The Myths of Paris

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I'm a few days late on this, but if you haven't already read Jean-Claude Guillebaud's mildly revisionist Times opinion piece on the 1968 student rebellion in Paris be sure to check it out. It seems a bit of a stretch to say that student leaders like Danny Cohn-Bendit merely "spoke Marxist," but Guillebaud's argument that he and his street-fighting, paving stone-thowing comrades were "useful idiots" for capitalism seems about right:

The real legacy of May '68, as we see in France today, is individualism, the rejection of civic sense and ideology, the rehabilitation of the idea that personal and financial success is a worthy pursuit—in short, a revival of capitalism. To borrow an expression of Lenin's, we were useful idiots. Indeed, the uprising was more a counterrevolution than a revolution.

He grumbles that those "broadcast chiefs and newspaper, magazine and book publishers and senior editors [who] 'did' May '68…are simply indulging their own nostalgia" by celebrating and mythologizing the anniversary and reminds us that "It was the [general] strike, not the student revolt, that truly paralyzed the country for three long weeks."

The paradox is that these two movements never encountered each other. The students marching toward the factories to "meet the workers" found the doors closed. The unions didn't want them: the workers found the students disorganized and irresponsible.

Full article.

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  1. I always find it a bit fascinating that whenever three spotty teenagers gather on a Paris street, the commentariat immediately starts asking “Is this like 1968? Is it like ’68? Can we draw parallels to ’68? Let’s talk about ’68. How does this compare to ’68?”

    I think the fact that the media themselves can never decide what and how anything compares to Paris ’68 suggests that people see ’68 as whatever they want it to be.

  2. “It was the [general] strike, not the student revolt, that truly paralyzed the country for three long weeks.”

    French paralysis. Isn’t that redundant?

  3. Michael, you keep disappointing me. You mention the 1968 Paris student rebellion but don’t say anything about the advent of the Open era in tennis–which, BTW, happened to break out at the same place at the same time?

    Here’s a poignant vignette of both events by Rex Bellamy. It’s worth a read even for those who don’t care much about tennis.

  4. MP,

    Tone down the funny please. I was laughing while drinking a pepsi. Could have been life threatening if I was eating.

  5. We’ll always have Paris.

  6. Other things capable of paralyzing France:

    Collaborationist Guilt
    Any flag that isn’t all white
    30% unemployment among those under 30
    More than two Germans standing within a 10-radius

    So, French socialist radicals, stop patting yourself on the back. You’re the Al Bundy of radicals. “When I scored 4 touchdowns in a single game…”

  7. 10-foot radius

  8. The idiot part I can understand, we were young and naive, but how dare he accuse us of being useful!

  9. Ah yes, reminiscing about the soixante-retards. How droll.

  10. Thank goodness we don’t have any student revolts in this country, it might delay the next “Girls Gone Wild” DVD.

  11. But “Girls Gone Wild” is a student revolt. It’s about sexual liberation. It’s about freedom to use your body how you want, without a male, paternalistic society dictating the limits of female socio-sexual mores.

    How was that? Can I have my honorary degree from UCLA, now?

  12. Well, ok, I couldn’t find French Girls Gone Wild, but I did find “Canadian Girls Gone Wild”. ‘Zat count?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSXS6zmg2eU

    Upon close inspection of the video, I’m not sure how ‘wild’ these Canadian girls are. I’ve heard the Canadians are quite conservative. This pretty much clinches that.

  13. values shifting so that personal and financial success are once again worthy pursuits: the fact that this is seen as a bad thing by anybody is astounding to me. How do you live in a world where success is frowned upon?

  14. How do you live in a world where success is frowned upon?

    Uhm, welcome to France?

  15. And 40 years later, they still lack air conditioning, so thousands of people die if there’s a warm day.

  16. The idiot part I can understand, we were young and naive, but how dare he accuse us of being useful!

    lawl

  17. Wasn’t this article already blogged here?

  18. May I make a humble suggestion that folks take a look at Kristin Ross’ book, “May ’68 and Its Afterlives”?

    Her argument is that the media-led reduction of May ’68 to certain personalities, talking about the events as a sort of generational spat, covered over what actually happened.

    Certain narratives about ’68 were promoted in the French media landscape over others, and ’68 was thus reduced to a generational, cultural, student-led faux-revolt.

    The more subversive events – worker self-organization, Maoist base communities, farmer-led agrarian “revolt”, spontaneous self-organization, and civil servant strikes and occupations of government offices are erased beneath the image of the striking students occupying the Sorbonne.

    The legacy of May ’68 is largely what Mr. Guillebaud describes it as, but legacies don’t spring fully-formed from events: they are constructed as well and thus also have a history. The French are only starting to unearth the history of this history. Americans, particularly lazy, France-bashing American journalists, lack the critical spirit or education to actually pry beneath these events.

    This is what Prof. Ross attempts to unearth. One does not have to agree with her politics to appreciate her book.

  19. Can we now add “68” to the growing bag of commie kitsch?

  20. HEy look indirect proof that the US media is not left leaning:

    I, Joshua Corning, know nothing about Paris in 1968.

    By the way are the annual Paris suburb summer riots still on for this year?

    Seriously I think I would rather go to those then Burning Man.

  21. Hilton, looking for Hilton.

  22. Seriously I think I would rather go to those then Burning Man.

    Cuz camping out in a Libertarian Utopia hosted by a bunch of socialists is not as cool as a libertarian vacationing in a socialist dystopia.

    I don’t care how good the service is.

  23. Can we now add “68” to the growing bag of commie kitsch?

    We already have. This is the summer re-run.

  24. the rehabilitation of the idea that personal and financial success is a worthy pursuit

    And he says that like it’s a bad thing!

  25. Once the epidemic starts to wane, we can go back to the surface!

  26. It doesn’t matter if the unintended consequences were a teeny weeny bit more acceptance of individualist capitalism, their aim at the time was collectivized Marxist statism. They were indeed useful idiots for communism.

    Don’t trust anyone under thirty.

  27. broadcast chiefs and newspaper, magazine and book publishers and senior editors [who] ‘did’ May ’68…are simply indulging their own nostalgia.

    So we do have one thing in common with the French. It seems like every time I turn on the tube I get another steaming pantload about how great the 60’s were. Meanwhile counterculture icons like Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda are hawking retirement plans and CD boxed sets from Time-Life.

    Wow, the 60’s sure changed everything.

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