It is fitting that 2018 opened up with the outbreak of revolts and upheavals in both Iran and Tunisia, with young people to the fore in both. This year marks half a century since the revolutionary year that was 1968.
This was a year that saw young people and workers challenge oppressive capitalist and Stalinist regimes across the planet. In countries as diverse as Pakistan, France and Czechoslovakia revolution burst out against the dictatorial elites that ruled these societies.
Opposition to war & racism
An entire generation was beginning to question and reject the old order, and in turn begin to draw revolutionary socialist conclusions about the world we live in. A sharp angle that radicalised many, particularly young people, was the ongoing horrors of US imperialism’s war in Vietnam and the heroic resistance by Vietnamese peasants and workers to its colonial presence. Throughout 1968 mass protests against the war engulfed cities throughout the world.
Added to this was the inspiring struggle for black liberation in the United States itself. The deepening radicalisation of this movement was starkly visible at that year’s Olympics Games in Mexico City, when athletes Tommy Smith and John Carlos gave the “Black Power” salute at the medal awards ceremony while the “Star Spangled Banner” was playing. That protest was supported by Australian sprinter Peter Norman who stood on the podium with Smith and Carlos.
In May 1968, a revolutionary general strike of ten million workers shook French capitalism to its core, as the oppressive regime of Charles De Gaulle teetered on the brink of collapse. A real possibility for the working class to take power and carry through a socialist revolution existed only to be betrayed by the (mis)leadership of the Communist Party.
In Northern Ireland the civil rights movement emerged, spearheaded by young people and influenced by socialist ideas. It not only demanded an end to the systematic discrimination faced by Catholics but crucially, had class demands for housing and jobs for all. This approach meant that the movement was able to gain a sympathetic ear and support of young Protestants.
Capitalism today is once again preparing the basis for dramatic upheavals and revolts to take place. While the events of 1968 took place against the backdrop of a general boom in world capitalism, in the last ten years we have seen capitalist crisis and an intensification of the growing transfer of wealth from working class people to the super-rich. There are now unprecedented levels of wealth inequality in existence.
Like in 1968 there is a growing aspiration for change in terms of living standards and fulfilment of peoples’ rights which capitalism cannot deliver. To deliver this change we need something that was absent 50 years ago, a movement of working-class and young people that is willing to decisively challenge capitalism and organise for socialist change.
By Cillian Gillespie