Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Tony Judt's Scathing Critique of the French Student Protests of May, 1968

From his magisterial, Postwar:
It is worth insisting upon the parochial and distinctly self-regarding issues that sparked the May Events, lest the ideologically charged language and ambitious programs of the following weeks mislead us. The student occupation of the Sorbonne and subsequent street barricades and clashes with police … were led by representatives of the Trotskyist Jeunesse Communiste Revolutionnaire, as well as officials from established student and junior lecturer unions. But the accompanying Marxist rhetoric, while familiar enough, masked an essentially anarchist spirit whose immediate objective was the removal and humiliation of authority.

In this sense, as the disdainful French Communist Party leadership rightly insisted, this was a party, not a revolution. It had all the symbolism of a traditional French revolt—armed demonstrators, street barricades, the occupation of strategic buildings and intersections, political demands and counter-demands—but none of the substance. The young men and women in the student crowds were overwhelmingly middle class—indeed, many of them were from the Parisian bourgeoisie itself: ‘fils a papa’ (‘daddy’s boys’) as the PCF leader Georges Marchais derisively called them. It was their own parents, aunts and grandmothers who looked down upon them from the windows of comfortable bourgeois apartment buildings as they lined up in the streets to challenge the armed power of the French state. 
When the time came the police, especially the riot police—recruited from the sons of poor provincial peasants and never reluctant to crack the heads of privileged Parisian youth—could be counted on to restore order.

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