France was a society in transition in the 1960s. It had emerged from World War II battered, but within a decade it began rapid modernization to catch up with its American and European competitors. It was in this period that France became a predominantly urban, industrialized country
Like other powers at the time, France needed technical and research workers to compete in the world market.
More importantly, this swelling student body led to stress and strain. It ripened conditions for struggle. Students faced overcrowding, even as universities were in a construction frenzy to keep pace. Paris’ Latin Quarter, which housed colleges like the Sorbonne, had 150,000 students running through it nearly every day. Sometimes students would sit through a lecture in one subject just to secure seats for the class actually on their schedules. A rise in unemployment raised serious concerns for students about finding jobs after college, for those who were even able to graduate. Seventy percent of French university students failed to complete their studies, and 40 percent of the roughly 450,000 unemployed were under the age of twenty-five.
students organized against the Vietnam War, against the government’s attempts to tighten admissions policies, and even simply for co-ed housing.
Out of the battle to defend antiwar student activists, students founded the militant and broad March 22nd Movement (M22). As Daniel Bensaïd wrote, “It defined itself as anti-imperialist (solidarity with the Indochinese and Cuban peoples), anti-bureaucratic (solidarity with the Polish students and the Prague Spring), and anti-capitalist (solidarity with the workers of Caen and Redon).”7
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