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May 1968 in Paris, coupled with similar events in other European countries and the anti-Vietnam protests in America are one of the primary elements in the cultural and democratic imaginary of the 'New Left'. The Paris events are fascinating as a small section of society, students at Nanterre, began a protest which soon expanded to encompass large numbers of workers without Union approval and also several significant sections of the professorial and managerial classes. For a time French bureaucratic society was virtually at a stand still. Amongst the divergent political demands, those of 'autogestion' and self-management were clearly popular amongst both students and workers. The students demanded control over the universities and the workers over the factories.
We need to make an analytical separation between the actual events of May 1968 and the meaning that has been attached to it. As for the latter, Dominque Lecourt argues against the fiction that there was a coherent body of ideas, something that is frequently implied in New Left writing. However most commentators would agree that 1968 represented the emergence of something new ' qualitatively what that was, will inevitably change over time as the generation of political and cultural influencers born in those days in May occupy different social positions of power in the present. Yet some of the main players in the events that are sometimes upgraded to full scale revolution or downplayed to childish play, must be understood through their previous past. This goes for the ideas of Socialism or Barbarism, perhaps best represented by the personality of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, as well as the International Situationists, the producers of the infamous pamphlet, On the Poverty of Student Life. Maoist currents as well as the role of the PCF also require close scrutiny.
The autonomist themes of '68 represented for many, like Sartre, Lefebvre and Castoriadis a revolt not in the conventional frame of class politics, but against the whole alienated life of modern societies. Indeed the activities were opposed by many of the major parties of opposition and worker's Unions. The autonomist demands were as much pitted against Stalinist bureaucracy of the left in the form of PCF as they were against routinised experience of factory life. Thus the strong intellectual legacy of the Socialism or Barbarism's groups critique of the Soviet Union came to the fore. When De Gaulle called for a new election a year later it was these divisions in the left that allowed for the victory of George Pompidou on June 16, 1969.
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