The 1968 Current: From the Arab Spring to Occupy Wall Street

Source: Al Jazeera

The spirit of 1968 flows through Arab Spring and Occupy movement – as its counter-current attempts to suppress uprising.

The turmoil in Arab countries that is called the Arab Spring is conventionally said to have been sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in a small village of Tunisia on December 17, 2010. The massive sympathy this act aroused led, in a relatively short time, to the destitution of Tunisia’s president and then to that of Egypt’s president. In very quick order thereafter, the turmoil spread to virtually every Arab state and is still continuing.

Most of the analyses we read in the media or on the internet neglect the fundamental contradiction of this phenomenon – that the so-called Arab Spring is composed of two quite different currents, going in radically different directions. One current is the heir of the world-revolution of 1968. The “1968 current” might better be called the “second Arab revolt”.

Its objective is to achieve the global autonomy of the Arab world that the “first Arab revolt” had sought to achieve. The first revolt failed primarily because of successful Franco-British measures to contain it, co-opt it, and repress it.

The second current is the attempt by all important geopolitical actors to control the first current, each acting to divert collective activity in the Arab world in ways that would redound to the relative advantage of each of these actors separately. The actors here regard the “1968 current” as highly dangerous to their interests. They have done everything possible to turn attention and energy away from the objectives of the “1968 current”, in what I think of as the great distraction.

The past didn’t go anywhere

What do I mean by a “1968 current”? There were two essential features to the world-revolution of 1968 that remain relevant to the world situation today. First, the revolutionaries of 1968 were protesting against the inherently undemocratic behaviour of those in authority. This was a revolt against such use (or misuse) of authority at all levels: the level of the world-system as a whole; the level of the national and local governments; the level of the multiple non-governmental institutions in which people take part or to which they are subordinated (from workplaces to educational structures to political parties and trade-unions).

In language that was developed later on, the 1968-revolutionaries were against vertical decision-making and in favour of horizontal decision-making – participatory and therefore popular. By and large, although there were exceptions, the “1968 current” was deeply influenced by the concept of non-violent resistance, whether in the version of satyagraha developed by Mahatma Gandhi or that pursued by Martin Luther King and his collaborators, or indeed older versions such as that of Henry David Thoreau.

In the “Arab Spring” we could see this current strongly at work in Tunisia and Egypt. It was the rapid public embrace of this current that terrified those in power – the rulers of every Arab state without exception, the governments of the “outside” states who were an active presence in the geopolitics of the Arab world, even the governments of very distant states.

The spread of an anti-authoritarian logic, and especially its success anywhere, menaced all of them. The governments of the world joined forces to destroy the “1968 current”.

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