Occupy Wall Street–Paris ’68 Redux

From the demographics about half the population wasn’t even born when the events discussed here occurred even though it was only about two generations ago.   The OWS protesters are quite reminiscent of the student protests that happened in Paris in the Spring of 1968.   Some of the similarities are striking and the outcome will likely be about the same.

One must remember that much of Europe after WWII was in ruins.  This was especially so in Germany, Austria and portions of Czechoslovakia’s industrialized zone in the western portions of the country.  The rest of Europe was dealing with a great deal of damage to infrastructure and logistical problems to get everything up and running again.  Naturally it was the Germans that lead the way in the recovery even though its destruction was the greatest by far.   The people of Europe were weary of wars and authoritarian leadership.  it is understandable that they wanted a quiet life and material well-being as much as possible and as quickly as possible.  Indeed with the help of the Marshall Plan Europe made a rebound for 20 years after the War.   They were doing pretty well.   They had just been through two wars and dictatorships of one sort or another and wanted stability.  Even though many were Socialist leaning, they did want freedoms and a strong measure of free enterprise.   They did not want to dwell on the past.  This was true not only in Germany but most of Europe.   They were more interested in their personal bank account than they were in political leadership.

Their sons and daughters were born during the War or afterward and didn’t have a real knowledge or appreciation of the horrors the older generation had endured.  They mostly saw only a bourgeois society and many were disparaging of that society.   Many of the young took their lead from Eastern Europe and the Communists countries including China.  Some even thought  European communism was too flexible and adopted the more radical approach of Chairman Mao.  They even called themselves Maosists in many quarters.  The Western European students had seen the uprisings in Eastern Europe during their lifetime in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia.   All those uprisings were crushed by the Communists locally or with the direction and aid of Moscow.

Nevertheless, the students wanted a more socialist system, or so they said.  They wanted more power to the people in a socialist context.  Of course there was no way in heck the Communists leadership would ever have allowed that in their own lands.  That would violate the whole doctrine of the dictatorship of the proletariat.  Those Communists lands believed all power came from the central authority down the line, never was change or development to come from the bottom up.  Anyone suggesting such a thing was charged with “revisionism” or “bourgeois sympathies”.  You might laugh at such notions now but there were many who were tried and killed for daring to buck the established Communist authority in any way such as suggesting that collective farms allow some private ownership of plots to increase production.

The Paris students began their protest of tuitions and lazy professors or professors that were too rigid in their requirements.  (Take your contradictory pick)  This was in a suburb of Paris called Nanterre.  They demanded free tuition for everyone.  (Sound familiar?) Of course the students ignored the fact they many had not paid their rent, drug dealers were rampant in the area and many radicals had moved into student housing without authority.  It was authority more than anything they protested.    The protests moved to the Sorbonne in the heart of Paris a few weeks later.   They took to the streets with barricades and pulled up cobble stones to hurl at the police.  Naturally some unions supported their very vague demands and localized them to their own situation for shorter hours and more pay.   The Communist Party disowned the whole deal.  The students were even called fils a papa which translated meant’ daddy’s boys’.   Most of the students just as those on Wall Street were from the very bourgeois background they were criticizing.  The French held the police at bay for the most part to avoid provoking a bloody confrontation.  The leaders were somewhat paralyzed.  The student demands became more radical with each day.  Some very left leaning politicians voiced support for the students. 

That was the bell-weather event.  DeGaulle was good at judging the mood of the people and he knew the majority were not supportive of the student demands so under their parliamentary system he called for immediate elections.  The people of France could choose between the radical Socialist agenda of the students or the stability of the existing system.  A huge rally was held quickly by the “Right” to start the campaign.  It dwarfed anything the students had been able to muster even with the union support.   The choice was stark and clear.   The “right” by European standards won the day with an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly.  The striking union workers decided to go back to work and since summer had arrived the students decided to go on vacation.   The Communist Part had taken the position all along that this was nothing but privileged kids having a party and not a revolution.  The irony is that the very freedoms the students wanted so much and the right to assembly and protest in the name of Maoism would have been smashed by Mao.  No word of dissent was allowed there.  These students considered themselves “modern” socialists or communists because by this time  many of the evils of Stalin had been exposed.  They didn’t want that and of course they and we will never know the millions killed by Mao in an effort to have complete conformity to his version of communism. 

Would France have been better off if the students had prevailed?   I think the answer is the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.  If that style of politics and economics was so good it would still be around.  

Remember—“What mattered most to Communist leadership was not economics but p0litics”.  Tony Judt   Reflect on those words when you assess the current White House.    www.olcranky.wordpress.com

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Filed under business, Economics, Foreign Affairs, history, Politics

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