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Memories of 1968

International Perspectives


Edited By Ingo Cornils and Sarah Waters

The 1968 events were profoundly international in character, transcending any one national context and interacting with other movements across the world. Yet the way these events are remembered is often delimited by the national cultural or political experience and is cut off from its broader international dimension. The purpose of this volume is to examine the ‘memory’ of 1968 across different national settings, looking at the cases of France, Germany, Italy, the United States, Mexico and China. How has 1968 been (re)produced and/or contested within different national cultures and how do these processes reflect national preoccupations with order, political violence, individual freedom, youth culture and self-expression? How has the memory of 1968 been narrated, framed and interpreted in different places and in different disciplines? Is there a collective memory of 1968 and does this memory cross national boundaries? By juxtaposing representations of 1968 from across a range of national cultures and by examining the processes by which 1968 is remembered, this book aims to open up the memory of 1968 to a more diverse international perspective, one that more closely reflects the dynamics of the events themselves. The papers collected in this volume are selected from the proceedings of a conference entitled ‘Memories of 1968: International Perspectives’ that was held at the University of Leeds in 2008.


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Part 2: Personal Testimonies 179


Part 2 Personal Testimonies Daniel Bensaïd 1968 in France: An Unclassified Affair In 1968, Daniel Bensaïd was a 22-year-old student of philosophy at the Nanterre campus outside Paris and it was here that student protest first erupted before spreading to the Latin Quarter and the Sorbonne in central Paris. Already an activist within the Trotskyist grouping, the JCR (Communist Revolutionary Youth) and a member of the IVth International, Bensaïd was not new to revo- lutionary politics, but he would go on to become one of the leading figures of the French student movement of 1968. On 22 March, Bensaïd was one of a group of 142 students who occupied a room (the Council of University Professors) in the administrative block in Nanterre, in protest against the arrest, the previous day, of a group of students who had been taking part in an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in central Paris. This action has been described as the ‘founding event’ 1 of the May ’68 events in France: the students would go on to produce a political tract and declare themselves a new protest movement (the March 22 Movement). In the summer of 1968, Bensaïd wrote a book with his fellow Trotskyist Henri Weber in which they analysed the political significance of the May 1968 events. This book was completed in hiding, when both authors had taken refuge in the home of the novelist Marguerite Duras, following the French government’s prohibition of the leftist political groupings to which...

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