1968 – 2020: Rebellion, crisis and radicalization of the protest

The radicality of the protest have led analysts to compare the present situation with the context of social fights of the late 60s.

Vista aérea de la zona noreste de Washington, D.C. el 5 de abril de 1968. Foto: AP.
Washington, D.C. en llamas el 5 de abril de 1968 tras el asesinato de Martin Luther King.

The explosions of popular anger over George Floyd’s death put Trump against the ropes. The image of the world’s biggest imperialist power mandatory running into a bunker for refuge, with his secret security surpassed by the protest in front of the White House, is a postal of the deep social and political crisis the U.S. has entered to.

The combination of a completely negationist management of the coronavirus crisis, added to the mercantile and unequal structure of healthcare access in U.S. -that lead to more than 100 thousand deaths over the country-, and a brutal economic crisis which left over 40 million jobless workers, are the background that unveil the unequal and racist structure of the winner country of capitalist world .

Without this context of pandemic and economic crisis the level of radicality and the national extension of the protests that broke out over the country after George Floyd’ death could not be explained. The unleashed anger of the people expresses the frustration of thousands of youngsters who were promised the «american way of life» and then robbed of their future by leaving them unemployed, who are discriminated against and killed by their skin color and see their friends and family dying because of Covid without receiving any healthcare.

The radicality of the protest. The combination of social, economic and political factors in the context of this political crisis in US, took diverse analysts to compare this situation with the context of social fights of late 60s. Some of them even said that the street radicalization -with police stations and cars burned, lootings and crashes with the police- haven’t been seen since Martin Luther King’s murder back in 1968.

“I can’t breathe”, the latest words of George Floyd to the police who was kneeling on his neck and “Black Lives Matter» slogan of an wide anti – racist movement, have become the battle’s screams of a true popular rebellion that keeps the whole world expectating and, if it goes on, could start writing a new page of U.S. history.

In 1968 several factors converged. The U.S. was trapped in the mud of invading Vietnam (a war that would cost more than 50.000 deaths and a defeat that exposed the US as vulnerable to the world) with a mass opposition inside the country. An anti – war movement that gained support day by day, headed by an radicalized left youth, referenced in figures as “Che” Guevara.

The black people civil rights movement was booming, with radicalized organizations as the Black Panthers and mass leaders as Malcolm X (murdered in 1965 while he was giving a speech on a rally) and Martin Luther King (murdered in 1968 while supporting a strike in Memphis). Every day there were news of bigger protests over the country. The wide anti – war movement usually derived to hard crashes between the manifestants and the police.

This process developed in an international context of irruption of youth and workers in different points of the globe. With youth and working class semi – insurrections as the French May in Paris, the Praga Spring or the Cordobazo in Argentina. The influence of Cuban revolution and the figure of Che Guevara were also a reason for an entire generation to take side for radicalized and left-wing ideas.

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Martin Luther King’s murder, shot while supporting a state workers strike in Memphis, unleashed a wave of protests and crashes with the police that put Lyndon Johnson’s government in check for several days.

A hard protest broke out in 125 cities, 46 people got killed and another 2.6000 were hurted. President Lyndon Johnson declared national mourning, being the first time this act was declared by a black citizen murder.

While Alabama’s segregationist governor George Wallace impulsed a racist campaign favoring the action of white supremacist groups, the republican Richard Nixon won the presidency with a centris speech, promissing to restore the law and order in the streets.

Present situation is different but has comparable aspects -from the angle of the economic crisis and social polarity within the american society- with the late 60s.

Covid-19 has killed almost twice the american than Vietnam war (58 thousand deceased persons). This sanitary and humanitarian crisis was generated by combined factors, from the difficulties of wide fringes of the population to access a commodified healthcare system to Trump’s negacionist policy, that impulsed a desinformation and xenophobia campaign (talking about the “chinese virus” to blame his asiatic competidor) which lead only to things getting even worst.

Trump’s government is unstable. The rebellion has unleashed an internal political crisis and there are moments when it seems like Trump’s acting impulsively, without measuring the consequences of his acts.

When the protests started, Trump tweeted: “when looting starts, the shooting starts”. These disastrous statements only increased the anger and masivity of the marches. Later, Trump’s policy was to declare the curfew in 50 states, a repressive measure that was challenged by protesters, it even lead them to surround the White House putting the Secret Service in trouble.

Trump governs the world’s first imperialist power in a world that is far away from the capitalist U.S. hegemony of the 80s and 90s, but also far away from  the cold war’s world context, when the sides were ideologically and politically clearly determined, and “stalinism” functioned like a counterweight, trying to contain the political radicality of the revolutionary processes, or containing their international expansion when they won (like in Cuba, for example).

On the other hand, american economy seems more fragile now than in 1968. In the late 60s, unemployment fell around 3,5%. Despite the inflation and a slowdown in economic growth because of the spending on the Vietnam war, the economy remained relatively stable. Years later, the period of inflation and unemployment that configured the 70s decade in U.S. would began.

The 2020 present itself a lot more fragile,  economically speaking, that the previous decades. The U.S. has an unemployment index of 14,7%. One out of four workers asked for a welfare assistance. The economy is going through a situation where entire sectors could not be able to recover, with multinational corporations going bankrupt and small companies closing. All of this aggravated by the world hegemony dispute with China’s advance in the competition.

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Besides, the economic consequences of the pandemic aren’t yet manifested in all its rawness. The result of a simultaneous quarantine of a big part of the world population will surely have consequences on the world economy both in de mid and the long term.

The problem of racism in United States, originated on its originary accumulation as a capitalist nation built in base of slavery, haven’t disappear in this last 50 years. Chauvinism and racism are a weapon used by ruling classes to divide the exploited and oppressed of America and the world. However, the movement of exploited and oppressed sustains a fight tradition, and recovers its historic methods in decisive moments.

In 1992, there were heavy protests because a jury absolved four police officers of Los Ángeles who had brutally murdered an afroamerican man named Rodney King. The trial’s result unleashed anger in California, after the video showing the brutal attack of the police officers to King back in 1991 was broadcast on television.

The protests continued from april 29 until may 4, they began in California but they end up extending through San Francisco, Las Vegas, Atlanta and New York. Leaving 59 deaths, 2.328 wounded people and more than 7.000 burned buildings.

Over the last decade, the advance of communication technologies, with cellphones, cameras and social media, allowed the immediate broadcast of acts of injustice and violence against black population. However, even during democrat Barack Obama’s years of government, cases of racist violence multiplicated, leading to the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Economic recession, social anger against racism and inequality, the international oil price in crisis and a pandemic in a deeply interconnected world, are the coctel where this true popular rebellion develops, with scopes and limits still unknown.

Anger manifestations against racism, but also against an unfair system that steals the future from workers, youngsters and oppressed sectors. Social and political polarity in a world that tends to an economic crisis after the humanitarian and sanitarian crisis of coronavirus, and the limits of capitalist contention of pandemic, may announce new historical moments of revolutionary ascence, somewhat like those in the 60s and 70s decades.

The US. rebellion and the Black Lives Matter movement mark a path full of future.



1 – Julian Zelizer, “It’s  It’s been ¦ve decades since 1968, and things are somehow worse,


2- Felipe Retamal, El asesinato de Martin Luther King y la violenta noche de protestas que sacudió a EE.UU, La Tercera.

3- Roberto Sáenz, “I can’t breathe”, Izquierda Web.10/6/2020 1968 – 2020: Rebelión, crisis y radicalización de la protesta en EEUU – Izquierda Web 10/10

4- Daniela Alejandra Mendoza Valero, Estas son las claves históricas de la movilización contra el racismo en EEUU tras la muerte de George Floyd, Agencia Anadolu

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