After the ‘Summer of Love’: 1968 and Beyond

Posted: August 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

After the ‘Summer of Love’: 1968 and Beyond was originally delivered at the ‘Power to the People: the Legacies of 1968 Conference’ held in 2008 to mark the 40th anniversary of the revolts of 1968. The paper explores the ‘Summer of Love’ and the 1968 uprisings as moments in a continual struggle for liberation, peace, & love.

My presentation of the paper began with this song.

The events of 1968 are of course closely connected to and flowed from the events of 1967. This paper will therefore explore the ‘Summer of Love’ and the revolts of 1968 as moments in a continual struggle for liberation. I began with the Rolling Stones song We Love You because it was released in August 1967 during England’s ‘Summer of Love’. The song was a thank you to those who had supported Mick Jagger and Keith Richards after they were arrested on drugs charges.  We Love You also features John Lennon and Paul McCartney who took part in the Stones’ support campaign. This campaign was part of a broad movement to defend the counter-culture against increasing state repression. I also chose We Love You to help illustrate that the ‘Summer of Love’ was not restricted to San Francisco or the United States and because, as a radical love song, We Love You suggests a political conception of love which I’m keen to explore.

Usually when we talk of love we tend to think of romantic love and then perhaps the love of family or close friends. A political conception of love can include these forms of love but is not restricted to them. As the revolutionary Emma Goldman explained in 1911 – “Love, (is) the strongest and deepest element in all life, the harbringer of hope, of joy, of ecstasy; the defier of all laws, of all conventions; the freest the most powerful molder of human destiny”.

Anthony Ashbolt (2007) explains that the term ‘Summer of Love’ refers to the phenomenon of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco between 1965 and 1968. More specifically it refers to the summer of 1967 and more generally is used to describe the whole nineteen sixties counter culture. The ‘Summer of Love’ is often perceived as being about free love as a form of sexual freedom, and this was certainly an important component of it. But the ‘Summer of Love’ was not only about sexual liberation. It also involved a reinvention of the concept of love, from one of narrow emotional attachments to understandings and practices of love as struggles for community, cooperation, and mutual support. The ‘Summer of Love’ is therefore short-hand for an upsurge of experiments to unleash and create positive desires for connection and more constructive and profound relationships. It is a movement that has transformed the cultural and political landscape across the globe and has no clear beginning or end.

1967’s ‘Summer of Love’ was part of a more general refusal, from Mexico to Japan, of a society which was decomposing. In place of isolation, powerlessness, meaningless work, and lives defined as the production, ownership, and consumption of commodities, the ‘Summer of Love’ sought to combine individual autonomy with social solidarity – doing your own thing, while also being closer to others, creating and sharing resources, knowledge, cultural forms and experiences. It was an explosion of dreams, desires, hopes and rebellions against the modern prison of deprivation, alienation, and violence.

human_be-in 2

San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district was the epicentre of the ‘Summer of Love’ and on January 14, 1967 a ‘Human Be-In’ was held at Golden Gate Park, attracting tens of thousands of people. The ‘Be-In’ was a ‘happening’ featuring speeches on personal empowerment, cultural and political decentralisation, communal living, ecological awareness and consciousness raising, as well as performances by beat poets and rock bands. Organised in response to a new law banning the use of LSD and to protest continuing police crackdowns on marijuana use, the ‘Be-in’ was an attempt to create a form of protest that celebrated freedom, promoted new consciousness and constituted a joyful living defiance of state repression.

The announcement of the Be-In declared that –

“A new concept of celebrations beneath the human underground must emerge, become conscious, and be shared, so a revolution can be formed with a renaissance of compassion, awareness, and love . . . A union of love and activism previously separated by categorical dogma and label mongering will finally occur ecstatically when Berkeley political activists and hip community and San Franscisco’s spiritual generation and contingents from the emerging revolutionary generation all over California meet for a . . . joyful face-to-face beginning of the new epoch”                 (The San Francisco Oracle: 1967: 2).

It was at the ‘Be-In’ that Timothy Leary would famously call on young people to ‘turn on, tune in and drop out’ – articulating a growing questioning of the purpose of work and study, inspiring thousands to quit their jobs and drop their formal studies in order to embark on a journey of self discovery, communion, and exodus from the mainstream. This flowering of alternative lifestyles was a rejection of, resistance to, and protest against, what were seen as colourless empty lives. Many believed they were forging a leisured community of the future, as they rediscovered the power of fun and joy and questioned the purpose of work and the sacrificing of life for a career, possessions, and a heartless industrial system; rejecting the labour of capitalist society and instead embracing ‘labours of love’.

Throughout 1967, thousands flocked to San Francisco in search of love, peace, community, and self. In April, a Council for the Summer of Love was established by local counter-culture groups. The term ‘Summer of Love’ was the Council’s attempt to initiate young people into a positive and compassionate vision of what the cultural revolution was all about. Heavily involved in the Summer of Love Council were the San Francisco Diggers, a radical community-action group who combined street theatre, direct action, and art happenings with their social agenda of creating a Free City. The Free City was conceived as a basis for extending revolutionary struggle and the Diggers organised free food, free shelter, free concerts, and free institutions, such as the free medical clinic and the free store. Their program was to live now as if the revolution were already won. This free culture and the declaration of a ‘Summer of Love’ attracted thousands of young people from across the country and many from abroad. While most would soon return home, they would return changed, taking back to other towns, cities, campuses, organisations and movements, new ideas, new experiences, and new practices.

Many people who couldn’t get to San Francisco in 1967 were inspired to organise their own experiments along the same lines. In New York, thousands attended a ‘Human Be-In’ in Central Park, an international ‘Love-In’ was held in London, and in Canada and Germany similar ‘happenings’ were organised. In my limited research I was even able to find ‘Summer of Love’ happenings in Brazil under the military dictatorship. Throughout the ‘Summer of Love’, musical and drug sub-cultures grew and interconnected with protest movements, evolving into new communities based on common struggles and cooperation. There was a proliferation of communal projects, such as communes, food cooperatives, free clinics, legal aid centres, and underground media, to help ease the discomfort of ‘dropping out’ and to support ‘the revolution’. Those involved in these alternative communities also saw themselves as setting cooperative precedents for the future and often viewed mutual aid relationships as subversive by their mere existence.

However, where-ever the ‘Summer of Love’ sought to create alternatives they came under attack from the police, mainstream media, politicians, or were recuperated by counter-culture capitalists. These attacks and recuperations clarified the difficulties of ‘ seeking to create and defend love in isolation and made the need for deeper and more widespread revolutionary change more apparent. Despite escalating repression, the ‘Summer of Love’ continued to radiate, permeating the peace, civil rights, and revolutionary movements and encouraging a rejection of authoritarianism, hierarchy, and representation. As love became a motor of political composition, it ruptured the spectacle of both the establishment and the traditional left and led to growing conflicts with the capitalist system. However, rather than just placing demands on capitalist state forms, the praxes of revolutionary love became more clearly a contestation of capitalist state forms. As Carl Oglesby (in Morgan: 1991: 94), from the Students for a Democratic Society observed at the time, the struggle for genuine democracy during the sixties was a struggle “to make love more possible” by removing “from society what threatens and prevents it”.

flower power 2

Both coinciding with, and emerging out of the ‘Summer of Love’, was the mass movement against war in Vietnam. During 1967, hundreds of thousands took to the streets demanding peace. These protests included the first U.S. national anti-war demonstration where the ‘Summer of Love’ and the anti-war movement were clearly infused and beautifully captured in the photo above of the confrontation between ‘flower power’ and the barrel of a gun. As the war escalated and repression increased, the question of how to ‘make love not war’ had no clear answer. Those like Mary Sue Plank (1998), a San Francisco Hippie who thought that; “All we have to do is show them that love is much better than war”, would be sorely disappointed and increasing numbers turned to new forms of revolutionary politics. Here they received mixed messages from the revolutionary icons of the sixties. As copies of the little red book were devoured in their tens of thousands, Mao Zedong (in Zizek: 2007) explained that “communism is not love. Communism is a hammer we use to crush the enemy”. While Che Guevara (1965: 211), who was gunned down in 1967, explained that “the true revolutionary is guided by strong feelings of love”.

The Summer of Love may be seen as a predominantly white phenomenon, yet many of the young people involved had been inspired by the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King who described the civil rights struggle as a powerful form of love; “the tough and resolute love that refused bitterness and hatred but stood firmly against every shred of injustice” (Vincent Harding in Morgan: 1991: 39). During 1967 and 1968, a number of black communities exploded in rage and heeded the words of Malcolm X, who argued that love needed to be reciprocated. For Malcolm (1965) it was not possible to love those who attacked you – explaining that “we love anyone who loves us”. By 1967, it was the Black Panthers who the FBI considered the greatest internal threat to the U.S. state. Yet it was not the Panthers’ armed militancy that was considered “most subversive” but their free children’s breakfast program (Ervin and Abron: 2000: 89). As former members of the Black Panthers explain, they were inspired by Che Guevara’s call for revolutionary love and “operated on love for black people” (Dr. Huey P. Newton Foundation: 2007).

The ‘Summer of Love’ opened the door to changes in the way revolution is understood. Not just as a hope for the future, but revolutionary experiments in the here and now, as living alternatives to the horrors of capitalist society. And in Paris, ‘the city of love’, we once again see an articulation of the ‘Summer of Love’, as insurrection sought to overcome the tensions between subjectivities of pleasure-seeking and social revolution. In Paris in 1967, a youthful hunger for liberty, equality, and fraternity ignited powerful critiques of traditional left-wing politics, as groups like the Situationists pointed out that; “those who speak of revolution and class struggle without  . . . understanding what is subversive about love . . .  have a corpse in their mouth” (Vaneigem: 1967).

And here we have some of the graffiti from Paris in 1968 which indicates the importance of love to the concerns that motivated revolt.

Open the windows of your heart.

Revolution, I love you.

Embrace your love without dropping your guard.

The more I make love, the more I want to make revolution.
The more I make revolution, the more I want to make love.

(Bureau of Public Secrets: 2006)

France’s current president, Nicolas Sarkozy, insists that the goal of his government is to do away with the desires of 1968 once and for all (Badiou: 2008). While many were under the impression that 1968 was long gone, its spectre still haunts the world. In 2008, the John McCain Republican presidential campaign issued a television ad titled Love. The advertisement began; “For some, 1968 was the ‘Summer of Love’. But not for John McCain, as he was in Vietnam fighting for his country”. In this ‘Love’ advertisement the McCain campaign continued a long tradition of political conservatives who regularly denigrate and distort the ‘Summer of Love’ as a symbol of chaos, moral decline, and self-absorption. In the 2008 U.S. presidential election campaign, both candidates sought to use a mythological history to harness the continuing anxieties and lasting desires of the nineteen sixties. While those who pin their hopes on politicians will be disappointed, dreams of the good society have not melted away and struggles for civil rights, peace, freedom, and love live on, as we continue to struggle with the legacy of tensions from the ‘Summer of Love’ and the revolts of 1968.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA spain make love woman Madrid 2007. Placard reads Make love, no war. Love, no fighting.


One of the most famous slogans from the 1960s – ‘make love not war’ – didn’t just suggest that we should have lots of sex. It also encapsulated the main options, in 1967, 1968, and today. The counter-culture of the sixties was not orientated toward reforms or states, but self organisation, autonomous institutions, and new social relations which we create ourselves. Love was not a demand capitalism could provide, it was created by struggling against capitalism. As a series of diverse, complex and fluid struggles for a different world, the ‘Summer of Love’ crossed the globe, sparking and revitalising a common desire for revolutionary change and reinvigorating the libertarian yearnings of the global multitude.

 Today, the free clinic continues to operate in Haight Ashbury and periodically the Council of the Summer of Love is reconvened by its veterans to hold free concerts, to celebrate love, and to promote the dreams and desires of 1967. These concerts are just a small part of a global neo-hippie movement. The hopes and wishes of the ‘Summer of Love’ continue today in many other ways, such as the ‘love parade’ in Germany that  attracts over one and a half million people, or last year’s Sydney Mardi Gras with its theme of ‘defending love’. Mardi Gras is our own love parade, flamboyantly optimistic, acting on people’s positive and creative desires, supporting a diversity of loving practices, relationships and connections; a form of celebration described by organisers as a ‘beacon of love’. The ‘Summer of Love’ can also be seen as alive in the alter-globalisation movement, which has been described in the mainstream media as a “counter-culture carnival” of “hippies and yippies” asserting that another world is possible (Eschle and Maiguashca: 2005: 208). And on Valentines Day 2003, we witnessed the largest simultaneous global protests in history, as more than 800 cities throughout the world overflowed with colour, music, dancing, joy, anger, and affection, demonstrating a multitudinous yearning for peace and love.

The purpose of this paper was not to engage in a nostalgia that seeks to forget the contradictions and complexities of the past, or to deny utopian delusions. Instead I have emphasised the importance of love, in order to remember that we can imagine and create a world which is different; a world where money doesn’t determine value, where competition isn’t the nature of human relationships, where a more loving society is real. The rebellions of the 1960’s have provided a legacy of questions and understandings. Among these understandings are – that the ability to build and support loving relationships is at the heart of the struggle against capitalism. Rather than looking back with a sense of melancholy, let us recall the hopes and desires of 1967 and 1968, not as utopian dreams that failed, but as a guide to remembering the future. Today, in the context of growing economic, environmental, and social crisis it is imperative that we practice better ways of living. The future is unwritten and remains open to an unending summer of love, which we can continue to create, with our hands, our minds, and our hearts.

Nick Southall

 love parade 2

  1. […] “Right after the great ‘summer of love.’ You remember the summer of love…one of those many American revolutions…” (pg […]

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