History Of Youth Movements Research Paper

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While ‘youth,’ the age between childhood  and adulthood,  varies from one culture or period of history  to another   in  terms  of  form,  duration, and  degree  of regulation, the ‘young generation’ is always an object of the older generations’  focused attention, as adults try to prepare young people for their role as full (male or  female)  members  of  their  society,  passing  on  to them the generally accepted values, norms, and viewpoints  by  regimes  of  education   and  discipline.  As history  shows, this constellation has again and again led to individual  and collective group conflicts. Since ancient  times, young  people have often found  themselves in  the  front  lines of  diverse  political  and/or social movements. However, the ‘youth movement’ as a form of the ‘young generation’ more or less violently revolting against the adult world is a ‘modern’ phenomenon.  It first appeared  in the ‘old’ European states around 1800, emerged  in such ‘young’ states  as the USA and Australia  in the early twentieth century, and has increasingly turned up in countries of the so-called Third World since 1950.

1.    Youth Movements As An Expression Of Generation Constellations In The ‘Modern Age’

Collective  revolt  by groups  of young  people  against the conditions  in which they live may aim for more or less general  political,  social,  or  cultural  change,  essentially telling the older generation  to ‘move over’; or it may target  specific social trends which the younger generation  considers  outrageous, threatening, or  inhuman,  such  as repercussions  of political  upheaval, the  loss of civil rights,  the  destruction of the  social environment, or  the  deterioration of economic  prospects.  In  this  sense ‘youth  movements’  need  to  be clearly distinguished  from ‘youth welfare’ and ‘youth work,’ which are activities led or dominated by adults to socialize the younger generation. These include the youth  organizations of established  parties  and youth organizations with  a  national   or  ideological  background (such as, for instance, most of the scout organizations), not  to  mention  all types of national youth  organizations. It  may  sometimes  be  hard  to draw a line between a ‘youth movement’ and ventures for  ‘youth  welfare’ in  certain  instances.  As  a  rule, however, modern  ‘youth movements’ are expressions of a specific form of conflict between generations  and as such have spread  throughout the world. Since the early nineteenth  century,  the  predominant style elements  have  been  those  of  male  societies,  whereas female members have tended to play a minor role. It is only in recent years that this has been changing.

While  generation   conflict  constellations  do  represent one of the most important roots of youth movements,   they  are  not  simply  reflections  of  the natural  relations   between   parental   and   child  age groups. According to the sociologist Karl Mannheim (1928), generation   constellations reflect  the  distinct mental  dispositions  of  each  generation, that  is the intellectual horizons and emotional needs that the members of an age group develop in their youth  in a specific historic  context.  As a result,  the various  age groups in a society experience, perceive, and pass judgment  in distinctly  different  ways.  The  ‘Modern Age’ uprooted the tradition of passing on experience, as the acceleration  of change in the industrial societies of the nineteenth  century devalued the knowledge and experience of the older generations as irrelevant, increasingly  leading  to widespread  disregard  for the elderly who had previously been held in high esteem. This was accompanied by the development of a youth cult, as industrial  production, urban  culture,  and the capitalist  economy began to give preference to youth over old age as stronger, more dynamic, more ready to learn, and more open to change. The older generations meanwhile  held sway at the hubs  of political  power where decisions about  future developments  are made, rigorously defending their authority and interests. Educational reforms, increasing possibilities for young people to participate politically and to articulate  their interests, supported by the universally accessible mass media, combined to promote burgeoning self-confidence and corresponding expectations among younger and  younger  age groups.  Advertising  for  consumer goods  added  to  ‘youth  emancipation,’ so that,  particularly in times of upheaval, latent constellations between  age groups  developed  into  a conscious  and distinct frame of reference and identity. Such constellations have been particularly apt to cause individual groups  in the ‘young generation’—often among  students—to   develop  a  strong   sense  of  identity   and radical  concepts,  making  massive  demands   on  the ‘responsible’ older generations including shows of aggression to the extent of using violence, propelled by the belief in a revolutionary mission.

2.    On The History Of ‘Youth Movements’ Since The Nineteenth Century

Nineteenth century  Europe  abounds  in examples  of such generation  constellations and  the youth  movements that they engendered. These include the student fraternities   in  Germany   around  1820  who  fought against  the  reactionary politics  of  the  royal  houses after  the  defeat  of  Napoleon;  Guiseppe   Mazzini’s ‘Young Europe,’  which he founded  in Switzerland  in 1834 along  with  other  national   ‘youth  movements’ (including,  beside  Giovina  Italia,  La  jeune  France, Junges Polen and Junges Deutschland); the Narodniki movement  of the Russian  intelligentsia  in the 1860s (where a plan was discussed to exclude all people over the age of 25 from public life in order to enable radical reform);  and  finally,  at  the  end  of  the  nineteenth century, the ‘Young Turks’ in northern Greece under Ottoman rule,  who  did  manage  to  overthrow   the Ottoman Empire and come to power in 1909, Ataturk later emerging from their midst.

While the young activists in these movements (male dominated throughout)  had  mainly  political  goals, notwithstanding some bohemian excursions, and went as  far  as  to  plan  and  go  through with  coups  and assassinations, the German  Youth  Movement  of the ‘Wandervogel’  (viz., ‘migrant  birds’)  and  the  ‘Freideutsche’ (viz., ‘free Germans’), which emerged in the urban  centers  of  the  German  Empire  as  well as  in Switzerland   and   Austria   after   1900,  is  a  unique example of a highly romantic  youth movement which was primarily  critical of modern  civilization,  abjured any  political  involvement,  and  developed  an  independent  youth  culture  staking  out  an  autonomous sphere of freedom for itself. Its members were mainly members  of the  educated  classes, whose intellectual leadership was in decline as a result of the rise of a new technical  and  economic  elite.  The  educated  classes propagated ‘simple living’ to counterbalance the supposedly demoralizing influence of urban mass culture, sought  out  the  folk  traditions of bygone  days,  and dreamed  of creating  a ‘New Man’ through a general reform of everyday life. This ‘New Man’ was to be the leavening in the dough  of society to promote  greater humanity.

The movement’s highly idealistic motto  was coined in 1913 at an open-air festival on the ‘Hohe Meißner,’ a mountain near  Kassel: ‘The ‘Freideutsche  Jugend’ seek to shape their lives by themselves, responsible  to themselves,  and  true  to  themselves.’  In  hindsight, history has shown that anti-political idealism and the fantasy of ‘breeding’ an improved version of humankind  were to be abused by racist demagogues and ideologues  in  the  1930s to  mobilize  a  new  ‘young generation’  (born  in the years around World  War  I) for totally inhuman and destructive goals, leading directly to World War II and National Socialist genocide.   As  a  movement   of  youth   culture,   the German Youth Movement did however manage to promote, firstly, women’s emancipation in the ranks of  the  autonomous girls’ movement  and,  secondly, migration   to  Palestine   and   the  beginnings   of  the Kibbutz  movement  by empowering  the Jewish youth groups which split off from other youth groups in response to the latter’s frequently  nationalist tilt.

This  brings  the  history  of youth  movements  well into the first half of the twentieth century, when throughout the world independent movements  of the respective younger generation  engaged in at least temporary social and  political  activism in increasing numbers, criticizing the political situation or giving impulses  for  political,  social,  and  cultural   change. There are many constellations where national  politics were influenced by the specific experience of a whole generation. Examples include the Japanese  reform circles socialized during  the Meiji-Era  (the first Japanese constitution being  instituted  in 1889) and  the Spanish  ‘Generation of  1898,’ whose  formative  experience included the shock of defeat in the Spanish– American   War.  The  greatest   influence  during   the second third  of the twentieth  century,  particularly in Europe,  but  also for example  in Australia, seems to have  been  that  of  the  ‘Generation of  1914’ (Wohl 1980), which has been called the ‘lost generation.’ The way in which this generation  dealt with the experience of World War I, particularly in the nations which had lost the  war,  created  explosive constellations of immense historic  consequence:  Not  coincidentally,  the fascist movements, particularly in Italy and Germany, styled  themselves  as  revolutionary movements  of  a ‘disinherited’ young  generation, only to form a dangerous alliance then, with the younger ‘Great Depression Generation,’ the former leading the latter.

The American ‘New Deal Generation’ on the other hand,  while belonging  to  this  same  age group,  had totally different aims, seeking a deep-rooted democratization   of  American   society  and  an  expansion   of social welfare institutions. While they were propelled by   unmistakable  self-confidence   and   a   sense   of mission, this generation  did not develop any discernable forms of youth movement. However, the political opening of American  society that they promoted was to  pave  the  way for  the  coming  independent  social movements  that  were to be carried  mainly by young people, including the Civil Rights Movement and Women’s Liberation. Beginning in the 1920s, liberation   movements   emerged  in  other   parts  of  the world  as  well,  demanding   civil rights,  national   independence,  and  cultural  autonomy for  nations  or cultures  that  had  lived  under  colonialism  or  other forms of oppression  (such as the black population in South   Africa   and   the   Aborigines   in   Australia). Whether  such  movements  can  be connected  specifically to the young generation  needs to be studied case by case, but  there  is no  doubt  that  large groups  of young people were among the followers of charismatic leaders or groups.

It is just as difficult to decide whether the subculture of young  street  gangs  and  peer  group  cliques (such as hooligans or skinheads) found in almost all industrialized states since the early twentieth century—primarily among  the underprivileged social classes—are  actually   part   of  youth   movements   as defined here. They, too,  clearly react in their way to their  actual  living environment, aim to  provoke  the older generations,  and  sometimes  encounter  massive persecution   (as  did  the  ‘Edelweiss  Pirates’   under German  National Socialism).

Since World War II, and particularly since the end of  the  1950s,  when  a  generation   of  young  people without any first-hand experience of war came into its own, waves of youth  movements  have become quite common  and  have developed  new forms,  peaking  in the second half of the 1960s, when student movements began simultaneously in a number  of countries, following  in the  tracks  of  such  predecessors  as  the Easter March movement and such counter-culture groups   as  the  ‘Beatniks’  in  the  USA,  the  ‘Angry Young Men’ in Great Britain, and the young ‘Existentialists’ in France. Beginning in the early 1960s, generation  conflicts specific to the different countries began to mesh with the international involvement  of young people with problems  they considered  to be of worldwide importance: the massive rearmament during the ‘Cold War,’ the growing atomic power potentials,  the  exploitation and  poverty  in  the  so-called

‘Third Word,’ the military  intervention by the major powers in regional conflicts (particularly the involvement of the USA in Vietnam), the destruction of renewable natural resources, and the increasing danger of global ecological catastrophes due to reckless industrialization, the disregard for civil rights in many countries despite UN declarations, the continued inequality between men and women, and so on. Some of the initiatives originally organized  regionally managed to become established as large international organizations,  such  as  Amnesty  International and Greenpeace.  Such initiatives were always attempts to assert  new  perspectives  and  political  and  cultural ideals against  those  of the older  generation  (coining such phrases as ‘Don’t trust anybody  over 30’), in the extreme case of the Chinese ‘Cultural Revolution’  and later the famous  events of the Tienanmen  Square  in Beijing 1989 causing a great  deal of bloodshed. The young generation’s interest in criticizing prevailing conditions  and in replacing the established authorities gave all kinds of ideologues and demagogues a chance to preach  new catechisms  to the young  or to install themselves as their new leaders. The often overblown idealistic expectations  pursued  with youthful  pathos were usually watered down or twisted out of shape in public  debate,  and  in the end were confronted with both the complexity of social reality and with the fact that  as their  proponents got older  and  ‘wiser,’ their attitudes changed,  with corresponding consequences for the movements.

3.    Inner Structure, Style,  And Mental Consequences Of Youth Movements

Aside from providing  a venue for general social self-criticism,  reform,  and  renewal  in times  of upheaval and  an  outlet  to  the  young  in generation  conflicts, youth movements also play a central role in the lives of the young people who have been involved in them at one time or another  (sometimes only a small portion of their age group), shaping their life-course and lifestyle. To come back to K. Mannheim’s  generation model (1928): the development  of an emotional  bond with a generation  at a young and impressionable age as provided  by youth movements is an especially intensive  experience which creates  long-term  mental dispositions  that  give those involved many points  of reference with which to define themselves in historical terms  and  in relationship to the various  age groups living together. Such dispositions may include political and  philosophical values as well as principles  about how people should treat  each other,  which lifestyle is appropriate,  which  esthetic  qualities  are  desirable, and  so on. This introduces  the question  of the inner structure  of youth movements.

Youth movements, which sometimes develop out of small activist groups  or even secret societies (such as the Italian ‘Carbonari’ in the early nineteenth century), allow young  people  looking  for orientation and adventure  the opportunity to broaden  their  horizon substantially beyond  the  everyday  confines  of  their families, schools,  and  apprenticeships. In their  ‘conspiracy’ of like-minded  people their own age, usually motivated  by charismatic  leaders  who are often  not much  older,  members  of youth  movements  develop their own morality and dynamics structured by special codes of communication beyond  the blatantly stated goals  of  the  movement.  Developing  their  own  language,  manners,  esthetics,  initiation  rites, rituals,  as well as rules to exclude ‘defectors’ and ‘traitors,’ they document  the difference between the movement  and its social surroundings, particularly with regard to the styles, morality,  and  values of the older  generation. Elements  whose  importance is not  to  be underestimated  for most of the movements  are short  populist manifestos  on  the  one  hand,  and  esthetic  elements such as songs and other musical elements on the other, which  create  an  exciting  atmosphere at  ritual  celebrations  and give the participants a sense of security. Looking and acting provocative in public, using strategies ranging from clothing, beard, and hair styles to massive shows of militancy, is meant to shock outsiders   and   strengthen   the  feeling  of  belonging among insiders, to the point  of producing  the feeling of being part of a ‘chosen’ few. Individuals  have been known to initiate spectacular  actions in such a hypedup, extremist, sectarian  climate, such as assassinating a social figurehead  or mounting  a kamikaze  attack, which then provides the movement  with its heroes or martyrs.

The  spread  of  the  mass  media  in  the  twentieth century has produced a public arena for youth movements. Television in particular has publicized the aims  of  youth  movements  worldwide,  touching  off direct spin-offs, winning the sympathy of ‘fellow travelers,’  and  generating  a  wide spectrum  of  both critical and positive resonance.  The activists, in turn, have quite  conspicuously  played  up to the media  to promote  their own goals. This strategy, however, has frequently backfired. Many of the innovative impulses and manners  that were provocative  at first have been copied massively in a toned  down version, effectively taking   the  ‘sting’  out  of  them  and  making   them generally fashionable.  It therefore  seems rather  simplistic  to  say  programmatically that  ‘young  people make  their  own  history’  (Gillis 1981). While  youth movements have certainly provided impulses for social change  again  and  again  and  have  been  able  to  get things  moving  by  provoking   the  older  generations, they are, of course, subject to the complex reality of society and its generation  structures,  specific constellations  of which,  as we have  seen, had  to  be given before  the  time  was  historically  ‘ripe’ for  political revolution  and/or cultural  change.

Research   should  continue   to  look  for  the  links between mental dispositions and structural constellations,  particularly in the  context  of the  history  of generations and in regard to the long-term repercussions in the collective biography  of individual  age groups   involved  in  youth   movements   in  their  respective societies. International comparative research has hitherto been sadly neglected. Papers given in 1990 at  the  International Historical  Congress  in Madrid (Fauvel-Rouif 1992) have unfortunately remained  a very first step in this direction.


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