Alain Krivine 2018

Oral History Interview with Alain Krivine

Source: Oral history interview for May Made Me by Mitchell Abidor;
Recorded and translated: by Mitchell Abidor.

The following is the complete interview with Alain Krivine for May Made Me: An Oral History of the Uprising in France of 1968, published by Pluto Press in the UK and AK in the US. Much of the material here was edited out for reasons of space in the final book.

I come from an apolitical family, members of absolutely nothing. My mother, like so many bourgeois women of the time didn’t work, she stayed home and raised the children. My father was a dentist and both of them were on the left; sometimes they voted Socialist and sometimes they voted Communist, but more often PCF, because at the time being on the left meant voting Communist.

I had five brothers, two of them now dead, all of them older than me ,except for my twin. All were members of the Socialist youth who moved on to the Communist youth. So I was raised by left-wing parents and communist brothers. So I continued along that track, joining the Communist children’s organization, and then the UJRF, the ancestor of the Communist Youth. In 1957 I was sent to Moscow for the Youth Festival thanks to my being the best salesman of the party paper. I was a Stalinist then, but things were already beginning to turn, since while I was there I met some Algerians from the FLN, and arranged meetings between Communists and people from the Algerian underground. The latter criticized the Communists for their vote granting special powers to the government and their opposition to Algerian independence. So the party reprimanded me, and I thought they were right: I was already something of a gauchiste. So we wouldn’t have any problems with the police, when we left Moscow the PCF people took away from me all the gifts I'd been given by the Algerians, and in exchange they gave me necklaces given by the Soviets for free so we could sell them at the Fête de L'Humanité.

When I got home, I was still a member of the young Communists with a brother who was a Trotskyist, though he kept this from us, since at the time you joined Trotskyist groups in secrecy. I told him that I wanted to engage in underground activity in support of Algeria, but that I didn’t want to have anything to do with Trotskyists. He asked me why I gave a damn about that, and I told him they were all enemies. He introduced me to a professor who was a part of Jeune Resistance, which I secretly joined. So I was a member of the UEC at the Sorbonne while at the same time a clandestine member of Jeune Resistance, clandestine in regard to the PCF as well, which didn’t want to directly support the FLN.

I soon found myself the leader of the Guevarist opposition within the UEC, and before long we were expelled from the UEC and the PC. After the expulsion we formed the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire (JCR), which would play an important role in May ’68 and be banned in June ’68. When the party was banned, I was arrested and then sent to do my military service, at which point we formed the Ligue Communiste which was dissolved in ’73 after a violent anti-fascist action, and then we created the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) in order to be legalized. I was twice candidate for the presidency. And then five years ago we founded NPA.

Did your Jewish origins play any role in your activities?

Partially. I was never a believer, but I come from a family that was somewhat believing. My grandmother took me to temple when I was little. You know that among the Jews if there are 2,000 women you need 13 men.

Ten men

Ten men in order for services to begin. This is where my insolence and my impertinence come from. My grandmother was very Jewish, observing Yom Kippur, etc. My parents not at all, except for Yom Kippur, which they observed just to show they were Jews. But there were people in my family who were executed by the Nazis. This marked me more on the level of anti-Semitism than Semitism, that is, I was raised against anti-Semitism and I'd seen its consequences. I had an aunt who was deported and I was always shocked when I'd see the numbers tattooed on her arm. That marked me some, but not a lot. I was always anti-religious. And something like the Manouchian Group touched me mainly because they were foreigners, foreigners who were with the communists and who died for France.

OK, so let’s talk about the events. How did you and your group react in March to the events at Nanterre?

We had a connection there through Daniel Bensaid, who was a professor at Nanterre. So we very quickly had connection with the people there, but also through one of our comrades, Xavier Langlade, who was the one who planted the tiny bomb at American Express in protest against the Vietnam War that set off the events at Nanterre.

Didn’t planting bombs run counter to your Marxist ideas?

A bomb... It was a little thing intended to break windows. And anyway, we were all gauchistes so we thought it was fine. So Langlade was arrested and Bensaid served as our intermediary, a member of the leadership of the March 22. We were the Trotskyist wing and Cohn-Bendit was the anarchist wing. There were debates - sometimes violent ones. We followed it all very closely and the discussions revolved around anarchist self-organization, about delegates and their revocability, over the General Assemblies. All of this was began rather harshly, and so we rented the Mutualité for a big meeting and held a debate over these issues between Bensaid and Cohn-Bendit. All of this shows that we had strong ties to Nanterre and the March 22 Movement, which brought everyone together. I was at the Sorbonne, Bensaid and Langlade at Nanterre, and then there occurred the events we all know about, the closing of Nanterre, the closing of the Sorbonne.

It seems to me that it was the anarchists who won the debates.

It’s hard to say. Globally yes, because every movement that came out of May had a spontaneist character.

Every day at the Sorbonne - not at Nanterre, which was closed - there were General Assemblies with 2000 people. There were all the street demos. The crowds would ask “Where should we go?” What a mess it was. But globally yes, it was all more Cohn-Bendit than Bensaid, with all the assembles and the lack of elected delegates. Whoever shouted loudest won, whoever had a mic., or whoever had the stewards...

When it all began in May you were working part-time, weren’t you?

It’s hard to explain. I was working part-time at Hachette publishing as secretary of the editorial committee, a job I got it through my father in law, the journalist Gilles Martinet. So when everything began I was working there, and I left Hachette without even saying “good-bye.” I just upped and left. They even paid me for three months even though I was no longer coming to work, which was quite nice of them. But when I left I went right to the Sorbonne and there I stayed throughout the period.

You were there when the first disturbances occurred in 3 May?

Oh yes. On 3 May, when the cops occupied the Sorbonne, and I was at the barricades of 10 May with Ernest Mandel, who had come down from Belgium. On rue Gay-Lussac we had a sympathizer who ran a travel agency where we held clandestine meetings in the basement. So all through that night I would go out, come back, go out, come back... And there were barricades that were a joke: There was a side to it all that was an imitation of the Paris Commune. They put up stupid barricades, sometimes in an impasse where there was nothing behind it. We constructed barricades, we cut down trees, we played at being Communards of 1871. And at one and the same time there were two things, the new social movements and the old political ones, which met in May ’68. There were artists, there was “make love not war"... It was a mess. But it mattered even so.

So the night the barricades went up we took shelter in the Ecole Normales Superieure (ENS) on rue d'Ulm, which was led by the Maoists, by Robert Linhart... The people there took us in, even if we were Trotskyists. They greeted us fraternally. They weren’t involved in the fights, but they did so out of solidarity. We also had the arrival en masse of the Lambertists, another Trotskyist sect, coming from a meeting at the Mutualité shouting “General Strike!” They saw there were nothing but students, so they left and went home to go to sleep. A couple of days later there was a general strike, but they didn’t understand that it was the barricades that set off the strikes and not their workerist stupidity.

So I saw all this, I was there, the rue Gay Lussac, the trees cut down, the burning cars...

The Latin Quarter was a middle class neighborhood, not at all working class, people with good salaries, but I saw people... for example, there was a guy who asked, “Is that my car burning? No big deal.” He didn’t give a damn.

Did people talk about the Paris Commune?

No, it was rather something that was felt. The whole story of the barricades was nothing but a mess. Like all the nights of May ’68.We always decided at the last minute what we were going to do. But there the idea was that the police are occupying the Sorbonne so we're going to occupy the police. We're going to do like our ancestors: we're going to put up barricades.

Now, people are wrong when they say that the women’s movement came in May, it came after, but even so there were plenty of women at the barricades. They played a tremendous role, and the women’s movement was born after May ’68, because of May ’68, but not in ’68. In the film Mourir à Trente ans, about the life of Recanati, we see the role of the women, and it’s entirely secondary, they're there to serve, to listen. It’s not a normal role. There’s no equality, there was not a single well-known woman in ’68, there’s Cohn-Bendit, Sauvageot, Geismar, me to a certain extent, but not a single woman.

At the General Assemblies...

I was with the leadership, we met every single day at the offices of the UNEF on the rue Gay Lussac. There was one person per organization and I represented the JCR.

Who else was there?

There was Geismar, Cohn-Bendit, Sauvageot, and others who were less well known. We were all there but frankly the political discussion were at level zero. We discussed what we were going to do that night or the next day and no further than that. When we spoke individually we recognized there were enormous cleavages, between Cohn-Bendit and the Maoists - between them it was virtually civil war – while for our part we were sceptical because with our Marxist-Trotskyist education, we didn’t know what it was, but we knew what it wasn’t: we knew it wasn’t a revolution. How far could it go? [dismissive noise]. We pushed things, we pushed things...

Towards what?

We had to push things as far as possible so there'd be a general strike, an insurrection.

So you thought it possible.

Oh no! we didn’t believe in it. First because we saw that it was only the students, and then when the workers came - and I realized this later -when they were there it was strictly physical and not political. I remember the march on Renault during the general strike. We were at the Sorbonne, there was an AG [General Assembly] with everyone braying, and I said ok, let’s go to Renault, at which point everyone applauded. “We're going to see the workers!” And anytime a worker spoke it didn’t matter, he could be a drunk, lumpen, it was the token worker, a few stray workers, it was pitiful: the students were all excited. I proposed we go visit a factory that was on strike, everyone shouts “Bravo!” and a few thousand of us go there. When we got there the workers were happy to see us, but they distrusted us. They stayed behind their windows: it was the CGT that completely controlled everything. Afterwards there were common worker-student demos but we didn’t have the same slogans: they had theirs, we had ours. There was never any real connection with them. There were many places where there were Strike Committees, but they were fake: they were really inter-union committees, I think there were real strike committees at Saclay, and that wasn’t even workers, it was mainly technicians. Everywhere else they were called Strike Committees but they weren’t actual ones. They gave out coupons so people could go to stores and purchase food, but it was all run by union bureaucrats. May ’68 was both a beginning and an end, it was a conglomeration of new and the old traditions, of old groups like the PCF and the CGT which were very strong, and new groups like us and like Cohn-Bendit and the anarchists. It was the junction of two generations, the old and the new. This applies to the slogans and the forms of demonstration as well. In all cases we find both. That’s why this was a beautiful transition. That’s it, it was a transition.

When you spoke at the Sorbonne were you well received?

Yes, but that was the democratic side of the Sorbonne. Every political party had a stand in the courtyard. We had Che Guevara’s mug and the red flag, and everyone tolerated everyone else. The only ones that weren’t were when they came, the toughs, what were they called?

The katangais?

When they came we didn’t know what to make of them. Were they on our side, weren’t they? They were toughs, apolitical... We were all against them when they arrived at the Sorbonne. Apart from that, at the Sorbonne there was every political group, people who were from our party, others, many of whom would later play an important role like Marc Kravetz. There were the AG, everyone listened quietly... As far as I remember it was a great democracy. And then there were the artists who met, people like Michel Piccoli, who did their thing, but there was no connection between us, I mean, I had no connections: they didn’t come see us and we didn’t go see them, but we respected them. I was good friends with Piccoli, and he would say to me “I have to stop acting now, I have to go be a militant like you,” and I'd tell him don’t be an ass, don’t be like Sartre, standing on a barrel at the Renault factory...It was just stupid. Piccoli was a good actor and he should remain an actor. These artists, it didn’t last very long, but while it did they questioned everything, including themselves, they questioned the entertainment industry. There was a nice side to this, but then there was also the side... [dismissive wave]. A slightly crazy side to it.

Who did you spend your days with?

Well, every day I was at the Sorbonne, there were the AGs, the meetings of the UNEF, the JCR stand where I would sit and discuss issues with people. This went on all day and I never slept in my own home.

You didn’t see much of your family during all this.

Very little. I was married and me and my wife had an apartment in the Latin Quarter, a little place that had been given me, but during the time hardly I slept there.. I was at the Sorbonne all the time and seldom saw my family. Seldom... Then we lived in the 9th arrondissement, where my family also lived. Once I was arrested at 2:00 in the morning when I wanted to see my family; the cops picked me up along with some other people, and held me for a few hours, and that made quite an impression on my family, but I saw very little of them. We were totally caught up in what we were doing, devoured by it: there were demos every day and every evening we met at Denfert-Rocherot to decide where we were going next. What a mess...

But at the time did you think it was a mess? It must have been exciting.

Oh yes, it was exciting, but at the same time, since I was young but old all the same through my Trotskyist ideas, we knew that the conditions weren’t in place. We led the thing more or less, but with Mandel we knew... I mean, we knew the conditions weren’t right. There was a side to it that was completely ridiculous: we built barricades but the barricades had nothing to do with the Paris Commune. The police arrive, they destroyed the barricade and throw us out. It’s hard to explain... We watched it without believing in it too much. Cohn-Bendit, I knew him then and again at the European parliament, I didn’t take him too seriously and he was always on the radio - there was no TV so we all listened to the radio, and he was everywhere, at the doors of the Sorbonne, everywhere. And then afterwards when we wondered what are we going to do, the Maoists wanted to continue, but they were alone in wanting to go on, with their “The working class is going to awaken.” [Dismissive gesture]. We attacked the gauchistes, things like Action Directe, saying they were ridiculous. The working class is what it is, then there was the PCF, the CGT, and within them there was very little opposition, that would come much later. The members accepted everything, calling us “gauchistes,” “German Jew,” all that.

Cohn-Bendit amused you?

Yes, but at the same time I took him seriously. “Nous sommes tous des juifs allemands,” I found that fantastic. But I didn’t believe in it too much. It was the students who shouted that, not the workers. I could feel there was no connection. We marched with the workers but there was no connection.

So physically you occupied the same space...

The same space, and the workers saw that with the students the demos would be rough, and they thought that was great; it was different from the union bureaucrats, and they loved it. Fighting the cops, not allowing themselves to be had, that was good. But no more than that. And when power was vacant, when DeGaulle had left the country and hundreds of thousands of workers marched chanting “Power to the People” everyone laughed. I knew it was ridiculous. Power to who? Parliament was empty, the building was empty and it was guarded by three cops. And people were shouting power to the workers, power to the workers. It was all very nice, but there were no committees, the PCF didn’t want power, there was the meeting with Mendès-France at Charlety, I was invited, and then there was a meeting with Mendès-France and Mitterrand that I was invited to and I refused to go.


Because I knew it was ridiculous. For me Mendès-France and Mitterrand were shit. I went to Charlety because we were part of the movement, but none of us thought we were an alternative because we were too small. Mendès-France and Mitterrand could be an alternative, but for us it was a bad one. There were small groups among the students and the workers, but there was really nothing. We had our token worker who we'd bring out. We had maybe twenty workers. There were some of us who spoke about and wrote about soviets, but I don’t even bother mentioning it, because we had almost no influence. Among the students yes, but not among the workers. Even if in Saint-Nazaire there were strikes that were pretty radical, I know that elsewhere they were set off by workers who were especially radical, like SAVIEM, but we had nothing to do with it. We gathered information about them and we were told they were “worker-peasants,” that many of them came from the countryside, which perhaps explains why the bureaucrats didn’t succeed in implanting themselves. But for our part we had absolutely nothing, I have to tell the truth.

But when you watch films of you at the time you seem to really be in the events, to really believe in it.

Well, yeah, I believed, and I was totally in it, but there was always this tiny doubt that this wasn’t the socialist revolution. That’s why when others said it was I had no trouble saying no, and I immediately knew that it was ‘no.’ Even though I was gauchiste at the time I didn’t see the working class following us. And so when we said, or Cohn-Bendit or Geismar said “Power to the People” the workers said, “What are you, nuts?” After all, I came from the Communist Party which had strong ties with the workers, the PCF was still strong at the time, so I knew the workers. I remember when a year later I ran for president and we went to the Renault factory I was greeted with boos and catcalls. And they were right! I was there, standing on a car, surrounding by comrades and the workers insulted me, and they were right to do so.

But what did you think at the time?

That I provoke them, that they were Stalinists, and that I was right to be there. The PCF had 2000 members there and we had nothing, maybe two or three. So there I was on the car, surrounded by the stewards, and the others chanted “Fascism Will Not Pass.”

But I saw in Mourir à 30 ans there was a scene of a huge meeting...

Sure, students and professors. Later on, much later, some workers started coming, but back then there was nothing. We would take the ones we had and show them off, but it was ridiculous.

What kind of effect did the general strike of May 13 have on you?

It was fantastic, but I still didn’t believe.


Even when De Gaulle left to go to Germany, and then when he called for elections and the PCF accepted them, I didn’t believe at the time and I still don’t know. Everyone said elections are a piege a con [a trap for fools], and at that time the elections were truly a trap. We never should have accepted them: by doing it we had the movement enter the parliamentary road when it was the extra-parliamentary road that was positive. Parliament played no role for 2/3 of the events, to such a point that it wasn’t even guarded and nobody even wanted to occupy it. We didn’t give a damn about it. But anyway, at no point was there a working class movement, even if they said they had to defend the students.

When you started to fight against the war in Algeria there were few of you; the JCR too was small. Suddenly, you're in front of hundreds of thousands of people. How was that?

Well remember that I began with the Communists, and we distributed tracts and newspapers, so I was used to having contact with people. But in a non-revolutionary period people don’t read the tracts, they couldn’t care less and throw them out or don’t read them, but then when there’s a great movement they take the tracts and read them. Everything changes: We are all German Jews, not a single student thought then and then, bam! Or there’s a general strike or an insurrection, and suddenly the students take up slogans that they had once thought stupid. That’s how I describe a revolutionary period.

Did you feel like a rock star? I mean, suddenly your name is everywhere.

No, but when I felt the change was before May. We had a small demonstration in support of Rudi Dutschke in front of the German embassy, and everything was going nicely, the cops in their kepis, and suddenly, boom! The demonstrators flip over the tables in the cafes, throw beer bottles at the cops, and a friend said to me “What’s going on? I don’t recognize the student movement anymore.” It had been nice and pleasant and then... So that gave me an idea that something big was going on, there was a sudden radicalization is support of Rudi Dutschke. But afterwards...As for me, known? No I wasn’t well known. During the events a little bit, but it was mainly Cohn-Bendit, Geismar, and Sauvageot. Those were the big three. Sauvageot the theoretician, Geismar the loudmouth and Cohn-Bendit the comedian. I spoke less than them, but yes, people listened to us, and they didn’t care if you were a Trotskyist or not. All you had to say was “Revolution,” “Internationalism,” all the usual slogans was what they wanted to hear. “The Working Class.” “Down with the Cops.” “CRS SS blah blah blah...” That made everyone happy; everyone applauded

But you yourself said all these things.

Sure, I said plenty of stupid things. The thing is you're carried along by all this without really believing in it. That’s what’s terrible and it’s difficult to avoid. Now we very quickly said that this wasn’t IT, that it was a first step towards it, but we were wrong in that too. Plenty of foolishness without believing in it too much. This was a big difference between us and Cohn-Bendit during the events: he really believed in it. And the Maoists, they weren’t involved in the events but they believed more than we did. But we, because we were truly in it and were real activists, we didn’t think so. We knew the students, we were connected to them; there was nothing but students gathered at the Sorbonne, and everyone knew me, when I showed up everyone greeted me, but outside, no, I wasn’t well-known. I was never on TV, I spoke very little on the radio, so I didn’t make much use of the media. Speeches, yes, but not all that many. Yes for some of the big demos, but that was easy, since it was our stewards that were everywhere. It was all pretty manipulative: if you had a stewards that managed the mic, you got the mic. You would have thousands of students demonstrating at Denfert-Rochereau and it was fantastic, but it was a caricature of democracy.

So would you say there was a theatrical aspect to it all?

No, we thought there was an extraordinary movement: I'd never seen anything like that in my whole life except in books, so I was enthusiastic. We saw people cutting down trees and our group, a few hundred, we would wonder, where’s this going? We knew where it wasn’t going, and that it wasn’t a revolution; there was nothing there that we'd learned in the school of Marxism, the working class, a party.

You didn’t think it might leave the Marxist schemas behind?

No, hardly. It was revolt and not a revolution.

But there were hundreds of thousands of people on the streets, there were strikes everywhere...If May ’68 wasn’t the moment, when would it be?

I agree completely. There were red flags everywhere, and the workers were out on strike, but they remained behind their union leaders. And when the students were attacked they didn’t agree with it, but most of them thought the students were all gauchistes, they're no workers like us, and I felt there was a gap. Maybe I felt it because I came from the PCF, but there was a gap between the workers and the students; there was never a junction.

You never felt that this was our chance and we missed the train?

It’s the experience at Renault. There were 30,000 workers at Renault and when I saw how we were received when we went there, barely applauded, that brought me back down to earth.

So how do you remain hopeful? You've carried on for decades.

True, but there are many who gave up. But me? I was always a communist, I've believed since I was a child. I left communism from the left because of the war in Algeria, I was never a theoretician. Then I was a clandestine member of the 4th International... for me it was my upbringing.

But the others...

My brothers remained Trotskyists until their death, while the others, like Weber, left on tiptoes, never writing a resignation letter. He left us and joined the PS, he has a fabulous apartment in the Latin Quarter, but before he did that he came to live with me in St. Denis and he'd stand in front of supermarkets giving immigrant women flowers. He’s a friend still, but he doesn’t bother fooling with me because he knows it doesn’t work. Sauvageot, he’s aged so much that I didn’t even recognize him. At least he’s stayed on the left. Geismar became a minister. And Cohn-Bendit, he’s a first class schemer... At the European parliament he would still use the old gauchiste formulas... It didn’t surprise me, I was never his friend.

Was 1968 1905?

We put out a book calling it a dress rehearsal. I understand all the weaknesses of May ’68 - no party that was well implanted, no radical unions, no self-organization: I saw all that was lacking and that must be done. So on the one hand today things are better, since parties no longer play a role, the students all have jobs so they no longer are told when you see a worker you should embrace him, and people are more revolted than they were in ’68: they've had it up to here, but on the other hand, the working class is stronger than before but more divided than before, what with part-time workers, the unemployed, those whose jobs aren’t certain, they all have different salaries and they don’t have the feeling that they belong to the same class. The working classes are in a state of ruin and we haven’t been able to replace them. And people no longer believe. They're revolted, but they no longer believe. I still believe, but it’s really tough, but many of our comrades in the NPA are discouraged and no longer believe either. I still go out selling the party paper on Sundays, and everyone knows me. There was an African immigrant who said to me there are two good people in France Marine [Le Pen] and the postal worker [Olivier Bensancenot]. I told him, what are you, nuts? Marine is against the immigrants. And he said to me: “The gypsies are shits.”

Let’s talk about the Gaullist demo on the Champs Elysée. Had you thought France was behind you?

I was shocked by the numbers. Not that there was a demo: I was surprised there hadn’t already been one. And this demo changed people’s attitudes. The guy who had said that it was alright that his car be set on fire now said to me, I'm voting for the guy who protects my car. And this was normal: the working class was defeated and so the middle class voted for those who would protect them. It was normal: we'd failed, and now we were going to pay for it.

After Grenelle you must have been disenchanted.

No, that took a while. There was some delay in the workers returning to work... But there was no opposition within the PCF, that came a few years later, and it’s only now that they're beginning to say they were wrong in May. In May they were out there singing the Internationale, but the student, blech, the gauchistes, blech, Cohn-Bendit, blech...

Do you think that May was the beginning of the end of the PCF?

Not exactly. It was a combination of things. We have to go back to ’56, the invasion of Hungary. I defended the PCF when their offices were attacked in ’56, and in ’68 we see the same phenomenon: the members form a bloc behind the leadership. But to say the crisis began in ’68... I think it began after the 20th congress of the CPSU since they were so tied to the USSR. My brother went to East Germany, I went to the Soviet Union, my brother had a portrait of Rakosci in his bedroom! I was fascinated on the way there, and when they told us Khrushchev is waiting for you at the stadium, it was all so fantastic. This is where we see the ambiguity of Stalinism, on the one had there are all the horrors, and on the other the connection with the masses. There was both of them, otherwise you don’t understand anything. It was the second element that tempted us.

Didn’t it frustrate you that the workers didn’t listen to you?

Absolutely, especially since I came from the PCF, it really annoyed me. But already, when I was expelled from the PCF, that really did something to me. I was summoned to the Central Committee and there was the guy who said “I officially announce that you're expelled,” The PCF was my family, and I understood why they expelled me, but it really bothered me. The cell was my friends, and at that time when you were expelled you were expelled: people no longer spoke to you. And it was perhaps because we knew the Communist Party, it’s nastiness, that allowed us to stick it out.

May ’68 failed, so it failed. But you have to rebel, even if you fail.

When the JCR was dissolved what did you do?

Well, there was a press conference announcing we were banned, they arrested me, sent me to the army, based in Germany, I was proposed as candidate for the presidency. All the leftist groups were banned - except the Lambertists. I found all of it entirely normal. We'd failed and now there was the repression and we were paying. I was arrested with my wife. I was living underground; we'd arranged to meet in front of my high school and the police were there and poof! So I was sent to prison, but there’s no reason to carry on about it: I wasn’t tortured or anything. And then they sent me to the army after a month.

That’s what the police prefect said. He said to me, “Thanks to you everything went well.” For our part, violence for violence’s sake, we're against it. I know that our stewards protected an armory near the Gare de l'Est against anarchists, or gauchistes or I don’t know who that wanted to rob an armory. But they were crazy: the people weren’t ready for that. We weren’t against mass violence, but individual violence... It was ridiculous. So we posted 200, maybe 150 comrades in front of the armory and we fought to keep them from taking the weapons. It would have been madness. Had we been in Mexico there would have been deaths, but laughingly I even told the prefect that they didn’t act like that. There were hundreds of wounded, there was the night of the barricades which set off the strikes, there were demos, but they never fired into the crowd. Never. On our side there were the barricades, the burning cars, we had hundreds of wounded, but no one ever died during the demos. At the ends there was Tautin. But globally, the movement, given its breadth, could have been much more violent. I think we played a role in this, I mean the stewards of the JCR. Had we not been there it might have been like Italy later. We never had the Red Brigades, we never had the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and I think it’s because we on the far left always opposed groups like Action Direct and did so immediately. We were in solidarity with them but opposed to them - we opposed the Maoists when they engaged in their stupidity around Tautin and all that, and this played a role. That’s why they failed so miserably, the Gauche Prolétarienne. It was tiny group, a few dozen students, it was ridiculous. And this helped us to grow afterwards, because we were never discredited. Baader we were against though we were in solidarity, the Red Brigades... Someone told me there were 30,000 people involved in the Red Brigades, and there were even factory workers..

Did you ever have 30,000 members?

No, never. We never had as many as we have now. When we created the NPA we had 8,000 members, when we began the JCR we had 300, and at the end of ’68 we had 800 or 900. Later we grew to 2,000. Today the NPA has less than 3,000.

What changed in you after May?

Personally, nothing. A little bit of regret that I didn’t take more care of my children. It doesn’t cause me any pain now because I have excellent relations with my daughters; they're grown and we have an excellent relationship. It’s also true that I didn’t take very much care of my wife either. She accepted it, but there was a distribution of tasks that was completely unequal. On the political level I regret nothing. We did stupid things, to be sure, but I remain every bit as much of a militant as before. What I'm happy about is that I knew - something I'll never see again - an enormous explosion. And that’s what allows me to reject those who only remember from May ’68 only the sexual revolution. I remember the general strike. It’s Trotsky who said – and it’s the only thing I recall from him from memory – during a revolution people become unrecognizable in their daily life And that’s exactly what I saw. I saw people talking to each other on the street, people you would pass every day and never say hello and then everyone was talking to everyone. On the Metro too everyone talked. It was fantastic. You never drove alone, you picked people up and took them, it was absurd to be alone. People became unrecognizable. I never saw it before and never saw it again.

And France...

I think here we can talk about the sexual revolution. It permitted the women’s movement later on, and the gay movement. There are assholes who demonstrated against it, but there’s also the recognition of gays and gay marriage. All this is really important. May freed all this up, but later.

It was a social revolt, not a revolution. A cultural revolution that would later become, thanks to the social revolt, something that left its traces.

On the political level for decades no one dared put May ’68 in question, not our parents, not the grandparents. It was Sarkozy who was the first to dare say it was shit. No one dared do this before him, even on the right. Now May is demonized.

And there was the revolt of the artists. That was the time when I knew so many artists and my address book was enormous, but now... (shows me a not-bulging phonebook) I even hid at Piccoli’s house in ’68 when he was living with Juliette Greco. We maintained close relations and this would serve us in good stead when we were banned again in 1973.

But I think that after May there was an industrial revolution that served to liberate morals, but in a limited way. You have gay rights and Trump, we have Le Pen.

But there’s a forgetfulness. When it comes to the young there are times when they ask us “Grandpa, tell me your stories,” and others when it’s “Oh, leave us alone with all that stuff.” When they say it was shit, it failed, stop hassling me...

And your grandchildren?

They're a little politicized. “Grandpa, tell me about it...”

But in every country there’s a forgetting. Memories remain for a few years, and if conditions change the memories fly out the window.

There are those who say “we have to make a ’68 that wins” and I answer it’s like pissing in the wind. You tell people this and they go “yeah, yeah...” So we have the impression there was no ’68. And even those like me, who lived it, talk less and less about it. They have fond memories of it, but it’s far from their concerns. When you fail there’s an amnesia, and for the masses there’s a disappointment that leads them to go over to the other side.

I've kept, not my physical youth, but my youthful ideas. And history shows I'm right when I say this is a rotten society. People used to think I was crazy when I said I was anti-capitalist. Now they say I'm not crazy, but there’s nothing can be done about it, but that I'm right. That’s something new. And something positive.