The Rise and Fall of the New Left Movement in Western Europe in the 1960s
The New Left movement, which arose in the 1960s in Western Europe, drew inspiration from guerrilla revolts in countries like the Far East and Latin America, and Marxist thinkers like Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse. The Vietnam War and American involvement in it profoundly affected the movement, which began as a student-centered protest with a wider left-wing agenda aimed at political and economic systems in place. Protests began in the United States and quickly spread across Western Europe, specifically in Italy, France, and West Germany. Despite the peaceful objectives of the student movement, frustration with the system and government’s response to social unrest increasingly led to violent protests. The situation in Italy was different, and a united student and labor protest movement resulted in significant workplace improvements and pay raises. In contrast, the burden of the Nazi past defined student protests in Germany, tainting the liberal democracy of post-war Germany and leading to the founding of an Extra-Parliamentary Opposition.
Table of Contents
- The New Left Movement and Its Roots
- Vietnam War and American Involvement Influence the Movement
- Italy: Student-Labor Protest for Change
- West Germany: The Burden of the Nazi Past
- France: A Peaceful Protest With a Swift Ending
Q: What was the inspiration behind the New Left movement that arose in the 1960s in Western Europe?
A: The New Left movement was inspired by peasant and guerrilla revolutions in countries such as the Far East and Latin America, with heroes such as Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Che Guevara. The movement also looked to Marxist thinkers like Antonio Gramsci, Herbert Marcuse but excluded or excommunicated figures like Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky.
Q: How did the Vietnam War and American involvement affect the New Left movement?
A: The Vietnam War and American involvement in it deeply galvanized the New Left movement in Western Europe. Protests began in the United States and quickly spread across Western Europe, and opposition to the war united them in a broader social and political protest. The issue most important to the movement was the Vietnam War.
Q: What was the situation in Italy during the student movement of the 1960s?
A: The student protests in Italy started as an attack on university conditions, but the police’s hostile response to an attempt to reoccupy buildings created an even greater social agitation. Radical students sought to mobilize Italy’s industrial working class, resulting in a widespread student-labor protest. The hot autumn of 1969 saw millions of workers engage in wildcat strikes, resulting in significant workplace improvements and pay raises across Italy.
Q: How was the student movement in West Germany different from Italy’s?
A: The burden of the Nazi past shaped how the student protests played out in West Germany. Many deeply implicated in the crimes of Hitler’s regime had prospered in West German post-war liberal democracy, leading many to believe that this system and the capitalist economy upon which it rested were indeed the continuation of fascism in a new guise. This fueled the view on the Left that Germany was returning to its dark past, and protests mobilized quickly, leading to the founding of an Extra-Parliamentary Opposition.
Q: Did the 1968 protests in West Germany result in any extreme violence?
A: The 1968 protests in West Germany started as a peaceful student-centered protest with a wider left-wing agenda. However, the passing of highly controversial emergency legislation became a turning point, and fringe student groups turned to extreme violence and outright terrorism, led by the Red Army Faction, as they demanded the expropriation of the newspaper empire of Axel Springer. Despite sympathy from a quarter of West Germans under 40, most young Germans were repelled by the senseless violence, while the older generation favored harsh treatment of the terrorists.
Q: Why was there no legacy of terrorist violence after the 1968 protests in France?
A: The events of 1968 in France left no legacy of terrorist violence because they ended quickly. The student protest quickly turned into a strike by workers, leading to an agreed-upon minimum wage increase. The Communist Party also split, which undercut the protest movement’s organization.
The New Left movement that arose in the 1960s in Western Europe was inspired by revolutionary movements in Asia and Latin America and Marxist thinkers of the time. Despite the movement’s initially peaceful objectives, frustration with political and economic systems and government responses to social unrest led to violent protests. Italy’s student protest movement evolved into a student-labor protest, resulting in significant workplace improvements and pay raises. The burden of the Nazi past defined student protests in Germany, resulting in the founding of an Extra-Parliamentary Opposition, and many turned to extreme violence and terrorism. The student-centered protest in France quickly turned into a worker strike, and despite a Communist Party split, the protest movement did not result in any lasting legacy of terrorist violence.