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The Utopian years? Radical left movements in Pompidou's france

This half day conference, organised by Dr Manus McGrogan at the University of Portsmouth on 12 May 2011, uncovered the trajectories of some of the movements that emerged in early 1970s France, helping to define the radical left politics of the era. This was the aftermath of May ‘68’s mass upheaval, when France, in the grip of student riots and a general strike, had seemed on the verge of revolution. May’s utopian dimension, embodied in slogans such as ‘sous les pavés la plage’ and ‘prenez vos désirs pour la réalité’, held the promise of a world transformed in which each could pursue their own desires, a powerful spur to thousands of young activists, students and workers. The mass revolt of May had also shown that collective action could change the world. These impulses, shaped subsequently by political, socio-cultural and international events, combined to generate new, youth-inflected gender/sexual liberation movements, independent immigrant organisation, ecology groups, underground press, and other movements that were linked to, or autonomous of left political organisation. However, activists also had to contend with a Gaullist State that tentatively introduced reforms, whilst clamping down on the hard left ‘troublions’ still agitating for popular revolt. Intervention in the workers movement also proved problematic given the PCF/CGT dominance in the major workplaces. President Georges Pompidou, on a path of modernising France, perpetuated the social conservatism of his predecessor de Gaulle; faced with these barriers, activists of the Mouvement de Mai sought to merge political radicalism with the cultural underground to fashion an alternative France, as a May-inspired slogan intoned, changer la vie. But what happened to this surge of hope for change? Five academics presented papers on important aspects of this early 1970s radicalism, with the participation of students and lecturers from similar disciplines. They considered the origins and development of the new movements, their significance within Pompidou’s France; the interrelationship of movements, and finally their resonance, or relevance in the France of today. The conference was also part of the undergraduate programme in French History and was generously supported by the LLAS subject centre. The exam was based on the themes developed during the conference. A half day conference, organised at the University of Portsmouth on 12 May 2011, uncovered the trajectories of some of the movements that emerged in early 1970s France, helping to define the radical left politics of the era. This was the aftermath of May ‘68’s mass upheaval, when France, in the grip of student riots and a general strike, had seemed on the verge of revolution. May’s utopian dimension, embodied in slogans such as ‘sous les pavés la plage’ and ‘prenez vos désirs pour la réalité’, held the promise of a world transformed in which each could pursue their own desires, a powerful spur to thousands of young activists, students and workers. The mass revolt of May had also shown that collective action could change the world. These impulses, shaped subsequently by political, socio-cultural and international events, combined to generate new, youth-inflected gender/sexual liberation movements, independent immigrant organisation, ecology groups, underground press, and other movements that were linked to, or autonomous of left political organisation. However, activists also had to contend with a Gaullist State that tentatively introduced reforms, whilst clamping down on the hard left ‘troublions’ still agitating for popular revolt. Intervention in the workers movement also proved problematic given the PCF/CGT dominance in the major workplaces. President Georges Pompidou, on a path of modernising France, perpetuated the social conservatism of his predecessor de Gaulle; faced with these barriers, activists of the Mouvement de Mai sought to merge political radicalism with the cultural underground to fashion an alternative France, as a May-inspired slogan intoned, changer la vie. But what happened to this surge of hope for change? Five academics presented papers on important aspects of this early 1970s radicalism, with the participation of students and lecturers from similar disciplines. They considered the origins and development of the new movements, their significance within Pompidou’s France; the interrelationship of movements, and finally their resonance, or relevance in the France of today. The conference was also part of the undergraduate programme in French History and was generously supported by the LLAS subject centre. The exam was based on the themes developed during the conference.

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