On the occasion of May Day 2018 and the 50th anniversary of the worldwide social upheavals of 1968, including the iconic general strike in May-June in Paris, we are presenting this audio zine of Worker-Student Action Committees by Fredy Perlman (co-writing certain passages with Roger Gregoire), a contemporary first-hand account and analysis of some of the events by those who were budding, wide-eyed militants at the time.
Fredy Perlman is considered by many to be one of the greatest anarchist thinkers and writers of the 20th century, one whose contribution is inestimable and, decades after his passing, is still unfolding. His life and work are foundational influences on American insurrectionary anarchism and anarchist publishing generally. His body of work changes almost everyone it touches, and traces a remarkable arc from the cogent analysis of a young and quite anti-authoritarian Marxist (the present work, as well as an early essay called The Reproduction of Daily Life which may be considered an impeccable distillation and suitable substitute for reading whatever passages of Marx’s Capital remain relevant), through visionary, scathing, and magisterial critiques and meditations on the revolutionary Left that he saw ultimately holding back fundamental social change (in Anything Can Happen, Letters of Insurgents, and the satirical and brilliant Manual for Revolutionary Leaders), moving consistently and finally before his death in 1985 into the territory of an out-and-out contest with the twisted heart of industrial culture and Western civilization itself (Progress and Nuclear Power, the premier primitivist essay Against His-story!, Against Leviathan!, and the crown of his shorter writings – The Continuing Appeal of Nationalism).
The thread running through all of these works is the un-living monster that saps the living energy of potentially creative, social beings and diverts them into a machinery of profit and control. Long before Perlman went on to pen the anti-Hobbesian, mytho-poetic re-telling of the story of the Western world, he was in Paris with this up-close reportage of what is largely seen as the epochal paroxysm of revolt of the last half-century. In the Age of Trump, in a time of incredible precarity, exploitation, and brutality, and of renewed social ferment and glimmers of revolutionary ambition, many people have newly entered the fray of action and ideas, rummaging through the wreckage of the last century for a talisman, a movement, a leader, or a clue for undoing our nightmarish current straits. Laid bare here for a new generation of listeners, in a crystal clear tract from one of the brightest subversive minds of that century, is the colossal treachery of the communist parties and labor unions who became the new cops at the earliest opportunity, the ineptitude of pre-defined social roles (be it activist, militant, theorist, student, worker…), and the incredible recuperative power of Capital in the face of a challenge. The sense of a missed opportunity as experienced by a consummately humble and self-critical soul shines through here as it does in few other accounts. Of course, from our current vantage and in light of his later work, Perlman’s references to workers’ power and the taking over of the means of production are bound to strike us as naive and leave us cold. But even at this early juncture Perlman proffers a distinct critique of the hallucinatory workerism that quenched the flames of revolt, the radicalism nowhere near radical enough to carry the day, and the credulity and obedience that still have yet to be broken.
Perlman’s own path, shown here in its humble, early steps, has the unique quality of highlighting all the most vital questions and lessons for anarchists in the face of the horror show of the 20th century and its legacy, the pitfalls of its politics, its dead ends and its last remaining potentials. With this audio zine, it is our hope that you’ll move, as Fredy and so many others moved, directly into deeper explorations.
See you on May Day!
Music: Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit by – Vangelis Papathanassiou – Recorded in 1971 the entire theme of the record focuses on May 1968 in France and the student riots taking place there at the time. The album consists of a collage of music, field recordings, news snippets, protest songs and paroles.
Other Great resources on May 1968 include:
- Crimethinc on France ’68
- On The Poverty of Student Life
- Submedia’s Trouble #9 and #10 on Student Revolt
When the course [he was teaching] in Turin ended, Fredy took a train to Paris and found himself caught up in the tumultuous events of May 1968. His experiences during these intense, joyous weeks deeply affected his views and remained a constant reference point whenever he considered possibilities for social change… The massive street actions in which thousands confronted the forces of the status quo gave rise to hopes that the old world was about to be overturned… Many buildings were occupied, and the State’s authority was effectively excluded from these liberated areas. People organized committees to carry out necessary tasks. There was a feverish exchange of views, proposals for collective activity. Discussions went on around the clock—some in an amphitheater where there was a microphone, but mostly between individuals who were discovering the joys that the mass media had deprived them of. There was a widespread conviction that daily activity was about to be transformed and that everyone would participate in choosing and bringing about new social arrangements. Fredy took part in a loosely-organized group of intellectuals, students and young workers who held discussions at the Censier classroom complex and who also tried to communicate their aspirations to auto workers who lived and worked in the Paris suburbs… Many of the mass demonstrations in Paris ended with the construction of barricades and confrontations with the police. Tear gas was frequently used and demonstrators were chased and beaten by aggressive riot squad police… During these action-filled weeks, there was little time for reading, but Fredy learned about ideas and histories which influenced him in the decade which followed: the texts of the Situationist International, anarchism and the Spanish Revolution, the council communists. In July 1968, as law and order were being re-imposed on French society, Fredy returned to the United States… Militants from Europe also visited us in Kalamazoo. One of them, Roger Gregoire, stayed with us for several months, working with Fredy on an account and evaluation of experiences the two had shared in May and June 1968 while members of the Citroën Worker-Student Action Committee.
—Having Little, Being Much by Lorraine Perlman