Join the ITH
ith logo
1968 — A view of the protest movements 40 years after, from a global perspective

44. Linz Conference: September 11–14, 2008



When we look back on the 68er protest movements, we are dealing with a period of two decades, the 1960s and 1970s. For the social and political protest movements were clearly underway worldwide before 1968 and were exhausted definitively only at the end of the 1970s. "1968" therefore represents only a number.
The number "1968" stands for the worldwide social movements that were carried above all by youth and students who distinguished themselves with a specifically "youth" mentality, culture and way of life. They thus produced an impact that went beyond class and social strata. The social composition of these social movements varied from place to place and from country to country.
These social movements, which in some – in particular, non-European – countries took on the character of social revolts, were an international phenomenon and increasingly also internationally networked. They reached from the three continents over the social movements of the developing countries to the metropoleis of the capitalist world system. Inside the sphere of state socialism, they were essentially limited to Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia as well as some dissident party currents (Poland, GDR, Hungary). With this conference we want above all to include also non-European experiences and put an emphasis upon transnational and transcontinental comparative analyses.

Introductory presentation

(Thursday Evening, 11.9.08)
The introductory presentation will sketch out this framework of content and method. Two introductory papers will delimit the framework of our conference in the form of guiding questions, thematic focal points, methodological questions – such as, for example, the comparability of social movements and their representation as a protest cycle – and give stimuli for discussion.

Panel I and II: Country Case Studies
(Friday, 12.9.08)
In two panels we want to begin to concretise our intention to look at the protest movements in a global perspective. We are aware that the choice of countries is a concession to the limited possibilities of a two-day conference.
In the country case studies we want to examine the following fields of problems: themes of content and focal points of the social and protest movements; forms of protest; general and social acceptance; social composition; interaction (practical and intellectual networks); the effects of repression by the State; enduring effects and consequences of social movements; country specific social movements in transnational and transcontinental comparison.

Panel I (Friday morning)
1. France and Italy
2. Argentina, Mexico and possibly also Brazil
3. USA and Canada

Panel II (Friday afternoon)
4. Poland and Czechoslovakia
5. Senegal and South Africa
6. Pakistan and India

Public podium discussion: "winners and losers of the 68er social movements"
(Friday evening, 12.9.08)
The social movements of "1968" produced a polarised spectrum of winners and losers. From the crisis of 1978/9, some groups took the road to social advancement and integrated themselves into the social-political establishment. Opposed to them were many losers who collapsed professionally, social and psychically or were criminalised and incarcerated. Between these two poles is the layer of those who only partially came to terms with the situation and continued to call for a socially emancipatory perspective. This layer, however, appears to be relatively small, so that "1968" could become a number and is not underwritten by an enduring social memory. In the discussion we also want to consider to what extent this problematic was typical for all social movements or which specific differences there were on the global level.

Panel III: Interactions and Synchronisations – practical and intellectual networks

(Saturday morning, 13.9.08)
Were there themes and forms of protest that united the 68er social movements worldwide? We want to concentrate on three themes that in our opinion led to worldwide interactions and synchronisations of the protest and social movements and as a consequence of which practical and intellectual networks across countries and continents emerged.

1. Unifying horizons of thought and transfer of knowledge
An important conceptual precursor and companion of the social movements was the international "New Left", which had left the traditional and particularly communist left since the second half of the 1950s. It essentially contributed to a critical confrontation with the authoritarian and dogmatically ossified structures of East European State socialism and the communist parties in the West. As a result of these confrontations, there emerged new models of concepts of social emancipation and transformation of capitalism. The themes and the internationally known speakers at the summer school of Korcula (Yugoslavia) represent in an exemplary fashion an intellectual network that exercised influence on the social movements worldwide. Important and intellectually unifying were concepts of the Third World as well as theories on dependent development (e.g. André Gundar Frank) and the programme and analyses of decolonisation (e.g. Frantz Fanon). The black civil rights movement and the black power movement made the social movements sensitive to racist politics and modes of behaviour with their programmatic demands. In this panel we want to locate which theorists, which texts, which literature and which music the actors of the social movements worldwide were using and by which their thought was influenced.

2. Vietnam War
The protest and resistance against the Vietnam War united the 68er social movements worldwide. When the afro-American organisations and the Students for a Democratic Society in the USA called for desertion from the US army in their resistance against the Vietnam War, it found a world-wide echo and led – also due to the practical engagement for the draft dodgers – internationally to a practical solidarity, but also to political radicalisation.

3. Reception of the Chinese Cultural Revolution
How was the Chinese Cultural Revolution received by the social movements in the majority of cases and interpreted on a worldwide scale? Why was its authoritarian, undemocratic and violent side not taken seriously or even accepted by broad elements of the social movements? The reception of and orientation towards the Chinese Cultural Revolution belong, in our opinion, to the complex of still unanswered questions regarding how the initially anti-authoritarian social movements arranged themselves in the majority from the beginning of the 1970s in authoritarian and hierarchically structured party models. To what extent were there unitary paradigms – going across countries and continents – in the reception of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, to what extent were there country specific differences, and when there were such differences, in what did they consist?

Before we thematise on Saturday afternoon the effects and consequences of the 68er social movements, we will summaries and emphasise the questions, controversies, methodological challenges and possible gaps of the previous panels. The task of this "thematic accentuation" is to show connections and separations between the panels and thus to begin to prepare the closing discussion.

Panel IV: Effects and consequences of the 68er social movements
(Saturday afternoon)

1. Changed life styles and attitudes
In which fields have the social movements effected enduring social and mental changes? This is the case, in our opinion, for the women’s movement, which made us conscious of the discrimination and oppression of women anchored in many areas of everyday social life and levelled out the gender relation to a certain extent. In the context of these debates, attitudes in relation to different sexual orientations and ways of life were also changed. Similar impulses emerged from the ecology movement. There emerged in this context important theoretical debates and social concepts that still today – despite an extensive political integration via the green parties – produce their effects and have led to significant modifications in social and economic relations to the environment.
Without an analysis of the relation of the generations to each other it is not possible to understand the social psychology of the social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s. An essential motivation to become politically active came, particularly in Germany, from confrontation with the period of fascism and the war generation of the parents. The historically comparative approach will help to clarify to what extent these questions were also relevant for social movements in other countries.
On the other hand, the effects of the social movements on the socio-economic cycle are contested. Certainly, at the end of the 1960s/beginning of the 1970s there were not without influence on the field of production, because they placed the tayloristic constitution of the factory in question. To what extent the social movements also give an impulse for the transformation of labour relations guaranteed by the welfare state (which have since become extensively socially insecure and precarious) is a question that has not yet been answered. Similarly, the question of to what extent the requirement for individual sovereignty of time and self determined life planning that came out of the social movements were used in this process of transformation requires further attention.

2. Authoritarian movements and violence
A central problem of the historical analysis of "1968" in Europe is the change of the anti-authoritarian social movements from the beginning of the 1970s into partially authoritarian and hierarchically structured organisations ("K-groups", Maoism), while other groups responded to the impending decline of the social movements with paramilitary structures and armed violence. It is important for us to analyse the "K-groups"/Maoism as well as the armed groups/terrorism in this context.
In this panel we will also deal with the frequently authoritarian political orientations of the armed groups in the non-European countries – like, for example, the Maoist, Leninist or Stalinist concepts. Commonalities with and differences from the "western" social movements of these years will be discussed.

3. What is normal? The anti-psychiatry movements
In many countries there were widespread efforts towards a humanisation and de-institutionalisation of psychiatry. The historical reconstruction of these anti-psychiatry movements would give important insights into the social psychology of the social upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s, during which a "normalisation", as far from domination as possible, of deviating psychic, "abnormal" ways of behaviour was also a concern. In this context a series of text were published that were read worldwide and enduringly influenced attitudes in relation to people who – for whatever reason – deviate from the social norm.

Closing discussion: "What remains from the 68er social movements?"

Organisational Notes:
The languages of the conference are German, English and French. A paper should not be longer than 20 minutes. Accommodation and meals are provided for those presenting papers. Travel costs (economy flights, 2nd class train travel) will be arranged after discussion with the ITH office in Vienna. There will be no honorarium for papers. A publication in the form of an anthology is planned.
Please send proposals for contributions (title and short summary of approximately 1-2 pages) and a short CV (maximum 15 lines) to the ITH by the 31.10.07.

- Delivery of proposals to the CFP: 31.10.07
- Confirmation of the provisional programme: January 2008
- Delivery of Papers and summaries: 30.06.08

Organising Committee:
Marcel van der Linden, Internationaal Instituut voor Sociale Geschiedenis, Amsterdam (Co-ordinator)
Angelika Ebbinghaus, Stiftung für Sozialgeschichte des 20. Jahrhunderts, Bremen
Feliks Tych, Zydowski Instytut Historyczny, Warszawa

Contact information:
Eva Himmelstoss
International Conference of Labour and Social History (ITH)
Altes Rathaus, Wipplingerstr. 8, A-1010 Vienna, Austria