Anarchy 89/Overtaken by events: a Paris journal

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Overtaken by events:
a Paris journal


Wednesday-Thursday, May 15th-May 16th. The Paris dis­turb­ances have been very poorly re­ported in the English press. First, the dis­turb­ance may have arisen out of com­plaints about the Uni­vers­ity sys­tem, but it has gone far beyond that now. It started with a row at Nan­terre, a uni­vers­ity out­side Paris, when the uni­vers­ity was closed for an in­defin­ite period, and seven stu­dents were sum­moned to ap­pear before a uni­vers­ity board. The Sor­bonne started to get active, in the big main court­yard; the recteur called in the police to clear out the stu­dents who had gathered to dis­cuss mat­ters. The police carted the stu­dents off and there were demon­stra­tions against this action, and against the police. The Sor­bonne was closed, and the uni­vers­ities pro­posed to strike on Monday, May 6th, demon­stra­tions all day long, fin­ish­ing with 20,000 march­ing. The police charged the march at St. Germain des Prés, and the bar­ri­cades started to go up. The police use gas. It fin­ishes up with police hunt­ing stu­dents through the streets, beat­ing them with trun­cheons. On Tuesday, another long march, about 40,000-50,000 people, stu­dents and work­ers. The red flags lead the march and the Inter­na­tion­ale is sung at the Arc de Triomphe. More demon­stra­tions on Wednes­day, when the left wing parties, hostile hitherto, jump on the band­wagon. Thurs­day, the Sor­bonne is to be re­opened: the police are on the scene, and the stu­dents de­mand with­drawal of police, open­ing of all the col­leges again, and the free­ing of the ar­rested stu­dents. The Trotsky­ists hold a meet­ing where the whole af­fair begins to open out into a re­volu­tion­ary move­ment. On Friday comes the ex­plo­sion: thou­sands of stu­dents on a demon­stra­tion march are stopped by a dam of police: the stu­dents re­tire into the Latin Quarter, filling the Bou­levard St. Michel up to the Luxem­bourg. They spread out and start erect­ing bar­ri­cades to fight the police if they charge. At 2 in the morn­ing, the police at­tack, using gas
gren­ades, tear gas, trun­cheons … fight­ing goes on until 5.30, around about 60 bar­ri­cades: many stu­dents are in­jured and seven are still miss­ing, no one knows where. On Satur­day, tension: the trade unions call for a gen­eral strike. The stu­dent milit­ants oc­cupy an annex of the Uni­vers­ity, and use the premises for dis­cus­sions and de­bates. On Sunday, the unions dis­cuss and pre­pare their demon­stra­tion. On Monday the strike takes place, and work­ers and stu­dents march to­gether to demon­strate against the police and the gov­ern­ment. On Tues­day the gov­ern­ment gives in, and says that the stu­dent de­mands for as­soci­a­tion in the organ­isa­tion of the Uni­vers­ity will be met: and the news­papers give the im­pres­sion that this is what it is all about.

  So it was, per­haps, in the first in­stance, but things have changed. The stu­dents have taken over the Uni­vers­ity com­pletely. The lec­ture rooms are crowded with com­mit­tees dis­cuss­ing the whole move­ment—for it is a movement: the whole struc­ture of western so­ciety is being called into ques­tion. The groups of the left are of course very pro­min­ent in this ques­tion­ing: Mao­ists, Trotsky­ists, Com­mun­ists and Anarch­ists have plas­tered the Sor­bonne with posters, de­clar­a­tions, ex­hort­a­tions; a flood of bro­chures, leaf­lets, pamph­lets and broad­sheets, as well as im­pro­vised news­papers, pours out. The great court­yard of the Sor­bonne is crowded with people: stu­dents and work­ers, and some bour­geois, argu­ing, form­ing groups where people stand and dis­cuss, dis­pute, bellow, dis­agree, create an atmo­sphere where one feels that they are awake! This goes on twenty-four hours a day, while people pass in and out of the build­ing, the lec­ture halls wit­ness con­tinu­ous meet­ings and com­mit­tees and in the court­yard people go on argu­ing. Around the court­yard are the pla­cards and pro­clam­a­tions, people sell the news­papers and hand out the sheets: trestle tables along the walls are oco­cu­pied by vari­ous groups selling their lit­er­ature—Trotsky­ists, Com­mun­ists, Mao­ists: I haven’t run across the Anarch­ists yet but I know they are there: their posters are edged in black. Walking out across the Place de la Sorbonne, you can see the same thing—groups, dis­cus­sions, every­where per­fect strangers join­ing argu­ments, ex­chan­ging views, in an atmo­sphere of charged ex­cite­ment which is im­pos­sible to under­stand there in London, and which is im­pos­sible for me to com­mun­icate. The level of dis­cus­sion is re­mark­ably high, on the whole, and if you can imagine the sort of energy the French put into an argu­ment be­tween two drivers whose cars have col­lided, trans­ferred to an argu­ment about the organ­isa­tion of the Uni­vers­ity, the class strug­gle, the whole organ­isa­tion of our so­ciety, the pos­sibil­ity of re­volu­tion: all this con­ducted by a free-float­ing crowd of liter­ally thou­sands of people, in the Sor­bonne, in the street, in the cafes—this all going on day and night—then you may get some idea of the Quartier Latin at the moment.

  The moment being 2.15 in the morn­ing (Thurs­day), and the place being a crowded (at this hour!) cafe in the Place de la Sorbonne. If I were rather younger and a great many il­lu­sions richer, I might be tempted to be­lieve in the re­volu­tion­ary atmo­sphere all around me. For
the atmo­sphere, if not the situ­a­tion, is cer­tainly one of re­volu­tion—it reminds me a little of ac­counts I have read of the so­ciety in Spain in the first days of the re­volu­tion, feel­ing of ex­cite­ment, of ten­sion, of all sorts of pos­sibil­ities for the future, the il­lu­sion that these people might, just might, put a really big crack in the struc­ture of the so­ciety which they are ques­tion­ing so fiercely. In the spec­trum of opin­ion you can re­cog­nise the pos­sible chrono­lo­gical pat­tern of hypo­thet­ical re­volu­tion, from re­form­ists whose ideas are lim­ited to the grant­ing of cer­tain con­ces­sions within—well within—the format of the set-up as it is, through others who advo­cate a far greater degree of change in the status of the stu­dent, those who look for the fall of the pres­ent govern­ment without think­ing much further (even those who would be satis­fied with the resig­na­tion of a few min­is­ters), those who want to see the stu­dents de­clare their solid­ar­ity with the work­ers, aban­don­ing their pres­ent privi­leged posi­tion as those who are des­tined to be the bas­tions of cap­it­al­ism, through to those who look to a total de­struc­tion of cap­it­al­ist so­ciety and the estab­lish­ment of a so­cial­ist so­ciety of one sort or another, and those who talk as if the re­volu­tion were sched­uled for to­morrow, or the day after at the very latest. Here it all is, in words at least.

  And what will come out of it? Not much perhaps: in fact, my guess would be, con­ces­sions in words from the gov­ern­ment, soothing noises, a few re­forms, a scape­goat or two—the Préfet of Paris, for in­stance, who did not want to send the police in to the Sor­bonne in the first place—and then, nothing. For a while, the ques­tion is: is the feel­ing under­ly­ing this re­volt so strong that it will break out again? I be­lieve it is: this is abso­lutely not a ques­tion of mild stu­dent dis­con­tent within the frame­work of the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, although it may ap­pear that way, and may have started that way. It looks to me like a deep-rooted dis­con­tent and dis­like of the whole struc­ture of so­ciety together with a total dis­trust of the dis­cred­ited lead­ers of the left. Those of the right are scarcely men­tioned, even de Gaulle and Pompi­dou are not names one hears often, and when one does it is in tones of dis­missal. There is no need to at­tack them in words: they are there, that’s all. In fact, there is a very re­mark­able lack of names—plenty of ini­tials of left wing parties, but no names. No “Leaders” in the old sense: no­body’s lead­ing.

  4.10 a.m. Les Halles, always a sight worth seeing—Paris’s belly, Zola called it, with its almost blocked streets, its furi­ous activ­ity, its enor­mous col­lec­tions of fruit and veg­et­ables, its stink­ing fish market with the enor­mous arti­cu­lated lorries bring­ing in fish from Brittany and the <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: south-west">south-west, cheese from Normandy, milk from all over the place. How very far from the atmo­sphere of the Sor­bonne: the stu­dents may ex­press solid­ar­ity with the work­ers, but how much solid­ar­ity do these work­ers feel for the stu­dents? A cer­tain amount, per­haps, since one of the stu­dent griev­ances—not one that is well pub­li­cised however—is that so few chil­dren of the work­ing class get to uni­vers­ity.

  9.20 a.m. This morn­ing I have been with Sor­bonne stu­dents ef­fect­ing li­aison with the med­ical stu­dents, who are not so enthu­si­astic or so
well organ­ised. In fact, the Sor­bonne people were on picket duty, per­suad­ing the med­ical stu­dents to keep up the strike and not enter into dis­cus­sions with the teach­ing staff. It is re­mark­able to see: dis­pute, argu­ment, per­sua­sion, but never the faint­est sug­ges­tion of a fist raised in anger. If in normal times Sor­bonne stu­dents went to the Fac­ulty of Medi­cine and dared to try to tell them what to do, they would be thrown out, but now the stu­dents must above all stay to­gether, other­wise the move­ment is done for.
View from the Island

  On Satur­day the Stu­dents’ Union held its defi­ant demon­sra­tion. Boy­cot­ted once more by the com­mun­ists, dis­missed as point­less folly or crazy ad­ven­tur­ism by many well-wishers, it never­the­less mustered a good 30,000 march­ers. I join in near the head of the column, be­hind the proudly waving red and black flags. I’ve never marched under anarch­ist colours before, but what the hell. Stu­dents are laugh­ing at the Human­ité re­port of a speech by <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: Waldeck-Rochet">Waldeck-Rochet: “Our flags are not those of anarchy but the red flag of so­cial­ism and the tri­colore, the flag of the na­tion.” But this week the tri­colore and the Mar­seil­laise belong to de Gaulle; they’ve never been so clearly the symbols of con­serv­at­ism.

  I am writ­ing this in the court­yard of the Sor­bonne. I look up to the roof, and there flying in the wind is a sight I have never seen before: a flag with no dec­or­a­tion, no ad­di­tion, no na­tional symbol: a plain red flag. And I can’t stop myself from shed­ding tears.

  8.45 p.m. Satur­day, May 25th. I ought to have kept a de­tailed day-by-day ac­count of what I have been doing and what has been hap­pen­ing, but I have been very busy. I have just filled in notes for the last week in my tiny diary, and this helps, but there are still la­cunae. I slept most of Thurs­day, pro­mis­ing myself I would start work next day, and spent the even­ing at the Sor­bonne talk­ing to people and join­ing in the argu­ments in the court­yard. Several times I was asked by stu­dents what I, as a for­eigner coming fresh to these events, thought of all that I saw; they seemed heart­ened by the fact that I was im­pressed. One girl said, “You see, we have been in it all the time, and some­times we wonder if it isn’t all just talk, talk, talk.” I told her that one of the things that had im­pressed me most was the talk, the fact that people, all sorts of people, were argu­ing, and par­ticu­larly that the argu­ments so often started from prem­ises which, although I ac­cepted them, I was startled to find the jump­ing off point of argu­ments. It was not a ques­tion of “Is there some­thing wrong that can be put right?”, “Should we change our so­ciety and if so in what way?”. No: so many people seemed to ac­cept that the so­ciety had to go, and the ques­tion was, what sort of a so­ciety was to take its place, and how could the change be brought about.
Cer­tain key ideas re­curred again and again; the two most im­port­ant as far as I could see were “auto­ges­tion” and a re­jec­tion of the con­sumer so­ciety. The ori­ginal stu­dent de­mands had in­cluded par­ti­cip­a­tion in the run­ning of the uni­vers­ities, but now it was a ques­tion of work­ers’ con­trol of the factor­ies as well as stu­dent con­trol of the col­leges. As for the con­sumer so­ciety, I was amazed at the vehem­ence both of the posters and slo­gans plastered all over the build­ing, and of the people who spoke of it. Every­where, it seemed, the idea of prosper­ity and pro­gress seen in terms of con­sumer goods, money, af­flu­ence, tele­vision and the motor car was de­nounced and at­tacked. Some­times the argu­ments against it were based on the con­cept of af­flu­ence as the weapon of a cap­it­al­ist so­ciety; but quite as often, no such ana­lysis was made, the speaker or writer seem­ing to ex­press himself from the point of view not of left-wing polit­ics but of deep per­sonal aware­ness that money and ma­terial things do not bring happi­ness. Oh yes indeed, quite the most banal and anti-cli­mactic of plat­it­udes, isn’t it? I too cringed when I first heard it that Thurs­day evening, but one of the re­mark­able aspects of the whole busi­ness was the re­sus­cita­tion of the plat­it­ude. Solid­ar­ity be­tween worker and stu­dent, unity of the left, com­rade­ship be­tween man and man, be­tween man and woman, the spirit of the bar­ri­cades, were con­cepts which had reality and truth. Many might sneer—few did, in fact; for me, cer­tainly, the tired old ideas were reborn.

  On Friday, I did a little work at the Biblio­thèque Na­tion­ale, very un­en­thusi­astic­ally. On Satur­day, how­ever, I got very inter­ested in a par­ticu­lar edi­tion of a novel which seemed mat­ter for an art­icle, and worked madly all day. I was at the Sor­bonne again that evening; that was the night I went on to the Odéon.

  The Odéon Théâtre de France was taken over by stu­dents, in­clud­ing drama stu­dents, and was thrown open 24 hours a day as a free forum for dis­cus­sion. It is a re­mark­able sight, the house packed with people, and three or four organ­is­ers in the centre aisle try­ing to di­rect the dis­cus­sion. I say try­ing, be­cause it is an ap­pal­lingly dif­fi­cult task. What hap­pens roughly is that every­one is in­vited to put forward his views, and at any given moment, in a crowded theatre, a number of people would like to air their opin­ions, whether from de­light in hear­ing their own voice, pleas­ure in show­ing off before a large audi­ence, viol­ent dis­agree­ment with the last speaker or the one three before him, dis­agree­ment with some other aspect such as the whole idea of a free forum unless it al­lows only the ex­pres­sion of the cor­rect views, dis­agree­ment with the hand­ling of the pro­ceed­ings, desire to cor­rect the last speak­er’s facts, desire to cor­rect the last speak­er’s opin­ions, desire to alter the last speak­er’s at­ti­tude, desire to beat the last speaker’s head in, wish to break up the pro­ceed­ings, desire to help along the argu­ment, or a wish to si­lence every­one who is mak­ing such a racket and spoil­ing the whole af­fair for every­one, and why do all these people yell so that you can’t hear the speaker, so you bawl at the top of your voice “SILENCE”.

  And yet there is—to use one of the key words, even if it is over­worked, of this period—a dia­logue. Work­ers do manage to stand up and say their piece, people do listen, people do start to try to see other
people’s posi­tion, even learn from them. I stayed at the Odéon for four hours, till four in the morning.

  Then I slept on Sunday till nearly mid­day, got up and went to the ména­gerie at the Jardin des Plantes. I fed pea­nuts to the ele­phant, ad­mired the alli­gators, croco­diles, turtles and tor­toises, flamin­goes, saw a just-born baby bison lying on the ground pant­ing, saw several fine go­rillas and some heavily moulted camels.

  I contin­ued to the Bois de Vin­cennes, and there, in search of some green and per­haps a goose or two, fail­ing which, a mal­lard, I passed through quite the largest func­tion­ing fair­ground I ever saw. Well, it was marked green on the map. How­ever, I got to the other end and found green—in fact, for Paris, an enorm­ous ex­panse of green: you can walk quite a hundred yards before coming to a “Keep off the Grass” sign. Well, anyway, ninety yards. I walked this, and then came to a lake, with an island in the middle, and a cause­way to the island, so that people can saunter across to the island and walk round on the paths ad­mir­ing the ele­gant “Keep off the Grass” signs. I pre­ferred to walk around the lake, eye­ing the ten yards of water between the main­land grass and the island grass, each equally combed, brushed, barbered, groomed, tit­iv­ated, beau­ti­fied, rolled and beaten into a state of supine sub­mis­sion. How­ever, there are ducks and some swans, who do not Keep off the Grass at all, but walk flatly on it, their large flocks of off­spring quack­ing behind. There are a great number of duck­lings, many of them swim­ming in blocks of twenty to thirty, each ac­com­panied by several ducks.

  I stopped near a rather short middle aged man who, at a spot where the grass had been swept away to allow the gravel path to go to the edge of the water, was com­plain­ing bitterly. It ap­pears that the gentle­man was feed­ing the ducks, and had thrown bread near one of two cygnets. When a duck­ling had gone after it, one of the swan parents had at­tacked him—the duck­ling. The gentle­man did not like this, and was try­ing to hit the swan with a stone. He sent his little girl—about six—grand­daughter I think—to get him stones, but she came back with a branch, with which he tried to reach the swan, with much ex­plan­a­tion to the people around. I en­gaged a dia­logue with him, ex­plain­ing that the swan was only trying to pro­tect its young; that it was per­fectly natural; that the duck­ling was unhurt; that if he (the gentle­man) con­tinued to try to hurt the swan, I (the speaker) would push him (the gentle­man) into the water. He yelled and shouted and in­sulted me, and then stopped and went on feed­ing the ducks. The swan came a little closer in search of food, and the gentle­man reached out waving his branch and trying to hit the swan, and as I had prom­ised him, I pushed him into the lake.

  That evening I dis­covered the anarch­ists at the Sor­bonne. They are much more organ­ised in France, much more polit­ic­ally active, and they have played a large part in the whole struggle. Since then I have had some inter­est­ing dis­cus­sions with them, and often drop in there. They hold forums similar to those at the Odéon, ex­cept that theirs are held to tell people about anarch­ist ideas, to answer questions, and to
allow debate on their the­or­ies. Un­for­tun­ately, these three func­tions in one meet­ing live very un­easily together. If you are going to tell people about your ideas, you stand up and ad­dress them. If you are answer­ing ques­tions about anarch­ism, someone asks a ques­tion, say, “What, com­rade, is the place of bird-watching in the fu­ture liber­tar­ian so­ciety after the re­volu­tion has de­stroyed the state, com­rade?” and you stand up and answer, say­ing unto him, “In a liber­tar­ian so­ciety, com­rade, bird-watch­ing will be one among many activ­ities en­joyed by free­dom-loving anarch­ists living in an inter­na­tional feder­a­tion, and there will be no fron­tiers to hinder birds from migrat­ing from time to time to other places for the pleas­ure of other anarch­ist bird-watchers in those other places, com­rade.” And if you are al­low­ing debate on anarch­ist ideas, then the chair­man should di­rect the argu­ment without enter­ing into it. The func­tions are in­com­pat­ible, the con­se­quences obvi­ous and the forums less useful than they might be. How­ever, when things do not get mixed up, they do in fact give the people who come a lot of useful in­form­a­tion on anarch­ist ideas. Usually there is a brief sum­mary of the idea of a feder­al­ist so­ciety and how it might be organ­ised, as well as an at­tack on the par­lia­ment­ary “demo­cracy” in which the sole polit­ical activ­ity of the mass, and its sole power, is to mark a cross on a piece of paper once every few years, and in France today, to say a blind un­quali­fied yes or no to an elderly pa­ter­nal­ist auto­crat. Also, the forums may do a little to help dispel the aura of terror which in France still sur­rounds the words “anarchy” and “anarch­ist”.

  On Monday I went to the BN, but they were short-staffed be­cause of the Métro strike and were not open­ing the Réserve, where my books were. I went to the Biblio­thèque de l’Arsenal, but they were not issu­ing books for the same reason. So I went back to the Sor­bonne. That after­noon I met an Amer­ican law teacher and free­lance journal­ist called Joe, who was try­ing to get some per­sonal stories on the “nuit des bar­ri­cades” of 10-11 mai; as he speaks no French, I went along with him for the evening, and heard a re­mark­able ac­count by the daughter of a French ambas­sador, a first-year med­ical stu­dent, about seven­teen, tiny, with a very young face; she told of what had hap­pened and how she had got on, and I was moved and ap­palled at the barbar­ity of the events, but much more at their juxta­pos­i­tion to this little girl. I was con­scious not so much of her sex, but of her youth; at the total in­con­gru­ity of this tender thing, and the shields, the yard-long weighted trun­cheons, the nerve-jump­ing crack of gren­ades and the blind­ness and tears of the gas, the noise and the dirt of the street, and the fear. The fear of the CRS.

  On Tues­day, I went to the BN, but they were all on strike, so I could not do any­thing. (These two days I was try­ing to con­tact J.P. which I fin­ally did, and ar­ranged to call on him on Wednes­day at 10 a.m.) I read a little on Tues­day after­noon, both work and cur­rent events. You must ima­gine too the enorm­ous amount of news­print being de­voured in Paris by every­one in these tense days. The strike was spread­ing and spread­ing; by Tues­day the number of strik­ers was in the mil­lions. On Tues­day evening I met a Finnish girl, journal­ist and
trans­lator, and talked about trans­la­tion and events in Paris until 2 a.m.

  Wednes­day morn­ing I called on J.P., who seems to be quite a pleas­ant fellow. I worked there from 10 till 1, poking by nose in that time into all twenty-five box-files of papers, tak­ing note of one or two inter­est­ing things. At a rate of seven minutes per box two inches thick, I obvi­ously did no­thing but skim through: but I found one par­tic­u­larly curi­ous thing, a manu­script which ap­peared to be the last half of a novel, but which I did not recog­nise at all. It looked to me like the second half of a work of which the first had been pub­lished as an “un­fin­ished” novel. I put it aside for further study.

View from the East

  France is the first West­ern coun­try to demon­strate that the so­cial mech­an­ism cre­ated two cen­tur­ies ago does not cor­re­spond to the needs any more. The re­volu­tion­ary ac­tion that has served no­tice that the idea of a work­ers’ self-man­aged so­ciety is knock­ing on all doors of the rich in­dus­trial coun­tries of the West.

<span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: borba">borba (Belgrade), 28.5.68.
  That evening there was a big demon­stra­tion, called by the stu­dents to pro­test against the gov­ern­ment’s ac­tion in for­bid­ding Cohn-Bendit’s re­turn to France. I took part, and it was in­deed an amaz­ing af­fair. A crowd of up to 10,­000 people, chant­ing slo­gans, but most of all, sing­ing the Inter­na­tion­ale and chant­ing “Nous sommes tous des juifs al­le­mands” (We are all German Jews). I was enorm­ously moved—as I have been time after time in these last days. We marched towards the As­sem­blée Na­tio­nale, but were not al­lowed through to demon­strate in front (that evening they were de­bat­ing the op­po­si­tion’s fore­doomed cen­sure mo­tion). There I had my first sight of the CRS drawn up for ac­tion. I had seen them often enough in the days before, in coaches with the win­dows pro­tected by thick mesh, hang­ing around the Pont des Arts. But here they were drawn up in line three or four deep right across each of sev­eral side roads off the Bou­le­vard St. Germain, where we were, and across the bou­le­vard itself. We were thou­sands, they were I sup­pose under a hund­red in each side street, con­sider­ably more on the bou­le­vard: but, but. They wear close-fitting, gleam­ing hel­mets, with a double thonged strap under the chin; jack­boots; thick black uni­forms with broad heavy belts; carry heavy trun­cheons. They are armed also with gren­ades dis­char­ging not only tear gas, but other gases of vari­ous sorts, some of them said to be banned by the Geneva Con­ven­tion, some, cer­tainly, of which the de­tails are secret, so that the ci­vil­ian doc­tors who treated vic­tims after the first night of the bar­ri­cades had them­selves no ac­cur­ate in­form­a­tion to guide them in treat­ment. The CRS look awfully like the SS men of the war films. Cer­tainly they would have made ex­cel­lent SS men. They are, whether by na­ture or by train­ing, fitted to be con­cen­tra­tion camp guards. If called on to sup­port my as­ser­tion that man is a stain on na­ture, the cata­strophe of this planet, whose de­struc­tion would be a bless­ing of un­ima­gin­able magni­tude; if chal­lenged by some human­ist to sup­port this con­ten­tion not by history, but
by living spe­ci­mens, and if I couldn’t for the mo­ment find any con­cen­tra­tion camp guards or Ku Klux Klanners (I have men­tioned only two, and those chosen only from the ranks of those who per­se­cute their own species)—why, then a CRS man would re­fute my hypo­thet­ical human­ist quite as ad­equately as Johnson’s stone re­futed Berkeley. (I am quite aware of the im­plica­tions of the com­par­ison.)

  But the CRS have made their first ap­pear­ance, having shown them­selves sin­is­ter, bulky, black, black, medium long shot, a brood­ing pres­ence which we know we shall see more of; so, we shall leave them. They will be heard from. To be con­tinued in our next.

  On Thurs­day morn­ing I went again to J.P.’s flat, and con­firmed that the ms. was in­deed part of the “un­fin­ished” novel. When I told J.P. this he was in­cred­u­lous, and we de­cided I should look through the docu­ments for the ms. of the pub­lished sec­tion; it was miss­ing, and I could not find it. The new ms. is about 30,000 words long, and I estim­ated that with the al­ready pub­lished sec­tion we had at least 80 per cent of the novel. I left a note for J.P.—I was now very ex­cited about this find.

  (From a liter­ary point of view we are doing well; we have two good plots going, one so­cial and polit­ical, one aca­demic and per­sonal. Will the sin­is­ter CRS de­stroy the vali­ant anarch­ist forum by asking them ques­tions they can’t answer? Is our hero’s find really the long-lost finale of Schubert’s Un­fin­ished Sym­phony? Will the black uni­forms tear up the black flag of the anarch­ists and steal the pre­cious manu­script? Will the goodies beat the baddies in the end? Read to­morrow’s breath­taking thrill-a-minute edition of Le Monde.)

  Coming back from J.P.’s flat, I had some­thing to eat (I had not stopped all day) and then walked through the Place St. Michel on the way to the Sor­bonne. It was about six o’clock, and the usual strollers were around. There was no dis­order: yet a squad of CRS had just formed up at the end of the Pont St. Michel, across the whole width of the road, block­ing the bridge, carry­ing their large black shields, ready for ac­tion. There was not the slight­est need for this: no demon­stra­tion had been called for that evening, and none was tak­ing place. If the au­thor­it­ies felt the CRS were ne­ces­sary to keep order (which seems un­likely, since the ef­fect of their ap­pear­ance in this way served ex­actly the op­po­site pur­pose), they could have stayed in their coaches, parked nearby, as they had done before, ready to inter­vene if needed.

  I went to the Sor­bonne and had a talk with some people I had met, two couples, one an eld­erly rail­way­man and his wife, all anarch­ists. I don’t know what time it was when I left them, but we had heard that there was al­ready trouble at the Place St. Michel, and I headed back there.

  That was the flash­point of Thurs­day night’s riots. The police bar­rier had at­tracted a large crowd, many of them stu­dents, and in­sults had been hurled at the CRS. It is farily cer­tain that many of those who hurled the in­sults were “pro­vocateurs”, in­tend­ing to start trouble; it is less easy to say whether they were ex­trem­ists from the left wing or the right, or even, im­prob­able though it sounds, work­ing for the gov­ern­ment,
to give the public the im­pres­sion that the stu­dents were in the wrong for start­ing it all. Anyway, the in­evit­able fin­ally hap­pened, stones and rub­bish were thrown at the CRS, back came gas gren­ades, and the Place St. Michel and the Place St. André des Arts be­came a battle­field. The “service d’ordre” of the stu­dents tried in every way they could to stop it, but it was use­less, partly be­cause of the ex­aspir­a­tion, partly be­cause of the feel­ing of solid­ar­ity. The police ad­vanced, the gren­ades and the stones flew, and soon the pavé was being dug up, the thick pierced iron plates that sur­round the base of the trees pulled up, and bar­ri­cades went up on the Bou­le­vard St. Michel.

  The CRS had four enorm­ous lorries side by side across the whole width of the Bou­le­vard, ad­van­cing slowly up­hill. Night had fallen, and the tear gas was so thick that it was dif­fi­cult to see even if your eyes were not stream­ing tears. Through the haze came flashes—some­times the lights of news photo­graph­ers, some­times, I think, some form of gren­ade strik­ing. The CRS don’t throw the gren­ades, they have mech­an­ical throw­ers which send them a long dis­tance and with con­sider­able velo­city, which in itself con­sti­tutes a con­sider­able hazard when the gren­ades are thrown hap­hazard into a crowd. I can test­ify to this, as I in­volun­tar­ily stopped a gas gren­ade with my left leg, get­ting a large bruise and a severe limp.

  I was very fright­ened. I do not think I am a coward. I think that given a rifle and prefer­ably a little train­ing, I could fight. If they are over there with rifles and we are over here with rifles, I do not think I would run. But to stand your ground with no weapon, no pro­tec­tion—God, how del­ic­ate and fra­gile this flesh stuff is when there is a bang, and you find you are run­ning—to ignore the tear gas—which is bad, there is no doubt: you can stand it quite a time, at least I can, but comes a mo­ment when you are blinded, when your eyes burn un­con­trol­lably and you are in the middle of the Bou­le­vard St. Michel and there are two enorm­ous bangs, you can’t open your eyes and you are run­ning across this naked flat plain stretch­ing away to the kerb, and blun­der­ing into people as blind as you, your eyes burn­ing, until you stag­ger into a shop front and put some­thing hard be­tween you and the fly­ing gren­ades, and then stumble away along the houses try­ing to keep your eyes shut with the terror of the newly blind for­cing them open, trying to see to run away from this hell. And if you run far enough, out of the worst of the gas, and your eyes stop burn­ing, you look back and see that you have escaped from hell, the hell of the medi­eval paint­ers. All around, black­ness, and in the centre, il­lum­in­ated by the tall lick­ing flames from the bar­ri­cades, hazy and flick­er­ing against the fires, through the steam-cloud of gas you see dan­cing fig­ures, male and female, yell­ing and jump­ing, bend­ing down to pick up some­thing to throw it through the flames into the cloud and dark­ness beyond. Around them, crashes and bangs, and from a cyl­in­der on the ground the smoke rushes as if an im­prisoned genie had been let loose: you ex­pect him to form in the upper dark­ness and loom above the fig­ures, who duck and run, and then go back to face that huge dark­ness beyond. And you know what sort of courage that is, and you know you haven’t got it.

  On Friday morn­ing I dragged my­self out of bed after about four hours sleep and went to my usual café for break­fast. The Place St. Michel was a wreck, and even at nine in the morn­ing there was tear gas in the air, sting­ing the eyes and nos­trils. I was limp­ing a little, and con­scious that any police­man could easily de­duce why. It had been worse the previ­ous night. I had finally taken refuge in the Sor­bonne as I found dif­fi­culty in walk­ing, and as my way home led me through the CRS which­ever way I went. Inside the Sor­bonne the atmo­sphere was that of a siege, and seri­ous dis­cus­sion took place as to how the place could be de­fended. I thought the place in­defens­ible against a gas at­tack, which would be deadly in the en­closed spaces even if only tear gas were used; but it was clear that if an at­tack came, the Sor­bonne would be de­fended room by room, floor by floor, stair by stair.

  It was not at­tacked. I tried later to leave, and found that no­body was al­lowed to go out. The reason I was given by the stu­dents’ service d’ordre was that the CRS out­side were club­bing down any­one seen leav­ing. When I was al­lowed to go, at about two a.m., I was told that I did so at my own risk. I soon dis­covered what this meant. There were four CRS men at the corner, and as I came down the steps and across the square on the op­posite side of the road to them, they shouted in­sults at me with the obvi­ous hope that I might answer back. I promptly de­cided that I could not under­stand a word of French, and went on. I felt re­lieved that I had de­veloped the habit of always carry­ing my pass­port, argu­ing that for a for­eigner the worst that could hap­pen was a severe beating-up and de­port­a­tion. I ran less danger than most, but I was ter­ri­fied. To avoid them as much as pos­sible I took a most round­about route to my hotel off the Place St. Michel.

  J.P. and I were anxious to find the missing manu­script and work on this mys­tery, but be­cause of the strikes we were badly ham­pered. One man who might well know some­thing of what had hap­pened to the ms. after its pub­lica­tion lived in Tours, and we did not have his tele­phone number. Fin­ally we de­cided I should hitch-hike to Tours that day, since other­wise I might miss him if he were out over the week­end, and we did not want to wait till the Monday. There I should give my letter of intro­duc­tion to B. and find out what I could.

  I got there at about five-thirty, and B. wel­comed me most warmly, in­vit­ing me to dinner at his home. With him and his family I watched de Gaulle’s tele­vision speech, which must surely be worth a prize as the anti-climax of the year. We spent a happy evening talk­ing shop: B. was ex­cited about the dis­covery but could tell me no­thing about the miss­ing ms.

  At about eleven he drove me back into Tours, and I went into a café to sort out my notes and drink a final beer. Hear­ing a trans­istor radio going I went to listen: riots in Paris and most bitter fight­ing!

  It was as if one of those gren­ades that were fly­ing one hun­dred and fifty miles away had hit me, not in the leg, but in the head. After de Gaulle’s speech, I had totally for­gotten Paris, buried in talk about work; now I real­ised that with a shock that further riot­ing had been in­evit­able. I tried to tele­phone to London, which was im­pos­sible, and then tried H. in Paris, she was not in. Use­less. In be­tween at­tempts to tele­phone, I walked up and down by the foun­tains. Anguish at the thought that in Paris the CRS were out again at the mas­sacre, fear for my com­rades, un­hap­pi­ness at being stuck here, in the provinces, power­less, horror that the people I knew at the Sor­bonne might at­trib­ute my ab­sence to coward­ice. I found that I was whim­per­ing.

  When I got back to Paris on Satur­day after­noon, the dev­ast­a­tion in the Latin Quarter was re­mark­able; ac­cord­ing to stat­ist­ics pub­lished on Monday, in Paris a total of nearly thir­teen thou­sand square feet of pavé had been torn up in great chunks, and as much again in scat­terred patches, and seventy-two trees cut down, apart from the lamp-posts, traffic lights and iron benches torn up. Most amaz­ing to me, a stout metal news­paper kiosk at the corner of the Place de la Sor­bonne had been torn up—how, I still don’t know; and Le Monde in­dic­ated that another four of these heav­ily built struc­tures had been de­stroyed.

View from the Island

  Nothing could be more fool­ish than for us and the Amer­icans to smirk to see the French Pres­id­ent in trouble with his syn­dic­al­ist stu­dents and work­ers.

  These pres­ent dis­con­tents run vastly more widely. We are not all So­cial­ists now. We are all syn­dic­al­ists now, in a new sense. We want to have a real say in our own af­fairs. It is a crisis, not just of af­flu­ence, but of demo­cracy—and of the so-called people’s demo­cra­cies, too.

  It is in their re­sponses to all this that all the rulers are now about to be tested. Not just Pres­id­ent de Gaulle. Not just Mr. Wil­son. Not just the ab­dic­at­ing Pres­id­ent John­son and the con­test­ants for his crown. Not just the creak­ing re­gimes of East­ern Europe. All of them.

Donald Tyer­man, <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: evening stand­ard">evening stand­ard, 21.5.68.
  I was de­pressed. First I had missed the night of the 10th-11th May, and now this. The trade union lead­ers were ne­go­ti­at­ing di­rect with the Gov­ern­ment on a pro­gramme of claims—the weary old claims that were ne­ces­sary in them­selves, but so ir­rel­ev­ant at this point. Shorter hours, higher min­imum wages, earlier re­tire­ment for cer­tain classes of worker, better so­cial secur­ity—for the French work­man, whose con­di­tions had de­teri­or­ated so much, and par­tic­u­larly for the lowest paid French worker, these things were vital. Try­ing to live my­self on thirty-five francs a day in Paris, I failed to see how any man could pos­sibly stay alive on the min­imum wage of under 400 francs per month for a forty-hour week. But it was clear that the trade union bur­eau­cracy was play­ing the game with the ré­gime, and wanted none of a re­volu­tion. Their wish was as always to share the power with the gov­ern­ment, and keep their con­trol over the mil­lions they were sup­posed to be serv­ing. They would ne­go­ti­ate a bit extra for their sup­port­ers and order them back to work like good little sheep, and their names would go down in history. And the work­ers would let them­selves be fooled again. They
had been woken up by the stu­dents, and with­out any in­struc­tions from the top, they had started to strike which their lead­ers had not wanted. They had shaken the French ré­gime to its found­a­tions, and shown just how power­ful they were. Now they would go back to their tor­pid ex­ist­ence for a few francs extra a week, with­out even turn­ing out the gov­ern­ment. I had a cold, a head­ache, and no hope for the strike.

  That night I had the dream I have from time to time, after which I always wake un­easy and dis­orient­ated. It is so vivid, and I so much want to stay in it, that when I wake, it is as if I came from real­ity into a dis­tor­tion and ca­ri­ca­ture of the real. The un­real­ity of that day could be put down to this, and per­haps to the awful soli­tude of a Paris Sunday. That day the usual Sunday after­noon outing of the Pari­sian bour­geois family took the shape of a walk around the prin­cipal battle fronts to gape at the debris, heads shak­ing at the de­vast­a­tion. The Latin Quarter was more crowded that after­noon than I have ever seen it. From the be­gin­ning of the af­fair, there had been a cer­tain amount of tour­ist at­trac­tion qual­ity about the Sor­bonne and what was going on there, and no doubt a great many people came along to see the wild men, as they would have gone to see the go­rillas at the zoo. More­over, the stu­dent re­volu­tion in Paris, at least, was the big­gest and most ex­cit­ing “hap­pen­ing” one could ima­gine, and I had re­flec­ted that in fact this height­ened vivid­ness with which we lived was surely one of the things which had to be kept, or at least re­mem­bered. But on this after­noon, it was no longer a ques­tion of people par­ti­ci­pat­ing to some degree in what was going on. This was spec­tator pass­ive­ness again. you sit in front of the one-eyed monster and ooh, ah, look at that, ooh road ac­ci­dent, ah Viet­nam, bang CRS, and you get the extra kick of see­ing places you know as a back­ground for the blood­let­ting. So you take your Sunday after­noon stroll down there to see, and you take your camera along. Look daddy, that’s where that man got bashed. Stand there in front of the bar­ri­cade and let me take a photo of you—that’s it, you stand on top of it and hold a stone in your hand. Click. Sou­venir of the bar­ri­cades. In the Rue des Ecoles there were two cars to­gether which had been twisted wildly out of shape; it was dif­fi­cult to see how such a pecu­liar mal­form­a­tion had been achieved. These were the fa­vour­ite spots for pho­to­graph­ers, but for every one who snapped the wrecks there were five who snapped their wife or hus­band or girl friend or entire family stand­ing on or in front of them. I am told that during the Tet of­fens­­ive in Saigon, people were put­ting up plat­forms and selling seats for places from which you got a good view of the fight­ing. I find no dif­fi­culty in be­liev­ing it.

  That evening I was cheered by meet­ing an Amer­ican called D. He is a re­mark­able talker, who handles the English lan­guage as one rarely hears it handled, in a style which re­called slightly the prose of Thomas Pynchon. His syn­tax is more elabor­ate than is the case in usual speech, but there is no sense of ped­antry, merely that of a man ma­nip­u­lat­ing lan­guage to ex­press co­her­ently and poet­ic­ally a com­plex struc­ture of ideas and an in­volved nar­rat­ive. The final re­sult is real poetic prose—
not purple patch prose, but true evoc­at­ive lan­guage which brings to life the con­cepts it ex­presses. As to the ideas, the nar­rat­ive, the con­cepts them­selves, they were the pro­duct of a rampant para­noia, the wild mag­ni­fi­cent im­pos­si­bil­it­ies of a mind con­cerned with a world where the com­put­ers are all inter­linked and a small dedi­ca­ted band of men are striv­ing to avert the cata­strophe whose signs are the stu­dent re­volts, the Viet­nam con­fer­ence, the Demo­cratic prim­ar­ies and the tak­ing over of a mental hos­pital by Brit­ish intel­li­gence, who use ECT to brain­wash people who have learned too much about the con­spir­acy. That man would be certi­fied with­out hes­it­a­tion by any com­pet­ent psy­chi­at­rist, locked away and treated.

  On Monday the de­tails of the agree­ment reached be­tween gov­ern­ment and unions were pub­lished; and the work­ers who were to rat­ify the agree­ment re­fused to do so. I was amazed and cheered. On Tues­day the search for the ms. con­tinued, and I nursed my cold as I waited to see how de Gaulle would react to this defi­ance. We all waited. In the Salle des Anars at the Sor­bonne, I looked at the books. The room had been—is—a small library, in which are stored mainly theses which have been written on quite the most re­mark­able vari­ety of sub­jects. There was a curi­ous dis­con­tinu­ity be­tween all this buried learn­ing and the living ideas that were the pres­ent, less tan­gible oc­cu­pants of the build­ing. Yet I found a link, a thesis which listed the con­tents of the “cahiers” or lists of claims, re­quests, com­plaints and pro­tests drawn up in the Paris area, for the meeting of the Etats Généraux in 1789.

  On Wednes­day, as it began to seem more and more likely that an interim gov­ern­ment would be formed and gen­eral elec­tions called, J.P. and I went to see another man who might give us in­form­a­tion, but again with­out suc­cess. But on Thurs­day morn­ing we dis­covered that the ms. was at the pub­lish­er’s, where it had been ever since pub­lic­a­tion; the strike, of course, was the reason why we had not been able to estab­lish this in the first place. I ar­ranged to work on the new ms. when it had been copied, at some more pro­pi­tious time, and since I could do little more now, I de­cided to pack my bags and try to get a flight back to London. Sky­ways told me that if I wanted to come to their ter­minal, I could take a chance on get­ting a va­cancy, and I did this, and waited in the lounge for the chance to get away. De Gaulle, who had dis­ap­peared the previ­ous day to think over the de­ci­sion he had to take, and thus given rise to great specu­la­tion, mainly on the lines that he was going to re­sign, was to speak on the radio at four-thirty. There were over a dozen of us around the radio when he spoke, to say that he had de­cided to stand firm, to keep his Prime Min­ister, that he would keep the coun­try from the threat­ened dic­tat­or­ship (gasp of aston­ish­ment from the listen­ers) and the inter­na­tional Com­mun­ist con­spir­acy. The auto­crat was going to hold out till the end, and it was im­pos­sible at that mo­ment to give even the wild­est guess as to what that end might be.