalinist leaderships kept the lid closed, but events in Poland and  Hungary  moved  too  fast.  Gomulka’s  successor  as  Polish  general sec- retary since 1948, Boleslaw Bierut, died just after the Twentieth Congress, and  Edward  Ochab  now  took  the  Khrushchev  route,  releasing  political prisoners and encouraging open debate. Intellectuals urged freedom of ex- pression; industrial militants moved toward workers’ councils; and events exploded  into  a  workers’  uprising  in  Poznan  on  28  June  1956.  A  crisis meeting of Polish and Soviet leaders brought Gomulka back to power on

19–20 October. He initiated economic reform, cultural liberalization, and compromise with the Catholic Church. In return, Khrushchev removed the hardline Polish minister of defense, Marshall Konstantin Rokossovski, who had  been  ready  to  march  on  Warsaw.  Crucially,  Gomulka  observed  the lines of the postwar Eastern European settlement: the single-party state, the centrally planned economy, and Soviet military rule.7

Hungarian events were more extreme with different results. While Ra´- kosi had surrendered the Premiership to Nagy in July 1953, he continued blocking  reforms  and  forced  Nagy’s  dismissal  in  March  1955.  But  civil society was starting to stir, with writers, students, Catholics, and eventually workers  forming  associations,  galvanized  by  attacks on Stalin and  stories of  returning  prisoners. The Peto¨ fi Circle, a student discussion club, called for honoring the purge victims. Rajk’s widow Julia denounced Ra´kosi at a Peto¨ fi  meeting  on  antifascist  Resistance  and  prewar  illegal  work  in  June


1956:“Murderers should not be criticized–they should be punished. I shall never  rest  until  those  who  have  ruined  the  country,  corrupted  the  Party, destroyed  thousands  and  driven  millions  into  despair  receive  just punish- ment. Comrades, help me in this struggle!” The Circle’s last meeting before suspension  occurred  on  27  June,  the  day  before  the  Poznan  Uprising.  A huge overflow crowd heard calls for press freedom, Nagy’s reinstatement, and changes in the system.8

On  18  July,  the  USSR  replaced  Ra´kosi  with  another  Stalinist,  Erno¨ Gero¨ , balanced  by  two  returned victims, Ja´nos Ka´da´r and Gyo¨ rgy Maro- sa´n. An alternative leadership crystallized on 6 October during Gero¨ ’s ab- sence in Moscow, when Rajk and three others were reinterred in the Ker- epesi National Cemetery on a hugely emotional occasion. New voices were demanding  reform—the  Writers’  Union,  the  Central  Council  of  Trade Unions,  the  reactivated  Peto¨ fi  Circle,  and  a  new  student  association.  On

22–23 October, as demonstrations spiraled out of hand, inspired partly by Gomulka’s appointment in Poland, Gero¨  handed over to Nagy and Ka´da´r as premier and general secretary. Budapest lurched into turmoil, as fascists and freebooters joined democrats and reformers on the streets. On 30 Oc- tober, Nagy restored the multiparty system, backed by a four-party coali- tion  of  Communists,  Smallholders,  Social  Democrats, and  National Peas- ants, with Christian Democrats forming in the wings. On 1 November, he withdrew Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. On 4 November, the Red Army occupied Budapest and all the major cities.9

Here, a second international crisis supervened: Israel had invaded Egypt on 29 October in collusion with Britain and France. Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt’s nationalist leader since 1954, had nationalized the Suez Canal on

26  July  1956,  challenging  Western  authority  in  a  formerly  colonial  terri- tory. The Israeli invasion was the pretext for an Anglo-French ultimatum calling on both sides to withdraw, so that British and French troops could

protect  the  Canal.  Against  U.S.  warnings,  Britain  and  France  began bombing  Egypt  on  30  October,  invading  a  week  later.  On  6  November, the  freshly  reelected  U.S.  president,  Dwight  D.  Eisenhower,  imposed  a ceasefire on the British and French.

Perversely, these dramatic disruptions confirmed the lasting stability of the  1945  settlement,  with  each  side  tacitly  conceding  the  other’s freedom of  action—the  USSR’s  in  Eastern  Europe,  the  West’s  in  the  colonial  and postcolonial world. But this very coincidence of police actions finally shat- tered the Cold War’s disciplines, leaving a new oppositional space beyond the Communist and social democratic battlelines. If Soviet behavior disas- trously  compromised  Communism’s  remaining  credibility,  the  equivoca- tions of right-wing Socialist and Labour leaderships over the Suez invasion renewed a nonCommunist antiimperialist critique. As the British Left dem- onstrated for a Suez ceasefire on 4 November, the Red Army was entering Budapest, and this painful symmetry inspired a “new” Left to emerge.




THE  CRISIS  OF  COMMUNISM

Khrushchev’s revelations tore Communist loyalties open. The secret speech elicited  agonized  self-criticisms,  personally  and  collectively, with great di- visiveness and calls for reform. Then, at the height of this soul-searching, the  Hungarian  invasion  suggested  that  nothing  had  changed  after  all.  As Communists stared  at the freshly exposed Soviet reality, first in the wake of  the  Twentieth  Congress  and  then  “through  the  smoke  of  Budapest,” facing  not  only  the  record  of  repression,  but  the  public  lies  and  massive self-deceptions that Moscow loyalties had entailed, conformities cracked.10

The resulting debates surpassed anything since the mid-1920s, when Bolsh- evization sacrificed internal democracy to revolutionary e´lan.

This  was  Communism’s  big  trauma:  in  two  years,  the  PCI  lost  four hundred thousand members and the CPGB dropped from 33,095 members to 24,900. In some smaller CPs, like the Austrian, West German, and Por- tuguese,  Moscow  loyalists  merely  bunkered  down.11   Some  nongoverning parties  developed  greater  autonomy,  usually  after  losing  members,  often via splits. This applied to Scandinavia, Spain, Greece, Switzerland, Britain, Ireland, and the Low Countries. Finally, in the larger Icelandic, Italian, and French CPs, 1956 worked with the grain of existing history. If the Icelandic People’s  Alliance  avoided  the  vagaries  of  international  Communism  alto- gether, the PCI used 1956 to enhance its autonomy, while the PCF flaunted its  Moscow  orthodoxy.  If  Thorez  minimized  destalinization  out  of  in- grained  pro-Soviet  loyalism,  Togliatti  pursued  an  explicitly  independent course.12

But  whatever  the  independence  from  Moscow,  internal  centralism  re- mained. The CPGB’s Commission on Inner-Party Democracy recommended against reform: once the dissidents had left, they became “renegades” and the party  circled  its  wagons.13   The PCF dissent broke on the rock of Sta- linist discipline. Even in the PCI, the least Stalinist of CPs, whose support for pluralism and civil liberties was boosted by 1956, Togliatti adhered to the  party’s  centralism.  At  the  PCI’s  Eighth  Congress  in  December  1956, dissenters  were  easily  defeated.  Some  prominent  individuals  left,  but  the party’s structure perdured.

Talking to Nuovi argomenti in June 1956, Togliatti stepped out of the self-referential  Communist  public  sphere,  however,  and  rebuked  Khru- shchev for confining criticism to Stalin’s person rather than the system itself. He advanced the notion of polycentrism: “there are countries in which the road to socialism is being pursued without the Communist Party being in the  lead. . . . The  whole  system  is  becoming  polycentric,  and  even  in  the Communist movement we cannot speak of a single guide, but of progress which is achieved by following roads which are often diverse.”14  These were oblique references not only to China and Yugoslavia but also to Italy itself


and  the  People’s  Democracies,  invoking  the  “national  roads”  philosophy of  1943–47.  Togliatti  reiterated  these  views  many  times  after  1956,  cul- minating in his Yalta Testament of September 1964, just before he died. A new diversity characterized the international conferences of CPs in Moscow in November 1957 and December 1960, which denied the USSR the blan- ket  loyalism  it  had  earlier  presumed.  In  April  1956, Cominform was dis- solved,  and  the  PCI  blocked  Soviet  initiatives  for  any  new  international organization.15  Instead, regional conferences of Western European CPs met in Brussels in 1965 and Vienna in 1966. The PCI reopened relations with the Yugoslav League of Communists and began meeting regularly with the PCF.

Thus the crisis of Communism in 1956 provided crucial pointers for the future. On the one hand, the revival of grassroots democracy was extraor- dinarily moving and courageous. The main Hungarian resistance to the Red Army  had  come  from  workers’  councils,  which reappeared in Europe for the first time since 1917–23. Resistance committees in 1943–45 had been a partial revival, as were the French factory occupations in summer 1936 and the anarcho-syndicalist collectives in Spain. But Hungarian events re- vived the conciliar form, mainly after the Nagy government’s fall. Industrial towns,  the  main  coalfields,  and the  Budapest  district of “Red Csepel” re- sisted the Red Army during 4–11 November, forming the Central Workers’ Council  (CWC)  of  Greater  Budapest,  with  three  permanent  officials  and seven commissions. It negotiated with the Kadar government; handled re- lations with the Soviet military; coordinated a citywide strike; and prepared a National Council in a conference of 21 November. But in December, the authorities regained the initiative. They began picking the councils off, out- lawing the CWC. But the councils remained an impressive display of grass- roots democracy, based in the working class, mobilizing the best of rank- and-file  Communism.  They  established  a  precedent  for future episodes of working-class democracy.16

On the other hand, the Nagy government provided vital precedents for Communist  reform.  The  Hungarian  revolution  was  much  disputed,  with anti-Communists  upholding  its  democratic  authenticity  and  pro-Soviet apologists  attacking  its  counterrevolutionary  dangers,  as  former  fascists, Horthy supporters, and Western agents came out of the ground. Hungary’s leaving the Warsaw Pact also threatened to drive a Western wedge into the Soviet  sphere.  But  the  Nagy  government  stood  for  Communist  reform, based on  Nagy’s own ministerial record from 1945–49 and his manifesto on  the  eve  of  the  Twentieth  Congress,  On  Communism.  Nagy  invoked Lenin’s NEP as a better model of socialist construction than Stalinist five- year plans, with slower industrialization, priority for consumer goods, and an end to collectivization. Nagy’s socialist-humanist credo and language of the  national  road  was  close  not  only  to  the  reform  Communism  of  the

1968 Prague Spring but also to the Eurocommunism of the mid-1970s and the  unrealized  antifascism  of  1945.  These  perspectives  characterized  the


clandestinely published Hungaricus pamphlets in December 1956–February

1957, calling for “new roads, different from Stalinist terror-communism or the  social  democratic  trends  fawning  upon  capitalism,”  in  effect  a  “pre- mature Eurocommunism.”

WEST  OF  SUEZ

The  Suez  Crisis  was  a  watershed  of international relations, marking both USprimacy  over  Britain  and  France  and  a  disastrous  defeat  for  the  old imperialist  powers,  whose  inability  to  block  colonial  liberation  was  now exposed. Resistance to decolonization continued, but mainly where Euro- pean  settlers  hijacked  colonial  rule—in  Algeria,  the  Belgian  Congo,  Por- tuguese Africa, and British southern Africa. Otherwise, Suez drew a thick line between two moments of decolonization: before 1956, when colonial independence  came  mainly  through  bloody  wars  of  liberation,  and  after Suez, when negotiated independence took over.18   In Cyprus, the Commu- nist  sympathies  of  the  nationalist  movement  under  Archbishop Makarios made  this  shift  to  negotiation  especially  dramatic.  British Colonial Office spokesmen had declared that Cyprus would never be independent, exiling Makarios to the Seychelles in early 1956; in March 1957 he was released, leading to independence in three years.19

Unfortunately, decolonization owed little to the Left as such. Paternalist favoring of colonial development notwithstanding, Labour disregarded the rights  of  colonial  peoples  to  self-determination.  The  French  Left  also emerged  with  little  honor:  it  was  a  Socialist  prime  minister,  Guy  Mollet, who  presided  over  Suez;  and  neither  the  PCF  nor  the  SFIO  managed  a principled anticolonial politics over Algeria. In Western Europe no less than the  East,  1956  demanded  a  reckoning  with  existing  Left  politics—“with the  depressing  experiences  of  both  ‘actual  existing  socialism’  and  ‘actual existing social democracy.’ 20

The main story of the early 1950s was one of closure—of stepping down from the big expectations accompanying the end of war, of giving up the sense of agency in a changeable present, of forgetting what the victory over fascism  could  bring,  of  shedding  the  optimist’s  skin,  the  sense  of  history still being made. The postwar settlement brought large and lasting change, and  capitalism’s  slow  but  dependable  recovery  in  the  West  was  about  to deliver a different kind of plenty, a prosperous future of consumer largesse. But  as  Europe  emerged  from  austerity  after  the  war,  it  was  the  the  Cold War’s conservatism that delivered the main truth.21



The dual crisis of 1956 broke through “the climate of fear and suspicion which prevailed” during the 1950s, when “the ‘Cold War’ dominated the political  horizon,  positioning  everyone  and  polarizing  every  topic  by  its remorseless binary logic.” For Stuart Hall, a student at Oxford in the early

1950s, freshly arrived from Jamaica, the converging tragedies of Hungary


and   Suez   dramatized   the   lack   of   appeal   of   both   the   Left’s   primary traditions,  Communism  and  mainstream  social  democracy.  These  two events “unmasked the underlying violence and aggression latent in the two systems  which  dominated  political  life  at  that  time—Western imperialism and  Stalinism.”  The  year  1956  “symbolized  the  break-up  of  the  political Ice Age.” It pointed the way forward to a new or “third” political space, where a “New Left” could form.

FUTURE IMPERFECT

in febr uary   1983,  the  British  Labour Party   lost   a   disastrous   by-election  in  Ber- mondsey,  a  South  London  docklands  district held continuously by the party since 1918. In a microcosm of the difficulties befalling urban Labour  parties  in  the  late  twentieth  century, deindustrialization  and  demographic  change had removed the labor movement’s social un- derpinnings,   leaving   behind   an   entrenched party  oligarchy  in  the  Southwark  Borough Council linked to a union machine. In an in- creasingly  familiar  patterm,  younger  activists moved  into  the  local  party,  selecting  its  new secretary,  Peter  Tatchell,  in  1982  to  succeed the retiring MP Bob Mellish. The contrast was stark: Mellish, the right-wing associate offor- mer  Prime  Minister  James  Callaghan,  in  bed with the union power brokers ofthe Borough Council   and   the   sworn   enemy   ofchange; Tatchell,  a  30-year-old  former  sociology  stu- dent   in   public   employment,   an   Australian with  no  local  roots,  and  equivocally  on  the left. Tatchell was also gay.

Under pressure from Mellish and the party right,  Michael  Foot,  the  new  elected  Labour leader,  publicly  disavowed  Tatchell  as  Ber- mondsey’s parliamentary candidate, citing an article Tatchell had written in London Labour Briefing  and  accusing  him  ofmembership  in Militant, a Trotskyist caucus inside the party. The local Labour Party refused to back down, and Tatchell fought the bye-election amid vi-


ciously homophobic attacks from the press, from a “Real Bermondsey La- bour”  candidate,  and  from  his  Liberal-SDP  Alliance  opponent,  who  won the  seat.1   But  Tatchell  had  no  links to  Militant. A  grassroots socialist, he typified a generation ofpost-1968 activists who graduated from the student movement  into  forms  of  community-based  politics  and  during  the course of the 1970s saved local Labour Party branches from decay. In the offend- ing article in London Labour Briefing, he had called merely for broad ex- traparliamentary  mobilization  by  and  for  the  unemployed  in  a  “Siege  of Parliament”  to  restore  “the  radical  and  defiant  spirit”  ofLabour’s  early days.  He  was  a  pacifist.  He  supported  gay  and  lesbian  rights.  He  was  in tune with Ken Livingstone’s recently elected left-wing administration at the Greater London Council (GLC).2

The  Bermondsey  by-election  revealed  the  collision  ofLeft  cultures.  It was a dramatic case ofthe so-called “loony Left” syndrome. Throughout the 1980s, Conservatives and the press pilloried Labour politicians in local government  for  supporting  antiracism,  feminism,  and  lesbian-gay  rights. Labour’s  national  leadership  reacted  cravenly  by  disavowing  the  policies. Faced  with  the  new  political  agendas,  it  recurred  to  the  safest  political ground,              presenting                   a          “respectable,    moderate,    trade-unionist,   male- dominated working-class” account ofitself, through which the post-1968 ideas were denied.3  The Right’s demonizing ofthese New Left causes scared the Old Left leaders so effectively that the issues were simply excised from the agenda. In a later by-election in Greenwich in February 1987 and like- wise in the runup to a general election, the Labour candidate Deidre Wood, a former GLC member, faced the same vilification with no official Labour support and lost again to the SDP. As the Labour leader aide Patricia Hew- itt  commented:  “The  ‘loony  Labour  left’  is  taking  its  toll;  the  gays  and lesbians issue is costing us dear among the pensioners.”4

These conflicts recurred across Western Europe. On one side were left- wing generations shaped by the legacies ofthe Second World War and the postwar settlement, complacent from the climactic prosperity of the 1960s and increasingly intolerant ofdissent, settling into their anticipated future as  natural  parties  ofgovernment.  On  the  other  side  were  the generations of 1968 and beyond, whose sense of the future was very different. Partic- ipatory politics and direct democracy; feminism, gender difference, and the politics ofsexuality; issues ofpeace and ecology; racism and the politics of immigration; community control and small-scale democracy; music, coun- terculture, and the politics ofpleasure; consciousness raising and the poli- tics ofthe personal—these were the issues that inspired younger generations ofthe Left during the 1970s and 1980s. For the generations of1945, such preoccupations were simply not intelligible. The resulting clash fundamen- tally shifted the Left’s overall ground.

For  the  first  time  in  a  century,  the  parliamentary  party  ofsocialism linked to trade unions lost its hegemony over the democratic project ofthe Left. Aside from the litany of particular issues just mentioned, the last third


ofthe  twentieth  century  saw  a  resurgence  ofinterest  in  locally  focused direct  action  to  the  point  where  extraparliamentary  agitations  frequently supplanted the parliamentary sphere as the main center ofleft-wing energy. Concurrently, the infrastructures of capitalist industry, urban class forma- tion,   and   autonomous   city   governent   previously   sustaining   the  class- oriented parties ofsocialism also began to break up. In a surrounding eco- nomic context after 1973 of recession, massive unemployment, and ravaged welfare states, that old socialist and Communist Left experienced profound disorientation.

In the midst ofthese changes, the Soviet Union entered a dramatic pe- riod  ofupheaval  and  reform,  which  ended  with  its  dissolution  in  1991. Along the way, and after a succession of earlier crises, the governing Com- munisms  ofEastern  Europe  collapsed,  bringing  the  region  into  the  pan- European system ofdemocratic states via the Revolutions of1989. In con- junction   with   the   longer-run   changes   mentioned   earlier,   these   events signaled the end ofa long era. The politics ofdemocracy were clearly open- ing out.

on  2  january,  Fidel Castro, Cuba’s char- ismatic leader, declared 1968 the Year of the Heroic  Guerilla  in  memory  of  Ernesto  Che Guevara, killed in Bolivia the previous Octo- ber.1    An  international  Cultural  Congress  in Havana, with four hundred intellectuals from the Americas and Europe, then focused inter- national  enthusiasm  for  the  Cuban  Revolu- tion.2    Meanwhile  East  Asia  captured  atten- tion,        from    China’s      Cultural    Revolution

(1965–69) to student tumults against the USS Enterprise in Japan and the seizure of the in- telligence  vessel  USS  Pueblo in North Korea. On   30   January,   the   National   Liberation Front,  or  Vietcong,  launched  the  Tet  Offen- sive  against  major  cities  in  South  Vietnam, pitching  U.S.  policy  there  into  crisis.  By  the time U.S. and South Vietnamese troops reoc- cupied Hue, their credibility was in shreds. European radicalism in 1968 was nothing if    not    internationalist,    inspired   by    non- Western revolutionary movements or anger at the  counterrevolutionary  United  States.  Stu- dents  passed  easily  across  borders,  from  one theater of radicalism to another. The Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation’s International War Crimes  Tribunal  promoted  this  process,  cen- tering  its  efforts  on  the  Vietnam  War.3   The world  had  shrunk,  practically  through travel and  communications  and  culturally  through taste and style. Television was key. Events in Saigon—or   Paris,   Prague,   and   Chicago could   be   shared   simultaneously  in  student bars  and  common  rooms  in  London,  Stock- holm, Rome, Amsterdam, or West Berlin:



for the first time, the world, or at least the world in which student ideologists



lived,  was  genuinely  global.  The  same  books  appeared . . . in  the  student bookshops in Buenos Aires, Rome and Hamburg. . . . The same tourists of revolution  crossed  oceans  and  continents  from  Paris  to  Havana  to  Sao Paulo to Bolivia. The first generation of humanity to take rapid and cheap global  air  travel  and  telecommunications  for  granted,  the  students  of  the late 1960s, had no difficulty in recognizing what happened at the Sorbonne, in Berkeley, in Prague, as part of the same event in the same global village.4

LEAVING  NORMAL

On 5 January, Antonin Novotny, Czechoslovakia’s Stalinist President, was replaced as the KSC first secretary by a reluctant reformer, Alexander Dub- cek.5  By March 1968, the KSC had liberalized the press, abolished cultural censorship,  and  recognized  academic  freedom.  It  rehabilitated  Purge  vic- tims. Its Action Program of 10 April focused political hopes in what became known  as  the  Prague  Spring.  Concurrently,  student  protests  precipitated crises  in  Poland  and  Yugoslavia,  climaxing  in  March  and  June.  Students clashed  with  police,  spreading  demands  for  civil  freedoms  across Poland. Warsaw Polytechnic University was occupied as students demanded a “Cze- choslovak” process of reform.6

Students were on the move in Western Europe too. In Spain’s universities they demanded educational reform, physically battled the state, and pressed for democracy with militant workers and illegal opposition groups. Faculty and administrators were suspended or resigned, police occupied buildings, and  universities  were  closed.7    Italian  students  occupied  universities  in Trento, Milan, and Turin, then Rome and Naples, until 26 universities were struck and higher education was immobilized. When students in Rome tried to occupy the faculty of architecture on 1 March, police brutality was an- swered  in  kind:  “It  was  the  first  time  we  hadn’t  retreated  in  front  of  the police. . . . It  gave  us  a  sense  of  strength,  of  doing  what  we  hadn’t  been able to do before. We were profoundly convinced that we were right to be doing  it.  We  ripped  up  the  wooden  park  benches  and  used  the  planks as clubs.”8

This  violent  confrontation,  the  “Battle  of  Valle  Giulia,”  became  the

1968 norm. In West Germany, violence had already erupted during protests against the Shah of Iran’s visit to West Berlin in June 1967, anger spilling over  into  other  universities.  In  Britain,  a  sit-in  at  the  London  School  of Economics (LSE) during March 1967 sparked the same pattern, with fur- ther flare-ups at universities in Leicester, Essex, Bristol, Aston, Hull, Brad- ford,  Leeds,  and  Hornsey  College  of  Art.  Two  London  Vietnam  demon- strations in October 1967 and March 1968 captured the rising propensity for  violence:  one  was  an  orderly  march  of  10,000,  but  the  other  drew

30,000 who battled police at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square.9


Paris  had  the  same  combustible  ingredients  as  in  Italy  and  West  Ger- many—hugely expanding student numbers, hopelessly inadequate facilities, alienating  environments,  uncomprehending  administrations—but  it  took time  to  draw  the  spark.  Protest  began  at  the  new  university  of  Nanterre, built on an air force depot in northwest Paris, in “a brutalist construction of  glass  and  steel  cubes,  set  down  where  industrial  wasteland  meets  the ready-built  slum  housing  of  the  Spanish  and  Algerian  immigrant  work- ers.”10  In November 1967, Nanterre was paralyzed by a student strike, and campus surveillance by plainclothes police ratcheted up the tensions. Daniel Cohn-Bendit  emerged  as  the  audacious  and  charismatic  agitator  of  Nan- terre’s discontents.11

On March 22, six Nanterre activists were arrested after Vietnam rallies, and  students  occupied  the  chancellor’s  offices  in  response. The 22 March Movement was born, forging a common front beyond the Left’s sectarian divisions—“without formal leaders, without common theoretical positions

. . . divided by their different political beliefs but united by a common will to  act,  and  a  pact  that  all  decisions  would  be  taken  by  general  assem- blies.”12   Hostilities spiraled: classes were suspended while police cordoned off the campus; sociology students boycotted exams; the university closed three  days  later.  Authorities  disciplined  the  leaders,  summoning  Cohn- Bendit and seven others to a hearing in the Sorbonne on 6 May. Parisian Maoists  (“with  helmets,  clubs,  catapults  and  ball-bearings”) arrived after an  ultra-Right  threat  to  “exterminate  the  leftist  vermin,”  and  Nanterre closed indefinitely.13  A manifesto of the 22 March Movement was endorsed by 1,500 students: “outright rejection of the capitalist-technocratic univer- sity, of the division of labor, and of so-called neutral knowledge—supple- mented by a call for solidarity with the working class.”14

By May, the signs had multiplied. Other French campuses were affected, and students sometimes connected with workers—at the Saviem works in Caen, the Dassault factory in Bordeaux, and Sud Aviation in Nantes. Unrest reached the schools, with a teachers’ strike and High School Student Action Committees  forming  on  26  February.  Student  anger  at  the  Vietnam  War was  shaped  by  an  International  Congress hosted by  the  Socialist German Students (SDS) in West Berlin in February. An attempted assassination of SDS leader Rudi Dutschke on 11 April produced immediate international solidarity, with Cohn-Bendit coordinating French protests for the 22 March Movement,   joined   by   the   Maoist   Union   des   Jeunesses  Communistes, marxistes-le´ninistes (UJC-ml) and the Trotskyist Jeunesse Communiste Re´- volutionnaire  (JCR).  French  radicalization  joined  a  general  European  tu- mult,   with   student   risings   in   Spain,   Italy,   and   Poland,   widespread demonstrations in West Germany and Britain, and further militancy in Bel- gium, Sweden, and elsewhere, all in a framework linking Vietnam to stu- dent issues and revolutionary critiques of capitalism.

Student  movements  discarded  conventional  politics  in  favor  of  direct action  and  the  streets.  Student  radicals  ignored  parliaments  and  elected


representatives,  behaving  in  passionate  and  unruly  ways  and  looking  for agency  and  meaning  beyond  the  confines  of  the  “system.”  Their  actions were embedded in broader generational rebellion, as world events magni- fied images of change. Tensions heightened following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War,  the  Nigerian  Civil  War  (1967–70),  confrontations  of  state  and  stu- dents  in  Algeria,  and  the  war  in  Southeast  Asia.  United  States  events shattered the Cold War’s domestic stabilities: Democrats divided over Viet- nam as President Lyndon B. Johnson withdrew from reelection; black rad- icalization accelerated after the urban riots of summer 1967, with the grow- ing militancy of the Black Panthers, black nationalism, and the civil rights movement’s  conversion  into  the  Poor  People’s  Campaign.  The transconti- nental  rioting  after  Martin  Luther  King’s  assassination  on  4  April  blazed across Europe’s television screens.



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