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13 May

Page history last edited by Phil Pierce 6 years ago

13 May – National Strike 


The 13 May 68 was a very symbolic day for the strike because it was not just the tenth anniversary of the coup d’etat in Algeria but it was also the tenth anniversary of De Gaulle’s return to power which was marked by protesters demanding De Gaulle’s end of governance. France's population started to address many different ills of society and in particular many were protesting against De Gaulle. With mottos such as ’10 ans, ça suffit’ (10 years is enough), the French people were demanding change. It was also the tenth anniversary of the coup in Algeria (13 May 1958). A common sentiment was that the General had been brought in to deal with Algerian conflict and now he had done his job and it was time for him to leave. De Gaulle was seen by a lot of the youth as outdated and not in touch with modern France.


There were many different groups involved in the demonstrations who had slightly different demands, Initially some of the different groups were situated in different areas of Paris before uniting under the agreed single theme of: Students Teachers Workers All United'. In the beginning of the afternoon the youth movement were gathered together outside the East station terminal: Garde de l’Est, displaying the slogans: 'le pouvoir est dans la rue', (the people have the power), 'Adieu De Gaulle' (Goodbye De Gaulle) and 'De Gaulle aux Archives' (an end to De Gaulle). In Paris, Grenoble and Marseilles the protests were peaceful, in Paris the demonstration was well organised and smooth with 10 000 police officers discreetly observing the millions of protesters, standing positioned by the Hotel de Ville, L’Elysée and the parliament.



Red flag waving.svg  

Image taken from Wikipedia, the Red flag, symbol of the working class revolutionary movement and Socialists and Communists

Image taken from Wikipedia

Source: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drapeau_rouge





The black fag is a symbol of Anarchism

Image taken from Wikipedia

Source: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symbolisme_anarchiste








The 13 May was one of the largest demonstrations that had ever been held in Paris. The country became paralysed for about 3 weeks due to the continued strikes thereafter.

During the prelude to 13 May De Gaulle decided to concede to the demands by agreeing to free the prisoners and to free La Sorbonne from the forces of order, however this did little to appease the situation. This day was the beginning of a series of national strikes for the working classes as well. By the end of the demonstrations of 13 May, most of France’s universities were occupied by protesters and about one million protesters were participating. This one million was made up of all groups of society such as students, labourers, farmers, politicians and college students who were all united in protest. The 13 May became a day of free expression where many social problems were being brought forward. The seriousness of the situation was not taken seriously by De Gaulle who would later depart on a trip to Afghanistan.


Although the demonstrations were largely peaceful in Paris, other demonstrations of May 13th were not as peaceful. In Clermont-Ferrand, Mans and Nantes violence broke out and the French flag was taken down to be replaced by the black or the red flags.  Barricades were also built in neighbouring streets. 

During the day of 13 May in Brest another huge rally of more than 20 000 people was held which had clear objectives such as: The defence of jobs,’ The guarantee of resources,’ and ‘The increase of spending power,’.




Initially the PCF (link) (French Communist Party) was unsupportive of the student protests in the Quartier Latin because they were from bourgeoisie middle class backgrounds who they deemed to be inappropriate forces to unify with, they were called the false revolutionaries serving the Capitalist interests who deserved to be unmasked by Georges Marchais, who was second in command of the Communist Party, in the newspaper l’Huminité on 3rd May. However, many newspapers changed their tune after 10 May.


One of the groups which was initially involved on 10 May was the movement of 22 March (M22). This group was made up of the different groupuscules (political groups) who were politically active on the campus, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and some who had never been in politics before but who were all united against the arrests of protesters demonstrating against the war in Vietnam outside the American Embassy.  For the 10 May demonstration the March 22 movement had the support of the teachers union (SNESup), students union (UNEF) and the movement off Lyceen students (LAC) who had been formulating demands to free the Sorbonne from police occupation and to free their arrested comrades. 


The list below gives more of a clearer picture of some of the different groups that were politically active and taking part in the demonstration on May 13. From this it is also clear how the political landscape differed then from today. It is questionable as to whether people are as politically aware today of the many branches of political ideas and alternatives as they were then.


Here is a guide below to give an idea as to some of the main groups that were active on May 13.


UNEF: Union National des Étudiants de France

SNESup: Syndicat National de l'Enseignement Supérieur , the teachers union

CAL: Comité d'Action Lycéen, The movement of college students 

Trotskyists of the Revolutionary Communist League (in French: 'Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire' or 'LRC'),

The Situationists

The anarchists (in

ULCML: The Maoist Union of communist Youth Marxist-Lennist ( L'Union Jeunesse Marxistes-Léninistes

The Situationists

The Anarchists (including Daniel Cohn-Bendit)

The Maoist Union of Communist Youth Marxist-Leninist (in French: 'Union des Jeunesses Communistes Marxistes-Léninistes' or 'UJCML')






Political Context


That there was so much interest and knowledge in politics among the youth which is evident due to the high number of political parties that were active at Universities and even colleges. This is even more interesting because the legal minimum age to vote was 21. There was not just the PCF (French communist party) but there were different branches of communism in which were also active in both universities and college. Trade and student unions also had political tendencies.

Some of the groups involved in the strikes were the student unions, including UNEF (Union National des Étudiants de France), SNESup (Syndicat National de l'Enseignement Supérieur) and a movement of college students known as CAL (Comité d'Action Lycéen) all of which organised their contribution to the mass demonstration. There were many politically aligned groups involved in the demonstrations such as the Trotskyists of the Revolutionary Communist League (in French: 'Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire' or 'LRC'), the Situationists, the Anarchists (including Daniel Cohn-Bendit) and the Maoist Union of Communist Youth Marxist-Leninist (in French: 'Union des Jeunesses Communistes Marxistes-Léninistes' or 'UJCML') who were all in competition with each other due to somewhat small disagreements on fundamental principles of their beliefs.


However, the demonstration on 13 May was ultimately a movement without a single or particular leadership but was made up of many protesters at the forefront who were, quite simply, individuals.


Who was Daniel Cohn-Bendit


Daniel Cohn-Bendit was a second year Sociology student who was the leader of the movement on 22 March. He was interested in the anarchist movement - anarchists believed in self management (autogestion in French) and were neither capitalists nor communists. His views were partially influenced by lecture subjects based on the Spanish Revolution, the Russian Revolution and a piece or work called Socialisme ou Barberie. He believed that this offered ways of forming a societal structure. He participated in the student movement in Germany and the SDD and he claimed that the German students showed us that it was possible to have clear objectives aiming for a radical transformation of structure of society (relating to his belief in self-management). He also participated an Anti-Vietnam war protests in Berlin during February - this movement was also worldwide. 


The media had focused a lot of attention on Daniel Cohn-Bendit; he seem to be singled out by the press and was viewed by some as a trouble maker and a foreign enemy from within. He was German by official citizenship and of Jewish decent; this is why the French media decided to refer to him as a German Jew. This deliberate use of nationality and religious heritage was designed to play on France’s underlying anti-German sentiment which was very strong after the second world war. This anti–German sentiment is portrayed through the negative perceptions of the Alsatian population, for example. Alasce is a region in France lying on the German border which has changed hands more than once between Germany and France. Since it has been under French rule, German has been banned in schools and the dialect has been described as being a shameful illness and a behaviour that is threatening la Francophonie. The imposing of French language and culture represented the need felt to exorcise any German influences from French soil. This could also be compared to the expulsion of German Jew, Daniel Cohn-Bendit.


The 13 May, the start of a revolution or a missed opportunity? 


The 13 May was a crucial day because it was the first day that created a large scale national movement which effectively created a national stoppage and put immense pressure on the government. This is because up until that particular day most of the demonstrations that had been occurring were regional actions, of a smaller scale. This is despite the fact that most of them represented important problems of French society, at the time. This had meant because of the lack of scale of the regional actions the press had been able to ignore them as well as president De Gaulle. The 13 May had the potential of overthrowing De Gaulle because all of the different groups and sections of society that formed to make one national movement. This movement, despite lacking consensus and at times, the real unity had the potential opportunity for producing a complete change in the political system of the time which is still the same today. May 68 is often referred to as the missed opportunity for revolution.

The reason for the failed opportunity could be viewed as, firstly, most of the political groups (groupuscules) were not united having internal disagreements, especially the PCF (having a strong influence over the CGT), who had an important role in the events of 68. It was the PCF who was influencing the workers unions actions on deciding their stance, of reforms and material demands rather than revolution. It would have been the PCF who would have been part of alternative political option to De Gaulle. Furthermore, the PCF was strongly influenced by the Kremlin who wanted De Gaulle to remain in power. This was because of his anti-American political stance so the Kremlin advised the PCF not to get involved in any direct which would overthrow the De Gaulle. The CGT was heavily influenced by the PCF, which meant that many of the workers were directed back to work by the trade unions.


When De Gaulle decided to hold a referendum to put an end to the continued strikes throughout May, the population did not see a viable political alternative, also a huge amount of the population was under 21 (due to the baby boom) and could not vote. This meant that De Gaulle managed to remain in power and to also suppress his political opposition. De Gaulle blamed the trouble in France on the left wing parties claiming that they were foreign influences who were antidemocratic. After May many of the left wing groupuscules were outlawed and the selling of their newspapers banned.


Therefore 10 May and the national action that it instigated really was a missed opportunity for real political change, although many reforms were made the democratic system failed because of the suppression of political alternatives to capitalism.





Source:  Reynolds., C. 2011. Memories of May 68, France's convenient consensus. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. p. 41, 40,


Mai 68, Trente Ans Apres, Les Années 60 : 1998. [film] Broadcaster ARTE.  Learning Material from NOW. Weekly Learning Materials, Week 5 


Source: Author: par jillllll | SEPTEMBRE 29, 2008.  LA NUIT DES BARRICADES AU QUARTIER LATIN


Last Accessed : 05/03/2-018, 8 :40pm.


Image of Police Abuse 

Author : Maux et Mots de Miche. Blog 50, mes goûts et mes couleurs, mes plaisirs, l’écrit du cœur, la vie dans tout les sens.


Last accessed : 04/03/2018,  09 :00 am.


Source: Le mouvement du 22 mars. Entretien avec Daniel Cohn-Bendit

[article] Geneviève Dreyfus-ArmandDaniel Cohn-Bendit. Matériaux pour l'histoire de notre temps. Année 1988 11-13 pp. 124-129

Available at: http://www.persee.fr/doc/mat_0769-3206_1988_num_11_1_403840 


Philippe Artières, Michelle Zancarini-Fournel  Une Histoire collective 68,1962 – 1981. p.215, p. 222 - 223.


Reynolds., C. 2011. Memories of May 68, France's convenient consensus. Cardiff: University of Wales Press. pp. 1, 2.


Monday 13th May1968 - trade unions CGT and CFDT start a general strike and join the students who had been protesting since the start of the month

Source: 13 mai 1968 - Grande manifestation contre de Gaulle (12 May 2013)

Image from: http://aujourdhui.over-blog.fr/article-13-mai-1968-grande-manifestation-contre-de-gaulle-117631810.html





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