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What led to the FSM?
by Michael Rossman

(How we approach this history here.)

Though it flared like a sudden, isolated nova in the mass media, and is too often treated so in histories, the sudden flowering of the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley was an organic climax to seven years of conflict between a newly-developing movement of student activism and an often-constraining university administration. In this development, the rise of the New Left was exemplified; and the crucial moment of the FSM announced its mutation into the diversity of movements developing during the next decade. In this historical moment also, long-developing changes in the institutions and character of American higher education, and long-brewing conflicts with personal and social needs, were brought to open crisis, initiating complex movements of attempted reform. Even broader and deeper views of what was involved and at stake in the FSM have been advanced.

[The FSM's political history]

The FSM itself prepared a history of the conflict leading to this crisis, in a massive, collective study titled "Administrative Pressures and Student Political Activity at [Berkeley]." Though unashamedly selective, APSPAB was nearly comprehensive, and presented the strongest objective evidence for the FSM's case. In effect, the study called on the collective memory of the activist community to recount the history of its political grievance with the university's administration. In doing so, since the conflict was so fundamental, it necessarily recounted most of its own history -- which is to say, that our sprawling study retold nearly the whole story (or familial myth) of the rise of the New Left at Berkeley, in the seminal cradle of the Bay Area and its progressive traditions.

Since APSPAB was produced in seventeen frantic days, as a research project under battle conditions, its findings amount simply to the raw ore of history, with many substantial nuggets. Seen at this distance, our study's perspectives seem even more narrowly political than they seemed then -- not simply because its purpose was so, but because it was conceived and executed early in the conflict, in the very moment that we were awakening to our educational discontents but had not yet voiced them; and in the pregnant historical instant in which our grasp of what was "political" began to broaden dramatically.

We present APSPAB here not only as an historical document, but as a way of organizing a fuller account of the FSM's traditional political history and the heritage of social activism at Berkeley. To its documents on each theme, we mean to link others that flesh out the details of local history and their consequence, from differing perspectives; and others that relate this local history to the broader story of political and social movements in America. In this effort, our patchwork of local story is meant to join online with many other growing patches of story from political, social, and cultural movements, in a collective tapestry of collective history. We will welcome advice in selecting documents beyond those we so far offer, and help in making them accessible.

[The FSM's educational history]

We have no way of our own, so natural and detailed, to present the educational history of the FSM -- the history of the developments and tensions in institutional education, focussed on the Berkeley campus, that equally prepared the FSM, and were profoundly affected by its consequence. A host of official and scholarly studies were inspired by our discontent, as the subject came to be taken up nation-wide; and many interpreters construed their own accounts of the educational pressures behind the FSM's explosion. Some reports focussed in useful detail on the institutional dynamics of the Berkeley campus, to prepare reforms. Yet even these spoke in generalities, as did the rest. There exists no report of our collective educational experience as concrete and detailed as the record of our political experience preparing FSM -- indeed, hardly any concrete testimony at all, save in scattered, personal traces.

Our pages here will offer references and links to these studies and reports, and an introduction to the broader literature and history of educational analysis and reform, which developed dramatically after the FSM. Here also, we will welcome help in selecting work and making it accessible, and connecting our patch in the collective tapestry of change.

[The FSM's cultural history]

Some interpreters saw the FSM also as a crisis surfacing from broader and deeper streams of cultural development, which in turn were profoundly affected by the culture-wide consequences of our youthful challenge of paternal authority. As a class, the studies of the cultural history preparing the FSM are less comprehensive than the studies of its educational and political history; more diverse and juicier than the educational studies; and more indirect than either -- for few observers then phrased the FSM conflict as a crisis of culture, and none considered its history systematically in such terms. Many of the relevant accounts of cultural developments were written in or deal with the era before the FSM. Nearly all the rest look back from much later to much earlier, reviewing the FSM briefly (when they mention it at all) from the perspectives of a changed landscape of culture and cultural vision. A very few consider this perplex of change in the moment of the FSM.

Our pages here will offer documents and accounts of the cultural developments that influenced Berkeley students and prepared the FSM, and links and references to others. Necessarily, this coverage extends to accounts of cultural history embracing the FSM and its consequent developments, to the present day.

This page last changed 20 March, 2002
URL: http://www.fsm-a.org/stacks/covers/fsm-led_approc.html

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