Paradigms of social change – notes on 1968



What impresses in the 1960s is the spread, breadth and intensity of social and political movements

Round dates have almost imposed a reflection on social processes considered relevant. Going against the current, there are also criticisms of the fever for celebrations.

However, the option of avoiding debates associated with commemorations may not be a good adviser, as memory battles are often as or more important than the objects they refer to, because they have the ability to rebuild or remodel them. them, confirming the old aphorism that the version is worth more than the fact, especially when there is no consensus on the available evidence. Some even claim, in the vertigo of relativism, that the version is the fact itself, insofar as it overlaps it, modifying the contours and giving meaning to actions undertaken in the past. According to this orientation, the facts would depend on the versions and not holding debates about them would be to abandon the facts to their own luck or to the control of those who imagine they will appropriate them.

It is therefore a matter of taking the risks inherent in commemorating, especially when we are critical of the tendency to commemorate in the usual sense of the word, to uncritically celebrate a date or a historical process. In celebrations, as is known, contradictions and disputes tend to disappear, and the story is narrated, according to the convenience of the circumstances, and/or the celebrants, or the dominant values. It can happen to so-called veterans, converted into ex-combatants, forced to live with the inevitable avatars of this type of situation. But it can also happen, in a negative way, with those who want to get rid of events considered unwanted. These are dedicated to celebrating, not the existence of something, but its disappearance. And this applies to newer or more remote processes.

I support the possibility of commemorating (remembering together) without celebrating, which in no way means, as will be seen, that I intend to enter the debate without premises or determined points of view.



What impresses in the 1960s, and especially in 1968, is the spread, breadth and intensity of social and political movements. A little everywhere, and with different motivations, there were clashes and social and political struggles, of different natures.

In the United States, different movements appeared with unexpected strength: young people, against the Vietnam War; women, for female emancipation; Negroes and Chicanos, for civil and political rights; gays, for the right to freely exercise their sexual preferences; indigenous peoples, asserting identity demands. They were new actors who appeared on the political scene with their own demands and claims, many of which were ignored or underestimated by traditional parties and unions.[I]. It is worth mentioning that some organizations would take, in 1968 and in the following years, the path of armed struggle against the[ii].

In Latin America[iii], among many others, stand out the conflicts that took place in Mexico, Argentina and Brazil[iv]. Their main protagonists were university and high school students, but they would also gain expression among the urban popular strata. The last two countries would experience, in the following years, a process of urban guerrillas and attempts at rural guerrilla groups. Associated with this process, and in another dimension, the myth of Che Guevara and the guerrilla saga inspired and stimulated by the Cuban revolution, victorious in 1959, remained alive.[v].

In Western Europe, the movements in France stood out, very intense, although condensed in time (May-June 1968), mobilizing university students and a general strike, which brought together between 8-10 million salaried workers; in the Federal Republic of Germany/FRG, emphasis is still on students; and in Italy, a combination of workers' strikes and student struggles. In these last two countries, the appearance, in the following years, of a wave of urban guerrillas, especially in Italy, can be registered.

In what was called Eastern Europe, there were social movements in Poland, intellectual and student protests in other countries and, in particular, a broad process of reforms in Czechoslovakia. Initiated in January 1968 within the scope of the communist party itself, the process gained strength and social expression, outlining the perspective of a socialism with a “human face”. Short-lived, suffocated by the Soviet invasion in August 1968[vi].

At the other end of the world, in China, since the second half of 1965, the so-called great proletarian cultural revolution was unleashed. Fundamentally mobilizing students but, in some cities, like Shanghai, also workers from different sectors, the process would profoundly question the existing socialist order and its patterns of political organization and would reach a peak at the turn of 1966 to 1967 with the proclamation of the Shanghai Commune . However, despite innovative experiences in the fields of education and work organization, the revolutionary movement retreated and, already in 1969, with the reorganization of the Chinese Communist Party, it can be considered closed.[vii].

Another revolutionary pole in Asia was represented by Vietnam. After fighting against the Japanese (1941-1945) and the French (1946-1954), and defeating them, the Vietnamese, since 1960, started a third guerrilla war to guarantee independence and national unification. From 1964-1965, US intervention would become a relevant factor and the war in Vietnam would gradually occupy the proscenium of international relations and media.[viii]

In this very brief review, one sees the geographic breadth and political, economic and social diversity of the regimes affected by the earthquake of the 1960s. Capitalist and socialist countries, democratic and dictatorial regimes, developed and still developing societies were affected (at the time, they were called without euphemisms “underdeveloped”).



Why the 1960s? Why exactly the year 1968?

Strictly speaking, as several scholars have shown[ix], there is a broader historical process in which the year 1968 is inserted, proposing different “major conjunctures” to better understand it. As can be seen in the review above, there were societies in which the warmest temperature – socially and politically – rose in previous years (China and the USA) or reached its climax later (Argentina and Italy) in 1968.

The simultaneity of the processes evoked the “spring of the peoples”, of 1848[X], on an even larger scale, but it is important not to lose sight of, in addition to the undeniable internationalization of conflicts, their specifically national character, whose roots need to be elucidated, avoiding uniformizing approximations of a diversity that could not be underestimated (M. Ridenti , 2018).

Wanting to better reveal the circumstances of conflicts does not mean imprisoning history in structural determinations, nor annulling the margins of freedom of social movements and their leaderships, as well as the specificity of each process or event. It is also not a question of refusing the unpredictability of human history, but it is undeniable that the 1960s were part of – and heralded – a period of vertiginous changes, brought about by a great scientific and technological revolution, whose dynamism remains present until the present day, radically changing the landscape of human societies at all levels: culture, politics, economics, society.

The “Fordist civilization”, proposed at the end of the 1940th century, and which, in his terms, also profoundly altered human societies at the time, reaching a moment of apogee in the 1950s/2017s, was followed by another revolution that gave rise to the “world-culture” (JF Sirinelli, XNUMX), the “world history”, the “diminishing of the world” or the “global village” (M. McLuhan) marked by simultaneity and instantaneity[xi].

Since the 1960s, times of instability have opened, centralized, vertical and pyramidal institutions and corporations began to collapse, but it would not be, as some imagined, a quick and catastrophic implosion. As they were very dense and heavy and the interests invested in them were diverse, their debris continues to fall, even today, on existing societies. It is enough to observe the parties and unions, beloved children of the world of the second industrial revolution, which monopolized the representation of political and union interests and which, for decades, have been going through a deep structural crisis, no longer able to give life to the voice, to the demands and the feelings of the populations concerned, but still retaining importance in the institutional political game.

These transformation processes also affected changes in the relationships between individuals and time. Reinhart Koselleck and François Hartog drew attention to the phenomenon by proposing that conceptions of time also have a history. while not Ancien Régime, notions prevailed that treated the past, present and future indistinctly, with the future being a mere projection of the past, from the great Atlantic revolutions of the late 1950th century (American and French), as H. Arendt observed, these notions changed. if radically: the future would be the improvement of the past (concept of progress), revolutions being equated with leaps into the unknown. In the context of the scientific-technological revolution from the 1960s/XNUMXs onwards, the present expands, encompassing the past and the future, configuring itself as “presentism”.[xii].

Thus, in a broader perspective, the movements of the 1960s would have been precursors to the earthquakes that only then began their work and that would remain – until today – shaking and convulsing the projected and built world from the end of the XNUMXth century onwards. Exactly for this reason, the issues raised in those years remain alive and current, because the great conjuncture and the scientific and technological revolution that conditioned those movements continue to unfold with remarkable dynamism.



The 1960s were marked by proposals for change – and they themselves were an expression of change. Reforms and revolutions were the order of the day. In politics, in society, in customs, in the economy. It is about meditating on the issues at stake, the disputes and, in particular, on the paradigms of social change that aroused support, resistance and manifestations in favor and against.

In this cauldron, it is interesting to reflect on the traditional left-right dyad[xiii]. Traditionally, the former – the left – were responsible for fighting for change, from the perspective of social equality, while the right, always conservative, was responsible for embodying the role of anti-reform and naturalized conceptions of social inequalities. Within the framework of the scientific-technological revolution and the movements of the 1960s, without losing all of its operational and explanatory value, the dyad would no longer be able to deal with the complexity of the issues at stake and the movements of political forces.

Indeed, in the defense of the Order and traditions, it would be possible to find forces from the right and from the left. Let's call them cold or traditional forces[xiv].

The most notorious were undoubtedly the right that could be called past or archaic. They are the reactionary forces in the proper sense of the word, cold forces par excellence. They became exasperated in the face of the 1968 movements, especially in relation to proposals for a revolution in customs. They believed in values ​​that were being deeply questioned. They feared for the existence of a crumbling society. They could feel the soil they were stepping on melting. Without a compass, they wandered without guidance in the turmoil of the protests. It was beyond imagination, it couldn't be tolerated. They fought with the last energy the “mess” proposed by the alternatives that came to light in the 1960s.

That's why these forces hate the year 1968 to this day. In the celebrations of the year, these people don't show up, they just want to forget.

However, probably because they were cold forces in the context of the clashes fought, in the context of a hot year, and winners, not attracting the sympathy that the losers usually arouse, especially when they are definitely defeated, such proposals have not been studied with the importance deserved.

As long as its social and historical foundations are not sufficiently evidenced, the year will remain relatively misunderstood, because its actions and reactions largely determined the defeats of those who intended to change the world.[xv].

On the left, however, forces defending tradition and order also appeared, fighting to maintain their positions and maintain situations that gave them prestige and strength.

In the capitalist world, they were cold, traditional lefts, and with few exceptions, the international communist movement, in its different tendencies and, also in its different faces, the international social-democracy. In Latin America, the traditional nationalist movement would also rise against the rising tide of proposals for change and new methods of struggle, which would not prevent minority sectors from joining urban and rural guerrillas.[xvi].

Communists, socialists and nationalists, in Europe and Latin America, imagining themselves political directions/vanguards, were surprised by the eruption and dynamics of the movements. Gathering chips, they ran after, trying to hold the momentum or/and channel it, or/and control it. Depending on the circumstances, they even played a role, almost always a moderating role in relation to proposals and passions, characterized as leftist, sectarian, crazy. Not without reason, they breathed a sigh of relief when the shock waves tended to ebb. Emblematic, from this point of view, would be the attitude of the French socialists and communists who, in May-June 1968, did their best to channel the movements towards institutional channels, moderating and neutralizing them.

The current socialist regimes were situated in the same way. The repression unleashed against the “Prague Spring” is the best evidence of the cold and conservative behavior of these regimes. They feared the contagion of reformist proposals and repressed them with violence. In Czechoslovakia, whose “Spring” began in January 1968, the democratizing process was short-lived: in August, Warsaw Pact troops, led by the Soviet Union, invaded the small country and put an end to an experience that, although it started at the top, it extended throughout society, mobilizing people, making them propose and build autonomous forms of political and social organization. A missed historic chance, with profound long-term consequences. It should be noted that the Soviet invasion deserved praise from Fidel Castro and also the support, or silent silence, of the other socialist states. Support and omission shared by communist parties all over the world, with the notable exception of the Italian Communist Party.

In Poland and other socialist states, and even in the Soviet Union, wherever they were found, groups of dissidents were equally attacked, even if their proposals were limited to a timid defense of human rights.

In China, after some hesitation, and frightened by the anti-authoritarian tendencies of the rebel movements that dissolved party structures and burned the archives of the political police (Shanghai Commune), they tried to channel the protests and questions to the Party reorganization bed Communist and personality cult of Mao Dze-Dong. Where this was not possible, they repressed with violence, dismissing revolutionary attempts as “leftist” and “accomplices of capitalist enemies”.

Since then, such cold lefts continue to present the movements of 1968 as an inconsequential fever, an accident on the way, something to be scratched off the map and the calendar.



Among trends favorable to change, hot forces, the picture would not be less diverse and complex. Throughout the 1960s, some tended to anchor themselves in the past, while others were able to open horizons and prospects for the future.

This is a key issue, which has not been dealt with in depth or with due qualification. The movements that were unleashed were extremely diverse. Occurring at the same time, sometimes in the same spaces, they were inspired by different paradigms of social change, with different proposals, features and internal dynamics.

First, it would be necessary to return to the consideration of the war in Vietnam.

For any observer, even the most inattentive, it would be impossible to deny the centrality of the revolutionary struggles for national liberation, among which, in a prominent place, the people's war in Vietnam.

It was all over the news and media, on the billboards, at each and every march. The war literally entered the daily life of each and every one. Thus, it was very difficult to say indifferent. Or if he was in favor of US armed intervention, or if he was in favor of the Vietnamese national liberation struggle. A formidable polarization.

In the US, in particular, the issue of Vietnam was decisive in articulating and unleashing social movements against the war. Young people, and particularly young black men, began to voice their protest voices.[xvii].

After the Tet offensive, in January/February 1968, demonstrating the impossibility of a US military victory, demonstrations against the war gained dynamism. US President Lindon Johnson was then forced to give up re-election, opening peace negotiations almost immediately in Paris (May 1968). The revolutionaries had not yet won the war, which would only happen in 1975, but the US had already lost it.

The war in Vietnam deserves not only to be highlighted for the intense combats that were fought in that region of the world and for the polarization that it provoked, or for the effects that it produced, above all, as already mentioned, in the USA.

It was also typical of the set of revolutionary nationalist movements that had unfolded in the world since the end of World War II, especially those with socialist or socializing purposes. And, more importantly, for our purposes, typical of a certain paradigm of social change, inherited from the Russian revolutions – the catastrophic revolution, undertaken through insurrections or/and apocalyptic wars, aiming to seize the power of the State in order, through it, to carry out profound social, economic and cultural reforms, among them, the construction of the so-called New Man[xviii]. In this sense, the Vietnamese Revolutionary War takes place in the wake of, and in the context of, the victorious Chinese (1949) and Cuban (1959) and Algerian (1962) revolutions. In Asia and Africa in particular, but also in lands of Our America, multiple movements questioned the preponderance of the European powers and the USA that, in many moments and places, tried to replace them, although exercising other forms of domination. The old colonial empires, considered until very recently as impregnable, were collapsing. Neocolonial policies and dependency in all its forms were challenged.

In this approach, the struggle of the Vietnamese was also emblematic, because it was inserted in the most radical nationalist current, committed to the construction of projects to revolutionize societies at all levels. They didn't just want freedom, they wanted liberation, the latter term gaining a revolutionary connotation in the sense of the proposed association between national independence and the construction of socialism within the framework of revolutionary political dictatorships.

Vietnam in Asia, Cuba in the Americas and Algeria in Africa. Three victorious revolutions, through catastrophic wars. Small peoples who had fought with weapons in their hands against the great powers of the world at the time. And they had won, building revolutionary political dictatorships. Wouldn't there be a way there to indicate that it was worth being bold? Even if somber signs of defeat were already appearing (the coup that overthrew Ben Bella, in 1965; the death of Che Guevara, in 1967), not always, incidentally, properly evaluated?

These struggles seemed to open wide horizons for the future. The attempts to form international revolutionary organizations, such as the Solidarity Organization of the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America (OSPAAAL), in 1966, and the Latin American Solidarity Organization (OLAS), in 1967, to make possible the articulation of struggles revolutionary activities on the three continents seemed, then, promising[xx]. But it was not the case.

The Vietnamese revolution, although victorious in 1975, did not open, with it, any new revolutionary cycle, according to the standards that were its own, as in the case of the Cuban and Algerian revolutions.

Contrary to what was imagined in the 1960s, these victories, instead of opening, closed a great cycle, that of catastrophic revolutions. The great transformations to come would no longer take place according to the standards established in 1917.

The current situation of these three societies demonstrates this. Much can be said that the fact was due to the isolation in which they remained, hampered by hostile circumstances. But it will also be necessary to consider the implications of war processes, from which these victorious revolutions emerged and the quality of their proposals. Not to mention the revolutionary dictatorships, common to all three, with their hypertrophied States, single parties, predominance of military leaders, implacable persecution of all kinds of political opposition[xx].

Thus, the revolutionary nationalism of the 1960s and 1970s, which then seemed so promising, very quickly lost its capacity for political seduction and social mobilization. Appearing innovative at the time, it had more anchors in the past than one could imagine. And it was in the past that these national liberation revolutions nested, without opening up prospects for the future.



While such paradigms of social change, until then hegemonic, tended to “age”, others, on the contrary, although already existing, gained strength and tended to assert themselves. They stood out, in many moments and places, in the framework of radical alternatives of democratic construction. They simultaneously criticized the limits of democratic liberalism and the authoritarianism of the cold, conservative left. They repudiated the traditional routines of democratic liberalism, almost exclusively centered on calendars and political-institutional games where parliamentary cretinism ends up prevailing, despite good intentions.

Closed arenas, predictable debates, extreme moderation of purposes, corporatist sense of the misnamed political class, insurmountable distance between representatives and those represented, distancing the former from the latter, who are only consulted at electoral times. Strictly speaking, representative democracy, supported by parties and unions, although the product of major social struggles from the second half of the 1960th century onwards, was already historically undermined as it was an expression of a world in decline. The 1970s and XNUMXs saw a slow process of erosion of this model of democracy, whose crisis was evidenced by the ever-increasing masses of blank, null and abstention votes. Especially among young people, there is almost universal disenchantment with the traditions of representative democracy, challenged to reinvent itself if it wants to survive.

It was in this sense that the renovating movements of the 1960s worked and this became evident both in the capitalist world and in the socialist world.

Radical, alternative democratic proposals emerged in Europe, the USA, and even in Brazil, above all in student circles, but also, depending on the circumstances, formulated by workers in struggle, as sometimes happened in France, Italy and China. . What brought together these democratic experiments carried out in such different latitudes?

The beautiful idea of ​​the autonomy of social movements in relation to the State and parties. Radical criticism of the distances that were created between leaders and those led, between representatives and those represented. Participatory forms of democracy. Institutions of control over representatives and ruling elites. A deep distrust of the delegation of powers. The desire, which seemed immense, to take the brakes of one's destinies into one's own hands. Directly. No middlemen.

Rehearsals, no more than rehearsals, still lacking rigorous inventories. Experiences defeated, but not eliminated from history. If they also had references in the past, what distinguishes them are the promises of the future, and that is why they have emerged whenever social contradictions are intensified and people are once again interested in Res Publica and the fate of the City.

Such criticisms also appeared to the pattern of what would come to be called, years later, really existing socialism. Entitled dictatorships of the proletariat, these regimes, although revolutionary, of proletarians had nothing. They were, at best, one-party dictatorships, at worst, which unfortunately was not so rare, dictatorships of charismatic leaders and their clouds of adherents. Supported by the people due to the social and economic reforms they had been able to undertake, they modeled libertic institutions, transforming oppositionists into dissidents, for whom exile, jails and psychiatric asylums were reserved.

Incorporating these criticisms, two cases became emblematic – the Prague Spring and the first movements of the cultural revolution in China.

In Czechoslovakia, as mentioned, it was about reforming the Soviet model that prevailed until then, based on the centralization of power and nationalization of the economy, political repression and ideological uniformity, replacing it with a democratic and plural socialist society.

In China, within the scope of the cultural revolution, social movements escaped the control of the Communist Party and built, at certain times (Shanghai Commune), innovative forms of organization, based on principles of participatory democracy and which recovered, at different times, advanced references by thinkers in favor of direct democracy. Not to mention the scathing criticism of the traditions of vertical and uncontrolled rule, present in ancient China and maintained by the Communist Party, with other features, but similar characteristics, after the triumph of the 1949 revolution.

Still not sufficiently studied, these movements, after annulling the preponderance of the Communist Party in many cities, were not, however, capable of building solid alternatives. On the contrary, they were lost in (self)destructive processes that ended up providing conditions for the restoration of the dictatorial revolutionary Order.

Thus, the radical democratic proposals intended to build, simultaneously, alternatives to democratic liberalism and revolutionary dictatorships. Autonomy, participation and control were its main mottos. Challenges of difficult construction and realization, demanding historical maturation time.

To a different extent, the so-called “new social movements” of the 1960s recovered these references.

Like everything that appears in History, they had roots in the past, but they appeared with unusual force in 1968 and would not leave the scene in the following decades. Mainly in the USA, but also in Western Europe, and a little everywhere else, such movements were articulated around specific programs, referring to their particular insertions in society, due to their own aspects, which differentiated them from larger groups.

Thus, among others, women and feminist movements, the second half of heaven, according to the poetic Chinese metaphor. Blacks, Chicanos and Native Americans. The gay movements. At first called “minorities”, a not always adequate term, they questioned old programs and ways of doing politics and remained for some time (or a long time, depending on the conditions of time and place) misunderstood or/and hostile by right-wing and political organizations. left.

The old-fashioned right hated them for the bold nature of their claims. They just wouldn't admit to considering them. However, the modernizing rights, which we will talk about below, were willing, in no small measure, to incorporate important aspects of the programs advanced by women, blacks and gays, among others. The phenomenon only intensified the prejudices and resistance of the traditional left that accused them of being divisive, since such movements favored programs that seemed to them to be too particularistic.

Despite the contradictions, the new movements established themselves as prospects for the future. They drew their strength from very concrete claims that concerned people's daily lives. That is why they spread throughout the world, gaining strength and breadth, carrying out, in some places, a considerable part of their programs and substantially remodeling contemporary society. They won a place in the sun and would never lose it, dragging right and left in tow and becoming first-rate actors in the current political game.

Finally, but not least, it would also be necessary to mention the proposals for revolutions in customs and everyday behavior. Intimately associated with the new social movements, but with their own autonomy, such references also contributed to changing trends and characteristics of contemporary societies.

Questioning the rigid hierarchies that marked social relations at all levels; the ambition to provide a minimum of coherence in the relationship between the public and the private; between theory and practice; between speech and action. Criticism of established notions of representation. The questioning of the decisive importance of the central political power in favor of new emphasis on apparently small, molecular changes, but without which, as was verified in the analysis of the really existing socialism, the grandiloquent utopias were worthless, behold, they lost substance in the same measure in which they were incapable of transforming people's immediate lives. As if the here and now deserved to prevail over a future announced as glorious, but so far away that it became untouchable by ordinary people in their current lives.

The revolutionary proposals for changing customs were not fully realized. Far from it. But they have made considerable progress. And more importantly: the brute force of reaction (right and left) failed to eliminate them from the political scene. Indeed, it is noticeable how they have settled on the agenda of political debates in contemporary societies.

All these forces desirous of change – hot – would no longer be guided by the references and paradigms of the Russian revolutions – the violent seizure of central power as a condition for the realization of revolutionary changes – but would conceive the latter as possible to be achieved through molecular changes/revolutions, for changing consciences and for the progressive conquest of rights.

In his perspectives, still tentative, the ruptures towards an alternative society could – and should – happen gradually, diluting the supposed walls between reforms and revolution[xxx]. Although many were avowedly pacifist, resorting to violence would not be radically discarded by all, but when considered, they used it as a resource. in extremis, provisional, and not as a fundamental key to opening the doors of the future.

On a visit to Harlem in 2006, Fidel Castro recognized, in his own words, the emergence and strength of a new paradigm of social change. He then said, “A new mass movement is forming with tremendous force. It will no longer be the old tactic – Bolshevik style. Not even our style. Because it's another world – different. We are moving from a stage where weapons could solve the other stage in which the consciousness of the masses, the needs of history and ideas, are what will make the world change”.[xxiii]



In the presentation of the set of hot forces of the 1960s, however, there would still be mention of a force not always adequately considered or evaluated: we want to refer to the modernizing, liberal right.[xxiii] They were flexible and saw changes with nuance. Because tuned, by their own interest or by sharing values, to what was essential in the ongoing scientific and technological revolution, they would show themselves, in the future, more open to certain, and important, transformations in terms of economy, politics, customs and customs. behaviors[xxv]. However, against the immediate turmoil, in 1968 itself, it was common for these forces to draw up provisional alliances with the cold right wing, of the past and archaic, and even with the conservative left wing, also cold, as in the emblematic case of May-June French, already considered. It was a question, at that moment, of raising a dam against the rising tide of questions to the Order and overcoming the dangers that were accumulating. Thus, it can be said, without wanting to formulate unjustified amalgamations, on the contrary, marking the differences in motivations and purposes, that the right (pastist and modernizing) and the traditional left, in not a few moments, joined hands in the contention or in the institutional channeling of the 1968 movements.

However, it is important to emphasize that the modernizing right, in power or out of it, in the following years, incorporated many of the demands made by the challenges presented in the 1960s.

Another aspect to be highlighted, in order to avoid simplifications, is that, in the extraordinarily complex flow of social and political movements and struggles at the time, the different paradigms described could appear intertwined. For those who visit the period, through appropriate documentation, films and songs, the various media forms, it will be common to find, mixed, intertwined, references to the paradigms of catastrophic and violent revolutions, on the one hand, and, on the other, those of revolutions molecular, based on changing consciousness and on the progressive – and democratic – conquest of rights.

Thus, solidarity with the Vietnam War and the saga of Che Guevara (processes identified with the models proposed by the Russian revolutions) was often manifested by student, democratic, feminist movements, whose scope, however, was radically different. Likewise, the Black Panthers group, supporters of armed self-defense, did not hide their admiration for Martin Luther King, involved in another type of struggle – that of the peaceful conquest of civil and political rights. In solidarity there was not exactly identity of purpose, but sharing the same rejection of oppression and resentful exploitation as unacceptable by all. They were hot forces, due to changes, but under different coordinates and conceptions.



Still to make the picture more complex, as life and history are always complex, it would be important to consider the cold and hot forces, in addition to a binary and simplistic scheme. Two examples, among others: there were cold forces, at certain times, that proved capable of incorporating changes, at least in propagandistic terms (support from communist parties to national liberation movements or/and the Vietnam War); there were warm forces that allied themselves to the defense of the Order, in certain situations (French liberals in alliance with conservative right to contain the flow of French May-June movements).

Thus, the proposal of the dyad hot-cold forces should be taken as a reference to understand the historical processes as a whole and not to formulate schemes that, taken rigidly, would be incapable of understanding the rich and contradictory flow of events.[xxiv].

Considered in these multiple dimensions and proposals, it is clear that the 1960s, and especially the year 1968, despite the 50 years that have elapsed, still challenges contemporaries, demanding critical inventories, raising questions. It is necessary to study the strength of those who won.

The old-fashioned right wing, reactionary in the literal sense of the term, refuses to go away and still appears on the political scene with their atavistic resentments, trying to hold back and prevent what changes, what renews. It is enough to look at the Trump administration and its intimate enemies of the Islamic State to see the strength of those who still feel only nausea in relation to the phenomena of modernity. Unfortunately, they attract little academic research, which is regrettable, because they are forces that are still present and extremely dangerous.

Modern rights would also deserve more attention. They won the day in 1968 and showed a remarkable capacity for adaptation, including from the point of view of incorporating important aspects of the proposals of the new social movements and those committed to the revolution of customs and behavior. Clustered around neoliberal programs, partisans of globalization to outrance, disregarding the values ​​of equality and solidarity, its hegemony and dominance constitute, without a doubt, the main barrier to eventual proposals committed to the construction of a democratic world, free and informed by the values ​​of social justice and socialism.

The traditional lefts are also still present on the international scene, particularly through social democracy in Western and Central Europe, where they were most consolidated throughout the XNUMXth century. But they do nothing more than resist, which is no small feat in the current situation, although they are incapable of presenting future alternatives, which does not mean that they would always be insensitive to changes. The same can be said of the remnants of twentieth-century communist movements. They still govern states (China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea) and organize relatively strong parties in some places, but they feed more on the glories of the past than on the ability to formulate seductive proposals for the future.

There remain the other revolutionary proposals that came into force in 1968. In immediate terms, they were undoubtedly defeated, but not eliminated, on the contrary, they remained alive, resurfacing, like the old Mole Marx spoke of, whenever processes of questioning the Order are reconstituted. . They are not catastrophic, but their proposals for molecular and partial changes do not exclude ruptures, proposing new syntheses, revolutionary reformers.

It is enough to check the effective advances of the molecular revolution of women, the (re)valuation and undeniable conquests of ethnic-national movements, the progressive dissemination of the program favorable to freedoms in the behavioral plane, such as, for example, freedom of sexual choice, already enshrined and legally protected in many States. It is also possible to establish links of continuity between the movements of 1968 and those that led to the breakup of the Soviet Union, not to mention the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989, the anti-globalization marches that began in 1999, the autonomous movements of the native peoples of Andean America, the innovative guerrillas of Chiapas, the clashes in Oaxaca, Mexico, the proposals of certain segments within the revolutionary nationalist wave in Andean America and, not least, the democratic movements that have recently agitated the Arab world ( the Arab “spring”).

It is about considering these proposals. What they proposed and have proposed. What they did and have been doing. What was lost, what was gained. What's left behind, what remains. To what extent have they been recovered by conservative trends. Its weaknesses, visible in the fragmentation of its struggles. Its challenges, above all the need for articulation between the different particular movements. Its strong aspects, rooted in everyday interests, which do not want to be disregarded in the name of epic utopias that never come true, and which are, on the contrary, validated by the extent to which they were able to change societies. What syntheses still need to be reached to rescue, overcoming, experiences that were important, but that need to be re-elaborated to continue opening up perspectives for the future.

In this complex context, the commemorations of 1968, in the proper sense of the term – remembering together – do not need celebrations, but debates, evaluations and inventories on these issues, which preferably are controversial. If they serve this purpose, they will have prevented, as some daring people want, the erasure of memory. And they will have offered, in honor of the fights fought, a valid contribution, in line with what they deserve.

*Daniel Aaron Reis is a professor of Contemporary History at the Fluminense Federal University (UFF). Author, among other books, of The Revolution that Changed the World – Russia, 1917 (Literature Company).


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_____. The revolution that changed the world. Russia, 1917. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2017

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_____. Les men de la revolution. Paris, Omnibus, 2011

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[I] Cf. T. Blanchette and R. Barreto (2018); A. Kaspi (1988); P. Berman (1988); B. Burrough (2015)

[ii] Among blacks, the Black Panthers and radical Muslims stand out, although in most cases, they used armed force only for self-defense.Cf. T. Blanchette and R. Barreto, op. cit.. Among the students, the Weathermen fought directly against political power. Cf. RF de Sousa (2009)

[iii] The term is used only to facilitate communication, as it is known that it does not cover the ethnic-racial complexity of the sub-continent that comprises, in addition to native peoples and peoples of Latin descent, populations from Africa, non-Latin Europe and Asia.

[iv] For Mexico, cf. L. Gonçalves (2018), HG Cantera (2017) and E. Poniatowska (1971); for Brazil, cf. D. Aarão Reis (2008); for Argentina, cf. J. Brennan (1993) and JC Cena (2000)

[v] For the Cuban revolution, cf. R. Gott (2006) and D. Aarão Reis (2010). For the saga of Che and the Latin American guerrillas, cf. JL Anderson (1997), M. Lowy (1999), Benigno (1996) and F. Tavares (2017)

[vi] For Poland, cf. G. Mink (2008). For Czechoslovakia, cf. G. Bischoff (2009)

[vii] For the Chinese cultural revolution, cf. Hongsheng Jiang (2014) and R. MacFarquhar (1997).

[viii] For the Vietnam War, cf. JH Willbanks (2007); S. Karnow (1983) and MA Lawrence (2014).

[ix]Cf., among many others, M. Ridenti (2000 and 2018); Ph. Artières & M. Zancarini-Fournel (2015); P. Berman (1996); M. Margairaz and D. Tartakowsky (2010); A. Kaspi (1988); JF Sirinelli (2017) and P. Rotman (2008).

[X] The 1848 revolutions, in their own way, were also the forerunners of processes that were barely taking shape at the time – the formation of the urban proletariat; the exponential growth in the importance of cities; the national unification of Italy and Germany; the strengthening of nationalisms in Europe and throughout the world. Such processes, despite the short-term defeats of the revolutions, as occurred in the 1960s, would assert themselves, however, redefined, in the following decades. As a matter of curiosity, note that, from an astrological point of view, there is an interesting coincidence between the “star charts” of 1848 and 1968. Cf. Raquel A. Menezes: What the stars said, in D. Aarão Reis, op. cit., 2008, pp 235-239.

[xi] JF Sirinelli, op. cit., records events of worldwide impact – the assassination of J. Kennedy (November, 1963); the Vietnam War (1960s), the first major conflict that was heavily mediated; the death of Che Guevara (October, 1967) and, culminating the decade, the steps of the first man on the Moon, Neil Armstrong (July, 1969), whose inspired speech was addressed to all of humanity.

[xii] Cf. R. Koselleck, 2006 and F. Hartog, 2017. And H. Arendt, 2011. I owe these remarks to Natasha Piedras, 2018.

[xiii] See N. Bobbio (1996).

[xiv]The term traditional it is not used here with a negative or pejorative connotation, it only refers to the fact that they had the strength conferred by a recognized past of decades. had more tradition, and the fact can be the object of objective measurement.

[xv] The past or archaizing rights are still present in current political struggles. Religious outbreaks everywhere, anchored in ultraconservative religious conceptions, racist and anti-cosmopolitan movements, against cultural diversity and pluralism, people displaced and marginalized by the scientific-technological revolution, and often despised by forces that consider themselves “progressive” ”, the electorate looking for “saviors of the homeland” and leaders with a “strong hand”, are evidence in this sense.

[xvi] Strictly speaking, Fidel Castro himself and the 26th of July Revolutionary Movement subscribed, until the seizure of power in 1959, and even a little later, to the left-wing radicalism of Latin American nationalisms. Other nationalist sectors, in several countries, including Brazil, would take the same course. It is worth emphasizing the complexity of nationalist movements with their different wings and faces: right and left: archaic and modern.

[xvii]Martin Luther King, as early as 1967, would denounce the Vietnam War as draining the lives of young black people, killed there in a much higher proportion than the demographic weight they had in American society.

[xviii] For the Russian revolutions, cf. D. Aarão Reis (2017), M. Ferro (1967 and 2011) and M. Lewin (1985 and 2007).

[xx] Both meetings were held in Havana. Since 1957, an Organization of Solidarity of the Peoples of Asia and Africa had been founded in Cairo. With the radicalization of the Cuban revolution and the leadership of more radical sectors, Latin America was integrated, forming, with OSPAAAL, an outline of a revolutionary international.

[xx]The case of Cuba is emblematic. Civilian political leaders became “commanders”, militarizing the regime within the framework of the political dictatorship. In Algeria too, from the 1965 coup, Houari Boumediene, head of the Algerian army, would take over.

[xxx] In the 1980s, based on readings by A. Gramsci, Carlos Nelson Coutinho would propose a synthesis between the two terms in what he called revolutionary reformism, a formulation that was very close to the proposals we are considering. Cf. CN Coutinho, 1980.

[xxiii]See Accessed on October 8, 2018.

[xxiii] Cf. M. Margairaz and D. Tartakowski, op. cit., 2010.

[xxv] Among many political leaders at the time, two could be highlighted: R. Kennedy, in the USA; and Valéry Giscard d'Estaing in France.

[xxiv] The convenience of this observation was proposed in debate by Marcelo Ridenti.

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