From “the gates of Eden” to “day of the locust”
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The cohesion of the white middle class youth movement of the 1960s was based upon a shared subculture of dissidence. So long as this subculture was evolving in the direction of a more intense, more widespread revolt, with broader aims, each successive cultural phase had been spearheaded by an indicative minority which acted out the most profound impulse of revolt within the youth culture as a whole and provided a style to be emulated by those less fully committed. Smaller vanguard nuclei, basically primary groups, crystallized the idealized collective self-image of the indicative minorities into mythical models.
As dissidence subsided and as the vision which imparted meaning to the revolt for movement participants faded away or became fragmented, it was inevitable, in our view, that the evolution of the youth culture-toward accommodation should have been spearheaded by a new indicative minority-the members of the post-movement groups. These people were drawn to organizations which systematically combatted the anarchic anti-authorianism of the 1960s and combined cultural vestiges of the 1960s (such as rock music, communal living, or the rhetoric of love, peace, Experience, or Revolution) with prescriptions which reversed those of the 1960s culture, e.g., obedience to superiors, short hair, or sexual abstinence. They thus assaulted the content of the movement subculture in part by appropriating some of the forms and rhetoric. They spearheaded the trend toward accommodation with conventional society in the guise of a nominal rebellion and fixed the locus of true liberation either exclusively in the individual soul or in a revolution to be brought about by the inevitable workings of history rather than by people living their lives authentically.
The leadership strata of the post-movement groups are usually primary groups or networks of primary groups gathered around the person of the leader. These groups are the equivalents of the vanguard nuclei of the previous decade. Their primary group character is frequently obscured by titles and organizational charts. Some examples: Leaders of the Children of God (now in the process of dissolution) were drawn from those who accompanied the founder on a bus caravan from Huntington Beach, California, to Louisiana and Texas after he prophesied the imminent destruction of California by an earthquake in 1968. The executive stratum of the Divine Light Mission is largely comprised of individuals who met Guru Maharaj Ji while seeking Truth in India during 1969–71 or who received Knowledge during the Guru's First World Peace Tour in 1971, and in either case induced their friends to receive Knowledge also. Swami Muktananda's Shree Gurudev Ashram displays a similar pattern at an earlier stage of development. The core group of the National Caucus of Labor Committees were closely associated at Columbia University and in the Progressive Labor Party before they became disciples of the founder around the time of the Columbia Strike in 1968. The Revolutionary Union (whose doctrine is “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse-tung Thought” in opposition to Trotskyism and revisionism-and which reveres Stalin) retains its original 1969 leadership when it was known as the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, an SDS sub-faction. The October League, which carries an arcane doctrinal war with the Revolutionary Union, originated as an SDS splinter group called Revolutionary Youth Movement II, and still retains its original leadership.
The Youth movement of the 1960s lasted for a full decade, culminating in wide scale confrontation of dominant society at the psychic, social, and cultural levels, with all aspects of dominant society being defined as negative, oppressive, stultifying, and inimical. Revolt occurred in alternating processes of political confrontation and cultural intensification. The height of the revolt was in 1968 with the advent of the freak-radical (alienated from straight society both culturally and politically) committed to bringing down the structure of dominant society “by any means necessary.”
As is the way with social movements, the decline occurred at a much more rapid pace than the intensification. By 1971, almost all forms of youth dissidence had disappeared or had been encapsulated, and various forms of accommodation were appearing on the scene. Post-movement groups were on the rise and dominated the youth culture scene, reaching their apex during the summer of 1973. Since then, they have also declined as youth returned to an uneasy state of “normality:” the rise of “grim vocationalism” and reversion to 1950s privatism. With the demise of the post-movement groups, even fragments of the vision have all but disappeared. Whereas during the previous decade, a time of seemingly boundless prosperity, accumulative personal goals receded in significance, the mid-1970s economic slump brings with it a rescuscitation of “getting ahead,” though seemingly without the conviction among youth in the absolute validity of doing so.
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- From “the gates of Eden” to “day of the locust”
Theory and Society
Volume 3, Issue 1 , pp 45-64
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