by Chris Anart
With its highbrow activism and its elitist populism, May 1968 tried to become and be a mass movement. And it partly managed. From the distance of exactly forty years it seems to be quite lively and present, albeit in different — often quite unexpected — forms and places. Notwithstanding these differences, it always has and still bears a couple of characteristics.
First of all, four decades later, it all looks like an open-air rock festival, where everyone gets laid and stoned for a higher cause. And it’s not quite clear whether it tried to turn “sex and drugs and rock ’n’ roll” into an ideological principle, or it wanted to present and disguise some principles in that form. It actually doesn’t matter any more, since one finds it hard to remember what those principles were in the first place. Except, of course, for the consequences and products of this revolution, which are however preserved as features of contemporary situation, both western and global.
Therefore, one only needs to look around himself/herself to remember what came out of this movement. But of course: terrorism! First the leftist, socio-politically motivated and oriented terrorism in Europe, aimed at the revolutionary change of the world at large and thoroughly convinced that this could be done by isolated killings and kidnappings — either random or selected (but, more often than not, totally random). This last thing was something like the marking point of the end of the age of innocence. Namely, there were no innocent people any more. You’re either a part of the solution or a part of the problem, as they used to say. So, if you don’t go round occasionally killing, or beating up a couple of politicians, state bureaucrats, security employees, and other symbols of state and economic oppression and exploitation (you know, throwing a few stones and Molotov cocktails at an American or European embassy, a bank, a shop, or a police patrol car anywhere in the world, preceded by the ritual burning of flags), and if you didn’t refuse to be part of the system by refusing to work a day in your life — after all, every work is exploitation, isn’t it? — if you don’t do that you’re the problem and should expect the well-deserved righteous wrath of the ever-right masses to turn against you sooner or later. Or at least the wrath of the few carefully self-selected representatives of this massive rage against the fundamental injustice. After all, if you just passively watch and totally unconsciously and naively try to make a living in the existing circumstances, you definitely have it coming.
Later on, followed the terrorism of various movements, all justified by the children of the revolution as anti-colonial and anti-imperialistic struggle for liberation and justice. It mattered very little whether one was talking about Cuba and Nicaragua, Vietnam, the Palestinians or the Khmer Rouge. The only thing that mattered and still matters here is the inclusion of all kinds of organized, state and bureaucratic terrorisms in the list of liberating movements. No wonder, then, that the principal icons of this whole renaissance and awakening have been (and remained) Mao and Che. And all that in order to, finally, come to all kinds of militias, fundamentalist “movements,” Islamic and other extremists. Which was only natural, since 1968 practically and theoretically bred and harbored extremism as such. As well as the shift of focus from the first two worlds to, almost exclusively, the third world — so that today it applies and works best in places like Venezuela, Bolivia, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Then, together with that and in fact within it, there is the fanaticism (social, political, religious, ideological, you name it). And, it is definitely unlikely that we would have terrorism in its present form if it hadn’t been for May 1968. For, what it inaugurated in the popular consciousness is this notion that somehow it’s OK to hate, to be aggressive and destructive. More importantly, it implanted the belief that it not only doesn’t make us less nice and good people but, quite the contrary, exactly this anger and violence make us nice, good and righteous people. However, aggression and destruction, it taught us, must have a cause to stand on. Even a rebel without a cause has a cause. That s/he isn’t aware of it is not important at all. No worries, we will educate the masses, we’ll show them the way, we the representatives of its rage and wrath. And the beauty of it is that we actually only bring to the fore what masses already have in them, like some hidden talent expecting to be discovered. That is why, of course, this education cannot be the traditional one. Who needs schools and universities? They are, again, just the pillars of the much-hated state and serve nothing but the interests of the capital and the capitalist elite. Instead of educating, they debilitate us, they make us knowledgeable idiots, they cripple our minds and effectively prevent real emancipation and enlightenment. Rather, one has to put all his/her faith in the masses and the working classes (to which, quite democratically, we can all belong, with the only exception of the capitalists, of course) and this education of theirs can and should happen exclusively through action. The people are wise, the wisest, so one just needs to act and thus show them the way, that is, unleash and unveil their immense, but alas suppressed, potential for rule and liberty etc.
And so on and so forth …
One thing seems certain, May 1968 managed to become a defining point in the history of the 20th (and, for the good part, probably of the 21st) century. It introduced certain practices and activities unknown to humanity until then. The fact that these are totally dubious and contradictory matters very little.