Last Wednesday, the Political Science & Pre-Law Association hosted an interdisciplinary panel called “The Impact of 1968: How the World Changed,” in recognition of global events that “shocked the world” fifty years ago.
With an interdisciplinary approach to the political and cultural revolutions of 1968, the panel consisted of professors from Political Science, History, and Sociology, including UTM Professor Mark Lippincott and UTM Professor Spyridon Kotsovilis from the department of Political Science, U of T Professor Sean Mills from the department of Historical Studies, and U of T Professor Kristin Plys from the department of Sociology.
Professor Kotsovilis opened the panel with an introduction to four events that highlighted the year: the communist North Vietnamese surprise attack on South Vietnam and the U.S., the two-week long strikes throughout France led by students and workers, the brief period of political liberalization in Czechoslovakia known as the ‘Prague Spring’, and the staggering effects of Maoism in China.
Viewing the revolutionary events of 1968 through a global perspective, Plys stressed the fact that it was the idea of decolonization that spurred strikes and movements against traditional political parties. After World War I, the U.S. emerged as a superpower with political and military dominance, but it’s involvement in the Vietnam war stirred civil unrest as more than 16,000 Americans had already died in Vietnam when the North Vietnamese communists launched the ‘Tet Offensive,’ which took the U.S. army by surprise.
Following the attack, Vietnam War protests began across America, which was compounded by the civil rights movement and the beginning of the cold war. Similarly, in Asia, Plys stated that people began to realize “not much changed after they gained independence” and attempted to “fully realize their global independence.” For instance, in India, workers were promised an improvement of working conditions but were instead met with poorer conditions than when they had been ruled by Britain.
Moreover, the student-worker protests for better working conditions and civil rights transformed France and paved the way for the women’s liberation movement and the gay rights movement in the years to come.
Lippincott followed with a review of what changed and what didn’t change between 1968 and 2018. In the U.S. there were about 159 riots during 1967, and many more in 1968 following Martin Luther King’s assassination, reflecting the unrest within the country in the midst of the Vietnam War. Two months later, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy drew out a social disillusion of political justice. Among the outbreaks of protesting, students led powerful strikes in colleges, and Yale University considered admitting women, which came to pass years later.
“We think these events are distant,” said Professor Kotsovilis, “but they are still traumatic events being felt to this day.”
Professor Lippincott ended his portion of the panel by highlighting the overlap between the “new-left” and the “new-right” in the U.S. He argued that both are currently anti-corporation, and anti-elite. Both sides of the political spectrum believe that “everybody is lying to [them]” and that the media should not be trusted.
The panel wrapped up with a Q&A where a brief review was given about the comparison between events that occurred in 1968 and are still in effect today, including the Second Wave Feminist Movement, the instability of the European Union (EU), and the ongoing fight for justice and democracy in Mexico.