The May 68 Events and Revolution in the West

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A Socialist Project e-bulletin ... No. 1604 ... May 13, 2018

The political explosion fifty years ago in May 1968 in France has become a key historical marker for the Left. In an outburst of political revolt, workers seized factories and students occupied universities bringing France to a halt in a series of massive general strikes. ‘Revolution was in the air.’ But political rebellion also had its own roots in 1968 in Italy, Prague, Mexico, and the USA; and from there protests spread across the capitalist core countries. In the demands for an overhaul of political and economic institutions, and in ‘ways of living’, revolutionary possibilities seemed limitless. By the end of May the French government in Paris seemed on the verge of collapse. But by early June the strikes ended and the political crisis in France was over.... Well into the 1970s, however, the wave of strikes, protests and overthrow of colonial governments was sustained until the capitalist counter-revolution of the new right, and neoliberal policy regime, gained traction.

Of the many assessments that emerged in the wake of May 1968, one of the most important interventions came from Lucio Magri, a militant and journalist in the Italian communist movement, translated into English for the Socialist Register. Magri reflects on the shifting class composition represented by revolt and the need to rethink the nature of the socialist party and the relationship between the movements and the party and the strategy of revolutionary forces. These are hardly issues that have receded in importance as we continue to attempt to build socialist ‘parties of a new kind’.

The May ’68 Events and Revolution in the West

Lucio Magri

It is true that it was a certain political and social crisis which gave birth to the May events and that they were played out to a background of that crisis. But their significance is not limited to this. In fact, they can be considered, the most important revolutionary upsurge which has so far taken place in an advanced capitalist country. By studying these events, we can test many hypotheses which have been built up over the years, find many stimulating questions and even suggestions which may well be valid for many countries and for a whole historical epoch. The May events are the most well-equipped laboratory in which to do research about revolution in the West. In this essay, we shall only attempt a few reflections and try to tackle some of the problems arising from the experience of May 1968. These are, of course, just the first steps in its exploration.

It is becoming more and more accepted that revolution is an urgent need in Western society. In the neo-capitalist world, the faith in the inevitable progress of humanity toward a bright future has survived much less successfully than it did in the world of nineteenth century capitalism. In differing ways, many people who are not Marxists have begun to be conscious that the present system is wrong. Moreover they are beginning to realize that even in its very development its contradictions become sharper and its inhumanity increasingly evident.

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