1968: a year of revolution

In 1968 the world turned upside down. The long years of the post war economic upswing had led many to declare that class struggle was obsolete, revolution outdated, the working class bourgeoisified, capitalism invincible. Within a few short months, though, they were all proved wrong.

In Vietnam, US imperialism was being humiliated and millions of students and youth in the west were in open rebellion against the war and the system that generated it.

From the pitched battle of London's Grosvenor Square, to the barricades in Paris and on to the riot outside the Chicago convention of the US Democratic Party, young people were openly challenging and fighting the establishment.

Key, though, was the movement of the working class. Long written off by every academic and so-called radical as 'bought off' and 'petit bourgeois,' one leading so-called 'Marxist' began 1968 by declaring that the workers would not move for a generation. How wrong they all were.

The events in France during May 1968 vindicated a genuine Marxist approach. The greatest general strike in the post war period showed the mighty power of the working class, only defeated by the scandalous role of the French Communist Party.

1968 brought an end to the political 'stability' of the post war period and was an early indicator of the revolutionary events that were to follow in the 1970s.

In Czechoslovakia, workers took to the streets in struggle against the tyranny of Stalinism, in Northern Ireland the civil rights movement mushroomed. In America itself, as well as huge anti-war protest, the black civil rights movement lost one of its leaders, Martin Luther King, at the hands of a gunman, but would develop to challenge the reactionary bigotry of the American political establishment.

After King's assasination many major US cities erupted. The biggest riot of them all was probably in Watts Town, where a sizable area of Los Angeles was torched.

In June, Bobby Kennedy, who may well have won the Democratic nomination for the presidential election on an anti-war ticket was gunned down at a meeting.

And at the convention itself, in Chicago in August, the police went wild and attacked the anti-war demonstrators outside and inside the convention, with truncheons, maces and tear gas. At least two delegates were dragged from the hall by the police, and the riot reached a high point on the steps of the Hilton Hotel where the world's television flashed the pictures of the brutal beatings being meted out by the Chicago police force.

Inside the convention Senator Ribicoff grabbed the microphone to condemn the 'gestapo' tactics of Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley, supposedly a fellow Democrat. The convention overturned the anti-war motion by 1,567 votes to 1,041 and elected nonentity Hubert Humphrey as its presidential nominee.

In Britain it was a year of student protest and occupations. A year of cultural turmoil and experiment, with bands like the Beatles at there greatest and most powerful. It was also a year of the first political stirrings against the right wing policies of the Labour government. Barbara Castle was busy preparing her draft for the controversial 'In Place Of Strife,' a document that would be echoed later on with the waves of Tory anti-union legislation in the 1980s. The government had also introduced a 3.5% ceiling on wage rises. The October party conference was incensed and voted against the wage restraint policy.

Thirty years on, many of the lessons are crucial. That's why, over the course of this year, we will be publishing a series of articles looking at many of these events.

Through the 1980s and 1990s we've had many of the same old stories told to us: capitalism has changed, the boom will last forever, the workers cannot fight, the working class has disappeared, and so on.

1968 disproved it all then, and the class struggles of the new period will disprove it again. Capitalism means exploitation and repression. The only real way forward for the planet is on the basis of socialism.


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