In May 1968, France teetered on the brink of revolution as a series of student protests spiraled into the largest general strike the country has ever known. In the forty years since, May ’68 has come to occupy a singular place in the modern political imagination, not just in France but across the world. Eric Drott examines the social, political, and cultural effects of May ’68 on a wide variety of music in France, from the initial shock of 1968 through the “long” 1970s and the election of Mitterrand and the socialists in 1981. Drott’s detailed account of how diverse music communities developed in response to 1968 and his pathbreaking reflections on the nature and significance of musical genre come together to provide insights into the relationships that link music, identity, and politics.
Music and the Elusive Revolution Cultural Politics and Political Culture in France, 1968–1981
Music and May '68
Our October Revolution was a night in May, comrades
A night in May when we built barricades
To fight repression and cultural degradation,
And to create a new society.
Anonymous, "Le chant des barricades" (May-June 1968)
Knowledge is finished. Culture today consists of speaking out.
Striking worker outside the department store La Samaritaine (May 1968)
On Friday, 3 May 1968, at one o'clock in the afternoon, approximately four hundred students gathered in the courtyard of the Sorbonne in Paris. They had come to protest the closure of the Nanterre campus of the Université de Paris following a series of disturbances, as well as the threatened expulsion of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and seven other members of the Mouvement du 22 mars group for their role in stoking student unrest. The gathering in the Sorbonne followed a well-rehearsed pattern, another in the series of political rallies staged by student militants in recent months, protesting everything from American involvement in Vietnam to the government's planned restructuring of the French university system. After speeches condemning the administration's actions, the meeting drew to a close, its organizers announcing that another demonstration would take place the following Monday. The crowd began to disperse. But by 2 P.M. a few hundred students had reassembled in the courtyard, spurred by rumors that the neofascist youth group Occident was planning to confront the students as they left. With far-right students marching in the streets just outside the Sorbonne, and an assortment of anarchist, Trotskyist, and Maoist militants milling about inside its walls, the university administration feared a violent clash was imminent. Jean Roche, the rector of the Sorbonne, decided to cancel courses for the rest of the day and to call in security forces. By 4:30 P.M. the police had arrived and began forcing students off the premises, ushering them onto the rue de la Sorbonne. The students had been assured that they would be able to leave freely, but upon exiting the university, they found themselves shepherded into police vans. The actions of the police only served to inflame an already fraught situation. Incensed by the sight of their peers being led away en masse by the police for no apparent reason, students and other bystanders on the streets outside the Sorbonne grew agitated. Shouts of "free our comrades" and "the Sorbonne to the students" welled up from the crowd. Some tried to bar the way of the vans; others started to hurl loose paving stones at the police. The police responded by charging the assembled crowd and throwing canisters of teargas into their midst. By 8 P.M. the situation had exploded, as approximately two thousand students flooded the boulevard Saint Michel to protest the police's "occupation" of the Latin Quarter.
The drama that unfolded over the next four weeks marked the most serious political crisis that the French Fifth Republic has faced. Within a week protests against police repression had grown in both size and intensity. On 7 May, some twenty thousand protestors marched through the streets of Paris. By 10 May, the "Night of the Barricades," the Latin Quarter had turned into a site of low-level street fighting between police and youth, with barricades erected in the streets across the fifth arrondissement. Parallels began to be drawn in the media to other flashpoints in French history, most notably 1789 and the Paris Commune. These parallels were strengthened by the exponential growth of the movement. A one-day strike called by the major trade unions swelled the ranks of protestors. One million people were alleged to have participated in the march through Paris that took place on 13 May, the day of the strike and, ironically, the tenth anniversary of de Gaulle's accession to power. But the most remarkable development came during the second week of the uprising, when wildcat strikes broke out across France. Inspired by the students' occupation of the Sorbonne (itself precipitated by the government's decision to withdraw police from the university on 13 May), workers seized control of factories throughout the country.
By the beginning of the third week of May, the country's economy had come to a virtual standstill. Public transport, telephone services, gasoline and food deliveries, and other critical services functioned sporadically, if at all. Although estimates vary, around nine million people were reported to have gone on strike, making it the largest work stoppage in France's history. The sense that the country was teetering on the brink of revolution was made all the more palpable on 27 May by the refusal of the union rank and file to accept the Grenelle accords, the wage and workplace concessions that trade unions had extracted from government and industry representatives. Not only had de Gaulle's government been overtaken by events; so too had the nominal representatives of the working classes. In less than a month the field of political possibility had opened up in a way that would have been inconceivable just four weeks earlier. Doubts that de Gaulle's government would survive were widespread. And if it did fall, what would take its place? A new government, led by a coalition of left-wing parties? A new constitution and a new republic, the third in two decades? The replacement of a Republican system of government with one based on the principles of direct democracy? Or the imposition of Communist rule?
That none of these outcomes came to pass has done little to rob the memory of May '68 of its force. That de Gaulle managed to hold onto power in spite of everything has only served to mythologize the May events. Unburdened by the consequences that would have ensued had the government actually toppled, the student-worker uprising of 1968 has been able to retain the magical allure of pure possibility. Yet there were other peculiarities that explain the continuing fascination that the May events exercise. Among these was the fact that such a sweeping challenge to the status quo could have materialized in conditions that, by all appearances, were hardly conducive to social unrest. France at the beginning of 1968 was, in the eyes of most observers, a peaceful and prosperous country, in the midst of an unprecedented economic expansion. Les trente glorieuses-the thirty years of growth that extended from the end of World War II to the oil shock of 1973-had promised to bring to an end the gaping disparities that had long fueled social strife in France. Increasing disposable income, the spread of credit, and an influx of consumer goods had improved the standard of living for a sizable fraction of the French populace. Politically, the country seemed to be moving past the bitter conflicts of the 1950s and early 1960s. The cold war tensions that had brought about the dismissal of the Communist ministers from the government in 1947 and that had led to the marginalization of the Parti communiste français (PCF) during the 1950s had receded. More significantly, the wounds opened by decolonization-and by the Algerian War of Independence in particular-seemed more or less healed by the late 1960s. The Battle of Algiers, the collapse of the Fourth Republic, the generals' putsch of April 1961, the massacre of Algerian nationals in October 1961, the death of antiwar demonstrators at the Charonne métro station in February 1962-such painful memories could now be forgotten. Or, if not forgotten, then at least repressed.
By contrast, France in 1968 appeared tranquil, perhaps even a little "bored," as one commentator famously put it. Within this context,the uprising of May and June 1968 could only have seemed an unanticipated event, an explosion without cause or explanation. This, to be sure, was a misrepresentation, one that ignored signs of growing disaffection in the months leading up to May. As Kristin Ross has observed, May "was not ... a kind of meteorological accident arising out of unforeseen planetary conjunctures or, as in the oft-heard cliché, 'the thunderclap in the middle of a serene sky.'" University students, for their part, had legitimate complaints about the state of the French educational system. The postwar baby boom had increased the student population faster than institutions could keep pace, leading to overcrowding, a high student-to-teacher ratio, and dissatisfaction with outdated teaching methods. Making matters worse was the government's proposal to render university admissions more selective in an effort to reduce the pressure on an already overburdened system. To many, such measures represented a step backward, a return to the bad old days when a university education was the preserve of a social elite. For members of the working class, the principal grievance lay in the inequitable distribution of France's postwar prosperity. Despite claims that France was on its way to becoming a "consumer society," this was true for only certain strata of French society. Most members of the working class remained trapped in low-wage jobs with little hope of social advancement. As of 1967, 40 percent of the population made 1,800 francs a year or less. The situation was even worse for the immigrants who made up the bulk of the unskilled and semiskilled workforce. They had to contend not only with low wages but also with shockingly poor living conditions: many still lived in bidonvilles, ramshackle shantytowns, while others took shifts renting out beds from so-called marchands de sommeil (sleep merchants). Such inequalities in education, income, and life chances provided the fuel that would feed the protests and general strike of May and June 1968.
Yet if the belief that May '68 came out of nowhere was not entirely accurate, it has proven durable, firing the imagination of the left in the decades since 1968. For if such a revolt could arise in an advanced capitalist economy, during a period of economic expansion and full employment, it could occur at anytime, anywhere. At the same time, the fact that the revolt spread from the university milieu to the industrial sector set May '68 apart from other social movements of the same period. Unlike contemporaneous upheavals sweeping the United States, Japan, Mexico, and Germany, the uprising of May '68 was not strictly a youth phenomenon. On the contrary, a common front emerged uniting French students and workers, fragile and short-lived though it may have been. Indeed, it was the conjunction of these previously separated sites of social struggle, the university campus and the factory shop floor, that was the most destabilizing aspect of the May movement. The one seemed to feed off the other, with students borrowing tactics from past labor struggles (most notably that of workplace occupation), which were then revived by striking workers in turn.
But while the explosive character of May '68 explains much of its continuing fascination, one must look elsewhere, to the domain of culture, to fully comprehend the mystique that suffuses its memory. The conjugation of the political and the cultural took two contrasting forms. On the one hand, culture and creativity were conceived as resources that the movement could draw upon in refashioning social relations. It was not just that various artistic media were put to work by the movement for the purposes of propaganda (though this was certainly the case: the posters produced by the students at the Atelier populaire in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts were but the most notable examples of this tendency). Rather, the slogans, chants, wall inscriptions, and tracts that proliferated during the events bore witness to a belief that creative expression possessed a more profound function, that of nourishing the movement's utopian aspirations. Graffiti declaring "all power to the imagination," that "poetry is in the streets," concisely expressed the role accorded to cultural production as a force for personal and social liberation. On the other hand, culture itself became the object of contestation. The function of art in modern society was indicted on a number of counts: for its role in perpetuating social divisions, in transmitting hegemonic values, and in distracting individuals from political activism. Such polemics at their most virulent echoed avant-gardiste calls to eliminate art as a separate category of social life. It was here that the influence of the situationist movement was most clearly felt during May. For every inscription extolling the power of the imagination, one could find others that warned against the distortions wrought by art: "Culture is the inversion of life," "Art is dead, let us free our daily life," or, blunter still, "Art is shit." It was not the content of art that was challenged so much as its very existence.
No less than other art forms, music was drawn into debates about culture's role in political struggle. But music's engagement in the movement took more prosaic forms as well. As the scope of the work stoppage widened during the second half of May, musicians of all stripes joined the strike. Just as factories and universities had been occupied by workers and students, so too were concert halls and conservatories. And, as in the case of so many professions, the musical field undertook a thoroughgoing self-examination during the course of the revolt. General assemblies were held at which the role of music in society was debated, professionals and nonprofessionals exchanged ideas on what its function in the new society should be, and proposals for the democratization of musical culture were advanced. And yet for all this ferment, music remained strangely at the margins of les événements. Compared to the theater, cinema, and visual arts, the sites of dramatic and widely publicized interventions such as the États généraux du cinéma and the occupation of the Odéon theater, the actions undertaken within the musical sphere unfolded in the background, more or less invisible in accounts of the uprising. To a certain extent this was due to the nature of musicians' participation in the movement: by going on strike, performers brought musical production to a standstill, silencing their voices at the precise moment when others were clamoring to be heard. But music's marginal position in the May events was also due to the equivocal manner in which performers and composers responded to the crisis. Musicians' unions were particularly susceptible to the sort of charges gauchistes leveled at the institutional left: that far from wishing to bring about radical change to French society, they were chiefly concerned with furthering their own interests.
Yet to say that music's place within the May movement was marginal, especially relative to other forms of "cultural agitation," is not to say that it was either absent from or irrelevant to the events. As noted in the introduction, benefit concerts were held in occupied factories to entertain striking workers, the sounds of jazz (and free jazz in particular) accompanied the uprising at key moments, and, most notably, "The Internationale" was embraced by students as a symbol of their political aspirations. But even here, what might be described as the "problem" of music's role in May '68 is evident. Although the appropriation of "The Internationale" by young protestors was a multivalent gesture, its meaning dependent upon one's social position, it nonetheless signaled a significant lack within the political culture of the left, as well as French youth culture. Without a repertoire of contemporary political songs that they could draw upon, without a defined sub- or counterculture by means of which they could signify their resistance to dominant culture, French youth had to reach back to a century-old mainstay of the workers' movement to voice their opposition. "Clearly the movement was a little short on songs," music critic Jacques Vassal observed a few years afterward, noting that it was thus "reduced to pulling out the 'classics' of previous insurrections." Even if the adoption of "The Internationale" represented what Ron Eyerman and Andrew Jamison call the "mobilization of tradition"-a way of using song to link past and present struggles-the fact that a song dating back to the Paris Commune, rather than something more current or topical, became the primary musical touchstone for the movement demands reflection. The same holds for the ambiguous role played by musicians in the movement. Their marginal position within the uprising and general strike not only reveals something about the place that music occupied in the French cultural and social landscapes during the late 1960s; it also points to the endurance of longstanding beliefs concerning the relationship between art and society, and the role of these beliefs in enabling-or disabling-musicians' ability to conceive of themselves as political actors.
This chapter examines the curious place music and musicians occupied in the May uprising. Here as elsewhere, a principal concern is the reciprocal relation that exists between musical practices and social identity. Like Eyerman and Jamison, I am interested in how traditions were mobilized and used as a resource in individuals' self-fashioning as political actors. What I would stress, however, is the heterogeneity of traditions that were available to individuals during May and June of 1968. It was in large part the multiplicity of available political identities that led to conflicts within the musical field, and within the larger social movement that emerged during May '68. Three traditions stand out in particular: those of working-class culture, as embodied in the students' embrace of "The Internationale" and other tokens of the French revolutionary heritage; the historical avant-garde, evinced in the utopian calls of "cultural agitators" to radically reconfigure the artistic sphere, leading ultimately to its reintegration with everyday life; and what might best be referred to as trade union culture, which acted as a critical resource in enabling the musicians' participation in the strike movement. As these three instances make clear, the symbolic repertoires that individuals could draw upon went beyond the purely musical plane and embraced a range of extra- or para-musical practices. By this I mean that in fashioning themselves as political actors, individuals utilized not only music, but an array of discourses, rhetorical stances, and self-representations historically associated with "movement cultures," whether musical, artistic, or social. To take one example, the most significant aspect of the musicians' participation in the strike is that it entailed a radical refiguring of their self-identity, requiring a temporary abandonment of the role of artist-romantically conceived as a person set apart and above economic and political concerns-in favor of that of (culture) worker. Here as elsewhere, the refashioning of identity functioned as a means of breaking out of habituated routines, enabling forms of action that one's established social role did not readily accommodate.
Debout les damnés de Nanterre!
Musical life in France went about normally during the first weeks of May 1968. In Paris, the protests taking place in the Latin Quarter did little to disturb the nightly rituals acted out in concert halls. On Friday, 10 May, the night of the barricades, concert life continued without interruption: Yehudi Menuhin appeared at the Salle Pleyel as part of a concert of Schubert's chamber music, Verdi's Rigoletto was performed at the Paris Opéra, and a concert of new music was put on at the American Center on the boulevard Raspail. Even singer-songwriter Léo Ferré's appearance at the annual meeting of the Fédération anarchiste, held at La Mutualité in the heart of the Latin Quarter, unfolded uneventfully. It was not until the following Monday, 13 May, that the events of the preceding ten days began to have an impact on the musical sphere, with concerts being canceled or postponed on account of the one-day general strike. There were other signs that the musical community was beginning to take notice of the turmoil unfolding around it. According to critic Maurice Fleuret a new slogan, intoned by the students of the Paris Conservatoire, could be heard during the demonstrations of 13 May, one that demanded "Xenakis, pas Gounod!"
As singers, bands, orchestras and ensembles played on during the first weeks of May, outside the concert hall a different kind of music could be heard. The demonstrations of the preceding week had given birth to an array of slogans and chants, whose rhythmic mottos defined the soundscape of May: "C.R.S.-S.S.," "A bas l'état policier," or "Ce n'est qu'un début, continuons le combat," among others. Indeed, this last slogan became so pervasive, so familiar, that one author described it as having given the movement its distinctive "acoustic code." More conventional musical resources were also marshaled during May '68. Principal among these were a pair of heavily freighted anthems, "La Marseillaise" and "The Internationale," more often than not opposed to one another during protests. Both carried in tow a host of associations, many of them contradictory, accumulated over long histories of reception and use. It was this polysemy that made both songs such powerful, and attractive, vehicles of political expression. But it was this same quality that made both the object of intense contest during May-June 1968, as different political factions struggled to lay claim to the songs and impose a certain conception of their proper use and meaning.
"La Marseillaise" was composed in 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a captain in the French army. The song was the product of a brief moment of national consensus, as France's declaration of war against Austria in 1792 fostered a fragile sense of solidarity among liberal elites and the revolutionary masses. However, its subsequent adoption by the Fédérés of Marseille solidified the song's revolutionary credentials, henceforth linked in the collective imagination with the monarchy's overthrow. As a result of these overlapping and multivalent associations, "La Marseillaise" has been able to function throughout its history as both an expression of patriotic sentiment and an emblem of revolutionary fervor. The prevalence of one or the other function at any given time has depended in large part on who was singing the song, and to what end. Over the course of the nineteenth century, the fate of "La Marseillaise" was tied to that of Republicanism as an ideology and political movement. For monarchists, "La Marseillaise" was anathema, a token of the forces that had brought down the ancien régime. For those dedicated to fulfilling the unkept promise of 1789, workers and liberal Republicans alike, the song became on the contrary a galvanizing force. In 1848, and again during the Paris Commune, it was sung along with "Ça ira," "La Carmagnole," and other songs of the revolutionary period. It was only in the decades after the institution of "La Marseillaise" as the national anthem of the Third Republic in 1879 that large swaths of the French left began to express disenchantment with the song. While the chauvinism of "La Marseillaise" had discomfited earlier generations of utopian socialists, the antimilitarism of the workers' movement in the latter half of the nineteenth century, along with its growing commitment to the ideal of international solidarity, made the song appear increasingly ill-suited to the ideological desiderata of the French left.
Into this breach came "The Internationale," written by Eugène Pottier in the aftermath of the Paris Commune and set to music by Pierre Degeyter in 1888. Although "The Internationale" was slow to gain traction, over the course of the 1890s and 1900s the song was adopted by the majority of socialist, syndicalist, and anarchist organizations in France. Over the decades that followed, "The Internationale" and "La Marseillaise" performed a complex counterpoint, at times set against one another, at other times conjoined. In the early years of the twentieth century the songs were more often than not opposed, with Republicans and the nationalist right championing "La Marseillaise" and the socialist and anarchist left embracing "The Internationale." With the onset of World War I, the demands of national unity in the face of external threat led many on the left to abandon "The Internationale" in favor of its erstwhile rival. This in turn discredited "La Marseillaise" after 1918 for certain segments of the French left, especially members of the newly formed Parti communiste, as the song was now identified with the kind of blind nationalism that had provoked the Great War. The fortunes of the two anthems changed once again beginning in the 1930s. With the accession of the Popular Front to power in 1936 and the revival of patriotic sentiments engendered by the Second World War, all but the most intransigent elements of the French left again came around to embracing "La Marseillaise." The identification of "La Marseillaise" with the resistance to German occupation meant that by 1945 it could serve effectively as a signifier of French national unity. At the same time, the waning of the socialists' influence in the decades that followed the end of the war, coupled with the waxing strength of the Parti communiste, meant that "The Internationale" increasingly came to be viewed in partisan terms. Even as other factions on the far left (anarchists, Trotskyists, and Maoists)continued to stake their claim to "The Internationale," it was the Parti communiste that was most closely identified with Pottier and Degeyter's paean to working-class struggle.
Given this context, the fact that students embraced "The Internationale" during May '68, its strains accompanying every major demonstration, was noteworthy. Even if many of those singing did not know all the song's verses-a situation that the satirical journal L'Enragé sought to rectify by publishing its lyrics in its inaugural issue-the ubiquity of "The Internationale" attested to both the students' awareness of its potency as a symbol of working-class struggle and their desire to lay claim to this legacy. Meanwhile, counterdemonstrations staged by Gaullists and extreme right-wing groupuscules such as Occident typically looked to "La Marseillaise" as a way of mobilizing their own nationalist traditions. The two anthems did more, however, than simply distinguish left from right. How the anthems were deployed and what they signified varied widely. It was not just a matter of who sang "The Internationale" and where, but also who recounted the details of its performance after the fact, in what circumstances, and for whom. Still, one can identify at least three broad functions that "The Internationale" assumed during the uprising: signaling a generalized sense of oppositionality; interpellating the working class as a political actor; and traversing the various barriers that separated different social groups from one another.
In an interview published in the Communist literary review Lettres françaises, an anonymous student in literature explained what singing "The Internationale" meant for him and his peers. Describing the protests of 6 May, he remarked that "For us singing the Internationale was in any case a sign of revolt, more a song of opposition [un chant contre] than a Communist hymn, strictly speaking. It's a song everyone knows, a song of revolt. That's the meaning it had when we sang it." What immediately stands out in the student's comments is his characterization of the song's meaning in negative terms. The specific ideals articulated by its text do not figure prominently in his description, nor do the political ideologies with which the anthem has been historically associated. "The Internationale" serves, within this account, as an abstract signifier of revolt, a way of gesturing one's rejection of authority. Furthermore, the fact that he does underline that the song was "more" than "a Communist hymn" points to a fundamental ambiguity in the way he and his peers employed "The Internationale." This ambiguity derived from the fact that the song was claimed by all the various factions that made up the left-wing universe of the time, Communists, socialists, syndicalists, anarchists, Trotskyists, and Maoists alike. While the broad appeal of "The Internationale" could serve as a vehicle for uniting a fractured left, it also became an object over which various political rivals vied. The remarks of the anonymous student testify to its ambiguous status, at once acknowledging the song's identification with communism (and, by extension, with the Parti communiste) and refusing to allow it to be reduced to this narrow, partisan association. In this sense, his comment is symptomatic of the uncertain and often openly antagonistic relationship that existed between student militants and the PCF. For radicalized elements within the student movement-members of the Trotskyist, Maoist, and anarchist groupuscules active in the university milieu-the PCF was as much an adversary as de Gaulle's regime. The party's disavowal of revolutionary action, its willing participation in the parliamentary system of the Fifth Republic, its troubled association with Stalinism, its highly bureaucratized structure-these were but some of the factors that explained the hostility that gauchistes and other members of the non-Communist left exhibited toward the Parti communiste. Within the extreme left in particular, the PCF's readiness to play the "electoral game" was seen as a clear sign that it was more interested in exploiting working-class disgruntlement than in fundamentally transforming the class structure of French society.
The recruitment of "The Internationale" as "un chant contre" was manifest at a number of junctures in May and June. One of the most notable instances came on 6 May, when it was sung by Daniel Cohn-Bendit and other members of the Mouvement du 22 mars on their way into the disciplinary council that had been convoked to decide the matter of their expulsion. This impromptu performance was immortalized when students in the occupied Ecole des Beaux-Arts created an iconic poster using a press photograph of Cohn-Bendit singing the refrain of "The Internationale" in front of an agent of the Compagnie républicaine de sécurité (CRS) (figure 1). The image of this confrontation between Cohn-Bendit and a helmeted figure of state authority captured the oppositional dynamic at play in this and other renditions of the song.
An even more flagrant use of "The Internationale" to express opposition to the symbols of authority occurred the following day, 7 May, during the course of the first truly sizable student demonstration in Paris. That afternoon at least twenty thousand protestors wended their way through the streets of the capital, their march capped by a procession down the Champs-Elysées. Exactly how the demonstrators ended up on this iconic boulevard, in the heart of bourgeois Paris, sheds light on the power ascribed to cultural and historical symbols as instruments of political contest. An account of the march given by Daniel Bensaïd and Henri Weber, leaders of the Trotskyist student group Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire (JCR), describe how the protestors, having been prevented from entering the Latin Quarter by a cordon of CRS officers, were forced to change the direction of their demonstration. Disputes broke out among various left-wing factions as to where the protestors should head. Certain students affiliated with "pro-Chinese" (Maoist) groups argued that the assembled forces should make for the working-class districts on the outskirts of Paris to signal their solidarity with "the people." Others (and here Bensaïd and Weber take credit for the initiative) agitated for the mass of students to double back and descend upon the Right Bank. Against Maoist charges that the Trotskyists wanted to "lead the protestors to the beaux quartiers of their brethren, the bourgeoisie," Bensaïd and Weber responded that marching through working-class neighborhoods would be symbolically impotent, bereft of imagination or impact. Such a course of action would represent a retreat, a return to territory traditionally conceded to the left. But should the mass of young demonstrators process down the boulevard des Champs-Elysées-the symbolic center of wealth, prestige, and power in the capital-this would mark a conspicuous break with the established conventions of political engagement.
In the end the protestors opted for the Right Bank, and the provocation that Bensaïd and Weber hoped the gesture would have was borne out. The crowning moment of this act of transgression came when the marchers, having reached the Arc de Triomphe, sang "The Internationale" before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Here, the act of signaling opposition involved the conflict between symbol and setting: an anthem celebrating international solidarity is intoned at the site that commemorates the virtue of sacrifice on behalf of the French nation. This inversion of values sent an unequivocal message, at least if we are to believe Bensaïd and Weber: "To walk up the Champs-Elysées while singing 'The Internationale,' to hoist red flags on the Arc de Triomphe, has the same meaning as the occupation of a faculty or the forceful riposte to police charges. It signifies that one refuses to respect any longer the rules of the institutional game according to which the system maintains itself."
For Bensaïd and Weber, the march down the Champs-Elysées marked a turning point in the May uprising. By striking at the heart of bourgeois Paris, the demonstration revivified, as if by magic, a moribund left. Standing behind this interpretation of the function of "The Internationale" was the Trotskyists' longstanding hostility toward the Parti communiste, which they saw as an obstacle to revolutionary action. Bensaïd and Weber contrast this demonstration to the rallies staged by the PCF in preceding years, in which participants acted out well-rehearsed roles in an empty spectacle of contestation: "What a difference with the foot-dragging processions that the blue-collar bureaucrats have accustomed us to! In the ranks of the PCF people are passive, limp, nonchalant. They go to a protest like one goes to the movies, between 6 and 8 o'clock in the evening." Although the account given by Bensaïd and Weber was hardly impartial, their portrayal of the student protests was not exceptional. Contemporary accounts refer to the sincerity and authenticity evident among younger militants, and more often than not point to their spirited renditions of the "The Internationale" as proof of a rejuvenated sense of political engagement. The satirical cartoonist Siné, whose work had graced the pages of Jazz Hot, L'Enragé and Charlie-Hebdo, described the demonstration of 7 May in a letter to the editor of the newspaper Le Point in precisely these terms. He singled out the rendition of "The Internationale" sung at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier not just for its political impact but for its emotional force: "To hear twenty thousand youths singing 'The Internationale,' I had never seen something so moving." To illustrate his point, he included a cartoon that was published alongside his letter. Its caption ("Debout les damnés de Nanterre!") played upon the opening line of "The Internationale" ("Debout les damnés de la terre!"), substituting the student demonstrators of Nanterre for the oppressed masses of the song's original lyric (see figure 2).
The belief that the singing of "The Internationale" by students signaled a reawakening of the previously dormant left leads to a second function that was ascribed to the song during May '68, that of interpellating the working class as a political actor. As noted above, how and what the anthem signified depended in large part on the particular ideological investments of observers, so that the same rendition might afford multiple, and at times incompatible, interpretations. Such was the case with the 7 May march. What appeared to many as a simple affront to state authority was viewed in an altogether different light by those for whom the primary axis of social conflict did not oppose students and the Gaullist state, but workers and the forces of capital. In a tract published by the Fédération des étudiants révolutionnaires (FER), a more orthodox Trotskyist rival to Bensaïd and Weber's JCR, the demonstration is again cast as a pivotal event in the nascent uprising. But here it is treated as the point when the momentum generated by the student protests of the preceding days had to be transferred to the working class if the revolutionary potential of the moment was to be realized. The mobilization of key symbols of working-class agitation-the red flag and "The Internationale"-are, from this perspective, means of recalling workers to their historic role: "Together with the UNEF leaders, the FER ... led the demonstration to the Champs-Elysées, where 50,000 young people and workers, red flags waving, sang the Internationale. The situation was becoming clear: it was the workers' turn to act." Within the Trotskyist scheme at play in this reading of the event-according to which the student movement functioned as a kind of vanguard group, incapable of effecting revolutionary change by itself, but charged with the mission of impelling the working class to action-cultural icons like "The Internationale" functioned as a conduit through which the revolutionary impulse could pass. "The Internationale" and the red flag became forms of address, by means of which one group (students) was able hail another (workers).
With the onset of the general strike after the middle of May, a third, related use of "The Internationale" may be identified. Just as the song's history permitted it to serve as a means of hailing the working class in the weeks prior to the strike, during the period when the latter had yet to join the protest movement, the significance of such acts of musical interpellation was transformed after the first wave of factory occupations. Now singing "The Internationale" could be seen as a way of symbolically traversing social barriers, not as a vague gesture of sympathy or solidarity, but to affirm that students and workers were engaged in the same struggle. If Kristin Ross is correct in asserting that May was "a crisis of functionalism," a vast experiment in "declassification, in disrupting the natural 'givenness' of places" in society, then the intoning of "The Internationale" can be understood as one way of dissolving the fixed social positions that kept students and workers isolated from one another. Whereas the use of "The Internationale" to interpellate the working class in the 7 May march assumed an irreducible difference between the two social identities-such that the students, themselves unable to enact revolutionary change, had to call out to workers, who did possess this capacity-the use of the song to surmount social boundaries made the opposite assumption. What was highlighted instead were the points of contact, the links binding these two groups together.
At times the barriers that separated students and workers, and that "The Internationale" was called upon to transcend, were not just social but physical. This was the case on the night of 17 May, when a contingent of students set out from the Sorbonne in order to march to the recently occupied Renault factory in Boulogne-Billancourt, just outside Paris. Their goal, by all accounts, was to make contact with the workers there, though it is not entirely clear what they hoped would come out of this meeting. A banner carried by a band of Maoists cast the procession as signaling the transfer of political initiative from the students to the "true" agents of historical change: "The workers will take from the fragile hands of the students the torch of revolt against the antipopular regime of unemployment and misery." But it is unlikely that this self-sacrificing conception of the student movement, figured as a weak link that must yield to the strength of the industrial proletariat, was shared by others. No doubt most came with no other aim in mind than to assert, as one marcher put it, that "the students' ideal is your ideal, it's the same." This understanding of the students' march was not shared by the leadership of the Confédération générale du travail (CGT), the main labor federation aligned with the Communist Party. For them, the crowd of students making their way to the factory gates represented a risk. Given the events of recent days, there was a concern that student militants might stir up trouble for the striking workers. In a communiqué, the union contended that the "adventurism" of left-wing groups endangered the strike movement and warned against any provocations that might draw out the forces of order: "We appreciate the solidarity of the students and teachers ... but are opposed to any ill-judged initiative which might threaten our developing movement.... We strongly advise the organizers of this demonstration against proceeding with their plans." But for most gauchistes the reluctance of the trade union leadership to welcome their support suggested an ulterior motive: namely, that the CGT and their allies in the PCF wished to use the strike as a way of shoring up their position as brokers of the workers' movement.
Arriving at the Renault factory toward midnight, the students were greeted by gates that had been locked and barricaded. On a truck parked in front of the factory a CGT official addressed the crowd. After thanking them for their show of support, he entreated those present to forbear approaching the gates, lest the management "use it as an excuse to call the police." Confronted with these physical barriers separating them from the union rank and file, the marchers resorted to song as a way of both demonstrating their good faith and making contact across the factory walls. One eyewitness recounted the scene: "We wave. They wave back. We sing the Internationale. They join in. We give the clenched fist salute. They do likewise. Everybody cheers. Contact has been made." In this portrayal the singing of "The Internationale" functions along with other gestures (like the raised fist) as a perlocutionary act, which in eliciting a response from the factory workers persuaded them at the same time of the students' shared ideals. The workers' reciprocation indicates that the gesture tendered by the students has been accepted. Thus commenced, the symbolic transaction continues with a proposed inversion of the position occupied by the two groups:
A group of demonstrators starts shouting "Les usines aux ouvriers" (The factories to the workers). The slogan spreads like wildfire through the crowd.... "Les usines aux ouvriers" ... ten, twenty times the slogan reverberates round the Place Nationale, taken up by a crowd now some 3,000 strong.
As the shouting subsides, a lone voice from one of the Renault roofs shouts back: "La Sorbonne aux Etudiants." Other workers on the same roof take it up. Then those on the other roof. By the sound of their voices they must be at least a hundred of them, on top of each building. There is then a moment of silence. Everyone thinks the exchange has come to an end. But one of the demonstrators starts chanting: "La Sorbonne aux ouvriers." Amid general laughter, everyone joins in.
That the logical continuation of this exchange was not forthcoming-there is no record of any factory worker crying out "Les usines aux etudiants"-points to the limitations of such symbolic transactions. Even if the singing of "The Internationale" represented an attempt on the part of the students to adopt a different political identity, one that would afford contact across physical and social boundaries, the entrenched divisions such a gesture had to overcome were so deep that it is doubtful that song itself, no matter how great its symbolic weight, would be sufficient to bridge them. As a more cynical observer noted, the working class was "more inclined to listen to the CGT than to the students, who were viewed with an instinctive suspicion," adding that if workers bore a grudge against "consumer society," it was because "it did not allow [them] to consume enough." Images of burned-out cars and uprooted trees piled to form barricades, broadcast on state-run television and reproduced in newspapers and magazines, played into the union's charge that the student radicals only wanted to come to this and other factories in order to "break everything." The existence of such broad, class-based differences in perception meant that attempts to traverse social boundaries confronted considerable obstacles.
Students' deployment of certain charged cultural symbols also had to account for the fact that these signified differently according to one's subject position. "The Internationale" may have seemed the perfect vehicle for expressing student-worker solidarity, but it was precisely the capaciousness of its meaning that made the song too fluid, too mutable to ensure unambiguous communication. Such distinctions were in full force during an episode that took place toward the end of May, an exchange between a high-school student and a CGT member (un cégétiste). When asked if he preferred the tricolore, the French flag, over the black flag of the anarchists, the cégétiste answered in the affirmative: "But naturally, it's the flag of France." This reflexive expression of national sentiment led the student to ask in turn why he and other union members continued to sing "The Internationale." To which the cégétiste's only response was: "stupid idiot" (pauvre con). There is no better illustration than this of how the different meanings ascribed to "The Internationale" could accentuate, rather than overcome, social divisions. While it may have been self-evident to the high-school student that the song espoused a principle of transnational solidarity, one whose logic demanded the renunciation of patriotic sentiment, the same could not be said for the cégétiste, for whom the song functioned primarily as a marker of group identity.
Episodes like these point out some of the difficulties students encountered in appropriating the artifacts of working-class culture in fashioning themselves as political militants. They may have sought to perform a different identity or role than that which was assigned to them, but intent alone could not guarantee success: to be effective, this performance had to win over an audience, to persuade others of their legitimacy. Failure to do so would leave students open to the charge of "posing" or playacting. Indeed, this was a charge leveled against them from the beginning of the uprising, when Communist Party leader Georges Marchais attacked what he called the "false revolutionaries" of the extreme left: "For the most part they are the sons of rich bourgeois ... , who will quickly snuff out their revolutionary flame in order to go manage daddy's business." Ridicule was also leveled at student militants from the opposite side of the political spectrum. In one tract, the extreme-right group Mouvement jeune révolution attacked those "who have nothing to suggest to this society but archaic formulas: the red flag and the Internationale, expressing only a caricature of revolution." In both cases there is the suggestion that an act like singing "The Internationale" was inauthentic: in doing so students were guilty of exploiting a song, a culture, that did not rightfully belong to them. Of course the disjunction between the perceived class position of students and the cultural symbols they deployed could have the effect of defamiliarizing the latter, reinvesting them with a force that had ebbed over the years. Such was the case in the enthusiastic reactions that the 7 May march elicited from older gauchistes like Siné. But it appears that both the affirmative and negative aspects of this disjunction were bound together. The transcendence of social positions that the appropriation of "The Internationale" promised could not be separated from the risk that it would have the opposite effect, that of reinforcing these positions in the eyes of others.
If any single event precipitated the wave of sit-down strikes that spread across France in the second half of May, it was the students' occupation of the Sorbonne on the evening of 13 May. From the very beginning of the uprising, the Sorbonne had represented the symbolic center of the conflict between the students and the French state. A turning point in this dispute came on 11 May, when Prime Minister Georges Pompidou announced that he would grant amnesty to jailed students and reopen the Sorbonne in an effort to quell the rising tide of protest. Yet, as noted in the introduction, Pompidou's gesture of goodwill backfired, offering students an opportunity that they wasted little time in seizing. As the crowd that had marched through Paris on 13 May dispersed, young demonstrators flooded into the Sorbonne, now emptied of police. Within days militants had instituted a rudimentary form of governance in the Sorbonne. Tasks were divided among a variety of ad hoc organisms: commissions, charged with analyzing specific issues such as educational reform or political strategy; comités, which oversaw the day-to-day operation of the occupied Sorbonne; and the assemblée générale, open to all, which voted on proposals put forward by the commissions and comités.
One of the committees founded in the days after 13 May was the Comité révolutionnaire d'agitation culturelle (CRAC), which took upon itself the task of organizing artists within the movement. The group comprised a heterogeneous mix of students, intellectuals, and professional artists, counting among its members sociology professor Georges Lapassade, credited with being the driving force behind the group, as well as the musicians Renaud Séchan, Dominique Grange, and Evariste. A document dating from the early days of the Sorbonne's occupation suggests that the impetus behind the creation of CRAC lay in the casual way in which the arts, and music in particular, had been deployed in the protests to that point. This theme was picked up in another tract, apparently the group's founding statement, which announced that "certain recent incidents concerning jazz in the Sorbonne oblige us to recollect our line of action." While such spontaneous acts may have had some benefit as a source of relaxation or release, they did little to advance the movement's agenda. But what the music played in the courtyard of the Sorbonne on 13 May lacked in terms of political value it possessed in terms of diagnostic value. It bespoke a broader, untapped reservoir of creative energy that might be turned to political advantage, if only it were channeled properly. To this end CRAC urged that cultural producers and intermediaries "organize themselves into action groups" and use the specific means at their disposal to help further the students' protests.
The establishment of CRAC serves as a useful landmark in the evolving relationship between cultural and political action within the May movement. Whereas the protests of the first two weeks had drawn from revolutionary traditions and working-class culture in an ad hoc manner, the formation of organizations devoted to questions of cultural agitation transformed art and culture into sites of political intervention. At least two broad approaches to the "cultural question" can be discerned within this discourse, the anti-elitist and anti-aesthetic critiques of art. In anti-elitist discourse, art's perceived class character becomes the principal target of critique, both in terms of its role as a marker of social distinction and as a vehicle for promoting dominant values. Attacks on the antipopular character of bourgeois culture were rife during May (especially following the occupation of the Sorbonne), as were condemnations of artists who sought out the patronage of social and economic elites. Yet even if the anti-elitist critique cast culture as something suspect, besmirched by its historic complicity with power, it at least held out the promise that this taint might be washed away, if only the barriers impeding access to culture were dismantled. The same could not be said for the anti-aesthetic critique of art, whichwas less sanguine about the possibility of redeeming art. Rooted in the legacy of the historical avant-gardes and their postwar avatars (in particular situationism), this school of thought held that art was a symptom of the alienation of creative powers under capitalism. Or, as a slogan scrawled on the walls of the Sorbonne put it, "Culture is the inversion of life." Unlike anti-elitist discourses, there was no possibility of salvaging a use for art within this conception: it had to be done away with as such, integrated into everyday life.
In addition to transforming culture into a site of political intervention, the advent of cultural agitation also marked the entry of artists in large numbers into the May events. Although motives for participation varied widely, the significance militants themselves attached to culture, creativity, and the imagination was likely an important factor. At the same time, the prominence of anti-elitist and anti-aesthetic discourses within the movement created a treacherous environment for artists to navigate. Both posed fundamental questions artists had to confront in imagining a constructive role for themselves. What constituted revolutionary art? How were cultural forms to be incorporated into protest? And beyond producing "engaged" works, was there anything artists could do as artists that would have a tangible impact?
In responding to these and other questions, artists were able to avail themselves of a number of proven strategies. The long tradition of artistic and intellectual engagement in France provided a repertoire of actions artists could draw from: benefit concerts could be organized, pressure groups formed, petitions signed, and so forth. Such established forms of political intervention enjoyed some favor but were far from universally embraced. To a certain degree this was due to the fact that such forms of intervention appeared to stand outside political action proper. Benefit concerts and petitions may have provided material support and demonstrated artists' good faith, but they had little direct bearing on the movement itself. Especially given the privilege accorded to direct action during May, traditional forms of rhetorical support lost much of their appeal. The declaration that announced the founding of the Union des écrivains on 21 May foregrounded this devaluation of traditional forms of engagement: "The writers who have come together in this place, on this morning, have concluded that it was no longer the time to be present simply in the form of a press communiqué, or as joint signatories." The pressure to find a more immediate form of engagement was also exerted on artists from without by militants who expected something more of their artist-comrades. Léo Ferré, for one, found himself criticized for not having passed from the stage to the street following his concert at La Mutualité the night of 10 May, the night of the barricades, this in spite of his longstanding affiliation with the anarchist movement. Or perhaps it was because of this affiliation: "At La Mutualité this evening there's Léo Ferré. We shout: 'Ferré, come with us!', 'Léo, in the street!' He won't come. It'll be a mistake. When red and black flags are out in the streets-Le rouge pour naître à Barcelone, Le noir pour mourir à Paris [a line from Ferré's "Thank You Satan"]-it's not enough to sing about them, you have to be with them." A long history of support for the Fédération anarchiste did not shield Ferré from attack, nor did his celebration of anarchist principles in song. Rather, his lack of direct participation turned such gestures into broken promises, at least in the eyes of militants.
Such pressures compelled artists to undertake a broader reconsideration of their identity during the course of May. The aesthete, the bohemian, the alienated genius-these and other long-standing representations of artistic identity lost much of their attraction as pressure was exerted to intervene directly in political action. The Union des Arts plastiques, for example, contended that "buying into the cliché of the bohemian artist ... can no longer continue.... Artists have the right to a place within society, they must participate by means of the works and their actions to elevating the cultural life of the people." The expectation that a new society, a new culture, was in the process of taking shape also spurred the idea that a new kind of artist was needed. It was therefore essential that the social role accorded the artist be reconceptualized to allow for greater degree of political involvement. One solution to this problem was to be found in the legacy of artistic modernism. Many of the groups dedicated to cultural agitation hearkened back to the rhetoric, ideology, and imagery of the historic avant-gardes, namely the futurist, constructivist, Dadaist, and surrealist movements. This was the case with CRAC and, as we will see shortly, the Comité d'action révolutionnaire based in the Odéon theater. Even though the influence of these precedents could be manifest in a number of ways-ranging from the agitprop-style posters of the Atelier populaire to the (neo-) Dadaist interventions of CRAC-what tied virtually all of the cultural agitators together was a shared belief in the need to transform the art world, such that it would no longer constitute a specialized field of knowledge and practice. Another solution to the problem of fashioning an appropriate political identity was to be found in the heritage of working-class struggle. Efforts to organize artists by profession-seen in the Etats généraux du cinéma, or in the founding of both the Union des écrivains and the Union des compositeurs-drew from a different model, one furnished by the political culture of trade unionism (though some justifiably saw a more sinister, Soviet precedent for such enterprises). The reimagination of the artist as worker also bore fruit in terms of the revitalization of existing artists' unions, such as the Syndicat des artistes-musiciens de Paris, groups whose influence had been on the wane in the years prior to 1968.
How, then, did the rhetoric of the avant-garde tradition inform the actions of CRAC? Perhaps the most pointed expression of the group's debt to the historical avant-gardes can be found in a document titled "Projet d'association internationale de dissolution culturelle." The short text, approximately two typewritten pages in length, takes as its target the ideology of artistic genius, echoing in many points Roland Barthes' roughly contemporaneous proclamation of the "death of the author." But unlike Barthes' essay, the "Projet" outlined by CRAC is squarely activist in its orientation, detailing the measures necessary to dismantle the figure of the genius once and for all. According to the text's authors, deconstructing the myth of the artist-god would have implications beyond the cultural field, as this myth helps legitimize the ideal of personal authority in all walks of life. Undermining this particular excrescence of bourgeois individualism would thus undermine parallel figures in the political and economic domains: the boss, the manager, the entrepreneur, the president-in short, all persons and positions invested with charismatic authority. The document thus asserts that "to annul the artist as the central subject of art, as [a] 'creative authority,' not only comes to place the cultural system in peril, but also the ideological system still in place" since both rest on the principle of "pseudo-transcendental authority." What CRAC envisions is the institution of a postindividualist society; and to hasten its arrival, they advocate flooding the cultural market with "inexpressive works, without quality, without rarity, without clarity, all identical, all of them irrecuperable in their anonymity and their radical simplicity." The notion that mass production might prove a valuable tool in sabotaging the economic and ideological bases of the art world recalls Walter Benjamin's contention that mechanical reproduction posed a fundamental threat to art's auratic quality. But the call to mass-produce nondescript art also looked back to the historical avant-garde's numerous attempts to deskill artistic labor, from Duchamp's readymades, through surrealist automatic writing, to the Fluxus event score. It would appear that CRAC's hope was that such undistinguished and undistinguishable artworks, if fabricated in large enough quantities, would prove so difficult to absorb that the entire cultural system would short-circuit.
As intriguing as it may be, the "Projet" was exceptional in the output of CRAC. Generally speaking, the group expressed little interest in promoting a particular aesthetic or approach to cultural production, even one that promised to sabotage the workings of the art world. Judging from contemporary accounts, the group functioned more as an intermediary, facilitating both the organization of artists and the diffusion of "revolutionary" culture. The group is credited with staging assemblées générales for musicians and writers, arranging Jean-Paul Sartre's famed appearance in the Sorbonne in May, screening documentaries, and mounting musical performances. Its intervention in the cultural sphere took place less at the level of production than that of diffusion. This makes sense given the group's ideological and rhetorical affiliations with the avant-gardiste tradition. Had CRAC acted as an atelier for politically engaged artists, it would have run counter to their stated goal of doing away with artistic specialization. In one of the group's later tracts, they characterize the "new culture" as one that is experienced not in the ossified forms of fixed works, but in the emancipation of creative impulses:
COMRADES, THE REVOLUTION TAKES PLACE EVERY DAY
IT IS A FESTIVITY, AN EXPLOSION WHICH LIBERATES PEOPLE'S ENERGIES
WE MUST ORGANIZE-WE MUST INVENT OUR MEANS OF ACTION
WE MUST COMBINE OUR ENERGIES!
For free exercise of the imagination in the streets. For transformation of the Sorbonne
into an International Revolutionary Center for cultural agitation, open to all workers and self-managed by its participants.
To be noted in this excerpt is how the ideal of permanent cultural revolution is likened to a festival, an occasion traditionally associated with the suspension of normative identities. This disruption of ascribed social roles, were it to be realized, would allow for the generalization of creative activity, the opening of artistic identity to all citizens. At least this is the utopian ideal to which CRAC aspired.
This aspiration becomes even more explicit later in the same document, when CRAC, responding to the decision made by certain actors' unions in early June to return to work, calls for the "occupation of all theaters in the Latin Quarter." Their stated intention is to use these facilities as "operation bases for transforming outside space into a vast stage with infinite possibilities, on which each person becomes both actor and author of collective social-dramatic events" (italics added). The ambivalence toward culture here reaches its acme, resurrecting the avant-gardiste call to sublate art into everyday life. Concomitant with this imagined liberation of creative energy is the simultaneous elimination and generalization of the figure of the artist. In the utopia envisaged by CRAC, artistic identity would be dispersed, with every person henceforth assuming the role of "actor and author." The role of the artist in the political movement is thus conceived in self-sacrificial terms. For CRAC, artists would fulfill their revolutionary potential only in yielding up that which identifies them as artists.
Still, CRAC's call for the elimination of a distinct artistic identity did not amount to a repudiation of culture per se, but only rejected the alienated form that it assumed in capitalist society. Other groups took a more stringent view of how to realize the utopian longings invested in art. Principal among these was the Comité d'action révolutionnaire (CAR), the driving force behind the most visible intervention into the cultural sphere, the occupation of the Odéon theater from mid-May to mid-June. The "conspirators" who planned the takeover of the Odéon had been inspired by the rapid escalation of the student protests after 3 May, which seemed to render older forms of artistic action obsolete. Jean-Louis Brau, erstwhile member of the lettrist movement, summarized the motivation behind CAR's actions: "The night of the barricades ... confirmed the necessity of abandoning the freelance actions they had hitherto employed, of abandoning their place within the culture industry, to engage in an insurrectional act, in an act of war." After considering a number of possible targets for their action-the Louvre, the Comédie Française, and the Académie Française-the group settled upon the Odéon, in part for tactical reasons (its location in the Latin Quarter, the heart of student unrest), in part for symbolic reasons, on account of its status as a state-operated theater.
On the night of 15 May CAR, along with a contingent of students from the Sorbonne, descended upon the theater following a performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Troupe. The Odéon was immediately declared a "tribune libre," with a poster hung at the entrance announcing to passersby that "imagination takes power at the ex-Odéon theater. Entry is free." The following morning those present in the hall voted on a motion declaring that the Odéon would henceforth cease operating as a theater and become instead "a meeting place for workers, students, and artists, a permanent assembly of revolutionary creativity, a site for uninterrupted political meetings." The aim was to create an open forum where all were welcome to voice their ideas, hopes, and grievances. Realizing this goal required that the organization of the theater be subverted. Rather than segregating the assembly into two halves-one granted the privilege of speech, the other denied it-everybody present would be recognized as a potential actor. In this way the social relations inscribed in the layout of the auditorium would be dissolved. As one witness to the happenings at the Odéon would later put it, "No more barriers between actors and public, between authors and spectators, everyone will have the possibility of expressing their desires and of actively participating in the elaboration of a new culture." To prevent the architecture of the hall from reinstating such barriers, a microphone was placed in the middle of an aisle, divesting the proscenium stage of its status as the focus of dramatic action.
Insofar as theatrical space provided both a metaphor and embodiment of the social hierarchies that CAR sought to overthrow, its inversion represented a potent act of political symbolism. But even as the figure of the theater became a way of framing, and thus comprehending, the social divisions contested by the May movement, the occupation of the Odéon further suggested that art's role in the movement did not reside in its subordination to utilitarian ends. Quite the opposite. Rather than looking to art as a vehicle for the transmission of revolutionary ideals, creative impulses were to be desublimated, lived and experienced directly. As was the case with CRAC, the legacy of the historic avant-garde informed the project adopted by CAR. The transcendence of art was cast as a necessary stage in overcoming alienation in society as a whole. According to Patrick Ravignant's "insider account" of the takeover of the Odéon, CAR's denunciation of art was predicated on a Marxist-humanist ideal of the "total person," "a vision of the integrated, reintegrated man, a man without specializations, without abstract specifications: no more intellectuals, no more artists, no more manual laborers, no more of the cultural or noncultural; simply man and life.... It is in this sense that they [members of CAR] cry 'Down with art! Down with culture!' That is to say: 'Down with art separated from life! Down with culture separated from life!'" Even more so than CRAC, CAR advocated the dissolution of the artist as a specific social identity. But the utopian image of the total person that drove CAR's project went even farther, calling for the dissolution of any and every socioprofessional category into the ideal of the fully realized individual. With the attainment of "reintegrated man" (to use the masculinist language of Ravignant), identity itself would be transcended.
In abstract terms, the image of the reintegrated person was at best inspiring, at worst innocuous. After all, who could object to individuals realizing the multiple facets of their personality? Yet the actors employed at the Odéon did not look kindly upon CAR's occupation of the theater. Their objections to the takeover were twofold. First, a number of actors contended that the Odéon was a "progressive" theater, with a deserved reputation for staging avant-garde or engaged plays, and as such should be respected, not denounced (let alone occupied). But from the perspective of CAR, such displays of political commitment, however sincere they may have been, still had to pass through a medium-that of theatrical representation-which froze "revolutionary impulses" and prevented them from "being expressed freely at the level of life, of quotidian reality." Moreover, the fact that the Odéon was subsidized by the French state allowed the latter to present itself as a tolerant and benign regime: "People later reproached the occupiers for having struck at one of the most progressive theaters, run by a 'man of the left,' they pointed to the staging of Genet's The Screens, an anticolonialist play, etc. Yet it is precisely because of Barrault and The Screens that the Odéon was chosen, because-as the occupiers would say-[they] are the façade, the liberal mask of power." While perfectly consistent with the logic of CAR's position, the polemic leveled against Barrault, Genet, and the Odéon can also be seen as an opportunistic maneuver, a way of discrediting competitors within the cultural field. In the context of the art world's intramural rivalries, the call to forsake art would constitute the ultimate move, the highest possible bid one could advance to demonstrate one's radicalism. Within a market of symbolic goods that rewarded both avowals of political commitment and the adoption of extreme ideological positions, the abandonment of art for sake of the revolution was a gesture that promised to accrue no small amount of symbolic capital.
The second objection to the occupation came from the unionized employees of the Odéon, a group comprising actors, stagehands, and support personnel. These professionals felt that it was they, and not some freelance cell of agitators, who possessed the right to occupy the premises. In making this argument, union members pointed to the fact that they themselves were workers, laborers within a branch of the culture industry. As such, they were engaged in the same struggle as the students and workers. This line of argument fell on deaf ears. CAR's stringent anti-aestheticism made them unsympathetic to such reconceptualizations of the artist along workerist lines. The rejection of art as a specialized field of activity trumped all other considerations, a point forcefully made by one of CAR's members in responding to the arguments of the Odéon's actors: "Isn't it monstrously unjust to expect some groups of the privileged few to blossom, leaving the masses passive, completely devoid of creation and expression? ... If you want to perform, then go in the street or anywhere and improvise, help people to express themselves, to create, to cease being slaves of advertising and gadgetry! You have something very important to do; but it no longer involves performing on stages, in front of a docile and servile public."
CAR's rejection of the actors' position was likely bolstered by the contempt that the extreme left held for the trade unions, which were deemed more interested in pursuing corporatist objectives than revolutionary ones. But the main problem, from CAR's perspective, lay in the fact that the professional status of actors was dependent upon the existence of a craft standard that set the "true artist" apart from amateurs and spectators. Artists' identity as cultural workers is, in this formulation, founded upon an illegitimate act of expropriation: having usurped the capacity for cultural production, they were able to profit-both materially and symbolically-from their exclusive claim to the honorific title of artist. Just as the students who sang "The Internationale" encountered resistance to their attempt to refashion themselves as political agents, artists who characterized themselves as workers saw their efforts to construct a more acceptable political identity for themselves rebuffed.