- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Tuesday, 18 August 2009 08:55
- Written by Mike Ely
We posted a few songs from Woodstock, in honor of the 40th anniversary. And it provoked a series of thoughts -- especially some provocative comments kicked off by Stan. Here is one theme from that commentary.
Mao used to say, "Reversing correct verdicts goes against the will of the people"...Let me mention some things that we could appreciate about the 60s experience:
- Revolutionary rumblings didn't take the form of "class against class" in the U.S. -- and never will.
- There were incredibly unexpected features to the upsurge -- culturally and politically.There was contagion and lots of unique particularity. This was something real, not on paper -- and it crackled with novelty and shock.
- Conscious Marxists (often influenced by an older 40s generation) were often unable to even deal with the real features of the upsurge (including such phenomena as the drug culture or the emergence of gay liberation or where the shifting epicenters of revolt were situated).
- Sexuality, music and "culture" generally had a much bigger role in the development of challenges to the system than many "politicos" anticipated or appreciated.
- The preparatory role of subcultures (like beatniks or the world of the southern Blues), and then the eruption of a generational "youth culture" was crucial (and help break through the hegemony of ideas in a forceful way that has never been completely reversed.
- The connection between Black liberation and everything else of value was very close... a call and response of defiance and alienation conjured up from the very bottom of U.S. society.
- The international interconnections were fluid and complex -- not simply a matter of "solidarity of xxx to yyy" -- but a real criss-crossing and morphing of ideas and forms.
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Miles Ahead writes:
Here’s something I don’t get.
“Yes. Yes. This is true. But it seems to me like a collective recitation of corporate media hype.”
If something like “strident collective mentalities” is true, why do we have to be so wary and look at it like it’s corporate media hype? Why do we have to gauge our own culture and standards by what they’re putting out? Can we not embrace some things as our very own, popularize them, etc.? Also, seems to me, if there wasn’t some truth to the strident collective mentality, etc., the corporate media wouldn’t bother with it at all.
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Stan W. Rogouski writes;
It’s not easy to express this clearly because it’s about fairly recent history but what seems to be going on is a point/counterpoint.
1.) Leftist recites highly romanticized collective recitation of corporate media hype about the 1960s.
2.) Conservative comes back with the Nixonian/Reaganite counternarrative.
They seem to feed on each other to form one collective history.
It seems to me that when you read a good history on the times (like, once again, Perlstein’s Nixonland) you realize just how far to the right the country was in the 1960s. Can anybody imagine a right wing mob that’s not the police ullying anti-war protesters on the streets of NYC today? I can’t. The unions/working class aren’t quite so white, Catholic and conservative anymore.
But what people remember is the gap between the country’s conservatism and the promises for the fulfillment of some sort of collectivist hedonism held out by the corporate counterculture industry.
Woodstock/Hippies for me have always been part of the mainstream. My family is full of right wing racist, Greatful Dead fans who smoke pot.
But what’s the political legacy of the 1960s? The civil rights movement seems the only obvious victory to me. And that’s because the ruling class wanted to get rid of segregation anyway. The anti-war movement? America is as militaristic as it was under Eisenhower and Kennedy.
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Bill Martin writes:
Two things that Stan’s interventions thematize for me, and that could stand further analysis:
1) In Badiou’s philosophy, an event is not only a rare and fragile thing, it is also always possible in retrospect to say that the event didn’t really happen. In a way, Stan’s argument is that this is the case with the 60s, or with some moments in the sixties that seemed to represent a bursting forth of something new. This isn’t a matter of the sixties being a mixed bag, with reactionary elements also in the mix. Stan’s comments remind me a bit of Alisdair McIntyre’s critique of Herbert Marcuse, where the former referred to the “parent-financed student rebellion.” One issue I have with Badiou’s arguments about events is that, on the one hand, he wants to get beyond a hermeneutic approach (theory of understanding and interpretation, where meaning and language are central topics), but, on the other hand, the “happening of an event” (Did the event actually occur? What actually happened?) is tied up with naming the event, forming a fidelity to the event, and developing a “truth procedure.” This would seem to lead to a messy discussion on, for example, what really is the “spirit of Woodstock” toward which I might align myself. I think one good thing in Badiou’s philosophy, which is helpful in the present context, and which is especially developed in the St. Paul book, is that this discussion cannot simply hinge on the empiricism of “I was there, I saw it with my own eyes.”
2) Relatedly, we might think more on the question of the sixties counterculture, but not so much on whether that was a “real thing” (that’s what I’m pointing to in the previous paragraph), rather more on the question of whether a counterculture is even possible today. I do think Stan is reading the assimilation/recuperation of countercultural elements in the aftermath of the sixties back into the sixties itself, even if this is also complicated by the fact that rock music, which was central to so much of this culture, was always rooted in what Theodor Adorno called the “culture industry”–and so what seemed to happen for a time in the middle and late sixties and their aftermath is that some musicians at least burst through this atmosphere where every creative expression was already caught up in commodification (or, at least, there was a window of opportunity, when the system was vulnerable, and some creative things were done; I get into these questions in some detail in my books on creative rock music). But however we understand that period, as essentially creative or as a kind of “staged rebellion” that didn’t really challenge the restraints of commodity logic, there is no doubt that the end of the 70s, and then the period of Reagan and Thatcher, saw the development of what might be called the anti-60s, both with the carrot and the stick, so to speak. In many ways, the carrot side was more effective (the stick side led to punk and hip-hop): to simplify, you just go buy your rebellion kit at the Gap. This is one of the central elements of postmodern capitalism, to undercut the possibility of a counter-culture. “We’re Miracle Whip, and we won’t tone it down!”
But I don’t want to come off as just another crank who thinks everything is crap from the start, or that we’ll never see anything good like the 60s again. However, taking Badiou’s definition of politics as a moment when thought comes to the fore, and again rare and fragile, I do think we need a cultural analysis that does more to ask what the conditions for the possibility for such a moment are–or, perhaps more to the point of what I’m trying to say, what are the conditions we are up against, where there is a concerted effort to make politics and a counter-culture not possible?
Just one extra little point. I don’t see where the fact that Joe Cocker went on to record some music for a reactionary movie cancels the power of his interpretation of “A little help from my friends.” Does the fact that the band Chicago has made really schlocky music since the mid-to-late 70s cancel the fact that they initially made three really good albums, with songs such as “It better end soon,” and manifestos dedicating their lives and music to “the people of the revolution”? I think that approach (of the later work cancelling the earlier work) gives us a bad frame of analysis, not only because it is integral to fidelity and a truth procedure that some people may fall away from it, but also because there may come a point when the event that gave rise to the fidelity and procedure is played out, and it is time to move on. Our difficulty now is figuring out what that means–of necessity it will be an experimental sort of thing, though it seems to me that this activity will have as a seconary-but-necessary aspect a contentious discussion over the events of previous “sequences” (as Badiou calls them).
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Mike Ely writes:
Mao used to say, "Reversing correct verdicts goes against the will of the people." And of course there are many verdicts of the 60s under constant assault that are worth defending and upholding. Basically, "it is right to rebel" -- of course. But more. there was a celebration of change, and of optimism, and of togetherness. An opening of minds, a culture of experimenation. And all of that, (all of it!) took place in sharp conflict -- going up against hateful and reactionary norms, verdicts, and powerful enforcers.
All that's what came to my mind when Bill wrotes: the farthest we have come toward a revolutionary moment. And it is worth understanding, and celebrating.