The politics of affluence
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The politics of affluence Europe in the 1960s & 1970s Presentations available at Follow link to courses & ES2000 From stringency to affluence Economic miracle in the 1950s results in sustained growth in western Europe

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The politics of affluence

Europe in the 1960s & 1970s

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Presentations available at

Follow link to courses & ES2000

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From stringency to affluence

  • Economic miracle in the 1950s results in sustained growth in western Europe

    • Annual growth rates of 5-6% in 1950s & 1960s

    • Full employment in Northern Europe

    • Importation of ‘guest workers’ from Mediterranean rim

    • Growing sense of wellbeing, welfare by early 1960s

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Social changes:

  • Urbanization:

    • Shift from countryside to towns

    • Towns to cities

  • Changes in work

    • Further industrialization, then shift to service sector

      • Growth in new service sector occupations

      • Growth in public sector jobs – needed to run expanding welfare states, systems of social protection

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Religion & social control

  • Decreasing religiosity

    • John XXIII & changes in the Roman Catholic Church

    • Less inclination to instruct from pulpit

    • Changes in Protestantism?

  • Diminished social control:

    • Less inclination to censure television or films

    • Possibility of divorce opened up

    • Gradual removal of prohibitions on homosexuality

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Class differences

  • Attempts to ensure more equal life chances – e.g. through comprehensive schools

  • Greater upward mobility – for some

  • In Northern Europe decreasing sense of deprivation: everyone is better off –

  • UK: differences in speech, social mores continue

  • France & Italy: sharper tensions, reflecting late industrialization & strong position of Communist trade unions & Communist parties

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Changing lifestyles?

  • Housing

  • Shopping

  • Clothing

    • Blue jeans as a leveler -- blurring of class distinctions

  • Transportation

  • Emergence of youth culture

  • Leisure

    • Music

    • Television

    • Vacations

  • Broader exposure

    • Americanization?

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Political consequences:

Competing hypotheses:

  • An end to ideology: ‘the democratic class struggle’ could go on without apocalyptic ideologies, red flags, May Day parades’

  • Post-materialism: those coming of age in affluence & relative security have the freedom to pursue post-material (quality of life) values: Erst das fressen, dan die morale’

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Changes in parties & party politics

  • Centre right takes credit for new prosperity:

    • British Conservatives,

    • W. German Christian Democrats,

    • Gaullists in France

    • Christian Democrats in Italy

  • So do Social Democrats

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Social Democratic parties:

  • Abandon Marxism, doctrine of inevitable class conflict…

  • Pragmatic leaders emphasize increasing the pie rather than dividing it

  • Emphasis on fairness, equality of life-chances

  • Managing capitalism rather than public ownership

  • Evident in

    • SPD: Bad Godesberg

    • British Labour…

    • Scandinavia

    • Netherlands & Belgium

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But not everyone agrees:

  • Emergence of left socialist parties in Norway, Denmark, Netherlands…

    • Reject of strong cold war, pro-NATO orientation of Social Democratic parties,

    • Insist on reality of class conflict

    • Yet reject state socialism, Soviet domination

  • Ongoing divisions in British Labour Party:

    • Further nationalization of industry

    • Foreign policy:

      • NATO membership v. unilateral disarmament

      • Europe

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Emergence of new conflicts & tensions

  • By late 1960s, not only the cold war, but also Viet Nam as a backdrop

    • Civil rights movement & anti-war protest in the US

    • Doubts about arms race, Soviet threat

  • Growing activism, questioning authorities, search for alternate lifestyles, e.g

    • Emergence of JUSOs (Young Socialists) in W. Germany

    • PROVO & dissident groups in the Netherlands

    • Events of May 1968 in France

    • Hot Autumn in Italy

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Events of May 1968

  • Begin with demonstrations protesting limits on visiting hours in women’s residences

  • Spread throughout university system, public institutions, with occupation of buildings

  • Result in general strike, massive demonstrations, barricades in streets

    • At height, 10 million of a workforce of 17 m are out on strike or occupying buildings

    • Economy at a standstill

  • Counter-demonstrations launched

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  • De Gaulle and his premier (George Pompidou) initially hesitate

  • Efforts of the Communist Party, (PCF) to channel or stop the demonstrations

  • CGT (Communist Union) turns political demands into economic demands

  • Massive wage increases granted

  • Protests dissipate when De Gaulle dissolves parliament, calls new elections, blames Communists (‘Party of Fear’)

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May 1968 in context

  • Protests, occupations reflect deep-seated grievances

    • Combine modes and techniques of 1960s (occupations) with modes from French Revolution – barricades in streets

  • Sufficient to make regime more attentive and more responsive – but not completely so

  • Continued protest potential, though rarely manifests on same scale

    • Cf. 1990s protests against education reform

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The Hot Autumn in Italy

  • Autumn 1969

  • Wave of strikes and demonstrations, some spontaneous

    • Rapid spread

  • As in France, a heady political moment,

  • Long term:

    • Increased benefits for workers

    • Increased support for left, especially Communists

    • Communists nearly brought into government

  • Civil society begins to assert itself:

    • 1977 initiative results in a referendum legalizing divorce

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Was there an end of ideology?

  • Left and right moved toward each other

    • Agree on desirability on managed economy and the social protections of the welfare state

    • But, Social Democratic parties retain commitment to socialism, understood as a fairer distribution of wealth

      • Example of Swedish Social Democratic Party

  • Left socialist parties remain

  • Student groups, extra-parliamentary pick up & use fragments of Marxism

    • e.g. JUSOS in Germany

    • Red Brigades in Italy, Baader-Meinhof group in Germany