the cause of the other

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Paulo Fernandes Silveira*

“The hallmark of truly liberating movements is always inclusion and expansion” (Marilena Chaui)

 “Peace only appears at these times. In which war is transferred” (Marcelino Freire)

In one of his texts for the collection May 68: The Breach, Edgar Morin highlights the impact of scenes of extreme police violence on the streets of Paris in May 1968, which would have helped determine, at first, the expressive support of the French for student demonstrations:

“Professors who repudiate any and all revolutions are driven by repression to show solidarity with students. The middle and bourgeois classes, made up of parents of high school and university students, are more indignant at the repression than they are concerned about the imprudence of their children. The baptism of truncheons and tear gas attracted the sympathy of popular circles, at first hostile to 'daddy's children'.” (p. 38).

Although a part of the population understood student demands as “the cause of the other”, the title of an essay by Jacques Rancière, present in the book the misunderstanding, the repression exposed the arbitrariness of state violence. Following Walter Benjamin's analyses, certain historical situations make it clear that State and legal violence are not justified as a friendly necessary for the preservation of fins just, but rather “for the purpose of securing one’s own right.” (For a critique of violence, p. 127).

Following the essay, Benjamin mentions the people's secret admiration for great criminals (coarse Verbrecher). Just as many French support demonstrations, indifferent to student causes, the people admire big criminals, indifferent to their goals. In one of his analyzes on this Benjaminian theme, Jacques Derrida states that the vagrant, marginal and criminal man, when facing the State's monopoly of violence, becomes a counter-State (2009, p. 141).

The figure of the great criminal seems to inspire the works of director Todd Phillips and actor Joaquim Phoenix in the cinematographic retelling of Joker. The criminal taken as Public Enemy #1 also gained prominence in the work of Hélio Oiticica, who portrayed the murder of a Rio de Janeiro bandit, in the words of the artist: “as is known, the case of Cara de Cavalo became a symbol of social oppression over the one who is marginal – marginal to everything in this society: the marginal.” (Rufinoni, Myth and violence, p. 305).

After numerous street demonstrations, several barricades, many debates and interviews with artists and intellectuals (in newspapers and television programs), a general strike that mobilized seven million workers and rich experiences of self-management in the occupations of schools, universities, theaters, museums and factories, May 68 ended, also in the streets, with a conservative demonstration that brought together hundreds of thousands of supporters of President and General Charles de Gaulle.

According to Frank Georgi's account and analysis, the general carefully constructed the conservative reaction. At one point, De Gaulle disappears from Paris, creating anticipation about his next steps, Georgi suggests staging a theatrical twist. Upon reappearing on May 30, just before urging his civilian supporters to take to the streets, De Gaulle makes a quick and incisive radio address.

As a sign of his courage and bravery, De Gaulle says he will live up to his mandate and that he will not abandon the people who elected him. He announces the maintenance of Georges Pompidou as prime minister, the calling of new elections and the promotion of reforms in the university and in the economy. In the name of the Republic and the Constitution, the general alerts the French to the threat of a dictatorship. There is a great enemy that everyone must fight: totalitarian communism.

In an orchestrated action, thousands of leaflets were produced calling the general's supporters to the demonstration. In addition to singing the Marseille, the mass chanted: “Un seul drapeau, bleu, blanc, rouge!” (A single flag, blue, white, red!); “La France aux Français” (France to the French); “Reforme oui, clienlit non” (Reform yes, chaos no); “Évolution sans révolution” (Evolution without revolution) and “Paix en France” (Peace in France).

To a large extent, the slogans of the conservative reaction attacked the students' positions. As Olgaria Matos analyzes, with the slogans “Les frontières on s'en fout” (Screw the borders) and “Nous sommes tous des juifs allemands” (We are all German Jews), the students supported a radical philanthropy. In Rancière's interpretation, the slogan “We are all German Jews” indicates the possibility of “an open subjectivation of the uncounted.”.

It would be possible to formulate several hypotheses to try to explain the conservative reaction of hundreds of thousands of French people. I risk one: De Gaulle relied on patriotism, not only from his supporters, but from various reactionary currents in society, on the other hand, the arbitrariness of violence, on the part of the State and the law, does not attack everyone in the same way and The hierarchical and police order it guarantees responds to the interests of the dominant classes.

Paulo Fernandes Silveira Professor at the Faculty of Education at USP and researcher at the Human Rights Group at the Institute for Advanced Studies at USP

Article published in the GGN newspaper


Walter Benjamin, Towards a critique of violence. In. Writings on myth and language (1915-1921). São Paulo, Bookstore Duas Cidades/Editora 34, 2013. p. 121-156.

Marilena Chaui. The schools were occupied in May 68. In. In defense of public education, free and democratic. Belo Horizonte, Autêntica, 2018. p. 417-419.

Charles De Gaulle. 3rd Discours – 30 May 1968. Available at

Jacques Derrida vagrants. Coimbra, Terra Ocre, 2009.

Marcelino Freire. From peace. Available in:

Frank Georgi. Le pouvoir est dans la rue. La “manifestation gaulliste” des Camps-Élysées (May 30, 1968). Available in

Olgaria Matos. When poetry replaces prose. Available in,quando-a-poesia-substituiu-a-prosa,170594.

Edgar Morin. The student commune. In. May 68: The Breach. São Paulo, Literary Autonomy, 2018. p. 32-56.

Jacques Rancière. The other's cause. In. margins of the political. Lisbon, KKYM, 2014. p. 123-133. Available in:

Jacques Rancière. the misunderstanding. São Paulo: Editora 34, 1996.

Manoela Rossinetti Rufinoni. Rite and violence – vigil for the 111, by Nuno Ramos. 2016. Available at

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