"After a week of continuos fighting, the students of Paris took possession of the Sorbonne," explains a leaflet of a Students and Workers Committee for Action, "We have decided to make ourselves the masters."
Large student movements have developed in recent years in Japan, the United States, Italy, West Germany, and elsewhere. However, in France, the student movement quickly grew into a mass movement which seeks to overthrow the socio-economic structure of state-capitalist society.
The French student movement was transformed into a mass movement during a period of ten days. On May 2 the University of Nanterre was closed by its dean; the following day the Sorbonne was closed and police attacked student demonstrators. On the days that followed, students learned to protect themselves from the police by constructing barricades, hurling cobblestones, and smearing their faces with lemon juice to repel police gas. By Monday, May 13, 800,000 people demonstrated in Paris and a general strike was called throughout France; a week later the entire French economy was paralyzed.
The first barricade to resist a police charge was built on May 6. Students used newspaper stands and automobiles to build the barricades, and dug up cobblestones which they threw in exchange for police grenades and gas bombs.
The following day the Latin Quarter of Paris was in a state of siege; fighting continued; a large demonstration at the right-wing newspaper "Le Figaro" protested the newspaper's attempts to mobilize violence against the students. Red flags appeared at the front lines of immense demonstrations, "The International" was sung, and demonstrators cried "Long Live the (Paris) Commune."
On May 10, student demonstrators demand an immediate opening of all universities, and the immediate withdrawal of the police from the Latin Quarter. Thousands of students, joined by young workers occupy the main street in the Latin Quarter and construct over 60 barricades. On the night of Friday, May 10, city police reinforced by special forces charge on the demonstrators. A large number of demonstrators, as well as policemen, are seriously injured.
Up to this point, French newspapers, including the Communist Party organ L'Humanite, had characterized the student movement as "tiny groups" and "adventurist extremists." However, after the police repression of May 10, the communist-led union caalls for a general strike protesting the brutality of the police and supporting the students. When almost a million people demonstrate in the streets of Paris on May 13, students cry victoriously "We are the tiny groups!"
The very next day, Tuesday May 14, the movement begins to flow beyond the university and into the factories. The aircraft plant Sud-Aviation, manufacturer of Caravelle, is occupied by its own workers.
On Wednesday, May 15, students and workers take over the Odeon, the French national theater, plant revolutionary red and black flags on the dome, and proclaim the end of culture limited to the economic elite of the country. The same day numerous plants throughout France are occupied by their workers, including the automobile producer Renault.
Two days after the take-over of the Renault plant, Sorbonne students organize a 6-mile march to demonstrate the solidarity of the students with the workers. At the head of the march is a red flag, and on their way to the plant marchers sing the "International" and call "Down with the Police State," "Down with Capitalism," and "This is only the beginning; continue the struggle!"
A red flag is flown at the entrance to the Renault plant, and individual workers standing on the roof of the building cheer the marching students. However, the C.G.T., the communist union which had taken charge of the strike inside the plant, is guardedly hostile to the student demonstrators, and party spokesmen are hostile toward students who call on workers to govern and speak for themselves directly, instead of letting the union govern and speak for them.
While radio stations continue to broadcast that students are exclusively concerned with final examinations and workers are exclusively concerned with improved salaries, students organize Committees of Action, and factory occupations continue to spread.
In the auditoriums and lecture halls of University of Paris buildings, a vast experiment in direct democracy is under way. The state, the ministries, the faculty bodies and the former student representative bodies are no longer recognized as legitimate lawmakers. The laws are made by the constituents of "General Assemblies." Action committees establish contacts with striking workers, and leaflets inform workers of the experience in direct democracy which the students are gaining,
At this writing, the workers continue to be represented and controlled
by the unions, and the unions continue to demand reforms from the state
and from the factory owners. However, the students' refusal to recognize
the legitimacy of any external control, their refusal to be represented
by any body smaller than the general assembly, is continually transmitted
to the striking workers by the Students and Workers Action Committees.
First published in 1969
Reprinted in 1991
By Black & Red
P.O. Box 02374
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