Bunúis na réabhlóide, 4/5

For anyone older than me by at least a decade, the 1960s must have been a confusing time. Revolution was in the air and old certainties were under fire. But who was leading the revolution?

While it was the young who were being targeted with the “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” message encapsulated in Ian Dury’s 1977 song, those actually upending societal norms could hardly be described as teen rebels.  

At the older end of the spectrum were Pope John XXIII and Margaret Sanger, both in their seventies when they launched their respective revolutions in religion and sex. But even Timothy Leary and George Martin were middle-aged when they put their stamp on Sixties culture. 

Then came 1968 and the student protests that flared up across the western world.  These were led by people who were genuinely young. Peter Camejo was in his mid-twenties when he organised demonstrations at Berkeley University against the war in Vietnam.[1] In Berlin, many thousands of miles from California, prolonged riots broke out in April 1968 following the attempted assassination of student leader, Rudi Dutschke, 28 at the time.[2] 

Both men swiftly gained notoriety internationally. Governor Ronald Reagan included Camejo in his list of “the 10 most dangerous people in California”,[3]  while Dutschke was labelled in the print media as “Red Rudi”.[4]  As indicated by these epithets, the establishment regarded Camejo and Dutschke as left-wing radicals who wanted to overturn the status quo. 

This was true. But how would they achieve their goal? Violent revolution? Or in some other way?

In a speech he made to student activists in 1969, Peter Camejo outlined his thinking. He was not exhorting them to take up arms in an insurrection against the forces of the state. What he proposed was a social revolution, because

The key to victory is moving the masses. Any concept, any struggle that eliminates this will only end in disaster.[5] 

Crucially, a strategy of winning support from the people would require patience and understanding by the revolution’s leaders. 

And time. Maybe 40 years, or “whatever is necessary”.[6]  

Camejo did not spell out in detail what those seeking “victory” should actually do during those long decades. But it would involve using society’s existing infrastructure against itself. Or as he put it, “Capitalism does it for us.”[7] 

At the vanguard of this revolutionary movement would be the third-level students who listened eagerly to Peter Camejo - and to Rudi Dutschke, who called on them to

lead a "long march" through the institutions of society, overturning established centers of power from within and without.[8] 

As another writer has observed, university students “had the time and the resources to learn about alternatives to the hated culture of the 'establishment'”.[9]  If those instigating the “long march” were successful, these educational bodies would produce an intellectual elite, imbued with a desire for radical change.

Of course many (perhaps most) of these students would become “domesticated” once they entered their chosen field or profession, and assumed the responsibilities of family, mortgage, etc. They would probably end up as respectable, vaguely liberal, if somewhat reluctant members of the “corporate world”.[10] 

But what if even a few held onto their youthful zeal? As they rose through the ranks of politics, business, media, etc. and gradually replaced the old guard, would the rest of us even notice? 

Until one day we woke up to find ourselves living in a “new normal”?

[1] Peter Camejo, North Star: A Memoir (Chicago, 2010) pp. 92-94.

[2] Evening Echo, 15 Apr 1968.

[3] Camejo, North Star, p. 47.

[4] Evening Echo, 15 Apr 1968.

[5] Peter Camejo, ‘How to make a revolution in the United States’, May 3, 1969.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Jeremi Suri, Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Détente (Cambridge, Mass., 2003), p. 180.

[9] Ingo Cornils, “'The struggle continues': Rudi Dutschke's Long March” in Gerard de Groot (ed.), Student Protest: The Sixties and After (Abingdon, 1998), p. 102.

[10] David Ghitelman, ‘Preparations for the Long March: The Seventies Revisited’, Antioch Review, 49/1, Winter 1991, p. 76.

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