Emancipační vize: rok 1968

NOVEMBER 2, 2018

Organized by Department for Study of Modern Czech Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy, Czech Academy of Science, Prague

EN: An important field in current historiography has been devoted to mapping the multiple dimensions of 1968. Work in this field is predominantly concerned with the factual events that took place in various countries during that remarkable year. Although such inquiries are important, they neglect issues that go beyond factually oriented perspective. The central issue for those participating in the social movements of 1968 was the rise of emancipatory visions, which went beyond intellectual circles, into broader spheres of politics and culture. Our conference will tackle following questions: What intellectual impulses led to the emancipatory ferment of that era? What sorts of emancipatory visions were the order of the day in Czechoslovakia, France, Italy, or USA? How were these visions received and passed onward? And last but not least, how should be approach the intellectual and emancipatory legacy of 1968 today?

CS: V Praze dne 2. listopadu se ve Vile Lanna uskuteční mezinárodní konference Emancipační vize: rok 1968 (Envisioning Emancipation: The Year 1968). V rámci projektu Společné století, jehož smyslem je připomínka významných kulatých výročí spjatých s československými dějinami, konferenci pořádá Oddělení pro studium moderní české filosofie (Filosofický ústav AV ČR v.v.i.). Rok 1968 patří z faktografického hlediska mezi nejvíce zmapované období a soudobá historiografie se zachycení událostí této bouřlivé éry věnovala ve všech možných regionech Evropy i světa. Jakkoliv pořadatelé považují dosavadní historické bádání za důležité, usilují o jeho překročení směrem k debatě o emancipačních vizích spojených s rokem 1968. Jde jim především o promýšlení vazeb a přesahů tehdejších intelektuálních projektů směrem do dobové politiky a kultury. Kladou si proto také otázku, zda a nakolik mohou být emancipační vize osmašedesátého roku aktuální v současném světě. Jednotlivá vystoupení se budou věnovat otázkám rovnosti (Christine Sypnowich), svobody (James Krapfl), kulturním a globálním perspektivám (Sezgin Boynik, Michael G. Esch, Jan Mervart, Zachary A. Scarlett) či vztahu sovětského marxismu k roku 1968 (David Bakhurst, Alexej Penzin).




Friday, November 2
9:30-9:45 Welcome
9:45-10:30 Christine Sypnowich Equality, Individuality and the Lessons of 1968
10:30-11:45 James Krapfl Emancipation from What?  The Meaning of Freedom in the Prague Spring and Its Aftermath

Coffee break

12:00-12:45 David Bakhurst Ilyenkov 1968
12:45-13:30 Alexei Penzin May 1968 on the Margins of October 1917: An Implicit Critique in Soviet Marxism


14:30-15:15 Sezgin Boynik Putting the State at the Distance”: Long Decade of Emancipation
15:15-16:00 Michael G. Esch “When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.” Music and Revolt in the long Sixties

Coffee break

16:15-17:00 Jan Mervart Prague 1968 and the Chinese Influence
17:00-17:45 Zachary A. Scarlett Provincializing the West in the Global Sixties: A Third World Perspective





Foto: Petr Zewlak Vrabec





David Bakhurst: Ilyenkov 1968
My paper is devoted to Evald Vasilevich Ilyenkov, the most brilliant Soviet Marxist philosopher, and the most influential voice in the philosophical “thaw” of the immediately post-Stalin era.  From the mid-1950s to the early 1960s, IIyenkov’s writings and speeches had a transformative effect, inspiring a new generation of philosophers to see beyond the dogmatic orthodoxy of “official Soviet philosophy”.  Whether they agreed or disagreed with him, no Soviet philosopher working at that time could ignore the phenomenon of Ilyenkov.

However, since most of the Stalinist old guard retained their positions of power in the philosophical establishment, Ilyenkov was constantly in trouble and his career lurched from one crisis to the next.  There were a number of triumphs, but there were many vexations.  The year 1968 was a turning point in Ilyenkov’s life.  On the one hand, he successful defended his doctoral dissertation and published a number of important works, including Of Idols and Ideals, his humanistic critique of Soviet positivism and infatuation with the scientific-technological revolution.  On the other hand, the Soviet response to the Prague Spring had a devastating effect on him and on the course of the rest of his life.  First, Ilyenkov was identified as a revisionist and subjected to intense ideological scrutiny that made it difficult for him to write and publish.  Second, his confidence that a human-centred, egalitarian communism could be built in the Soviet Union was irrevocably destroyed.  After this, there was no way forward for Ilyenkov, just as, ultimately, there was no way forward for the USSR.


Sezgin Boynik: “Putting the State at the Distance”: Long Decade of Emancipation
In the summer of 1962 free jazz musicians Archie Shepp and Bill Dixon’s band played in the Youth Festival for Friendship and Peace in Helsinki. The participation of free jazz musicians in the Festival supported by the Soviet Union distorts the ideologies of Cold War cultural politics claiming that jazz and abstract art has been used by the US to present its foreign policy as the culture of freedom against the socialist propaganda art. By focusing on this performance I will discuss the “communism” of free jazz and Black Power as a position against war and imperialism and present this event as an entry point to the political art going beyond the representative state politics. Disliked both by the leftist and liberal right-wing press in Helsinki, the concert, featuring songs dedicated to the leaders of de-colonial movements (“Lumumba”, “Kenyatta”) will be the starting point to discuss the political form of free jazz and improvisation, non-racial understanding of jazz, and communism of black power.

On the theoretical level, the presentation will question the usual schematization of the Cold War cultural politics as the contradiction between capitalist (Western) forms of free expression (jazz, abstract painting, non-figurative sculpture) and socialist (Eastern) forms of committed art (socialist-realism, propaganda, lyrical narrative). I will argue that the Cold War discourse is conceptually inadequate to deal with the complex layers of artistic practices, and also propose to discuss the sixties as a long decade of international emancipation involving strong non-European revolutionary movements.

By discussing this event as a political and artistic act of “putting the State at the distance”, as Alain Badiou is formulating, I will draw the theoretical consequences of this position by referring to writings of Paulin Hountondji, Aijaz Ahmad, Peter Hallward, Amady Aly Dieng and Amiri Baraka.


Michael G. Esch: »When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake«. Music and Revolt in the long Sixties
Jazz, Beat and Rock are not just globalised commodities. During the Cold War and specifically in the long Sixties they constituted musical and non-musical practices that challenged social rules and pushed the limits of what could be played and expressed. They were projection screens for rebellious subcultures and for moral panics; as such, they were soundtrack and agency of global cultural change. But why could they be all this not only at their places of origin, but in a locally and regionally specific reception, signification and recreation across cultural and ideological borders? How did musical practice relate to its appropriation through music-related subcultures and cultural avant-gardes in the context of the cultural revolution of the long Sixties? The presentation examines what actors contributed in which manner to the development and signification of the music and to the definition of »authenticity«, its manufacturing, commodification and canonisation. It shows that these processes were always transnational and – especially in their East-West-duplicity – often ambivalent. It asks how the transnational appropriation and the integration of non-northatlantic elements related to renewal and authentication of musical dialects and how these renewals interacted with musical cultures and subcultures in the global south. By this means, it aims at a deeper understanding of the preconditions, reasons and forms of the global attractiveness and efficiency of musical and subcultural styles that had their origins in the USA and England.


James Krapfl: “Emancipation from What? The Meaning of Freedom in the Prague Spring and Its Aftermath”
Though the Prague Spring was unquestionably part of “the global 1968,” it defies many hypotheses about what exactly unites the diverse movements and upheavals of that year.  Though students participated, the Prague Spring and its aftermath cannot be characterized primarily as “student rebellion.” Indeed, it is questionable whether there was any significant “rebellion.”  There was, however, collective effervescence, resulting in a new conception of the social order.  This paper presents part of a broader argument that the salient feature unifying popular movements of 1968 was the critique of violence in various forms.  Often, these critiques invoked certain forms of violence in order to fight others, but the critique that developed in the Prague Spring and was refined in its post-invasion aftermath recognized violence itself, in all its forms, as the problem to be overcome, and so it espoused methods of non-violence as it articulated visions of a society without violence.  The paper examines the critiques that were developed among broad segments of the Czechoslovak population both before and after 21 August, showing how they informed the dissident movement that developed in the 1970s and fostered the surprising harmony between dissidents and the general population that characterized the revolution of 1989.


Jan Mervart: “Prague 1968 and the Chinese Influence”
Since the Czechoslovak 1968 is mostly interpreted as an outcome of East-West intellectual exchange, this paper is devoted to East-East intellectual transfer. It explores how arguments related to Chines situation were used in post-Stalinist debates on the role of art and science in socialist society. Simultanesously, the presentation aims to shed light on the reception of Maoism as it was represented in the radical leftist program elaborated by Czecch poet and philosopher Egon Bondy in the second half of the the 1960s.


Alexei Penzin: “May 1968 on the Margins of October 1917: An Implicit Critique in Soviet Marxism”
Acknowledging the emancipatory significance of May ’68 in Europe and globally, the paper attempts to reconstruct an implicit critique of this event in the Soviet “creative” Marxism of the 60s and 70s. The paper is based on the assumption that recent re-evaluation of the Soviet legacy made by a number of theorists (Boris Groys and Slavoj Žižek, among others), while suspending the Cold War’s and anti-communist narratives, allows us also to recognise an original set of ideas that can be applied to contemporary discussion about the 1968. Certainly, the official Soviet discourse had been condemning the 1968 radical movements, referring to Lenin’s formulas about “petty-bourgeois anarchism” from his Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder. These formulas were, however, appropriated and deflated by its repetitive use in the official discourse. At the same time, a number of Soviet intellectuals and philosophers who belonged to so-called “creative Marxism” outside of the official dogma had been developing their own critical discourses. From today’s view, they could be considered as an implicit and productive critique of May 68 and the post-68 intellectual conjuncture. I will discuss several main lines of this critique with recourse to the two key figures, Mikhail Lifshitz and Evald Ilyenkov, though they never addressed directly the 1968 events. Being the “last Bolsheviks” in philosophy, both thinkers kept fidelity to the event of 1917. In their implicit critique of 1968 they constantly revisited the event of 1917, to enhance understanding of its legacy. Lifshitz would consider May 68 as the event that had glorified what was rather marginal in the October revolution and the early Soviet cultural avant-garde – a ‘micro-politics’ of the everyday, anti-Oedipal uprising against authority, ‘liberation of desire’, anti-disciplinary attitudes, and overestimation of the machinic and technical side of social transformation. According to Lifshitz’s challenging book Crisis of Ugliness (1967), modernism, considered not only as an aesthetic but also as a political and intellectual strategy, re-functions these kinds of protest and disobedience, turning them into a laboratory for testing self-reproductive and adaptive capacities of capitalism. Evald Ilyenkov’s work took another direction, with his critique of positivism developed in the works On Idols and Ideas (1968) and Leninist Dialectics and Metaphysics of Positivism (1979). Ilyenkov anticipates the anti-dialectical tendencies in post-68 thought, as well as more recent theoretical engagements with the realm of the “post-human”. In these works Ilyenkov also repeatedly emphasised that the communist politics cannot be reduced to a positivistic discussion of technologies and managerial-organizational strategies. From today’s perspective, both forms of implicit critique anticipated recent arguments about incorporation of “68 thought” into the managerial and biopolitical strategies of contemporary capitalism (Boltansky and Chiapello et al.), providing more radical historical and philosophical perspective for the empirical and sociological claims. At the same time, discussing their constructive theoretical proposals, both Lifshitz and Ilyenkov produced very ‘speculative’ philosophical visions of communism that reaches far beyond the concerns of capitalist modernity and its political contestation. In conclusion, the paper will tackle briefly some aspects of these hypothetical programmes, taking into account the contemporary revival of “speculative” and post-humanist thought.


Zachary A. Scarlett: “Provincializing the West in the Global Sixties: A Third World Perspective”
This paper argues that while scholars have acknowledged the internationalism of the ‘Long Sixties,’ many have failed to create a viable heuristic that draws from case studies outside of Europe and the United States. I consider how our understanding of the Sixties might be changed by provincializing the West and centering the Third World. First, this paper examines the cohesiveness of the Third World as a viable revolutionary space. I argue that the Third World was at best a tenuous political unit and at worst a Western construct that often ignored local and regional realities. Second, I call into question the periodization of the decade. Privileging the Sixties often ignores the anti-colonial movements of the 1950s, as well as major revolutionary events at Dienbienphu, and in Cuba, China, and Ghana (to name a few). By the 1960s, the Third World was entering a second revolutionary phase in which students, workers, and intellectuals challenged the authority of the post-colonial state. The Third World Sixties, I argue, was the denouement and not the climax of a longer political struggle. Finally, this paper engages with the dialectics of culture and politics in the 1960s. The New Left in Europe and the United States often used cultural critiques to frame political action. The opposite was true in the Third World. Rather than approach politics through culture, Third World revolutionaries tended to deploy politics in order to challenge hegemonic cultures. And yet, most histories of the 1960s foreground the Western cultural experience as an a priori form of global political critique. Overall, this paper considers novel forms of radical activism and reexamines the role that culture played in shaping Sixties internationalism. It concludes by asking to what extent the 1960s is a Western construct, and how we might begin to reassess the 1960s through the Third World.


Christine Sypnowich: “Equality, Individuality and the Lessons of 1968”
‘Socialism with a Human Face’ was the rallying cry of the Prague Spring activists who sought equality and freedom under ‘really existing socialism’ fifty years ago. The ideals of that movement continue to inspire progressives fifty years later. But the political philosophy that should underpin the idea of a ‘humanized’ socialism remains unarticulated. My paper seeks to remedy this.

At the heart of the Left’s disappointment with Soviet bloc societies is a paradox of individuality. On the one hand, communist states intruded on individual life, violated human rights, and were arbitrary in their decrees and interventions – they were overly involved in citizens’ lives. On the other, communist states showed a callous disregard for human wellbeing, failing to provide the constituents of a flourishing life – in this way, they were insufficiently or inadequately involved in individuals’ lives.

In our post-Soviet world where the market is king, this critique also applies to capitalist societies: income inequality means a flourishing life is only unevenly realised, and the rule of law, though understood as an achievement of western liberalism, is belied by examples of arbitrary power such as Guantanamo Bay.

I argue that an appreciation of the problem of individuality requires a dualistic strategy in the pursuit of the equal society. Equality before the law requires procedural guarantees and human rights, wherein the political community’s aims cannot be achieved through arbitrary interference in individual freedom. Equality in how people live, however, means going beyond private rights to provide the individual with the constituents of human wellbeing. Karel Kosik described this well in his idea of how ‘the universally developed individual’ contrasts with the idea of the individual as a mere instrument of history. In sum, we must both affirm the juridical yet go beyond it in order to inspire an invigorated socialist ideal worthy of the legacy of Prague 1968.