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This Is What The May '68 Riots Really Looked Like

In May 1968, the streets of Paris erupted in violent protest that forever shook the social foundation of the country.

Posted on May 22, 2018, at 4:33 p.m. ET

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In May 1968, what began as a small student-led protest in the suburbs of Paris quickly grew into the largest general strike in French history.

Drawing inspiration from socialist uprisings in places like China and Cuba, the students of Paris gathered in the thousands to march in protest against what they believed was a largely authoritarian government. This rhetoric resonated with workers across France, who joined in the protest by stepping away from their jobs and occupying their factories, effectively shutting down many of France's vital industries. Soon, nearly 11 million workers were marching alongside students in the streets of Paris.

The protests were not taken lightly by the French authorities, who responded in force with tear gas and batons. On the evenings of May 10–11, what became known as "the Night of the Barricades," rioting engulfed the city as protesters took up arms behind improvised barricades, using makeshift weapons, projectiles, and Molotov cocktails.

In the months following, the May protests died down and eventually dissolved into history. While there was no immediate political repercussions, the protests forever shook the social foundation of France and became a testament to both a new cultural energy and the consequences of anarchy.

These pictures capture the energy and chaos of the protests in France during May 1968.

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Student and workers march toward the Arc de Triomphe to demand changes ranging from government policy to job security on May 24.

Jacques Marie / AFP / Getty Images

A young woman takes a picture of the big demonstration on May 29, 1968.

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Protesters march with their arms linked on May 6.

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Students demonstrate at the Sorbonne University in May 1968.

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Left: Demonstrators hold signs depicting socialist leaders on May 13. Right: Protesters burn an American flag in protest against American imperialism.

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The Sorbonne is occupied by protesting students who have hung portraits of Mao Zedong and other socialist leaders.

Jacques Marie / AFP / Getty Images

Protesters face police in front of the Gibert Joseph bookstore on May 6.

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Left: Two men fight during the protests. Right: A protester, injured in the eye, is treated on the street in Boulevard Saint-Michel during the protest on May 6.

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A car is left smoldering after violent altercations between security forces and demonstrators at Rue Gay-Lussac, during the night of May 11.

Carlo Bavagnoli / Getty Images

A large group of student and worker demonstrators fill the Paris streets.

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Students march with Union Nationale des Étudiants de France signs.

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A mobile unit of state security police officers prepare to engage the protesters on May 23 in the Latin Quarter of Paris.

Jacques Marie / AFP / Getty Images

A student is arrested, his face bleeding, on the Boulevard Saint-Germain on May 6.

Eustache Cardenas / AP

Crowds gather during a mass demonstration on May 13.

Eustache Cardenas / AP

A police officer stands guard during a protest on May 13.

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Students drive through the streets during a pro–De Gaulle march down the Champs-Élysées.

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People help an injured police officer following clashes between law enforcement and students during a demonstration on May 4.

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A barricade is set on fire in the streets of Paris.

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Streets are left in ruins following protests on May 24.


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