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Viva Maria or understanding 1968

In an ongoing personal quest to figure out what to learn from the uprisings of 1968, I recently read two books by Rudi Dutschke, the German student leader. (I read Cohn-Bendit years ago, he didn’t give me any clues.)

Dutschke seems like a decent and dedicated guy, standing up against tendencies of dogmatism and sectarianism and thinking strategically about the role of the extra parliamentary left. He would probably be a positive influence on today’s left, would he not have been tragically shot by a right-wing extremist.

The thing is though, some of his analysis is totally off the rails if you read him now, fifty years later. His whole (rightful) critique of the economic and political system of the Soviet Union, East Germany and the rest of the East Bloc, which he calls “state slavery”, is based on the premise that the Russian revolution was influenced by Asian instead of European values and culture. This Eurocentrism and Orientalism seems so out of place for someone who was on the front lines of anti-imperialism and international solidarity at the time.

From a foreword to one of the books, by his wife Gretchen Dutschke-Klotz, I learn that a major inspiration for his international solidarity came from a film called “Viva Maria”.

“Viva Maria” was a film with Jeanne Moreau and Birgitte Bardot about the Mexican revolution. It had become a symbol for the big interest and participation in the liberation struggle of the Third World. Rudi watched the film at least five times, if not more. When he had the time to go to the cinema, which was rare, he would usually fall asleep after five minutes — but never at “Viva Maria”.
Rudi Dutschke, Gå upprätt, p 12, my translation

So this film… I’m not going to review it, but let’s just say that Dutschke’s generation didn’t have a scooby doo about what was happening in the rest of the world. And seeing it, I realised that 1) I shouldn’t be too hard on his Eurocentrism, he didn’t know better 2) I still don’t know what to make of 1968.

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