Moscow’s May and its historical antecedents (Paris May 1968 or Italy’s Hot Autumn of 1969).


Whether or how history will judge Moscow in 2012 and the month of May in particular is, of course, too early to tell. Whether it will be seen as a turning point in Russia’s history or not will depend on how events develop. The birth of a new hope or the last strangled cries of a city whose destiny has become untoggled from that of the country as a whole, or something akin to the beginnings of a transformation in Russian society which European societies experienced in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It seems that, on a good day, the spectre of May 1968 appears to be haunting Moscow and, as the video in the post below attests to, the words Paris May 1968 are on the lips of many of the commentators. Yes, these gatherings and demonstrations are rather minor – but then how massive was 1968 in France and the US? How broad were they at the beginning? Was there not something of a similar dislocation between demonstrators and whole swathes of society? What about the gaullist revanche after the May events: does not this, too, point to similar processes in the two societies?  Andrei Velikanov in his talk spoke of the fact that, although this movement is doomed to political failure, its victory will be a cultural one transforming the intellectual life of a country if not its political reality. An earlier talk by Sergei Kuznetsov also suggested how the mores of countries like the US and France were only slowly transformed by the 1968 events.

However, for all these growing references to the experience of 1968 a number of factors have still gone unrecognised (but perhaps some are factors which were recognised in the speeches cited although only marginally). Firstly. there is the international context which is entirely different. While Russia and European societies do seem to be out of step in their historical cycles (and the observations of Pirim Sorokin are of interest here) nonetheless the international context can not be altogether hidden from the picture. Maxim Kantor in a recent comment wondered about what the effect of a new war in the Middle East would have on political events in Russia and he concluded his reasonings in quite apocalyptic tones. Secondly, few societies have such a wide discrepancy between capital and provinces as does Russia and the relative silence of the provinces so far shouldn’t blind people into believing the idea that transformations will be limited to a cultural sphere. Thirdly while there may be reasons why France and Russia should be compared (their common revolutionary tradition leading to two of the most wide-ranging revolutionary transformations in the modern world in recent centuries) there may be examples elsewhere which could be of relevance to what is or is about to happen in Russia in 2012 and beyond. Situationism (of a sort) and French philosophy may be of great relevance to the creative class in Moscow but 1968 spurred other movements and reactions thus far relatively ignored by many in Russia.

One of these, I would argue, is the Italian experience of the late 1960s. Its 1968 may have been similar to that of France in some ways but it was followed by a very different 1969 and a further decade of extraordinary struggles which brought forth another, more political model, of transformation (although ultimately a  heavily defeated one). The hot autumn of 1969 was that very missing link which has been absent in the discourses around May 1968. The revolt of other classes – and not just the creative classes- and especially of the immigrants from Southern Italy who manned the production lines in the factories of the industrial north and then moving deep through many layers of Italian society. A hot autumn in Russia is, perhaps, the unsaid fear of many in Moscow – and not just of the bureaucratic elite but equally of many of those who have sided with Moscow’s revolt. The Pinochet-adoring Latynina’s and the Sobchaks would surely soon change their mood music about a democratisation of society if the Pikalyovo’s and the Kuzbasses were to rise in revolt. Whether this is likely to happen only time will tell but maybe it is at least time for some acknowledgment of the relevance of Negri and the novelist and poet Nanni Balestrini alongside that of Foucault and Deleuze and a Russian distribution of Gianfranco Sanguinetti, Bifo or even Mario Tronti may have its historical relevance for an understanding of a wider and deeper revolt.

About afoniya

I am a translator, language teacher, independent film scholar who is interested in many aspects of culture. I have my own blog on Russian and Soviet cinema at and I have also written for journals such as Film Philosophy and Bright Lights as well as Ribbed magazine. Outside of film my interest runs to language, politics, literature and my world is centred around the Meditteranean, Russia, Southern Ukraine as well as the UK.

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