All text and dialogue is translated from French.
Daniel had first glimpsed Andrée at the beginning of the occupation, when it was still all about students. She had stood on the steps of the Sorbonne, that great institution of French Enlightenment, and hollered through a megaphone that the French Enlightenment was full of shit, and that they would rise up and smash the imperialist state. Daniel had been captivated by her image, her dusky skin and short hair. At first he thought that she was a striking image of the revolution. Later, he realized that he was just in love with Andrée.
It had been a month of unimaginable success. Another student occupation had turned into a joyous riot that shut down all of Paris. The city itself had been transformed. The cobblestones beneath their feet had been ripped up to use as improvised weapons. Cars in the street were as likely to be set on fire as used to get anywhere. Nobody went to work. Every day there was a new protest, and every night a new riot.
The walls bore graffiti and hand-stenciled posters instead of advertising. The slogans were written with the exhilarating freedom of a child home sick from school. “Never work”, “boredom is always counter-revolutionary”, “under the paving stones, the beach”. They were against Vietnam, capitalism, against communism, against work, against everything.
And all Daniel could think of was Andrée.
It was easy to see her all the time. He had joined her gropuscule, a small political party containing the usual re-arrangement of ideological words. Laborer’s Revolutionary Front, or something along those lines. Their publications were angrier and more dogmatic than Daniel liked, but he didn’t want to be seen as a moderate.
If he had hoped the infatuation would pass, he was wrong. The more he saw Andrée speak to her peers, the more he was fascinated by both the contours of her cheekbones and the purity of her rage. When she talked about the need for violence against all aspects of bourgeois society, Daniel found himself nodding along, even though the implications scared him. He never spoke up in the meetings, and had yet to say a word to her directly.
In part, he was intimidated by her. In part, he was intimidated by her boyfriend. Luc was a Maoist who dressed in leather jackets and spoke in a deep voice about the need for collective agriculture. It was said that he was the top student in his class, a genius of political economy. At protests, he was the first to throw rocks, and the skin around his eyes was perpetually red from the effects of pepper spray. He was a tall, handsome man with a thick beard. When he kissed Andrée after the meetings, Daniel wanted to die.
Two weeks into May, boredom had started to set in. The televisions showed nothing but static, the radio played nothing but propaganda. All of the shops were closed. Most people passed the time by having sex. Daniel heard men chuckle and boast about how girls were so easy in this time of revolution. The graffiti began to echo them: “Take your desires for reality”, “I came in the cobblestones”, “The more I make revolution, the more I want to make love”. Daniel just sunk further into despair.
It was a sweltering Wednesday when Daniel decided to finally talk to Andrée. He didn’t expect that she would leave Luc for him – after all, who would? But if nothing else, he could at least be around her as a friend when this was all over. If it would ever be over.
The air around the university was still sooty, the result of a fire two nights before that jubilant students had started and not known how to put out. They had felt confident on that day, having seen the workers turn out in the streets for the first time. These were the real levers of revolution, at least according to Andrée and Luc. They couldn’t lose with the workers on their side. Of course, as Luc would add, the point of the revolution was to break down the categories that had separated ordinary people for so long, so that people would no longer be defined as worker or student, left or right, male or female, but simply as human. Daniel had wondered at that last dyad. Perhaps it was simply a boast about the barriers that had long been broken between him and Andrée. That had ruined Daniel’s mood.
He strolled into the lecture hall that their gropuscule had repurposed as a headquarters. Litter had started piling up in the aisles and under the seats. Daniel thought about raising the state of the university in the group’s discussions. It seemed churlish to talk about stink when they were trying to overthrow capitalism, and stop its endless imperial wars that killed millions. But knowing the context didn’t stop him from smelling it.
Who was he kidding? He wouldn’t speak up about anything.
There were a few dozen students in the hall that day, and two refinery workers who had showed up on Monday and sat in the back with gaunt expressions and a few days’ stubble. Andrée and Luc were, as usual, sitting on the lecturer’s desk at the front, having easily taken on the pedagogical role. Yesterday they had been cheery, talking about how de Gaulle would fall within a month. Today, however, they wore scowls on their face.
“Comrades,” Andrée said. “We have been betrayed.”
Daniel checked over his shoulder. Were the police about to come bursting through the doors? They couldn’t – that was what the barricades were set up to prevent. As it turned out, the betrayal was a little more distant. Luc cleared his throat and spoke. “I’m sure you’ve heard this by now, but Dany has been expelled from France. But that is not the betrayal – we expected this from the state. No, what is worse is that our so-called comrades in the PCF and CGT have said they will not protest this blatant capitulation to the right.”
“They’re Moscow’s puppets,” said a hirsute anarchist in the front row. “This is just like Barcelona!” He had a habit of comparing current events to the Spanish Civil War at least once a day.
“Occident must be pleased,” said a dark-haired girl who was known throughout the left as one of the most ferocious anti-fascists.
“There will be a march today,” said Andrée. “UNEF is putting it together, but I think it’s important for more radical groups such as us to participate. The government must know that we are united.”
The meeting went on, with more mundane details of the mobilization and the occasional theoretical debate rolling onwards. Daniel remembered his vow to himself to speak up, but suddenly found as if he had nothing to say. No, it wasn’t like that – it was as if language was suddenly failing him, had been severed from his mouth.
So this was to be another day where Andrée noticed him as nothing more than a face in the crowd. But how long would she be here? If the revolution succeeded, she and Luc would surely be moving on to bigger and better things. And if it failed ... well, they would all have much bigger problems. Prison, for the lucky ones, but Daniel had seen the way that the cops looked at Andrée, an Algerian girl who spat in their faces, and knew they would vent their rage onto her if they could. His window, in other words, was rapidly closing, and this may have been why he found his voice.
“Should we be doing this?”
The rest of the room turned to look at Daniel, including the rather tedious man who he had interrupted. Andrée cocked her head, obviously surprised by his interjection.
Daniel wasn’t sure how to follow up, but had absorbed enough of the rhetoric of the movement to babble on. “I mean, the revolution is about more than one person, right? Making the protest all about Dany just kind of furthers the idea that he’s our leader.”
“Not to mention he’s a petit-bourgeois adventurist,” interjected the bearded anarchist.
Luc smirked. “I understand your feelings, comrade. But it is important to maintain our relations with other parts of the resistance. Now is the time for action, but not the time for purism.”
“I think Daniel has a point,” said Andrée. Hearing her say his name made Daniel’s heart jump up into his throat. He was shocked that she even knew his name. “We must maintain a consistent line. Perhaps we join the march, but include some of our old signs about broader issues.”
After half a minute’s silence, Daniel realized that everyone was waiting for him to reply. “Um, that sounds good. I just, uh, want to make sure we’re consistent.”
Andrée nodded. “Thank you for your input, comrade.”
--Daniel almost fainted.
As was typical with the daytime marches, there was the atmosphere of a gentle party. Groups of all sizes sang songs, carried banners, and enjoyed the spring warmth. The dug-up streets made for awkward walking, but there was always someone to grab your arm if you slipped. The police watched, but did not advance on them. As long as the sun was up, there was a kind of truce, albeit one that was broken every once in a while
Today’s protest was for the sake of Dany Cohn-Bendit, the West German student radical who had become the face of the movement. In truth, Daniel didn’t like him. Daniel had gone by “Dany” to all his friends before this year, and felt as if his nickname had been stolen by this upstart. Andrée didn’t seem to like Dany either. She had always smirked a bit when someone brought him up, and sometimes muttered something about him being an infantile anarchist who did not understand the class dimensions of the situation. But that sarcastic tone had been gone today, and she was chanting just as loud as anyone else about his exile. Daniel found himself doing the same.
.... There is more of this story ...