France, May 1968

May 1968: our best picture of what a revolution in an advanced capitalist country will look like

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It began, like many other revolutionary movements, over something small. In March 1967 students at Nanterre, a bleak new campus on the outskirts of Paris, started a campaign for the right to visit each others' rooms after 11pm.

The campaign grumbled along. It drew in other issues - overcrowding, and the content of courses. On 2 May 1968 the exasperated administration shut down the campus.

France 1968: When ten million workers took capitalism by the throat


Sean Matgamna

[Published in 1968]

“I hate the revolution like sin” said the hangman of Germany’s 1918 revolution, the Social Democrat Ebert. Less direct, but equally clear after the events in France, is the recent statement of the parliamentary leader of the French Communist Party, Robert Balanger: “When we talk about the revolution we now think in terms of a political struggle in which our party agrees to fight the bourgeoisie with their own weapons.”

1968: The Year 0f the Miracles!


Sean Matgamna

It was as if a conscience-stricken god said to himself one day in the mid-60s: “I suppose I have been a bit rough on the poor old Trots; setback after setback, massacre after massacre, blow after blow, for four decades now....

... There aren’t all that many of them left. If I don’t do something to encourage them soon, they’ll give up and die off. And think of all the fun they’ve given me, thwarting them — the presumptuous little buggers!”

Then he had A thought: “Why don’t I give them a bit of encouragement?” So he did.

The power next time: France May 1968

Suddenly, like an enormous explosion, the revolt of the French working class has burst on a startled bourgeois Europe. Already it has changed the political climate of Europe as sharply as the rising of the sun after a long arctic night.

Sparked by the militant actions of Trotskyist, Anarchist and Maoist students, and fanned by the viciousness of police brutality, the flames of revolt soon spread to the working class. It led to a great conflagration prepared by the long accumulated, bottled up discontent and frustration of the workers.

Class struggle in France May-June 1968


David Broder

The May 1968 general strike in France is often bracketed with the other events of that year. Although student activism did play an important role in “detonating” the factory occupations movement in France, to see the general strike as just one among many acts of “resistance” is to denude it of its class content. It was a tooth-and-nail struggle in which the working class withheld its labour power, brought the de Gaulle administration to its knees and had the ability to take state power from the ruling class.

Occupying Sud Aviation

The first factory occupation in 1968 took place at the Sud Aviation aircraft plant at Bouguenais near Nates. François le Madec, a CFDT union activist at the factory, gave this account of the first night of the strike in his 1988 book L’aubépin de mai (The Hawthorns of May). Translated by David Broder.

“We didn’t machine gun our teachers”


Bruce Robinson

In 1968 I was a 14 year old student at a posh school in the centre of London. Events of that year did not pass unnoticed even among the sons of the bourgeoisie. The film If made an impression and, even if we didn’t machine gun our teachers, there was at least one organised protest there demanding the right to party unconstrained by school rules on Saturdays.

Not going back


Rosalind Robson

If you’ve been listening to the Radio Four’s series, 1968, a selection of old radio news broadcasts from each day of that year, you will know that it has got quite exciting (as exciting as Radio Four gets), covering events and France over the last two months.

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