Against the lies about May '68!

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From Emmanuel Macron to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, from Figaro to Marianne, from BFM TV to Radio France, the extreme-right to the extreme-left, whether criticising or celebrating it, all in their own way commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of May 68 by covering it with a shed-load of lies.

No, May 68 is not a "specificité française"!

No-one can deny that May 68 took place within a dynamic that was international. But in focusing on the night of March 22 at Nanterre, on the "electrifying" eloquence of Cohn-Bendit, the smothering paternalism of De Gaulle, the impact between "the new and old France"... this international dimension is deliberately pushed into the background in order to finally make May 68 a "specificité française". In reality, the wave of student unrest started in 1964, at Berkeley University in California with demands for the right to speak, the end of racial segregation and an end to the war in Vietnam. This wave spread to Japan in 1965, Britain at the end of 1967, Italy, Spain, Germany, Brazil, Turkey and to Mexico at the beginning of 1968. But above all, May 68 was part of an international workers' movement. The wave of strikes which began in France in 1967, reaching its heights in 1968, reverberated throughout the world up to 1974: the famous Cordobazo in Argentina, the "Hot Autumn" of Italy in 1969, Spain and Poland in 1971, ranging through Belgium and Britain in 1972, Scandinavia, Germany...

Nor is May 68 a "student revolt"!

The proletarian character of May 68 is often masked by the emphasis put on the student movement. The most sophisticated and devious version of this mystification clearly comes from the leftists and the unions: "The strength of May 68 is the convergence of the students and the workers!" Lies! If May 68 dynamised the struggle throughout the world, it's precisely because the working class wasn't dumbly following the movement but, on the contrary, it was its motor force.

The student movement of the 1960's was of a petty-bourgeois nature, one of its clearest aspects being its desire for “immediate change". At the time, there was no major threat of not being able to find a reasonable job at the end of your studies. The student movement which began in 1964 developed in a period of prosperity. But, from 1967, the economic situation seriously deteriorated, pushing the proletariat into struggle. From the beginning of 1967 important confrontations occurred: at Bordeaux (Dassault aviation factory), at Besançon and in the region of Lyon (strike and occupation at Rhodia, strike at Berliet), the mines of Lorraine, the naval dockyards at Saint Nazaire, Caen... These strikes prefigured what was going to happen from the middle of May 1968 across the country. You couldn't say that this storm broke out of a clear, blue sky. Between March 22 and May 13 1968, the ferocious repression of the students increasingly mobilised a working class carried along by its instinctive feelings of solidarity. May 14, at Nantes, young workers launched a strike. The next day the movement won over the Renault factory at Cléon in Normandy as well as two other factories in the region. On May 16, other Renault factories joined the movement and red flags flew over Flins, Sandouville and le Mans. The entry of Renault-Billancourt into the struggle was then a beacon: it was the biggest factory in France (35,000 workers) and the saying went "When Renault sneezes, France catches a cold". On May 17, the strike wave hit the whole of France. It was a totally spontaneous movement and all over France it was the young workers who were at the forefront. There weren't any precise demands: this was the expression of a general discontent. On May 18, there were a million workers on strike; on May 22, eight million. This was therefore the biggest strike in the history of the international workers' movement. All sectors were involved: industry, transport, energy, post and communications, teaching, administrations, media, research laboratories, etc. During this period, occupied faculties, some public buildings like the Theatre de Odeon in Paris, the streets, places of work, became spaces of permanent political discussion. "We talk and we listen" became a slogan.

Neither was May 68 a "lifestyle revolution"!

Fraudulently reduced to its "student" dimension, May 68 is presented as the symbol of sexual and women’s liberation.

The great movements of proletarian struggle have always put forward the “woman question”. At the time of the Paris Commune in 1871, in the mass strike of 1905 and the 1917 Russian revolution, women workers played an inestimable role. But what the student petty-bourgeoisie of 1968 extolled is something else altogether: it's liberation “right here and now” within capitalism, it's the liberation of humanity through sexual liberation and not as a product of a long struggle against the system of capitalist exploitation. In short, it's the forsaking of all forms of reflection which aim to really call into question the roots of the established order; it's the negation of the whole process of strikes, self-organisation and discussion within the working class in France during those weeks in May. The importance to the world bourgeoisie of reducing May 68 to burning bras is thus evident. 

Nor was May 68 a union general strike!

Today, with the rail workers' strike in France, the unions and leftist organisations are pretending that another general strike is possible. As in May 68, the unions are about to organise the "convergence of struggles" faced with the policies of Macron[1]. Lies! In May 1968 the workers took up their struggle spontaneously, without union slogans or union orders. The latter in fact ran after the movement in order to sabotage it all the better. The contemporary cartoon by Sine at the head of this article is very explicit about the resentment of the working class towards the dirty work of the unions.

The Grenelle Accords that the left and the unions celebrated as THE great victory of 68 were the outcome of the government and unions working hand-in-hand to stop the movement and defeat it. These accords brought in a rise in purchasing power much less than those gained in the preceding years. A fact that's hidden today is that the workers immediately felt these accords as an insult.  Coming to Renault Billancourt on the morning of May 27, Seguy, Secretary General of CGT, faced plenty of booing and whistling and many union cards were torn up. On May 30, De Gaulle announced the dissolution of the National Assembly, elections at the end of June, and the opening of branch by branch negotiations. The unions took this opportunity to send back to work the sectors (such as EDF-GDF) where the bosses went beyond the Grenelle Accords. They strengthened this pressure in favour of a return to work through all sorts of manoeuvres, such as the falsification of votes, lies about who had or hadn’t gone back to work, and intimidation in the name of the struggle against "leftist provocateurs". One of their biggest arguments was that the workers had to go back to work so that the elections, which were supposed to "seal the workers' victory", could take place normally.

And May 68 is not "a thing of the past"

May 68 is presented as a movement of the period of prosperity. In other words it belongs to the past, another time. Once again, nothing is more false! From 1967, the world economic situation began to deteriorate, opening the period of the permanent crisis that we've known since and confirming that capitalism is a decadent system that it's necessary to overthrow. May 68 confirmed that the proletariat was the revolutionary class; that it had the strength to organise itself and develop its consciousness through debate in autonomous general assemblies; that it could stand up against the established order and shake it to its roots. Above all, May 68 marked the end of 40 years of Stalinist counter-revolution! The importance of this event shouldn't be underestimated. May 68, and the wave of struggles which then swept through various countries, signified that the working class was not ready to accept all the sacrifices demanded in the interests of Capital, and still less to sacrifice its life. It is this, and nothing else, which prevented the confrontation between the Eastern and Western blocs from degenerating into a Third World War! Since then, the development of the proletarian movement has met many difficulties. The idea that "revolution is possible but not really necessary" has given way to "revolution is absolutely necessary but has become impossible". The proletariat has lost confidence in itself. But the reality of proletarian strength in May 68 must be a source of inspiration for the future. The bourgeoisie knows it and that's why it covers it with so many lies!

Bmc, April 28, 2018


[1] For an analysis of the present movement, which is a trap laid for the proletariat, we refer our readers to the article on this site:



50 years since May '68