Alain Krivine, a leader of the student revolt of May 1968, passed away on 12 March at the age of 80. Many of the other key student leaders of the May ‘68 uprising, like Daniel Bensaïd, have also already taken their leave. Krivine’s death marks the symbolic end of a generation of French Trotskyism. With his death, we not only lose one of the key student leaders of the ‘68 events, but also a revolutionary without whom the old heritage and tradition of the earliest anti-Stalinism may not have survived into a new generation.
Krivine had a unique relation to French Trotskyism. In his memoirs, Krivine tells a story that captures the relationship to the French Trotskyists of the first hour—those who had fought through the “midnight of the century”, a time when Stalinism and Nazism were crushing all opposition. Krivine tells of being trained by Pierre Frank, who himself had been one of Trotsky’s secretaries during his first years of exile in Turkey. Each time a Trotskyist of the first hour died, Krivine would accompany Frank to the funeral, the grave and the ceremonies. Frank would recount the contributions, the character, politics and struggles of the first generation Trotskyists to Krivine.
This was a lesson in political tradition—revolutionary, not conservative, because it was about passing on the memory of courageous and honourable struggles for emancipation. Krivine stood at the intersection between an old Trotskyism with its links to the pre-war anti-Stalinist, anti-militarist and anti-fascist struggles, and the tradition rejuvenated by the May ‘68 student-worker uprising, as part of which he went on to lead the Revolutionary Communist League.
Krivine’s family was political. The many brothers of his household joined the communists from an early age, as did he, and he soon became a Trotskyist. Krivine threw himself into the struggle for Algerian liberation, and in his memoirs some of the most fascinating sections are dedicated to the work these young Trotskyists carried out in support of the Algerian resistance.
Krivine was excluded from the French Communist Party along with the communist youth. He threw himself into the campaigns against the war in Vietnam. He led the student fights at the Sorbonne and the efforts to build links between the students and workers. He served prison time throughout 1968 for his involvement in the student-worker uprising. And after founding the Revolutionary Communist League (the state had outlawed the Revolutionary Communist Youth) he became the lead presidential candidate and public spokesperson for the group.
From workers’ solidarity, through to anti-fascist struggles (which would land Krivine back in prison), through to the anti-colonial struggles from Martinique to New Caledonia—Krivine consistently gave voice to struggles of the exploited and oppressed. When he intervened on the floor, the man was a force, with poise and presence.
I got to know Krivine in Paris. He was based in Saint-Denis, where I had just relocated, and I joined his branch of the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (New Anticapitalist Party—NPA). Every Sunday, Krivine would sell L’Anticapitaliste (the NPA’s weekly) next to the Saint-Denis food market. Krivine would take me on tours giving little history lessons about local struggles and the area’s history of communist politics. We spoke at length about the history of the Revolutionary Communist League, and in particular about his good friend and comrade Daniel Bensaïd, whose revolutionary legacy Krivine tried to ensure would be remembered.
One evening, when Krivine co-hosted the speakers’ session of the premiere of Carmen Castillo’s We Are Alive, has remained in my memory. The film—a beautiful balance sheet of the dignity of revolutionary politics—brought out the rebellious youth of all in the room. Krivine set the tone of the discussion (alongside Olivier Besancenot), and the take home message was driven home: no matter what errors or obstacles are in the way of a politics of human emancipation, it is always right to fight and resist.
From the little I knew of him, it was clear he was a man who had the constancy required for a prolonged decision in the direction of revolutionary politics, and he combined this commitment with a sense of humour, laughter and jokes. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him, but his revolutionary legacy will live on.
There has been a vigorous argument over the direction of the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) industrial campaign at Sydney University this year. Most recently, those who have been reluctant to argue and organise seriously for frequent enough and long enough strikes are now leading the charge for a “smarter” strategy of administration bans.
In late August, around 50 union members at Knauf plasterboard held a meeting in their Melbourne factory to discuss recent EBA negotiations, which had begun a few months earlier. A new HR manager insisted on attending the meeting and wasted people’s time explaining the wonderful job that company management had done taking care of the workers, in particular their recent and significant safety concerns. As he spoke, one after another the workers turned their backs on him. Soon, they began challenging the manager about a worker who had just been sacked.
Minoo Jalali was among those who resisted Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power in Iran. In the early months of 1979, she joined a mass women’s protest against the compulsory wearing of the hijab in public. “That revolution was inevitable”, Jalali recounted 40 years later in an interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Nobody could have really stopped the force of it. We hoped that we could steer it [but] we were wrong. And the clergy hijacked it ... and deceived many people.”
While student radicalism is most often associated with 1960s Paris or Vietnam-era US campuses, there is a similarly rich history of university student rebellion outside of the advanced capitalist countries. One of these rebellions took place in Indonesia in 1998, when students led a movement that ended the 30-year rule of General Suharto. The movement involved hundreds of thousands of ordinary Indonesians in a fight for democracy, encapsulated by the slogan reformasi total (complete reform).
Protests and riots have spread across Iran after a 22-year-old Kurdish woman, Mahsa Amini, was murdered by the morality police. Amini was visiting the capital, Tehran, on 13 September when she was arrested for allegedly breaking mandatory veiling laws. Police beat her into a coma and she died three days later. Amini was buried in her hometown of Saqqez.
The international working-class movement has long been divided between two strategies to win socialism: the reformist and the revolutionary.