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by Archie Kennedy
Wednesday, Jul. 20, 2005 at 1:50 PM
Nobody could have predicted 1967 in 1966. It seemed to come out of the clear blue sky. But it didn’t. It had been germinating for a long, long time. And there is no reason to think that if we couldn’t see it coming in 1966 that we would see it coming now.
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.
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