Originally published in May 2008.
How old were you in ’68 and what were you doing at the time?
I was 21 and a student at Swansea university. I was in the Swansea Anarchist group – all students – and we occupied the university building in solidarity with the French students and hoisted the red and black flag. We were very serious whereas in 1967 we were very frivolous.
How did you hear about the student and worker protests in Europe and did you get involved?
We listened to Radio Luxemburg every night for news from Paris. When we heard the Bourse was on fire with the black flag of anarchy flying above it ee thought the revolution was nigh. I remember being very big headed in an ‘I told you so’ way the following day in the university coffee bar. Our anarchist group grew from 20 to over 1000 overnight. Very exciting it was.
Was there anything meaningful happening in England at the time that contributed to these protests? Or is it fair that Paris took all the credit?
It wasn’t just Paris – there were student uprisings worldwide – the Zengakuren in Japan for example. The Vietnam war was still the major politicising factor. In March there was a violent demonstration in Grosvenor Square at the American embassy and a bigger and better one planned for October. We thought it might lead to insurrection on the streets. We were disappointed.
The English working class at this time seemed to be most excited about Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech and sporting its anti immigration sentiment. Is this a fair observation or was there a progressive working class movement?
We wanted to get in touch with the workers – but we didn’t know any! And they would have taken the piss out of our long hair. The defeat of the Seamen’s Strike in 1966 was a setback for the union movement and Powell was able to appeal to the anti-immigrant feeling – especially against Ugandan Asians – among sections of the working class. It was a parallel universe – it hadn’t occurred to us till May that we might need to get the working class onside.
Do you think the events of ’68 actually improved anything, or are they overrated?
1968 was a very liberating experience for those few students involved but not for anyone else! We thought we were going to change the world, we didn’t, but at least we had a year when it seemed possible which is more than anyone in England has had since. For most lefties they then began their long march through the institutions and Tariq Ali is wheeled out every anniversary. It was the most exciting year of my life so I ain’t complaining.
40 years later can you see any potential for similar student and workers unrest in Britain?