One Question is a monthly series in which we ask leading thinkers to give a brief answer to a single question.
This month, to mark the 50th anniversary of the events of May 1968, we ask:
How Should We Remember 1968?
With responses from: Lewis Gordon; Rachel Harrison; Françoise Vergès; Daniel A Gordon; Max Elbaum; Robyn C Spencer; Gabriel Rockhill; Stephen Milder; Sarah Lincoln; Eric Mann; Ron Jacobs; Nadia Yala Kisukidi; R A Judy; Leo Zeilig; Catherine Samary; Stephen D’arcy.
We should combat the hegemonic, whitewashed historical misrepresentation of 1968. That year was one of upheavals across the globe, yet dominant discussions are of white college students taking over universities and mostly white people protesting against the Vietnam War.
Understanding 1968 as part of a period from 1966 whose arc reached into the mid-1970s, we should remember Indigenous people’s struggles, new formulations of Black Power, poor people’s campaigns, women’s liberation and queer movements, and, beyond North America and Europe, we should remember uprisings and ongoing practices of decolonisation across the African continent, Asia, Australasia, and Latin America.
It is significant that 1968 and now 2018 call for reflections on the lives of freedom fighters. This year Frederick Douglass and Karl Marx would have been 200. Nelson Mandela would have been 100. We lost such fighters as Mamma Winnie Madikizela-Mandela of Azania/South Africa, the Black Liberation Theologian James Cone, the great physicist Stephen Hawking, the Corsican liberationist Ghjuvan’Teramu Rocchi, the revolutionary jazz pianist Cecil Taylor, and so many more in the first half of 2018.
We should reflect on the global demand for freedom, marked by struggles for liberation and social justice. This requires also thinking through mistakes of what is generally called ‘the left’. While ‘the right’ unabashedly pursued power in their counter-revolutionary endeavours, an unfortunate development since the late 1960s is the left’s seeming allergy to power. This has had a catastrophic effect of the right seeking and acquiring rule with the left locked in a pattern of reaction in the form of protest as the primary expression of political life.
Power is the ability with access to the means to make things happen. It is crucial to understand that protest without power is ineffective. A both-and approach is needed. Disempowering fascism, new forms of colonisation, and unbridled capitalism, whose reach now threatens the ecological welfare of life on our planet, requires embracing positive power – empowering – through the building of institutions conducive to dignity, intelligence, and material conditions of freedom. READ MORE