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From The Socialist newspaper, 21 May 2008

Book review

Be realistic - demand the impossible!

France 1968 - month of revolution by Clare Doyle

Reviewed by Kat Jayawant, Brighton Socialist Party

France 1968: Month of revolution, by Clare Doyle

France 1968: Month of revolution, by Clare Doyle

In times when the idea of a socialist revolution is often either ignored or treated as laughable by the media, a common argument put to socialists is that a revolution would be unlikely or even impossible in a rich country like Britain.

This view can be especially common among young people who, since the fall of the Berlin wall, have been constantly told that capitalism has 'won'. The events that took place in France in May 1968 show that this view is erroneous and that people's confidence in the ideas of socialism can grow very rapidly.

In 1968, student protests and the brutal repression that followed helped ignite a wave of discontent that led to the greatest general strike ever seen, with up to ten million workers out on strike.

This happened at a time when the French economy was stable, showing that it was not desperation that caused such actions but a conscious desire to take society forwards, away from capitalism's fetters on human development.

As this book explains, the cataclysmic events of the time show that a revolutionary situation can develop in an advanced capitalist country. The capitalist elite gloss over this fact. They prefer to present the idea that there is an alternative to the corrupt capitalist system as a ridiculous dream.

But that was something that was glimpsed by workers and youth in May 1968. This book explains that if the revolution had been successful it would have sparked revolutionary action across Europe and the rest of the world.

Role of leadership

The book also highlights the causes of the movement's downfall. As Leon Trotsky, a leader of the 1917 Russian revolution, wrote: "The historical crisis of mankind is reduced to the crisis of the revolutionary leadership". The extent to which the leadership of the so-called Communist Party and trade unions failed and even attempted to betray workers is clear. Incredibly the Communist Party refused to view the situation as revolutionary!

The book clearly shows how a clear Marxist programme was needed to take the revolution forward. Sadly this was something that was lacking.

The introduction, new to this edition, talks about what has happened in the past twenty years since the book was originally published.

It then goes on to discuss the prominent issues in the world today, linking them to the lessons we can learn from France 1968. The book is interesting, engaging and inspirational in its description and analysis of people uniting in a struggle against capitalism.

It makes good use of contemporary news reports and photographs, showing just how close the general strike came to bringing down capitalism and also showing how inadequate the Communist Party's leadership was, and how keen they were to discourage workers against action.

This book should be read by anyone seeking to understand the vital lessons to be learnt from the past and the true power of the working class.

It would be especially helpful to young people with no real experience of struggle, as it is encouraging to know that people can and will fight, even when it is dismissed as impossible by those who seek to belittle the importance of France 1968.


France 1968 month of revolution

Lessons of the general strike by Clare Doyle

With a new introduction, originally published in 1988.
Normal price 7.50

Brutal police repression of student demonstrations. Within days, 10 million French workers were on strike. Factories occupied, red flags flown, the Internationale ringing out in the streets of Paris. Even the armed forces were infected by the revolutionary mood. The future of French capitalism was in the balance!

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