Peoples' movements and protests




More popularism and
less morality



Any suggestion for improvals can be mailed to the author


By Jan Wiklund



The sixties revolt was based on carrots, while today's revolt is based on whips, says Matt Taibbi. The Sixties revolt against authoritarian society and oppression was attractive, drawing in people who were initially skeptical thanks to "The power of everything from jazz and rock to abstract painting and Gonzo journalism derived from exploding conventions (….) dancing to the new music or laughing at Richard Pryor’s forbidden comedy" and "There was a universal urge toward peace, love, forgiveness and humor that brought people together.”.

“Contrast that with today. If sixties liberals were able to sell their message to the rest of the country by making music even squares and reactionaries couldn’t resist, the woke revolution does the opposite. It spends most of its time constructing an impenetrable vocabulary of oppression and seething at the lumpen proles who either don’t get it or don’t like it.”

Other characteristics Taibbi sees in today's radicals are a lack of humor and a kind of lustful demand for decency and literalness.

Of course, Taibbi is exaggerating. The seventies' continuation of the sixties' revolt certainly had no shortage of puritanical condemnations of other people's immorality. But surely there are fewer carrots today, and more whips?

In part, it may have to do with the fact that the sixties were the height of a boom. Everyone believed that the road to paradise was laid out and the goal would be reached in no time. The conditions for rebellion were also favorable – the colonial powers had fallen, the new Fordist production technology had made strikes easily organized and the ruling class looked weak. Optimism prevailed.

Which can be contrasted with the pessimism of today, when no one can see any end to the Atlantic world's austerity dictatorship and increasing inequality tyranny.
And it is also not possible to only see the permissive culture of the sixties as exemplary. Because surely there is a lot in neoliberalism that is about everything being allowed for those who have money?

But the difference between joyfully permissive movements of the sixties and moralistic movements of the twenties probably goes deeper than that. For centuries, there have been two popular movement traditions which are sometimes mixed - with successful results - but which sometimes rush at each one separately, which is not always so successful.

One tradition could be called the republican one, with roots in the peasant and artisan revolts of the Middle Ages that reached their apotheosis in the French Revolution. The other could be called the evangelical, with roots in the anti-clerical movements of the Middle Ages that found their outlets in the Reformation and the English Revolution and its continuation in the American. The essence of the republican movement is that "we are the people and we are right". The core of the evangelical movement is "bearing witness against sin" and individual perfectionism.

These two currents have continued to exert influence within various movements. The republican current has been strong in labor movements and the national movements of the Atlantic world. The evangelical has – for historical reasons – been strong within the movements that originated in the Anglo-Saxon area, e.g. the Atlantic world's environmental movements, peace movements and women's movements.

In Asia and Africa the situation is a little different.

Sometimes, as I said, the currents have been able to mix, with brilliant results. A prime example is the Nordic folk high school whose core could be formulated as "we are the people and we must perfect ourselves to take them on".

In the sixties, the labor movement was strong, and with it popular self-assertion. Since then, the labor movement has been pushed back, or perhaps one should say drowned. Instead, the evangelical trend's moralism and demands for individual perfectionism have come to the fore.

This is, of course, tragic. Nobody likes perfectionists and doctrinaires. Opponents of environmental movements, women's movements and peace movements have much to gain by mobilizing against their moralism and complacency. A dose of republicanism and populism is needed if some victories are to be achieved.

Published by Folkrörelsestudiegruppen: