May '68: An activist remembers

Submitted by Anon on 30 June, 1998 - 3:23

“At the time I was a student in Bordeaux, active in the French students’ union UNEF. Politically I was hesitating between the PCI [the ‘Lambertist’ group] and Lutte Ouvriere, or, as it was then, Voix Ouvriere. I had friends in the PCI, and my brother was in VO. After May-June I made my choice for VO.

There had been a rise of working-class struggle in 1967-8, but no-one expected what happened in May. We first realised that something very big was happening with the big Paris demonstration of 13 May. That was the entry of the working class into what had previously been a student struggle. The strikes and factory occupations followed in the next few days.

On the left in Bordeaux, we had very little of the JCR [forerunner of the LCR, and in Paris the most visible of the revolutionary groups], but lots of Maoists. The PCI and its youth group, the AJS, had strong influence in a physical education teachers’ training college; and there was Voix Ouvriere. At that time VO’s policy was to go everywhere that they might find people interested in their ideas.

Everybody talked about worker-student solidarity, but nobody knew exactly what to do. Some young workers did come to the student meetings, but they were mostly anarchists. Bordeaux has a sizeable Spanish community which had a strong anarchist tradition. The political discussions I remember were all about Marxism or anarchism.

We had committees of action, as in Paris. I was involved in a health committee of action. I remember proposing a commission on work conditions. But nobody was able to formulate a coherent policy for the committees.

The PCI organised lots of meetings with peasants in the area round Bordeaux, to promote worker-peasant solidarity.

In 1967 there had been big industrial struggles at Caen, and also at the Dassault aerospace factory at Bordeaux — a four-week dispute led by the CGT and anarcho-syndicalists in Force Ouvriere. Dassault was the first factory in Bordeaux to strike in May 1968, and the others followed. All the factory occupations in Bordeaux were run under strict Communist Party control. We were most active around Bennes Marelle, a factory manufacturing skips, where we knew some activists on the fringes of the CP, and where we later started the first Lutte Ouvriere workplace bulletin in Bordeaux.

Although the CP generally kept control in the factory, lots of workers were critical of its lack of solidarity with the students and its role as a “party of order”. Among students, the CPers simply got booed and jeered at. Students of all backgrounds were active in the movement, though the Faculty of Law remained right-wing.

Discussions I remember on the big demonstrations? An old worker remembering the general strike of 1936. People talking about the lack of democracy in French society. Even people who were not really politically-minded would engage in long debates about whether revolution was possible. Some would say that the police and the army were too strong. We would get into discussions which actually did not correspond to the real relation of forces about introducing revolutionary agitation into the barracks and so on.

In the second half of May, there was a very widespread hostility to the established order, sympathy for the opposition to De Gaulle, the audacity of the students, and defiance of the powers that be. Then in the elections we had the great landslide to the right”.

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