The Subversive Seventies by Michael Hardt

The 1960s have gone down in popular culture as a time of youth rebellion and resistance. The decade saw iconic events such as the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the war in Vietnam and the revolt against it, and May ’68 in France.

But, Michael Hardt argues in his new book, the seventies were in fact even more radical and subversive.

Heroic resistance by the Vietnamese people and the anti-war movement at home finally forced the which put socialist revolution on the agenda.

In Chile another mass uprising of the workers following the election of Salvador’s Allende’s government also appeared to promise the overthrow of capitalism—before being drowned in blood by the military.

The seventies also saw the birth of mass movements for women’s liberation and gay liberation which both regarded themselves as revolutionary movements. In countries such as Britain and Italy there were mass movements of workers which struck fear into the ruling class. This book also covers numerous other examples of seventies radicalism and looks in detail at the various forms of grassroots democracy that they threw up.

Hardt argues that the decade is important for us to learn from today, partly because it saw the emergence of neoliberalism. He emphasises its political aspect as a ruling class response to growing revolt involving increasing state repression and attacks on workers replacing what he calls mediation to accommodate social demands.

As a leading theorist of autonomism, Hardt rejects the centrality of the working class as the agent of social change and also the role of even left wing political parties in the struggle.

The longest chapter in the book is on Italy where autonomism first developed, in which Hardt’s co-thinker Antonio Negri was a leading figure.  He believes that the way the movements diversified into separate struggles for women’s liberation, lesbian and gay rights, against racism, and many other issues during the seventies was a positive development.

Hardt believes that women’s oppression and racism, for example, derive from parallel power structures, not directly from capitalism itself.

Hardt is right to argue that there is no league table of oppression and that socialists must relate to all movements against it. He is wrong however to take an approach that sees social class as just another form of oppression of no more importance than any other.

Socialist Worker argues that, to use Hardt’s own words, class is in fact “the master concept that unifies all movements”.

This is not because we think workers’ grievances are somehow more important than sexism or racism, but because workers are exploited at the point of production. This gives them the power and collectivity to fight back against capitalism and ultimately overthrow it.

The vast majority of women, black and LGBT+ people are themselves workers, so linking these movements with the class struggle makes them more effective.

The fragmentation of the movements of the seventies, emphasising how they differed from each other rather than joining in a common struggle against the system, was part of the reason for their defeat. While Hardt argues that a revolutionary party restricts the struggle of these movements, Socialist Worker believes that the role of the revolutionary party is to unite them and forge a mass movement that can smash the capitalist system led by the working class.

The Subversive Seventies by Michael Hardt  (£21.99). Available here. Published by Oxford University Press. 

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