The New Movement - Henri Simon

Influential in its day and expressing the optimism of its times, this text describes the characteristics of the New Movement of class struggle of the 1960s and 70s and its relationship to the Old Movement...

Submitted by libcom on May 27, 2006

"These tendencies towards autonomy and
the original forms, be they open or diffuse, that they take, come up
against all the structures of the capitalist world: the State, political
parties, trade-unions, traditional left-wing groups, and against the
entire system of ideas and values of exploitative society. The net result
is a permanent conflict as much for the individual as for the social
group to which he belongs. From these conflicts we can draw the conclusion
that the various expressions of the New Movement are in opposition to
all forms of elitism and vanguardism. They reflect a tendency to destroy
all hierarchies and establish new forms of relationships between individuals
and organizations of struggle, and between these organizations themselves."

Published in English translation from
the original French by Solidarity, London 1976.



Henri Simon

1. The struggle against capitalist domination,
which, in its various modern forms occurs in every country in the world,
exhibits new tendencies, which are in complete contrast with what occurred
before the beginning of the 20th century.

2. The common and essential feature of
these tendencies, is the way in which those who struggle manage the
totality of their affairs by themselves in all circumstances of their
lives, in the field of action as well as thought.

3. The signs of what could be a radical
transformation of social relationships are to be seen in the upheavals
of capitalism itself in its crisis and its attempts to adapt itself.
These signs can erupt in isolated explosions rapidly destroyed by the
dominant interests or they can be traced through their slow progress
and more or less stemmed by reforms.

4. The effects of what has been stated
above can be found more or less in all areas of human activity, in all
countries, at the level of individuals as well as the level of all the
organizations in which they are involved. The struggle at the very place
of the exploitation of man by capital - the industrial or commercial
enterprise - remains essential; but the expression of the new tendency
can be found in all areas of life and takes similar forms. Social conflicts
are spreading to all sectors of social life showing that autonomy is
not to be limited but will conquer in all things.

5. The abolition of alienated work and
by implication, the abolition of all domination of man over man, will
transform the entire range of social relationships. If this is true,
it is just as true that the struggle in all areas of life transforms
the whole of social relationships at the very moment that the struggle
itself is taking place.

6. These tendencies towards autonomy
and the original forms, be they open or diffuse, that they take, come
up against all the structures of the capitalist world: the State, political
parties, trade-unions, traditional left-wing groups, and against the
entire system of ideas and values of exploitative society. The net result
is a permanent conflict as much for the individual as for the social
group to which he belongs. From these conflicts we can draw the conclusion
that the various expressions of the New Movement are in opposition to
all forms of elitism and vanguardism. They reflect a tendency to destroy
all hierarchies and establish new forms of relationships between individuals
and organizations of struggle, and between these organizations themselves.

7. The new struggles and tendencies are
linked to certain struggles and tendencies in the past. For example,
we have seen the appearance of workers' councils or analogous institutions
in all periods in which social conflicts have tended to threaten the
very foundations of the system. Knowledge, studies and reflection on
these events are a feature of our knowledge of the present. But we must
beware of thinking that the collection of information about former struggles
and the analysis of theorizing from this information will provide blueprints
for future activity. What arises out of a struggle is adapted to the
necessity of that struggle and for that reason cannot serve as the objective
for other struggles or criterion for judging what will come out of other

8. The elements of a new world tend to
reveal themselves continually from the very functioning of the capitalist
system. These elements are the product of the system's functioning and
necessary to its functioning at the same time; for example the modern
capitalist company needs individual and collective initiative at grass
roots level to function. But the forms in which the New Movement is
revealed can only be transitory, ephemeral and stamped by the society
in which they have developed. Examples of such forms are the blocking
of vast unities of production by spontaneous movements in one industrial
sector, non-passive strikes, resistance to work itself, the women's
movement, local community action, etc. It is important to emphasize
the existence of these elements to analyze their development and forms,
but it is futile to glorify every example of autonomous activity as
the imminent advent of the revolution. It is just as futile to criticize
such examples systematically under the pretext that their isolation
leads them in the end to contribute to reinforcing the system. The traditional
left who either see in every strike the revolution or denounce every
strike as reformist has been replaced by more subtle groups who propose
tactical forms of struggle supposedly more radical.

9. Whether they have been glorified or
denigrated, autonomous actions have only rarely been considered as the
first symptoms of a New Movement whose organization can only appear
and develop out of struggle itself. In practice the attempts to analyze
these autonomous actions try to explain their failure either by their
lack of organization, or by the non-existence of a revolutionary party,
or by a lack of consciousness, ideological backwardness, etc. In fact
all the above criticisms refer to old schema's of the traditional left
who judge what happens according to criteria defined by a revolutionary
elite. This elite supposes that when the time comes it will have to
play a central role in the revolution using various means. In the workers'
revolution, this elite would have to announce crisis and map out the
road to liberation, just as the bourgeoisie did in its own time. The
revolution is thus conceived as a unique event in which the revolutionary
finds himself in possession of a magical power enabling him to effect
a total and brutal transformation of all social relationships; from
the moment a sufficiently violent force would be able to break an isolated
link in the chain of world capitalist domination all would, according
to this elite, topple over into a communist society.

10. The New Movement opposes itself to
what we call the Old Movement. This Old Movement refers to the plans
and situations of the historic period beginning around the opening of
the nineteenth century and continuing until the outbreak of the 1914
war. Before the First World War we could consider that the values and
ideas of their period had some validity. What could have seemed to be
revolutionary at that moment, in the social democratic and Bolshevik
parties or in union organizations, was only a revolution in the form

of capitalism (i.e., planned bureaucratic capitalism instead of liberal
capitalism). This left the domination of capitalism and the exploitation
of work completely intact.

11. Since the First World War, the Old
Movement has increasingly become inadequate to the situation resulting
from the renewal of capitalism, which emerged. From its first signs,
the New Movement came up against not only the old forms of capitalist
domination but also against the various forms of the Old Movement, even
if at the same time these forms could still contain revolutionary illusions;
for instance, the conflict between the Bolsheviks and the factory committees
in 1917, in Russia, and their epilogue at Kronstadt can be seen as a
clash between the Old and the New Movement. The New Movement not only
questions the existence of what we can encompass in the term vanguard
(parties, groups, etc.) but also the very conception of the revolution.
To the extent that the Old Movement is the present or potential holder
of capitalist power, it has to engage in a struggle to the death
with all manifestations of the New Movement, whether by violent destruction
or total absorption.

12. One essential characteristic of the
New Movement is at the present time, the attitude of those who struggle
and who no longer just demand things from people, groups and institutions
which are outside them, e.g., from their parents in the family, from
their husband in marriage, from the teacher in school or university,
from the boss in the factory, from the union in conflicts, from parties
and groups in the organization of actions or the provision of theories,
etc. The form of struggle tends very often to be the very doing or taking
of the thing demanded. The new tendency is towards people doing what
they want by themselves and for themselves, towards taking and doing
instead of asking and waiting.

13. The most visible demonstration of
this tendency occurs in the new forms of class struggle, and the widening
of class conflicts to clashes between the dominators and dominated in
all structures of society. These confrontation illustrate the split
between all those who claim to act for the workers whatever their motivation
and the actions of the exploited themselves. The attempts at rejecting
trade unions, the underground organization of conflicts, the attempts
to make horizontal links between those in struggle, the new attitudes
of students, women, homosexuals and so on, the attitude of workers towards
work, all these reflect the desire of those concerned to manage their
struggle for themselves and by themselves.

14. One of the constant features of the
Old Movement was that its practitioners considered themselves as
workers' movement, and had made of the history of their organizations
the history of the labor movement. But the New Movement develops its
own history which is nothing more than the activity of the workers themselves,
masked until now by those who wrote and made 'History' out of their
own 'Revolutionary' activity.

15. The Old Movement will only acknowledge
the different manifestations of the New Movement in order to subject
them to its own political objectives. In general it condemns such manifestations
without pardon under different labels such as "reformist",
"lacking in consciousness", "hippy", etc. But the
New Movement is so strong that it forces those who adhere to the Old
Movement to perform a series of acrobatics in order to maintain themselves,
as well as possible, in their self-appointed role or in the role which
is assigned to them. For this reason changes or conflicts within parties
or unions, and the present splits in different parties and groups, can
often be explained by attempts to adapt fundamental positions to the
new character of movements of struggle, bending these movements to serve
their own interests.

16. There are some who tirelessly repeat
the same old ideas or slogans as if the capitalist world had not changed
profoundly during the last one hundred and fifty years. But others have
tried to adapt.

One can thus witness two currents of opinion:

A. There are those who place an absolute
value on certain particular struggles. This gives rise to a whole flock
of theories privileging the youth revolt, women's' lib, student power,
the drop-out movement, etc. Some consider the refusal to work and the
physical destruction of the workplace to be the only sign heralding
the destruction of capitalism; others want to restrict the notion of
the working class only to the factory proletariat. Finally, there are
those who deny that a class struggle still exists, seeing only individual
victims of universal alienation.

B. On the other hand, there are those
who reject all particularism and retain an attempt to give a total explanation.
In doing so, they modernise language and theory, more or less integrating
the evolution of capitalism and the class struggle, but at the same
time rejecting the essential characteristics of the New Movement, namely
autonomy, without exception, in all the fields of activity and struggle.

17. Such attempts are not always insignificant,
for they often help to elucidate the sense of new manifestations of
autonomy and underline the ambiguities and limits of autonomy within
capitalist society. But the importance of such theories, ideas or group
activities as those referred to above is often exaggerated beyond measure
through passionate debates, limited to the revolutionary vanguardist
ghetto. Besides, these debates themselves and the ideas which come out
of them are recuperated, like all which develops in capitalist society,
by the ruling class itself, whatever the originators of such debates
might think. The vanguardists themselves end up as the melting pot wherein
an ideology is elaborated which is appropriated in the end by the established
structures of the Old Movement.

18. In conflicts the intervention of
this modernized vanguard leads to the above situation. The vanguardists
claim that they bring a great deal to the struggle in all areas. But
what actually happens is entirely different from what they think. Sometimes,
those that they would like to make the instruments of their political
aims turn the situation against them, and transform the 'goodwill' of
such vanguards into the instruments of their own struggle. Sometimes,
on the other hand, and more often, such intervention only succeeds in
holding back the autonomous development of the struggle. Here also,
the political parties and trade unions which they claim to surpass,
use this intervention to channel and suppress the very autonomy to which
the interveners seemed to contribute originally.

19. At the level of action and theory,
vanguardist groups, whatever the disagreements amongst them, even if
they are at daggers drawn, all have one essential feature in common:
they refuse to those who struggle the possibility of managing by themselves
and for themselves the entire situation in which they are involved.
(Such situations imply action, organization, aims, tactics, reflection
and perspectives). If pushed, the groups recognize that those who are
in a conflict can decide their own action and organization; but they
deny them the 'consciousness' of their struggle, and, a fortiori, the
theory and perspectives of the struggle. Doing this, they give priority
to certain forms of thought concerning action itself. In this way, these
specialists in political theorizing become again the superiors of those
for whom action and thought are inseparable. Such inseparability is
natural to each individual in the process of struggle against social
domination at the very heart of the social collectivity in which he
is involved. In numerous groups, the autonomy of action is acceptable
only if it leads to a pattern of events which is defined in advance
by experts as 'socialist' or 'revolutionary'.

20. The New Movement is not what some,
be they relatively numerous, organized, structured or coherent, can
think of or build to liberate others. The New Movement is what each
and all create by themselves in their struggle, for their struggle,
in their own interests. The surpassing of particularisms, the unification
of demands and their transcendence in more general and fundamental problems,
the perspectives of the struggle, all of these can only be, at any given
moment, the product of the struggle itself. Trade unions speak often
of unity, the traditional left of popular fronts, of committees, etc.;
but for example, in every strike where autonomy of action expresses
itself no one speaks any longer of such things, for the struggle is
the expression of all the workers in action.

21. The appearance of the autonomous
movement has led to the evolution of the concept of the party. In former
times, the Party, as a 'leadership' saw itself as the revolutionary
vanguard, identifying itself with the proletariat. It saw itself as
a 'conscious fraction' of the proletariat, who had to play a determining
role in the raising of 'class consciousness', the high level of which
would be the essential sign of the formation of the proletariat as a
class. The modern heirs of the Party are well aware of the difficulty
of maintaining such a position; so they entrust the party or the group
with the very precise mission of making good what they consider to be
any deficiencies in working class activity. This gives rise to groups
specialized in intervention, liaison, exemplary action, theoretical
explanation, etc. But even these 'groups' can no longer exercise the
hierarchical function of specialists in the general movement of struggle.
The New Movement, that of workers and others in struggle, considers
all these elements, the old groups like the new, to be of exactly equal
importance as their own actions. They take what they can borrow from
those who come them and reject what does not suit them. Theory and practice
appear now to be no more than one and the same element in the revolutionary
process - neither can precede or dominate the other. No one group has
thus an essential role to play.

22. The revolution is a process. What
we have been able to indicate are the first manifestations of this process
in all the fields of social activity. No one can say how long this process
will take, its rhythm and the forms in which it will progress. Its manifestations
will inevitably be violent for no dominant class will allow itself to
be dispossessed without resisting with the utmost of its force. But
this battle will not be a pitched one ending in the collapse of capitalism
and the setting up of 'revolutionary structures'. A whole series of
events, of which we can predict neither the place, the domain, or the
form, could affect all social structures in all parts of the world,
surprising everyone no doubt as much by their suddenness as by their
character. No one event will constitute the brutal and general rupture
expected. No one could claim today that the Russian Revolution, the
Spanish Revolution, the insurrections in the Eastern bloc (Hungary,
Poland, etc.) or May '68 in France were the
Revolution. Nevertheless, each of these events has deeply influenced
the evolution of capitalism and the revolutionary process. If one looks
at the world today, one can see that the revolution, in the Jacobin
sense, is becoming progressively outdated, but that the revolutionary
process itself is becoming more and more powerful.

23. The idea of the revolution as a single
event continues to haunt not only the old Marxist or Anarchist theories
of the destruction or conquest of the state by a direct confrontation.
It also haunts all the more or less modernized substitutes of these
theories. The Old Movement displays endless treasures of ingenuity and
makes unmeasurable efforts in its attempts to reconstruct the adequate
organization, either with the help of old formulas (various Leninist
or neo-anarchist ones), or with new formulas ('drop-out' groups, various
committees, communes, etc.) or by promoting a new form of elitism in
the name of theoretical or practical 'exigency'.

24. At the same time, organizations assuming
particular tasks develop according to the struggle or to circumstances.
These organizations then break up and reform themselves elsewhere. Very
often they exhibit an ambiguous character since they are often animated
by members of groups which have not lost all their vanguardism and tend
to substitute themselves for those who struggle. But, more and more
the existence of such organizations is linked closely to a particular
conflict and they have to express the interests of those who struggle,
and remain under the control of those who struggle. All attempts either
to keep such organization alive after a conflict or to give them another
direction, or to join them to a political organization end in failure
and very often lead to the death of the original organizations.

25. More and more, individuals fighting
for their own interests tend to undertake themselves all the tasks which
arise during the course of the struggle (such as coordination of information,
liaison, etc.). To the extent that they do not feel strong enough to
undertake such tasks themselves they resort to organizations which offer
their services to them, such as union branches, leftists and various
other groups. The interventions and liaisons of traditional organisations
develop and are a break on autonomy, at one and the same time. They
develop autonomy to the extent that they multiply openings and contacts
of all kinds and give confidence to those who use them in their struggle
against the established legal structures. But they are a break on autonomy
to the extent that they lead the struggle back into structures or ideological
currents (such as unions, parties, etc.) and to the extent that they
block, by means of an ideology referring to the past, an action, and
the imagination accompanying that action, whose sense is in the direction
of the future.

26. It thus seems that a double confrontation
exists. The rank-and-file is up against, on the one hand capitalism
and its structures, and on the other hand, those who apparently are
in conflict with the established order, but who dream of building new
structures which would impose upon those who work the concepts of a
'revolutionary elite'. And so, an enormous network of horizontal links
is being built up which takes different routes, is extremely mobile,
has many forms, ephemeral as well as permanent, is powerful through
the accumulation of good will, and which renews the material means available
to it with an undreamed of energy. An enormous melting-pot of ideas
and theories is created, which lays bare without concession the weaknesses
and strengths of everyone: a whole process of self-education and self-
organization by and in the struggle seems to have begun, and we cannot
foresee the form and final end of this process.

27. There are those who believe they
have discovered, in this new bubbling over of forces and ideas, the
birth of a new movement of revolutionaries, of a new party. With the
help of the new situation, they try to rejuvenate the old theories of
organization and parties, or theories concerning the direct action of

28. The New Movement is, however, the
very negation of such old theories. Some evidence for this can be found
in the absolute failure, in practical terms, of all attempts to monopolize
in a single organization all the strands of the rejuvenated Old movement
and in the failure to en- globe in a single ideology the innumerable
forms of action and thought thrown up, in the struggle by those involved.
The temptation to try and group this disparate and irrecuperable 'vanguard'
in street demonstrations, comes itself from the thinking of all those
who consider that they are included within it. Such demonstrations show
at one and the same time the strengths and the weaknesses of the 'revolutionary
elite'. They are strong because, in terms of traditional parties, they
appear to be numerous and can play a not altogether negligible role
in certain conflicts. They are weak because of their very elitism, and
because of the belief in their own strength, which allows all sorts
of manipulations by such leftists and the illusion that they can substitute
themselves for the self-activity of the exploited. Behind all these
theories and actions we find again the idea that one can make the revolution

29. We have already emphasized that the
new forms of struggle which bear witness to the existence of the New
Movement are transitory forms, molded by the very circumstances of a
struggle at a given moment, and that in the attempts to disarm those
who struggle and to overcome the crisis which opened up such struggles,
capitalism tries to use and profit from what the practice of struggle
has thrown up, for its own ends. We find this happening inevitably in
the most 'dynamic' sections of the structures of domination, those structures
which regiment the exploited: 'progressive' companies, unions, parties,
etc. Self- management set up by a decree of State power (whatever
State) is only one attempt among others to adapt the structures of capitalist
domination. But like all such adaptations they only manage to create
new forms of struggle and to develop new struggles for emancipation.
All those who confuse true autonomy of struggle with its recuperation
(never complete) want to deny the dialectic of the process of struggle.
They want to impose their 'theoretical science' upon the working class
under the pretext of warning them to avoid falling into the trap of
self-management, etc. In reality, those who struggle know better than
most of the ideologists of the new groups how to distinguish, in their
practice, between autonomy dictated by their own interests and attempts
to integrate them dictated by the interests of capital.

30. What happens in conflicts does sharp
justice to all claims of leftist groups: one of the characteristics
of the New Movement, the movement of the exploited themselves, is to
lesson the claims of 'minorities' or 'revolutionary elites' to be this
New Movement and to reduce them to the role that those who struggle
assign to them. The existence and the role of a revolutionary group
is thus radically transformed. The claim of such a group to universality
is reduced to an element of an experience amongst others. All theorization
is but a part of a whole, and understood as such. Moreover, the transformation
of attitudes towards the traditional values of capitalism and the institutions
bound up with them is at least as important as the struggle itself,
and is linked closely to its evolution. This transformation is an important
part of the revolutionary process.

31. A critique based on the facts concerns
all aspects of theory, including all concepts of organization. The involvement
we undertake ourselves is above all motivated by our personal experience
of social relationships in a capitalist world. This experience, the
reflections of its consequences and the conclusions we draw from this
are never more than a particularized aspect of life, in a world which
is so vast and contains such unknown depths of inter-relationship and
which is in constant transformation; no one can claim to possess a truth
other than his own, which he places at the same level as all other truths.

32. Even when people get together with
others to think things out or have some joint activity, each individual
acts in the first place only for himself. The reflection and action
of a group have no more value than those of any other similar group.
What ever 'tasks' a group may set itself, whatever the level of generalization
of its intervention, or thought may be, there is no way in which it
can conclude from its own existence that it has a superior position
to any other similar group, or to the organization of the movement of
struggle itself, as it appears in the New Movement.

33. Groups and organizations have always
existed in various forms, making various claims. Their multiplication
today is a positive factor and shows precisely that each group develops
according to the particular circumstances of those who form it. This
entire text has had the aim of defining what might be the general orientation
for the work of such a group, which could be made more precise relative
to the New Movement as it has been outlined above. The very conception
of the New Movement, as we have approached it in this text, will become
transformed as the evolution of the revolutionary process continues.
The New Movement is not an immutable absolute but, a practice in constant
change of which we cannot foresee the future.