“The student movement was increasingly driven by voluntarism – the will, not reason, sets the pace – as well as by an indifference to, if not an outright enthusiasm for, many illiberal regimes…” writes Russell A. Berman in his reflections on “Left-fascism” on campus. Radical Leftist students of the 60s and 70s had supported terrorism, including the hijacking of an Air France flight, which involved “the grotesque selection and separation of Jewish, not just Israeli passengers by German terrorists.” Decades later Left-fascism and Islamofascism are highly visible on campus. The support of Hamas and Hezbollah are commonplace. This week, on the same day, David Horowitz was told by a Muslim student that she is “for” Hezbollah hunting down Jews worldwide, and cartoonist Lars Vilks was physically attacked. Published in the Left-wing magazine Dissent, Berman’s classic article unearths the beginnings of the Left-fascism that has united with Islamofascism on and off campus:
By Russell A. Berman
There are many diverse and competing accounts of the 1960s and the legacies of that decade. None can lay claim to comprehensiveness, including the one discussed here: there are always other stories. However the narrative of the 1960s presented here has a particular significance, both for understanding what transpired decades ago and what we encounter today. It is a narrative about continuity, albeit with transformations. Like many Sixties stories, its venue is largely the university, although not exclusively so, but it also involves an international framework: it can hardly suffice to recall the student movements within universities and ignore the complex global context. Nor is it sufficient to appeal to the memory of sixties radicalism, while attributing its decline solely to external, putatively reactionary forces intent on repressing the progressive camp. On the contrary, in place of the nostalgic mythology of that erstwhile radicalism as indisputably emancipatory, any credible account has to describe how repression emerged within the movement itself. Sixties radicalism – or at least part of it – was always already reactionary. The revolution was repressive from its start, congenitally flawed with a programmatic illiberalism and anti-intellectualism and – remembering one of the most prominent epigrams of the era: ‘we have met the enemy and he is us.’ Anything less than that is at best romanticism, at worst a regression to old Left partisanship, blithely separating the world into camps of absolute difference, to the left the blessed bound to heaven, to the right the sinners consigned to hell by the divine power of an unforgivingly secular emancipation: which side are you on?
A heroic metahistory of the Sixties presents the moment of revolt as a refusal of a deficient and antiquated world, a recognisable variant of the modernist narrative of the victory of youth over old age. Familiar as the story is, it can point in various directions. In one version, the explosions of the late Sixties represented culminations of forces that had been building up for much more than a decade, finally finding articulate expression; in an alternative version, the revolutionary event in effect capped and terminated a prior phase of liberalisation. In both versions, an early period, the Sixties that pursued a hopeful opening toward the future, enters a new phase, the Sixties which, embracing violence, underwent a repressive turn characterised by a regression to older ideological formations. At the very moment… Download the pdf of the full article here.