January 7, 2019

Kristen Ross: "Why did something happen rather than nothing? And what was the nature of the event that occurred?"


But the real question, I believe, lies elsewhere, outside the parameters of revolution, failed or not. Why did something happen rather than nothing? And what was the nature of the event that occurred? The attention given to the problematics of power has effaced another set problems at issue in May, and 1960s culture more generally, which we might begin to group under the heading of a no less political question – the question of equality. I mean equality not in any objective sense of status, income, function, or the supposedly “equal” dynamics of contracts or reforms, nor as an explicit demand or a program, but rather as something that emerges in the course of the struggle and is verified subjectively, declared and experienced in the here and now as what is, and not what should be. Such an experience lies to the side of “seizing state power;” outside of that story. The narrative of a desired or failed seizure of power, in other words, is a narrative determined by the logic of the state, the story the state tells to itself. For the state, people in the streets are people always already failing to seize state power. In 1968, “seizing state power” was not only part of the state’s narrative, it expressed the state’s informing desire to complete itself – that is, to totally assimilate the everyday to its own necessities. Limiting May ’68 to that story, to the desire or the failure to seize centralized power, has circumscribed the very definition of “the political,” crushing or effacing in the process a political dimension to the events that may in fact have constituted the true threat to the forces of order, the reason for their panic. That dimension lay in a subjectivation enabled by the synchronizing of two very different temporalities: the world of the worker and the world of the student. It lay in the central idea of May ’68: the union of intellectual contestation with workers’ struggle. It lay in the verification of equality not as any objective of action, but as something that is part and parcel of action, something that emerges in the struggle and is lived and declared as such. In the course of the struggle, practices were developed that demonstrated such a synchronization, that acted to constitute a common – though far from consensual – space and time. And those practices verified the irrelevance of the division of labour – what for Durkheim was nothing more and nothing less than that which holds a society together and guarantees the continuity of its reproduction. As such, these practices form as direct an intervention into the logic and workings of capital as any seizure of state – perhaps more so.

- Kristen Ross, May ’68 and Its Afterlives


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