“As a cohort, throughout the world, our generation didn't "solve it." We didn't solve the problems of health, education, food, and injustice in the world,” writes one of my oldest comrades in struggle, Daniel del Solar in some recent reflections. He and I are Zeitgenossen, to use Heinrich Böll's unimprovable term -- comrades of our era, in our case, those who reached voting age right around the time of the Cuban missile crisis (October 1962).
Danny's right. We didn't accomplish all the things we dreamed of, but he and I and tens or even hundreds of thousands of us sure made the effort. Not always wisely -- we were young and inexperienced, and for the most part without the benefit of counsel from older cohorts of struggle, for the reasons I noted in last Friday's note ("My '68"). And even if we had been wiser, we still would have made mistakes because the world is complicated, and one can never quite predict the consequences of any change we make. But those sit-ins, mass demonstrations, confrontations with police, leafletting and (Danny's specialty) radio and TV broadcasts to make more people aware and to mobilize them to demand civil rights for people of all races, an end to the war in Vietnam, and all the other issues we took on, all of that did make a difference. Even beyond the specific, usually small victories (securing the release of particular political prisoners, forcing the state to explain its actions, and so on), we helped save the dignity of the human race. We kept the ancestral tradition of protest against inequality alive, the tradition of the Left. And now, though some of us (including Danny) are still in the struggle, it's approaching time to hand over that tradition to the next generations.
The problems they face include some that we were only dimly aware of. Global warming and deterioration of the habitability of the planet are the biggest ones. Dangers of nuclear war, depredations of trans- and multinational enterprises in weaker countries, and racism -- such as the latest assaults on Rumanian gypsies in Italy -- are ones we are very familiar with.
The left that we, my Zeitgenossen, the generation of the Cuban missile crisis, Vietnam and so on, knew came apart around the same time, and for the same reasons, as the Soviet Union and its bloc. Most of us had long since abandoned the illusion that the USSR could be the model for world revolution, but its sudden disappearance gave force to the new slogan, "There is no alternative" (TINA) -- that is, no alternative to capitalist domination.
There are and always will be alternatives. Capitalism, the reduction of all things and all humans to commodities and/or factors of production, runs counter to the inerradicable human drive of solidarity which has permitted our race to survive this long. So there will always be resistence, and there is right now, under a dozen different slogans. "Another world is possible," "Greenpeace," groups focusing on women's rights, others on "Third World," others on amnesty for prisoners of conscience, and more. The task now, as it was for us (combining civil rights and antiwar movements into one big movement) and for our immediate predecessors (the "Popular Front" of the 1930s) and for their predecessors, is to bring enough of these narrower causes together to make an impact.
And the task for us, my Zeitgenossen, is to offer what experience and energy we can to help the new guys and gals. They should be smart enough to ignore us when we're spouting irrelevancies, and to find in our successes and our mistakes lessons they can use. Some of them may even be curious enough to look at this and other blogs of us '60s people.
I'm enthusiastic about a lot of the newest Leftists. Here's just one I think we should be watching: Olivier Besancenot, who is only 34 and already a force in France. He is now seen by François Hollande and other leaders of the Parti socialiste as their biggest threat on the left, far more dangerous than the once-feared Parti communiste. His proposals make sense to me, and he makes sense to enough Frenchfolk that he got 4.25% of their votes in presidential elections in 2002 (when he was 28).