Table Topics “Youth Movements, the ‘Third World’ and the Radical Left”
The table on Youth Movements, the “Third World” and the Radical Left will be hosted by Quinn Slobodian (Wellesley College) and Hector Perla Jr. (University of California Santa Cruz).
Quinn Slobodian believes that we should stop being amazed by now when we find that ideas, icons, songs, books, films, bodies and politics traveled over borders in the Cold War years. No bloc was an island, no country was a sealed cell. Things got in, things got through. They got passed from hand to hand, no matter how high the risks. Some things got worn out, neglected and ignored. Others burned on. During the discussions, this table will talk about which things burned and why. There has been a weariness in recent years with existing ways of talking about youth movements and the radical left. The psychoanalytic language of revolutionary romanticism, projection screens, and identification no longer satisfies, nor does the sociological language of networks, mechanisms, and repertoires. One infuses the subject with too much emotion. The other leaves it bloodless. The challenge is how to write histories of the radical left that accompany social movements without becoming accomplices, let the reader take part without demanding partisanship, create a space to be possessed without possessing, and recall the past as a reservoir of unrealized futures. Is there a difference between ethics and politics for historians?
Hector Perla Jr. argues that the late 1980s and early 90s were a turning point in world
history, marking the close of the Cold War that defined most of the 20th Century. In Europe, the fall of the Berlin Wall signaled the beginning of the end of Actually Existing Socialism. Right-wing pundits were quick to declare liberal capitalism’s superiority over all other political-economic systems. The mantra “there is no alternative” became the dominant narrative on the global stage, ushering in unfettered neoliberal capitalism into people’s consciousness and onto the majority of the world’s population. But just slightly offstage a hidden transcript was being written in a tiny corner of Central America. At the exact same time that images of young Germans smashing the Berlin Wall held the world’s attention, thousands of Salvadoran youth inspired by Ché Guevara were smashing 60 years of military dictatorship with M-16s & AK-47s. While much less global attention was paid to the FMLN’s general offensive, it turned out to be an equally important event, symbolically marking the opening salvo of Latin America’s resistance to neoliberal globalization and planting the seeds of it’s 21st Century Socialism.