Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Children of '68 (2)

Here is the second part of my essay on the longer term impact of the Paris riots of 1968, from the American Conservative. You can read part one here, part three is to follow.

De Gaulle’s speech, while exasperating many conservatives who had hoped for a tougher line, exposed the anti-democratic credentials of the opposition—those who claimed to favor the “rule of the people” weren’t too keen on the people being directly consulted. De Gaulle’s next address to the nation, after a further six days of disturbances, was less conciliatory. “France is indeed threatened with dictatorship” he declared, and announced the calling of early elections. “The Republic shall not abdicate. The people will recover its balance. Progress, independence and peace will prevail”.

The address marked the turning point in the crisis. That same evening a huge crowd of de Gaulle supporters began to gather in the Place de Concorde. Up to 700,000 people took part on the march down the Champs-Elysees chanting pro-de Gaulle slogans. And in the general elections that followed at the end of June, the Gaullists recorded a resounding victory. Although Gaullism had prevailed, de Gaulle himself had been shaken by the events of spring 1968. After narrowly losing a referendum the following April, he resigned from office. He died the following year.

Meanwhile, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the man who had done so much to stir up discontent in France in 1968, moved on to pastures new. Back in Germany, he became involved in radical Green politics and ran a kindergarten in Frankfurt. His stated aim: to “radically transform” German mentalities. As in 1968, it started with sex. In his 1976 book Le Grand Bazar he wrote of children opening his trouser zipper and tickling him, and how he “caressed” the children. When these comments later led to Cohn-Bendit being accused of pedophilia, he claimed that the book had to be understood in the context of the sexual revolution of the time.

Today, Cohn-Bendit is co-president of the European Greens-European Free Alliance grouping in the European Parliament. He advocates the legalization of soft drugs and freer immigration. A strong supporter of Western military intervention in the Balkans in the 1990s, Red Dany’s enthusiasm for overriding national sovereignty is something he shares with his fellow soixante-huitard Bernard Kouchner, the current French foreign minister.
De Gaulle believed the people’s verdict, delivered through a referendum, to be the last word. Red Dany’s views on referendum results are rather different: he infamously called for countries who twice vote “No” to the neoliberal EU constitution to be expelled from the European Union.

The anti-de Gaulle protestors in 1968 purported to be anti-capitalist, but their attacks on traditional values, the family, the church, the nation state, and a leader who, as a true conservative, was inherently hostile to the rule of money power, only helped the cause of global capitalism.

Forty years ago, the international moneymen were restrained, not just by currency and exchange controls but by the prevailing social attitudes that still held greed to be one of the seven deadly sins. By helping to crack what he called “the yoke of conservatism” and by loosening the ties of family and community that bind us together as human beings, Cohn-Bendit paved the way for the change in attitudes towards money-making that was to follow.

The “bourgeois triumphalism” of the Thatcher (and Blair) era, the greed-is-good ethos which even the governor of the Bank of England now condemns, and our materialistic individualism, might just have had their roots 40 years back” writes the conservative commentator Geoffrey Wheatcroft. The reality is that Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Gordon Gekko are two sides of the same self-centered, individualistic coin.

“No one has dared tell them that we live in a world of market forces” says Cohn-Bendit as he attacks those on the left in France who are less enamoured of 21st Century capitalism than he is. Although he has talked of “the extreme religion” of “Thatcherism and even Blairism”, Cohn-Bendit’s solution to the rule of money power is not public ownership or a return to the dirigiste policies of the “Les Trente Glorieuses”, but that classic New Left cop-out “the social market”. In other words, allow capital to rule the roost, but make government pay for the mop-up operation.


Anonymous said...

Wheatcroft is right, on this at least. The most commercially prominent forms of 60s pop culture *did* encourage an early form of materialistic individualism - those seen at the time as most radical were actually often rooted in earlier values, albeit a rather different interpretation of them (e.g. folk-rock as opposed to the rose-tinted Old Right version of folk beloved of the 1950s BBC).

More generally one form of individualism can very easily mutate and twist into another over time, as to a large extent it has.

Neil Clark said...

"More generally one form of individualism can very easily mutate and twist into another over time, as to a large extent it has".

Absolutely. The me-first social individualism which took seed in the 60s led to the full-blooded economic individualism of the 1980s.Social libertinism begets turbo economic libertinism and vice versa. If we're to have any chance of mending our broken society, we have to drop our rampant individualism and move towards more collectivist solutions. We have to 'collapse our egos', but the turbo capitalist system we live under encourages us to be as egotistical and selfish as possible.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, but I don't think that's it. Is there anything really unique to the 60s about 'people's leaders' selling out. Marx, in the Communist Manifesto, wrote of all the assorted dreamers and hucksters who would claim to have the answers. Is Thatcherism and Blairism anything new, rather than an attempted reversion to capitalism as was pre welfare state, pre universal suffrage ? I suppose Blairism and Benditism (perish the thought - Bendit like Bendit! some unfortunate connotations, in the light of what you've said here) is qualitatively different in that it now explicitly pushes the interest of one international capital, rather than national capitalisms, but if one were to blame a ' 60s mentality' for laying the blame for this, then how much more is a Trotskyist mentality to blame, with its no to 'socialism in one country'. The 60s was the time when Trotskyists started becoming influential amongst the middle-class students, and was a contributing factor to their alienation from the communist-influenced industrial unions - lots of pie-in-the-sky tomorrow, rather than getting down and dirty with the grubby proles. In fact, the student revolts provided a useful (to the boss class) distraction from the serious rebellion - a harmless media spectacle. And I think this is where lies the uniqueness of '68; in the use of the mass-communciation potential of television, still relatively new in those days. To call 'rock' music reactionary in itself is wrong, I feel; rather it was an example, at first, of genuine people's democracy. Think of the 'Reithian ideal' of the BBC, for instance - to bring culture to the proles. And who decided what was culture? Why, Lord Moneybags, of course - the same people appointed directors of industrial companies as of operas, orchestras, theatres etc. Here, in the 60s was the realisation of the dictatorship of the proletariat through consumer choice - the people elected their own music to the television, from Elvis' gyrating hips to John Lennon's bed-in for peace, this last one being maybe where the elites cottoned on. Here were working class people, untouched by the indoctrination system of Oxbridge and Ivy League, talking to hundreds of millions. Dangerous! Then, of course, the elites cottoned on that 'there's something happening and you don't know what is, do you, Mr Jones', and hired all those who did know, and that was that. All the situationists and psychologists went into advertising, rock music became big business - the best guitarists now work on Coca-Cola adverts - and Thatcher and Reagan resold ' dictatorship of the proletariat through consumer choice' , without the choice, of course. It was quite easy for all the self-promoters to slightly tweak their rhetoric in the service of a better-paying master.

Maybe we're seeing a replay with the Internet; a lot of good stuff has got under the radar - how long till they scarf this one up too?

Neil Clark said...

Very interesting post Jock, and I agree with a lot of what you say. The Trotskyists have certainly done an awful lot of damage- I don't know if you ever read an essay by John Laughland in which he highlighted the Trotskyist links of several leading neocons. The Trotskyistes helped to demonise even the most liberal communist regimes, like Kadar's Hungary: saying it wasn't proper socialism but 'state capitalism', but the people certainly lived a lot better in Hungary thirty years ago than they do today.