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<< Voyous, Vignettes, Vive la Révolution! >>

Precursor // Les Enfants de Marx et de Coca-Cola

In May of 1968, a student revolt that began in a suburb in Paris was accompanied by a general strike, eventually evolving to the point that it halted the French economy. Regarded as one of the most fervent demonstrations in European history, the resulting movement has perceptible post-modern and present-day pertinence.

A reproduction of Parisian society beforehand and a deconstruction of its aftermath were developed six years across from each other (1966, 1972) by filmmaker extraordinaire, Jean-Luc Godard, who had, both through his work and ideology, an intimate connection with these events and their legacy.

Attempting to delineate this irrefutably impactful period, aided by its history and vignettes credited to a cinematic revolutionary, is Perspectoverse’s Sabal Handa.


In his 1966 feature, Masculin Feminin, Jean-Luc Godard subtly showcases the political gradient in Parisian youth through parodic lenses. That period was one where socialist philosophy was prevalent amongst the aforementioned demographic, and to make things better, with the onset of the Vietnam War, anti-imperialist ideas were brewing. Coupled with America’s promotion of capitalist schools of thought, dominance, and influence on consumerism, it made for a volatile climate. Moreover, it was an era of international ‘youth culture,’ yet French society remained autocratic, hierarchical, and orthodox, especially in the eyes of French youth.

Throughout the film, the audience is brought face-to-face with a versatile image that Paris develops for itself, busting the conventional, conceptualised version of the same that existed previously. As is observed, this clarification becomes increasingly fundamental to understanding preliminary credo. The protagonist, Paul, and his friend are shown to be participating in demonstrations for varied causes that fall in line with their perspective. They are also seen vandalizing the city’s suburbs and an American official’s car in opposition to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Post-War connotations, alongside pre-existing class struggles, drove the general populace to the verge of tumbling down a rather nasty rabbit hole.

Punctuated by random elements of violence and passionate expressions of comprehension (for instance, the monologue by an Afro-French individual, where he disconnectedly talks to his mates about his interpretation of two African-American artists’ music), it does well to foreshadow the events that would follow.

Arguably the most iconic quotation from the piece is Godard presenting an alternative title for the film ‘‘Les Enfants de Marx et de Coca Cola’’ (The children of Marx and Coca-Cola)

Again, this corresponds with unorthodox Marxist ideology colliding with capitalism and the sense of personal desire that existed amongst the generation while viewing iconised political identities such as Che Guevera, Ho Chi Minh, and Mao Zedong as its idols. That collision eventually sparked and continued to burn and become a wildfire in the form of a lengthy series of protests that paralysed most of the country at its height.

May 68 // << La Révolution>>

Usually passed off as a romanticised student revolt, the protests extended to the working class (particularly the factory workers/laborers), intelligentsia, communists, and beyond. In fact, Godard himself led a movement calling for the 1968 Cannes Film Festival to be halted in light of these events and expressed support during other phases, with directors including Claude Lelouch, François Truffaut, and Roman Polanski.

There were numerous violent instances throughout the several weeks that the protests lasted. They reached such a point that political leaders feared the possibility of a civil war.

“Les Voyous” (French for ‘the hoodlums/delinquents’) is how the older generations described the instigators of this civil unrest. Far-left groups, a handful of artists, and 150-odd university students initially demonstrated inside a building at the Paris Nanterre University. They discussed class discrimination in French society, ​​American involvement in Vietnam, and current university policies. Displeased with their actions, the University called the police, which eventually escalated the situation to months of conflict - up until May, when student and university unions marched towards the Sorbonne - France’s premier university - to get charges against the original demonstrators dropped.

High School unions and factory workers joined them after a congregation on a later day that amassed nearly 40,000 student protestors was rebuked with violence by the police. Together, they rioted, leading to several arrests and injuries. With revolutionary fervor and an impassioned spirit of Third Worldism (which was also a popular concept at the time, introduced with the Cold War era), they joined forces as aspirations grew to fight for a broader and more radical agenda against the administration.

Trade unions attempted to win the workers back, announcing an increase in perks and wages, all of which were refuted. Owing to the same, there was a lot of anti-unionist euphoria in the movement against the mainstream trade unions and organisations willing to compromise and accept the status quo.

As the upheaval reached its zenith, the socialists demanded the investiture of a new government wherein François Mitterrand of the Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left would take charge. Likewise, Pierre Mendès France of the Radical Party planned to do the same, with support from the protesting communists. However, the communists had given up hope of being in power and accepted their position at a lower rung of the political ladder. They negotiated the Grenelle Accords, under which workers were entitled to an increase in wages and improvement in working conditions. The factory workers, however, rejected the agreement and carried on with strikes despite a substantial amount of their population opting out.

Amidst these dictates for a regime change, then-president Charles De Gaulle flew to Germany to seek the support of General Jacques Massu (commander of the French occupation forces) to gain his support in the event of Paris having to be retaken by force. Soon after, he delivered an address, announcing the dissolution of the National Assembly and another election to be held in June of that year. He also threatened to counter the protestors’ “tyranny” and “intimidation” by using the army to reassert “order.” Subsequently, thousands filed out into the streets, carrying out counterstrikes in De Gaulle’s support.

Even though demonstrations continued in June, the student movement gradually lost momentum, and De Gaulle’s party won a resounding victory. Despite that, things didn’t go all too well for the President when ten months later, one of his signature gambits (a national referendum on regional reform and reorganisation of the Senate) failed, bringing his political career to an ignoble standstill.

Impact // Influence // Aftermath

The long-term influence of the protests has been subject to debate for almost half a century. While the sea change that French society underwent was not as radical and abrupt as the participants, often referred to as “68ers”, would have hoped, the measured increments of reform that followed and reflected the events’ impact on people. It also inspired a plethora of political and influential media - waves of art, cinema, music, books, and much more. For instance, by October of 1968, an estimated 124 books based on the agitation had already been published.

This brings us to another one of Jean-Luc Godard’s works, which came from his collaboration with Jean-Pierre Gorin and the formation of the Dziga-Vertov cinema collective. Titled “Tout Va Bien” (Everything Is Great/Just Great), the production is known to be the most notable one in the partnership’s filmography, utilising Brechtian mechanisms to allude to its stated intentions.

The film concerns itself with the aftermath of May ‘68 and surviving class-hierarchies/struggles that lived on. It also references the under-representation of labor struggles during and after the protests by closing in on a factory workers’ strike as a critical element. Through its opaque performances, Tout Va Bien draws viewers to a broader ideological meaning and demands humane inferences in a societal context while highlighting the role of journalism through the work of an American journalist covering the strike.

Alongside other media (such as Xavier Vigna’s “L’insubordination ouvrière dans les années 68” [loosely translated as Workers’ insubordination during the year ‘68] ), it makes a strong case for the importance of the workers’ disobedience during the movement - a subject that has been largely abandoned by academics studying that period.

Although projected as a failure early on, the events of May ‘68 inspired modernisation in education, welfare, labor, and justice. They are revered as moments of great global inspiration, showcasing extreme possibilities to the international fraternity. It created a window of opportunities for numerous other social movements, including a new phase of feminism and LGBTQIA+ rights in France. Anecdotes from 68ers bring various facets of the revolt to light - the manipulated pessimism towards the movement, anti-revolutionary marches finding roots in unsolicited Mccarthyism, and calculated hesitance to encourage relevant discussions in this context, etc. Most importantly, a prominent common link that these stories share is an admiration for how (their) collective action left an impenetrable patrimony for the country’s future generations and a way to build upon that by bringing as many ideas as possible to the forefront.

One of the most famous slogans of May 68 is “Soyez réaliste, demandez l’impossible” (Be realistic, demand the impossible), and many of these like-minded people believed it was at least worth a try. (RFI)

Culturally, this period is considered a social and moral turning point in the country’s history; it is celebrated as an allegory of liberation, the end of traditional collective action, and an era dominated by radical social change and improvement. It influenced - and continues to influence - generations of protest art, ideas, and the flame of reform fanned by youthful passion and ambition. Due to the unconventional nature of globalisation at the time, it had a visceral connection with the population and was cited ubiquitously as the “furthest reach of possibility” (Smithsonian Magazine, in consultation with Julian Bourg).

Written by Sabal Handa

Illustrated by Anannya Pincha



Further Reading:

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