Friday, 2 May 2014

Egalité! Liberté! Sexualité!: Paris, May 1968

In Paris in May 1968, massive confrontations between police and students brought workers out on a general strike and brought the government to the point of collapse.

The background to these events included: demise of the Bretton Woods arrangements, the successful Tet Offensive in Vietnam, the suppression of the Prague Spring, the growing influence of Maoism after the Sino-Soviet Split and the growth of Euro-communism, as well as the earlier crisis over Algeria. The May 1968 events in Paris would be followed by convulsive clashes between police and students in countries all around the world, and would have a lasting political impact. The popular anti-authoritarian spirit of 1968 was also eventually seen by many as a wellspring of the successful rebellion against Soviet-bloc communism in 1989.

If anything, it could be described as a “libertarian” rather than “proletarian” revolt; a creative rather than a violently destructive protest. As a result of this, it had definingly unique street art, posters, humour, slogans and graffiti, influenced by the surreal anarchist movement (principally the Situationist International). Starting amongst the students of metropolitan Paris, unusually for such disputes the workers and Trades Unions supported the students and became involved in mass strikes, often ahead of the 'leadership' elements of the vanguard revolutionary socialist parties. It was a street rebellion. 

May 1968 is at the same time enigmatic and confounding. It has has a profound impact of French cinema, art, music and culture, but perhaps not so much on politics. The Rolling Stones own homage to the events, Street Fighting Man was an attempt to address the political upheavals of May 1968, but I have set this slide show to Gimme Shelter, which I think is a better tune. 

By North Utsire

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