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"What have we learned from May of ‘68?"
Speech by Makis Papadopoulos at the university students'
festival of the organization of KNE of Attica (16/6/18), with the subject:
Perhaps some are wondering why we are discussing this subject today, fifty years after May ‘68. We certainly do not do it for reasons of nostalgia. Luckily for us, unlike SYRIZA and some of the opportunist currents’ events, today's event of KNE is mainly attended by young people, university students, and not just some middle-aged people who have experiential remembrance of the events or the related discussions over the last few decades in some university meeting halls.
We are discussing May of ‘68 not only to reveal the myths of the bourgeois propaganda which want to cover the reality, the myths that deny the leading role of the working class, of the CGT and the PCF in the struggles, while at the same time they provocatively place the exclusive political responsibility for the quick down turn of the movement only on them. The bourgeois myths that persistently present prominent anti-communist adventurists like Cohn-Bendit as genuine revolutionaries and present May as a mere students’ uprising.
We are discussing May of '68 because the self-critical examination of the positive experience and the mistakes, the weaknesses of the international communist movement make us stronger today, in order not to repeat the same mistakes, to bring the future faster, the abolition of the exploitation of man by man, socialism.
However, in order to understand the causes of the events of May of '68, as regarding any other historical event, we need to shed a light on the relationship between the economy and politics, we must understand the economic background of the developments. Of course there is the international dimension of the rise of the movement e.g. the movement in the USA against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, but today we will limit ourselves to France.
This year is the bicentenary of Marx’s birth, who noted in his work “The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte”, that people write their own history, but do not write it arbitrarily under free conditions that they have chosen by themselves but under objective conditions in which they find themselves, meaning the relations of production in each given period.
So, to understand the developments, let's take a short look at the evolution of the capitalist economy in France at this time.
The development of the French capitalist economy
After World War II, a State Plan for Modernization and Infrastructure elaborated by Jean Monnet was implemented in France, with the financing of a part of the investment by the American Marshall Plan. After 1954 the growth rate of the French industrial production reached 9-10% per year. The modern branches of nuclear power generation, aerospace, electronics are gaining a lot of dynamism compared to other powerful European capitalist economies. In 1968 there was no capitalist crisis in France. In contrast, between 1969 and 1973, France had the second highest growth rate after Japan.
The bourgeoisie of France was of course seeking to upgrade its role as an imperialist power on European territory. This goal became more imperative, since after 1960 it had lost its immediate political sovereignty in its 15 colonies, especially in Africa.
As the correlation of forces changes, General De Gaulle, who expressed the greater independence of French imperialism, differentiated himself to an extent from the US choices.
In 1966, France withdrew from NATO's military section and organizational structure. A French uranium enrichment network was created for domestic nuclear weapons production.
After 1963, the government restricted foreign investments in strategic sectors of the French economy. An attack against the dollar's sovereignty was launched. De Gaulle spoke in the period of the cold war of a "Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals". He criticized the US intervention in Vietnam, speaking to Phnom Penh in September of ‘66, while visiting the Soviet Union in the same year and recognizing the People's Republic of China.
In the process of establishing and evolving the EEC, De Gaulle counter-posed the “Europe of the States” to the proposals for supranational institutions and a common European foreign and defense policy. He vetoed the accession of Great Britain in 1963, which he considered the "Trojan horse" of the United States. He tried to build the Franco-German axis and signed with Chancellor Adenauer a Franco-German Convention of Periodic Meetings.
USA-De Gaulle controversy
After what we mentioned, we all understand why there was an American reaction to the politics of De Gaulle and why the intra-bourgeois contradictions in France were intensified. The independent and multifaceted post-war activity in France by the US in cooperation with the most pro-Atlantic forces of the French bourgeoisie was not limited only to restricting the influence of the PCF and the cultivation of anti-communism, but it concerned, over time, a form of bourgeois pressure on and undermining of the political dominance of De Gaulle.
In the first post-war years, it focused on the goal of then PCF's expulsion from the government of national unity and the shrinking of its influence in the working class. In spite of its reformist line, the strong influence of the PCF was considered an obstacle to the broadening of anti-Sovietism by the American services and as a potential risk to the stability of the system, in case the Party were to correct its line and obtain a revolutionary strategy and activity.
The PCF received 29% of the votes in the national elections in 1946, L'Humanité was the newspaper with the most readers, and CIG’s (CIA's predecessor) Director, Hoyt Vandenberg, warned that if the Party wanted it could seize power.
The post-war US anti-communist intervention included several plans and networks of secret agents, some of which were revealed by French bourgeois politicians in the context of intra-bourgeois contradictions. The Blue Plan to prevent the creation of a red France became known. The French anticommunist network, codenamed "Rose of the Winds" was set up, i.e. like the asteroid symbol of the Atlantic Alliance, led by the later special advisor to Socialist President Mitterrand, François de Grossouvre.
The CIA supported the creation and the activity of the secessionist anticommunist and trade union federation Force Ouvrière, which was trying to limit the great influence of the red workers’ confederation, CGT.
The CIA also supported the action of the illegal Secret Army Organization (OAS), which organized a coup against De Gaulle. Seeking to maintain the colonial yoke in Algeria, as well as murders such as the Mayor of Evian who supported De Gaulle and an attempt to kill De Gaulle himself.
During the period before May of 1968, according to a report of the French Parliament many years later, tens of thousands of members were recruited to the Civic Action Service, which participated in this secret war of secret services.
Also noteworthy is the support of pro-Atlantic social-democratic politicians by the anti-authoritarian and opportunist student groups, like Pierre Mendès France, who was warmly welcomed by the anti-governmental assembly on 27 May 1968 at the Charléty Stadium.
The Cohn-Bendit group including Maoist, Trotskyist, Anti-authoritarian trends targeted both the De Gaulle government and the PCF and in practice facilitated the accession to government of Atlanticist French Social-democracy.
Even non-communist militants in May 68, such as Guy Hocquenghem, named prominent protagonists of the time, such as Bernard Kouchner and Serge July, as organs of a pro-American pseudo-left.
Having seen what was happening in the bourgeois camp, let us now look at what the consequences of these developments had on the working class, the students, the youth.
Unsatisfied contemporary needs
In the specific period of 1968, we did not have a rapid deterioration, a sharp increase in the absolute destitution of the working class in relation to previous years, nor did a deep capitalist crisis break out.
So what did we have? In the 1960s, the tendency of the relative destitution of the working class was strengthened in relation to the wealth it produced, which the bourgeoisie, the major shareholders of the monopoly groups enjoyed. Workers empirically saw an increasing distance between their modern needs and their purchasing power.
In our age, the working class could no longer be content with meeting only basic needs such as clothing and everyday nutrition. It was concerned with the need for more leisure time, creative content of work, eradication of insecurity for the future, the real education of its children, improved health protection.
Even if it did not understand the mechanism of capitalist exploitation and did not study Marxism in a mass way, it experienced more intensely the contradiction between the socialization of work at nuclear power stations, yards, the automobile industry, modern factories, and the appropriation of the results of production by big capital.
It was now more educated and skilled than the first decades of the 20th century. It could objectively reflect more on who determines the pace of work, who decides on investments and priorities. As long as the revolutionary vanguard orientated it in this direction.
Employees were worried about the increase in mass unemployment, particularly among young people, which had risen from 200,000 in 1964 to 300,000 in 1967 and the outbreak of a crisis of certain sectors such as shipyards of Nantes and St Nazaire. They experienced the first measures to limit work and insurance rights with De Gaulle's Stabilization Plan, which among other things raised the insurance contributions and took the insurance funds from the control of the trade unions.
The lower stratum of the working class, that is, one and a half million workers, received the minimum wage (just 400 francs a month), which was not enough for decent survival, unless they worked a great deal of overtime every week.
Where the lack of satisfaction of modern needs emerged with particular acuteness was at universities. The needs of expanding reproduction of capital after war had increased the requirements for skilled scientific manpower. Scientific research and knowledge were becoming more and more widespread in production to the benefit of capitalist profitability.
Thus, in the 1960s, we have the spectacular increase of student entrance into universities. This changes the composition of the students in terms of their class origin, but mainly differentiated their class perspective. The risk of unemployment and underpaid wage work for the first time. In other words, the tendency of proletarianization appears.
At the same time, infrastructure, laboratories, buildings, lecturers are not adequate for students. Class barriers in education are becoming more intense. A series of anachronisms, such as the authority of the professor and the separation of student halls into those for men and those for women , were now considered unacceptable. Discussions on sexual oppression and women's equality were opened up.
Within this climate, a spark, such as the Act of the Ministry of Education, which concerned examination barriers and separation mechanisms for future students, was enough to trigger the first student mobilizations in late April. So the issue of the unsatisfied modern needs triggered a climate of a blurred general challenge, and some struggles broke out. The question is how the CP faced the situation.
The political weakness of the PCF
PCF had strong ties with the working class and great political influence in the trade union movement. In factory occupations, in labor struggles, in the big 10 million strong general strike that gave real political weight to May of ‘68, where the PCF trade union forces through CGT were in the lead.
Only after the giant political demonstration of the PCF on 29 May 1968 was De Gaulle really alarmed by the possibility of an escalation of the class struggle and the occupation of the Presidential Palace due to the dynamics of the struggles, even though the slogans were limited to the goal of a change in government.
De Gaulle accused the PCF of plotting against civil legality on 30 May, in order to push it in the direction of the de-escalation of labor struggles and compromise. It was only after the party's dynamic appearances that he threatened to choose "another way out aside from the direct vote", that is to say, emergency repression measures.
Unfortunately things were not as difficult for the bourgeoisie. The climate of a blurred, general challenge was never enough to lead to a planned and organized attack of the working class for power, nor for the labor movement to shape the appropriate social alliances.
PCF in the post-war period until 1968 was retreating more and more from the revolutionary strategy and finally end up following the line of the open capitulation of Eurocommunism. We will not be concerned today with the depth of this issue, which is rooted in contradictions and mistaken considerations of the pre-war elaboration of strategy of the Communist International.
What is important to understand is the decisive negative impact of the reformist line, the illusions about a parliamentary transition to socialism, with a government of cooperation of social democrats and communists. This strategy has led the PCF to often align itself as a pendulum in the intra-bourgeois contradictions in France between the pro-Atlantic bourgeois and the supporters of De Gaulle.
Time does not allow a detailed presentation of this course of opportunistic diversion and denial of the laws of the socialist revolution. However, it is worthwhile briefly mentioning its key points:
The PCF participated in the '46 national unity government, which had as its objective the capitalist reconstruction of France. For its choice it was criticized by Cominform in 1947.
After its dismissal by the government, with the proven US involvement in this development, it turned its fire at the 12th Congress (1950) only against American influence, acquitting in practice the French bourgeoisie.
After the 20th CPSU Congress in 1956, the goal of unity of action with social democracy, in which, among other things, the majority of pro-Atlantic bourgeois politicians are to be found, emerged. It was proclaimed that the violent revolutionary passage to socialism is not obligatory and that it is now possible to prevent imperialist wars due to a change in the international correlation of forces.
After the military coup in Algeria, and in the event of the 1958 referendum, where De Gaulle called for the concentration of many powers as President of the Republic, as well as the dissolution of the National Assembly, the PCF now specifically mentioned the goal of governmental cooperation between Social Democrats and Communists with a joint program which focuses on nationalization of certain monopolies, the strengthening of modern sectors of capitalist production, the reduction of unemployment, educational reform.
It cultivated the illusion that there can be a pro-people management of the modern needs of society, from the bourgeois state of the capitalists, with the change of government. It cultivates the illusion of parliamentary passage to socialism. It clouded the worker's opponent by talking only about the most reactive sections of the French bourgeoisie that support De Gaulle's ambitions to impose a military dictatorship. It clouded the role of the bourgeois democracy as the main form of the dictatorship of the capital.
In the presidential elections of '66 it supported the joint candidacy of François Mitterrand, who was committed to the Euro-Atlantic alliance. In the parliamentary elections of 1967 the PCF agreed with the socialist on a system of mutual withdrawals where the candidate of one party received less votes in the first round, withdrawing from the second round in favor of the candidate of the party with more votes.
At the 17th PCF Congress the General Secretary Maurice Thorez even referred to the goal of the unity of the socialist and communist party. In 1968, the French agreement of Champigny for socialist-communist cooperation was formulated, where nationalization and the widening of bourgeois democracy were confirmed as basic terms. It is worth noting that during the period from 1962 to 1968, Mitterand systematically avoided committing to the participation of the PCF in government if he won the elections. After the outbreak of the counterrevolution in Czechoslovakia, Mitterand spoke of the need of a new political alliance of “socialism and freedom” with a clear anti-soviet orientation. In essence he pressured the PCF to more openly distance itself from the CPSU.
Thus, in the face of the explosion of today's unsatisfied social needs that fed the stream of the unfocused challenge of May ‘68, the PCF was no longer able to form a revolutionary line that on one hand illuminated the necessity and historical timeliness of socialism and, on the other hand, contributed to the escalation of labor struggles and to the depth of their anti-capitalist direction.
While the modern needs for the right to work, for more leisure time, for creative content of work, for the effective utilization of the scientific man-force as a productive force for social prosperity illuminate the need to eradicate the path of growth based on capitalist profit, the PCF restricted the militancy and dynamism of the labor movement in an economic framework of struggle regarding wage growth, the reduction of retirement age, 40 hours of work per week.
These economic objectives are not even in a declarative way linked to the need for a total conflict with the power of capital, of NATO and the EEC.
The only political goal was the resignation of the De Gaulle government and the emergence of the so-called popular government.
For the bourgeois government it was easy to deal with this reformist line by suggesting the Grenelle Agreements between the government and trade unions on financial demands and calling for elections a few days after signing it.
In the Grenelle Agreement of May 27th, the bourgeois government made significant concessions in the face of the economic demands of CGT. It accepted an increase of the minimum days wage of 35%, lowering of the retirement age in order to limit the political dynamism of the escalating workers’ struggles. The workers in the factories under occupation did not accept the agreement immediately or unreservedly. In certain instances, intense discontent was expressed. However, inside the first week of June, industrial production began again.
The “libertarian” preachers of liberalism
The PCF's inability to express in a militant way, with a radical program of struggle with an anti-capitalist line to meet modern social needs, also contributed to the blooming of bourgeois and petit - bourgeois concepts, which in turn helped in the appearance of a mass anti-communist movement and the disarmament of the workers' movement.
Marcuse, for example, condemned the demands of the working class to meet some of its material modern needs, such as acquiring modern household appliances and a car, as responsible for its alienation. Thus, he inculpated the working class and obscured the fact that the capitalist system is responsible for alienating the worker from the product of his work, from his own working activity, from other people and from the environment.
But it is capitalism that imposes capitalist profit as the goal of labor and not the specific product or the particular service produced by the workers. It is capitalism that affects the class consciousness of the working class, which shapes specific consumption patterns, transforming everything into commodity, from water to health and the upbringing of children. It is capitalism that pushes many workers to compete to secure a temporary job within the jungle of the capitalist market.
This situation was not created by the development of industry and technology in general, but by the relationship of exploitation of man by man, the capitalist relations of production.
We will not discuss the multitude of petit-bourgeois and bourgeois currents that primarily influenced the student movement's ranks in May of '68. For many of them, such as the situationists, the existentialists, the neo-Freudians, the so-called anti-authoritarians, we will briefly refer to them in the intervention of comrade Loukas which follows.
However, we need to point out the political consequences of the "libertarian line" that glorified individual rights against any social oppression. This line was not only innocuous for the capitalist system but also useful for the new offensive of capital French Marxists of that time (Michel Clouscard) correctly spoke of "libertarian liberalism".
The anarchist slogans "it is forbidden to forbid" and "any kind of power corrupts"clouded the strategic goal of overthrowing the power of capital and disarmed the movement, because it is imperative to outlaw private ownership over the means of production in order to abolish the exploitation of man by man and unemployment .
The blurred and generalized demand for less government bureaucracy and more freedom became the banner of liberal bourgeois politics, which, of course, was applied by powerful bourgeois states – together with anti-communism, since it likens the bourgeois state to the state of workers’ power.
The glorification of individualism in opposition to the oppressive society in general became the backdrop of the American campaign that talked about human rights being trampled on in the socialist countries, which evolved into the contemporary promotion of the priority and protection of individual rights in relation to social rights and obligations. It is a deeply reactionary political line that baptizes any choice that prefers the interest of society as a form of social oppression. This political line oppresses and stifles the rights of the millions exploited in capitalism.
If we accept and extend these positions, in a few years we will be discussing about the protection of the individual rights of the rapist, the pedophile, the drug dealer. And of course, this position considers the right to the private ownership of the means of production to be sacred and inviolable.
The individualist myth of the right to subjectivity, that is that everyone is primarily responsible for himself, was exploited after May 1968 by the capitalist organization of labor. New forms of organization with the mantle of active participation and the liberalization of each individual employee's initiative increased competition among workers and the intensification of labor. They focused on the individual responsibility of each worker to raise the profitability of the company.
The real role of the Trotskyist groups
The Movement of March 22nd was harmless to the system in that as Cohn-Bendit himself, a Sociology student said then, it didn't have a definitive program, no hierarchy, no structure. The students that followed this line shouted “down with repression” and “imagination in power”, in essence leaving bourgeois power unscathed, allowing the bourgeois state to organize the exploitation and repression of the people. Additionally, Cohn-Bendit had on many occasions mentioned his own staunch anti-communism.
He condemned the government of De Gaulle and the PCF generally, systematically leaving politically intact the pro-Atlantic French social democracy. The “libertarian” vague slogans that were projected served in practice the aim of changing government.
This adventurist presence initially supported the basic Trotsykist group that had been expelled from the youth organization of the PCF France, which emerged as the Revolutionary Communist Youth with Alain Krivine as their leader.
They had already expressed their sympathy with the counter-revolutionary forces in Poland and mainly in Hungary in 1956. Refusing the possibility of constructing socialism in a country like France, they postponed the fomenting of socialist revolution to the distant future. The transitional program of struggle that they proposed focused on the creation of organization of workers' control on the territory of capitalism.
Their criticism of the PCF focused on the fact that it underestimated and did not encourage spontaneous worker action and militant forms of struggle. Their theoretician Ernest Mandel wrote, evaluating May '68, that experience showed that even when a revolutionary vanguard is not present, the workers' practical experience of capitalist contradictions can lead to the acceleration of the development of revolutionary class consciousness.
However, experience did not show this. The absence of an effective revolutionary vanguard facilitated the bourgeois class to defuse the rise of the movement. The bourgeois government utilized the carrot – that is the tactic of temporary concessions to labor's economic demands – and the whip – repression with arrests, injuries and murders and the threat towards the PCF that it was conspiring against bourgeois legality.
It mobilized para-state organizations such as “Defense Committees for Democracy” as well as hundreds of thousands of citizens that rallied in support of De Gaulle on May 30th, with the slogans “France for the French” and “Communism will not pass”. The para-state organizations had even begun to fire warning shots, occasionally, outside of the local offices of the PCF and the CGT.
They played the card of declaring early elections in which the Gaullists raised their percentage from 38,3% to 46,4%;. During the pre-election period the 18-year old worker and member of the Communist Youth, Marc Lanvin was murdered, as were 2 workers in the factory occupation at Peugeot and a 17-year old student. The PCF that had already called on the workers to stop the strikes after the satisfaction of their economic demands, set as a political goal the formation of a bourgeois government of “democratic unity with the socialists” and declared that it did not fall into the trap that would free up the hands of De Gaulle for a Constitutional Committee. Naturally, the events showed that the French bourgeois class was not aiming for a decisive class confrontation and managed easily to disarm the labor movement. The Trotskyist League that had formed mainly from the fraction that had been expelled from the Communist Youth appeared in the elections to support the goal of the forming a bourgeois government of cooperation between the Socialist and Communist Party.
As for the university students who chanted in May, “under the paving stones, the beach”, had already started from June to search out the real beaches to start their summer vacations
So quickly were the militant struggles of the French May of '68 decimated. Over the next years, France was assimilated more organically within the Euro-Atlantic imperialist plans. Cohn-Bendit who had started out from the Association of German Socialist Students, before becoming active in Nanterre of France, reappeared as a bourgeois politician in German in the following decades.
What was May '68?
Based on what we previously discussed, we can now draw some specific conclusions about the French May of 1968.
May proved that the very development of capitalism sharpens the basic contradiction capital – labor and objectively fuels the increasing dissatisfaction of the working class, the people, the youth of the popular strata. It revealed that no bourgeois policy, no form of technological modernization in the era of monopoly capitalism, where the system is rotting, can completely cover up forever, the gap between the possibilities to satisfy the needs of society that are growing and the sacrifices of those needs at the altar of capitalist profit.
Conversely, as the growth of the productive forces proceeds under capitalism, this gap only becomes greater, so much so that it can prove that this road not only does not lead to, but actually opposes the satisfaction of contemporary needs of society that are expanding and changing.
However, the worsening of the situation and the discontent of the working class does not automatically lead to the maturing of class consciousness on the part of workers and the poor popular strata.
It is necessary for a revolutionary vanguard to exist and to act decisively; that is, the CP under capitalism, in order to prepare and to lead the working class organizationally, politically and ideologically in order to bring to fruition its historic mission, the abolition of exploitation of man by man.
There would not have been a bourgeois revolution in France in 1789 without the Jacobins and Robespierre, the Greek bourgeois national liberation revolution in 1821 without the Filiki Etaireia, the October Revolution without the Bolsheviks and Lenin.
During the period of May '68 this conclusion was highlighted by the weakness of the PCF to effectively play the role of the revolutionary vanguard, due to the predominance of the reformist line, of parliamentary illusions, the aim of forming a “progressive” government with social democracy on the territory of capitalism.
In general, the French CP did not formulate a revolutionary policy that highlighted the importance of the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, and the ascendance to power of the working class in order to satisfy the needs of society.
Thus, in the wider period of May 1968, the influence of bourgeois, petty-bourgeois, opportunistic perceptions was strengthened and slogans prevailed that were either harmless, easily integrated into the system, or useful for the attack of capital in the following years with capitalist restructurings. From this standpoint, the development of other May leaders in the student movement – such as Cohn-Bendit who later became an anti-communist, bourgeois politician – were in essence, completely natural.
Correspondingly in our country we experienced a seemingly spontaneous protest in the squares in 2012, which did not aim at the real enemy, it transpired outside of the organized labor movement and in essence, helped SYRIZA to rise to governmental power. In this case, it highlighted the intervention of organized centers that entrap popular dissatisfaction in the direction of harmless changes of government. The blurred anti-memorandum sloganeering of 2012 constituted a political meeting point for SYRIZA forces and those of Golden Dawn.
The working class showed in May of '68 its ability to organize its struggle, to dynamically emerge in the forefront shutting down capitalist production, with a general strike and militant factory takeovers. The bourgeois class and the De Gaulle government only really became concerned when they witnessed the success of the general strike of 10 million workers after the strike call of the CGT and the PCF. They were concerned because the objective sharpening of the class struggle could have propelled the leadership of the PCF to correct its reformist line in a revolutionary direction. It was concerned because the ruling class knows full well which class is objectively the vanguard social class that can overthrow it, since it has nothing to lose but its chains.
However, despite the militant political and trade union action of the PCF forces, its line was essentially one which constricted the labor movement to demands for economic relief and reallocation, with the goal being a change of government.
Objectively it facilitated the maneuvering of the De Gaulle government that managed with temporary economic concessions to defuse the dynamic of the movement and to mobilize conservative social forces under the flag of bourgeois governance.
The intervention of the core opportunist, Trotskyist and Maoist groups objectively helped in the political disarming of the movement. Anti-Sovietism, rejection of the struggle for the victory of socialist revolution in one country, at the national level, the projection of the dynamic of spontaneous labor actions, a transitional program of struggle that focused on workers' control and on 'people-friendly' management on the grounds of capitalism were some of basic elements of its opportunistic line. In this way, the Trotsky League of May starts as the tail of the blurry, harmless movement of March 22nd, which calls for an uprising without specific political content that leads to the support of the aim of cooperation between socialists and communists in the elections that took place in succession.
Was it a revolution?
May of '68 reminds us as well that the university students and the youth do not constitute a separate class, with uniform objective interests. Their different class backgrounds, but mainly, the different class prospects for the graduates, after their mass organizing at the universities, the danger of unemployment and the the trend towards future proletarianization for many of those, played a role in the uprisings, in the struggle and in the radicalization of the university student movement. It highlighted once more that the decisive issue is the substantial cooperation of the student movement with the class-oriented labor movement, against the policies and the power of the bourgeois class.
As was mentioned early, it allows us to answer the questions on the political content of French May '68 with greater clarity and assess whether it could have evolved differently. May of '68 did not express a planned and organized attack of the working class and its allies for the overthrow of capitalist power
On the one hand the objective conditions that would have allowed this did not fully exist; a revolutionary situation did not exist yet. On the other hand, the CP did not map out a revolutionary policy that could lead the labor movement in this direction, due to its reformist strategy.
There was, however, sharpened class conflict, there was a significant rise in the labor movement that objectively created favorable conditions for an escalation in the class struggle in the direction of conflict and overthrow with the power of capital. What we are schematically describing as “non-revolutionary situations” is not static, immutable, a fixed situation.
Of course, the point of time that a revolutionary situation is expressed cannot be predicted with accuracy, nor does it depend on the will of the revolutionary vanguard. However, the action of the CP and the revolutionary labor movement has an effect on and is registered in the change in objective conditions. The balance of forces between classes does not change by itself as a natural phenomenon, neither through a miracle. It changes based on the course and the outcome of the class struggle, that is naturally waged under specific conditions that concern the sharpening of the basic contradiction and the inter-bourgeois contradictions.
The importance of this interaction between the objective conditions and the subjective factors illuminates in a positive way the victory of the October Revolution of 1917 and in a negative way, the result of the struggles of May of '68.
Examining the period based on Leninist criteria for a revolutionary condition, we can confirm:
From the facts that we have, it cannot be documented that in May of '68 we had objectively reached the point in France where “those in power can no longer govern as before”, that is the destabilization of the political dominance of the bourgeois class had essentially appeared. However, the difficulty of politically managing the increased social needs had increased and had weakened the bourgeois hegemony. The intra-imperialist contradictions between the USA and the section of the French bourgeois class that supported De Gaulle had sharpened. The USA supported the French social democratic politicians and have intervened so that the movement would take a direction against the De Gaulle government. Despite this, the bourgeois state, the army, the police, and the courts, all functioned decisively and thus had not been disrupted. The government mobilized hundreds of thousands of its supporters.
May of '68 did not feature a sharp spectacular widespread deterioration in the lives of the working class and the youth. However, it had become more clear that capitalist development does not lead to the satisfaction of contemporary social needs, but to the increase in unemployment, insecurity, relative poverty. The relative impoverishment of the working class in relation to the wealth that it produced increased.
In May of '68 we saw a dramatic rise in militant moods, in militancy, the blurry superficial radicalization of a “great mass from below”, the working class and the university students, but this naturally was not enough for a great change in the balance of forces to take place at the expense of the bourgeois class, that marks a revolutionary situation.
However, this does not relieve the PCF from its great responsibilities for the outcome of the class struggle and the rapid defusing of the movement. Certainly the conditions weren't mature for it to immediately lead an armed revolutionary insurrection. However, it could have and it should have escalated and upgraded the political struggle of the labor movement, aiming at the real enemy, the power of the bourgeois class, opening and deepening the rift in its political dominance. It could have corrected its reformist line and politically 'fertilized' the militant enthusiasm that appeared in many of the factory takeovers.
It could have openly propagated the slogan “worker, you can manage without bosses” to the workers who shouted: “ten years is enough under De Gaulle” and to the students who wrote on the walls: “Imagination in power”. Already, the faint radical slogan “the factories for the workers” was being heard, that showed that there was space for the fomenting of the directions for workers' power. It could have corrected its reformist line of the parliamentary delusions over a progressive bourgeois government within the very class struggle.
The course of May of '68 above all teaches us the necessary terms for a CP to remain the revolutionary vanguard of the working class. This role is not simply handed out and neither is it awarded once and for all by History. In order for every CP, in action and not in words, to remain a revolutionary vanguard, it most continuously and self-critically study the historical experience of the class struggle, to interpret the contemporary developments, to elaborate the ideal strategy that will illuminate the need for socialist revolution, for socialism, for the satisfaction of contemporary social needs. To militantly map out the ideal policy that will help in the escalation of the class struggle, to deepen and widen its bonds with the working class and the poor popular strata, to establish an anti-capitalist orientation within the labor movement, to contribute to the construction of social alliances.
Our Party persistently strives every day to respond to all these tasks. We are taught by the 100 years of struggle and sacrifices of the heroic KKE, but also by the experience – both positive and negative – of the International Communist Movement.
Studying important historical moments, like that of May of '68 in France, we do not feel any disappointment over the struggles that supposedly were lost.
From the May of 1968, we hold in our minds the image of hundreds of thousands of workers and students that marched together on the same path in the heart of developed capitalism singing The International. And we continue the struggle walking on this same path until its end, for the working class to finally take power, in real life and not in our imaginations!