1968: When the Communist Party Stopped a French Revolution

A young Parisian photographs the barricades stlll in place the morning after the riots. In May of 1968, angry students and workers took to the streets to protest against widespread poverty, unemployment, and the conservative government of Charles de Gaulle.

“For fifty years, the events of May–June 1968 in France have had a collective hero: the striking students and workers who occupied their factories and universities and high schools. They’ve also had a collective villain, one within the same camp: the French Communist Party (PCF) and its allied labor union organization, the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), which together did all they could to put a brake on a potential revolution, blocking the students and workers from uniting or even fraternizing. This reading of the events is often found in histories, most recently Ludivine Bantigny’s 1968. De Grands soirs en petits matins. I heard it fairly consistently from rank-and-file student and leftist participants in the May events whom I interviewed for my oral history of May ’68, May Made Me. Prisca Bachelet, who helped the students at Nanterre organize their occupation of the university administrative offices on March 22, 1968, and who was present for every decisive moment of the May–June days, said of the CGT leaders that ‘they were afraid, afraid of responsibility.’ Joseph Potiron, a revolutionary farmer in La Chapelle-sur-Erdre, near Nantes, said the strikes ‘ended when the union leaders pushed the workers to return to work.’ For the writer Daniel Blanchard, the occupations were a fraud: ‘The factories were very quickly occupied, not by the workers but by the local CGT leadership. And this was an essential element in the demobilization of the strikers.’ Éric Hazan, at the time a cardiac surgeon and now a publisher, viewed the Communists’ actions as ‘Treason. Normal. A normal treason.’ There is an element of truth in this characterization of the Communists, though only an element: the party line modified with events, and the general strike and factory occupations would not have been possible without Communist participation. In late April, before the beginning of les évènements, the PCF had issued warnings against the anarchist-leaning March 22 Movement, formed at the University of Nanterre and led by, among others, Daniel Cohn-Bendit; the party secretariat instructed its cadres to ensure the students not be allowed to approach factory workers should they march to the factories. On May 3, the party newspaper L’Humanité carried an article about the students at Nanterre headlined ‘The Fake Revolutionaries Unmasked.’ …”

Georges Marchais (l), one of the leaders of the French Communist Party, spoke to the strikers of the Renault factories in May 1968 during May-June 1968 events.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Documentary, Paris and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to 1968: When the Communist Party Stopped a French Revolution

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s