May ’68: Critical Tasks Review

Key ideas that came out of the listening tasks and the archive documents review were the themes of power, resistance and Left wing politics. The left wing politics that were in play during May 68 were diverse, with Maoism, Marxism, Communism, Socialism, Existentialism, Structuralism, and the ideas of the working class and the proletariat. Prominent philosophical thinkers linked to the movement included: Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jacques Derrida, and Guy Debord. Interestingly enough, in the walking tour only Sartre is specifically mentioned as attending the student riots, and even then only in a small capacity. Many of the thinkers associated with the events of May 68 were influenced by what happened (or didn’t happen) afterwards more so than when the events were happening. Students and academics arguing in the streets and cafes on the riverbanks during the events mostly acted the ‘Philosophy in the Streets’ that is talked about so much.

The archive documents show a different side to the student events of the time. They are written in quite emotional language, and have strong resonances of Communism, using the address ‘Comrade’ and using strong calls to action for workers, students and trade unions to act in defiance of the de Gaulle conservative government. The slogan documents particularly shows how strong the feelings of the time were around the May ’68 events. The walking tour discussed this also with the section about using posters and slogans designed by students and artists of the movement, and how the posters were used to cover buildings with messages about the occupation and revolution. They also demonstrate the way in which posters, slogans and announcements played a huge role in communicating within the movement. The ways in which the student/worker committees worked together to try and bring about change is clearly highlighted here in the documents – occupying factories and getting workers involved becomes obvious as a part of how they tried to get the revolution to cement itself. It is likely that the failure of getting the factories fully occupied by workers is one of the reasons that the movement eventually crumbled – despite the huge influence and impact students had on the revolution and their role in it.

Power and resistance as active sites that work together is obvious here. The two are working diametrically towards the same goal here, which is to attain power through revolution, which is in itself an act of resistance of power. The key idea here is of the networks of power and the Structuralism approach that is used as an alternative to old Existentialism. The ways in which these are demonstrated is clear through the ways in which the archive documents are framed as connected to the resistance and trying to attain power through resistance and revolution. There is also historic evidence of this through the various speakers that are talked to on the walking tour about what the people/workers/students of Paris felt and experienced during the events of May 68.

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