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Reviewed by:
  • Une douce anarchie: les années 68 au Québec
  • Sean Mills
Une douce anarchie: les années 68 au Québec. Jean-Philippe Warren. Montréal: Boréal, 2008. Pp. 312, $29.95 paper

For two weeks in October of 1968, Quebec’s newly instituted junior colleges (or cegeps) ground to a halt. Students barricaded themselves inside their institutions, demanding that both their schools and society at large be brought under democratic control. Students at cegep Lionel-Groulx, for example, hung portraits of Lenin, Marx, Castro, and Mao, and, with the help of sympathetic support staff, barricaded doors and learned to run the cafeteria. During a strike that broke out simultaneously at Montreal’s École; des beaux arts, students hoisted the red flag and proclaimed a republic. Connecting student politics with poverty and exclusion locally, and inequality and oppression globally, the student movement in Quebec seemed – until its self-destruction less than a year later – to have the wind in its sails.

Jean-Philippe Warren sets out, in this remarkable study, to chronicle the story of the Quebec student movement’s rise and fall. He charts – with full attention to the movement’s complexities and contradictions – its move from collaboration with the modernizing projects of the Quebec state in the early to mid-1960s to its adoption of an increasingly oppositional stance by the decade’s end. Once Quebec bureaucrats announced in September 1968 that there would be no space for thousands of cegep students in the province’s university system the following year, it did not take long for the movement to gain support among a largely apathetic student body. France’s May 1968 may have played a role in catalyzing student protests in Quebec, Warren maintains, but it was North American activism – including that of students at Montreal’s English-speaking universities – that proved most inspirational. [End Page 535]

Warren demonstrates that by the late 1960s student radicals had abandoned earlier ideals of ‘collaboration’ and ‘representation,’ opting instead for ‘student power’ and ‘direct action.’ The Quebec state, which had seemed so full of emancipatory promise only years earlier, had become, in the eyes of many, one more means of exploitation. As a result of its utopian ideals of direct democracy, Warren argues, the movement quickly unravelled the following year when activists turned their ideology back on the structures of student syndicalism themselves, destroying them in the process. With the student movement imploding, radicals turned their energies in many directions, from Marxist-Leninism to anarchism, and from the Parti Québécois to the Front d’action politique.

At first glance, the political energy of the sixties appears impressive. Yet Warren’s goal is anything but celebration. He wants to challenge the portrayal of the period as a golden age of political mobilizing. Statistics in hand, he demonstrates that a significant number of students supported the Vietnam War, that radicals represented a tiny fraction of students, and that the anti-war protests of the era were far less significant than the protests against the war in Iraq in 2003. He outlines the rigidity and uncompromising nature of student politics in the sixties and argues that the young age of students explains much about their adolescent actions and overblown language. Although the rhetoric of 1968 may seem liberatory, Warren suggests, it may have actually only promoted the individualistic ideals of liberal capitalism.

Harsh words indeed. But Warren states that his purpose is not to deflate the efforts of a previous generation, but rather to highlight the comparative vitality and energy of young people in Quebec today. Writing for this new generation, Warren works to disrupt the immobilizing nostalgia that so often surrounds discussions of the Quiet Revolution. Yet one could argue that writing for this new generation means more than overcoming nostalgia. It also means questioning narratives in which certain groups are consistently relegated to the sidelines of historical memory. By portraying the October Crisis as the end point of the ‘ideology of 68,’ for example, we lose sight of the fact that for others – such as feminists, labour activists, grassroots community organizers, gay liberationists, to name a few – the moment appeared more as a beginning than...


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pp. 535-537
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