The May 1968 riots refer to an upsurge of general strikes and leftist-orchestrated rioting among Maoist and Trotskyite groups as well as student radicals in France during this time, being the largest general strike in the history of France, and also the first wildcat strike action to be practiced. It resulted in the economy being ground to a halt due to several of the rioters occupying various Factories around France.
Although treated by various leftist media and scholars as being spontaneous and having the majority, if not all of France's youth participating in the riots or at the very least influenced by them, it was actually a minority rabble of Maoists and Trotskyite groups trying to impose their will on society (with at best 22% of the population actually participating.). Some of their goals also were similar to the Hippie movement in America, including promoting sexual liberation and anarchism, and also protesting American involvement in the Vietnam War, in some cases they even went as far as to protest "American imperialism" by burning the American flag. The events were also responsible for Charles de Gaulle being re-elected due to the populace ultimately being disgusted by the violence (although leftist scholars falsely claim that said protests did the opposite and nearly caused de Gaulle to be brought down). Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre also was involved in the riots, and ended up arrested, although de Gaulle ended up pardoning Sartre largely due to the latter's status as a philosopher, citing that "one does not arrest Voltaire." Although the direct starting point for the riots occurred in February of that year when the French Socialists and Communists entered an alliance to force Charles de Gaulle and his administration out of office, there is also evidence that the Situational student movement's protests at the Strasbourg campus of the University of Paris two years earlier had played a role in the creation of the riots. Ironically, the French government would later create the University of Vincennes partially in response to the student radicals' demands during May 1968, only for them to be even more radicalized and protest even further, with such being relegated by the university's philosophy department, of which post-structuralist philosopher and leftist Michel Foucault had been in charge of at the time, with him being one of the few faculty to directly participate in a similar protest that was staged in January of the following year. Foucault never participated in the events of May 1968 in person, largely because at the time they had occurred, he was required to teach at the University of Tunis. However, he nonetheless was kept informed of the constant disorder via his homosexual lover Daniel Defert, who was in Paris at the time, holding a transistor radio to the phone for hours on end that gave reports of the carnage.
Although the left has often compared it to the hippies and treated it as a success, even more so than the hippie movement at times, various French citizens felt it was not a good event. In particular, Génération Identitaire, a conservative youth movement in France seeking to restore France's national identity, placed the blame squarely on the participants of May 1968 for France's identity being stolen in their manifesto. In particular, they specifically stated how the participants of the May 1968 riots had professed a desire to liberate themselves from tradition, knowledge, and authority in education, but all they liberated themselves from was their own responsibilities, and how the members of Génération Identitaire represented the generation who felt the aftereffects of those choices.
Notes and references
- The total population of France that year was 50,024,586, while the total participants of the riots amounted to between 10,000,000 and 11,000,000
- "The perversions of M. Foucault by Roger Kimball - The New Criterion". newcriterion.com.