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The Beginning of the End: France, May 1968

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In May 1968, France stood on the verge of full-blooded revolution. Here a rhythmic, vivid evocation from eyewitness Angelo Quattrocchi is complemented by Tom Nairn’s cool and elegant appraisal to tell the astonishing story of those heady days. Paris is a seething battlefield of barricades, burning cars and CS gas. De Gaulle’s riot police publicly inform him that their loya In May 1968, France stood on the verge of full-blooded revolution. Here a rhythmic, vivid evocation from eyewitness Angelo Quattrocchi is complemented by Tom Nairn’s cool and elegant appraisal to tell the astonishing story of those heady days. Paris is a seething battlefield of barricades, burning cars and CS gas. De Gaulle’s riot police publicly inform him that their loyalty can no longer be taken for granted. Meanwhile students and millions of young striking workers on the streets raise ideas that had previously been the sole province of radical philosophers: “To forbid is forbidden”; “Be reasonable ... Demand the impossible”; “Freedom is the consciousness of our desires.”


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In May 1968, France stood on the verge of full-blooded revolution. Here a rhythmic, vivid evocation from eyewitness Angelo Quattrocchi is complemented by Tom Nairn’s cool and elegant appraisal to tell the astonishing story of those heady days. Paris is a seething battlefield of barricades, burning cars and CS gas. De Gaulle’s riot police publicly inform him that their loya In May 1968, France stood on the verge of full-blooded revolution. Here a rhythmic, vivid evocation from eyewitness Angelo Quattrocchi is complemented by Tom Nairn’s cool and elegant appraisal to tell the astonishing story of those heady days. Paris is a seething battlefield of barricades, burning cars and CS gas. De Gaulle’s riot police publicly inform him that their loyalty can no longer be taken for granted. Meanwhile students and millions of young striking workers on the streets raise ideas that had previously been the sole province of radical philosophers: “To forbid is forbidden”; “Be reasonable ... Demand the impossible”; “Freedom is the consciousness of our desires.”

30 review for The Beginning of the End: France, May 1968

  1. 4 out of 5

    AZ (Saïd)

    Pour ce qui est des livres qui ont eu l'influence la plus profonde sur mon style d'écriture, ne pas mentionner celui-ci serait un acte criminel. Captivant et passionnant, ce livre parvient à raconter une histoire très compliquée, tout en restant accessible; peu importe si le domaine d'expertise est ou n'est pas ce morceau particulier de l'histoire, je suis d'avis moi que l'on pourrait de toute façon profiter de la lecture de ce livre. Pour ce qui est des livres qui ont eu l'influence la plus profonde sur mon style d'écriture, ne pas mentionner celui-ci serait un acte criminel. Captivant et passionnant, ce livre parvient à raconter une histoire très compliquée, tout en restant accessible; peu importe si le domaine d'expertise est ou n'est pas ce morceau particulier de l'histoire, je suis d'avis moi que l'on pourrait de toute façon profiter de la lecture de ce livre.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Leonard Pierce

    As noted when we talked about John Merriman’s Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune, my reading project for this year, where the only nonfiction I read will be about the Paris Commune of 1871 and the French revolts of May 1968, will begin at the end. Massacre, while an excellent history of the entire Commune, dwells specifically on its violent demise at the hands of Adolphe Thiers and his brutal Versaillais troops. My first book of the year on the events of May ’68, The Beginning of As noted when we talked about John Merriman’s Massacre: The Life and Death of the Paris Commune, my reading project for this year, where the only nonfiction I read will be about the Paris Commune of 1871 and the French revolts of May 1968, will begin at the end. Massacre, while an excellent history of the entire Commune, dwells specifically on its violent demise at the hands of Adolphe Thiers and his brutal Versaillais troops. My first book of the year on the events of May ’68, The Beginning of the End by Angelo Quattrocchi and Tom Nairn, is also a wider telling, but its focus is on the less violent but still tragic downfall of the student/labor uprising, this time because of the clever machinations of Charles DeGaulle and the inertia of the Parti Communiste Français. The former was an organized and intentional slaughter, while the latter was a failure of imagination and will; but both had devastating effects on the left and its ability to seize crucial political moments. Although a slight volume, The Beginning of the End has a lot going for it. As Tariq Ali, ever a reliable chronicler of missed opportunities on the left, explains in his excellent introduction, Quattrocchi and Nairn are near-total opposites, but their accounts of the street battles of Paris that fateful summer are almost perfectly complementary. Quattrocchi was young, closer in age to the student rioters he was covering for Avanti!, the Italian socialist newspaper; his half of the book is enraged, poetic, and violently contemporary, befitting his anarchist politics and his background as a poet. Nairn, an older Scotsman closer in style and temperament to the workers whose simultaneous uprising formed the powerful but often uncomfortable alliance of May ’68, was teaching at the Hornsey College of Art in London when the shit went down and participated in its own notorious shutdown at the same time. His half of the book is regretful, academic, and rigorously historical, much better suited to an academic and Marxist framework. But both provide invaluable, crucially first-hand accounts of a miraculous moment in modern history, when a major Western power very nearly had a massive popular revolution without a shot being fired. It is no secret that I view both the Paris Commune and the May ’68 revolt with something like religious awe. I have always believed that if we are to ever have a good and lasting revolution, it will come the way they came: not out of a void, not unplanned or un-prepared-for, but unexpected, spontaneous, unpredictable, and uncontrollable: the sudden sounding of a voice that had long forgotten itself, speaking on behalf of a whole people, and demanding not just a series of reformist acquiescences, but a total transformation of society from the ground up. I believe, with Rosa Luxemburg, that our victory will come not as a result of academic study or theoretical exercise, but as a result of our presence at a moment of sudden historical upheaval of which we must necessarily be a part — that “in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight we learn how we must fight…that the great masses of the working people first forge from their own consciousness, from their own belief, and even from their own understanding, the weapons of their own liberation.” But it is also no secret that I know how precious, how tenuous, and how maddeningly difficult this process can be, and how easily it can fall apart, and how the enemies of equality and liberation are forever waiting patiently for one mistake, any mistake, that they can exploit to tear what we have made to pieces. It’s for this reason that I’m more invested in Quattrocchi’s manically beautiful half of the book than Nairn’s account, dry and bitter like vermouth. Nairn’s work is obviously the more intellectually accomplished and mature contribution, and he has moments of stunning clarity especially in his historical comparisons; his work on nationalism is not always convincing, but he does a fine job here of laying out exactly why things happened the way they did in France, and why they didn’t happen (and probably couldn’t have happened) anywhere else the same way, and what that all means for the future. The book wouldn’t exist without him, or at least it wouldn’t be nearly as compelling. But he is suffused with a pessimism that borders on cynicism, and his deep dives into the policies and conflicts between the warring left factions of the time can be a bit enervating. If his attitude towards the whole affair seems perpetually on the verge of defeatism, it’s understandable; he had just gotten canned from his teaching job because of his participation in the occupation of Hornsey. But in retrospect, it reads less like the work of a revolutionary and more like a man who was looking for an excuse to minimize the importance of what he’d seen. Quattrocchi’s section, on the other hand, is pure juice, nothing but adrenaline and acceleration, all gas, no brakes. He alone seems radically aware that what is happening is both a political revolution and a social one (it failed as the former and succeeded as the latter). He was on the ground for the whole show, and while less than 300 miles separates Paris and London, his proximity makes all the difference. His telling of the story is immediate, exhausted, and full of spite: for the cops who so casually brutalize their own people, for the political figures who cadge around for petty advantages when total transformation is within reach, for DeGaulle, “the eternal shit, the canaille“. And, with urgency and clarity, from the middle of a beehive of activity, of people fighting desperately to protect what they have built overnight while engaging in the creation of an entirely new reality at the same time, he sees the cracks in the structure that will eventually break open and let DeGaulle and his cops and the political opportunists come pouring in. Both men saw the rise and the fall of a stunning experiment in reshaping the world, from only a slight distance in geography and perspective. Both narrate its heartbreaking demise in an incredibly compelling way, full of important lessons to us; we are only fifty years removed, but we are also a long and eventful century away. The Beginning of the End may prove to be just what its title promises, but if we read its cautions and keep our eyes forever open for those rare and magnificent historical moments, it may be exactly the opposite.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    Angelo Quattrocchi's half was a solid five stars, but Tom Nairn's essay dragged on a bit - three stars, maybe. Thus: four. Angelo Quattrocchi's half was a solid five stars, but Tom Nairn's essay dragged on a bit - three stars, maybe. Thus: four.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Piggyogre

    1968年发生在法国的五月风暴是无数革命中的一个异类,不同以往的地方在于,它并非遵从着某条先行理论的指引,而是远远地把当时所有的理论都抛在了身后。就这样,一场巨大的风暴在毫无预兆的情况下席卷了整个法国。在理论诞生之前,行动已经发生。从来都是现实奋力向理想靠拢,而这一次,理想却在努力描述着现实。 五月风暴之所以发生在法国而不是其他地方,自然有它的必然性。当时的法国正处于一个殖民帝国向现代宪政国家转型的过程中,它“既集权又涣散、既自由又权威”。为了能够更精准、更高效的管理,政府和科技官僚们只手遮天,任意渗透每一处领域,把社会的自主运作拒之门外,堵塞了民众将意见和诉求向上传递的渠道。当积累到足够的能量时,不满爆发了。起初,当不满仅限于一群叛逆而激越的法国大学生时,政府尚握有“疏”和“堵”两种选择。而经验告诉我们,一个过于强势的政府惯常倾向于把妥协看作软弱、把强硬误认为权威。所以当学生以年轻人独有的热情和头破血流的境遇点燃了法国人骨子里深埋的革命激情后,法国各个阶层的民众纷纷为了各自的理由而涌上街头,风暴就此形成。于是,我也看到了全书最感人的两个场景:一个老妇人从楼上的窗口朝街头饥饿的人群丢下巧 1968年发生在法国的五月风暴是无数革命中的一个异类,不同以往的地方在于,它并非遵从着某条先行理论的指引,而是远远地把当时所有的理论都抛在了身后。就这样,一场巨大的风暴在毫无预兆的情况下席卷了整个法国。在理论诞生之前,行动已经发生。从来都是现实奋力向理想靠拢,而这一次,理想却在努力描述着现实。 五月风暴之所以发生在法国而不是其他地方,自然有它的必然性。当时的法国正处于一个殖民帝国向现代宪政国家转型的过程中,它“既集权又涣散、既自由又权威”。为了能够更精准、更高效的管理,政府和科技官僚们只手遮天,任意渗透每一处领域,把社会的自主运作拒之门外,堵塞了民众将意见和诉求向上传递的渠道。当积累到足够的能量时,不满爆发了。起初,当不满仅限于一群叛逆而激越的法国大学生时,政府尚握有“疏”和“堵”两种选择。而经验告诉我们,一个过于强势的政府惯常倾向于把妥协看作软弱、把强硬误认为权威。所以当学生以年轻人独有的热情和头破血流的境遇点燃了法国人骨子里深埋的革命激情后,法国各个阶层的民众纷纷为了各自的理由而涌上街头,风暴就此形成。于是,我也看到了全书最感人的两个场景:一个老妇人从楼上的窗口朝街头饥饿的人群丢下巧克力棒;一个男人从公寓走下来,把自己的车子推到路中央去充当街垒。事实证明,警察的粉墨登场恰恰见证了权威的崩塌;正是“堵”而不是“疏”将一场年轻人的反叛转换成一场全民的革命。哪怕在局势烽火蔓延之际,被“自由、平等、博爱”的传统法国价值所约束的政府,在采取高压措施时也始终不曾逾越最后的底线。于是乎,五月风暴一发不可收拾。 此外更重要的是,五月风暴所暴露出的是在现代资本主义社会或曰消费社会的表面繁荣之下,所隐藏着的深刻的精神危机和奇怪悖论。当资本主义在20世纪取得了空前的成功后,似乎富足正从工厂流水线上源源不断地被生产出来,而琳琅满目的幸福也正摆在超级市场里的里廉价贩卖时,人依旧支离破碎。当代人和《摩登时代》里的卓别林所扮演的角色相比仍然没有本质上的区别,只是当年的陈旧机械如今已变成一张更先进因而也更严密的大网。在这张网内,人人都被要求“生产但不要提问题,消费但不要找答案。”大学沦为职业培训所,教育则毫无保留地投入了“投资哲学”的怀抱。人们发现,如果丰衣足食不再意味着一切,那么它马上就什么也不是了。在五月风暴形成之前,南岱和大学就已贴出这样一条由无名氏书写标语:“在一个奶与蜜的世界里,1968的年轻欧洲人想要当——一个完整的人。”为了获得富足,我们因而付出了匮乏的代价。 奇怪的悖论在于,高度发达的资本主义社会需要培养出更多的受教育者来为其服务,以催生和应对日趋复杂、精密的崭新行业。而与此同时,当生产力迅速膨胀,人的心智渐渐从繁重的物质生产中抽身而出,从而获得更多闲暇以转向精神上的求索之后,受教育者将愈来愈不再满足于这般支离破碎的富足,然后从它的内部愤起质疑这种高歌猛进中的“官僚化、科技化、效率化的生活”,狠狠追问“所谓的疯狂难道不正是潜藏在我们一直深信不疑的理性之中?”五月风暴平息之后,世界似乎再也回不到先前的模样,因为它将从此满含疑惑。 最后,我愿意从这本书的前言和后记中各摘取一句话来作为全文的结束:“吊诡的是,资本主义真正不可避免的命运只有在它为本世纪赢得了物质胜利之后才悄然出现……有史以来头一遭,人们革命不单为面包,还为蔷薇。”

  5. 4 out of 5

    k

    An excellent short overview of the events of May 1968. Divided in 2 parts: a long prose poem which narrates the events and observations of Quattrocchi, and the contemporary analysis and reflections by Nairn. The poem is the star of the book — beautiful and dynamic. Nairn's section is especially concerned with the paradox of theory–practice in Marxism and how 1968 should be interpreted. This essay is valuable, and the reader should be reminded of the context in which it was written upon meeting i An excellent short overview of the events of May 1968. Divided in 2 parts: a long prose poem which narrates the events and observations of Quattrocchi, and the contemporary analysis and reflections by Nairn. The poem is the star of the book — beautiful and dynamic. Nairn's section is especially concerned with the paradox of theory–practice in Marxism and how 1968 should be interpreted. This essay is valuable, and the reader should be reminded of the context in which it was written upon meeting its flaws.

  6. 4 out of 5

    FremsleytheSparrow

    Not unbiased but very interesting and informative. Loved the contrast of journalist on the front lines versus scholar's essay. Not unbiased but very interesting and informative. Loved the contrast of journalist on the front lines versus scholar's essay.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Martin Allen

    Angelo Quattrocchi segment - poetic brilliance Tom Nairn segment - unreadable web of random words

  8. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING. I cared less about Tom Nairn's essay than I would have liked to, but Angelo Quattrocchi's FLOORED me. I know I'm going to be returning to it again and again. His half of the book is incendiary frontline reporting, a prose poem from the student barricades of May 1968, that I actually cannot in any way handle on any level because it’s so good. I was shaking while I read it. It's a report about systematized power, and about the way the system tries to keep power to itself dur THIS BOOK WAS AMAZING. I cared less about Tom Nairn's essay than I would have liked to, but Angelo Quattrocchi's FLOORED me. I know I'm going to be returning to it again and again. His half of the book is incendiary frontline reporting, a prose poem from the student barricades of May 1968, that I actually cannot in any way handle on any level because it’s so good. I was shaking while I read it. It's a report about systematized power, and about the way the system tries to keep power to itself during a revolt, and about how a student protest becomes a full scale war: ‘Don’t panic comrades - they can only take our lives - get away before you faint - don’t get in the way of those throwing pavés…’ One barricade. Behind, another. Between them: bodies. ‘Don’t leave your friends behind, comrades.’ The next barricade. Dry lungs and tears and blood. Behind closed doors Paris waits for murder to be done, so its cars can circulate again.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    Ah there is nothing like the personal touch .... to a social revolution. May 68 is symbolic 60's activity that makes us (of that generation) to cry. A first hand account of Paris during that time that is somewhat super romanctic. And that's not bad, romance is what gets us out of (or stay in ) bed. Ah there is nothing like the personal touch .... to a social revolution. May 68 is symbolic 60's activity that makes us (of that generation) to cry. A first hand account of Paris during that time that is somewhat super romanctic. And that's not bad, romance is what gets us out of (or stay in ) bed.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Adam Connors

    This is the tale of the revolution which occurred in Paris in the month of May, 1968. Revolutions are the ecstasy of history: the moment when social reality and social dream fuse (the act of love). Fab!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Bryn

    This book includes a beautifully poetic/free-form account of the events of May '68 in Paris, followed by an in-depth and truly insightful piece covering what "actually" happened. This book includes a beautifully poetic/free-form account of the events of May '68 in Paris, followed by an in-depth and truly insightful piece covering what "actually" happened.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    This is an incredibly vivid telling of the events in France during May 1968. I never understood until I read this poet's account. This is an incredibly vivid telling of the events in France during May 1968. I never understood until I read this poet's account.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sam

  14. 5 out of 5

    Srnivasreddy

  15. 4 out of 5

    Charlie Kruse

  16. 4 out of 5

    Daniela Caldas

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ian Thompson

  18. 4 out of 5

    William Hackman

  19. 5 out of 5

    Huachi

  20. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  21. 4 out of 5

    narmada yadavalli

  22. 4 out of 5

    aa

  23. 5 out of 5

    Scott

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jack Holland

  25. 4 out of 5

    Molly

  26. 4 out of 5

    Erica Lynn

  27. 4 out of 5

    Justin

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jason Ooi

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tadas Vaitelė

  30. 4 out of 5

    erin

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