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.

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.

Skip to footer