On other things less, but he is one who tries to give a future vision of Europe and this gives him a dynamic to push others forward. The difficulty is that we don’t want a state economy, a state economy doesn’t work. In the United States, there are all these metaphorical dates for when the spirit of the 1960s died, when the Manson murders happened, when the Hells Angels killed someone at a Rolling Stones concert. A lot of people don’t see the security. Where do you stand on so-called “liberal interventionism,” that there are times where it is a moral duty to use military force? It is a symbol. All in all, it was a surprise for people in the States. It’s incredible what new problems we have. On the one side, he had to take Trump as he is. Then, later the unions saw everybody was on strike and stepped in. A skeptic about the legacy of the 1960s would say that it changed social things — marijuana and same-sex marriage are okay — but that the individualism of the period morphed into this libertarian worldview associated with a place like Silicon Valley. I was for the intervention in Bosnia. The whole environmental movement grew from the 1960s, for example, this means all the debate about climate change. We will see what happens in Iran, if Trump gives up the treaty, perhaps the Europeans can save it, leaving Trump out. However, in every factory there were young workers who took everyone with them. At the beginning, you had the revolt in the universities. If you are a Leninist and you want to lead the revolution, you have a responsibility for the people who interpret this in a different way. Flexibility versus security. It’s not all of America that is revolting, but in the ’60s it was not all of America either. The problem is we live in a world where Putin, Trump, and the Chinese don’t want multilateralism. But he is doing now what he said he would do in the campaign. What 1905 was to 1917 in Russia. In the first round, Macron had 25 percent, so from the beginning there were 75 percent who were against him. The Trump system is a rigid system. While union leaders negotiated new working conditions for their members, conservative France bit back as President Charles de Gaulle called elections for June, and won in a landslide. It’s not easy. This is the difficulty of politics and judgment. It must have been shocking to see some of your old friends turning to extremist violence. You can say we need to find a diplomatic solution. The problem today is that trade unions and leftist groups from the beginning try to organize everything together. These kids don’t want socialism. You know what is the rebirth of the ’60s? Still if he gets into the next election with 36 percent or 40 percent support, it means he passes the first round and wins in the second. That’s why Macron is right to say that to do these things we need a multilateral politics. That is why I am enthusiastic, not only because it is a French president, but because it’s a leader in Europe who takes Europe as a key issue for our future. Fifty years after the May 1968 events, and just a few days after Macron’s visit to Washington, DC, we spoke at the French Embassy in Prague.
BENJAMIN CUNNINGHAM: What did you think of Macron’s performance in Washington? This seems totally far-fetched today. So today protest is organized from the top down? One of the dimensions of the ’60s and that anti-imperialist mood was this idea of “bring the war home.” Some people saw this as demonstrations, but some other people took this seriously and you had the Red Brigades and the Red Army Faction, and you had this idea that we have to make the revolution. If you saw the mall in Washington with the Parkland kids, it was similar to the march with Martin Luther King. The drama of France that you have a competition between trade unions, more reformist and radical trade unions. You had the Maoists, the Trotskyists. All this brought part of the movement to change, and go with the creation of the Green Party and move toward a more traditional way of doing politics, going into parliament and so forth. Does that say something about our current time or was it a myth that students and workers were allies then?
In ’68, the revolt was against a certain kind of authoritarianism in society, both in the universities and industry. You had mass protests by young people and then young workers started demonstrations in the factories. Sometimes intervention is needed, sometimes I am against it. At the beginning, Syria was not an armed revolt, but then the shooting starts and we — I mean the world — says after Iraq, after Kosovo, after Libya — that we are taking a hands-off approach. What began as a push for co-ed dormitories at the Nanterre campus of the University of Paris spread to industrial workers and briefly became a wide-scale revolt against France’s stagnant postwar politics. I had a debate with him in June 2016, and there we understood we had a common view on Europe. In ’68, people didn’t talk about the war of 1918, but it was exactly 50 years before.
France is a strange country, with a two-round presidential election. JUNE 28, 2018
ALONG WITH BARRICADES, cobble-stone projectiles, and poetic graffiti slogans like, “Il est interdit d’interdire” (It is forbidden to forbid) and, “Soyez réalistes, demandez l’impossible” (Be realistic, ask the impossible), Daniel Cohn-Bendit — a.k.a. I said, “You are crazy.”
This is one of the most difficult decisions to make. You had terrorist groups. His bet is that he can do both. It completely changed the world. He is moving quickly, so it will disturb a lot of people, it is disturbing at the beginning. We do have a demographic problem. Macron started in France last July, on Bastille Day, to try and psychologically secure Trump just to have the possibility to argue with him on climate change, Iran, on trade. Do you feel any responsibility for that? The railway strike has nothing to do with ’68, you have to forget about that. I mean, demonstrate it. It’s incredible. We have to have a new idea of European sovereignty, how we organize it, what are the common responsibilities, European defense, and so on. It doesn’t work that way. How did it influence you politically? If you lose the kids, you lose their parents. I remember a discussion in Washington, before Iraq, when people were telling me Baghdad was going to be like in Paris in 1944. We will see if his new arrangement includes enough security. The democrats who voted for Hitler have a responsibility, even if they weren’t Hitler. Everybody is in favor of reforms, on one condition — as long as the reforms don’t touch them. In the years since, Cohn-Bendit, a dual Franco-German citizen, has remained in politics. The Green Party has had a fair amount of success, especially in Germany. How do you find a diplomatic solution with Assad and the Russians? You wanted more democracy and some people insanely interpreted that as leading to a Chinese-style Cultural Revolution. We didn’t deconstruct the radicalization of a certain type of revolt early enough. These are the types of movements that have, I don’t say similarity, but a similar mood. They say we don’t want any weapons. Under his watch, Germany was among those intervening in Kosovo, sent troops to Afghanistan, but notably stayed out of the Iraq invasion. “Dany the Red” for both his hair and politics — is an icon of the May 1968 uprising in France. There is a big railway strike underway in France, and the media likes to compare it to 1968. One of your old friends, Joschka Fischer, was actually foreign minister in the late 1990s and early 2000s. We did nothing, 350,000 dead. I don’t agree on immigration, but a majority in France and Europe want to take this hard line. The trade union leaders did not call a general strike. This is a problem. That seems like it could be even more rigid than France in 1968, doesn’t it? He then served as a member of the European Parliament for more than two decades, representing both Germany and France at various times. I don’t say that he changed the position of Trump, but I think that Trump — then meeting Angela Merkel right after — will have to at least think about whether he wants to have Europe against him. This is very genuine. So what is the form of regulating a market economy? DANIEL COHN-BENDIT: It was a great performance. Macron is pushing more labor flexibility, while promising new forms of benefits and security. He also had a town hall meeting with university students. It stopped the violence. It was the first time that a candidate started with Europe. As your generation got older and held real power, say by the 1980s, there was a turn toward hypercapitalism. Cohn-Bendit’s fame and influence grew to the point that the French government deported him to West Germany in an attempt to quell unrest. In the 1970s in Europe a lot of the leftist ideas from the 1960s morphed into violence: you had the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy. The workers tried to get, and got, a big jump in wages, more social protections. That is a real debate. If they would have done that to us, we would have told them it was none of their business. The family of Martin Luther King was there. As I understand it you are a Macron fan, yes? And there is also the Me Too. You had street violence. Now if you are 60, you live 25 or 30 years. We can strengthen Europe to be this multilateral force. In the ’60s the demographics were that young people outnumbered old people and now old people outnumber young people. But this is a problem with pensions. I guess my point is that the Parkland kids confront a society where they are vastly outnumbered by old people. You have leftist groups, even elected officials, that go to universities to tell students they need to occupy the campus. Let’s talk about the rebirth of the ’60s in the States. He remains active in the public sphere as a prominent backer of French President Emmanuel Macron, and among the strongest advocates of greater integration in Europe at time when political opinion leans the other way. It is true. The Trotskyists used to say 1968 was the general uprising that would lead to revolution. But this mood of revolt is dangerous for him. Take Syria. And now for 50 years they say we need the real revolution, it is ridiculous. ¤
Benjamin Cunningham divides his time between Prague and Barcelona. I will give you an example of what I mean. This is what he has to prove. The Parkland kids. It’s not the only thing he is for, of course he is promoting all kinds of reform in France, but this focus on Europe is what brought us together. Yes. This was something else. Trump is psychologically a child. If we hadn’t done it, the Serbs would continue. France needs reform. France today has a lot of problems I don’t say that Macron is doing everything right. With the Parkland kids you had actors from Hollywood too. Macron’s program is not intelligent enough to take the reformist trade unions on board. The ’60s movement was very chaotic. I am sympathetic to both those causes, but there is a difference, isn’t there? Yes, but new security too. It’s true. Does France need more flexibility? Based in Frankfurt, he was among a group of leftists that went on to lead the German Green Party in the 1970s and 1980s. About half the population supports the strike, which opposes Macron’s proposed reforms to liberalize the sector some, while just 36 percent approve of the job Macron is doing. It’s 50 years ago, it’s another world. What was great was that one of the key pillars of his campaign in France was Europe. This criticism is not true. Of course we have a responsibility — I say we collectively. And then, all the capacity of Macron, you saw it in his speech in Congress where I think Americans, and not only Democrats, were impressed. Yes, this libertarian individualism was a part of it, I don’t want to say it doesn’t exist, but you can’t reduce it to this. You did not. Do you feel any responsibility for this as you do for the violence of the 1970s? Some groups wanted a Bolshevik revolution. In the ’60s, people died at 62, you died at 70. What do the French think of Macron now? Is there something similar in Europe? I take your point that 1968 was a long time ago, but one thing we always read about is that elite students and workers formed a sort of common front. I don’t care about Manson. We can’t stand where we are. He writes for The Economist, Le Monde Diplomatique, and is an opinion columnist for the Slovak daily SME. You have to secure him, say, “Yes, you are good,” if you want to try and reach him politically.