may 68 protests

May 68 Protests



reform thing (2) authoritarian
archaic spark (2) marvelous
slogan spirit (2) anarchist
various in a way imagination
anti- share (3) anticipate
join capacity repression
march barricade quarter (2)
riot quotation go/went on
topple sense (2) extraordinary
left (3) view (3) dream (2)
activist principle out of control
clash divide (2) caught up in
sort of couple (2) embrace (2)
frighten fall apart participant
gaullist occasion bourgeoisie
subside take part trade union
gigantic relentless over time
elect keep up rejuvenate
feast fraternal pat on the back
strike (2) contagious






May 68 in France was the real thing. What began as a student protest for reform of the archaic, authoritarian French university system, sparked a general strike that electrified the country.

Barbara Ehrenreich, Author and Activist: “They were anarchists, most of the that was the spirit of the slogan was “All Power to the Imagination” that you could do anything; we don’t have to live with all the various forms of repression which we were used to.

So it was anti-capitalist, but that was just part of this general complete sort of cultural revolution that the French students were anticipating.

And so it’s interesting that although they were the furthest out in any way, politically, that was also the one place where workers joined with students and almost toppled the government.”

May tenth (10) the Night of the Barricades. Twenty-thousand (20,000) students marched in the Latin Quarter. Police and students clashed. Street fighting went on for weeks.

The rioting and marches of up to half a million people frightened not only President de Gaulle, but the French Communist Party as well. The old left thought this new left was out of control. They had impossible dreams.

Carlos Fuentes, Author: “The two principle slogans were quotations from Marx and Rimbaud. From Marx, “Let us change the world.” From Rimbaud, “Let us change life.”

Carlos Fuentes, the Mexican novelist, was an active participant in May 68 along with many international students caught up in the excitement.

Carlos Fuentes, Author: “Well there was a sense of extraordinary brotherhood and sisterhood. There was this capacity to embrace people in the streets: there were couples kissing. There were couples that fell apart because they did not share political views.

Paris was divided by the River Seine as never before: on the left bank, you had the Left: the revolutionaries, the dreamers. On the right side, you had the conservatives, you had the Gaullists, you had the financiers, the money people, the bourgeoisie.

So the city was divided as much as in Les Misérables and Victor Hugo or in any of the great occasions of this city that seems to need a great revolutionary explosion from time to time.”

Eventually the May Uprising subsided. The powerful trade unions controlled by the Communists refused to take part and police kept up relentless pressure.

But over time, the students did succeed in reforming and modernizing the French educational system, and they rejuvenated the Socialist Party, which a decade later became the elected government of France.

Carlos Fuentes, Author: “It became a great, gigantic fraternal feast in which everybody was kissing everybody, embracing everybody, patting everybody on the back and say how happy they were and how free they felt.

And this was contagious, it was marvelous and I don’t think we’ll ever see it again.

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1. The protests in May of 1968 in Paris was only about the French university system. True or false?

2. Prior to the late 1960s, was society rigid and authority powerful?

3. Were only students involved in the protests and demonstrations?

4. The demonstrations peaceful and orderly. Is this entirely correct, mostly correct, yes and no, in the middle, mostly incorrect or entirely untrue?

5. Did the riots concern only Paris officials or the national government of France as well?

6. Was Paris separated geographically as well as socially, politically and economically?

7. How did the students feel throughout May 68?

8. Was May 68 a watershed, pivotal moment? What were the consequences?


A. Do you remember the events of (May) 1968? What about your parents or grandparents? How do they describe it?

B. Were the 1960s considered a time of great social upheaval and change?

C. Have protests and demonstrations been “effective” in changing or reshaping government, the economy and society?

D. Do people “enjoy” protesting and demonstrating? Is it common and an integral part of society?

E. What will happen in the future?


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