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New Left Review I/31, May-June 1965


James Petras

Berkeley and the New Conservative Backlash

The University of California at Berkeley, which has been ranked as one of the foremost educational establishments in the world has recently been the scene of a prolonged and massive confrontation between the students and administration with a great majority of the faculty siding with the students. Many of the problems which were dormant in contemporary American society have been raised by the powerful student movement into major issues. These problems are in important ways similar to those which have traditionally presented themselves to a polity—the rôle of the citizen in political life, popular control over decision making, civil liberties, the rights of free association, the rôle of political elites, and the relationship of ‘legal’ means to civil disobedience. But the context in which these questions are posed is radically different: a highly bureaucratic society composed of large scale organizations where power and decision making are concentrated at the top; a highly integrated society where education—industry—military—government frequently exchange services and personnel; a political society where large scale popular political participation is looked down upon precisely by the political men who, possessed by the administrative vision, define situations either in professional or technical terms. The end product of all this raises a decisive question: can politics as it has been understood (as conflict and popular participation) by many democratic political theorists, survive the onslaught of the newly emerging society and its spokesmen? The Free Speech Movement (fsm), the student defenders of civil liberties at the University, answer in the affirmative and to a large degree have succeeded in establishing some semblance of those rights at the University of California at Berkeley. The University bureaucracy and some highly respectable scholars have answered in the negative either to demands of the students or to their organized efforts to achieve these rights.

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