Monday, July 18, 2005

Magical Mysterious 1967

In 1966 our morals, behaviour, and values were similar to those of 1956, or 1946, or even 1826 for that matter. But in 1967 something suddenly shifted. In 1966 there was a mood of innocence and certainty. Young people used colloquial expressions like ‘swell’, ‘neat’, or ‘lady’. They dressed conservatively and wore their hair short. They fought for God and country and they were patriotic.

In 1967 it was as if somebody pulled a switch. Young people suddenly grew their hair long. They suddenly opposed war and they refused to carry guns. And they dropped their guns and they began to drop LSD. The language of youth changed dramatically. Youth spoke pejoratively of “the establishment” which generally meant not only the state and the private sector, but traditional ways of thinking and doing things. Suddenly everybody knew who Timothy Leary, Alan Ginsberg and Aldous Huxley were.

In 1967 the Western world swung into full social upheaval. The anti-war movement exploded in living colour, the civil rights movement became emboldened as did the women’s liberation movement and many other movements of protest and change. The rug was pulled out from beneath Lyndon Johnson and John Calvin and parents everywhere.

The times suddenly had a very anarchistic and rebellious feel to them. It seemed to be an anarchistic rebellion that emerged out of nowhere. People began to set up communes and there was explicit talk of socialism, communism, and revolution not only in America, but throughout Europe as well. In America there was the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers and various other organized groups of revolutionaries. But as anarchistic and socialistic as it might have seemed, in fact it was the full social completion of the capitalist revolution that began so very long ago. The modes of production had changed but the people didn’t – until now. It was the final act of the capitalist revolution and it contained within it the energy and vision of socialism.

As our material conditions change so do we. But not easily if the nature of the last paradigm was a palpable solidity and continuity. The forces of inertia were well developed in the mentality of stoic and 'proper' feudal society. This served to retard the natural flow of psychological change and as a result social change was ostensibly held back. Meanwhile, changes in technology, the processes of production and the relationships within the capitalistic sphere continued to march to the beat of the drum of progress. As a result the values and processes at the workplace developed strain against the traditional values and mores of the average household.

The utopian world of ideas and morality cannot withstand the practical considerations of human needs and the very tangible reality of production and distribution. The caricature may hold for a time but will perish if there is any practical compulsion to expel it. Sometimes it happens slowly and incrementally and sometimes they meet a swift and abrupt end. That is what happened in 1967. As a result, people that formed their world view prior to that stand ideologically opposed to those that came of age at that time or later. It was commonly referred to in the 60’s and 70’s as the generation gap.

The modern capitalist world had become, previous to 1967, reliant on the empiricism of the scientific method. This implicit assumption was contained within the capitalist paradigm and it was subversive to and would be the death blow for religious and beliefs and the power of the church.

Capitalism also usurped the power and privilege of nobility as the power of merchants and industrial capitalists grew. Traditional and arbitrary power gave way to rational laws and principles where it became theoretically possible for individual inhabitants of the lower classes to rise through the social mobility granted by free enterprise. Legal principles now would be legitimated through reasonable observations and logical processes.

Capitalism also granted greater personal freedom to each individual. The binds of the old social order were broken. Not only did social mobility become possible, but the rigidity of morality and the social rules of patriarchy and religious piety had now lost their grounding and legitimacy.

In this climate of freedom from the binds of feudalism, a wealth of ambition and inventions found its way to the market. New ways of producing, hustling wares, and managing industry were developed. Capitalism developed tools to reduce the drudgery of work at the workplace and in the home. An explosion of commodities flooded the capitalist world making life far more enjoyable that previous generations could have even imagined.

But as late as 1966 this psychological transformation had not taken hold within most households. Most of the population lived in the world of Norman Rockwell. World views emanating from the pulpit and from parents and grandparents help preserve the old social order. Change was threatening to those with the comfort of habit and ideological solidity. They barely noticed the great demographic shift taking place as people left the countryside and moved into cities. But even in the cities, the extent of popular rebellion was restricted to good boys like Elvis and Jimmy Dean. The Western world was stuck in the comfort of knowing one’s place. There was good and there was evil. The known was good and the foriegn was evil. There were proper folks and immodest outcasts. The social order was holding.

In the background however there was Alan Ginsberg and the Beats. There was the emerging civil rights movement and there were Marxists, feminists and anarchists lurking about. Women and minorities were demanding equality and although these voices seemed silent in the mainstream, they all made their contribution to the cultural revolution of the sixties.

While it marked the coming of age for full scale capitalist society, it was energized by the radicalism of socialism. The thrust and energy of the 60s was based in the strain that existed between the forces of production and the inertia of wholesome conservativism. The individualist liberating qualities of capitalism were empowered with a growing hunger for for collective liberation, all qualities that are born of the liberations and inequities of capitalism. This incendiary concoction didn't burn, it exploded. The sympathies of socialism were explicitly expressed while the free expression itself was a manifestation of now widely accepted social freedom of capitalist society.

The acrimony that is so apparent and seems so natural between capitalism and socialism is rooted in a similar conservative bent to the old school crackers. But the nature of capitalism is that of a shape shifter. Capitalism is inherently revolutionary and its own revolution against itself is programmed into the software. Socialism is a natural and necessary child of capitalism.

Wealth is based on the difference between the time worked by a worker that is equal to his or her wages, and the extra time the worker produces. That extra time has value and it is surplus value. This is the basis of the wealth of capitalists. Although capitalism carries with it a greater degree of freedom than serfdom, the reality is not freedom in any practical sense, except for the lords of capital; ergo, the germination of revolutionary energy. Workers are free, yes, but at the same time they are not. And as capitalism matures, the strain between those that own and control and those that are owned and controlled increases necessarily.

The worker in feudal times had, in some ways, more independence that the wage worker of modern capitalism. He devoted some of his earned wealth to the lord that he served but maintained his own field and animals. Craftsmen produced wealth directly with their hands and enjoyed a measure of independence. But the modern worker in the modern workplace has become an alienated tool of socialized production and is valued in these terms. He must sell his time to one capitalist or another or face destitution. The modern worker finds himself in a state of social anarchy in the world of work, commodity production, and distribution. Who knows what is going to sell, what will shut down or what the future will bring? Previously, there was binding security.

Capitalism does not contain within it the inertia, security, and solidity that feudal systems had and for that reason, there is always an undercurrent of change and anarchy.

This situation results in societies that are under the constant strain of conflict and upheaval. The shackles of religion and tradition have been broken. The conflict between the new master, the capitalist, and the serf-like wage worker, percolates continuously. The strain between the increasing difficulty gaining profit from a unit of work and the diminishing standard of living for the average wage slave impregnate all societies with the seeds of socialism. And in an ironic twist, it was these seeds of socialism, the resultant dissatisfaction with capitalism that burst forth in 1967 to result in the full expression of capitalist liberation.

Capitalism has socialized the forces of production. And as it matures and grows, the utility of the individual capitalist diminishes. Their role becomes nothing more than that of a gambler at a casino. Managers of corporations must find ways to squeeze profit out of increasing difficult circumstances. It becomes their job to cut wages, to appropriate as much wealth as possible for and to the great casino. What is in the interests of the casino players and managers is directly opposed to the interests of workers and consumers as well as the general public.

The next social upheaval will come and it will be fundamentally different that the one that began in 1967. 1967 marked the beginning of a wholesale acceptance of individual freedom from the shackles of residual feudalism. This residue had to be purged from the psychology of the new generation.

There is no way to predict when it will come or what it will mean to the way we do things and our common values. We can only try to make educated guesses. History has a way of unfolding with twists and turns that seem written by a madman.

In 1960 or even in 1966 it would have been impossible to predict what was about to happen. The next upheaval could come at any time. The changeover from the age of kings and lords to the age of the bourgeoisie happened incrementally and the explosion of rebellion occured late and well into its adolescence.

Socialism will be born of a big bang. It is a birth that will require explicit revolutionary energy. The timing and the details are impossible to predict. But there is no doubting that it will come. It’s in the cards.

2 comments:

Archie said...

The following is some edited excerpts of the discussion this article prompted at Portland, Indymedia:

My grandpa would love this one

Sephiroth

My grandpa has in recent years become increasingly cynical about government, politics and business. He used to be a moderate Republican, now he's a medium-left Democrat (at least on most economic/social things; there's a touch of old-fashioned cultural conservatism left). He has most recently screamed about the need for single-payer healthcare and living wages. But I've heard him rant over the years about environmental damage, the energy crisis, the metric system (which he adamantly supports), high speed passenger trains, etc. etc. He's no right winger. And most recently he has come out against Bush's war scandal, and thinks Bush is the worst president he can remember!

Keep in mind that 'leftist' ideas were not born in 1967; nor were they always limited to a tiny minority before then. Don't forget the legacy of Eugene Debs in the early parts of the 20th century. Don't forget the Womens' Suffrage movement, or for that matter the early, pre-1955 civil rights movement. Many 'left' movements in those days got incredible support from the cultural 'right,' there were many fundamentalist Christians in the 1910s and '20s who nevertheless supported the early socialist movement.
...What happened in 1967? By then it seems that the Cold War and McCarthyism had largely squelched the economic left. While the government still provided fairly generous family benefits, and companies largely accepted unions and living wages (hence making the postwar middle class possible), any reforms beyond this were seen as unpatriotic. The establishment continued to embrace the idea of "one nation under God." By demonizing both socialism and liberalism, the stage was set for a liberal-socialist rebellion in the late '60s.
...Starting a new socialist movement is critical at this point. It is happening right now in Eastern Europe, Latin America and of course Spain. With capitalism finally running into its terminal decline, we need to promote an alternative, and promote it FAST! Write to the paper, and if they don't publish your article, print out hundreds of copies and post them all over!!! We need a little flame to get the pot boiling again.

It won't produce instant big results. But when something happens that creates a lot of strong discontent, we'll at least be ready to harness that energy.
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Respone to Sephiroth:

LSD had a LOT to do with it

gratefuldredscott

Acid was the thing that really brought it all together. It made you face your deepest self, thus giving great impetus and urgency to taking revolutionary action. The everyday straight-world reality of pre-acid America was utterly repulsive on every level to the newly mind-expanded.
...I'm not saying the 60's wouldn't have exploded like it did without acid, but it never would have had the solid foundation that comes with a true mind-expanding experience as opposed to mere words.
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I never did acid

Sephiroth

And I still ended up a revolutionary. I don't think you need drugs to create an anti-establishment movement, even if they do help a little bit. The vast majority of youths who got into radical protest probably got started without any LSD. I'm sure plenty tried it eventually, though.
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i can tell you never did acid

because you refer to it as a drug just like Nixon did but it is NOT a "Drug" in any sense of the word. And calling oneself a Revolutionary on this site in particular betrays a strange hubris. Patrick Henry was a Revolutionary. Left-leaning onliners posting on a website does not a Revolutionary make. I made it clear that acid wasn't the main impetus back then, but it certainly solidified and confirmed any revolutionary tendencies. GDS
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I did acid

George Bender

To me the 1960s counterculture was a rebellion against the American way of life, especially work. We looked at our parents' routine, tedious, boring lives, dominated by work, and we didn't want to live that way. We also didn't want to be lonely and disconnected like they were. But our youthful alternatives were not well organized, mostly not organized at all, and our makeshift counterculture wilted under the impact of the stingy 1970s. Once we were no longer college students, the increasingly heavy burden of making a living crushed the life out of us. We reverted to being our parents. Some of the ideas survived.

I would like to see it all happen again, but with more political organization. Unfortunately, "organization" seems to have become a dirty word.


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