The 'Radical 60s' Versus Today: Why the Change?

by John Spritzler

October 28, 2018

The "Radical 60s" (actually the late 60s and early 70s) in the United States and France was a period of massive rebellion against the ruling elites in the government and inside corporate boardrooms. Many people, myself included, wish today were more like those days, and wonder why they're not. Some think there won't be a similar rebelliousness until things get much worse for ordinary people than they are today. One cannot help but be demoralized, however, if one thinks that the only thing that can prompt the rebelliousness one rightly desires is for things to get much worse for most people.

In the interests of avoiding needless demoralization I offer the following thoughts.

1. The "radical 60s" referred to above occurred during a time when ordinary people were MUCH BETTER off than they had been before. Economic inequality was at an all time low compared to the past and the future (see here and here and here). Workers felt free to thumb their noses at management and even their own sell-out union leaders (such as at Lordstown where GM workers in 1972 famously went on a wildcat strike and ignored the authoritarian ethos that their fathers may have honored, as you can read about a here, and postal workers went on a NATIONAL wildcat strike in 1970 that you can read about at here. )

In contrast to today when black people are suffering mass prison incarceration from the racist War on Drugs and its New Jim Crow and Clinton has abolished "welfare as we know it" and hence blacks are on the defensive just trying to avoid being killed by cops or sent to prison, back in the days of the "radical 60s" welfare moms were on the OFFENSIVE demanding that welfare raise all people on welfare above the poverty line and the Civil Rights Movement was demanding the total abolition of Jim Crow--the chief pillar of the ruling class's divide-and-rule strategy at the time.

In contrast to today when college students face unprecedented debt slavery and feel lucky just to get a job as an UNPAID intern, college students in the "radical 60s" had only very modest student loan debts and no fear of unemployment whatsoever: corporations were recruiting on campus and the joke was that you got hired if you passed the "mirror test" (you passed if a mirror placed under your nose clouded up and showed you were alive.) And these were good entry level jobs with decent pay and full benefits and a life-time career unless you raped the CEOs daughter. This was when college students rose up on campuses against the War in Vietnam. The students at Kent State were economically much better off than their parents and were expecting much better lives than their parents. Many were the first in their family to ever attend college.

In 1968 there was almost a revolution in France (the Great General Strike); conditions for ordinary people in France in 1968 were much better and the standard of living was much higher than it had been in the previous destructive decades of WWII and the years following it. France had just recently recovered from the WWII destruction.

2. The point is that the upheavals of the "radical 60s" were NOT caused by "things getting much worse." On the contrary, the "radical 60s" were caused by things getting so good that people no longer felt too personally insecure to think about trying to change the world and make it better, more equal and democratic and without warmongering. The ruling class (David Rockefeller's Trilateral Commission) hired three intellectuals--an American, a Frenchman and a Japanese person--to write a book advising it on what to do about the frightening (to them) upheavals against all authority, both governmental and corporate. The book (online here, and quite revealing about how the ruling elite and their chief advisors think!) was titled The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission, written in 1975, and it was the basis of discussion by the Trilateral Commission at their meeting in Kyoto. The book said the problem was that there was "too much democracy" and that this had led to "rising expectations" that were giving people the confidence to rise up against the authorities. Here is how one author put it in a section of their book titled "The Impact of Economic Growth":

"The impact of economic growth can be better understood in view of these basic strains. It ws believed in the fifties and eary sixties that the achievement of economic growth was the great problem for European nations. If only their GNP could grow for long enough, most of their troubles as divided and nonconsensual polities would gradually disappear. this fact was so overwhelmingly accepted that for a long time the official line of the communist parties was to deny the reality of the material progress of the working class and to argue that capitalist development had brought not only a relative but also an absolute decline of workers' income. However, certain facts had to be finally faced: namely, the tremendous economic gains made during the past twenty years by all groups and especially the workers. But the consequences of this were to be the opposite of what had been expected. instead of appeasing tensions, material progress seems to have exacerbated them.

"Three main factors seem necessary to account for the paradox. First, as it happens everywhere, change produces rising expectations which cannot be met by its necessarily limited outcomes. Once people know that things can change, they cannot accept easily anymore the basic features of their condition that were once taken for granted. Europe has been especially vulnerable since its unprecedented economic boom had succeeded a long period of stagnation with pent-up feelings of frustration."

The book said that what was needed was to lower people's expectations in life. As one of the authors concluded:

"Al Smith once remarked that 'the only cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.' Our analysis suggests that applying that cure at the present time could well be adding fuel to the flames. Instead, some of the problems of governance in the United States stem from an excess of democracy... Needed, instead, is a greater degree of moderation of democracy."

This "moderation of democracy," a.k.a. lowering of expectations, is the aim of all the major new policies that the ruling class began implementing in the early 1970s: such as union busting, shipping the better-paying jobs overseas, making health care harder to get with HMOs vetoing it when you most needed it, using child-abusive standardized "high stakes" tests to make working class children think they weren't smart enough or didn't study hard enough to deserve a good job or maybe even any job at all.*

3. "Rising expectations" is another way of saying "hopefulness" about being able to make a better world despite the contrary aims of Big Money. There was much more hopefulness back in the 1960s than today. Big Money has been working very hard to make people feel hopeless. One way is by using the mass media to make people think that hardly anybody else wants an egalitarian revolution. Plus it makes people as economically and emotionally insecure as possible in many various ways. (Mass shootings, terror, catastrophic global warming, etc.)

4. The problem is not apathy (which means not caring); the problem is hopelessness (which means caring but thinking there's nothing one can do.)

5. If it were true that what makes people rise up is things being worse than ever, then there would be no way to explain the fact that, with only a few exceptions such as the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Revolt against the Nazis, Jews did not rise up against Nazi soldiers even when they were being ordered to stand at the edge of a ditch with dead Jewish bodies in it so the Nazis could shoot them and have their dead bodies conveniently near the ditch. Things don't ever get worse than that!! The Jews had absolutely nothing to lose in attacking the Nazis even with their bare hands. But this didn't happen. Why not? Total hopelessness is why not. How often does a person being led to his/her execution fight back against the guards? Hardly ever. Again, it's because of hopelessness.

6. Instead of waiting for "things to get much worse" let's start figuring out how to help people go from feeling hopeless to feeling hopeful. One way is by buttoning, to discover that one is NOT alone in wanting an egalitarian society and making a revolution to create it..


* In my article about market-driven health care written in 2000 I described it this way:

How profoundly the 1960's affected the thinking of elite leadership can be seen in the writing of Samuel P. Huntington, Professor of Government and Director of the Center For International Affairs at Harvard University, and co-author of The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission written in 1975. [8] Huntington's Report noted that, "The essence of the democratic surge of the 1960s was a general challenge to existing systems of authority, public and private,"[9] marked by a "sharp increase in political consciousness, political participation, and commitment to egalitarian and democratic values." [10] What especially frightened the elite was the fact that, as Huntington wrote, "In recent years, the operations of the democratic process do indeed appear to have generated a breakdown of traditional means of social control, a de-legitimation of political and other forms of authority... The late sixties have been a major turning point."[11] The Report concluded: "Al Smith once remarked that 'the only cure for the evils of democracy is more democracy.' Our analysis suggests that applying that cure at the present time could well be adding fuel to the flames. Instead, some of the problems of governance in the United States stem from an excess of democracy... Needed, instead, is a greater degree of moderation of democracy." [12]

Corporate leaders abandoned the old method of social control embodied in the New Deal and the Great Society and began relying instead on a fundamentally different, "get tough," strategy designed to strengthen corporate power over people by making them less secure. This new strategy motivates corporate leaders' new enthusiasm for the "discipline" of the free market, which they use to justify not only market-driven health care but downsizing and attacks on the social safety net.

Market-driven health care is part of a pattern of government and corporate policy initiatives over the last several decades which have one thing in common: they strengthen corporate power over people by lowering people's expectations in life, and by reducing their economic, social, and emotional security. These policies include corporate downsizing and the "temping" of jobs; the elimination of the "family wage," so that now both parents have to work full-time and have less time with their children; drastic cuts in the social safety net of welfare and related assistance; the introduction of pension plans based on individualized investments that leave each older person to his or her own fate; and the use of high stakes tests in public elementary and secondary schools to subject children to the same stress and insecurity that their parents face on the job. In the workplace, employers have adopted anti-worker tactics that had not been used since the early 1930s, most notably firing striking workers and hiring permanent replacements, as President Reagan did during the air traffic controllers' strike. All these policies put people on the defensive and pressure them to worry more about personal survival than working together for social change.

8. Crozier, Michael J., Huntington, Samuel P., Watanuki, Joji, "The Crisis of Democracy: Report on the Governability of Democracies to the Trilateral Commission," New York University Press, New York, 1975, p 36

9. Crozier, p 74

10. Crozier, p 106

11. Crozier, p 8

12. Crozier, p 113







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