Concerning Nantes

book cover "La commune de nantes"

Harsh words for a book about the Nantes occupation in 1968. From Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969).

Submitted by Fozzie on April 21, 2023

Under an extremely presumptous title, The Nantes Commune (Ed. Maspero, May 1969), a certain Yannick Guin evokes the occupations movement at Nantes, propagating the inevitable banality of modern leftism: at Nantes there would have been an outline of "dual power"; the Inter-Union Strike Committee had effectively taken control of the town to a degree parallel, if not greater than that of the prefect. Leftist minorities and revolutionary syndicalists are known to wield an influence among the unions of the Loire-Atlantic area (in the FO and even in the CFDT) beyond any proportion to their national reality, an influence which is tied to certain traditions of workers' struggles and local economic conditions.

In the great strike of 1953, the outline of the Central Strike Committee's insurrectional power was clearly manifested at Nantes: it was a nice vestige of the revolutionary possibilities that syndicalism has formerly contained, during a period when the workers' movement had generally been wiped out. In 1968 the situation was completely different. The decisive contribution of the Nantese, after the sabotage conducted from the academic milieu by the revolutionary group of "students" who held the local office of the UNEF (Yvon Chotard, Quillot, etc.) and who were the first in France to bring the red flag and the black flag back into the streets together, was certainly the exploit of the workers of Sud-Aviation who inaugurated the occupation of the factories on May 14 [1968]. But, from this exemplary action alone, it is wrong to consider Nantes as a separate point in the May movement. May was essentially a nation-wide wildcat strike — and not a "mass strike" as the bureaucrats, and those who don't dare distinguish themselves from them, bashfully say. The strike didn't become "mass" through a kind of mechanical innocence, like a reaction observed in a laboratory, with the unions who never wanted to declare a "general strike" and who have since then forbidden them to use this classic term: in fact, the strike was extended against them. Thus, while for the first time a revolutionary workers' current was already struggling throughout the country against the unions, the pseudo-Commune of Nantes, with its governing Inter-Union, found itself far behind the newest and profoundest things in the occupations movement.

Next to the ordinary idiocies that make up this terrible book, Guin devoted a large space to often exact, although always maliciously presented anecdotes concerning the highly important contribution of the revolutionary "students" of Nantes. One of these anecdotes, at least, is pure fiction. It can be read in his fourth chapter: "In reality, the true influence sprang from the Situationist International, with which many exchanges were carried out. But here again the Nantes particularism was manifest. Thus one saw [Raoul] Vaneigem, the S.I.'s principal thinker, landing at Nantes and introducing himself to the local AGEN. He demanded to see Chotard immediately. They willingly answered that no one knew where he was. Vaneigem had to wait an entire afternoon, enduring the smiles of the Nantes students."

The events in this detective story were never witnessed by anyone, except the author who invented them. Vaneigem and a worker comrade went to Nantes as delegates of the Council for the Maintenance of the Occupations [CMDO]. They found Chotard at the very moment of their arrival. They certainly didn't have any "order" to give to a completely autonomous revolutionary group, just as much in regard to the SI as to the CMDO. Vaneigem, whose name was somewhat known in Nantes, took precautions not to put himself in the position of celebrity, even refusing to address a meeting as the Nantese invited him to do. The delegates of the CMDO restricted themselves to exchanging information with the revolutionaries of Nantes: the latter had previously sent several comrades (Chotard among them) to Paris two or three times, who were received equally quickly and cordially by the C.M.D.O., as was natural. They certainly didn't come to search for orders in Paris, and nobody, happily, ever thought of notifying them about it. It follows that they didn't come to give us any orders, either.

In fact, if several Nantes radicals — having had during the year preceding the occupations movement many discussions and exchanges of letters, on a clearly specified base of autonomy and equality — had evolved towards many, but not all, of our positions, it was done in pure freedom, through the result of their own thoughts, and above all their concrete experience. They had no organizational link with us, neither open nor concealed; and still less was there the slightest trace of subjection, which in any case we didn't want, and which they certainly wouldn't have wanted any more than we.

Subsequent events seem to show that what for us was quite evident didn't appear so simple to all of the Nantes radicals, and that even this question obscurely annoyed certain people. After reading Guin's book, the SI wrote the Nantese to ask them how they reckoned on reacting to this slander, and also if they knew exactly of the existence of this Guin. On this last point, they thought they had to make a dilatory response. And on the first, they wrote us that the slander aimed at Vaneigem was nothing more than a mere detail in a generally slanderous book, and that they didn't think, as we did, that squashing slanderers was a "revolutionary duty." They comically deemed themselves to have superseded the problem by rejecting a short time period previously all reference to the academic terrain, and by setting themselves up as the "Council of Nantes."

Without examining here the problem of the validity of a voluntarist proclamation of a proletarian councilist organization existing simply on the margin of the academic milieu, and with the same source of recruitment, we considered that the lack of rigor of the comrades of the Council of Nantes unfortunately revealed that they didn't appropriate the truth of the only lesson, which, without any ill-timed disgrace, they would assuredly have had to have learned from us. Despite what we have always considered as highly valuable in their 1968 activity — and notably as concerns Yvon Chotard, whose intentions and remarkable revolutionary capacities are recognized by us — the SI immediately broke off all relations with all the members of the current "Council of Nantes." (We should point out that shortly afterwards, Juvénal Quillet let us know that since his signature had been improperly put on a leaflet of the Council of Nantes, he disassociated himself from it at once.)

Translated by Point Blank. From