May 68  

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This page May 68 is part of the politics series.Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.
This page May 68 is part of the politics series.
Illustration:Liberty Leading the People (1831, detail) by Eugène Delacroix.

"Sous les pavés, la plage!" --Situationist slogan

"Live without dead time" (1966) --Situationist slogan

"The May 68 underground publishing houses included Calder Publishing in the UK, Grove Press in the US, Le Terrain Vague in France and März Verlag in Germany." --Sholem Stein

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May 1968 (in this context usually spelled May '68) is the name given to a series of events that started with a student strike in France. It turned into a general strike which paralyzed parts of the country and led to the eventual collapse of the de Gaulle government. Most of the protesters espoused left-wing causes, communism or anarchism, though most mainstream leftist parties distanced themselves from the students and worked with the police and government to end the revolt. Many saw the events as an opportunity to shake up the "old society" in many social aspects, including methods of education, sexual freedom and free love. While some of the same leftists who worked against workers and students now call "May '68" a failure from a political point-of-view, it was a significant revolutionary moment in the 20th century.

It began as a series of student strikes that broke out at a number of universities and high schools in Paris, following confrontations with university administrators and the police. The de Gaulle administration's attempts to quash those strikes by further police action only inflamed the situation further, leading to street battles with the police in the Latin Quarter, followed by a general strike by students and strikes throughout France by ten million French workers, roughly two-thirds of the French workforce. The protests reached the point that de Gaulle created a military operations headquarters to deal with the unrest, dissolved the National Assembly and called for new parliamentary elections for 23 June 1968.

The government was close to collapse at that point (De Gaulle had even taken temporary refuge at an airforce base in Germany), but the revolutionary situation evaporated almost as quickly as it arose. Workers went back to their jobs, after a series of deceptions carried out by the Confédération Générale du Travail, the leftist union federation, and the Parti Communiste Français (PCF), the French Communist Party. When the elections were finally held in June, the Gaullist party emerged even stronger than before.

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