The Swinging Sixties: From rock and pop to mass protest

April 3rd, 2008 - 9:26 am ICT by admin  

By Anna Tomforde
London, April 3 (DPA) Britain may not have had a Rudi Dutschke or Daniel Cohn- Bendit, but the 1968 student riots have nonetheless left an indelible mark on the country’s transition from post-war austerity to the all-pervading liberation of the Swinging Sixties. Britain had led the way to cultural revolution with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Mary Quant, Twiggy, Tariq Ali and Vanessa Redgrave, among many others, but its capital, in the global scale of things, remained “sleepy London town” as Mick Jagger called it in his song Street Fighting Man.

Even the famous “battle of Grosvenor Square”, the anti-Vietnam rally outside the US embassy March 17, 1968, where protestors threw ball-bearings under the hooves of charging police horses and youths overturned cars, was minor compared with the mass protests from Paris to Chicago.

And yet, for those who were there, it marked a turning point. “It was the first time any of us had seen anything like that … the first time the non-violent thing went right out of the window,” recalled Russell Hunter, a drummer with a London rock group at the time.

“1968 marked the end of the age of deference in Britain,” said Jack Straw, the veteran Labour politician and current Justice Secretary, who was a fiery student leader at Leeds University at the time.

The events of 1968, experienced by many of its participants as a form of “romantic protest”, had in retrospect become the chief catalyst for the growth of socio-political movements, such as feminism and environmentalism.

“There was not one ‘68, as popular myth would have it,” said the British historian Dominic Sandbrook, who has written extensively on socio-political developments in Britain and the US.

In each case, the causes, and the forms, of protest, were different - and yet, the protestors had much in common, said Sandbrook in a recent interview.

Above all, said the author, they shared a “common spirit of youthful rebellion”.

“Youth was a new thing in the Fifties, and by the Sixties you had young people who, for the first time, were self-consciously generational.”

“In America, Britain and Europe the growth of education and affluence meant that young people were suddenly defining themselves as separate from, and indeed, against the beliefs and values of their parents,” is Sandbrook’s analysis.

They were also the first television generation, with students in Berkeley and Columbia cheering footage from the Paris barricades.

“We met through television,” Cohn-Bendit said later of his counterparts in other countries.

Jon Savage, the British pop-culture historian, believes that pop music brought to the young a sense of limitless possibility, but also of frustration and edginess.

“And then, in 1968, it all exploded into something totally unforeseen. In the five years from the emergence of the Beatles in 1963 to the upheaval of 1968 the economic enfranchisement of a generation turned into mass political action, if not fantasy,” said Savage.

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