París, 1968 / Edgardo Mondolfi Gudat

Paris, 1968

Unlike the hippie movement, which left some curious relics along the way, such as the peace logo, the student protests of the French May haven’t bequeathed anything, not even those street slogans of the time, like “It is forbidden to forbid,” as if tangible proof of their nihilistic spirit. But that doesn’t mean, of course, that the substantial nucleus of what was the French 68 doesn’t live on in the direct assumption of the protests that continue to be incarnated by student movements anywhere on the planet. Simply because, where it fits and can be diagnosed, the explosion from Paris’s Latin Quarter signified a before and after in the denunciations of the university against authoritarian gestures.

The historic May that now celebrates its 40th anniversary had many exceptional witnesses, but there’s one in particular whose testimony has always fascinated me because what happened ended up splitting his world in two. I’m referring to the English historian Eric Hobsbawm, who by pure chance coincided with those events on the streets of Paris. Hobsbawm confesses that he was surprised by what was happening without being able to understand, from his classical Marxist pupil, the dimensions and implications of those student protests. I think few authors are capable of pouring forth such candor as he does when he invites us in his autobiography to accompany him as he confronts the events of the French May of 1968. The author shows how reality defied the traditional left of that moment: because, while Hobsbawm does warn us with a certain air of melancholy that plenty of water has passed under the bridge since then, he recognizes that his first reaction was to welcome that shuddering in the streets with open disdain, and to qualify it as a “psychodrama rebellion.” Maybe without realizing it at the time, his dismissive way of qualifying what was happening made him, as a representative of the old left, involuntarily join forces with people from the French right, such as Raymond Aron, who also qualified that protest as mere “street theater.”

The distance covered since those years has allowed Hobsbawm to take shelter in regret, with a great deal of honesty. But that stupefaction was normal for an old school Marxist who didn’t suspect that, in the future, he would cease to be one when faced with all the disillusions planted during the sixties. After all, as he himself points out, Lenin would have been equally disconcerted by another one of the memorable slogans of the French May, as vivid as “It is forbidden to forbid”: “The more I make revolution, the more I want to make love.”

{ Edgardo Mondolfi Gudat, El Nacional, 8 May 2008 }

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