Wednesday, December 12, 2018

On The 50th Anniversary of the May Days in France in 1968

On The 50th Anniversary of the May Days in France in 1968

By Frank Jackman

Allan Jackson labeled the post-World War II generation that came of age in the 1960s the “Generation of ’68.” A lot of things happened that year, including our respective draft call notices for induction in those days when a whole generation of young men, pro or anti-war had decisions to make not always easy or right). We both in retrospect should have refused to do so but you learn a few things in this wicked old world and that is worth something. This publication in any case has publicized a fair part of the world-historic occasions from Tet 1968 in January on through to the seminal 1968 elections.

A lot of the reason that Allan tagged us as the Generation of ’68 though was not for the jangle of events in general but in homage to the events in France in May and June of 1968 which kind of got everything shifted to the left-for a while. There, in Paris first as usual and then the outlying areas, the radicalized students first and then the students and workers came within a hair’s breathe of turning the world upside down, of making the newer world we were all looking for and which the many times mentioned Markin, the Scribe, whose name Allan had used as a moniker on this site in honor of his fallen friend mentioned many times not always to good effect. You cannot look at the period without seeing the treacherous role of the Communist Party, the organization which was supposed to represent the workers, in the stillborn nature of what happened. Unfortunately “almost” is usually not good enough when you are trying to overthrow the “king” and the moment which might have shifted Western history a little bit differently on its axis passed. That notion is history in the conditional of course but a definite possibility. Certainly in the objective sense if nothing else revolution was in the air-if you could keep it. We now know two things about that Paris and French uprising. Revolutionary moments are few and far between and, at least in the United States where nothing even close to a revolutionary period was in play whatever a small chunk of the radicalized young thought, defeat has put us in a forty plus year cultural war against the accumulated night-takers which we have not won and are still fighting almost daily.

The Paris days though have a more personal frame of reference since at the time, in 1968, neither Allan nor I were anything but maybe left liberals and not much interested in revolutions and the like. We come by our “Generation of ’68” credentials by a more roundabout way although the events in Paris, the visual example possibilities of revolution play a role later. As mentioned above both Allan and I accepted induction into the Army at different points in 1969 after receiving our draft notices in 1968 (which puts us in a different class of ’69 connected with Vietnam which I won’t go into now). We both came out of the Vietnam War experience very changed in many ways but most directly by a shift in our political perspectives. Neither of us whatever our feelings about the war in Vietnam while students were active in the anti-war movement. Mostly after the Summer of Love experiences out in California in 1967 we were what might be called life-style hippies or some such. Like I said the Army experience changed that. Mainly before that we cared about girls, having sex with girls, and getting an occasional drug connection.     

When we got our respective discharges we were all over the place both as to life style and political seriousness. That is where the Paris days in 1968 came into play. It was obvious by 1971 that massive, mostly student-led, peace marches were not going to end the war. What to do next preoccupied the minds of many of the better elements of that movement. That is where 1968 came in. A cohort of radicals and others started thinking about something like a united front between students and workers strange as that sounded then, and now come to think of it, like what almost brought the French government down.

Maybe because we were from the working class, really a notch below, the working poor, this idea sounded good to us although knowing what working class life was really like unlike many of the middle class students we had our doubts about the viability of the strategy. As it turned out not only are revolutionary moments fleeting but mass action moments short of that are as well and so nothing really ever came of that idea. Still if you think about it today if you could get the kids who are in political motion these days not matter how inchoate to join up with some radical workers (leftist workers not though who gave their endorsements by voting against their immediate and long term interests to one Donald J. Trump, POTUS in tweet speak) we could shake things up. History doesn’t really repeat itself but if something rises up out of all of this current movement by the young which is where you have to look for starters looking back at the Paris days, looking back to those barricades in 1968 would not be a bad idea.   

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