Six Days in Paris | The Nation


Six Days in Paris

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Demonstrations had taken place all over France, sentiment was overwhelmingly with the students, and two powerful forces now felt moved to respond. The government announced withdrawal of the police from the Sorbonne and its reopening. On the other side, the big parties of the Left and the union federations decided to throw their great weight into the battle. The students greeted their new allies with mixed feelings. With elation--from then on the slogan heard everywhkre was Ouvriers et étudiants ensemble! But also with wariness, because insofar as the students have any leadership it is made up of dissident radicals--Maoists, Guevarists, Trotskyists, anarchists--and also because almost up to this instant, the students had been contemptuously dismissed by the Communists as "adventurers," "bourgeois" and "fils à papa." Naturally, they didn't like being called "papa's boys," an epithet that in any case seemed particularly inappropriate at the moment. And more deeply, the students regard the big Left parties as almost part of the Establishment, have little confidence that these parties can ever change society, and are repelled by what they know of Communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe. Dany Cohn-Bendit calls the Communists "Stalinist creeps."

Daniel Singer's on-the-scene reports of the events of May from The Economist (Singer was later to be The Nation's Europe correspondent for two decades) can be found in the articles archive at the website of The Daniel Singer Millennium Prize Foundation.

About the Author

Harry Braverman
Harry Braverman, director of Monthly Review Press, was on a European publishing trip in May 1968 when the upheaval...

But now, all over Paris, placards on the newspaper kiosks proclaimed a general strike and monster demonstration for Monday. Leaflets were passed out, a few skirmishes took place, the weekend passed in an atmosphere of expectancy. Paris was overwhelmingly sympathetic to the students; polls showed that they had the backing of four persons out of five. Not that the sentiment was by any means universal; in the bar of the Pont Royal, for instance, I overheard a haughty, well-dressed woman: "Yes, of course, they can go and burn our cars in the Latin Quarter. And what can we do to them in return? They don't even own anything we can destroy!"

But Monday morning showed how many there were who would not have applauded the indignant and militant lady. The Métro was running, but the ticket seller and ticket taker waved me through. Not as many trains as usual, but that day everyone rode free, courtesy of the subway workers of Paris. And at the Place de la République where the demonstration was to gather, it was almost impossible well before the appointed hour to force one's way to the center of the square, where a view from the top of a construction shanty showed a human sea, banners waving, red flags flying, and as far as the eye could see down three principal boulevards, masses of demonstrators trying to push forward into the huge square.

The march to the Left Bank began. At the Place du Chatelet, just before the Seine, the demonstration moved massively, forty abreast. It seemed that all of Paris had turned out, not just to watch but to cheer. At every square and along the line of march, the Internationale was sung--in assured accents by the heavy battalions of labor; more fumblingIy by the masses of students, many grouped around bits of paper bearing the words. But before the day ended everyone knew the words.

Slogans became increasingly radical; not just for the liberation of the imprisoned demonstrators, not just for unity of workers and students and for a free university, but now also for an end to the Fifth Republic. "Power is on the fun; let it fall!" "Ten years, that's enough!," and, very rhythmically, "La Cinquième au clou, La Sixième, c'est nous!" The movement which began over educational issues now wanted to send the Fifth Republic to the hock shop and take its place as the Sixth. A lilting chant, "Adieu, de Gaulle,", sung by one contingent to the accompaniment of hundreds of waving handkerchiefs, was very popular with the crowds. Placards proclaimed that the Algerian disorders of May 13, 1958, had brought de Gaulle to power; but that the struggle of the students on the barricades, May 13, 1968, signaled his end. "Bon anniversaire, mon General," the marchers shouted. And a group of Left officials, proclaiming slogans for the march from a balcony, heard in reply from the marchers below: "Bureaucrates, dam la rue!"

There was a spirit of rebellion that few had known existed. As one Parisian said to me, "I didn't realize that everyone else was feeling this way."

Coming off the Pont Saint-Michel, into the Place Saint-Michel, the crowd watched enthralled while a youngster with a red flag tried to shinny up a flagpole. At first he made good progress with the aid of a traffic sign clamped to the pole, but beyond that point he would gain a few feet and then fall back to the accompaniment of cries and groans. At last his outstretched finger tips catch the tri-color, which he flings to the street. A roar goes up from the demonstration, and the man beside me says, "Treason!"--with a delighted grin.

I had an appointment at La Boule D'Or in the Place Saint-Michel, and waited at a table in front, with two elderly, well-dressed gentlemen, wondering what they thought. When the waiter arrives, it becomes clear that I am a foreigner, an American. A short silence, and then one of my table mates points to the square and bids me take a good look: "La France, c'est ça! No one can meddle with our liberties, not even de Gaulle." My own sympathies made clear, there are shouts of elation, many toasts to liberté, etc.

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