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The Tracts of May

David Ball

Keywords: MAI 68; POLITICAL TRACTS AND LEAFLETS; REVOLUTIONARY WRITING; POLITICAL SATIRE; PUBLIC SPEECH

There were probably close to ten thousand tracts, fliers, and leaflets written and distributed in French cities in May-June 1968, part of the sudden explosion of speech (“la parole”) in the public space. Both the quantity of political speech in all walks of life—not just among students—and its subject (transforming society) point to a revolutionary wish, whether openly stated in serious, often Marxist, language or implicitly expressed through satire, play, and derision. Thousands of impassioned leaflets call for the profound transformation of social relations in the workplace and ultimately for the abolition of capitalism; many others use various forms of mockery to subvert established authority, which, in that political context, amounted to the same thing. This remarkable mass of literature suggests that—contrary to revisionist views of “Mai” now widely aired in France—May '68 was revolutionary at heart.

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