23. "68" and what's left of it

Submitted by Spassmaschine on December 17, 2009

In Germany , the "68 generation" is in power in the government and in the economy. What do you think of the French May 68 now? Is there still something present from these days in French society?

It all depends on what we mean by "the 68 generation". Hardly any of the participants in the 1968 events that we happen to know personally has made up his way up to a position of power. But a low level Maoist leader like S. July did possess all the prerequisites to rise to the top and become the boss of the daily Libération. The emblem of May 68, for us, is not Cohn-Bendit, but the Wonder factory woman worker who refused to go back to work in June, and figures as the anonymous "heroin" of the film Reprise. May-June 68 made history as the biggest general strike ever, not as the heyday of leftism.

Forty years later, what remains of it is only what a minority of proletarians wish to keep in mind, whether they experienced the events or not. What was left of the Paris Commune in 1900 ? or of the June 36 sit-downs a year before 1968 ? Unlike that of a computer, human memory is selective and social, and even more so in the case of historical memory. In 1965, only a handful of German proletarians (and radicals) had heard of Gorter, O. Rühle and the KAPD: a few years later, a whole social upheaval, in Germany and elsewhere, was reviving the anti-union and anti-parliament communists of 1920, because fifty years after 1920, similar actions were giving a renewed reality to a period that until then had lost its meaning in the memory of the living. The present only revives the past it needs.