Are There Any Heirs to the Student Movement of 1968?
The "lords and ladies of rebellion" are now going into retirement, the anniversary retrospect this time is more historicised and more anecdotal than that of the 30th anniversary. And what about the young ones – the students of today? Are there any heirs to the 68 student movement and do they still relate to the APO (extra-parliamentary opposition)? At first glance the majority of German students seem anything but revolutionary. The new Bachelor degree courses at German universities – geared so much more to the labour market - do not exactly leave them much scope for new departures or awakenings, most of the time it is a real hard slog.
A much divided protest sceneAs divided and splintered as it may seem, there is a young political protest scene that was very much in evidence at the G8 summit at Heiligendamm: there are "anti-Germans" taking sides with Israel by criticising left-wing anti-Semitism, traditional anti-imperialist leftists with the Junge Welt (a Marxist newspaper) tucked in their pockets and an Arafat scarf round their necks as proof of their dissidence. Anti-fascist groups fight against the neo-nazi scene, the youth environmental movement fight to save the climate, critics of genetic engineering fight to save the fields, anti-globalisation activists organise courses to learn how to make life-size dummies of politicians for the next demonstration and, last but not least, there is a whole army of non-conformist circus clowns that never ever miss a march.
The anti-globalisation movement, Attac, did in fact attempt to unite all these factions under one roof, in order to give them more clout. This network, although only partially student-based, can be compared with the 68 movement in one way at least – the "Attacers" also managed to force society to start thinking about an issue that had long been overlooked and misunderstood – in their case, globalisation. Does the APO still mean anything to them at all? Or is it anachronistic even to ask the question?
Provocation as a completely normal form of PRAttac pioneer, 30-year-old Felix Kolb, is of the opinion that the 68 movement now lies buried deep in the dungeons of history. By the time the social scientist was old enough to become politically active, "the big anti-atomic-power demos in Brokdorf had unfortunately already become a thing of the past." He is very sober and unideological in his approach to it all – for him the 68 rebellion did not stand for the beginning of a decline, but for a rearing up against, what was then, a deeply authoritarian petty-bourgeois society and for the cultural freedom that had been hard earned. "We are still feeling the benefits of this today," says Kolb. Even younger ones went into real raptures about the rebels of 68, says Berlin specialist in movement research, Dieter Rucht, "They see their imaginativeness, cheek, enthusiasm and optimism as a source of inspiration.
This is no doubt probably due to some kind of projected envy for the provocations of yesteryear have become normal public relations today. Today’s rebels are very focussed and professional in their approach – this on the other hand is apparently seen as positive by a small, self-critical group of grey-haired 68 rebels. In the meantime Felix Kolb has started working for the Bewegungsstiftung – a foundation that tries to recruit aid from the large number of heirs for the financing of critical, political campaigns, ranging from the Lobby-Control campaign and the battle against the German labour market reform, Hartz IV, to protesting against the privatisation of German railways. There is also a disproportionate number of former or "oldie" leftists who are quick to nationalise part of their assets in this private way. Other young activists are getting involved in the ever growing number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which by definition promote social change beyond the boundaries of government and parliament. Are they then the real heirs of the APO?
"One can achieve revolutionary aims using quite normal, democratic means," says Hamburg NGO activist, Schurig. The one thing today that is still comparable with the 68 movement is the feeling that something has got to change urgently, in particular with respect to the ecological crisis. "Today however we are much further along the road. The students of 68 were the first of many to throw themselves into the breach and show that structures which seemed to be set in concrete can be broken down. The NGOs can move majorities." And this is being done with new, effective instruments – today anybody can research any issue they want on the Internet and in a matter of seconds they are able to mobilise media and comrades-in-arms in the fight against the building of a dam, cuts in social services or new funding of nuclear research.
Losing their biteYet similar to the once hotly debated "March through the Institutions" the attempt to change the system using conformist means seems at times to be bringing about a kind of adaptation. "All within the framework of a constitution based on the principles of democracy and liberty" as singer, Franz Josef Degenhardt, used to mock in the days of the revolution. It was when the red-green coalition was in power that there was an increase in particular in the number of NGOs whose work was financed by public funds and this was when they actually started to lose their bite. Criticising society as one of the jobs you have had is a plus on every curriculum vitae these days and this has led to the first protests being raised against the protesters of today.
Even the more radical, little groups meanwhile seem to have difficulty finding long-term perspectives and utopias that could possibly rekindle a broader movement. At university faculties these days there is too much talking shop and a strong school-like approach and there is a definite lack of trailblazing theories and theorists who are able to put a more contemporary "criticism of the system" into plain language. Felix Kolb almost sounds as if he is yearning when he says, "The rebels of 68 really thought that huge upheavals were possible."
is an editor at the Berlin office of the Zeit newspaper and a writer. Her last book was in collaboration with Harald Schumann: Der globale Countdown. Gerechtigkeit oder Selbstzerstörung - Die Zukunft der Globalisierung, (The global Countdown. Justice or Self-Destruction – The Future of Globalisation , Cologne, Kiepenheure&Witsch, April 2008
Translation: Paul Mc Carthy
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e.V. , Online-Redaktion
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