May 1968: A Month of Revolution Pushed France Into the Modern World


A student hurling rocks at the police in Paris during the May 1968 student uprising. The protests transformed France.

“Just six weeks after France’s leading newspaper, Le Monde, pronounced that the country was ‘bored,’ too bored to join the youth protests underway in Germany and in the United States, students in Paris occupied the Sorbonne, one of the most illustrious universities in Europe. The day was May 3, 1968, and the events that ensued over the following month — mass protests, street battles and nationwide strikes — transformed France. It was not a political revolution in the way that earlier French revolutions had been, but a cultural and social one that in a stunningly short time changed French society. ‘In the history of France it was a remarkable movement because it was truly a mass movement that concerned Paris but also the provinces, that concerned intellectuals but also manual workers,” said Bruno Queysanne, who, at the time was an assistant instructor at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, one of the country’s most prestigious art and architecture schools. ‘Each person that engaged, engaged himself all the way,’ he said. ‘That was how France could stop running, without there being a feeling of injustice or sabotage. The whole world was in agreement that they should pause and reflect on the conditions of existence.’ Today it is hard to imagine a Western country completely engulfed by a social upheaval, but that is what happened in May 1968 in France. It is hard to find any Frenchman or woman born before 1960 who does not have a vivid and personal recollection of that month. … ‘Everything was enlarged by 1968; it determined all my life,’ said Maguy Alvarez, a teacher of English to elementary school students, as she walked through an exhibition of posters and artworks from the period. ‘In religion, in sexual things, what it meant to be a woman — that it did not mean only to serve a man or to submit to men. These are questions you think about your whole life,’ she said. Both the women’s liberation movement and the gay rights movement in France grew out of the 1968 upheaval and the intellectual ferment of the time. While some people saw the mass strikes and protests as a shattering and painful event that upended social norms — the authority of the father of the family and of the leader of the country — for most, it pushed France into the modern world. …”
NY Times
NY Times: Opinion – What the Non-Revolution of May ’68 Taught Us
NY Times: Opinion – The Hidden Women of May ’68
YouTube: Paris Riots (1968) 6:08
YouTube: Confrontation: Paris, 1968 41:36


Riot police in front of the Le Rex cinema on the Grands Boulevards in Paris. The 1968 Cannes Film Festival was cancelled about halfway through its run because of the protests and strikes.

Students passing cobble stones to build barricades in Paris on May 10.

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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