May 68

Under the paving stones, the repression (May 1968-March 1974)


The Republic has never been tender with its children. Ever since the democratic institutions put together the legality of this country, it has even ferociously repressed the best among them. It is true that the founders of the successive Republics have always mistrusted those who have brought them to power; their first concern being the confiscation of the freedoms that were dearly acquired.

On every occasion, a legality of circumstances has frequently been put into action to put back into question the legality of fact. Knighted following popular revolts, the politicians who acceded to power have never failed to act as rectifiers of wrongs, to pose as the fathers of the nation, just and protective, as they must be. As for integrity. . . . Men of honor and men of goodness, of a thoroughly tested integrity, as one says; those who utilize the arms of justice for their own profit, who always speak and act in the name of a certain morality, as if out of respect for certain principles that come from the will to conserve a confiscated power.

Depositories of a manipulated legality, diverted from its object, the incorruptible elected [officials] no longer can allow themselves to share the representation of the dearly acquired democratic liberties. In such hands, the Republic must inevitably become the Republic of judges, the ensemble of the citizens rapidly appearing as so many potential suspects. Democracy is no longer anything but a word among others, a practical facade to justify all of the obstacles to the popular will expressed by the ballot box or on the barricades. Hands on their hearts, the managers of the Republic speak in the name of a morality that can only be applied when order reigns. Which permits all the drifting of the law.

These are the same referents that always come to the surface: integrity, impartiality, honesty, loyalty, equality. Honesty, especially. Then comes the indispensable legitimacy, which stands out before the inevitable notions of reason and rationality. One speaks more rarely of ethics than of moral values, rigor and limits to the principles of liberty.

Justice and equality are not far from the master word: order. The magic words and speeches that intoxicate all those who do not seek to be understood but feared. In the name of justice, one tramples on the feet of the rights of man, but still knows the essential articles of the law that became universalist in 1948.[1] For two centuries, the [original] declaration[2] was improved by the social laws and a battery of recognized but quite rarely applied rights. What remains of the fundamental rights and equality, which have never been identical for all? As for liberty. . . .

This famous liberty is especially envisioned in legal terms: conditional liberty, provisional liberty, supervised liberty. In fact, the free person is spied upon and threatened with being deprived of the formal liberties that figure in the fundamental laws of the successive constitutions of which the "country of liberty" -- ours -- is still so proud. Free will is in general only a hazardous evocation, and free spirits are frequently heard to suggest "cause toujours . . ."[3] Which naturally represents the limits of freedom of speech when the means of expression are in good hands.

Freedom of thought clashes more and more with the spirit of intolerance that some people call "tolerance." As for liberalism, it represents nothing other than the will to win the social conquests that are still considered to be skins out of which to make shagreen leather. The only conceded liberty -- conceded very stingily in our days -- is that of working harder and harder, and in absolute precarity if necessary, because obligatory activity must be considered bliss. To work in silence, for a derisory salary, tends to become an unwritten law, and he who has a job must considered himself to be a rich man.

Avid for liberty, the unruly and the rebellious are particularly confined in a society that does not allow concepts to objectors.[4] Everyone on the same track and the liberties will be well defended. None will risk proclaiming this primary truth but the temptation is strong to do so. The spaces of liberty are reduced, narrowed, as if they never existed, to the point that it has become impertinent to revolt so as to maintain respect for what must go without saying. Liberty? Is it truly indispensable to develop the thing when the word [for it] must suffer?

One of the most beautiful words in the French language, liberation, no longer means much. And the very ones who liberated France from the yoke of the Nazis were used, each in their own way, to deprive us of the fundamental liberties that were so difficultly reconquered. We were liberated from the fascist yoke, but that is all we remember, including the historians who only evoke the German defeat. Others only know the liberation of the prizes or capital, but they live on another planet and accord themselves with the nostalgias for an old order that did not even know the word "liberty." The most beautiful of the freedoms, that of the press, is itself in peril, menaced by publicity, the religion of the scoop,[5] the notion of profitability, savoir-vivre and, sometimes, justice. It is true that words lose their value, drifting, exploding, as far as coming to mean the opposite of their original meanings.

Rouget de Lisle,[6] at the end of the verses of a song that has become obligatory in official ceremonies, celebrated this "cherished Liberty" that has often led us to the unwritten rule of obligatory liberty. . . . We are thus summoned to defend, beyond our borders, the particular liberties of someone, the freedom to work or the freedom of education and we know what the arm [aune] is worth. Which does not exclude certain laborious explications of this kind: too much liberty is harmful or, just as serious, liberty is not anarchy. The restrictions never concern the freedom of property [ownership] nor the freedom to exploit one's neighbor. Of course, it is always possible to preserve one's freedom of judgment, more and more discretely, and the freedom to think. This is quite fortunate but the 1984 of Orwell is never far away.

Very concretely, we do not sufficiently know that liberty is nothing other than the possibility of doing everything that is not prohibited by the law. Which permits one to concretize a constraining legislative apparatus, as rich in prohibitions as in obligations. All the rest being liberties. Indeed, it is never necessary to neglect the essential: the laws supposed to protect our liberties were drafted by an army of punctilious legislators. The indispensable texts, which one retrieves in many codes (civil code, penal codes, codes of penal procedures, work codes, etc.) only know discipline, severity, rigor, punishment. When society desires to get revenge, it will be sufficient for it to modify the articles of the law, by suppressing and by adding, and all the exactations become legal.

We do not lack laws. Repression is only a result of the laws because it is necessary to make the greatest number of people understand that, in any circumstance, force must reside on the side of the law. Moreover, if this [force] proves to be indispensable, it can easily replace the law.

Thus, forget the vague notions of liberty and the beautiful affirmations of radiant justice. Repression appears more and more as the indispensable palliative to defend institutions in peril, even when they are not threatened. It is necessary to strongly chastise those whom one loves, to recall an old adage.[7] What is there to complain about? From time immemorial, free spirits have always benefited from this love, which, by necessity, is translated into cudgel blows. . . .

One has always praised to us the virtues of this Republic of the rights of man, the Republic that is united and indivisible, as one would say in 1793; this government of the people and popular representation (now become national representation), generous France, France the land of asylum. To follow these admirable formula to the letter, there has been, for a long time, the idea that fancies of liberticide would die away. Liberties are whittled down when one no longer cares to defend them, as long as they appear natural and indestructible. Finally, one gets accustomed to everything, even liberty. Nevertheless, as a result of getting accustomed, one no longer even perceives the setting aside of liberty. Thus repression can also become habitual and easily supported when only the others are threatened. How can we understand that repression's function is to protect liberty from repression? Of course, repression has its price, but liberty costs much more for those who decide to confiscate it because its price is their survival.

What is liberty? According to the era, and the refusal to obey an active minority, the lid of oppression is raised, once, then closes very rapidly. Repression is then unleashed in all of its hideousness, with the pedagogic function of inciting one to no longer start up again.

Liberty causes fear.[8] Especially when it is conceded by necessity or by the incapacity to envision a different temporary situation. In the name of liberty, the founders of republics claim to emancipate their contemporaries, the time to balance their own system. Over the long term, how can these great spirits support this conceded (delegated) liberty, if we can speak in this way? A suspicion of abandoned power. Momentarily.

Thirty years have unfolded since the ebb of the movement of May 1968. Repression is still the order of the day, but the target is no longer the same. The 1980s saw the development of a different will to reject.[9] Thereafter, immigrants have been in the line of fire, replacing the students and the "Leftist" groups -- those famous elements of the internal conspiracy that so tormented Raymond Marcellin.[10] From retrograde political ideology, we have passed to xenophobia that is close to racial hatred. Deep France gets revenge -- belatedly -- for the independence that was grabbed by or conceded to the African territories, still the game preserve for unconditional patriots. One represses the Malians, the Mauritanians, the Algerians, the Zairians and the Moroccans, but also the Turks and the Kurds, the Romanians, the Bosnians and the Chinese,[11] by making them understand that they are not worthy of residing on French territory.

Thirty years after May 1968, the great dream of Raymond Marcellin has been realized. Each year, foreigners are expelled from the national soil by the thousands. Certainly, it is no longer a question of German political militants[12] -- as in June 1968 -- but foreigners of color. On this point, the France of the rights of man has taken a great step forward, by partially putting into action the fifty propositions on immigration, formulated in November 1991 by Bruno Megret.[13] There are now two categories of citizens in France: the first repressed due to their [countries of] origin, the second repressed by the fear of unemployment and [socio-economic] exclusion.

[1] A reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, passed by the United Nations on 10 December 1948.

[2] The Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, attached to the Constitution of 1793.

[3] "Keep talking!" A reference to a joke by Michel Colucci "Coluche" (1944-1986): In a dictatorship, you are told: "Shut up!" In a democracy, it's: "Keep talking!"

[4] The French here -- n'admet pas les objecteurs de concepts -- can also be rendered as "objectors to concepts."

[5] English in original.

[6] Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836), the composer of "The Marseillaise," the French national anthem.

[7] Note: this a metaphysical and ahistorical conception of politics, in which government leaders are parents or "father figures," and the citizens are mere children.

[8] Another metaphysical and ahistorical conception: liberty causes fear (among the leaders, only, one presumes) in every society, in every era.

[9] This chronology excludes the "student" movement of November-December 1986, which caused the "authorities" that the May 1968 had either begun again or had never ended.

[10] The French Minister of the Interior; he took office on 31 May 1968.

[11] But China was never a French colony. Note as well that the "1980s" did not see the beginning of repression against immigrants from Algeria: the Algerian War took place between 1954 to 1962.

[12] A reference to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a German-born student militant.

[13] A far-right politician, former member of the National Front, later the founder of the National Republic Movement.

(Written by Maurice Rajsfus. Published by le cherche midi editeur, 1998. Translated from the French by NOT BORED! July 2007. All footnotes by the translator.)

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