1960s

Top, L-R: 2 U.S. soldiers crawl on the ground during the Vietnam War; The Beatles who were part of the British Invasion that changed music in the United States and around the world. Centre, L-R: John F. Kennedy is assassinated in 1963, after serving as President for three years; Martin Luther King Jr. makes his famous I Have a Dream speech to a crowd of 250,000; a half-a-million people participate in the Woodstock Festival of 1969. Bottom, L-R: China's Mao Zedong initiates the Great Leap Forward plan which fails and brings mass starvation in which 20 to 30 million people died by 1961; the Stonewall Inn, site of major demonstrations for gay and lesbian rights; and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the Moon during the Cold War-era Space Race, July 1969.
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The 1960s (pronounced "nineteen-sixties", shortened to the ‘60s) was a decade of the Gregorian calendar that began on 1 January 1960, and ended on 31 December 1969.[1]

The term "1960s" also refers to an era more often called the Sixties, denoting the complex of inter-related cultural and political trends around the globe. This "cultural decade" is more loosely defined than the actual decade, beginning around 1963 with the John F. Kennedy assassination and ending around 1974 with the Watergate scandal.[2][3]

"The Sixties", as they are known in both scholarship and popular culture, is a term used by historians, journalists, and other academics to describe the counterculture and revolution in social norms about clothing, music, drugs, dress, sexuality, formalities, and schooling; and in others to denounce the decade as one of irresponsible excess, flamboyance, and decay of social order. The decade was also labeled the Swinging Sixties because of the fall or relaxation of social taboos that occurred during this time, but also because of the emergence of a wide range of music; from a folk music revival, to the Beatles revolution, to the serious lyrics of Bob Dylan and Paul Simon. Norms of all kinds were broken down, especially in regards to civil rights and expectations the men would go off to meaningless wars.

Commentator Christopher Booker[4] described this era as a classical Jungian nightmare cycle, where a rigid culture, unable to contain the demands for greater individual freedom, broke free of the social constraints of the previous age through extreme deviation from the norm. He charts the rise, success, fall/nightmare and explosion in the London scene of the 1960s. Several Western nations such as the United States, United Kingdom, France, and West Germany turned to the political left in the early and mid-1960s.

By the end of the 1950s, war-ravaged Europe had largely finished reconstruction and began a tremendous economic boom. World War II had brought about a huge leveling of social classes in which the remnants of the old feudal gentry disappeared. There was a major expansion of the middle class in western European countries and by the 1960s, many working-class people in Western Europe could afford a radio, television, refrigerator, and motor vehicle. Meanwhile, the East such as the Soviet union and other Warsaw Pact countries were improving quickly after rebuilding from WWII. Real GDP growth averaged 6% a year during the second half of the decade. Thus, the overall worldwide economic trend in the 1960s was one of prosperity, expansion of the middle class, and the proliferation of new domestic technology.

The confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union dominated geopolitics during the '60s, with the struggle expanding into developing nations in Latin America, Africa, and Asia as the Soviet Union moved from being a regional to a truly global superpower and began vying for influence in the developing world. After President Kennedy's assassination, direct tensions between the US and Soviet Union cooled and the superpower confrontation moved into a contest for control of the Third World, a battle characterized by proxy wars, funding of insurgencies, and puppet governments.

In response to nonviolent direct action campaigns from groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), U.S. President John F. Kennedy, a Keynesian[5] and staunch anti-communist, pushed for social reforms. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 was a shock. Liberal reforms were finally passed under Lyndon B. Johnson including civil rights for African Americans and healthcare for the elderly and the poor. Despite his large-scale Great Society programs, Johnson was increasingly reviled by the New Left at home and abroad. The heavy-handed American role in the Vietnam War outraged student protestors around the globe. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. upon working with underpaid Tennessee garbage collectors and the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the police response towards protesters of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, defined politics of violence in the United States.

In Western Europe and Japan, organizations such as those present at May 1968, the Red Army Faction, and the Zengakuren tested liberal democracy's ability to satisfy its marginalized or alienated citizenry amidst post-industrial age hybrid capitalist economies. In Britain, the Labour Party gained power in 1964.[6] In France, the protests of 1968 led to President Charles de Gaulle temporarily fleeing the country.[7] For some, May 1968 meant the end of traditional collective action and the beginning of a new era to be dominated mainly by the so-called new social movements.[8] Italy formed its first left-of-center government in March 1962 with a coalition of Christian Democrats, Social Democrats, and moderate Republicans. Socialists joined the ruling block in December 1963. In Brazil, João Goulart became president after Jânio Quadros resigned. In Africa the 1960s was a period of radical political change as 32 countries gained independence from their European colonial rulers.

Politics and wars

Wars

The Vietnam War (1955–1975)
The maximum territorial extent of countries in the world under Soviet influence, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 and before the official Sino-Soviet split of 1961
A child suffering the effects of severe hunger and malnutrition during the Nigerian blockade of Biafra 1967–1970.

Internal conflicts

  • Cultural Revolution in China (1966–1976) – a period of widespread social and political upheaval in the People's Republic of China which was launched by Mao Zedong, the chairman of the Communist Party of China. Mao alleged that "liberal bourgeois" elements were permeating the party and society at large and that they wanted to restore capitalism. Mao insisted that these elements be removed through post-revolutionary class struggle by mobilizing the thoughts and actions of China's youth, who formed Red Guards groups around the country. The movement subsequently spread into the military, urban workers, and the party leadership itself. Although Mao himself officially declared the Cultural Revolution to have ended in 1969, the power struggles and political instability between 1969 and the arrest of the Gang of Four in 1976 are now also widely regarded as part of the Revolution.
  • The Naxalite movement in India began in 1967 with an armed uprising of tribals against local landlords in the village of Naxalbari, West Bengal, led by certain leaders of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The movement was influenced by Mao Zedong's ideology and spread to many tribal districts in Eastern India, gaining strong support among the radical urban youth. After counter-insurgency operations by the police, military and paramilitary forces, the movement fragmented but is still active in many districts.
  • The Troubles in Northern Ireland began with the rise of the Northern Ireland civil rights movement in the mid-1960s, the conflict continued into the later 1990s.
  • The Compton's Cafeteria Riot occurred in August 1966 in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco. This incident was one of the first recorded transgender riots in United States history, preceding the more famous 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City by three years.
  • The Stonewall riots occurred in June 1969 in New York City. The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the Stonewall Inn, in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of New York City. They are frequently cited as the first instance in American history when people in the homosexual community fought back against a government-sponsored system that persecuted sexual minorities, and they have become the defining event that marked the start of the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world.
  • In 1967, the National Farmers Organization withheld milk supplies for 15 days as part of an effort to induce a quota system to stabilize prices.
  • The May 1968 student and worker uprisings in France.
  • Mass socialist or Communist movement in most European countries (particularly France and Italy), with which the student-based new left was able to forge a connection. The most spectacular manifestation of this was the May student revolt of 1968 in Paris that linked up with a general strike of ten million workers called by the trade unions; and for a few days seemed capable of overthrowing the government of Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle went off to visit French troops in Germany to check on their loyalty. Major concessions were won for trade union rights, higher minimum wages and better working conditions.
  • University students protested in the hundreds of thousands against the Vietnam War in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome.
  • In Eastern Europe students also drew inspiration from the protests in the West. In Poland and Yugoslavia they protested against restrictions on free speech by communist regimes.
  • The Tlatelolco massacre – was a government massacre of student and civilian protesters and bystanders that took place during the afternoon and night of 2 October 1968, in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas in the Tlatelolco section of Mexico City.

Coups

Prominent coups d'état of the decade included:

Nuclear threats

Pictures of Soviet missile silos in Cuba, taken by United States spy planes on 1 November 1962.

Decolonization and independence

Prominent political events

Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech in Washington, D.C., 28 August 1963

North America

United States
Canada
  • The Quiet Revolution in Quebec altered the province-city-state into a more secular society. The Jean Lesage Liberal government created a welfare state État-Providence and fomented the rise of active nationalism among Francophone French-speaking Quebecer|Québécois.
  • On 15 February 1965, the new Flag of Canada was adopted in Canada, after much anticipated debate known as the Great Canadian Flag Debate.
  • In 1960, the Canadian Bill of Rights becomes law, and suffrage, and the right for any Canadian citizen to vote, was finally adopted by John Diefenbaker's Progressive Conservative government. The new election act allowed First Nations people to vote for the first time.
Mexico
  • The peak of the student and New Left protests in 1968 coincided with political upheavals in a number of other countries. Although these events often sprung from completely different causes, they were influenced by reports and images of what was happening in the United States and France.[13]
By the late 1960s, Argentine revolutionary Che Guevara's famous image had become a popular symbol of rebellion for the New Left

Europe

East German construction workers building the Berlin Wall, 20 November 1961.

Asia

China
  • Relations with the United States remained hostile during the 1960s, although representatives from both countries held periodic meetings in Warsaw, Poland (since there was no U.S. embassy in China). President Kennedy had plans to restore Sino-US relations, but his assassination, the war in Vietnam, and the Cultural Revolution put an end to that. Not until Richard Nixon took office in 1969 was there another opportunity.
  • Following Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's expulsion in 1964, Sino-Soviet relations devolved into open hostility. The Chinese were deeply disturbed by the Soviet suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968, as the latter now claimed the right to intervene in any country it saw as deviating from the correct path of socialism. Finally, in March 1969, armed clashes took place along the Sino-Soviet border in Manchuria. This drove the Chinese to restore relations with the U.S., as Mao Zedong decided that the Soviet Union was a much greater threat against them.
India
  • In India a literary and cultural movement started in Calcutta, Patna, and other cities by a group of writers and painters who called themselves "Hungryalists", or members of the Hungry generation. The band of writers wanted to change virtually everything and were arrested with several cases filed against them on various charges. They ultimately won these cases.[18]

Africa

  • On 1 September 1969, the Libyan monarchy was overthrown, and a radical, revolutionary, government headed by Col. Muammar al-Gadaffi took power.

South America

  • In 1964, a successful coup against the democratically elected government of Brazilian president João Goulart, initiated a military dictatorship that caused over 20 years of oppression.
  • The Argentine revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara travelled to Africa and then Bolivia in his campaigning to spread worldwide revolution. He was captured and executed in 1967 by the Bolivian army, and afterwards became an iconic figure for the left wing around the world.
  • Juan Velasco Alvarado took power by a coup in Peru in 1968.