May ‘68 and Its Afterlives

May ‘68 and Its Afterlives
Tout Va Bien, (Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1972) film still

Bu yazının Türkçesi de mevcut.

Preliminary note: There is a type of writing in academic literature that I began to appreciate a lot: the book review. Researchers write short essays on newly published books by other researchers working in the same field, and these articles are generally published in journals or digests in that field. It generally is a short, tidy article. It aims to locate the scope of the book within its respective research area rather than providing a plain summary of the book, but it can also do that. I am looking for reviews of the books that I think I should at least look at in my research areas, and if well written, these book reviews provide me with the main arguments of the book. The reviews often also present what the book has to say new, its difference from similar studies, the author’s resources and research methods, and upon which main concerns or questions it was written. The following article started out as such a review article, then it got longer than it was intended at first.

May ‘68 and Its Afterlives, University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Kristin Ross’s book is about France 68 and the memory of the experience of 68 in France. The book shows that although dozens of books, documentaries and TV debate programs are being produced in the media during national commemorations and especially around the decennial anniversaries (in fact, through this public chatter) a lot about the French 68 has been lost and erased. The book especially focuses on this erasure. Tracing the transformations of the memory of 68, Ross composed a book on the post-68 transformation of the left in France. Since, for Ross, the relationship we establish with the past determines the relationship we have with the present, this “erasure” becomes a flare that highlightes why some of the current day workers’ movements and social dynamics are not “visible”.

Ross argues that the narrative about the May 68, as told in France today, has been created by the repentant leftists and the sociologists of the 68 generation after the second half of the 70s, and that this narrative covers up the radical, militant, labor-oriented, internationalist and the antifascist origins of the French 68, labeling it as “a cultural student movement” instead of a political movement. I find this book to be invaluable because it reveals how the dominant narratives of our day came about and reminds us that we should always question these narratives, even when they concern recent history. In addition to this, something I really liked about this work and benefited a lot, is that, in showing the possibility of providing a new reading, the book provides an encouraging example of how materials and resources pertaining to a period can be freed from the hegemony of the spokespeople and experts. Readers who are interested in issues such as social movements, the transfer of revolutionary experiences, historiography, intellectual history of the recent past, and other topics discussed at the intersection of these, can both learn a lot from this book and be inspired by its research method and writing.

Ross argues that a May 68 memory-memorial sector was established thanks to the dominant narrative that led the memory of May 68 in France to become an official commemoration at the state level. The book helps us better understand today’s intellectual deadlocks and formulas that inhibit the imagination by letting us follow the traces of this transformation in France from the late 60s to the 80s, from a period affected by what happened near and far around the world, from Indochina to Cuba, from Hungary to Prague, to a neoliberal period in which any emancipatory forms of perceiving the world toward transforming life are framed and molded into a method, presented on a pedestal, packaged and sold, and by helping us comprehend the functioning of these formulas that were put into circulation by the intellectuals who played a role in this transition to a post-80s neoliberal intellectual climate. After all, the kind of research and engagement with the past that Ross advocates is meaningful when it has something to say to the present.1

Besides, today we live with the results of the transformation that the author narrates from within France. Those who have created a series of discourses that reject, disdain, frame and reduce the radicalism of the 68 experience are also those names who had an impact on France’s intellectual transformation. For example, although many of them are not widely known outside of France, nor read widely by the public, the group called New Philosophers had an impact in shaping the discourses and movements in France on how to remember and relate with the past, and the New Historians, who emerged from the Annales school of history but differed from their predecessors in focusing on the history of mentality, played a huge part in the making of today’s intellectual climate in France, in the dismissal of historical materialist analysis, and in confining the social imagination to the nation-state-ethnicity axis.

On the one hand, Kristin Ross examines how the (counter-revolutionary) narrative of May 68 was established in France and examines the discourses of the main actors of this narrative. On the other hand, she reveals the experiences and resources that we can use (or “shall use” from the perspective of the researcher) in order to rescue May 68 from the domination of the so-called intellectuals who declare themselves to be the representatives of a generation and apologize for the “mistakes” on behalf of that generation.

Since these ex-gauchists, who are in the cross hairs of the author in the book, rose to high positions in the media and frequently appear on media organs, it is the interviews of these actors in newspaper and television channels as well as the magazine articles and the commemorative books they published that constitute a portion of the sources the author uses in conveying the discourse on the subsequent versions of the May 68 memory. One can watch the beginning of the show below to see a vivid capturing of this dominant 68 narrative that is very common today; it is the introduction section to the show that was aired on the 50th anniversary of May 68 in English, on the French state channel France 24:

Almost all of the formulas that the presenter uses in his introduction while describing the May 68 as a “student movement” that demanded “free life against the social pressures” are later rejected by one or the other guest in the show. Nevertheless, this formula continues to be repeated every year in the mainstream media and in the analysis provided by parroting intellectuals.

If the only focus of the book was to deconstruct this dominant narrative, it would have produced quite a soulless dry work. Ross targets the popular narrative that is in circulation, and not the narrative of May 68 in academic literature; she gives a minimal focus to the May 68 analyses of the sociologists mentioned. (One of the claims of the book is that French 68 was researched, written and theorized by sociologists, and not historians.) The aim of the book is not to reveal how TV intellectuals and sociologists interpreted the May 68 of France and to oppose this reading with arguments. Instead, using the resources of the period, Ross shows us May 68 through the words of those people who lived during that period, who were politically active, who were not famous, and some of whom remained anonymous, from where they stood, and sometimes with their feelings about and evaluations of their experiences decades later. She also draws a broader historical and geographical context for the reader in order to tell the story of the radicalization of these activists.

In this respect, the aim of the author in the book is not to establish a genuine May 68 narrative, an alternative narrative. The author aims to save what happened, what had been lived, from betrayal, but it would be wrong to define what she does as a “construction”. Instead, it would be more correct to say that she “lays out”, or, brings to the surface, the effects and radicalization that made May 68 possible in France; how what is possible expanded suddenly; the way that the previously non-occurring encounters and convergences were now possible; and the spiral of seriousness and pleasure that was engendered by the rebellion against social isolation, against prescribed roles and functions, in those who made this rebellion. In this sense, Ross does not write with an expert voice against experts; she does not create a counter narrative. Instead, she raises the voice of those who lived May 68 in different locations, of those who were on the street, at the barricade, at the workshop, by the mimeograph, their current or subsequent evaluations, their lived experiences. In other words, she conveys the anti-imperialist, antifascist sources of May 68 in France and the radicalization around May 68. While conveying this radicalization, she expands the frame both temporally and spatially. Thus, the memory of May 68 that was compressed spatially to Paris as a site and to the Latin neighborhood in Paris where there was a student occupation at the Sorbonne University. It was compressed to the month of May temporarily (from May 2, when Nanterre University was closed to education, to May 30 when eight hundred thousand people marched on Champs-Élysées with three-colored flags to show their support to the President de Gaulle who had announced that the military was stationed outside the city of Paris, and declared that he wasn’t going to resign and would take the country to election). Lastly, it was confined to the “actions” of students. In the framework presented by Ross, the temporal framework expands both to the past, that is, to the time before May 1968, and to the after. Spatially, it extends beyond the barriers, to the strikes and factory occupations, to the Larzac region that was the scene of the peasant resistance that lasted ten years.

Thus, the historical episodes that are independent from each other, troubles that are seen as belonging to different geographies and to different groups, are joined together, first, through the experiences and perceptions of the individuals, and second, through the apprehensions and methods of the struggles, and the vocabulary used to describe these struggles, and they are all brought forth through these articulations to the current day. Such a possible history that is written by Ross is a history that can be associated with the 1995 strike in France, with the 2005 revolts, and the two-year long Yellow Vest movement. Such a historiography leads to a history that does not reduce experiences to formulas and patterns, one that allows us to trace differences and similarities, shifts and continuations back from the past to the present together.

When history is not written or narrated like that, as Ross shows, Algeria falls from that narrative, the antifascist movement that rose in the early 60s is made unknown, and the general strike, which involved about 9 million people, the largest strike in France to that day, is cut off from the university occupations and becomes something that is left unmentioned. Using the writings of that day, Ross demonstrates that the later version of May 68 is in fact a narrative of betrayal, that the turncoat ex-gauchists sat up a career in front of the screens out of their 68 experience, and jumped on to the neoliberal wave from the late 70s onward, and that they mediated in the liquidation and the disappearance of the antimilitarist and anti-imperialist origins of the 68 experiences.


While writing the history of May 68 through the words of the militants of the era, and thereby saving it from the hands of the experts and reformed ex-gauchists, Ross uses a rich variety of resources. First of all, she benefits from the compilation of 362 texts that consist of leaflets, communiques, that was compiled and published as a book in 1969 by Alain Schnapp and Pierre Vidal-Naquet, both historians. (Journal de la commune étudiante – Textes et documents. Novembre 1967 – Juin 1968). Apart from that, she makes use of documentary video records, small publications, self printed adverts and articles, short-lived magazines and ethnographic researches. She makes use of these sources as primary sources and gives more weight to them than the commentaries and analyses that were written on 68 later. An interesting kind of resource that is used by the author are the detective novels that were written by people who were active in radical leftist groups in the 60s. In addition to the memoirs written as testimonials, it is quite interesting that the militants had chosen detective novel as a genre. The characters in these detective novels convey their witnessing to the events within the diegesis of the novel, and sometimes reflect the emotional tone of their relationship with the past.

Apart from the novel, the detective genre appears also in cinema when it comes to 68. In addition to communiques, memoirs, detective novels, interviews and discussion programs on the media, Ross makes use of a particular essayistic documentary film as a resource for the later versions of 68. Hervé Le Roux, in his 3-hour documentary film Reprise, released in 1997, takes up a 9-minute footage that was taken by two young cinema students at a suburb of Paris in 1968, where the Wonder factory workers are going back to work after a strike, following the Grenelle agreement between unions and the government that ended the general strike. Le Roux makes this 9-minute long footage as a starting point and returning point of his own film. (La Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder, dir. Pierre Bonneau & Jacques Willemont, 1968). This short film from 68 records the rebellion of a woman who do not want to return to work and who found the gains inadequate despite the insistent suggestions of the union representatives to the contrary. Hervé Le Roux tries to find this woman almost thirty years later, and while doing this with a detective genre pattern, he reaches people who worked in that factory or in that district in 68, the residents who were living there, and asks them about the general strike and “the return to work” after the strike. In this way, the documentary enters the daily lives of the workers by using the cliché of the director chasing after the woman as an alibi.

La Reprise du travail aux usines Wonder, yön. Pierre Bonneau & Jacques Willemont, 1968
with English subtitles

In this way, Ross brings forward works such as films and novels that are based on the experiences of 68, biographical books written by the militants who do not appear in the mainstream media, oral history studies, and compilations of articles against the memory of the French 68 as conveyed through the mouths of the experts.

While Kristin Ross expands the frame of 68 in France and surveys the veins that fed May 68, she also analyzes the effects of 68 and the space opened by it. Another resource Ross studies in detail is three history journals that began to be published right after 68: she discloses the research methods adopted by these journals, the subjects they focus on, their publication policies, and the joint research experiences that took shape in these journals (117 ff). In the late 60s, studies on the labor history and working class began to be conducted at the universities in France and the publisher François Maspero’s book series titled “People’s Actions and Memories” opened new trails in the field of history. But these three journals that which Ross examines are directly related to the political events of 68 as a collective research experience that emerges out of practice as a collective effort, outside or on the edge of the academy. Despite their differences, Le Peuple Français, Les Cahiers du Forum-Histoire, and Les Révoltes Logiques were attempts “to break with a certain tradition of academic elitism, individual research, and political institutional history to create a different history generated out of a left politics” (117). Although Ross does not examine these historiography practices in their relationship with the history from below approach or local historiography initiatives, she demonstrates how radicalism that nurtured 68 led to new research and publishing experiments. Just like the attempt to break down social walls in 68, the praxis in these journals tried to break the distinction between the historian and the subject of history. With the aim of achieving this, the Forum-Histoire group argued that the historian who looks back only in order to specialize assumes a radical distinction between the past and the present (120). Hence, according to this group, the real question was not how to write history, but which history for which future. (Isn’t it also that the history always has to be rewritten?)

Ross surveys the experience of history journalism outside the academy in France following May 68 not in its relationship with the historiography debates that were taking place within the discipline of history, but by showing the stitches that link the effects that had nurtured 68, for example, between the effects of Maoism in France, from the practices of Maoist “going to the people”, from the practice of intellectuals taking up work at factories and organizing there “at the base” (établissement) (95) from the factory-based militants to the action committees (comités d’action) in the neighborhoods, schools and factories, from the school and factory occupations to the peasant resistance in the Larzac region and the militants (121) established there. Thus, the experience of 68 in France takes shape from within a stream of struggles into its unique timbre within its wider resonance. This particular experience of historical research and publishing is displayed in its connections to the militant practices and ideas that were around in 68. Despite their differences, the goals these collectives set for themselves, their evaluations on their own failures, is one of the most interesting sections of May ‘68 and Its Afterlives.

things that are not supposed to be known, screen memories

Ross reaches resources that were stored in various mediums, from printed words to slogans, and even to the tempo of the slogans of regime supporters, as resources that can be used in writing recent history. She recounts the history of the Paris police force, the 1958 military coup, and many other short histories that make up the wider membrane of the May 68 in France, from the point of view of those who were active in them, and the story of such events such as the 1961 Seine River Massacre that took place in the middle of Paris but was stolen from the view and knowledge of the general public, a massacre in which the number of those killed is estimated to be two hundred people as a result of the police attack on the march in which around thirty thousand Algerians participated. It is not one of those events that the white French growing up at that time refers to as a turning point in their radicalization. This Seine River massacre is one of France’s black holes, but it is only a minor echo of what was taking place in overseas colonies. The fact that this time the massacre happened in Paris and yet that the lies of the security forces and the government were “effective” reminds us to what extent the press was state-controlled and how insufficient the independent press was against censorship.

Actually, although it was only one of the pre-68 events in the book, the impact of the fact that this event was left in the dark until very recently continued to echo and magnify in my mind like a message shouted into a well. During the Algerian War, which was to be called a “war” only in the 90s in France, a curfew between 8:30 in the evening to 5:30 in the morning was put into effect in Paris for the “Algerian Muslim workers”, “French Muslims,” or “French Muslims from Algeria”, in the words of the then police chief of Paris Papon, despite the fact that those Muslims were French citizens and had French identities. Upon the introduction of the curfew, more than thirty thousand Algerian-French women and children participated in a demonstration march responding to the call by the National Liberation Front (FLN) (43 ff). The police attacked the demonstration and crammed them at many corners, beating them with clubs, and following this event corpses were removed from the river for days. Approximately six thousand people were taken to sports stadiums allocated for detentions in different parts of the city that day. People were made to pass through the “welcoming committee” at the entrance of the stadiums and some of them died inside as a result of those injuries. It is estimated that more than 200 people were killed by the police as a result of the “violent incidents” of the security forces that took place in many districts of Paris as well as in the very center in 1961. After the massacre, a complete media blackout was achieved and the news stories reported that the police responded to the fire of Algerians, and that a total of two people died. This figure was corrected as “three” the next day.

The Seine River Massacre of 1961 is not forgotten or suppressed, it is deliberately made unknown; it is a covered black hole. Ross draws attention to the contrast between the lack of references to this event in the childhood and early political awakenings of the militants active in 68 even though Algerians and their struggle were present for them in the background, or rarely, when there is a reference it is unspecific and not detailed. Rather the prevalent references are made to a massacre at the Charonne metro station on 8 February 1962. This other event, named after the subway station Charonne, took place during a mass demonstration organized by the left parties and unions against the Army Secret Organization OAS (Organization de l’armée secrète), an organization that supported France in Algeria and carried out armed attacks. During the demonstration, the police crams protesters into the Charonne subway station, throwing iron plates that are used around the trees on the sidewalks and iron sheets that are used in subway vents, down the stairs on people. It is a massacre in which a lot people were injured and nine people died as a result of the wounds they received. Most of those who died, including a 16-year-old teenager, were members of the French Communist Party and the General Labor Confederation (CGT, Confédération Générale du Travail). Five days later, more than five hundred thousand people would attend the funeral of those killed by the police at the Charonne (42).

Tracing the wide-ranging impact on political consciousness and radicalization of these two social events by looking back from 68, both of which happened in close proximity temporally, both of which are directly related to Algeria, the possible broad analysis of the contrast between the first in being mentioned only in unspecific imagery with hazy contours and the second as being regarded as the manifestation of the Algerian issue in the French mainland in the politic awakening of white French people in the mainland, would lead us, for example, to the fact that the Algerian issue was the dominant issue in determining the political fault lines in the mainland; to the constructive and repressive impact of the state-controlled media on social consciousness; and, to the persistence of the ideological elements of the imperialist states in recent history in the nation-states, for example, in the definitions and regulations of citizenship. In her analysis, Ross focuses on the political awareness and the afterlives of the memory of a social past, and points out that this second event, which was perceived as “pertaining to France,” functions as a screen memory that covers the first event, like a screen or a curtain, a second one that takes the place of the first. Screen memory is a metaphor that was fashioned by Freud in his work on memory, and is used for cases where a memory that is very uncomfortable to remember is covered with another more recent memory, and thus a troubling event is hidden from consciousness by the memory of another event. In the case of these two massacres here, we have a case of obstruction and cover-up by the authorities and the press in the first instance, instead of a psychological veiling over. The remaining image of the first was “drowned Algerian bodies floating on the River Seine”, and the number of those who died in this massacre is still unknown, the bodies of those who died in the second incident were removed, identified, cited and their death was confirmed by the authorities. Therefore, this adaptation from Freudian psychoanalysis does not offer a suitable or illustrative tool, and Ross already implies that this concept, taken from another discipline, does not find its proper place here, as she says the second massacre is “almost a screen memory” (41).

The film Hidden (Caché, 2005) by the Austrian director Michael Haneke, which was shot after the publication of this book, can be considered as one of the vague and implicit references to this massacre where the 61 Seine River Massacre is a founding and hidden element of the whole movie. In one of his interviews on the film, the director remarked that he learned about this event from a documentary on the Arte channel while the preparations for his film was underway, and clarifies that he did not use this event as a symbol of the collective crime theme in the film.2 As in Haneke’s other films, this film is also conducive to many philosophical and political discussions. In the context of the scope of this text, we see that 61 Sen River Massacre is insinuated in Haneke’s film, despite the fact that it is a founding element, just like the other texts mentioned by Ross. Although this covertness and the fact that it was deliberately made unknown have made it an appropriate historical event for Haneke’s film, this obscurity does not vanish for the audience after having watched the film. On the contrary, the historical unrepresentation of this event, as described by Ross, is reaffirmed in this film.

(Haneke, 2005)

The rich story of 68

The wars of French imperialism in Algeria and Indochina; the policies of de Gaulle the “savior” who was brought back to power in 1958 following a military coup; factors such as the incorporation of the cadres dismissed after the end of the WWII of the Vichy regime back into the police force after labor strikes, the cadres which were active as paramilitary forces outside the French hexagon at the offshore extensions of the French empire, all and more fall within the broader framework of May 68’s rich story. In addition to the role imperialism played, showing its face near and far, in the radicalization of the militants in France before 1968, the bookstore La Joie de Lire (1956-75), owned by the publisher François Maspero, that was frequented by many students and those who happen to pass by Paris, and his publishing house that printed books on what was taking place at distant corners such as Indochina and then in Vietnam and Algeria, Cuba and China are part of the building blocks of the story of the French 68 (82 ff). Ross also analyses the more widely known publication, the newspaper Libération, which Jean-Paul Sartre and Serge July started to publish in 1973, and its transformation at the end of 70s in regard to its editorial policies and preferences of the newspaper, as the most visible axis of the transformation in the French intellectual world that I mentioned above.

This rich May 68 story, which Ross cleans the lime off the pattern of a relief, is predominantly a story that pertains to France, a story about the battle of the dominant discourses in France and the role of the intellectuals in this battle. It is also a great example that the experiences of those who do not appear on the screens can be the basis for such a possible historiography and that studies outside the academy during May 68 can be used to maintain the militant research tradition. In this respect, I think that the two themes that Ross examined in the political awakening and actions of those who were active, and not those intellectuals who were the most heard, in the militant past of 68 are very valuable. The first is the effects of liberation struggles in Vietnam, Algeria and China, that is, the struggles of the Other, that is, the struggles fought outside the mainland France where neocolonialism is underway, and the forms in which these events had been understood and had been an inspiration in France, both in theory and practice. Ross shows the waves that these influences engendered as figures of a revolution in the radical imagination. Yet she also highlights that this inspiration, when it comes to the Cultural Revolution, is based on a phantasm, that is, to an imaginary connection rather than a fact-based knowledge of what was taking place in China (96). For instance, it was possible for the Maoists in France remained allies of both the Chinese and the Vietnamese, the “two people as close as two coats of paint,” despite the fact that the relations between China and Vietnam, which was supported both by Soviet Russia and China, started to change after August 1966 when the Cultural Revolution started ( 98). In this respect, Ross follows the echoes of the Cultural Revolution in Europe in both discourse and in militant praxis. The Vietnamese warrior, the “bare foot doctor” raised as a folk doctor in rural areas in China, the “immigrant worker”, are the figures that ignite the radical imagination in France and Europe, but also indicate a new wave of action repertoire that is brought into radical movements, such as practices defying specialization of knowledge, going to the people, collective modes of production, a repertoire that also nourishes radical forms of associating and acting with one another. According to Ross, the Cultural Revolution manifests itself as an alternative both to capitalism and to the socialist modernization represented by Soviet socialism (98). A line of exploration that the reader can derive from this book would be the French 68 in the light of the modes of inspiration and influence from revolutionary movements around the world.

The second theme, which is not very noticeable because it is scattered across the book, but which I think the author deliberately emphasizes, is the self-criticism and evaluations of the militants about the period they were active and about their actions, either made soon after or many years later. These evaluations have a very different tone than the apologies and regretful confessions of the screen celebrities of the former Maoists, and include the witnessing of the emotional burden of the period and exemplify individuals’ experiences of remembering their own way of living and a particular period of their lives. I think Ross, thanks to this theme, presents the individual narratives of remembering of people, whose names are unknown to many, in response to the battle of memory of 68 at the level of discourse, just like a counterpoint in music. The emotional burden recalled in these remembrance narratives is what is missing in the sociological literature of the memory of 68; it is the remainder of experience, its true meaning.

The remaining meaning of the 68 experience in France that I have gathered from the multiplicity of voices presented in the book was that “equality” was demanded through diverse concepts and actions that together made up the May 68. Ross does not make such a claim, but one of the things that can be deduced from this rich story of May 68 she presented is that the imperceptible thread that connects May 68 to the French Revolution and to the Paris Commune is a demand for “equality” and that this ideal manifested itself in the desire to break down the walls that separate social groups during May 1968 in France. I think that this demand is expressed using different vocabulary in the peoples’ struggles for liberation and reveals itself in various practices, partly depending on the political conditions of the day. In other words, I do not think that the scope and the line of equality as an ideal was determined by the French Revolution or exhausted at that historical intersection. On the contrary, this is an unexpected gift from the rich narrative offered by Ross: there are different names of equality and a wide variety of actions demanding it, and May 68 is also linked to the history of struggles on the axis of the “demand for equality.”

Finally, what I think is missing in the book’s May 68 analysis is lack of emphasis on the role of government pressure and punishment conducted in order to ensure all attempts to demolish the class and consciousness walls in France cease and and do not repeat. While Ross demonstrates how certain building blocks in the making of a May 68 memory were erased as a result of political preferences and as a result of the ex-gauchist intellectuals, who apologized or repudiated, in the liquidation of this experience, she does not treat the pressure and censorship aspect of violence as a constructive element in the making of a particular May 68 narrative. In the dominant 68 narrative, students went out on the streets, hang posters on the walls, demanded freedom, and then abandoned radicalism after finding a job. The “natural course of events” assumption in this narrative ignores the bans and repression that came immediately after May 68. This is a shortcoming often observed in the historiographical practice of writing the history of social struggles from below, a practice that is considered as a natural extension of the militant experience. I attribute this shortcoming to the willingness to celebrate and defend these struggles. In this respect, Ross covers more the liquidation of the history of May 68 than the suppression of the May 68 insurrection. Unfortunately, this reinforces the impression that May 68 faded on its own according, supporting the claims that “nothing really happened in May 68,” “nobody died in May 68,” or “May 68 did not change anything” that are kept repeated in the dominant narrative that Ross opposes. Whereas, as with other social uprisings, May 68 of France didn’t fade on its own but was suppressed. The possibilities for the expansion of expression that Ross traces were targeted and blocked, and were criminalized. Ross, of course, tells the reader about the new Interior Minister Raymond Marcellin, who was appointed on May 30, 1968, and describes him as the first sociologist of May 68 as he embarked on his new position with studying the entire movement with all the available documents, who then put into effect a regime of repression (61-4). For instance, on June 15, 1968, days after all leftist organizations were declared illegal, about 50 OAS convicted assassins were pardoned, and thereby they were let go from prison or they returned to France. After May 1968, years of repression continue against publications, magazines and posters, banning the screening of movies on May 68, and turning “insulting the police” into a crime that results in prison sentences. The demonstration intended to be held against the Vietnam War on November 15, 1969 was banned, yet about 11,000 people convened in Paris and the administration confronted the demo with a force of 12,000 police officers. Then, in 1974, 42 thousand police officers were added to the Paris police force. I can understand the habit of not treating this period of repression as an apology nor as an explanation, but on the other hand, the “security measures” taken by the state in the face of social conflicts are also part of that story and a part that has been deliberately rendered invisible.

May ‘68 and Its Afterlives is not a history book. In this book, the author does not intend to reflect a fact-based total representation of the 68 of France, as I explained in detail above. Instead, the author focuses on the commemoration of this period and argues that a narrative about the memory of May 68 has liquidated the radical experiments of the past. Ross brings about a book that is similar to the resources she uses in the book. Although Ross has resorted to many resources, she sees May 68 from her own experience and from within her circles. For example, she counts the Vietnamese warrior and Chinese folk doctor among the figures that mobilized and fed the radical imagination in France at that time, but she does not to mention a Che Guevara or how the revolutionary movements in Latin America were seen in France. If Kristin Ross had better defined the place from which she was looking at, if she had included her own 68 experience and radical education in the book, it might not have been a just criticism that this rich story of 68 never mentioned some of its other radical sources of influence. I think more can be learned from this work when one reads it without hoping to find everything one can learn about the French 68 from this book.

1 Ross, Kristin. “Against Commemoration: Unearthing the Lives and Afterlives of May ’68.” Thread Journal, November 2, 2018.

2 Haneke, Michael. Michael Haneke talks about CACHÉ. Interview by Karin Schiefer, May 2005.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.