April 7, 2008

Editor Speaks About Revolutionary Sentiment

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“1968 was a year of revolution and hope,” said Joel Geier, associate editor of the International Socialist Review. Geier spoke to a group of students last Thursday evening at the event entitled “1968: Year of Revolt” hosted by Cornell’s chapter of the International Socialist Organization.
Geier described revolutionary events that took place throughout the world in the late 1960s, particularly emphasizing the U.S.’s role in the tumultuous decade. [img_assist|nid=29597|title=Of a revolution?|desc=Joel Geier, associate editor of the International Socialist Review, gives a talk entitled “1968: A Year of Revolt” in Goldwin Smith on Thursday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“The radicalization of the ’60s began in the United States, [though] it’s hard to believe that now. Up until 1968, this was the main place in which radicalization was going on,” Geier said.
Although he insisted that the groundwork for radicalism had been laid years earlier, Geier pointed to the Tet Offensive of the Vietnam War, which began on January 30, 1968, as a primary impetus for revolutionary sentiment.
“[The Tet Offensive] was the first time in American history that the all-powerful United States could not win a war,” Geier said, speaking about the operation in which North Vietnamese forces struck military and civilian locations throughout South Vietnam.
Geier acknowledged college students and U.S. soldiers as major revolutionaries.
“Within two years [of the start of the Tet Offensive], 40 percent of college students said … revolution in the United States is necessary. [But] the history books do not tell you … there was more opposition to the war in the army than on college campuses. By 1970, one quarter of all troops were AWOL or deserted, one half of all draftees never showed up … [and] one quarter of all officers killed in Vietnam were killed by their troops.”
Geier also spoke about the Black Liberation Movement, which rose in the U.S. in the 1960s.
“By 1965,” Geier said, “the civil rights movement in the South had ended legal segregation. [But] institutionalized racism … continued to exist.”
Geier addressed the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., which had its 40th anniversary on Saturday.
“125 cities rose when [King] was killed,” Geier said, noting that the urban uprisings led to the largest domestic mobilization of U.S. troops since the Civil War. He described King’s assassination as “the end of the nonviolent direct action movement.” Geier emphasized the prominence of the Black Panther Party in the movement that followed King’s death.
“By 1969 and 1970, the majority of blacks under 25 said they identified with the Black Panther Party.” But he also noted the limitations of the party, for which “revolution was a third-world revolution, not a working class revolution in America.”
Shifting his focus abroad, Geier spoke about the collective of Maoists, anarchists and Trotskyists — otherwise know as MAT — that rose in Paris in 1968. The Paris explosion began as what Geier called a “typical” demonstration against the Vietnam War.
“Radicalists called for anti-imperialist days against America,” Geier explained. “Police started beating anyone they could their hands on … 422 students were arrested.” He said that what divided Paris revolutionaries was that they responded against police brutality. “Students set up 50 barricades throughout the Latin quarter, and they fought the police all night, which was broadcast on the radio…it was so shocking that the next day the trade unions called for a strike,” which became the largest general strike in history.
Geier closed his talk by urging his audience to heed the lessons of 1968 in today’s world. He related the revolutionary acts of 1968, in which the Olympics took place in Mexico City, to the current strained relationship between Tibet and China. He insisted that the U.S. has become a police state, with two million people in jail, many for nonviolent crimes. In commenting on the current presidential race, Geier didn’t endorse a specific candidate, but said, “I’m for the people who are for Obama … he’s riding the crest of change.” Geier emphasized, however, “there’s not one government I’m not for overthrowing.”
After his talk, Geier took questions from the audience.
“How do we get from where we are now to a mass movement like [that of] 1969?” asked Kay Sweeney, a sophomore at Ithaca College.
Nate Banfield, another sophomore at I.C. asked, “How do you build a movement in a place that has no real history of a left?”
In answering these and similar questions, Geier responded stating, “people don’t come to [revolutionary politics] spontaneously. You have to learn it.”
He added, “You don’t exist on an island. You exist in a country with other people. You have to be able at same point in time to say … I’ve thrown my lot in with the human race.”