Thinking about the Arab spring, I remember the German protest movement in the sixties. Here is a quote from one of the student leaders of the movement, Rudi Dutschke, who was later shot:

We can change. We are not desperate idiots of history, unable to take their destiny in their own hands. It has been told us for centuries. Many historical signs indicate that history is not an eternal circle where only the negative must triumph. Why should we renounce to this historical possibility and say: we give up, we cannot make it, sometime this world will come to an end. Exactly the opposite. We can construct a world as humanity has never seen before; a world that will distinguish itself for the absence of war and hunger. And this on the whole globe. This is our historical possibility, and we should let it go? I’m not a professional politician, but we are men who do not want the world to follow this way, and for this reason we will fight, we already started to fight…”   Rudi Dutschke (1967)

The movement didn’t exactly achieve its goals, and war and hunger is as present as it always was.  The conditions and the need for change exist today in all Arab countries, and therefore these revolutions will succeed.

The student movements in Germany in the late sixties did not succeed, but they nevertheless transformed German society.  The intellectual climate at the time was filled with rage about the reconstitution of Germany under conservative governments, after the fiasco of the Third Reich and the Holocaust. Post-war Germany was politically numb, if not unconscious, and had to figure out a new political identity. The political field was dominated by conflicts between a politically very conservative tradition, and strong unions who collaborated with a social democracy that oscillated between Marxism and capitalism. Germany was divided between East and West, and European integration seemed to be the only way forward.

Looking back, the political struggles of the sixties still continue: between social justice and radical capitalism, national identities, and a more global political consciousness. Progressive forces today have the advantage that the organization of protest has become a lot easier.

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  1. Rudi Dutschke and his clarity of thought have been a guideline for my life and my political activity: his idea that only a long march through the institutions could mature conditions for a real general awareness was far more revolutionary than the so called committed revoluzzer. We are experiencing today, in the age of IT, an idiotic comeback of positions such as anarchism and luddism that far from contesting the capitalist production mode only stoke the fire of violent reactions. So-called leftist parties apparently shout against ‘institutional powers’ but accept all market rules.


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History, Political Theory