120 years have gone by and we are back where we were in 1848, the year of revolutions. The European empire of espionage, terror, subversion and wholesale bribery of cabinet ministers that had been set up by the Austrians and English with the unwieldy aid of the Russians broke down. As barricades went up in the streets of the capitals of Europe the comfortable classes found the whole thing incomprehensible. They looked back on forty odd years of what they considered peace and prosperity — The Happy Society. The revolutionists were disorganized, naïve, and basically without real leaders. Almost all the leading intellectuals were passionate supporters of the revolutionary movement but largely for personal and melodramatic reasons, although the most astute were aware of the fundamental change in the moral foundations of society that the masses were demanding.
This was a period in which Marx brought to its final definition his theory of human self-alienation. The terms were those of the left wing followers of Hegel, but he was certainly not alone in diagnosing the fundamental cause of the world ill. Throughout the intervening generations all but a handful of romantic anarchists have assumed that the fundamental problem, the radical divorce of man from his work, men from one another, and man from himself, would be solved indirectly by political and economic change. Today we have, over most of the world, either welfare states or state capitalism — total government control of the means of production and distribution. Human self-alienation has not decreased but increased, everywhere.
So has the incomprehension of the comfortable classes. They say to blacks, “What is it you people want? Give us a program. The Supreme Court has guaranteed that you are just as equal as we are.” To the young, “We gave you everything your heart desired; we sent you to the most expensive schools; your sports car cost twice as much as our Buick. All you ever had to do was ask. Why are you living in this filthy room, sleeping with twenty people on the floor, taking dope and living on popsicles?” They say to the police, “I tried to be a real pal to him; only last week I bought him the most expensive outboard motor. I simply can't believe my eyes as I see him hanging there.” They are totally, absolutely, utterly and incurably incapable of realizing that they have made life intolerable.
A generation ago the great Jesuit scientist and philosopher Teilhard de Chardin said, “The revolutions of the past hundred years have been for political and economic objectives. The great revolution of the latter part of the twentieth century will be to change the quality and meaning of life.” Thank God he said it. I must have quoted it one hundred times trying to get some inkling of what's happening into the heads of the straight and square world.
Youth, blacks, the starving inhabitants of the neocolonial world, are alienated by definition. They are not alienated on the job — like a worker on the assembly line whose conditions of life and work turn him into a mindless appetitive automaton, lured on from day to day through a world empty of all human values by the bait of meaningless commodities dangled before him in the idiot box. American college students, the blacks in Hunters Point, the Indians of India or Arizona dying of malnutrition in mud huts, are outside the society and look at it as a whole. What they see is unadulterated moral horror, made doubly evil and terrifying by the fatuous boasts of idiot politicians — The Great Society, The Happy Society, You Never Had It So Good — and by college administrators who are superprogressives and can quote Paul Goodman, A.S. Neill, Signora Montessori, at the flip of a punched card, and militant civil rights advocates who are passionate practitioners of high-toned miscegenation.
Probably the most significant thing about the explosion in France is the revelation of the moral bankruptcy of the establishment. Neither the General nor the leaders of the Communist Party had the faintest idea of what it was all about. De Gaulle had no explanation except the sublimely comic one that it was all due to the Communists. The Communists, with just enough insight to be really scared, indiscriminately denounced the revolt — both of the rank and file leaders of the striking workers and of all the youth — with savage, unbridled abuse. The terms of this slanging match were derived from the political argot of a bygone age. De Gaulle might have been Clemenceau attacking Jaurès. The Communist bureaucrats picked their vocabulary from the records of the Moscow trials.
Most significantly the labor bureaucrats united in striving to behead the movement with “pork chops” — as American labor slang has it, with wages and hours sops. But the French working class are as well off as any in Europe except the Swedes and the West Germans. They did not rise for wages and hours, although they may give up if sufficiently bribed. Every effort was made by the left politicians and trade union bureaucrats to create antagonism between youth, the workers and the peasants who were just beginning to join the revolt. What all these people (“piecard artists” is the old American labor slang) were united in defending was Their Way of Life and it was this the revolt was against.
Whatever the temporary settlement in France, this rejection of the immense, deadly system of false values which has ruled the age of commerce and industry will not stop. The sentiment is shared by the millions within the counterculture all over the world who are under attack from university presidents, ghetto police and CIA-subsidized politico-militarists. Their Way of Life is unbearable and they are passing over to the assault.