Tuesday, October 12, 2010

May in October?

Thierry Desjardins sees  all the ingredients for a new May '68:

Un nouveau mai 68 ? Les Français sont des gens curieux. Petits bourgeois impénitents accrochés à leurs droits acquis, il leur faut, à espaces réguliers, exploser et faire une révolution. 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, 1936, 1968. Aucun peuple n’a autant construit de barricades dans ses rues. Si l’on tient compte des guerres, peu propices aux révolutions, on s’aperçoit que tous les vingt ou trente ans, les Français ont fait exploser leur colère.

En mai 68, la France était heureuse. Il n’y avait pas de chômage, pas de problèmes d’immigration ou de délinquance mais les Français « s’ennuyaient » et trouvaient que dix ans de Gaullisme « çà suffisait ». Le monôme des étudiants a dégénéré.

Aujourd’hui, la France n’est pas heureuse. Elle est rongée par le chômage, la précarité, l’immigration mal gérée, la délinquance en recrudescence, l’angoisse devant un avenir de décadence. Les Français ne supportent plus Sarkozy, « trois ans, çà suffit ! » et ne voient pas d’espoir ailleurs. Tous les ingrédients d’une explosion sont réunis.
Le baril de poudre est là, il suffirait d’une allumette.

Well, it never hurts to predict an uprising, because if you turn out to be right, you're golden, and if you turn out to be wrong, no one will remember.  I do think that France faces serious disruption in the weeks ahead, perhaps even on the scale of 1995. But I think that Desjardins neglects some important differences between now and 1968. "France" may have been "happy" then, but important segments of French society were not. Indeed, "unhappy" seems a mild word to describe those who, for one reason or another, believed that only a revolution could bring about needed change, and in 1968 their numbers were, if not legion, then at least substantial. Groupuscules were everywhere, and political violence was commonplace. Extreme opinions enjoyed the support of intellectuals and other public figures.

Disgruntlement with Sarkozy is not quite the same thing as rejection of the established order of things. And when it comes right down to it, how many people would be willing to take to the barricades to keep the legal age of retirement at 60 (or, for that matter, to defend the change to 62)? As Desjardins himself notes, it's largely empty symbolism either way. A poker player like Bernard Thibault might want to call the presidential bluff on this issue in order to force a next move, but would he go all in, knowing that if he does, there are more aggressive players at his back ready to cast him aside and take his place at the table? Of course they may decide to break up the game before the hand is played out, but this is the point where everybody gets nervous and asks whether it might not be best to protect what's been won thus far. What I see coming out of the next few weeks is a host of small shifts of power within important institutions: parties, unions, business organizations. Not May in October. If I'm wrong, my compliments to Thierry Desjardins.


Anonymous said...

This article in Le Monde is very eloquent, and explains why it won't be 68 indeed: people who don't realize their body is broken and won't take one hour to see the doctor about it, aren't likely to take to the streets and throw stones at the riot police.

Yet, people are upset and although they don't hope the government will change, they see nothing else but keep blocking roads and marching. I did not get a sense of "revolution!" in the air, rather "we must do this otherwise we're done for and they'll kill us at work".
The only jiffly-happy marchers were the kids, mostly 16-20, who had brought music and were convinced the government would change its mind.
(None of the adults I talked to really believed it. Although they did speak of Villepin, who'd said he'd hold firm and had to quit.)
No trains tomorrow or Thursday, except for international business leaders going to Switzerland, Germany, London, or Brussels.
(Remember that I live in a largely working-class area.)

Louis said...

"Well, it never hurts to predict an uprising, because if you turn out to be right, you're golden, and if you turn out to be wrong, no one will remember."

I think you nailed it really well.

Desjardins' apocalyptic predictions sound hollow, to be honest, a reaction mechanism against despair, a call to the past, when "the people" had power and the streets were a political place. Let's get back to that in a year or so. And bunching 1789, the Commune, and May 1968 together in the name of some sort of typically French political restlessness seems dubious at best.

One thing caught my eye in Desjardins' article: his description of life in the end of the 60s as a paradise, without the problem of "immigration", "délinquance". I wonder in which parallel reality Desjardins lives. The shanty towns for migrant workers in the suburbs of Lyon or Paris would qualify to me as a "problem" linked with immigration. A problem for the migrants themselves and for everybody concerned with human rights and human dignity.
But things have changed, and the meaning of words like immigration and delinquance with them.

Categories have been created anew, The figure of the problematic migrant is different, and a "new immigration problem" has been forged.