By Charles Andrews

June 3, 2024

 

The massive protest movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam in the 1960s and ‘70s did not trigger a revolution, nor come close to one. The same is true of the protest movement against the U.S.-Israeli genocide in Gaza. But comparison of the two draws an arrow that points to it.

It sounds cynical, but let us ask: why do large numbers of U.S. students protest with fury over the genocide in Gaza? Maybe one in a hundred is directly affected. And yet they do. In 1967 college men were at risk of being drafted and shipped out to Vietnam. There was a deferment option to postpone the summons, then from 1970 lotteries set the order of call-up for a year, but always the war dominated students’ lives. Students today face no such immediate consequence of U.S. foreign actions.

Do protesters act because the carnage in Gaza must outrage any decent person? In part, yes. Two developments from 1967 to 2023 explain the tremendous energy and organization that protesters have kept up since last October.

The lesser development is that the horror of the imperialist crime is “in your face” today in a way that it was not back then. People got their world news in 1967 from three television networks and two national newspapers. The chief executive of CBS and the publishers of The New York Times and the Washington Post held regular chats with Allen Dulles, head of the CIA.[1]

This writer first learned how the U.S. waged its war in Vietnam by coming across an obscure leftist magazine; its readers could probably have stood together on a football field. It reported how a captured Vietnamese would be taken up 500 feet in a helicopter and pushed out the open door.

Few people knew about these sadistic murders until the ruling class began to divide over war strategy. In 1969 the Washington Post and then the New York Times and other mass media published Seymour Hersh’s discovery of the My Lai massacre, during which a company of U.S. soldiers killed several hundred civilian villagers (first raping many of the women and girls).

Today, we see Israel’s atrocities in Gaza almost instantly. Smartphone videos make their way around the world. They pass from observers on the spot to family overseas to social media. For all their lies, CNN and Fox News do not have the veto power that CBS and the Post had in the 1960s.

Collapse of prospects for a good life

The main development, comparing students in 1967 to students in 2023, is the collapse of their life prospects in the working class. (This class is everyone who must get an income by selling their labor power to an employer.[2]) In 1967 college students could graduate without a ton of debt on their backs. Many could try out a liberal arts major without direct vocational purpose. They looked forward to a career or a series of decent jobs. Pay was enough that they could have a family, buy a house after not too many years, and retire with a company pension and Social Security.

It is all gone, for white youth as it always was for Black and Latin. Most young adults know they will have a worse standard of living than their parents. There is no job security. A place to live takes 30 to 50 percent of their income.[3] It is a gloomy mystery what their retirement will be. Young adults today are prisoners in an end-stage of capitalism that cannot deliver mass prosperity, let alone genuine peace and environmental harmony with nature.

And the government will not be an instrument of social progress.

Karl Marx saw that capitalism, like the agrarian modes of production before it, follows a basic law: “At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production… From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution.”[4] Recent study confirms that this turn began in the U.S. around 1973.

College students who are in the working class, or soon will be, are not familiar with Marx’s law, but they live through it all the same. Israel launches a campaign of genocide against the Palestinians in Gaza, and the U.S. government – unable to tackle any social ill at home – is an eager partner and supplier to the carnage.

The protest movement against the U.S. war on Vietnam in the 1960s and ‘70s did not trigger a revolution. There is a difference today. It is a real possibility that young people will at some point have the occasion to choose revolution. If it does not arrive in their lifetime, they will pass on to their children bitter insights into capitalism and a more or less conscious urge to overthrow it and take the socialist-communist path.

*********

FOOTNOTES:

[1]  Stephen Kinzer. 2013. The Brothers. New York: Henry Holt. P. 125. See also this writer’s “The Disintegration of Bourgeois Democracy,” Sept. 3, 2016. http://mltoday.com/article/the-disintegration-of-bourgeois-democracy/http://mltoday.com/article/the-disintegration-of-bourgeois-democracy/
[2]  We include nominal self-employed contractors who in essence work on the terms set by Amazon or Uber or other such exploiter, and we exclude those who are paid extra not for performance of more or less skilled work but for carrying out capitalist operational functions as loyal managers.
[3]  “In 2022, a stunning 61 percent of renter households headed by someone under age 25 were cost burdened, including 37 percent with severe burdens.” Cost burdened means spending 30 percent or more of income on rent and utilities; severe burden means half or more of income. America’s Rental Housing 2024. Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Cambridge: Harvard University. P. 36
[4]  Karl Marx. 1987. Preface, A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Coll. Works. Vol. 29. New York: International Publishers, p. 263. In more popular style, Marx also wrote, “Social relations are closely bound up with productive forces… The hand-mill gives you society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill, society with the industrial capitalist.” The Poverty of Philosophy. Chapter two, section one. http://www.marx2mao.com/M&E/PP47.html

 

–Charles Andrews is the author of The Hollow Colossus. A list of his occasional essays is at http://hollowcolossus.com/moreCA.htm

 

Source: This article first appeared in New Worker.