Comments on "Enragés and Situationists in the occupation movement, France, May ’68" and its reception. From Internationale Situantionniste #12 (September 1969).
This translation is a first draft, and has not been independently proofread. However, to the best of my knowledge this text has never been translated into English. Therefore I am making it available in this form with the caveat that there are likely to be mistakes in it. PLEASE APPROACH IT WITH CAUTION!
Draft 0.0 (14 January 2016)
Addendum to Viénet’s Book
It strikes us that there is a factual error on pages 72-73 of Enrages and Situationists in the Occupations Movement1 2 : where it states that, upon his return from Afghanistan, Pompidou allocated the Faculty of Letters’ “Censier annex” to academics for the discussion of their problems. Even though this was ultimately the case, some documents and accounts lead to the conclusion that the Censier annex had been, if not actually occupied, used for a meeting towards the end of the afternoon of Saturday 11 May. This was several hours before the arrival of Pompidou, and the account of his conceptions included this point. Nevertheless, it remains no less true that “for a number of days the studious and moderate mood” of this facility bore the mark of those who’d taken this initiative that was so quickly legitimated, and of their reformist objectives in the student milieu.
Apart from that, the only alleged inaccuracy in our publications of the time that has been raised so far in books dealing with the May movement, we can attribute to a mistake. On page 547 of Schnapp & Vidal-Naquet’s book The French Student Uprising 3 , with regard to a CMDO tract about Flins (which states that at the Gare Saint-Lazare “the union leaders (…) diverted the protestors towards Renault-Billancourt, by promising that trucks would take them from there to Flins…”) there is a note which comments: “Inaccurate: the leaders of the railway workers union at Saint-Lazare were content to refuse to provide the students with a special train to Flins…” But the CMDO tract wasn’t talking about the leaders of the CGT 4 (who, outside of the rallies, told some that the police were blocking the way and others that sabotage by leftist provocateurs was preventing a train from departing). The “union leaders” who dispersed the protestors at Saint-Lazare with outrageous lies were those of the UNEF and SNESup 5 . In May the common left, whose fanciful vocabulary Schnapp and Vidal-Naquet share, used the term “union leaders” for those (like the CGT) who openly fought against the movement. But the Geismars and Sauvageots, who hindered this movement from within, were truly union leaders, just as ridiculous as the unions in whose name they held the floor.
It also has to be pointed out that Vienet’s book underestimated the action of the revolutionary workers of Lyon, with regard to their attempts (already partly successful, but at the time obscured by all the other information around) to launch strikes prior to 14 May; as well as in regard to their exemplary participation in the struggles that took place in Lyon afterwards (at the time that the book was being written we had momentarily lost any contact with these comrades).
Finally, pages 19-21 6 (which discussed the preceding student unrest in many countries) should have cited Congo, and the remarkable occupation of the University of Lovanium in Kinshasa (ex-Léopoldville) in 1967 (earlier than Turin and all that followed in Europe). The campus that the revolutionary students held there was encircled by the army. They weren’t able to descend on the city, where the workers were waiting for their arrival to rise up. Mobutu’s regime proclaimed the lock-out of the University, by demanding the individual re-enrolment of every student, who then had to commit to conform to university norms in the future (a technique subsequently picked up by minister Edgar Faure). However the solidarity of the students forced the government to renounce this measure. Consequently, as we know, the University of Lovanium (where some situationist influences are discernible) rose once again on 4 June 1969, not for a 30% increase in grants, as the government claimed, but to bring down the regime. This time, the army opened fire; there were many dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests.
Translated by Ian Thompson. From https://isinenglish.com/12-8-5/
- 1Libcom note: https://libcom.org/article/enrages-and-situationists-occupation-movement-france-may-68
- 2The original French title of the book by Viénet is “Enragés et situationnistes dans le mouvement des occupations”. An English translation was published by Automedia, in 1992. The passage in question appears on p44 of the translation.
- 3The original French title of this book is “Journal de la Commune étudiante”. An English translation was published by Beacon Press, in 1971. The title of this version has been used.
- 4The CGT (Confédération générale du travail) is one of the largest trade unions in France to this day.
- 5The UNEF (Union Nationale des Étudiants de France) is France’s major student union, and SNESup (Syndicat national de l’enseignement supérieur) represents University teaching staff.
- 6This corresponds to pp14-15 in the English translation.