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The Ostensible End of the Protest Movement (March 15, 1975)

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With the new “Spartacist” formation (and some other large and small groups that call themselves Communist), the revolution has lost its “cosmopolitan” flair. It has become provincial, petty-minded, bigoted, and is mostly consumed by arguments about the proper exegesis of each respective text that promises liberation. It no longer feels responsible for all the world’s problems, but contents itself – sometimes in a way that is almost pushy and petty – with the articulation of “student interests.” At first glance, this new student generation doesn’t seem all that different from the older, “quiet,” or “skeptical” generation of the 1950s and early 1960s, which, from time to time, also “took to the battlefield” with neatly printed cardboard placards to protest increases in streetcar fares and cafeteria prices.

Despite all of the revolutionary slogans that remain (and can still be seen on university walls today), it is hard to overlook the fact that there is hardly anyone who still seriously believes in revolutionary interpretations of current situations. The revolution has been put on ice, and the revolutionaries are taking a breather. This “breather” served above all to push the revolution off the public stage. It is taking place once again – here in this country with typical German thoroughness – in auditoriums, in lecture halls, and at meetings of SPD leftists. The unusual sobriety actually points more to exhaustion than to a deceptive calm before a new storm. The revolutionaries are tired, sad, disillusioned. In the end, it is more draining to be against everything than to totally subordinate yourself to one idea, one mission, or one commitment, to dedicate yourself fully to one thing.

What the antiauthoritarian “New Left” never really managed to find, however, was precisely this sense of security and identification that springs from dedication to a cause. They never found a clear-cut theme, their own distinct purpose. For a while, they seemed to have found it in a concern for the Third World, in dealing with war, need, hunger, and suffering on the margins of the affluent world. Identification with the revolutionaries of the Third World promised guidance and a boost to one’s own revolutionary efforts. By feigning participation in a worldwide, unified front of the oppressed, they gained courage and at the same time found a purpose and a direction for their own rebellious desires again. And they saw themselves as an important factor in the global struggle.

It was precisely the more far-sighted and critical theorists of the “New Left” who saw how much secret safeguarding of interests, how much “private” interest accompanied this orientation, how unsustainable this strategy would thus be in the long run. Failure in the real world of politics and the accompanying frustration, the relapse into discouragement and desperation were not hard to prognosticate. On top of that, the political developments in Cuba, China, and Vietnam also made their own contribution. What had begun so full of hope, what had suddenly made the world seem so “young” again: the rediscovery of humanity, the feeling of being connected globally, the return to individuality, spontaneity, and the power of the human will to move mountains – all of this went off like fireworks. The antiauthoritarian exuberance has dissipated. People are finding a new point of orientation somewhere between subculture and party Communism.

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