May '68 and It's Afterlives

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May '68 and Its Afterlives

By: Kristin Ross
Published by: University of Chicago Press 2002

o Ross establishes the terminology and intentions for this project. She refers to the event as May and not as an event or a moment in order to let is stand on its own legs. May '68, she says, is really the mid-50s to the mid-70s.
o She explains that she has intentionally not gone out and done interviews for this research in order to avoid the affect that years and establishment have had on this story. She intends to pursue more contemporary sources.

Chapter One - "The Police Conception of History"
o Ross establishes the status quo understanding of May 1968 in Paris
ÔÇß The current stasis in the dialogue about this particular time in Paris is that "nothing happened". Even some revolutionaries who participated in this event and social historians of the time maintain that because power was not transferred, that nothing happened.
ÔÇß Ross investigates the possibility that perhaps the reason people believe that nothing happened was because the police (as the agent of the state) acted as the body controlling the information. The police as repressor would not have wanted information on any success of the revolutionary act to be public information.
• In this way, the concept that nothing happened is a success of those who did not want to loose control.
ÔÇß Ross also indicates that the police would have been covering up a great deal of brutality and so any impact the movement had would have been lost by default.
o Ross sets out, as her title would indicate, to highlight those political and social elements which are results of May in order to challenge the stasis that nothing happened then.
ÔÇß The policeman's club used to control the insurgency came to be associated with the hammering out (or into) of the dominant idea. While it started as literal club, as a symbolic enforcer of the dominant, it indicates one afterlife of May '68 and therefore the proof that something did indeed happen.
ÔÇß Ross puts forth the idea that the fight over the Algerian War was the beginning of a France that held an opinion other than the official one. That the fact France contained an unofficial opinion during May of '68 was one of the reason's that May could have happened in the first place because everyone's identity (student, worker etc.) was changed as was the sense of what it meant to be French.
• One element that was confirmed in during the conflict over Algeria was the "police power" which was the "ready for use in '68" (page 48.) The blurring of police and military, international and domestic and torture in Paris and 'police' in Algeria changed national conceptions of order. Ross contends that after May the police were invisible, but very visible. After May the Parisian police department had established a plain-clothed group of officers who were enlisted to attend university and then provide information on the trouble-making factions of students. Thus, the presence of police was always felt after May giving an additional example of the way that something happened in May.

Chapter Two - "Forms and Practices"
o Ross lays out the ways in which both worker and student participated in May and the unique opportunity of May because of this union.
ÔÇß The students who were protesting for their own needs were very successful in attaching their issues to those of the worker while the worker was on strike for his/her own issues. In this way, the intellectual and the worker came together creating a dynamic that scrambled identities and utilizes the strengths of both groups.
ÔÇß Ross depicts the contrary success of the DeGaulle government to separate the two groups in order to diminish their ability to usurp control from the government.
ÔÇß An important element in the power struggle between the worker/students and the police/government was the struggle for power but the Maoist influenced student/workers indicated that they were not necessarily aiming to take power from the current figurehead and hand it to another but rather to figure out how to get everyone to the head. To put control in the hands of many.
• They refer to this as the bottom up power model.
o One way they acted out the power up model was to participate in action committees which had no leader, no treasurer, no organizer, no head but was a group motivated by common ideals.
o Turning from a French-centric view of revolution was another manifestation of May '68. The revolution became "third wordlist" (page 85) in thrust and identity.
o Ross then explains the aftermath of student becoming worker and other groups melding in order to demonstrate yet another afterlife of May indicating that something happened.
ÔÇß Action committees continued to meet for years after May and taking information and reform-minded world views to even high school students creating very informed and active very young people.
ÔÇß The fact that the French student was linked to the French worker changed the borguoise dynamic permanently. Many students took work in the factories and conducted interviews with the workers in order to understand the workers world and way of life. In addition, students at a particular university in Paris that was surrounded by a ghetto spent time in those neighborhoods.
ÔÇß An afterlife of May '68, Ross argues, is seen in the French protesting the American Vietnam War. Despite the fact that Vietnam was a French colony, the French worker/student identified with the Vietnamese peasant and protested the American presence there (and everywhere) addressing the US government as the enemy of everyman.
ÔÇß One afterlife of May was the selling of books that self-glorified an individual's fight during May and chronicled how great it was to be on the front lines. Maspero, a bookstore owner and publisher aimed to get important catalyst literature into the hands of his readers adding to the affect of May and showing how something had happened.
• In addition, the liberation and revisionist-history newspapers (some of which ran for a long time after May) went through a transition into a mainstream source of information. The people involved in these newspapers recall the shift from revolution to information within their organizations confirming the fact that there had been revolution in May contradicting the concept that nothing happened.

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