THE STUDENT REVOLT by Herve Bourges (Panther, 6s.).
FRENCH REVOLUTION 1968 by Patrick Seale & Maureen McConville (Penguin, 6s.).
THE BEGINNING OF THE END by Angelo Quattrocchi & Tom Nairn (Panther, 6s.).
When reading the above three books, one can’t but feel that the material has already been presented with a lot more clarity and a lot less verbiage in anarchy 89 and 90 and the excellent Solidarity pamphlet number 30. Also, this “history-before-you-really-know-it’s-happened” kind of book has the effect of consigning to the past a movement that is incomplete and the course of which is still undecided.
s1 The Student Revolt
is a collection of interviews with various activists including Cohn-Bendit
. And, as such, they are conducted by a not particularly constructive interviewer who bounces from one point to the next without attempting to probe the depths of anything.
The superficiality is boring. Often the argument is about words, seldom about ideas. In most of his questions, and consequently, in
most of the answers, Bourges fails to distinguish the political situation from the educational situation. Cohn-
Bendit’s interview with <span data-html="true" class="plainlinks" title="Wikipedia: Jean-
Paul Sartre">Jean-Paul Sartre
is the best section but it is almost the only readable part of a book that is both confused and confusing. Next:
s2 French Revolution 1968
. Done in the style of the journalist writing up the latest phenomenon. It is the sort of book usually described as lucid, vivid, trenchant, brilliant. It is all of these, and as a detailed, impartial account of the events it succeeds. Seale
and McConville are among the best journalists around, and and their account is sharp, critical and pointed when dealing with the squirming of the authorities and the somersaults of the communist party
. However, they flounder irritatingly when dealing with the extreme left. They exaggerate the Trotskyist
and deprecate the anarchist influence. Daniel Cohn-
Bendit appears as a sort of rebellious clown who played little more than an amusingly disruptive role and the book holds such gems of unexpurgated blah as “There could be no greater contrast between the disciplined, purposeful J.C.R.
(Trotskyist) cadres and the free-
Bendit” and a quoted description of Cohn-
Bendit as “inorganise et inorganisable
” (disorgnised and beyond organisation). Yet, it is a fair and readable effort. The dictionary has a word for it: Competent.
By far the best book of the three is The Beginning of the End
Poetry and Revolution; they are twins. The fever running through the prose-poetry of Quattrocchi in part one (What Happened) brings the future society and its idea closer than all the Marxist jargon and pseudo-dialectic dogma distilled by every CP and authoritarian socialist hack on earth. Through the pages of near-verse one does not so much read of the events as live them.
Although, like the others, it fails to supplement our knowledge of the events, it is yet invaluable as a rendering (Quattrocchi) and as an analysis (Nairn).
Tom Nairn is the author of the second part (Why It Happened).
He writes of “the resurrection of anarchist thought and feeling in May, the host of black flags which sprang up from nowhere alongside the red ones. The anarchist ‘groupuscules’, feeble organisationally and small in numbers, were nevertheless far closer than the Marxist sects to the spirit of what was happening”.
These two writers understand that there is only one kind of freedom: total freedom. And that it cannot exist within the framework of somebody’s state, not though his name be Dubcek nor Johnson nor Castro nor de Gaulle. Again Nairn writes “All the evidence of May suggests strongly that without a powerful dose of anarchic sentiments and ideas, a revolution of this sort and in these conditions is very unlikely to get far”.
The authors conclude: “The anarchism of 1871 looked backwards to a pre-capitalist past, doomed to defeat; the anarchism of 1968 looks forward to the future society almost within our grasp, certain of success”. This is an amazing book: Buy it.