Fifty years ago, hundreds of thousands marched in Paris. But the political and economic changes they called for never came
At the weekend, I sat in a Parisian cafe, sipping a coffee and reading the reminiscences in Libération about the events of May 1968. Fifty years ago to the day, more than 300,000 people had marched through these streets demanding the resignation of President Charles de Gaulle, one of the high points of the rebellion. One of the banners held high in the crowd announced: “Those in power are in retreat! Now they must fall!”
Today, the thing that needs saying about 1968 is that it was indeed a liberation, but that it was also a failure. In 1968 it felt as if the European world had come alive again after a long hibernation. Society, ideas and culture changed for the liberal better afterwards. Above all, women’s equality flourished. But political and economic power did not change. Those in power may have been in retreat in 1968, certainly so in De Gaulle’s case. But they did not fall. Mostly they were soon re-elected.