Friday, 26 November 2010

Student unrest 1968 - 1970

Student unrest at the end of the sixties followed a period of unprecedented expansion in the universities; the new concrete campuses more than doubled the participation rate, from something like 2% of 18 year-olds to 5%. After the second world war, higher education became virtually free to all those able to gain entrance on academic grounds. New courses were overtaking the immediate post-war science bias; between 1963 and 1968 the number of sociology undergraduates tripled. 


In the sixties the unrest puzzled Britain. Conservatives attributed it to a global Communist plot; Northcote Parkinson blamed it on women, the Chairman of the National Sheepbreeders Association attributed it to lack of vitamins and recommended more meat in the diet. The clergy attributed it to a resurgence of religious feeling, the Russian government said it was the start of the end of capitalism and Labour's education minister put it down to Grammar School thuggism. No two disturbances had the same cause; Vietnam, the Welsh language, squatters, Biafra, uni bus services, Rhodesia, accommodation, Greece, refectory chip prices and Ireland all sparked riots. 


But compared to what was going on elsewhere it was all very British. In France, a lecturer at Vincennes arrived to find that a fellow lecturer had convened a people's tribunal to try him for his life; he was only saved from death by a daring rescue undertaken by Communist students. In Japan, armed police fought pitched battles with students, and they too formed 'people's courts' in the university, so deeply humiliating a professor of electronics for not teaching his subject in a revolutionary way that he committed suicide. In London, the staff at Rhodesia House made tea for the besieging students. 


I'm wary of drawing too many parallels between 1968 and 2010, but how the protests roll out will be interesting to watch. Whether students will try to take control of their own institutions will be one thing to watch; have they forgotten how to do a 'sit in'? Will they try to disrupt guest speakers? Will Michael Gove be pelted with eggs? Or will it all just fizzle out, to be posted on 'Facebook' through a coffee-bar WiFi with a skinny Latte? 

3 comments:

Chris said...

The students of 2010 - at least the British ones - don't want to run their own institutions (far too much like hard work!); they just want the funding gravy train to keep on rolling.

The Europeans? They're probably just happy to street fight with the flic (whether they actually revere the soixante-retards as much as the Baby Boomer media/professor-pundit nexus believe is another question).

hatfield girl said...

The demonstrations against the assaults upon Iraq ended any belief in street demonstration for good, at least in the forms known to us all from our own experiences. When upwards of a million demonstrators are managed through the capital and larger cities and towns of the UK without the slightest effect on the Labour government's political stance and already-taken decisions, then it's time to think of other means of protest.

These 'students' are unimaginative , lame-duck protestors who are too young to have realised that some kinds of protest are never going to be effective again, as well as having been criminalised in ways that make them immensely costly to every individual picked out to be 'exampled'.

Budgie said...

The vast majority of UK students in the late 60s and early 70s did not take part in the "student" demonstrations. And a lot of the "students" were not students but members of various Maoist, Trotskyist and Leninist factions.

Moreover, many others apart from students, demonstrate, but are rarely featured by the MSM. For example, I went on a Pro-Life march in London just a few years ago where I spoke to a policeman who said that he had never seen such a large turnout. It was hardly mentioned in the news, and the government took no notice.