Editorial Statement: Introducing Insurgent Notes on Marx in 1968

This is the year of red anniversaries: the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, the 100th anniversary of the German Revolution, and finally the 50th anniversary of the worldwide upsurge of 1968. For this issue, Insurgent Notes has asked a dozen comrades from Europe and the United States who “lived” “1968” as conscious political activists the question: How present or absent was the thought of Karl
Marx in that year (see our invitation)?

We hardly mean, at the current dangerous juncture, to fall into a purely “backward looking” stance, and we have hardly forgotten the need to make the revolution. But history and memory are part of the revolutionary movement, perhaps never so much as today with the current hype about the new phase of “digital capitalism,” a worthy ideological successor to the now-forgotten “new economy” of the 1990s, and undoubtedly condemned to a similar “sell-by” date. As one black comrade put it long ago “The revolution will not be televised,” and it will not be online either.

There are many theories of “why 1968?” and we will let our contributors speak for themselves. Most prominently and immediately was the murderous American war in Vietnam; intimately related, the continued dramatic impact of civil rights struggles as well as the radicalization of the black movement in the United States. There was the radicalization of the student movement under the impact of all the preceding, and a sexual revolution in full swing, setting the stage for the emergence of radical feminism by 1969. Aside from these phenomena, obvious to all at the time, there was the end of the post–World War II capitalist boom, of which few of us were then aware, or made central to our interventions. There was the rising, less generally noticed wave of wildcat strikes in us industry, which would continue until the 1973–75 “oil crisis” and the deepest recession, to date, since the war. All of these events came together in a visceral sense that there was no going back to (in Yeats’s phrase) the “file clerk sense of reality.”

Never since he wrote them in the glow of the French Revolution did Wordsworth’s words ring truer: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven!”

For us and all our contributors, there was an irreversible aspect to “1968” and the years that followed; nothing could ever be as it was before, neither socially nor in individual life choices. Something had “gotten out of the bottle” that could never be put back in, and never was. Our apocalyptic sense of the near future may have been overwrought, but everyone we asked to contribute “stayed the course” in their respective ways. Our two Italian comrades have provided accounts of the “long 1968” in that country, lasting a full decade, significantly longer than in most other places. Another Italian comrade once remarked on those years: “It may have been a festival, but what a festival!”

Some of us have seen the footage of the return to work at the Wonder factory in Paris in June 1968, where a young woman is telling some gathered union bureaucrats that, unlike most of her fellow workers, she could never go back to that “shithole,” and in fact she disappeared shortly thereafter, never to be seen again.

We at Insurgent Notes offer this issue both to our “’68” age cohort and, more importantly, to younger comrades, hoping we can convey some of the electricity of 1968 and what followed, in that (in the words of clr James) “turning point of history where history did not turn.”

We should note that none of the contributors, other than the editors, have seen each other’s submissions. We’d like to hear their reactions to what their fellow contributors have written and urge them to submit comments or new articles. Similarly, we are confident that we have only scratched the surface and that there are many others whose experiences and perspectives on the events of 1968 (especially from outside Europe and the United States) would enrich the discussion, so we invite others to contribute articles and comments as well. And finally, we are quite aware that nostalgia for 1968 can preclude serious discussions about the ultimate significance of the events and ideas of that moment for revolutionary politics today so we also want to invite younger activists and thinkers to weigh in with articles and comments. In either the case of those active in ’68 or those who have become active since, we’d also be especially interested in anarchist perspectives on the issues involved. We’d be delighted if we could turn this initial symposium into a sustained conversation about what revolutionary politics should look like—in tumultuous times and beyond.


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