1968: Anti-war demonstrations

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1968 WAS a year marked by political turbulence throughout the world. In fact, there was an explosion of student/worker power on the streets in every single month and in each of the six continents. A year when radicalism was truly international: a political globalisation decided from below and not imposed by G7 summits. The effects of the war in Vietnam were felt on the streets of every west- European country as millions blocked the thoroughfares to show their solidarity with the resistance in South-East Asia.

In Britain it wasn't all sex, drugs and rock'n'roll. The Vietnam Solidarity Campaign laid virtual siege to the US embassy in London's Grosvenor Square. The two photographs above are details of the March '68 demo as it proceeded peacefully down Oxford Street, and later the "Battle of Grosvenor Square" which alarmed the Labour government of the day (then, as now, Labour Prime Ministers had their tongues firmly ensconced in the posterior of the American President). Vanessa Redgrave is carrying a letter signed by numerous writers, directors and artists demanding an end to the war. In the event, it could not be handed over at the embassy since the police executed a cavalry charge that had clearly been planned in advance, and there were clashes which lasted the whole afternoon.

One of the marchers was a friend of mine, Richard Condon, who was greatly embarrassed on being greeted with a friendly wave by a young police officer, then Paul Condon (now Sir Paul), probably winning his spurs on that day.

One of the decisive events of that year was the Democratic Party Convention in Chicago where peace marchers (including the French playwright Jean Genet) were brutally attacked by Mayor Daley's cops and a whiff of tear gas made its way into the conference hall. It was the peace movement in the United States, led by the students and later spreading to soldiers and war veterans, which helped to bring about the Vietnamese victory in April 1975.

'1968: Marching in the Streets' by Tariq Ali and Susan Watkins will be published by Bloomsbury in May.