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14th - 16th June 1968

Page history last edited by Tia Caswell 2 years, 2 months ago

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Prior to the 14th June:

The police expected the arrival of the famous "Katangais". They were a group run by an ex-mercenary from Katanga, Congo and this group of young men set up a Rapid Intervention Committee (RIC) and decided to work alongside the students. Despite this they were eventually expelled by the students who carried out one of two "sanitation" operations. The other operation was carried out by the police, which ultimately ended in the removal of the students from the Sorbonne. The large police forces participated in an evacuation process of l'Odeon which had been occupied since 16th May 1968. Around a hundred people were asked to leave the Sorbonne after their identities had been verified. As seen, this was a peaceful operation which started to mark the end of the movements of May 68. However, there was a threat of violence. The police forces who surrounded the theatre were armed with weapons and it is likely that they would have used violence if the students hadn't evacuated peacefully. The police forces were given one order: "Que ceux qui désirent sortir le fassent. Ils seront libres s'ils évacuent sans armes et sans intention belliqueuse ". This message was mainly aimed at the evacuation of the "Katangais" but demonstrated the idea that the police did not always want to use unprovoked violence. As stated, the police had expected their arrival and were fearful of what could happen as a result of their participation. They were a heavily armed group, but fortunately, they did not use any form of violence upon evacuation. They were dressed in clothes that any normal citizen would wear in order to be unnoticed and be able to fight with the students without raising any suspicion or thought of threat. However, the extent of the potential violence that did not occur was shortly realised. Bike chains, ox nerves, molotov cocktails and pickaxe handles were found in their locker rooms by the police. If provoked they could have been a major threat to the police and could have heavily influenced the outcome of the movement. It is possible to say that if they used their weapons, the movement could have become more violent than it actually was.

 

The month of June:

The month of June 1968 is often overlooked by society, with many holding the thought that it was an insignificant month during May 68. This however, could not be less true. June 1968 was indeed a very violent month for France with one main death alongside the increasingly violent ideology of the police forces. Throughout this month, the French police forces were directly ordered to use violence as a tool to put an end to the student and worker movements. This suggests that any violence that occurred throughout June was intentional and was not a freak occurrence. Even though the same could be said about the whole of May 68, it is still important to take into account the fact that violence was called upon. It did not just happen because a situation became out of hand, or the police forces were provoked. Instead, they were instructed to use violence even if it was not necessary. It could be said that it is fortunate that this did not provoke the students to carry on with their movement and that this did not fuel their anger anymore. Violence was used as a method to induce fear into the students and the workers and in turn, this did happen. By the time of the elections, May 68 had come to a halt and the movements had officially ended.

 

14th June: 

The students evacuate L'Odéon, nearly a month after the sneakily operated occupation of the theatre, and just two days later the same occurred with the students who had occupied la Sorbonne. This sparked the thought that the crisis of May 68 was finally coming to an end. Although this was technically correct, the positive and negative effects of the student and workers movement were still having an impact on society. One of the groups that were most affected by May 68 were in fact politicians, and it's safe to say that even after the movement had ended, some politicians were facing a more grueling task for the elections of June. De Gaulle found himself having to change the public opinion into a more positive viewpoint within the space of two weeks in order to maintain his political status as President.

 

 

 

Date taken: 6th June 1968, taken by: GeorgesLouis, License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Photo of five workers outside a factory in the South of France. The sign behind them on the left reads 'usine occupee par les ouvriers' (factory occupied by the workers) and the poster to their right, includes a list of their demands. Taken: 6th June 1968, taken by: GeorgesLouis, License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

 

Contrary to common belief that the terrible acts of violence and political unrest were exclusively attributed to the month of May 1968, the historical significance of June 1968 must not be underestimated. Evidently, 11th June saw the beginning of a seven week strike comprising of workers within the car and chemical industries. A few examples of the factories involved include: Peugeot, Renault, Citroen, Sud-Aviation, Berliet, and Rhodiaceta. It is clear that expressions of societal uproar such as strikes and demonstrations in France are not uncommon and can be traced as far back as the first French revolution, thus such demonstrations and strikes will remain traditionally attributed to the French culture and way of life for many years to come. 

 

By 12th June 1968, the French government decided to implement a ban upon all student demonstrations. Furthermore, on this same day, the government prohibited many student organisations considered to be 'radical' or 'extremist', one of which included 'le Mouvement du 22 mars' founded by Daniel - Cohn Bendit.  The ban is often referred to as: 'Décret du 12 juin 1968' (Decree of 12th June 1968). Under 'Décret du 12 juin' the following organisations were dissolved:

  • Jeunesse communiste révolutionnaire (JCR) (Revolutionary Communist Youth)
  • Voix ouvrière (Workers' Voices)
  • Fédération des étudiants révolutionnaires (FER) (Federation of Revolutionary Students)
  • Comité de liaison des étudiants révolutionnaires (CLER) (Liaison Committee of Revolutionary Students)
  • Union des jeunesses communistes marxistes-léninistes (UJC ml) (Union of Marxist - Leninist Communist Youth)
  • Parti communiste internationaliste (PCL) (Internationalist Communist Party)
  • Parti communiste marxiste - léniniste de France  (PCMLF) (Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of France)
  • Fédération de la jeunesse révolutionnaire (Federation of Revolutionary Youth)
  • Organisation communiste internationaliste (OCI) (Internationalist Communist Organisation)
  • Mouvement du 22 mars (Movement of 22nd March)

 

It must also be highlighted that the barbaric and merciless acts of violence which shook France throughout the year 1968 led to a battle between the radio and TV journalists. Evidently, the French television journalists, the ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française) organised a seven-week strike which commenced in June and ended 15th July 1968. It is thought that the strike, initiated by the ORTF emerged as a consequence of the ORTF media blackout, which occurred earlier in the month. Additionally to this, on the 24th May 1968, the government had decided to issue a ban, which prevented private radio stations and radiotelephones from reporting on the events. One reason for this was that the government wanted to minimise the public's involvement, thus the prevention of live reports meant that it was harder for enraged activists to see what was happening. However, this undoubtedly stirred further indignation and enmity amongst the general public. Citizens of France began to feel as though they were being unfairly treated, not only was their country suffering at the feet of a societal and political crisis, but French citizens, themselves, were not even able to tune into radio or television stations to further their understanding of what was happening on a national and global scale at the time. Thus, the French radio and television journalist strike of 1968 is often referred to as the media blackout, due to the fact that the French literally felt as though they were being kept in the dark regarding the societal and political uproar which had drastically hit France. As a consequence, slogans such as: 'La police vous parle tous les soirs a 20 heures' 'The police speak to you every night at 8 pm' became increasingly popular. Slogans such as this reinforce the widely held viewpoint that many French citizens believed that they had little power over their own lives. Furthermore, due to the censoring of TV and radio reports, people in France felt increasingly uninformed regrading the recurring political and societal crisis of 1968. 

 

Black and white image of Authoritarian police figure speaking into a French state-owned television station microphone.

Atelaire Populaire, Posters from the Revolution (London: Dobson Books Ltd, 1969/Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1969), 14. Copyright Usine-Université Union

(English: The police speak to you every night at 8pm) 

 

Notably, the interpretations of the events of 1968 are extremely controversial. On the one hand, that which occurred in 1968 is diminished to merely a student-led movement driven by the student's feverish resistance to the archaic, repressive system of the time. Thus, in many instances, the events of May and June 1968 have been depicted as nothing more than the consequences of a bourgeoise, student-initiated tantrum. This so-called tantrum was considered to be a product of the fact that the French students had observed worldwide, fundamental transformation and development. For want of a few examples of the way in which ideologies were changing on an international scale during 1968 let us examine the following: 4th April 1968, Martin Luther King (civil rights leader) was assassinated, this provoked riots and demonstrations in more than 100 cities across the entire nation. Furthermore, 5th June 1968 Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. In addition to each of these events, contextually many students at the time were fiercely opposed to the war in Vietnam and due to the fact that many of them had not lived through either of the world-wars, they regarded it as their responsibility to take their own futures into their own hands. Thus, students all over France began to protest for radical modernisation of De Gaulle's repressive system and for the implementation of sexual liberation and change. However, as a consequence of the fact that the majority of the parents, of the students that had grown up to be termed 'children of the baby boom', had outlived at least one war throughout their lifetime they could not even begin to comprehend why their sons and daughters were so highly dissatisfied with the system. From their parents' viewpoint, the imminent influence from the ever-growing consumerist society and 'les trentes glorieuses' indicated that life in France was at its best. According to Chris Reynolds in Memories of May '68: A convenient Consensus: 'The social phenomenon is often attributed to vast differences between generations and can perhaps explain the prominence of the idea of a 'generation clash'. The youth of the 1960s had had such a different upbringing to that of their parents that it could only lead to discord. Not having experienced the horror of war, young people are described as having found it difficult to understand the need for such an authoritarian form of leadership.' 1 This quotation reinforces the idea that many young people in France, during 1968 appeared to be dealing with a 'generation clash'; many young people wanted a different life, to that which their parents had led and consequently, the perception of happiness differed according to generation and age. 

 

On the contrary, a conflicting widespread belief glorifies 1968 as France's second revolution, a revolution which can be attributed to all members of French society, not limited exclusively to the student. During 1968, France was shaken by a wave of frantic violence and demonstrations, which derived from the leftist, activist ideologies of both the student and the worker. All around the world, the 1960s (the time period, experienced shortly after the economic boom) is still to this day, remembered as the century of drastic transformation and technological advancement. For want of a few examples: there is much controversy which suggests that in Britain the period between 1958 and 1973 is considered by many historians as the time of a great social and cultural revolution. In Britain, the 'sixties' encouraged change in all aspects of life from fashion to the liberalisation of thought. During this time period, various new subcultures emerged all across Britain, such as; The Hippies, The Rockers, The Teddy Boys and The Mods. Subcultures such as these became increasingly popular amongst young people, as they appeared to oppose, and in some cases, reject the norms and values of society. Furthermore, the internationalisation and evolution of music occurred, as iconic bands such as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones emerged in Britain, creating music which was different and wilder than any music which had ever been heard before. On a global scale, the 'sixties' witnessed globally commemorated events such as: the first man on the moon; Neil Armstrong, 1969, increased social mobility and education opportunities, regardless of class or gender, the sexual revolution, increased cohabitation along with a decline in stigma attached to divorce, homosexuality and abortion. Moreover, countries all over Europe were experiencing a fashion revolution, before the 'sixties' it was unthinkable for women to wear trousers in the workplace, after the fashion revolution, however, and due to the rise of individualism women began to want to rebel against the norms and values of society and consequently began to wear shorter hemlines, bolder prints and trousers. Meanwhile in France, 'les soixante-huitards' wanted to be revolutionary too, they craved drastic transformation and resented the seemingly outdated and repressive regimes of  79 year-old Charles de Gaulle. This feeling of resentment and displeasure led to that which occurred from the 15th to the 16th June 1968.    

 

15th June:

Evidently, 15th June 1968 saw the release of General Raoul Salin and ten other officers belonging to the 'Organisation armée secrète' (OAS). It is common knowledge that Raoul Salin initiated a revolt in 1961 against Charles de Gaulle's government and against independence for Algeria, in doing so Salin and his ten officers plotted the (unsuccessful) overthrow and the assassination of President Charles De Gaulle. Thus, Salin was charged with treason and sentenced to life imprisonment in Tulle Prison, France. However, 15th June 1968 (merely seven years later), Charles de Gaulle absolved Salin and his ten officers for their crimes, whilst declaring their release from imprisonment. This unforeseen forgiveness is often considered as one of Charles de Gaulle's cunning attempts to increase his popularity and support amongst right-wing voters in the upcoming national elections 23rd - 30th June 1968.

Furthermore, A silent procession was organised following the funeral of Gilles Tautin. Exactly one year later; 17th June 1969 at the Renault factory of Flins violent clashes broke out amongst more than a hundred proletarian leftist militants, led by the likes of Olivier Rolin and Jean-Claude Milner. It is thought that these clashes were a sort of commemoration for Gilles Tautin, who died in the river Seine in front of the Renault factory of Flins (10th June 1968).

 

16th June: Succeeding the evacuation of the Odeon which took place on 14th June 1968, the police evacuated student rebels and demonstrators from the Sorbonne University, Paris. In light of the countless demonstrations and mass revolts which occurred all over France during the year 1968, the Sorbonne soon became the prominent symbol of 'May/June 1968'. It is claimed that before the evacuation took place, more than 500 students had occupied the interior of the Sorbonne to exhibit their stubborn resentment and vexation to De Gaulle's endlessly, repressive system. Despite the students' remarkable efforts, the Sorbonne was evacuated by interior Ministry Officials who instructed the students that if they abandoned the building they would be searched for weapons, but not arrested. Consequently, the students vacated the building peacefully. Although the students appeared to leave the building peacefully, the fight was clearly not over. Police reported to have found a wide variety of arms ranging from iron bars, chains, gas masks, helmets and gasoline for Molotov cocktails to hundreds of leftist pamphlets, leaflets and posters. After the Sorbonne was reoccupied by the police, the police took down the French rebellion flag and hoisted the French tricolaire flag in its place, this act of French patriotism (the symbol of the tricolaire) marked the reoccupation of the Sorbonne and the defeat of this particular act of student resistance. However, we must continue to ask ourselves whether or not the students really were defeated in the events of May/June 1968.

 

1Reynolds, C. (2011)Memories of May 68': France's Convenient Consensus, Cardiff: University of Wales, Page:37

Quélin, Jean-Pierre, 2008, Investi par la police, l’Odéon est évacué sans incident, http://www.lemonde.fr/le-monde-2/article/2008/05/09/investi-par-la-police-l-odeon-est-evacue-sans-incident_1042797_1004868.html, [Accessed 19/04/18]

 

 

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