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What Barricades?


Read a book, see a flick, eat too much, drink plenty vino, keep my nose clean, and generally laze about. Such is the simple life. So I almost forgot to remember.


The events of May 1968, anyone? They changed everything, except that they didn't.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit (once known as Danny the Red) put it this way the other day: Why not stop talking about May '68? All I am hearing is the prattle of the inept. That's a paraphrase by a friend.

What Cohn-Bendit, who is now a Green Party member of the European Union parliament, actually said, was: "Forget it: '68 is over -- buried under cobblestones ..." So shitcan the nostalgia: "It was nice for those who experienced it but it is over now." Here's why:
In France, conservatism was so entrenched on both the left and the right that both missed the movement's meaning and could only fall back on stereotyped revolutionary interpretations. As for the anarchists, their utopia of widespread self-management -- tied to outdated historical references -- appeared entirely unsuitable. Starting from an initial rejection of political institutions and parliamentarism, we understood only later that the democratic challenge lies in occupying a politically "normalised" space.

Faced with the anarchists, with their confining minimalist political grammar -- reflected in the famous slogan elections, piege à cons (elections, a trap for idiots) -- and with the Communist Party, whose revolutionary ideal was eventually linked to totalitarian types of society, the future of May 1968 could only shift to the right with the election victory of General de Gaulle.
Which is not all that different from what happened in the States. The election of Richard M. Nixon comes to mind.

Nor is what Cohn-Bendit saying all that different from what Carl Oglesby says in his recently published memoir "Ravens in the Storm." It's about the 1960s anti-war movement, his involvement with the old Students for a Democratic Society, and his misadventures as the blue-collar, self-described "centrist" SDS president who was "star-chambered" for being an "incorrect liberal" unwilling to go along with the Weathermen.
They were young and angry and lived in a separate reality of their own. Many of them had been comfortably raised with a middle-class sense of entitlement, which they brought too easily to their politics. They believed that SDS was passé and that it was their right and their moral duty to take the step beyond nonviolence to terrorism. They were not personally violent. Even as terrorists, they confined themselves to symbolic targets and never killed anyone but three of their own, by accident.

But their vanity was boundless. They believed they were right simply because they were who they were. And after they had picked up a few deadly phrases from Marx, they went from knowing what was right to knowing what was "correct," as though politics were like arithmetic.

One day I'll have to read "Fugitive Days," Bill Ayers's memoir of the Weather Underground. Lazing about like this, I've got plenty of time. Its opening words sound promising: "Memory is a motherfucker."