1968: Student Revolt and the Making of a Course-Critic
Abstract: A 1971 autobiographical essay on the origins and character of the 1960s student movement in the United Kingdom, especially as it related to the criticism of what was then being taught across a range of University disciplines.
Introduction to the 2004 Website version
In 1970, Penguin Books commissioned me to edit a collection of essays critical of what was being taught in British universities. The outcome was Counter Course. A Handbook for Course Criticism, published as a Penguin Education Special in 1972. By way of providing context and introduction for that book, I wrote the autobiographical essay reproduced below. It describes my own development from school boy enthusiast for Britain's 1964 Labour Government into 1968 student radical. But some "Hard Left" contributors to Counter Course did not like the essay, and in its place a collective, unsigned and - if I may say so - fairly awful Introduction eventually appeared. As of 2004, a number of books and essays on the 1960s student movement have appeared, but some of them are quite poorly referenced. This is in part due to the inaccessibility of much of the ephemeral literature of the period, though some collections do exist: for example, boxes of what I had accumulated went to Oxford's Bodleian Library in the 1970s and can be found there catalogued under my name.
The following essay contains quite extensive references to the literature of the period. It has not been significantly edited for this website version. Some passages have been restored which were cut from a published version which appeared in Hard Cheese (A Journal of Education!), number 2, May 1973, pages 45 - 59. A little explanatory phrasing has been added to make clearer things that the passage of time has made unfamiliar.
In October 1964 Britain's first Labour Government since 1951 came to power. At my boys' grammar school, despite the Headmaster's prohibition, we had organised a clandestine General Election. It is difficult now to convey the extraordinarily fervent hopes so many of us had of the Labour Party at that time; checking through old letters and documents in the course of writing this essay, it was simply embarrassing to come across declarations of such hopes.
For my 'gap' year between school and university, I went to London to work in 'the world's greatest bookshop' and then into the Youth Employment Service. In Christina Foyle's bookshop, I thought I had met the last survival of Dickensian capitalism. A secret branch of the trades Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers was formed at that time and in my department I became the clandestine dues-collector. Shortly after I left the shop, in search of higher wages, a strike was called. It dragged on for many weeks, the National Union officials appearing timid and bungling to the friends I joined on the picket line.
In the Youth Employment Service, I saw how the ending of compulsory miseducation, at the age of 15, throws into the labour market young people quite unequipped to understand their social world and failed by the examination system to ill-paid mortifying and dead-end jobs. Such work experiences as these transformed the hopes of social change, which I had from school, into a conviction of its necessity.
By the time I went to university in October 1965, those of us who knocked on doors for Harold Wilson in 1964 already had grounds for considerable discontent with his Government's policies. Above all, there were the new immigration controls and support for America's war in Vietnam: America had begun to bomb the North in 1964. Soon the handling of Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence added a new, major issue. The Problem of the Balance of Payments did not yet lie like a nightmare on every reformer's brain; but it soon would. These developments and the milieu of university politics served to shift my interest away from strictly domestic questions – work and welfare matters – and towards more global issues. This involved losses as well as gains.
My course, in contrast, tried to shift my interest away from the world altogether. This was pure loss. The Principles of Economics , the supply and demand curves into which I was now initiated, lacked all reality. But I accepted the content of my course as given. What I did not accept was its organisation; my school had done better. First year lectures on the sacred Principles possessed an aesthetic unity of content and form; the content was bloodless and the form lifeless. It was impossible to tune in to them, let alone turn on. Most of us dropped out.
Meetings with tutors bored or intimidated us. One of my teachers had written a few years earlier: "The tutor – pupil relationship is consequently an intangible combination of mentor and friend". A fellow student recorded in his diary impressions of our first encounters with the same man:
His tutorials, or seminars, have been deliberately frightening. He has talked over our heads, laughed at our mistakes and used abbreviations we didn't know. Two have changed courses, and the remaining five of us have slaved at huge essays . . . The only time I went to see him, in despair, he said I was being rebellious.
At least we received small group teaching, though this became less regular in one subject as the economic crisis deepened and the demands on the tutor's time of the Department of Economic Affairs increased. So much for the "pupil's close contact with minds engaged in fundamental research", of which he had written earlier. It wasn't just the close contact that was missing, but the fundamental research as well. Work for the D.E.A. had nothing to do with the 'disinterested pursuit of truth'; nor did it allow one easily to believe in the University as an 'ivory tower', which one might otherwise have done since the University was Oxford, and therefore not openly committed (like Warwick [ see Endnote 1] or Lancaster) to serving the State and private enterprise. ( Indeed, in 1967 I was told by the University Proctors [ a disciplinary force] that the University was Committed to Serving the Queen, and that it was for this reason that they were Forbidding the University Labour Club [ of which I was Chairman] to organise Support for a London anti-Vietnam War March of Shame, where Her Majesty was going to be Impersonated. [See Endnote 2])
The course wasn't rigorously vocational; equally, lectures and tutorials made it quite plain that there was not to be even the pretence of a liberal education: one which takes into account the present stage of mental development and interests of each student. By this definition most students in most institutions and at all times fail to receive a liberal education. The tutorial system was meant to give "scope for educational experiment (the tutor can adapt his methods to individual pupils)". It might do so, were it not for the rigid structure of three hour examination papers which cramps the style of the most enlightened tutor to a dull weekly routine. Of course, I can't know how many enlightened tutors are forced to hide their lights under the shades of the exam system. There must be thousands, quite possibly a majority, perhaps all of them. I only know that in three years I wrote close on two hundred essays and was invited to choose my topic approximately twice.
It was difficult to ask why you had exams: you had been sitting them all your life, and they were too obvious a feature of the landscape to be properly noticed. Like mass X - ray units, exams performed periodic screening tests, in this case on one's head; from which one could hope for a result giving the privileged option of passing on to the next batch of tests. The process goes a stage further when exam results are treated as marking important and objective qualities of the examinee. Then it becomes necessary to do well, not just to pass on to the next lot of exams, but to prove one's brains bigger and better: either one has or lacks a 'first class brain', a piece of fetishism which reduces all capacities to ability in executing on a one – week stand amazing feats of memory and handwriting skill. [Endnote 2A] The strength of the hidden belief in this reduction means that even the most bolshie student sweats in the library as Finals approach and, like anyone else, is shattered by a poor result. And the material basis for this conviction is the fact that brain power, as a form of labour power, is a commodity bought and sold on the market. It is one of the major ways in which economic factors, often unbeknown, determine the student consciousness.
The mere thought of exams acts like a blackout when one comes to try and think through what one is doing in the course, and the ways in which it denies one's own interests are only half recognised in the clouded emotional state which the prospect of exams generally induces.
There are other factors, beside exams, which hinder the recognition of defects in the content and organisation of courses. First of all, a new student is isolated, even (and not paradoxically) when tight – packed into a hall of residence. His confidence is fully taxed establishing a new life away from home. Second, he is officially ignorant and everything conspires to make him feel so. He is yet again a new boy, and new boys are in no position to criticise mysteries into which they have not been initiated, especially when these mysteries are mystified as embodying the finest products of the human spirit or the accumulated findings of science. Third, the reading list or the lecture has behind it the authority, not of a lowly schoolmaster, but of everything up to a full Professor: it takes a long time to trust the evidence of one's reason, that Professors can be very stupid men indeed. Fourth, you don't trust your reason because you are too busy memorising other people's ideas, ( 'research' for the essay) to have any of your own, and because noone in authority lets on that there are well – developed bodies of knowledge alternative to those transmitted through the course. Such alternatives are often discovered through one's political activity and in reading the literature of political groups. In my own case Solidarity pamphlets were important. ( Many of these were translations of publications of the French leftist group Socialisme ou Barbarie) [see Endnote 3]
In such circumstances as those just described, recognition of the objective situation and countervailing action are inhibited and conflict is turned inward, dividing the student against himself. He doubts his own capacities, becomes suspicious or sullen or apathetic, sometimes soldiering on grimly but, in every case, experiencing a net loss of orientation and understanding.l Combine enough of the precipitating factors together (or add the fear of Finals) and you get one of Dr. Ryle's Student Casualties. [Endnote 4].
Such were my main preoccupations in relation to the University during the first year. Outside the University, political events assumed even greater significance. 1966 was marked by the Seamens' strike (the work of a small group of 'tightly knit and politically motivated men' according to Harold Wilson); the first wage freeze (July 20th) in response to the deepening Balance of Payments crisis; and mounting opposition to America's war against Vietnam. During the wage freeze, I melted away from the Labour Party, allowing my membership to lapse at the end of 1966. But it never occurred to me to shift my allegiance to the Communist Party. The C. P. meant Stalinism. Much later on, the invasion of Czechoslovakia showed that there's plenty of life in Stalin yet.
Labour in office was plainly either unable or unwilling to employ nonconventional (that is, non – Tory) means to solve the balance of payments problem which now dominated our consciousness to a disproportionate extent. The non - conventional means (devaluation, cutting overseas defence expenditure, import controls, etc) espoused by the Labour Party's left-wing Tribune group and others [see Endnote 5] could indeed solve the local Balance of Payments problem, but at the time they seemed to promise much more in the way of being sufficient conditions of the progressive reform in education, health and housing which had been promised in 1964.
Such external political developments put increasing strain on my acceptance of the offical course. Despite the fact that my main studies were in Economics and Politics, they did not furnish me with the theory I needed to understand what was going on, and much of what I learnt was being continuously falsified. I should like to document this a little.
In my studies of economics, the literature to which I was referred proceeded in ever smaller circles looking for the real cause of the Balance of Payments problem, a question only answerable by bringing in explicitly political criteria and therefore unanswered by economists who refused to question the politics of the very definition of the problem and the variables, and answered only by those who smuggled in their value judgements in order to find something to call the 'real' cause. When it came to prescription, there was a refusal to question the political constraints, and instead a political acceptance of them as given, disguised as necessary to keeping the science 'positive' and demarcated as economics. The phrase "the fragmentation of knowledge" began to find a content through these experiences and when I later discovered these words of Marx in the 1844 Manuscripts I was able to understand what he meant:
If I ask the political economist: Do I obey economic laws if I extract money by offering my body for sale . . . Then the political economist replies to me: You do not transgress my laws; but see what Cousin Ethics and Cousin Religion have to say about it .... But whom am I now to believe, political economy or ethics? [Endnote 6]
The relevant difference in the present case was that the economists were passing the buck to the political scientists. But the latter only wanted to scribble away about 'the sovereignty of Parliament' (if they were really backward) or 'Cabinet Sovereignty' (if they were just ordinarily backward). Yet at this very time, the shoddy ideological thesis of the sovereignty of national political institutions was being falsified by events, recorded for example by Henry Brandon (a right wing journalist) in his book In the Red [Endnote 7]. This showed decisively, though much of the truth remains hidden [2004: though not now] the control which international and overseas financial institutions (the I.M.F. and World Bank, for example) exerted on the domestic political policy of a government too supine to challenge the rules of a game rigged against it.
Events also exposed more blatant contradictions between ideology and reality. Thus, at a time when President Johnson was bombing the Vietnamese 'back into the Stone Age' (not his phrase; but one of his Generals') I was being set to read a textbook on American government which was good enough to inform me that the latter was 'not the least of the agencies through which may be built the Kingdom of God among the free' [Endnote 8]
I may have been remarkably naive in believing economic and political institutions to be autonomous and powerful in separate spheres – a belief central to my reformist politics but which events destroyed – and in not recognising the dependence of politics on economics. But my course certainly kept economics and politics apart as subjects, which in practice meant not discussing the relations between the two types of institution. In this, the course as well as myself was faithful to what is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of social democracy. The course itself had, indeed, been inspired in the 1920s by the leading theoretical representative of British social democracy, G. D. H. Cole.
As a final illustration, consider the crucial question posed by events: Is the government unwilling or unable (or both) to act in such and such a way? Here there is one very old but very good book, Michels' Political Parties, which developed theories to account for the conservatism of European social – democratic parties before the First World War. These theories clearly had a bearing on what social – democratic parties, such as the Labour Party, do after acquiring political power. Brandon and others provided evidence for their inability to act; Michels develops the unwilling hypothesis. But in the usee of his work by modern writers, these politically relevant dimensions are overlooked and instead (as in Robert Mackenzie's British Political Parties. [Endnote 9]) only those ideas relevant to an abstracted academic study of power structures are employed.
At the time of passing through the course it was easy to dismiss it as 'irrelevant' and so one did. This was too facile, and in any case, the word did not do justice to the criticism being advanced. For, first of all, the nature of the questions in which I was interested were less pragmatic and more theoretical than those over which our examiners pondered as advisors to Harold Wilson and had us ponder for them. My questions were about the interdependence of economic and political institutions; they were not of central importance to the study of Economics and Politics only because the orthodox rubrics begged such questions. That such questions are relevant to the under -standing of current events does not mean that they are of significance only to 'pop sociology', nor does it reduce their scientific status. Indeed, isn't it rather obvious that if something is a science, it will tell us something about the way a part of the world works?
Why, then, were these questions not posed? The idea is off–putting that they are not posed in part because they are central and because satisfactory answers to them tell us how the society works. Such an idea seems paranoid. But in a University which trains and sees itself as educating future civil servants, economists, politicians and journalists, it is quite appropriate not to ask the sixty – four thousand dollar questions. Civil servants and economists to do their work properly must think of it as a purely technical job. Politicians and journalists if they are to be successful must believe in their own power and the reality of the democratic ideals [Endnote 10], otherwise they might easily call it a day and become revolutionaries – or sometimes, as a half way house, teachers and welfare workers. As a student, my attempts to understand political developments and the silence or mystifications of the course on the central questions led me to accept the validity of the concept and theory of bourgeois ideology, until then merely available as a phrase. It should only be stressed that the division of academic subjects follows from and does not cause the division of labour. It is because you have civil servants on one side and politicians on the other – that is, a formal division of 'executive' and 'legislative' power – that you have fragmented subjects. It is a mistake to speak "as though it were the textbooks that impress separation upon life and not life upon the textbooks" (Marx. Endnote 11). They reflect and thereby reinforce it.
My intellectual reaction to all this was a gradual shift in interest to philosophy; hardly for any intrinsic reason, more because sociology at Oxford exists only as a sideline. It is only now, re – reading some of the classic works, that I see how the history of philosophy is censored [Endnote 12] by the way it is taught. The essay question which is set determines how one reads the text, what one looks for: concretely you go for simple logical errors and a good essay is one which shows up Plato or Aristotle as a muddle headed old fool. The text becomes a bone on which to sharpen your analytical teeth. Hence, from the way in which one learns to read it, the intended (as well as historical) significance of the work is falsified. For example, I thought I had read as an undergraduate Descartes' Discourse on Method and parts of Hume's Treatise on Human Nature. I now discover that I did not, for in fact I read, by Descartes A Discourse on the Method of Rightly Directing one's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, and by Hume, fragments from A Treatise of Human Nature, being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects. That is to say, both of these texts were intended as guides to clear thinking (compare Descartes, Rules for the Direction of the Mind ) and expositions of scientific method, descriptive or prescriptive (compare Vico, Study Methods of Our Time). Yet these obvious points, too obvious for a bewildered student to notice, were never put to me. Had they been made, I should have more quickly seen the point of philosophy, but at the same time a presentation of it integrated with real problems as they arise in thinking and in the sciences would have been required. This in turn would demand changes in teaching method and……well, there are limits. Change might easily become a threat to civilisation.
Thankfully, the path of my intellectual development was interrupted by novel events, which we thought in two new concepts: students and the student movement.
Before the end of 1966, I doubt that many students had a self image of being, first of all, students. They saw themselves either an apprentice workers or as junior members of the ruling elite. In the early days of the student movement, the student – worker concept was widely canvassed, especially by polytechnic groups in and out of the Radical Student Alliance (formed at the end of 1966. Endnote 13). I recall a speaker at an R.S.A. meeting during the Liverpool National Union of Students' Conference (April 1967) urging that students should be housed on council estates, not in segregated halls of residence, illustrating how the logic of the student – worker concept could be unfolded.
In October 1966, the London School of Economics' Socialist Society published L.S.E.'s New Director: A Report on Walter Adams. LSE students challenged Adams suitability as Director. He had been Principal of University College , Rhodesia and was allegedly soft on the Unilateral Declaration of Independence and apartheid practices [Endnote 14]. The challenge aroused widespread interest. The Liberals and liberals were possibly more interested than those of us closest to the [ Labour Party ] Tribune group or the New Left, and this was also true of their greater interest in student issues: the RSA itself was dominated by Young Liberalism, then very influential. But as events at LSE escalated in late 1966 and early 1967 to include an 'unauthorised' meeting, disciplinary proceedings against six Students' Union officials, the suspension of two of them, followed by the first sit - in British higher education had seen so then everyone became an LSE watcher and thereby, if indirectly, involved in specifically student politics.
In 1967, the LSE affair was especially important to me in the way that for others different events were crucial: in America, the Berkeley Free Speech movement [Endnote 15]; in the UK, the increase in overseas students' fees [Endnote 16]; or revelation of the extent of CIA involvement in the International Student Conference (to which NUS was affiliated. Endnote 17]) and above all their own struggles. By chance, a friend (a liberal, to the right of me politically) was among the six hauled up for disciplining at LSE in an amazingly crass attempt to victimise official leaders, not all of whom had endorsed the acts for which they were to be tried. I visited her to discuss what was happening and as a result sat in on the sit - in, observing the heady debates in LSE's Old Theatre, notably the crucial one at which they announced the rejection of student leaders' Adelstein's and Bloom's appeals against suspension.[Endnote 18]
What happened at LSE was critical to many people, even to those not directly involved and, of course, similar events were experienced elsewhere. First of all, the Administration displayed quite remarkable dishonesty and ineptitude and did so very visibly. The LSE bosses shifted a whole generation of liberals leftwards, literally overnight. Harry Kidd, Secretary of the School, announced the rejection of the student leaders' appeals to about 600 people, who then witnessed the sorry sight of his agreeing to answer questions, only to make a rapid exit when points forced him to evade and fumble. [Endnote 19] Perhaps because we were young and certainly because we had been put through years of schooling in Christian and liberal virtues, we were very moralistic, and the recognition achieved through the events at LSE that so many teachers and administrators were unprincipled men was a tremendous blow and of great significance in the future.
To return to the particular incident, after Kidd had stepped down from the Platform, Professor John Griffith, who with Michael Zander had defended the accused students, got up to speak, but before he could begin received a strongly emotional standing ovation. This emotional character of the LSE events was a second determining influence on the future. For not only had part of the liberal veil been ripped asunder, but in the struggle against the Administration a real community and a deep feeling of solidarity had been generated. It was quite a new experience. The contrast it provided with our usual atomised, frustrated, cold and competitive lives was staggering. It threw the lines of alienation in one's life into a grey relief and, morbidly fascinated, one began to trace them out. Criticisms hitherto repressed were articulated for the first time. Certainly, work did not escape scrutiny and over its analysis Marx's graphic lines were inscribed:
labour is external to the worker ... in his work ... he does not affirm himself, but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his mental energy but ... ruins his mind. The worker therefore only feels himself outside his work, and in his work feels outside himself. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His labour . .. is therefore not the satisfaction of a need; it is merely a means to satisfy needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that as soon as no physical or other compulsion exists, labour is shunned like the plague. [Endnote 20]
Third, we discovered the sense of the old Trade Union motto: Unity is Strength. In the sit - in, a method was discovered for changing at least a corner of the world. At LSE, quite simply, we won and all could be part of the 'we'. At the April 1967 NUS Conference, after tense clause - by - clause voting, one hand was raised against the motion of support for LSE.
The success of the sit - in tactic persuaded many more people to join in the activities of groups, like SOLIDARITY, which had been advocating direct action for some years, and employed it with some success especially in campaigns with homeless families. Again, the anti - Vietnam war movement benefitted from the spin - off effects of LSE, whilst the Tribunite MP's lost. All the new activity LSE inspired remained, however, fragmented and weakly reformist. The question of political power at the centre was bypassed, and the central importance of transformation of economic relationship got forgotten in the concern with 'social' relationships, such as are involved in the housing question and in campus campaigns. In particular, the precise relationship and relative status of college activities (demands for disciplinary reforms and committee representations etc.) and out of College engagements (Vietnam demonstrations, relations with the Labour Party, anti - racialist campaigns etc.) was quite obscure. After all, we were only just beginning to use our heads, feet and backsides. Before 1966 - 67 student politics meant listening to visiting MP's twice each week and getting nominations to NUS Conferences. In the new situation, eclecticism not surprisingly prevailed.
I was now in my second year at University; the course ground on and ground small. I slacked and looked elsewhere for mental stimulation: to the local speaker meetings and literature of the Left. A friend [ Phillip Hodson ] and I decided to start a magazine to carry criticism of academic subjects, criticism in the sense of reflective examination of the validity of the methods and results of the various knowledges with which we were confronted. We managed two issues but a chasm remained between the theory we used to think about the world and the theory (or sub - theory) we bashed through for weekly essays in economics, politics or history (elsewhere it would have been psychology, sociology and anthropology), just as a gap existed between college political activity and extra - institutional politics, a gap bridged over by thick rhetorical planks: "We must see our struggle against the Bursar in the context of the struggle of the Vietnamese people against US imperialism".
The chasm between our two intellectual worlds was not even bridged in this way. We did not know how to use radical or Marxist theory to criticise the orthodox knowledge, and this was partly because we didn't know enough. What we did know were the main themes of Marxist humanism, but whilst these are appropriate to the analysis and criticism of the subjective experience of the social world, they have only a subordinate place in the analysis of the objective laws of motion of society. In any case, even had we possessed the scientific theory we lacked, it would have been of little use in answering essay questions located within the problematics of our teachers: "A proper relationship between policy and administration remains the nub of good government. In which of the countries you have studied is this best achieved?"
Such questions make plain the class bias (and basis) of what was taught and examined. By this, I don't simply mean that teachers know all about how to stop revolutions, whilst I wanted to know how to start one. It is true, of course, that social scientists spend all their research time diagnosing and prescribing for 'problem groups' like workers, young people, old people, sick people, black people and students - the prescription being issued to government and industry, not to the people studied. The former pay the piper, the latter dance to the tune. In this way, solutions are proposed which are only solutions from the point of view of those who control society and finance research. The problems which 'problem groups' have with landlords, welfare workers, bosses and takeover tycoons (who can overnight put thousands out of work) don't seem to be a subject for scientific study at all. This is much plainer in America than here; Chomsky poses the contrast neatly and adds that:
The comparison illustrates the intense politicisation of the American universities during the post-war years... (now) ...sharply challenged...by the American student movement... It is, incidentally, interesting and somewhat ironic that just at the moment when subservience of the academic world to external institutions is being questioned, the cry is raised that the universities are being 'politicised'. [Endnote 21]
The situation is scarcely different in natural science. Chemists know all about techniques of making TNT or Perspex but their very technical skill has often blocked the development of theoretical science to such a degree that fundamental discoveries (like that of the structure of the DNA molecule) have been delayed.
In fact, this last point indicates the real direction criticism was taking: it is not so much that social scientists can't tell us how to make revolutions as it is that they can't, don't or won't tell us how society works (a study which, of course, comprises within it the study of revolutionary social transformations). Natural scientists seem to be in the same position with respect to the natural world, and there are philosophies (e. g. operationalism) which justify this state of affairs.
Perhaps the above objections are misguided; perhaps there can only be problem solving, so that the issue does become a straight one: whose problems and what sorts of problems (technical or political, for instance) does education help us solve? I should like to think that science, in the older sense of that word, is possible, and for this belief there is some ground, though much less than one would like. [Endnote 22]
To build a critical bridge between a private mental life and the official intellectual work required both more theoretical equipment than I then possessed, but also needed the lever of external political developments to get it into position. In the case of the first, older students were beginning to fashion critical tools and use them in the analysis of the traditionally constituted disciplines. Gareth Stedman Jones' Pathology of English History (in New Left Review, 46, November/ December 1967) was the first critique I came across which got to grips with an orthodox method in any sort of total way; like most, I was still floundering around in criticism of the 'More Marx, less Mill' variety. In London, from February 1968, an anti - University operated, but the attraction of such counter - institutions faded the moment we were reminded of the possibility of contesting and changing existing ones.
This reminder we got from the French, in the form of a Revolution. This was the lever.
One must himself have experienced the liberating effect of the May events to get an idea of them. Enthusiasm was general; we all became at once revolutionaries. I remember one morning The Times carried a front page picture of the Paris Bourse in flames. We stared at it as a charm which breaks a spell; we had known real subservience to the power of finance capital - the IMF - and ideal subservience to the myth of an affluent society drugging all opposition, exorcising its contradictions by the grace of Keynes, bewitching the consciousness of its people and now, quite suddenly, this system was exploded and cast aside. Consensus, shown to exist only in our imagination, was dissolved: the revolutionary festival placed the question of destroying the power of capital in an advanced Western country at the top of the agenda. As Marx writes in the 8th thesis on Fenerbach:
All social life is essentially practical. All the mysteries which lead theory towards mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice. [Endnote 23]
Most people think that nothing but this wearying reality of ours is possible, says Nietzsche, which is an echo of Rousseau in The Social Contract: "The boundaries of the possible in the moral [= social] realm are less narrow than we think; it is our own weaknesses, our vices and our prejudices which limit them". The French eruption extended everyone's belief in the possibilities of change. For a few, it was a source of fear. They found themselves sitting on a volcano; for the rest, it was a fountain of joy and hope. Contestations such as those at LSE and those in which we ourselves participated had made us believe that some things could be changed, by direct action but without violence; now the French were seriously suggesting that everything could be changed: Soyez realistes, demandez l'impossible.
In Britain, there were many who, like myself, had by May 1968 accepted the necessity for revolution. In my own case, it was both the recognition of non – autonomous nature of political institutions within a social totality dominated by economic power, and the experience of the real possibility of change, that determined the transition from reformist to revolutionary politics. This did not mean that I or anyone else necessarily saw a revolution as being achieved in a 'spontaneous' uprising like the French one. [Endnote 24] (Nor as to be won through the imposition of a minority will upon a passive majority. [Endnote 25] Indeed, in an advanced Western country only a popularly based revolution is worth having; one would have to say that the alternatives are politically wrong could one not point to the more obvious truth that they are tactically suicidal). What the French events did was not so much to suggest to us a political theory (beyond confirming the Communist Parties as a millstone round the revolution's neck), as to place the theoretically accepted idea of a revolution at the fulcrum of practical consciousness. However one conceived of it, the French events demanded that one start to shorten and lessen the birthpangs of the revolution.
As people have graduated, some of them have gone on to hold straight white collar jobs in a deviant way [Endnote 26]; others have gone into factories and communities to do political work with blue collar workers, tenants, claimants, children and youth [Endnote 27]; still others have joined or have even become full time revolutionary cadres in one of the political groups on the Left. In each case, people have experienced for the first time the possibility of engaging in study and the production of knowledge in a way organically linked to human needs and the struggles out of which will grow the socialist society of the future.
For those still in higher education, it has become easier since May 1968 to build the theoretical bridges between the University's internal workings and its articulation with the determining economic structures of capitalism and imperialism. Studies of these links have been published for many institutions. The content of courses has been systematically criticised as ideological and explicable as such by the real links existing between education and society. This critique and contestation has been conducted both in individual institutions and collaboratively through conferences and magazines. Here the physical scientists have been especially active through the British Society for Social Responsibility in Science, and in the groupings of Socialist Scientists. [See Endnote 28 for a long list relating to this paragraph]
But to get the measure of one's course, it is necessary to get the measure of the social world in which that course is embedded. Such a rational illumination of the experience of education and society also points towards the exit from the cave of intellectual, moral and emotional darkness in the dawn of a revolution.
1. E P Thompson, editor, Warwick University Ltd. (Penguin Education 1970)
2. For Oxford at this period, see the pamphlet Howling Wilderness (Oxford: Campaign for a Democratic University, May 1970)
2A. Added 2004: I suppose I should explain that this is how I got my degree. In June 1968, just before my 21st birthday and after three years of study at Oxford I sat my Final examinations. These consisted of eight unseen three hour papers, the whole lot taken in one week. The scripts were marked by examiners who did not know your identity. Out of this, I got a First Class degree and a letter of congratulation from the Examining Board - and the confidence to go on and write the essays which appear on this website (In the online version of this document there is a picture of me taken just as I completed my final examinations at Oxford in 1968.)
3. The Solidarity pamphlets were published as authored by "Paul Cardan", notably Modern Capitalism and Revolution; From Bolshevism to the Bureaucracy; The Meaning of Socialism. [2004: But the actual author of these pamphlets was the late Cornelius Castoriadis.]
4. A Ryle, Student Casualties. London: Allen Lane, Penguin Press 1969
5. C Feinstein et al, Beyond the Freeze: A Socialist Policy for Economic Growth (Goodwin Press 1966); R Pryke, Though Cowards Flinch (London: McGibbon and Kee 1967); Raymond Williams, editor, May Day Manifesto 1968 (Penguin Books 1968 - a revised version of the original 1967 Manifesto)
6 K Marx Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844 (International Publishers, New York 1964) p 151. Compare G Lukacs, History and Class Consciousness (London: Merlin Press 1971) pages 195-96
7 H Brandon, In The Red . London: Andre Deutsch 1966
8 Ernest S Griffith, The American System of Government. London: Methuen 1966
9 Robert MacKenzie, British Political Parties: the Distribution of Power within the Conservative and Labour Parties. London: Mercury Books, second edition, 1963
10 Much academic literature is devoted to proving this reality. See especially R A Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory (Chicago University Press 1956); Giovanni Sartori, Democratic Theory (New Tork: Praeger 1965). For critiques, see Carole Pateman, Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge UP 1970) and Petere Bachrach, The Theory of Democratic Elitism (Univerisyt of London, Athlone Press 1967)
11 K Marx, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (trans Stone, New York 1904, page 276)
12 I use this word because in my re readings I have been struck especially by passages of a remarkably subversive character which I must have read before but never noticed because they were not 'relevant' to the abstract set of 'problems' to which the great writers are reduced. The following, for example, comes from Locke (An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book 1, Ch. IV, Sec. 25):
When men have found some general propositions that could not be doubted of, as soon as understood, it was, I know, a short and easy step to conclude them innate. This being once received it eased the lazy from the pains of search and stopped the inquiry of the doubtful concerning all that was once styled innate; and it was of no small advantage, to those who affected to be masters and teachers, to make the principle of principles: that principles must not be questioned. For having once established this tenet that there are innate principles, it put their followers upon a necessity of receiving some doctrines as such; which was to take them off from the use of their own reason and judgement and put them upon believing and taking them on trust, without further examination: in which posture of blind credulity, they might be more easily governed by and made useful to some sort of men, who had the skill and office to principle and guide them. Nor is it a small power it gives one man over another to have authority to be the dictator of principles and teacher of unquestionable truths, and to make a man swallow that for an innate principle which may serve to his purpose who teacheth him.
13 Formed partly to fill the vacuum left by the break up of the Labour Party's National Association of Labour Student Organisations (NALSO), a break up directly attributable to dissatisfaction with Government policies. Ever since the beginning of 1966, student Labour Clubs had been splitting into Labour Party and non-Labour Party groups.
14 Another Principal of U. C. R., Professor Terence Miller, faced student opposition to his appointment as Principal of the new North London Polytechnic early in 1971, partly for the same reason (though the students altered the grounds of their objection). The whole question of racialism has agitated London University students since 1966. In 1969, for instance, there was a sit in over the racial discrimination practised by the University Lodgings Bureau and a demonstration against the University's continuing links with U.C.R. This demonstration led to the hospitalisation of one student, the detention and imprisonment of two others, and for one of them (Dr. Paul Hoch) eventual deportation. The whole affair, and especially the parts played by Sir Douglas Logan, Principal Clerk of the University, and Dr. Leslie Pownall, Clerk to the Senate, has never been properly investigated, though the ViceChancellor (Dr. Brian Windeyer) publicly promised an inquiry, which has never taken place.
15 See Hal Draper, Berkeley: The New Student Revolt (Grove Press, New York, 1965); S.M. Lipset and S. Wolin . The Berkeley Student Revolt . (Doubleday Anchor, New York, 1965).
16 Significant in many institutions for the temporary union of faculty and students against the government: see Report from the Select Committee on Education and Science, Session 1968 - 69, Student relations, volume 1, report. HMSO Lodond 1969, esp paras 89 - 92
17 See David Triesman, The CIA and Student Politics, in Student Power, eds. R. Blackburn and A. Cockburn, (Penguin Books, 1969
18 For details of these and later episodes, see LSE: What It is, and How We Fought It (an Agitator pamphlet, 1967); Paul Hoch and Vic Schoenbach LSE: The Natives are Restless, (London: Sheed and Ward, 1969).
19 For his own account of events, see Harry Kidd, The Trouble at LSE, 1966- 7, (Oxford University Press 1969).
20 K Marx op cit Endnote 11, pages 110 -11
21 Noam Chomsky, On Changing the World, Cambridge Review, Vol. 92, no. 2201, 19 February 1971, pp 122 - 24. See also Martin Nicolaus, Remarks at the 1968 Boston Convention of the American Sociological Association, The American Sociologist, vol 4, nr 2, pp 154 -56
22. The work of Popper, Kuhn, Feyerabend, Habermas, Canguilhelm and Bachelard deals with these issues which are as fascinating as they are unresolved.
23 K Marx, Eighth Thesis on Feuerbach
24 "The revolution is not an event which takes two or three days in which there is shooting and hanging. It is a long drawn out process in which new people are created, capable of renovating society so that the revolution does not replace one elite with another, but so that the revolution creates a new antiauthoritarian structure with antiauthoritarian people who in their turn reorganise the society so that it becomes a nonalienated human society, free from war, hunger and exploitation". Rudi Dutschke, The Students and the Revolution, Spokesman Pamphlet, No. 15, 1970, Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. See also Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative. (London: Andre Deutsch 1969)
25 This idea is explicit in Marcuse's Essay on Liberation (Allen Lane, Penguin Press 1969) esp page 70
26 Compare the suggestions for replacing traditional "professional ethics" with a new critical awareness in Jurgen Habermas, Toward a Rational Society (London: Heinemann 1971)
27 Documentary material becomes inaccessible at this point. But see Tom Fawthrop, Youth Culture and the New Revolutionaries, (Solidarity , Vol.6, No. 5, August 1970);John Birrtwhistle interviewed in Christopher Driver, Exploding Universities (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1971)
28 How Harvard Rules (Africa Research Group and the Old Mole 1970?); The Shilling Paper (Cambridge University) The Hornsey Affair (Penguin Education, 1969); Manifesto Per Una Universita Negativa (Trento, 1967); Why Sociologists? (from Nanterre, reprinted in Student Power); Trevor Pateman, The Poverty of Philosophy, Politics and Economics, (Oxford, 1968); Why Do We Not Learn the Theory of our Education? (Sussex, 1968); papers produced by the PO 21 and PO 32 critical groups at Liverpool University, 1970 - 71. The journals Red Rat (for psychologists); CaseCon (for Social Workers); ARse (for architects); Red Scientist (for red scientists); Radical Phiosophy; publications of the British Society for Social responsibility in Science. Socially Responsible Scientists or SoldierTechnicians? (Solidarity pamphlet no. 34, 1971) [ 2004: My collection of these and similar materials went to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, in the 1970s]
Written late 1970 - early 1971. Previously published in Hard Cheese, issue 2, May 1973, pages 45 - 59. Some passages and bibliographic references cut from the Hard Cheese version have been restored for this 2004 website publication.