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40 years ago this month in Paris….Mai 68

category international | anti-capitalism | feature author Thursday May 22, 2008 22:37author by dunkauthor email fuspey at yahoo dot co dot ukauthor address BCN Report this post to the editors

“Be realistic, demand the impossible”

If you were walking the streets of Paris this month 40 years ago, chances are you would be completely caught up and participating in a time that has since changed French society forever.

Then, France was on the verge of a total revolt with 12 million workers on strike, 122 factories occupied, and millions of students fighting for a radical change in the way the world was working. A spark that boldly called for revolution and dreamed of an end to capitalism appeared to come out of nowhere. Its ripples sparked further questioning and action in other parts of the world including our own little island.

Ultimately, Paris ’68 did not succeed, but that’s not to say that the spark has been fully quelled or, indeed, that it wont boldly appear again in what are still troubled times.

From this explosion of direct action, self control and organisation of space, erection of and life behind barricades, experiments in mass participative democracy and violent confrontation with the powers, new ideas formed and are still forming about how our world works, what alternatives are more desirable and what has to be done to bring these dreams about.

In Ireland the spark seemed to ignite on an already quietly kindling Derry, which directly led to a bitter and bloody 30 year confrontation. The Paris flame was later felt in Dublin’s universities where again students occupied and fought for change, if albeit to a lesser extant then their French comrades. An interesting thing to note is how art and culture played a significant part in these days of action, from the Situationists’ ideas, films, posters, actions in Paris to sometime later, the Free Derry Fleadh with a legendary 23 non stop music session with Luke Kelly and the Dubliners to Tommy Makem’s “4 green fields”.

Today in Barcelona and many other places, May ’68 is being remembered, old films footage of street riots is being shown in cinemas, political spaces are again facilitating dialogue between activists from yesterday and today. This is just a little reminder, that the spark is still alive and kicking…

From Paris ’68 to where?

Paris ‘68

It began when university students in Paris occupied the area of the Sorbonne and Nanterre universities in response to a dispute over visiting rights to a female students’ dormitory. The protests grew into a call for wider university reforms and greater personal freedoms that led to three weeks of mass demonstrations. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest heavy-handed police treatment. In a show of solidarity, ten million workers, or roughly two-thirds of the French workforce, went on strike. It marked the biggest general strike in French history.

Ireland ‘68


Inspired by the growing call for civil rights by Martin Luther King and the blacks in the United States, Catholics in Derry started to organise themselves peacefully for change. The city on the edge was on the border of Northern Ireland and was unjustly maintained in a state of apartheid against the catholic “Irish” nationalist community.

In March 1968, a small number of radicals in the city founded the Derry Housing Action Committee, with the intention of forcing the government of Northern Ireland to change their housing policies. They used “direct action” such as blocking roads and invading local council meetings in order to force them to house Catholic families who were on council's housing waiting list for a long time. By the summer of 1968, this group had linked up with the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association and was agitating for a broader programme of reform within Northern Ireland.

In May, news went out around the world what kicked off in Paris, what it could achieve… it showed the times were changing. Perhaps this gave more hope to Derry that change was possible, but also showed what levels the powers will use to quell such demands for change.

“The Troubles”

On October 5 1968, a civil rights march in Derry, the Royal Ulster Constabulary "booted and bludgeoned" a crowd of teachers and clerics off the streets. In response, two thousand students from Queens University marched to City Hall to protest the brutality. These students were then rerouted and blocked by the police, an event that catalyzed the formation of the country's most dynamic student movement, People's Democracy.

On October 5, 1968, activists organised a march through the centre of Derry. However, the demonstration was banned and when the marchers defied this ban they were batoned by the RUC. The RUC's actions were televised and caused widespread anger in nationalist circles. The following day, 4000 people demonstrated in solidarity with the marchers in Guildhall Square in the centre of Derry. This march passed off peacefully, as did another demonstration attended by up to 15,000 people on November 16. However, these incidents proved to be the start of an escalating pattern of civil unrest that culminated in the events of August 1969….

Beyond ‘68, Free Derry and the battle of the bogside…

On 1 January 1969,a group of students in Queen's University Belfast, called People's Democracy, organized a march from Belfast to Derry in support of civil rights. They started out with about forty young people on 1 January 1969. The march met with violent opposition from anti-civil rights counter-demonstrators at several points along the route. Finally, at Burntollet Bridge, five miles outside Derry, they were attacked by a mob of about two hundred wielding clubs, some of them studded with nails, and stones. The police, who were at the scene, failed to protect them. Dozens of marchers were taken to hospital. The remainder continued on to Derry where they were attacked once more on their way to Craigavon Bridge before they finally reached Guildhall Square, where they held a rally. Rioting broke out after the rally. Police drove rioters into the Bogside, but did not come after them.

This was officially the start of Derry's "Troubles" and around this time the internationally renowned image "You Are Now Entering Free Derry" mural was established.

More Related Links (films, audio and text):

May 1968 Graffiti

Boredom is counterrevolutionary.

In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society.

Those who make revolutions halfway only dig their own graves.

No replastering, the structure is rotten.

We will ask nothing. We will demand nothing. We will take, occupy.

Down with the state.

It's painful to submit to our bosses; it's even more stupid to choose them.

Abolish class society.

We want neither to rule nor to be ruled.

All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely

Politics is in the streets.

Barricades close the streets but open the way.

People who work get bored when they don't work.

People who don't work never get bored.

The boss needs you, you don't need the boss.

Humanity won't be happy till the last capitalist is hung with the guts of the last bureaucrat.

A single nonrevolutionary weekend is infinitely more bloody than a month of total revolution.

We refuse to be highrised, diplomaed, licensed, inventoried, registered, indoctrinated, suburbanized, sermonized, beaten, telemanipulated, gassed, booked.

Coming soon to this location: charming ruins.

Our aim is to agitate and disturb people. We're not selling bread, We're selling yeast.

You will end up dying of comfort.

Poetry is in the streets.

The most beautiful sculpture is a paving stone thrown at a cop's head.

Revolution, I love you.

I'm a Groucho Marxist.

Desiring reality is great! Realizing your desires is even better!

Be realistic, demand the impossible.

Those who lack imagination cannot imagine what is lacking.

Arise, ye wretched of the university.

Professors, you are as senile as your culture, your modernism is nothing but the modernization of the police.

Neither God nor master.

If God existed it would be necessary to abolish him.

How can you think freely in the shadow of a chapel?

The more we make love, the more we want to make revolution. The more we make revolution, the more we want to make love.

Revolutionary women are more beautiful.

Make love, not war.

Down with consumer society.

The more you consume, the less you live.

Commodities are the opium of the people.

You can't buy happiness. Steal it.

The economy is wounded – Lets hope it dies!

I don't have time to write!!!

Don't get caught up in the spectacle of opposition. Oppose the spectacle.

No forbidding allowed.

The freedom of others extends mine infinitely.

MAI 68, the start of a long struggle
MAI 68, the start of a long struggle

YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY, Paris's spark ignites Ireland
YOU ARE NOW ENTERING FREE DERRY, Paris's spark ignites Ireland

author by markpublication date Thu May 22, 2008 18:52author address author phone Report this post to the editors

hope BCN treatin ya well

author by kbrannopublication date Thu May 22, 2008 23:18author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Excellent, cheers Dunk.

Great to remember that there was Revolution once and not just Referendum.

Were the French Universities fee paying or was there free 3rd level education at the time?

Here's a link to a discussion on the UCD "occupation" (15th up from the bottom)
Programme 15: 10th December 2006
What if Irish Students in the 1960's had been more radical.
Guests: Margaret McCurtain and Jim Lockhart


Related Link: http://www.rte.ie/radio1/whatif/1105145.html
author by Teddy - one man bandpublication date Thu May 22, 2008 23:33author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Les evenements, quelle nostalgie. I remember in Dublin I marched on an anti-Vietnam War demonstration to the US embassy in Ballsbridge. About two thousand were on the march, which was hijacked by a loony maoist group from Trinity College calling themselves the Internationalists. ('Escalate the people's war. Long live Chairman Mao, the Lenin of our time.' religious mania it was.) That year I also took part in DHAC protests about the Dublin housing crisis. I also went to an ecumenical service in memory of Martin Luther King after his assassination. Then I graduated, dressed in a suit and tie and went for a successful job interview. However, I don't wear ties these days. And I ain't rich. And I marched against the Iraq War in Feb 2003. And I've never been arrested. I must be either an honest or lucky citizen. And capitalism has won. And Russia lost. And Biffo's a loudmouthed eFFer. And I'm voting 'no' in the Lisbon referendum, but I think the other side will win. Plus ca change plus c'est la meme chose.

author by Redickulostpublication date Fri May 23, 2008 01:36author address author phone Report this post to the editors

..in the Lisbon referendum, but I think the other side will win? "

Are you out surveying or dropping leaflets anywhere?

As Dustin might say, 'it ain't over 'til the fat bird sings,' and I heard Mary Horny can't hold a note!!

Come on man, be positive. Get angry, get active, get involved, get organised!!


author by Nicholas Simmspublication date Fri May 23, 2008 21:00author email simms.nicholas at gmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

Danny the Red is now Danny the Green and he's voting YES

author by dunkpublication date Mon May 26, 2008 17:19author address author phone Report this post to the editors

kbranno, thanks very much for that audio link, i was not aware of that programme

is there any more links, stories, audios, films to this age

author by Rojospublication date Sun Jun 01, 2008 02:35author email saoririseoir at gmail dot comauthor address author phone Report this post to the editors

BBC has been doing several series' on '1968 - Myth or REality'. If Danny the Red is in the tent now, Tony Benn was a Minister in the British government then


Listening to the omnibus editions of the 'Day by Day' series, it would seem that protesters often didn't know exactly what they wanted, or how they intended to get it. Was 1968 really a fizzing over of the post-war baby-boom and the elite within it who had managed to make it all the way to university.

It was different in the US with the military draft to a dangerous war, and the assassination of two icons of the US Civil Rights movement.

In Czechoslovakia, Biafra and Vietnam it was different because of carnage.

It was different in the Six Counties, because the just reaction against bigotry and oppression had finally caused a popular momentum for change - albeit, along the lines of the US Civil Rights movement of a fairer sort of capitalism. This could also apply to much of ‘feminism’ which found 1968 to be a springboard.

In France, rebellion smouldered for a few weeks in the ivory towers of the Left Bank, before erupting onto the streets and becoming a free-for-all of recreational rioting ("under every paving-stone there is a beach"). Workers werren't slow to pass up the oppertunity of getting whatever they could vis-a-vis less hours and more rights to democratic expression (whatever that meant). So, the goals were at once absurdist (by some students) and limited (by many workers). The people of France quickly enough, woke up and smelled the uncollected refuse.

Where there was a coherent theme of '68, contesting sites of power rather than contesting the idea of top-down power, seems to have been the hallmark. This even applies to the post-modernist philosophies which championed the sort of phrasing of that last sentence; who were themselves seminal to ’68 in Paris, but were part of a well-paid academic and publishing élite – I speak in particular here about those alma mater of l’Ecole Normale Supérieure, Foucault and Derida, but they are veritable heroes compared to the rest of the subsequent po-mo industry.

The emptiness of most movements elsewhere is evidenced by their helter-skelter race to the political Centre (Right).

My father, was in some ways typical of the silent majority at the time. He'd just come back from six years in London enthused with the joys of being relatively rich. He bought back with him an identification with the music of Larry Cunningham (a Waterford-man who packed 6-7,000 into the Galtymore). He’s been a Fianna Fáiller ever since, but continues an old tradition of mutual aid (comhar) which is a core element of anarchism.

Elsewhere, Engelbert Humperdink and Dad's Army were more popular in the British Isles, than Van Morrison, the Doors, or even Bob Dylan (to judge by record-sales). Most people remained docile. The new right-on brigade just wanted to make a political statement borne of cultural change (in turn a product of the burgeoning media industries). With most of the '68 ‘rebels’, one set of cultural icons was merely swopped for another.

Well, that's the impression you'd get from the BBC's 1968 series and from the trajectory of many involved ever since.

One of the legacies of style over substance of '68, is extant in one of the most visible forms of political protest today in Ireland - i.e., the processual demos where people go along to hear the word from on high (either a stage with PA, or a megaphoned mantra.

What do we want?
Tthe freedom to each have an individual and distinctive voice!
When do we want it?

and thus, are people paraded like King Cole’s men in the nursery rhyme.

As for the roundabout ending, that's a matter of oil-crunch or oil-shock, depending on your preferred imagery and your levels of optimism. the new changes will have come neither from mass-movements nor ideologies. They have not been envisaged by the institutionalised Left.

As the posturing of 1968, ’78, ’88… fades from memory, new real players will become apparent – chances are, they will be the people on your street.

Related Link: http://www.indymedia.ie/article/87771
author by Teddy - one man bandpublication date Sun Jun 01, 2008 02:57author address author phone Report this post to the editors

With age and financial/family responsibilities the sharp edges of radical thought are eroded. One thing I noticed about the seventies in Dublin was the shift from neo-marxist dialectics to 'alternative' lifestyles - communal living, organic food, sexual freedom (you ain't kiddin'), support for street kids, interest in esoteric religion (the Divine Light Mission & the Children of God advertised themselves a lot then) and concerns about the environment. Fine, good causes many of then, though I dunno what happened to that 'perfect master' lad in the Divine Light and know for sure that there was a child sex abuse scandal in the States some years back among the Children.

Point I wish to make is that the drift into alternatives was also a drift into self-preoccupation and away from collective effort to bring about economic change.

Work on women's issues such as Women's Aid (refuge for battered wives), free legal aid for low income defendants, FLAC, and the anti-nuclear power movement focused on Carnsore did yield useful social results during the self-obsessed seventies, however. Something to cheer about - but an awful lot of activists eventually got stuck into jobs, money, marriage and mortgages and are still hidden there living lives of quiet stability.

author by dunkpublication date Mon Jun 09, 2008 12:08author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Understanding a little from '68 and remembering the effects from this time has led to some interesting things, as usual in these sad and mostly apathetic times, the architects seem to not be interested in this dialogue....thats 2008 for ya.

Regardless, we battle on and will engage in dialogue and action in august. One positive action/ event was last years climate camp and we hope that it will grow and grow: "protesters threathing direct action"...http://www.climatecamp.org.uk/invite.php

Climate Camp 07 - BBC News 24, Midday, Action Sunday

But from all this questiong and action for change, we have to ask what are we for...
an attempt to outline positive ideas for change was posted with only a little response earlier on IMC-IE: "Adapt Or Die": a complete rethink of how we live, construct, consume, eat, shit...

For many its simple little lifestyle changes, for others its nothing short of the next chapter in this unfolding strange story of civilization: the ecological revolution.


one profound strand of thought comes from US ecologist, Paul Hawken, and his ideas that all this re-awakening is the immune system of humanity kicking in, a subconscious mechanism of deep complexity, that is starting to struggle to work out what we have to do to keep living.. really really interesting and relevant: Blessed Unrest: “How the largest movement in the world came into being, and why no one saw it coming.”
check out his ideas and tools for change at:

Anyway, heres anothers views on these and those times of change... Fritjof Capra:
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Reflections on the Spirit and Legacy of the Sixties

In august we will be meeting in public spaces and discussing these issues...

Blessed Unrest @ Letterfrack?

author by kbpublication date Wed Oct 22, 2008 13:16author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Students on the streets, workers pissed off, civil societies changing Goverment decisions, capitalism in crisis and questioned by all. Let's not waste these opportunities!

author by dunkpublication date Mon Mar 09, 2009 17:09author address author phone Report this post to the editors

1- The end of '08 did look like history was repeating itself with the uprising in Greece, for a while it seemed it was spreading to more countries, even Sarkozy said he feared unrest might break out in Europe.

2 - We now exist in a very different world than that which this article was written in, that was pre "global financial crisis", now we have worker occupations in Waterford, where as far as i still know, the starry plough, the flag of the citizen army flies. numbers of 1,500 people a day in ireland loosing their jobs, 120,000 people march through the streets, and a national strike for M30.... Change is happening in Ireland, who knows what twists it will take??? Within crisis exists opportunity for quick radical healthy change.

3 - Iceland has already had its government overthrown by people taking to the streets since late January, people have been joking "the difference between Iceland and Ireland is 1 letter and six months!"

author by dunkpublication date Tue Apr 13, 2010 12:50author address author phone Report this post to the editors

RTE Radio Documentary on One - Gentle it was, Revolution it was not (Sunday 5th October 2008)

In this radio documentary we revisit the winter of 1968 when Ireland had it's own student rebellion.

The Documentary on One catches up with the four main ringleaders of Ireland's own student rebellion forty years on.


author by Dunkpublication date Mon May 02, 2011 09:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Back in the Day: French student protests spark May ’68 strikes

May 2, 1968: The French government shuts the University of Paris at Nanterre after a student protest against the Vietnam War.

author by Ennuisardpublication date Tue May 03, 2011 09:39author address author phone Report this post to the editors

It seems that many of the student revolutionaries of '68 - les soixanthuitards - let off a lot of pre-graduation steam before disappearing into middle class suburban respectability.

One of the 'gentle revolution' leaders of UCD in 1969 later became a gossip journalist.

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