May 68' - A Compendium
Situationist reflections on the uprisings in France, May 1968
As the 50th anniversary of the events of May 68’ passes, it leaves a familiar, image heavy trail in it’s wake - young street fighting Parisians, earnest but chic looking Sorbonne occupiers, the iconic graffiti /posters : imagery all long since passed into the mythology of pop culture, endlessly recycled and recuperated, stripped bare of real political legacy.
Within that mythology, the role of the Situationists has long been contested: underplayed exaggerated, misunderstood. This compendium reprints crucial pieces written by the Situs themselves, helping show May 68’ as a reaction to a profound systemic stasis running deep through mid 20th C capitalism, and to the autocratic, hierarchical, and tradition-bound ruling class that still oversaw it in France.
"On the Poverty of Student Life”(1966) was originally printed via appropriated funds when 5 pro Situs were elected to Strasbourg Uni Student Union. It’s searing critique of what the authors considered the miserable, passive consumerism of the modern hipster student was a powerful portent of what was to come:
“The real poverty of his everyday life finds its immediate phantastic compensation in the opium of cultural commodities... he is obliged to discover modern culture as an admiring spectator... he thinks he is avant-garde if he's seen the latest Godard or 'participated' in the latest 'happening'. He discovers modernity as fast as the market can provide it:”
Possibly the single most important document recording and analysing the events of May 68’ remains “Enragés and Situationists in the Occupations Movement”, written by Rene Vienet, a young pro Situ at the centre of the Sorbonne Occupation. A 60 page, chronological account, at times it unselfconsciously captures the poetry of the revolution they were helping make, but mostly the focus in on the objective, material forces that shaped events after the initial occupation of the Sorbonne.
This vital piece is supplemented/supported by contemporaneous ‘Various Documents from May 68’, and retrospective ‘Further Reflections on May 68’ from the Situationist International journal.
Slightly more tangentially, ‘Preliminaries on Councils and Councillist Organization’ looks deeper into the proto-revolutionary structures that the Situationists saw at the very core of global post-capitalism in the 20th century, and beyond.