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May '68 in France.


1. Overview and background to the crisis

Higher Education (HE) in France

Algerian war and polarization

10 million workers on strike at the peak

General de Gaulle

Parties and groups on the left associated with the May Days


2. The Roots of the Crisis

Higher education: expansion of HE – ‘open door’ policy; middle class students in buildings next to working class areas; the state and HE – bureaucracy remote; student grievances, extended to content of the courses

Bureaucracy in France, professions – public support for student opposition; unions: CGT (communist-led but conservative), CFDT (catholic influence, but more radical)


3. A summary of the events of 1968

Nanterre: staff-student committee for more autonomy not getting anywhere à militants (enragȇs); influence of political groupuscules; Daniel Cohn-Bendit; demonstration confronted with armed police (CRS); escalation à closure of university; links being forged with workers; Sorbonne occupied by students.


4. The end of the “events”

May – June strikes; Cohn-Bendit banished; riots continue; de Gaulle to Germany, then returned announcing general election, which he won with increased support.

De Gaulle able to succeed because students, workers, politicians all divided; promised more ‘participation’; negotiated with workers separately; fear of ‘communists’.


5. Links between the May Days and political movements/organisations

Influence of 1789 revolution and 1791 Paris Commune; split in ‘left’ over Soviet Union; Trotskyism, Maoism, council communism; Marcuse and ‘repressive tolerance’; groups outside the class struggle; Algeria and Vietnam; French intellectuals (Sartre, de Beauvoir, Althusser, Alain Touraine, Michel Foucault, Lacan); against passive respect of authority.


6. Postmortem to the Days of ‘68

Re-appraisal of Marxism: economic conflict not central, but ‘order-givers vs. order-takers’; and: workers’ self-management should have been the main aim; or: a failure; or: needed a (disciplined) revolutionary party; or: ‘shifted the focus of opposition from economic exploitation to social and cultural alienation’ (which à feminism and environmentalism).


Some slogans from Paris 1968:


All power to the imagination.


Society is a carnivorous flower.


I am a Graucho-tendency Marxist.


Be realistic, demand the impossible!


They are buying your happiness – steal it back.


The alarm clock rings – first humiliation of the day.


You will all finish up dying from comfort.


Forests came before men – the desert comes afterwards.



Cockburn, A & Blackburn, R, (Ed.) (1969): Student Power, Penguin.

Feenberg A, and Freedman, J (2001): When Poetry Ruled the Streets, Albany (NY).

Seale P, McConville M (1968): French Revolution 1968, Penguin