For a Kinder, Gentler Society
1968: Dreams of Revolution

  • Wilber W. Caldwell
Reviews Table of Contents Introduction «Back
1968: Dreams of Revolution.
Sound Bite

The 1960s still loom in the national rearview mirror as a kind of cultural myth. Where did it all come from — the activism, the violence, the drugs, the counterculture, the permissiveness, the radical politics — and what were they thinking? This book answers these questions in a neat cinéma vérité narrative of violence, social conscience, and political and cultural rebellion, tracing the heartbeat of student uprisings with flashbacks between New York, Frankfurt and Paris.


About the Author

Wilber W. Caldwell is the author of several books of social commentary that look at American society through various lenses including history, architecture, food and philosophy. Earlier titles include The Courthouse and the Depot: The Architecture of Hope in an Age of Despair, a study of railroad expansion and its effect on public architecture in the rural South 1833-1910; Searching for the Dixie Barbecue: Journeys into the Southern Psyche, a humorous look at the world of barbecue and contemporary rural Southern culture; and Cynicism and the American Dream. A photographer as well as a writer, he lives in the mountains of northern Georgia.

About the Book

For the two generations who have grown up since Lyndon Johnson was president, the events as well as the thinking behind the revolutionary and romantic pretensions of the Sixties are almost equally unclear. This was the era of...

For the two generations who have grown up since Lyndon Johnson was president, the events as well as the thinking behind the revolutionary and romantic pretensions of the Sixties are almost equally unclear. This was the era of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Summer of Love; it was also at the heart of the civil rights and anti-War movements. The year 1968 saw the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, the ascendance of the hippies and Yippies, Black Power, Neo-Marxism, and the beginnings of Postmodernism.

When student radicals occupied Columbia University in 1968, they were showing solidarity with student uprisings in Paris and in Frankfurt. This unique novel explores the tensions that were manifest in the student riots in West Germany following the shooting of the student leader Rudi Dutschke, the student revolt at Columbia University, and the tumultuous French May uprising, all of which took place in the spring of 1968.

At the heart of the book lie timely concerns regarding the impotence of liberalism within a self-perpetuating system that is fluid enough to contain the forces that would bring about real change.

Technically a novel, 1968 walks a fine line between fiction and nonfiction. Through its historically faithful storyline, its biographical portrayals of historical figures, and its authentic and accurate intellectual grounding, 1968 follows an entirely documentary agenda.

Well-researched historical characters include Tom Hayden, founder of the US Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Mark Rudd (SDS chairman at Columbia), “Red Rudi,” Daniel Cohn-Bendit (Danny the Red, now a member of the European Parliament), Ted Gold (of the explosive Weathermen), Karl Wolff of the German SDS, Herbert Marcuse (father of the New Left), Theodor Adorno (father of modern Critical Theory), Hannah Arendt, and the ghosts of Walter Benjamin, Charles Baudelaire, and Karl Marx. They interact with a cast of fictional characters in a real-life story of militant politics, cultural upheaval, and intellectual radicalism.

Penetrating questions concerning civil disobedience and cultural hegemony run through the book. Does revolutionary social change spring from a shift in culture, as the hippies saw it? Or does a new culture evolve out of revolutionary action, as posited by Marx and the New Left? What is the proper relationship between theory and practice? Is this the revolutionary moment? Who will lead the revolution now that working people have been seduced into the very fabric of late capitalism?

1968 is historical fiction that illuminates a brief flash of revolutionary spirit in the West and brings into focus the evolving counterculture of the late 60s and early 70s about which we all hear so much and understand so little.

No other book has attempted to tie so closely the events of the 1960s to emerging radical ideology. No one has attempted to narrate in real-life human terms the fundamental intellectual values of the New Left and of Neo-Marxism, and to relate these theories to events. No other book links this ideology to the actions of historical characters (theorists or revolutionary leaders), or to the motivations of students of the era.

Introduction

Author's Note

This is a work of fiction within a larger work of nonfiction. In tandem, these narratives combine to chronicle the widespread student revolts that took place in the spring of 1968, including the student occupation of Columbia University, the simultaneous West German student...

Author's Note

This is a work of fiction within a larger work of nonfiction. In tandem, these narratives combine to chronicle the widespread student revolts that took place in the spring of 1968, including the student occupation of Columbia University, the simultaneous West German student revolt at the University of Frankfurt, and the widespread and violent upheaval of the so-called “Paris May.” I have made every effort to present the historical characters, Mark Rudd, Ted Gold, Tom Hayden, Rudi Dutschke, Karl Wolff, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Theodor Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, and others in strict conformity with published accounts. I have also endeavored to present everything in a way that is fully consistent with the historical record and to structure dialogue that is faithful to the historical characters’ published accounts, ideas, and convictions.

Wilber W. Caldwell

Friday, April 12, 1968

A dark river of young men flowed down the Hamburger Allee and turned west onto the Mainzer Landstrasse. On the surface, their mood appeared festive. There were banners, shouts and torches, jokes, laughter, and chants of “Rudi, Rudi, Rudi,” like the familiar rhythms of a sporting event. However, not far beneath the surface, lurked a pervasive tension born of anger, frustration, contempt, and fear, a fear so intense that it soon melted away the veneer of raucous theatrics and exposed a transparently false bravado.

In the center of the crowd, Steffi Siegel was still clutching the single-page mimeographed handout that had been stuffed into her hand when they left the university. On it was a list of recent inflammatory Springer Press tabloid headlines: “Stop the Terror and the Young Reds Now,” “Do Away with Them,” “Don’t Leave the Dirty Work to the Police.” She could feel the tension bearing down upon her. “Springer, Nazi!” the crowd began to chant in an effort to muster some new kind of blind courage. Here and there along the way, students with bloodstained shirts sat on the curb, tended and comforted by their girlfriends and fellows.

The chanting grew louder as they approached the Allgemeine Zeitung Building where the Springer newspaper was printed. In the last few blocks before the printing plant, the streetlights were out. They grew quiet and walked resolutely on in darkness. They could hear shouting just ahead. Steffi felt a chill and adjusted her scarf. She wore dark jeans, a leather jacket, and a man’s short-billed cap with all of her hair tucked up beneath it. Ahead the street was dimly lit by the dull red-brown glow of temporary lighting set up by the police to illuminate the area in front of the printing plant that they were defending. Steffi could see a large crowd of students in the median where the streetcars ran in the center of the wide boulevard. Across the two eastbound lanes on the shadowy sidewalk in front of the plant, she could make out three neat lines of black-uniformed police in full riot gear. Farther along more police were attempting to clear the makeshift barricade that the students had thrown up to block the exit used by the Springer delivery trucks. They were dragging away park benches, sections of metal fences, and all manner of junk that the students had piled there. Off to one side, a small Springer delivery van lay burning on its side. The scene appeared at once surreal and psychedelic — surreal because the red-brown light was dead, depthless, shadowless, and psychedelic because there was a strobe-like quality to the illumination. Flat zombie-like figures seemed to jerk about in slow motion.

As Steffi’s group approached, the students in the median seemed to gather new energy from their arrival. A police ambulance tried to negotiate the space between the police line and the protestors. A few students blocked its path while others rocked the vehicle in an effort to turn it over. The police suddenly charged. There was a loud shout, and the students rushed to meet the assault. Many of the students in Steffi’s group picked up the shout and began to run toward the mêlée.

Steffi froze, suddenly overpowered by a strong odor she had never encountered before. It was something unfamiliar, and yet inexplicably she knew exactly what it was. She somehow clearly identified the odious aroma of pure adrenalin and fresh blood, laced with a potentially lethal overdose of testosterone.

Steffi had participated in countless protests and demonstrations before, but she had never experienced anything like this. “This is the mind of the mob,” she thought to herself. “They have surrendered their free will; they have no autonomy, no personal freedom. They have become that which they attack.”

She turned sadly and began to walk slowly back toward the university.


More . . .
As they silently stood there in the dim Columbia University dormitory corridor on that fine April evening in 1968, John Kennedy was only five years martyred, and the sudden spark of the assassin’s bullet that had slain Martin Luther King only ten days ago had now ignited deadly urban violence and lingering unrest in nearby Harlem and in black ghettos across America, while a young student leader named Rudi Dutschke lay fighting for his life in a West Berlin hospital, and...
As they silently stood there in the dim Columbia University dormitory corridor on that fine April evening in 1968, John Kennedy was only five years martyred, and the sudden spark of the assassin’s bullet that had slain Martin Luther King only ten days ago had now ignited deadly urban violence and lingering unrest in nearby Harlem and in black ghettos across America, while a young student leader named Rudi Dutschke lay fighting for his life in a West Berlin hospital, and tens of thousands of protesting students raged unchecked in the streets of the great cities of Europe. For these reasons and many others, the question seemed ripe with immediacy: if the workers were no longer game, who would fight in the revolution the students so often discussed? The Black Panthers? The Third World? The SDS? The hippies in the park? Who?


Pages 240
Year: 2009
LC Classification: PS3603.A4385A614 2009
Dewey code: 813'.6--dc22
BISAC: FIC037000 FICTION / Political
BISAC: HIS036060 HISTORY / United States / 20th Century
Soft Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-678-9
Price: USD 23.95
Hard Cover
ISBN: 978-0-87586-679-6
Price: USD 33.95
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