May 22, 2018

Rundle: how May 1968 tricked the world into thinking Marxism was finished

The May 1968 uprisings sprang in part from one big question: what had happened to Marx's revolutionary working class?

Guy Rundle — Correspondent-at-large

Guy Rundle


When students in Paris erupted into concerted protest in May 1968, there were many who thought that the next stage of global revolution -- a long arc, beginning in 1789 -- had finally come about.

The May uprisings had started over housing issues at Paris VIII University in Nanterre, the Monash/Macquarie/Flinders of the system, stuffed with students who couldn’t make it into the best schools, and those who could but disdain the trappings of ancient power in central Paris. What began as a protest over prudish dorm arrangements, quickly became a protest against rigid systems of power, that had been left unmodified for decades, even as social life changed beneath them. That, in turn, became something else entirely: a protest against the regime of the mundane, of everyday life, the routine of work, school, commodified leisure.

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5 thoughts on “Rundle: how May 1968 tricked the world into thinking Marxism was finished

  1. Josephus

    Very good comments Guy. Some memories of my ten months in a provincial town in France: schoolkids thinking that to address adults in the familiar form and smoke tobacco was revolutionary. In Toulouse, all street adverts removed and replaced with screen printed, beautiful posters produced by a cooperative in Paris; a young man playing the grand piano on the University podium; sitting in the road talking to strangers in the traffic free streets. Situationism went so much further than Marxism ever did- recall how Lenin had squashed Rosa Luxemburg, who had wanted to abolish bourgeois marriage also. Today the security setup makes any real protest impossible. At least Iceland got rid of its leader in 3 days, who had done what our leader did – stash his wealth in the Caymans. Here apathy rules. Sartre in his unfinished tome Les chemins de la Liberte had replaced the teleological bent of Marxism with his pessimistic counter historical theory of cyclic change, ie periodically a revolution, a new elite then arises to exploit the masses, only to be overthrown in turn and replaced by another lot, a la Animal Farm.

  2. BeenAround

    Thanks Guy – thoughtful piece. I too think that Marx got it a lot more right than wrong, having taken the double to actually read Marx. Do you not think that we are in a phase of Capitalism where it is on the cusp of realising the ultimate Capitalist objective – turning more that half the former ‘working class’ into a massive pool of unemployment. Then Capital has Labour exactly where it always wanted it – powerless and irrelevant. Whilst the surge in robotics and artificial machine intelligence is exciting from a technological perspective, it is Capitalism’s ultimate weapon against Labour? It seems the massive unemployment and under-employment caused by robots and AMI is clearly now upon us. Why, then, are we still apparently responding to inane dog whistles like “Jobs & Growth’ when business here and elsewhere is overtly in the business of dispensing with the messy necessity of involving humans in the business of Capital accumulation? I do hope the citizenry is waking up to this nonsense, evidenced by the growing power of community organisations like GetUp! Currently, that seems our only hope in a world where Democracy has become a political culture obsessed by populism, but actually controlled by corporations who can’t vote.

  3. AR

    Hmm, “… the possibility of post-capitalism, or of destructive war…“, that’s a tough one, never faced before… or since 1920s, 60s, 90s, noughties and ..err, last week.
    Wonder how it will end?
    I do lurve the thought of grundle as an embed on the slippery cobbled streets half a century ago.

  4. Jussarian

    Others mightn’t, but I’ve appreciated these Marx pieces. They have complemented the recent ones in some other places, like The Economist and Jacobin, but you get a lot more texture with Guy and Helen.

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