Civil Rights Movement - France 1968

France 1968

Main article: May 1968 in France

A general strike broke out across France in May 1968, which began to reach near-revolutionary proportions before being discouraged by the French Communist Party and finally suppressed by the government, which accused the communists of plotting against the Republic. Some philosophers and historians have argued that the rebellion was the single most important revolutionary event of the 20th century because it wasn't participated in by a lone demographic, such as workers or racial minorities, but was rather a purely popular uprising, superseding ethnic, cultural, age and class boundaries.

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 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 on 23 June 1968.

The government was close to collapse at that point and 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, urged on 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.

Most of the protesters espoused left-wing causes, communism or anarchism, and 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. A small minority of protesters, such as the Occident group, espoused far-right causes.

On 29 May, several hundred thousand protesters led by the CGT marched through Paris, chanting "Adieu, de Gaulle!", "Goodby, de Gaulle!".

While the government appeared to be close to collapse, de Gaulle chose not to say adieu. Instead, after ensuring that he had sufficient loyal military units mobilized to back him if push came to shove, he went on the radio the following day (the national television service was on strike) to announce the dissolution of the National Assembly, with elections to follow on 23 June. He ordered workers to return to work, threatening to institute a state of emergency if they did not.

From that point, the revolutionary feeling of the students and workers faded away. Workers gradually returned to work or were ousted from their plants by the police. The national student union called off street demonstrations the government banned a number of left organizations, and the police retook the Sorbonne on 16 June. De Gaulle triumphed in the elections held in June and the crisis had ended.

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