“1968 – We shall win the last battle” conference in Berlin

Over the weekend of May 2-4 a conference was held in Berlin on the theme of "1968 - We shall win the last battle", organised by the youth and students of the German Left Party (Die Linke). There were 1600 people taking part in the conference and the Marxists of Der Funke intervened in the debates, organised a stall with literature, provided international speakers from Spain and Pakistan and one of the Der Funke supporters, and member of the national council of the youth wing of the party, made one of the concluding speeches.

Over the weekend of May 2-4 a huge conference on the theme of "1968 - We shall win the last battle" took place in Berlin. More than 1600 activists participated in the numerous workshops and commissions at the Humboldt University. The conference was organized by Linksjugend [‘solid], the youth organisation of the German Left Party, DIE LINKE and the SDS, the student's federations of DIE LINKE, to study the ideas and the history of 1968 and debate the consequences for the situation today.

1968 conferenceIn almost 100 workshops the Vietnam War, the French Revolution of May 1968, Rudi Dutschke and the German students movement, were all discussed as well current topics like the Venezuelan revolution and the war in Iraq. The perspective of the overwhelming majority of all participants was anti-capitalist, and there was general agreement that capitalism is responsible for hunger, war and mass unemployment. The key role of the schools and universities as an ideological glue for this society was highlighted in all the discussions.

In one aspect the conference was in open contradiction with the movement of 1968 in Germany: in those days lots of revolutionary youth believed that the working class had lost any interest in revolution and had become bourgeoisified! No hint of such an idea was present in this conference. After the numerous strikes in the last period which reflected the rise of the class struggle in Germany this is hardly surprising.

The comrades of Der Funke were present during the whole conference with a stall and sold the paper, pamphlets as well as Marxist classics. The comrades were able to discuss with many participants at the congress the main slogans of the Marxist tendency around Der Funke, with nationalisation under workers' control and the unity of all social struggles being the most important. We also debated the role of DIE LINKE in the rising level of class struggle that is now taking place in Germany. Using the examples of German Telekom and Deutsche Bahn, Germany's railway company which is about to privatised, we explained that only by nationalising the means of production under workers' control and management involving the broader population, can the infrastructure be maintained and expanded.

The highlights of our intervention were clearly the workshops run by comrade Paul Rana from the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign (PTUDC) and Victor Taibo from the Sindicato de Estudiantes (SE), the Spanish Students Union as well as the speech of our comrade Karin Schnetzinger from the national speakers council of Linksjugend [‘solid] in the final session of the conference (see below).

1968 conferenceIn the workshop, Victor reported about the experiences of the Spanish Students' Union since its foundation in 1986 and laid emphasis on the importance of linking the students' movement to the struggles of the workers. Only together with the workers can important changes in the educational system be achieved; thus, in Spain the right of students to strike was achieved in 1987. For example the SE organised solidarity with the striking bus drivers of Barcelona and on the first day of the strike a delegation was at the depot at 4 o'clock in the morning, long before the trade union bureaucrats, to deliver their message of solidarity and discuss with the workers. Victor explained that because of this consistent solidarity, the ideas and slogans of the SE are taken seriously within the workers' movement. In April 2007, when a large automobile parts factory was to be closed down in the south of Spain, they organized a meeting with more than 600 workers and students of the region under the slogan of workers' control. In 2003, they led a huge students' demonstration against the war in Iraq with one million participating in 70 cities all over the country.

In the workshop on the Pakistan revolution, comrade Paul outlined the history of Pakistan since the partition of India in 1947. He went into the details of the Revolution of 1968 and the PPP government which brought about important reforms but never touched the state apparatus. The then leader of the PPP, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, realised, albeit to late, that it would have been necessary to push the revolution to the end and overthrow capitalism altogether. Paul explained that Pakistan today is in a similar situation to the period just prior to the upsurge of 1968. After the murder of Benazir Bhutto, who for the Pakistani masses embodied the hope for a better future, the whole country erupted. Millions of people spontaneously demonstrated in the streets. At the moment, the situation has somewhat calmed again because people have been waiting to see what the new government was going to do. Meanwhile, the social contradictions are growing and the price of food is at an all time high. In addition, there is war in Afghanistan and the pressure of the USA to fight the Taliban. At the end of his speech, Paul reported on the work of the comrades of "The Struggle", the Pakistani section of the IMT. He explained how they participated in the parliamentary elections with revolutionary slogans and showed pictures of their last national congress.

Speech delivered by Karin Schnetzinger, member of the national speakers' council of Linksjugend (SOLID) and supporter of the IMT, at the end of the Congress

Dear comrades,
Dear participants in the conference,

I have been given the honour to close this congress together with Jan. This is not so easy. Therefore I will sum it up in a few words: this was a marvellous congress! For three days, 1600 old and young people have discussed in workshops and debates and have had thousands of individual conversations in and around this event. For this I want to thank everybody that participated. I want to thank all the participants, the speakers, all those that have taken part in the organisation of the congress and, last but not least, especially all the helpers that such an event requires.

I think that we can proudly state that we have made our contribution to the struggle for an interpretation of 1968. But now we have to consider what we are going to take back home, to the universities, schools, and workplaces. Which lessons do we draw for the future?

Under the slogan of a "long march through the institutions", accompanied by the hopes of a real change in politics, many 1968 veterans have ended up in the dead end of parliamentary politics and the Schröder government of Social Democrats and Greens which started in 1998. A few months later they took part in a NATO war of aggression and with their policies also continued the redistribution of wealth from the bottom to the top of society.

Other 1968 veterans were not prepared to wait for the revolution and abandoned the patient job of politically convincing the working class. They focused on individual terrorism, on kidnappings and assassinations. Let me tell you a sad fact: on the path of changing society there are no shortcuts. As my comrade Paul Rana from Pakistan said to me yesterday, shortcuts lead you directly to the cemetery.

But then there are the fighters of 1968 that have been consistent and true to themselves and their goals and ideals. Many of them are here today. The strongest fighters are the ones who fight for a lifetime, and these are essential and indispensable.

We can learn something else from 1968. A movement of students and the youth alone can have an influence in society, but it cannot change it. A real transformation is only possible when the struggles of the youth are linked to those of the workers, the working class. This is shown by the two countries where the revolution was most advanced: France and Pakistan.

An enormous strength of this conference lies in the fact that all the discussions related 1968 to our up-to-date situation. We didn't assemble in front of a bonfire and wallow in revolutionary romanticism, but we discussed the reality of today. And I think that these discussions allow us to conclude that the final battle has not been fought und that we still need a revolutionary change of society.

And therefore I want to talk about the issues that in my opinion are vital in the current situation: Oskar Lafontaine has recently called for the renationalisation of the Post Office, railways and telecommunications sectors. I think that this is appropriate and well founded. Primary care has to be transferred fully into common ownership and under the control of the workers. This must not remain just a slogan! This has to be put into action. And we cannot stop there. The commanding heights of the economy have to be nationalised and put under the democratic control of the workers. This is the starting point of socialism of the 21st century.

And something else, in Berlin this week many wheels stood still. The public transport workers fought hard for the agreement that has been reached. And they had to fight so hard in spite of the fact that DIE LINKE is part of the local city government of Berlin and should have supported the strike.

This takes me to an issue of utmost importance: DIE LINKE is a point of reference for many people that are hoping for a real change in politics now. Some people that I have talked to at this conference point to Berlin and ask the question: whoever wants to carry out revolutionary politics can't do that with DIE LINKE. But I tell you one thing: the only force, that can potentially lead all these movements of the workers and the youth and bring them together is DIE LINKE. This is the task and justification for its existence. And we will have to make sure that the party is up to its tasks!

One thing has struck with us since 1968: the discussion on how to really change this world. And not all of us share the same opinions. At this conference we offered some answers to some questions and at the same time raised many more questions. This conference was an invitation to a discussion that so many people responded to. And this offer continues to be present in the youth organisation Linksjugend [‘solid] and in the students' organisation SDS. Now it is our task to put the revolutionary ideas into practice.

This brings me to the question that Gisela Notz raised in her opening speech, looking at the banner over her head, which reads: "What´s left of 1968? Who are we?" I answer that question with great pleasure. We, all of us who sit here today, you who I call upon to draw practical conclusions now and get active in the youth organisation Linksjugend [‘solid] and in the students' organisation SDS, because it is the duty and task of the youth to strengthen the Left Party with revolutionary ideas. Thank you.

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