[sixties-l] generations & periodization

From: Ted Morgan (epm2@lehigh.edu)
Date: Wed Jun 07 2000 - 20:13:38 CUT

  • Next message: William Mandel: "Re: [sixties-l] more .. generations"

    Hmmm, this is getting busy! Since it's so relevant to the writing I'm
    working on, I'll persist....

    Re. periodization:

    Michael Bibby is right, I think, to critique the white-middle-class bias
    (& male) of much 60s history, and thus of the 'declensionist' view. I,
    too am critical of this explanatory framework in that I argue the
    democratic awakening & movement of empowerment that began in the 50s
    didn't die out in the late 60s, it was very much in place in the women's
    movement and the other liberation movements Michael recalls --and, in
    this sense, I argue democratic awakenings of this type are always going
    to happen in a culture of capitalism that has a contradictory
    relationship with democracy (on the one hand "promising" liberation,
    universality, etc.; on the other undermining, subverting, and
    controlling the real force of democratization).

    But on the three phases I suggest, my focus is on the awakening of
    mobilization & activism, not on basic outlooks of different ages (or
    other subgroups). The latter always exist, thus the inner city
    populations Michael rightly refers to as not sharing the white middle
    class idealism, etc. of the early 60s isn't a refutation of my
    characterization of the mobilizing/activism going on in the early 60s.
    Michael, I think, acknowledges that this characterization is roughly
    accurate for the students and civil rights activism of the time. While
    the inner-city, poorer population clearly had & has a different 'take'
    on the system from this early-60s type, I would argue that it wasn't
    particularly --or in a distinctive way-- mobilized during the early 60s
    (though, yes, the NOI was active, Malcolm Little was becoming Malcolm X,
    etc.); it was more typically resigned & fatalistic and/or sporadically
    violent (gangs, "juvenile delinquency," etc.). BUT, in the middle 1960s
    something was happening: the insurrections/riots began to occur,
    Malcolm's speaking was having an impact, SDS' ERAP & Alinsky's Woodlawn
    project, etc. was going on, inner-city black populations were becoming
    more politicized thanks to the CRM, the War on Poverty was announced
    with massive fanfare, CAP was agitating in a number of inner cities,
    etc. So, during this 'phase,' a different quality of
    mobilization/activism was beginning to emerge in a more signficant way;
    I would characterize this mobilization (which, as I said earlier, is
    also occurring elsewhere --antiwar...) as more radical, i.e., more
    system-opposed or system-critical (rather than hopeful that the system
    will respond & accommodate). This is why I argue a sea-change begins to
    occur in the mid-60s (especially 64-65). Now, sure, there was radical
    criticism and there were radicals in earlier movements, but I don't
    think these were what distinguished the early-60s (or 50s, for that
    matter), red-diaper babies aside --i.e., that 'coloration' of movement
    hadn't taken off at these earlier points. [I'm not saying the r-d babies
    weren't significant; they were hugely significant in influencing many
    others, like myself, during what might be called formative years.]
    And, as for the late-60s, though I don't see them through
    'declensionist' lenses, I do think some things were happening that
    helped (unwittingly) to speed the retrenchment of elites in power,
    capitalist ideology, etc. And I think these things tended to revolve
    around either (a) an "expressive" withdrawal from instrumental politics
    (e.g, dropping out, seeking isolated "identity-construction," etc.) or
    (b) an extreme, self-styled "revolutionary" instrumental politics (that,
    in effect, dropped the 'pre-figurative' side of 60s democratic
    politics). I DO see the war --and the system's intransigence-- as
    particularly crucial in shaping this late-60s behavior; i.e., the
    violence that permeated the culture had alot to do with the sharp
    alienation of the latter counterculture; and the drive to end to the war
    no matter what it took (e.g., by creating so much social chaos, they'd
    have to get out) over-rode any broader movement-building objectives."
    So these events & conditions had a lot to do with what happened in the
    late 60s. Still (a) this is what captured most media attention & thus is
    the media culture's "Sixties" that have been attacked & stigmatized ever
    since; in reality, alot of personal liberation and important identity
    reconstruction was going on (and, of course, the ecology movement was
    taking off by the early 70s); these carried the democratic awakening
    onward. And (b) the media coverage of the movement(s) played an
    important role in all this. The media were closed off to radical
    content. Anyone who wished to tell the American public, for example,
    that the war in Vietnam was an immoral war of aggression created by
    American foreign policy could not get this message through the media to
    the larger public (person-to-person communication, however, helped do
    this, along with independent media, stories that came back from Vietnam,
    occasional photographs, books like Chomsky's American Power & the New
    Mandarins & the revisionist cold war historians, etc.). What did get
    through were the "newsworthy" manifestations of 'something happening
    here' --which as Todd Gitlin has documented tended to be things like VC
    flags, burning American flags, dramatic and/or violent outbursts, etc.
    (helped, too, by agents provocateurs). I argue (cf. RHR reference,
    below), that this movement-media dynamic had the effect of (a) creating
    an illusory sense of empowerment in the broadened movement, while
    simultaneously (b) alienating the broader culture from the movement
    (even thought the broader culture was simultaneously becoming
    increasingly alienated from the war).

    Re. generations. Thanks to Robert for his critique. I agree that the
    intra-generational shifts he refers to are more than 'metaphors.' I
    think they reflect variations (over time) in the socializing impact of
    conditions & events --as I've argued before, and as others have
    suggested with a wider 'generational' sweep than I think applies. In
    fact, Robert''s account provides good insight into the ways that
    intra-movement dynamics were among the conditions & events that
    socialized people. I just think that they were less important across
    the board than the macro-events & conditions like the escalation of the
    war, the inner-city explosions, and the skewed media coverage. The
    third media trait --cooptive consumerism-- really takes off in
    mid-to-late decade, which I think also helps to explain some
    My criticism of 'generational difference' applies more to the tendency
    to generalize across different groups and experiences to a

    Yes, Marty, I've been going on too long. I'm beginning to feel I'm
    getting more writing done here than on my book, so I will sign off for a
    while. Still, this stuff is highly pertinent to my present project, so
    it does suck me in. Someone (Robert?) raised the question about
    antiwar-WTO protest parallels. I have an article coming out in fall
    Radical History Review on "From Virtual Community to Virtual History:
    Mass Media and the American Antiwar Movement of the 1960s" that visits
    several of these issues and raises the question about 'lessons' for the
    anti-globalization movement (which I very much think is where the
    continuing struggle for democracy & empowerment is focused). Perhaps
    some folks might be interested in it. I think RHR will have it on its
    web site:
    Also, perhaps some of you would have some interest in reading some of
    the stuff I'm currently writing & giving me feedback.... I would be
    interested in that, so let me know off the list at epm2@lehigh.edu.

    Signing off!

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