Régis Debray’s epigrams on May ’68 are certainly amusing. All the same, they are dubious and even rather mystifying.
What the ex-prisoner of Camiri says in substance is that if the May movement had not existed, French capitalism would have had to invent it! In his view, ‘the logic at work in the uprising ten years ago was one not of rupture but of reconciliation’ . . . the general strike ‘served as a factor tending to stabilize fundamental class relations’; and it is from 1968 that ‘in Europe, the West wind began to prevail over the East wind’, and so on.
If we are to believe him, in short, the ‘cybernetic’ crisis of May ’68 constituted a decisive moment in the self-regulation of French society, in the process of liquidating its archaisms and in the tailoring of attitudes to the new demands of the accumulation of capital. This is the real meaning, the obective function, of the explosion of May, unknown to its protagonists, who ‘accomplished the opposite of what they intended’.
It does not require genius to see where this reasoning falls down. In situating the truth of May in what has become of May ’68, and of certain sixty-eighters, Debray simply ‘forgets’ one little detail: the movement did not triumph, but was defeated by a bourgeois reformist counter-offensive, whose broad lines can easily be retraced.
It is this counter-offensive, not the movement itself, which shaped post-May. To attribute to the general strike of May–June ’68—even in an unconscious and ‘objective’ relationship—responsibility for the various palliatives introduced by the victors to consolidate their domination, and avoid new explosions in future, may be a joke, but it is not in good taste. This kind of reasoning could be used to claim that the Popular Front strikers of ’36 were clearing a path for an American New Deal, accelerating the concentration of capital, giving birth without knowing it to ‘indicative planning’ ` la française, the public financing of private accumulation and the mercantilization of leisure . . .