My Land is Dying
The French Student Uprising, November 1967-June 1968: An Analytical Record
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The terracide of Appalachia has been going on since 1963 when Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands roused, momentarily, the anger of the anti-poverty forces against the despoilers of the beautiful mountains of eastern Kentucky. With the phasing out of the War on Poverty, Appalachia has again been forgotten, abandoned to the greed of the coal barons, ravaged by titanic “earthmovers” which are strip mining the area to the point where Caudill and his mountain neighbors foresee “an Appalachian Carthage, the beginning of a New World Sahara.”
Caudill, a native of the Cumberlands and former state legislator, supplies more than indignation and lament. He presents a forceful case against Kentucky legislators, judges, and the TVA, now the nation’s largest single consumer of coal. He also describes the desperate court struggles of the Appalachian Group to Save the Land and the People, the harassment of OEO Appalachian Volunteers, and the thwarting of Governor Breathitt’s belated intervention on behalf of the mountain folk who sat down, shotguns in hand, before the bulldozers in last-ditch efforts to save their homes. Though strip mining is a national scourge (to date 3.2 million acres have been laid waste), Caudill concentrates on his home state, which is more indulgent toward the coal companies than neighboring West Virginia and Pennsylvania, to show how so-called “reclamation” laws, weak in any case, have been easily evaded. Graphic, bitter, and eloquent, this is worth more than much of the recent mound of conservationist tracts.
A mammoth compilation of sources, which goes far beyond Labroe’s This Is Only a Beginning (1969), this is virtually a moment-by-moment account of the French student uprising. Pamphlets, position papers, placards, student and faculty resolutions, appeals to striking workers, denunciations, manifestoes, and throwaways from Nanterre, the Sorbonne, and regional universities, each identified by its parent “groupuscule,” whether Trotskyist, Anarchist, pro-Chinese, enragé, or utopian—all competing ideologically. The book shows how the Union Nationale des Etudiants (UNEF) and the orthodox Communists were patently unable to exercise leadership over the various factions of the New Left, and how strong was the constant fear of co-optation and/or isolation of the student movement.
The editors avoid special pleading and obvious explanations of the internal dynamics of student protest—e.g., “generational conflict”—but their ardent belief in the “absolute originality of the event” doesn’t square with the claim that the students “reenacted, like mummers, the Petrograd Soviet.” There are also thematic sections—“Words, Myths, and Themes,” which complement the over-all chronological development from the Nanterre Mouvement du 22 mars (“essentially pedagogical and practical”) to the occupation of the Sorbonne, the brief mid-May pseudo-apocalypse of worker-student solidarity, the June ebb tide, and the triumph of Gaullism.
What began as a limited revolt against the academic mandarins, against the arcane and authoritarian structures of the French university system, accelerated into a full-blown and virulent attack on the regime, as fervent as it was inchoate, “preeminently a rejection of both calculation and party machine”—hierarchy, bureaucracy, sociology as the rationalizer of protest. In short, the full complement of Marcusian…
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© 1971 Kirkus Service, Inc., a subsidiary of The New York Review of Books.