France History - May 1968 and de Gaulle's Resignation

France History – May 1968 and de Gaulle’s Resignation

Preceded by some signs in November 1967, in January 1968 the student protest also reached France, with the first epicenter being the campus of Nanterre, on the outskirts of Paris. In May, Nanterre closed, the center of the turmoil moved to the Sorbonne. In the night between 3 and 4 May, after the police intervened to clear the university, serious incidents occurred in the Latin Quarter. The Sorbonne was closed. Some of the arrested students were sentenced as the motion swelled. On May 7, thousands of students paraded in front of the tomb of the unknown soldier singing the Internationale. New, more serious clashes between students and the public force, with the erection of barricades, took place in the night between 10 and 11 May, while other university centers in the country were also the scene of unrest. The reopening of the Sorbonne, decided by Pompidou on the 11th, on his return from a visit to Iran, led to the occupation of the university. On May 14, the day after the strike organized by the CGT and CFDT unions, the motion spread to the factories. The workers occupied the workshops Sud Aviation in Nantes, Renault in Cleon, Flins in Billancourt, Rhodiaceta and Berliet in Lyon; at the same time, the abstentions from work extended to all sectors of national life. On 20 May it is estimated that there were ten million strikers.

According to, the radio and television speech of the 24th, with which de Gaulle, who had returned a week earlier from a trip to Romania, heralded an upcoming referendum on participation, linking his further stay in the Elysée to the prevalence of yeses, did not change the situation, on the contrary it could appear as a further symptom of the ongoing dissolution of the Gaullist system: if not, as the leftists dreamed, of the bourgeois system. New, even more violent clashes took place in the center of Paris on the night between the 24th and the 25th; demonstrations and riots were simultaneously reported in Lyon, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Nantes and other cities.

Pompidou then tried to separate the workers’ demands from the student uprisings, finding in this the support of the union leaders, in turn hostile to the student’s claim to override them. The agreements reached in the three-party negotiations – government, employers and trade unions – which took place from 25 to 27 May at the Ministry of Social Affairs in Rue de Grenelle were not approved by the workers’ base, however. On May 28, Mitterrand then announced his candidacy for the presidency of the republic in case of vacancy of the same, following the victory (which at that point could actually be considered possible) of the no in the next referendum, while proposing that the presidency of a provisional government in Mendès-France, the politician who,

But precisely at that point, between 29 and 30 May, the trend reversal matured. After having “disappeared” for a day (going in secret to meet General Massu, commander of the French forces in Germany) and thus creating a reason for enormous suspense, de Gaulle reappeared and delivered a very effective message on the radio in which he announced that he would not withdraw, that the referendum would be postponed and that the National Assembly would be dissolved instead. Faced with the ongoing threat, faced with the attempt to dissolve the state in order to impose, in general resignation, the power, at first disguised, then exclusive and triumphant, of “totalitarian communism”, philosophy had to react, “civic action “it had to organize itself everywhere: the response to this appeal was immediate. On the afternoon of that same May 30, several hundred thousand people paraded from the Concorde to the Étoile. During the following June the work progressively resumed, while in vain by the leftists an attempt was made to stop the phenomenon. Clashes also occurred between workers and students. On June 16, the Sorbonne, which had been occupied until then, was evicted and on June 23 the first electoral round took place.

The advance of the gaullists of the UDR (Union des Démocrates pour la République, as they were now called) was particularly notable, rising to 43.6% of the votes. And this time, unlike the year before, there would have been no defections or disappointments in the ballots. The Gaullists in fact obtained 292 seats (the highest majority ever recorded in French parliamentary history); independent republicans followed with 61 seats; 33 seats went to the centrists of Progrès et Démocratie moderne, while the left were hardly beaten: the Mitterrand Fédération won 57 seats, the Communists 34.

The tensions that had torn the Gaullist team in the dramatic days of May resulted, however, in the lack of confirmation, at the head of the government, of Pompidou, considered by many to be the true architect of electoral success. De Gaulle replaced him with Couve de Murville, foreign minister since 1958, while E. Faure, who went to head National Education, was charged with reforming the university, whose shortcomings and archaicity had fueled the protest in May. Not without very strong resistance within the majority, Faure actually succeeded in enacting a strongly renewing law in record time, already in October. The other field in which the government had to act was that of the economy. The May crisis had entered a situation already characterized by various signs of malaise. Some measures were now taken to combat inflation, the fall in investments, the exodus of capital. However, it was not dared to decide on the devaluation of the franc, although at one point it was considered indispensable to support exports.

Meanwhile, in January 1969 and then again the following month, Pompidou, whom opponents had sought to involve in a scandal, announced his willingness to succeed de Gaulle. On April 27, 1969, when the French finally went to vote in the referendum on “participation” announced since the previous May and which dealt with two concrete points – the creation of the regions and a change in the order of the Senate -, de Gaulle did not have therefore more than the pressure weapon, so far so effective against the moderate philosophy, constituted by the apparent lack of alternatives between its system and the leap in the dark which the communists would have benefited from. This time the attempt failed (because as such it must be judged) to leverage the riots in May – that is, a moment of crisis in which, not unlike what had happened ten years earlier for Algeria, the threshold of dissolution had been reached – to induce the French to accept his vision of philosophy and its future. The yeses were just 10,901,753 (47.58%) against 12,007,102 no (52.41%). Consistent with the premises, convinced that by now there was nothing more to be done for France de Gaulle, on April 28 he ceased to exercise his functions as President of the Republic. For France it was truly an era that was ending. was nothing more to be done, de Gaulle, on April 28 he ceased to exercise his functions as President of the Republic. For France it was truly an era that was ending. was nothing more to be done, de Gaulle, on April 28 he ceased to exercise his functions as President of the Republic. For France it was truly an era that was ending.

France History - May 1968 and de Gaulle's Resignation