Interview from 23rd May 1968 with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a then student radical, who was part of the massive student uprising in Paris that year against a repressive French government.
Q: Some journalists have described you as the leader of the revolution
Let them write their rubbish. These people will never be able to understand that the student movement doesn’t need any chiefs. I am neither a leader nor a professional revolutionary. I am simply a mouthpiece, a megaphone.
Q: Would you support a Popular Front?
A Popular Front at the moment would be an extremely positive step in clarifying the situation: the masses would end up by understanding better the nature of the trade-union bureaucracy and the traditional working-class parties, and then an alternative on the left of the Communist Party could easily be formed.
Q: Isn’t that a little bit of an over-simplification?
Not at all. Look, there are two extreme possibilities: on the one hand the victory of a fascist-type reaction and the relative defeat of the proletariat for a least a decade. On the other hand there might be the development of a situation like that in Russia at the beginning of this century; 1905 or else February 1917. If it turns out to be a February 1917 situation, say we have a so-called Popular Front with a Kerensky by the name of Mitterrand or Waldeck-Rochet. Certainly there is no shortage of Mensheviks: the difficulty is to find any Bolsheviks!
Q: But is it possible to have a French revolution in a vacuum?
No. The revolution in one country is certainly not feasible. Also from an economic point of view. An economic crisis, caused for example by social conflict, cannot remain isolated in one country Nor a financial crisis, a dollar crisis, transcends as you know all countries. The system is international. However we have to begin by undermining each particular part of it, and in Paris that’s what we have begun. In Paris the situation could truly be described as pre-revolutionary.
Q: What is the role of the Communist Party in all this?
The Party is one of the two power-structures which at the moment are propping each other up. De Gaulle and his State on the one defensive, and he is defending his position of power in the State. The Party is on the defensive because it is obliged to defend its position of power within the working-class movement. Our action, by contrast, is offensive: that is its advantage. All these intermediate and transitory objectives arising from the present situation, all the strong pressures from below, are pushing away at the old structures of power. You know, in this situation, the Party hasn’t very much will to take the reins of the bourgeois state into its hands. Moscow is certainly against it: they have very much more reliance on the General than on the little bureaucrats of the French Communist Party.
Q: Consequently a Popular Front would detach the masses from the Party?
Yes, that’s more or less the idea, but don’t forget that in reality the whole thing is very much more complex. The existence of the Party is an objective reality, one can’t decide from one day to another to eliminate it. It is thanks to the Party and the CGT that the concept of the class-struggle has kept its significance in the working-class consciousness. Our accomplishment will be to make conscious the divisions which exist between the declarations of the Party and its actual reformist politics. In the struggles of the last few days we have made enormous strides.
Q: But the workers haven’t let you enter the factories?
It’s not true. The functionaries of the Party have only partially succeeded in closing the factory gates on us. They have had to do this so as not to lose their position of power, but this has cost them and is going to cost them a great deal.
Q: Do you think of the student movement as a new International?
At the moment there are individual contacts and group contacts on an international level, but it is not yet possible to speak of common action. Action is born from below, from the actual situation. It’s just the same as in the struggle against capitalism.
Q: Are you thinking, then, of intensifying contact?
Certainly, but that is not the central problem. Co-ordination would be a positive gain, but the Student International doesn’t interest me. It doesn’t interest me at all. What we need to form is a new revolutionary left, of which the student movement would be a component. Otherwise the student movement will remain isolated, within the limits of a movement of protest. But we may already be overcoming this. In France, in Italy, and to some extent in Germany, there are already links with the working class, even if they are only at a local level.
Q: What do you think will be the organisational form of the new revolutionary movement?
It isn’t yet possible to say… We are creating groups at the bottom: workers and students who collaborate for local action. But I don’t think it’s possible to be more precise than this.
Q: Perhaps they are already the Bolsheviks of the new revolution, perhaps they have already decided to institute the dictatorship of the proletariat?
No, not the dictatorship of the proletariat. We are against all authority.
Originally appeared in Anarchy #89, 1968
Article orginally appeared in Freedom (Vol71 No23).
Freedom newspaper can be purchased directly from our shop or available at any good radical bookshop/social centre.
84b Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
Alternatively take out a yearly subscription and have the paper delivered to you.