II. Evaluation and Critique

Submitted by libcom on December 20, 2005

Limits of the Escalation

Submitted by libcom on December 20, 2005

KALAMAZOO, February, 1969

Why did we participate in the worker-student action committees ? What did we think was happening when the general strike began ? What was the basis for what we thought ?

Students had ceased to accept the state and academic authorities within the universities. Regularly controlled and managed by the state, and in this sense "state property," the universities were transformed into "social" institutions, where the students determined what was to be done, what was to be discussed, who was to make the decisions and the rules.

At numerous general assemblies, people expressed the awareness that, if the universities were to remain in the hands of people who gathered there, workers had to take control of the factories. In fact, people went to factories to say to workers : "We've taken over the universities. For this to be permanent, you have to take over the factories." Some workers began to "imitate" the student movement independently. At Renault, for example, the strike began before the "students" went there. This is also true of Sud-Aviation. At several other factories, young workers who had joined the students on the barricades began to follow the "example" of the universities by calling for strikes and eventual take-overs of the factories by their workers.

Yet this is where the first critique has to be made. We had not, in fact, understood the full significance of the "model" of the university occupations, and consequently our perspective of "general assemblies in the factories" did not have the basis we thought it had.

What had happened in the universities was that students, workers and others had taken over state buildings, and assumed for themselves the power formerly wielded by the state. However, they did not "reorganize" or "restructure" the university; they did not substitute a "student-run" university for the state-run university; they did not reform the capitalist university. The occupations did not establish "student-power" in the universities; students did not elect or appoint a new administration, this time a student-bureaucracy, to run the university in the place of the state bureaucracy. In fact, the occupants of the universities rejected the traditional student bureaucracy, the student union ( National Union of French Students--UNEF ).

What is even more important is that "students" did not "take over" the universities. At the Sorbonne, at Censier, at Nanterre and elsewhere, the university was proclaimed social property; the occupied buildings became exuniversities. The buildings were opened to the entire society -- to students, teachers, workers -- to anyone who wanted to come in. Furthermore, the ex-universities were run by their occupants, whether or not they were students, workers, townspeople. At Censier, in fact, the majority of the occupants were not "students." This socialization was accompanied by a break-down of the division of labor, the division between "intellectuals" and "workers." In other words, the occupation represented an abolition of the university as a specialized institution restricted to a special layer of society ( students ). The ex-university becomes socialized, public, open to everyone.

The general assemblies in the universities were instances of self-organization by the people inside of a specific building, whatever their former specializations. They were not instances of self-organization by students over "their own" affairs.

However, this is as far as the "escalation" went. When the people who organized their activities inside an occupied university went to "the workers," either on the barricades, or in the factories, and when they said to "the workers" : "YOU should take over YOUR factories," they showed a complete lack of awareness about what they were already doing in the ex-universities.

In the ex-universities, the division between "students" and "workers" was abolished in action, in the daily practice of the occupants; there were no special "student tasks" and "worker tasks." However, the action went further than the consciousness. By going to "the workers" people saw the workers as a specialized sector of society, they accepted the division of labor.

The escalation had gone as far as the formation of general assemblies of sections of the population inside the occupied universities. The occupants organized their own activities.

However, the people who "socialized" the universities did not see the factories as SOCIAL means of production; they did not see that these factories have not been created by the workers employed there, but by generations of working people. All they did see, since this is visible on the surface, is that the capitalists do not do the producing but the workers. But this is an illusion. Renault, for example, is not in any sense the "product" of the workers employed at Renault; it's the product of generations of people ( not merely in France ) including miners, machine producers, food producers, researchers, engineers. To think that the Renault auto plants "belong" to the people who work there today is an illusion. Yet this was the fiction accepted by people who had rejected specialization and "property" in the occupied universities.

The "revolutionaries," who had transformed universities into public places and consequently no one's property, were not aware of the SOCIAL character of the factories. What they contested was the "subject" who controlled the property, the "owner." The conception of the "revolutionaries" was that "Renault workers should run the factories instead of the state bureaucrats; Citroën workers should run Citroën instead of the capitalist owners." In other words, private and state property are to be transformed to group property : Citroën is to become the property of the workers employed at Citroën. And since this "corporation" of workers does not exist in a vacuum, it has to establish machinery to relate to other, "external" corporations of workers. Consequently they have to set up an administration, a bureaucracy, which "represents" the workers of a particular plant. One element of this corporatist conception was affected by the "model" of the occupied universities. Just as the student union was rejected as the "spokesman" for the university occupants, the traditional union ( the General Confederation of Labor ) was rejected as the "spokesman" for the incorporated workers : "the workers should not be represented by the CGT; they should be represented by themselves," namely by a new, democratically elected bureaucracy.

Thus even in the perspectives of the university occupants, the factories were not to be socialized. Thus "General Assemblies" inside the factories did not have the same meaning as in the universities. The factories were to become group property, like Yugoslav enterprises. Such enterprises are not socially controlled; they are run by bureaucracies inside each enterprise.

By fighting the Gaullist police in the streets, people contested the legitimacy of this power over their lives. By occupying a building like Censier, they contested the legitimacy of the bureaucrats who controlled this "public institution." People occupied Censier whether or not they had ever been students there; no one acted as if Censier "belonged" to those students who were enrolled for courses there. But the same logic was not applied to the factories. People did not go to Renault or Citroën saying, "This doesn't belong to the capitalist, or to the state, and it doesn't belong to the CGT either ! Furthermore it doesn't belong to a new bureaucracy that someone might set up. It belongs to the people, which includes us. Renault is ours. And we're going in. First of all we want to see what it is, and then we'll figure out what to do with it."

In May it was certainly possible for ten thousand people to go to Renault and occupy it. More than ten thousand did in fact demonstrate their "solidarity" with the workers of Renault, and they walked from the center of Paris to the Renault plant at Billancourt. But the dominant idea was that the workers who are employed there have to decide what happens inside the factory. The demonstrators accepted the most important regularity of capitalist life : they accepted property, they merely wanted a new owner.

( A small number of workers from a chemical plant did go to Censier to invite "outsiders" into the factory, but their invitation did not have consequences, and was even opposed by "revolutionary" arguments like "We would be substituting ourselves for the workers." )

The idea that "the means of production belong to the working people" was translated to mean that the workers own the particular factory they work in. This is an extreme vulgarization. Such an interpretation would mean that the particular activity to which the wage struggle condemned someone in capitalist society is the activity to which they will be condemned when the society is transformed. What if someone who works in the auto plant wants to paint, farm, fly or do research rather than assembly line car production ? A revolution would mean that workers, at that moment, would go all over the society, and it is doubtful that many of them would return to the particular car factory that capitalism had condemned them to work in.

The "idea" of workers' councils does not necessarily imply that workers will be tied to a particular factory for life, in the sense that the workers "belong" to the factory that "belongs" to them. What the "idea" suggests is that all the workers will rule social production. However, in May and June there were no actions in this direction; the statements addressed to workers explicitly said : "Workers, form general assemblies in YOUR factories; form workers' councils in YOUR factories," which is an automatic transplantation of the Yugoslav model.

The student movement was impregnated with historical examples of "workers' councils" in Russia, Germany, Spain, Hungary and Yugoslavia. A tactic by which workers in one factory can effectively oppose the factory bureaucracy was transformed into a "revolutionary program." The "workers' councils" were to be created inside the factories by the workers themselves, the same way that the occupations had been carried out by the students.

However, what happened on May 15 was that a "wildcat strike" broke out, namely an event which is within the bounds of activity that takes place in capitalist society. The wildcat strike degenerated into a bureaucratic strike because of the failure of the revolutionary movement to "escalate" or overflow into the factories. The militants did not have perspectives for passing from a wildcat strike, from a rebellion against authority, to the liberation of daily life. In a few days the strike was taken over by the union bureaucracy, and in this sense was not even a successful wildcat strike. This missing step between the student struggle and the general strike effectively closed this route of escalation : the student movement did not "escalate" into a movement within the factories.

Perhaps, after the outbreak of the strike, there still remained possibilities for escalation, possibilities for a further step in the direction of transforming daily life. People were still fighting. With ten million workers on strike and thousands of people on the streets every day, the escalation might have taken the form of a systematic attempt to destroy the state apparatus. The orientation of the movement was anti-statist; the state ran the universities and its power had been abolished. There had been an "escalation" until May 10. Students communicated their intentions to other students in the street. And their intentions were very specific. On May 10 they were determined to take back their university. They had the support of the majority of students, of young workers who joined them in the street, and of the people in the neighborhood ( the Latin Quarter ). However, after May 10, a series of small demonstrations "reproduce" the demonstration and struggle of May 10, and no longer constitute "escalations" of the struggle. Thousands of people participate in these actions; there are constant confrontations with the police. But there is no longer the determination to take control over an essential activity.

For example, the state power, which did not dare send its army or police anywhere between May 16 and May 20, was using a small group of cops to broadcast the news all over France. The state broadcast its "news" from a tower with a few cops in front of it, and everyone in France knew that lies were being broadcast ( for example, that workers were striking for their union demands, and that students were anxious to take their tests ).

The people in the universities and in the streets, as well as the striking workers, really needed to communicate with the rest of the population, merely to describe what they had done and were doing. Yet in this situation, where the "relation of forces" was on the side of the population and not the state ( in the view of both sides ), when "revolutionaries" thought they had already won and the government thought it had already gone under -- in this situation, between May 16 and May 20, all that happened about the lack of information was that people whispered about it in the street, and some vaguely said "we should take over the national radio station."

On May 22, a group of mini-bureaucrats who saw their chance to organize "The Revolutionary Party," called "official delegates" of all action committees to a meeting which was to plan the next "grand" demonstration. The nature of the demonstration had, in fact, been planned before the meeting took place; the delegates were gathered together to help the bureaucrats think up "slogans". And what had been decided was that, on May 24, another show of force was to take place, in front of a railroad station; it had also been decided that the only difference between this demonstration and earlier ones would be the slogans. But there was no longer a need to show those in power that "we are strong." In other words, this was not to be a transformation of reality, of the activities of daily life; it was to be a transformation of slogans ( namely words, and ultimately, if the words "caught on," then the ideas in people's heads would be transformed ). The mini-bureaucrats decided not to engage in anything so adventuristic as the occupation of the radio station by sections of the population who were fed up with the ideological repression of the radio. "We'll be outmanned and we'll be shot" reasoned the mini-bureaucrats, who were so used to thinking in terms of "revolutionary groups" of twenty or less members confronting the whole police of France that they thought the same way in May. The other "idea" was : "We can't protect all those people from the police," an idea which unveils the way these "leaders" think of "their sheep." The only activity that interested the mini-bureaucrats was to police demonstrators by appointing themselves to the "service of order," keeping people on the sidewalks, or on the streets, telling demonstrators what to do, dispersing them. So that this route to potential escalation was closed on May 24.

Self Organization in General Assemblies

Submitted by libcom on December 20, 2005

The general assemblies functioned, at the Sorbonne and at Censier, only when the occupants of the building met to plan a new action, only when they met to organize their own practical activities. If a concrete action was not proposed, the general assembly tended to deteriorate.

At the Sorbonne, for example, the interventions of the March 22 Movement were very important. The militants of M 22 announced what they intended to do, and the people gathered at the general assembly planned their own actions with the knowledge that a concrete action would take place on a specific day. The M 22 militants did not appoint themselves ( or get themselves elected ) as bureaucrats or spokesmen of the general assemblies; they continued the struggle to liberate themselves, and refused to recognize anyone's right to define or limit the terms of their liberation, whether it was a state bureaucracy or a "revolutionary" bureaucracy consisting of elected "representatives" of a general assembly. When they abdicated this freedom, when M 22 militants allowed the self-appointed presidents of a general assembly to define their action, as in the planning sessions for the May 24 demonstration, the result was not anyone's liberation, but rather the constraint of the entire movement.

March 22 militants were not the only people who confronted general assemblies with the choice of joining or opposing actions. Individuals assumed the right to interrupt general assembly discussions in order to describe actions they were engaged in, to seek support, and to confront passive "sympathizers" and "revolutionary spectators" with the challenge : "What are you actually DOING to liberate yourself ?"

This right to intervene, which was granted fairly universally, was frequently abused. All types and varieties of small actionettes were described at general assemblies, not merely actions which were significant and possible in terms of the changed situation and the social power of the people ready to act.

When there were no collective actions which were significant as transformations of the social situation, the general assemblies lost their character of self-organized activity, and frequently degenerated into audiences of spectators bored by the machinations of the bureaucrats up front. This degeneration was frequently explained as a structural shortcoming of the general assemblies; the action committees were supposedly more effective structures. However, the action committees were integral parts of the general assembly. The general assembly, a large body of people, did not itself perform actions : the actions were carried out by smaller groups of people who organized and planned the projects which had been chosen and defined by the assembly. The action committees did not represent a new "social structure" which was to be the "form of future society." The second function of the action committees was to make possible direct communication, development of ideas and perspectives, definition of concrete tasks, which would not have been possible among the larger body of people. However, when the action committees became "institutionalized," when they no longer situated their activity within the context of the general assembly which gave rise to them, when committee members began to think of their committee as an institution, as a thing whose significance was explained in terms of a mysterious "revolutionary movement," the activity of the committees lost its context. Consequently, the degeneration of the general assemblies was in fact merely a reflection of the degeneration of the action committees : it's not because there were bureaucrats that action committee militants couldn't say anything relevant to the general assembly, but precisely because the militants ceased having anything to say that there were bureaucrats.

The Citroën Action Committee was one of the groups that ceased to have any relevant actions to present to the general assembly at Censier. This committee, like the others, was not able to engage in action which was transparently liberatory for all the people gathered in the assembly. The Committee described "contacts" with foreign workers, attempts to create places for unhampered discussions inside the factories, attempts to encourage workers to take factory trucks to collect food which peasants were willing to distribute freely. However, the Citroën Committee people did not, for example, go to the factory saying, "We know where there's food, and we need some of the trucks inside," and they did not propose to the general assembly, "We're going inside the factory to take the trucks, and we need fifty people to help us."

Yet the Citroën Committee continued to exist, and to "function." What did we actually do during the month after the outbreak of the strike, and what did we think we were doing ? Did we engage in so much motion because we "liked the workers" ?

Part of the reason we went to the factories was that we considered ourselves as simply so much physical force which could help the workers take over the factories. However, the initiative in this case was left "to the workers," and since the workers had not liberated themselves from the union bureaucracy, the initiative was left to the union bureaucrats. Consequently, as a "physical force," the action committee militants went to the factory gates to help the CGT. The first leaflets of the Citroën Committee in fact confirm this : "Workers, we support your political and union rights... your demands... Long live political and union liberties." These statements can only have one meaning in a situation where there is one dominant union : they could only mean Long Live the CGT, whatever the illusions of the people who wrote the leaflets. The logic behind these propositions went approximately as follows : "It's not necessary to offend the workers by attacking their union, which they accept." However, the same logic could have been extended to the proposition, "We should not offend the workers by attacking capitalist society, which they also accept."

This was a reformist strategy without any real elements that went beyond reformism. This strategy was nothing more than support for a wildcat strike, and when the strike was taken over by the union, the committee militants supported a traditional, bureaucratic union strike.

Self-Organization in Action Committees

Submitted by libcom on December 20, 2005

What type of consciousness led action committee militants to this reformist strategy ?

Characterized in very general terms, it is a consciousness which simply accepts the vast majority of the regularities and conventions of capitalist everyday life; a consciousness which accepts bureaucratic organization, private property, the representation of workers through unions, the separation of workers in terms of particular tasks and locations in society. In short, it is a consciousness which accepts capitalist society. It is within this framework that the militants "move around." They "take actions," but do not even apply outside of Censier what they are already doing inside of Censier. Self-organized in Censier, they still accept capitalist society. ( A minor example of this is that "revolutionaries" who think they are struggling to abolish capitalist society once and for all, do not use last names because they fear the repression that will come once "stability" is restored. ) They want to participate in whatever actions take place : they support workers striking for higher wages, they support workers demanding more "rights" for union bureaucrats, they support people striking for an "autonomous national radio station," even though this conflicts with other "ideas" they hold.

There were, of course, several types of action committees : some were as reformist as the Communist Party and the union; others tried to define a "revolutionary strategy" by passing through reformist "transitional steps." Some action committee militants projected the self-organization of the universities to the factories, but they projected corporatist rather than social self-organization. This corporatist self-organization in the factories appealed to two types : it appealed to anti-communists and liberals, and it appealed to anarchist-communists. To the anti-communists, self-organization in each factory meant that workers would organize a separate union in each factory and get out of the CGT. The "radicals" made no clear attacks on this perspective, and it is precisely because of this that they had even less appeal for workers than the bureaucrats of the CGT. Workers are obviously much stronger with the CGT than they would be with separate unions in each factory. Members of the CGT were in fact sensible to reject a perspective which promised little more than fragmentation within capitalist society. The "autonomous" workers' organizations would replace the national union in the task of selling the labor force, namely of bargaining with the capitalist or state owners, and they would obviously have less strength in doing this than a national union.

What, then, was the "action" of the action committees after the outbreak of the strike ? They "kept something going." They "continued the struggle." Militants spent time and energy. Why ? Was it simply that no one had anything to do, friends came to see friends, "intellectuals" came to "talk to workers" ? The Citroën Committee, for example, continued to meet every day. Some days were spent discussing an article written by two members; another day a worker wrote a reformist leaflet; on another occasion there was a fight with fascists in front of the factory. People were certainly kept busy. But did they move in some direction ? Did they have a strategy, perspectives ?

Some of us did have perspectives. But we were unable to define actions which led from where we were to where we wanted to get. We called for a "general assembly of the workers," for "defense of the factories by the workers." But it was not our actions that were to lead to, or provoke, these events. There was an expectation ( or a hope ) that someone else, somewhere else, would bring these things about. If "someone" would do that, then there would be self-defense, escalation, and so on. Our "perspectives" were based on events that had not, in fact, taken place. Somehow "the workers" were to realize these perspectives themselves, even though the people who had the perspectives were not inside the factories. The action committee people did not go into the factory to call for the formation of a general assembly of all those present, the way they had done at Censier. They told the workers to do it. And there were no significant elements among the workers to do that. If one or another group of workers had formed such a general assembly, it would have meant that these workers were more "radical" than the Censier militants, who were unable to translate words into actions. But a factory-full of workers who were more "radical" than the people in Censier would obviously have provided the basis for large perspectives. If a group of workers had invited the population to use the technology freely, to take the cars and machines home, this action would clearly have led to various types of "escalation." Such workers would also have confronted other workers' sheepishness.

The militants who gathered at Censier expected action to come from a mythologically conceived "mass" which has its own perspectives and which acts. This dependence on external action can be situated at the very origin of the formation of the worker-student action committees at Censier. Already on May 6, young workers and intellectuals who fought together on the barricades began discussions. These groups of students and workers continued the discussions when they occupied Censier on May 11, in the general assemblies and in smaller groups. It was in these early assemblies that the "militants" at Censier confronted radical actions proposed by workers.

A large number of workers were among the occupants of Censier. Many of these workers understood that the continuity of capitalist daily life had been broken, a rupture had taken place, the regularities of life were suspended; consequently they understood that new activities were possible. Other workers saw the student demonstrations and street fights as an occasion for raising new material demands. However, the "intellectuals" at Censier tended to amalgamate all workers into the same "class"; they failed to distinguish those who were there to reform capitalist life from those who intended to abolish capitalism, and as a result they were unable to focus on the specific character of the actions proposed by the radical workers.

For example, young workers from a private printing school announced that they had thrown out their director, were about to occupy the school, and wanted to put the presses at the disposal of the people gathered at Censier. However, Censier "militants" were not as radical as these workers; "illegally" occupying a university building, they questioned the "legality" of the action proposed by the young workers ( who might have done better to propose this action to members of the March 22 Movement ). Another example : two or three workers came from the newspaper distribution enterprise of Paris. They called on Censier militants to join them in stopping the distribution of newspapers; they called on the people gathered at Censier to explain to workers at their enterprise what was taking place in the universities.

The militants who listened to these suggestions did not react as if they themselves were active agents who could transform a social situation in a real factory by going there in person. ( One of the writers of this article was present at a discussion which took place before May 10 between a militant of the March 22 Movement ( Dany Cohn-Bendit ) and some of the people who later influenced the development of occupied Censier. It was clear that the future Censier occupants did not define themselves the same way Dany defined himself; Dany regarded his own activity as a dynamic force which could transform the social situation; but they asked about the "support" Dany had, about the "masses behind" him. Their conception was that, somehow, the "masses" were going to rise and act, and that the militants would be able to define their roles only within the context of this active "mass." These militants regarded themselves as helpless to transform a concrete set of activities. )

Consequently, when the worker-student action committees were founded in Censier, the people at the origin of these committees already defined for themselves a different role from that which had been played by the March 22 Movement and which had been expressed by Dany Cohn-Bendit. The Censier militants formed action committees instead of joining radical workers in transforming social life. It is ironic that the militants constituted "action committees" precisely at the moment when they renounced action. They did have some conception of "action." It is not the same action as that of the March 22 Movement -- a particular group of people who themselves transform a concrete social activity. It is action which consists of following the "spontaneous" activity of a social group, particularly "the working class." The aim is "To Serve The People." For example, if workers would occupy a factory and open its doors to the militants, then they would go to help; then there would be no question of "legality."

This lack of direct action by the militants is justified ideologically in the Censier general assemblies through the construction of a mythology about "revolutionary actions" performed by "the workers themselves." Since the militants do not themselves act, but follow the actions of "the people," the myth assures them that "the people" are able to act "spontaneously." The city of Nantes becomes mythologized as a "workers' commune" where workers supposedly rule all the activities of their daily lives, whereas what had happened in Nantes was that a new bureaucracy had temporarily gained power over the distribution network. The same kind of mythology is developed around the supposed "revolutionary activities" of the workers in the Rhône-Poulenc chemical plant. It is said that the workers had thrown out the union bureaucrats and had organized themselves into rank and file committees which ruled the entire factory; here, supposedly, is a perspective of self-organization initiated by workers inside their own factory. The fact is that the union bureaucracy in that factory had created the "rank and file committees" in an attempt to recuperate the agitation taking place among the workers, and furthermore, through its control of a "central strike committee," the union bureaucracy maintained its power in that factory from the beginning to the end of the strike. Some of the workers in the chemical plant saw a potentiality for transforming the rank and file committees into real sources of power of the workers; these workers went to Censier to try to convince others of the urgency of transforming these committees; they defined themselves as militants with the power to change their situation. However, on the basis of what these workers said, the Censier militants did not define concrete actions through which they would transform the rank and file committees; instead, they transformed the statements of these workers into confirmations of the myths about the "spontaneous revolutionary activity of the working class."

On the basis of this mythology, the Censier militants moved yet further away from direct action. The further they got from action carried out by themselves, the more radical became their perspectives for the action of others. They developed conceptions of "self-management by the workers themselves" and conceptions of "active strike" ( striking workers were to begin production on their own ). In other words, the Censier militants constructed an ideology. They put this ideology into leaflets which were distributed to workers. However, it is ironic that the Censier leaflets spoke of "active strike," of an economy run by the workers themselves, after the union bureaucracy had already gained control of the strike throughout all France. This action no longer took place in reality; it took place in discussions and debates among action committee militants at Censier.

Critique of Actions

Submitted by libcom on December 20, 2005

If the consciousness of the action committee militants did not go beyond the limits of a capitalist and bureaucratic perspective, why were so many "revolutionary militants" attracted to Censier for more than a month after the strike had been taken over by the union ? What was the nature of the "actions" of these committees ?

The variety of outlooks and political positions gathered together in the Censier committees cannot be characterized as reformist per se. They did not come to Censier in order to take part in reformist actions; in terms of what they said, in committee meetings and general assemblies, they made it clear that they thought they were engaging in revolutionary actions, actions which were leading to the abolition of capitalism and bureaucracy. Yet in front of the factories they supported "the workers' demands," they supported "political and union rights," and they called for "autonomous workers' organizations."

In a brief characterization, it may be said that their actions were not reformist per se; they were opportunist per se. The Censier worker-student committees were at the front lines of the possibilities which the social situation permitted, and there they did whatever the situation permitted. When capitalist society functioned regularly, they did everything which is normally done in capitalist society, accepting all of the limitations of normal capitalist life : wage-strikes, unions. However, in May the opportunity existed for members of the population to engage in the production process, to appropriate the social means of production. And in May they were ready to do this. Opportunism. In this sense, one can say that the people who "agitated" from Censier represent a genuine popular movement which was ready to do whatever the situation allowed. Subjectively they thought they were revolutionaries because they thought a revolution was taking place; they thought the factories were going to be occupied and "socialized," and they thought they would be among the first to go inside the factories and join the workers in a new system of production. They were not going to initiate this process; they were going to follow the wave wherever it pushed them.

However, when they got to the factory gates on the day of the occupation, they confronted a "slightly different" situation. The workers were not calling for the population to enter the factory. Union bureaucrats were calling for the "occupation" of the factory. And so the militants shifted with the wind : the bureaucrats were calling for a wage strike, so the "revolutionaries" supported the workers' "legitimate demands."

Of course it was "revolutionary," in May, for a group of people to be ready to "socialize" the factories as soon as the situation permitted. But "someone else" was to bring this about; these "militants" were ready to step in after it was done.

If these generalizations characterize the dominant activities of the Censier worker-student action committees, then these committees were not "revolutionary" and their members were not "militants." They represented a section of the population who were ready for the revolutionary change when they thought they were about to be pushed into this change. They were ready to make the choice, but they were not the ones who would initiate the actions which created the situation that forced the choice. In this sense, they had no direction of their own. They went precisely to the places where change was possible, and they were ready to take part, if someone brought it about. Who would bring it about ? There was March 22; there were "the workers"; even the Gaullist police were expected to "trip off" a revolution by mistake. But these people were only ready to step into conditions created for them.

It must be pointed out that the people at Censier were not "opportunists" in the sense that they were ready to accept any possibilities. They did have a distinctly anti-capitalist and anti-bureaucratic perspective. This is why they rejected the "leadership" of the bureaucratic mini-groups. It must also be pointed out that there were numerous "political" militants at Censier who were not disposed to turn wherever the wind blew them, and who had relatively clear conceptions about the bureaucratic and capitalist consciousness prevalent among workers, about "workers' councils" and "self-management" as wedges which could be used to undermine this total acceptance of capitalist structures.

However, it must still be asked why the Censier militants did not succeed in pushing the situation a step further. In other words, why did the strike become a traditional bureaucratic strike; why did it fall under the control of union functionaries ? The strike could not have been controlled by the CGT if large numbers of people had rejected this bureaucracy's right to represent anyone. The CGT bureaucrats had power within the factories because the workers accepted this power. The bureaucrats are not popular because of the attractiveness of their personalities, they have very little repressive power, and when the wildcat strike broke out, their power had in fact been undermined.

The "take-over" by the CGT already began a day after the factory occupations began, at the Renault plant. About ten thousand people march from the center of Paris; they are ready for a feast with the workers inside the nationalized auto plant. The demonstrators get to the factory, and find the gates shut. Whoever is at the head of this march accepts the closed gates as the last word. But the gates represent nothing; cheering workers stand on the roof; they can send ropes down. And in some parts, the fence of the factory is low enough to climb. Yet suddenly people fear a "power" they had never feared before : the CGT bureaucrats.

If ten thousand people had wanted to get in, the bureaucrats would have had no power. But there were clearly very few "revolutionaries" in the march or inside the factory; there were very few people who felt that whatever was inside that plant was theirs. There were some people who wanted to "storm the gates" in order to be hit on the head by the CGT cops at the gates. But there was apparently no one inside or outside the factory who regarded it as social property. One who knows it's social property doesn't accept a bureaucrat blocking the door.

People in that march had varied pretexts for doing nothing. "Such action is premature; it's adventuristic ! the plant isn't social property yet." Of course the CGT bureaucrats agreed with this reasoning, a reasoning which completely undermines any "right" the workers might have to strike. And ten thousand militants, most of whom had just gone out of occupied universities to take part in the march, most of whom had actively challenged the legitimacy of the power of the police in the street, blandly accepted the authority of the union toughs who guarded the factory gates.

What attracted people to Censier was the impression that here actions were being prepared which would go beyond the situation which had greeted the demonstrators at the gates of Renault. The Censier general assemblies, as well as the action committee meetings, between May 17 and May 20, gave the impression that here were gathered people determined to go further. Here were "the others" who were going to push the situation beyond its newly reached bureaucratic limits.

A lot of people went to Censier to take part in actions on a completely blind basis. Lots of people who lived completely empty lives found a brief opportunity to give out leaflets; for such people giving out leaflets was, in itself, more meaningful than the normal activities of their daily lives.

But there were also people committed to going beyond leaflet distribution for its own sake, and the possibility of going beyond seemed to exist at Censier. Extremely significant "actions" were discussed at the Censier general assemblies. One got the impression that people had a perspective, a direction.

However, this "perspective," this "direction," turned out to be nothing more than an eloquent speech which countered the position of a Maoist or a Trotskyist. The eloquence masked the fact that the speaker did not feel that social property was his in reality; it was only his philosophically, and he "socialized it" philosophically. The "socialization of the means of production" was not conceived as a practical activity, but as an ideological position opposed to the ideological position of "nationalization," just as "self-organization by the workers" was a concept opposed to the concept of "a revolutionary party." The eloquent speeches were not accompanied by eloquent actions, because the speaker did not regard himself as deprived; it was "the workers" who were deprived, and consequently "only the workers" could act. The speaker called on workers to have a conviction which the speaker didn't have; he called on workers to translate words into actions, but his own "action" consisted only of words.

Partial Liberation of the Militants

Submitted by libcom on December 20, 2005

How can we explain this passivity, during a period of crisis, among militants who consider themselves revolutionary activists in normal times ? Why did they suddenly depend on the action of others ?

The actions of the Nanterre students begin as a struggle for total liberation. To what extent did the actions of the Censier committees have this character ?

In the first Censier assemblies, and in the street fights, something appeared which broke with the constraints, the obstacles of daily life in capitalist society. As soon as students built barricades, occupied public buildings, recognized no authority within those buildings, they communicated the liberating character of the movement : nothing is sacred, neither habits nor authorities. The regularities of yesterday are rejected today. And it is the regularities of yesterday that make my life regular today : constrained, well-defined and dead. The liberation comes precisely from my independence of convention : I'm born in a certain age which has certain instruments of production and certain kinds of knowledge; I have the possibility to combine my ability with my knowledge, and can use the socially available means of production as instruments with which to realize an individual or collective project. In carrying out an activity, I no longer recognize the constraints of capitalist daily life : I no longer recognize the right of policemen to decide what can and cannot be done with means of production that have been socially created; I no longer recognize the legitimacy of a state or academic bureaucracy which forces me into a system of learning to train me for something which is not my project and to which I'll be bound for the rest of my life.

By pursuing the constrained daily life of capitalist society, the individual performs certain activities because of convention, because he defines himself as someone who has no choice. My activities depend on external circumstances. I do certain things because they are the ones that are permitted. I do not act in terms of my possibilities, but in terms of external constraints.

Social change takes place within capitalist society, but it is not perceived by me as a project which I bring about together with others. The change is external to me; it is a spectacle; it results from huge impersonal forces : a nation, a state, a revolutionary movement... These forces are all external to me, they are not the outcome of my own daily activity. They are the actors on the stage, the players in a game, and I simply watch. I may take sides and cheer for one side or the other, for the villain or the hero. But I'm not in it.

In Censier, in the general assemblies during the early days of the occupation, activity had the character of a project : the external spectacle had been destroyed, and so had the dependence ( since the dependence is nothing but the characteristic role of the member of an audience who watches the spectacle ). Most people originally went to Censier as spectators, they went to see what "the revolutionaries" were going to do next, they went to a show. But by attending one after another assembly where people discussed what to do about the building, about Paris, about the world, they were confronted with the awareness that they were not observing a separate group, a group of actors on the stage. One quickly realized that it's the person sitting next to him, in front or behind him, who defined what was to be done in Censier, and what has to be done outside Censier. These assemblies did not have the character of external spectacles, but of personal projects which one carries out with people one knows : the subjects were activities which would affect all those who made decisions about them.

The passive, cheering attitude of the TV-watcher which existed at the first assemblies is transformed into an active attitude. Instead of passively observing what THEY ( an external, separate force ) are going to do, for example about the cooking in Censier, YOU speak up because you prefer clean to dirty food and because you have the power to change the situation of the kitchen. Once you participate actively, once action is no longer the specialty of a separate group, you suddenly realize that you have power over larger projects than the Censier kitchen : the "institutions" of society lose their character of external spectacles and come into focus as social projects which can be determined by you together with others.

This description is exaggerated; it's an attempt to characterize an attitude. In actuality, such attitudes expressed themselves as tendencies. For example, when some of the bureaucrats of the future appointed themselves to a "service of order" or to a "strike committee" which was to rule Censier under the guise of coordinating its activities, people did not simply watch them "take over," whispering to each other about the villainy of the act. People were angry : they took the necessary steps to prevent the installation of any self-appointed "coordinating committee." They knew that a "central committee" would once again make decisions and undertake actions instead of the occupants, and the newly liberated occupants refused to give up their power, their possibility to act, to decide. When a "service of order" planted itself at the entrance to a general assembly and claimed that "foreigners" could not participate in that assembly, the "service of order" was quickly removed by people inside the assembly.

However, the sense that every individual in the building ran the building, the feeling that if there was something he didn't like he had to act, together with others, to change it -- this sense of an individual's social power, this liberation of the individual, was not extended outside Censier. As soon as people left Censier they were once again helpless; some separate group ( March 22 Movement, The Working Class ) once again became the actor in what was once again a spectacle. The militants were not, in fact, liberated; they did not in fact act as if the society was theirs; they did not act as if society consisted of people with whom to carry out projects, limited only by the available instruments and the available knowledge. Even inside of Censier, a retrogression took place : a division of labor installed itself; special groups did the mimeographing, the cooking, the leaflet distribution.

There were even people in Censier to whom nothing at all was communicated. A group of Americans set up an "action committee of the American Left." This was an example of complete passivity on the part of an entire "action committee." Many of them were draft resisters who had made a decision once, and had "retired" immediately after making it. They went to the Paris demonstrations, to the barricades, to Censier -- not as active participants changing their world, but as spectators, as observers watching the activity of others. The events were totally external to them; the events had no link with their own lives; they did not sense the world as their world. Consequently what they saw was a different kind of people, the French, struggling against a different type of society, French Gaullist society. They were "on the side" of the revolutionaries, the same way one is "on the side" of a particular team in a game. This group was the symbol of an attitude which characterized many others who came to Censier, attended assemblies and committee meetings, and watched, and waited -- like dead things. They absorbed a new commodity, a new spectacle, which was exciting and stimulating because of its newness. Such attitudes were a dead weight on whatever personal liberation did take place at Censier. These symbols of deadness demobilized others, they made it harder for others to realize they had a power which these people didn't dream of taking.

Some people reached the point of asking someone "what can I do ?" and thus already took a step toward living. But when no one gave them "a good answer," they lapsed back into passivity.

The passivity which characterized the "American Left" at Censier also characterized the main "actions" of the most "active" committees of Censier, such as the Citroën Committee. When the strike broke out we went to the Citroën factory expecting some kind of fraternization, perhaps dancing in the streets. But what we found was a situation which looked like cowboys herding stubborn cows, namely the CGT bureaucrats trying to herd workers into the factory, with no contact or communication between the bureaucrats and the "masses." The workers had no conception of what was happening to them; they merely stood, waited, and watched the bureaucrats shouting through megaphones.

Everyone watched and no one lived. A bureaucrat shouted a speech, his delegates baaa'd loudly, these cheerleaders called for "enthusiasm" from the spectators, the indifferent "mass." "Masses" is what people become in capitalist society; they visibly transform themselves into herds of animals waiting to be pushed around. Things pass in front of the eyes of the "mass," but the "mass" doesn't move, it doesn't live; things happen to it. This time the bureaucrats were trying to cheer them into pushing themselves inside the factory gates, because the Central Committee had called for a "general strike with factory occupations."

This is the situation when two groups arrive at the factory gate : the Worker-Student Action Committee from Censier, and a Marxist-Leninist group with a large banner, a group called "To Serve the People" ( Servir le Peuple ). The militants of the Citroën Committee from Censier distribute a leaflet supporting the workers' "demands," while the other group "Serve the People" by placing themselves next to the factory gate in a "strike picket" which serves no function whatever. Gradually the militants of both groups become passive, stand aside, and wait for the "autonomous action of the workers;" they look at the workers ( mainly foreign ) on the other side of the street. It suddenly becomes a spectacle where everyone is watching and each is waiting for all the others to act. And nothing dramatic happens; the sheep slowly get herded into the stable.

And the Citroën Committee militants ? Well, we helped the bureaucrats herd the sheep in. Why ? We said, "the workers still accept the power of the CGT" and our response to that was to accept the power of the CGT. None of us took the microphone to inform the workers who we were, to tell them what we intended to do. Suddenly we were completely helpless, we were victims of "external forces" that moved outside us. People who are used to submitting continued submitting.

The reason we were there was some kind of realization that personal liberation had to pass through the social liberation of all the means of production. There was also a knowledge that the workers, by alienating their labor, produce Capital as well as the capitalist means of repression. Yet when we went to the factory for these reasons, and didn't fight, what we had done in the street and in Censier had something of a partial character, because through our action at the factory we accepted the repression and we accepted property. Did we realize it was a question of socializing the means of production then or never, that this was the situation we had wanted to create for years as militants ? Suddenly the situation was there, and we were at the crucial place; yet we felt no anger either at the pushing cowboys or at the cows still allowing themselves to be pushed. This lack of anger reflects passivity. We hadn't really liberated ourselves; we didn't grasp the means of production as ours, as instruments for our development which were being blocked by the bureaucrats and by the workers.

We fought the police at one end, and at the other end we told ourselves that the self-appointed union guards were to control the instruments with which means of repression are produced. We caught the spirit of liberation at the barricades, yet by the time we got to the places where repression originates, namely at the places of production, we had lost our anger, we stopped fighting the repression. We accepted. Yet by accepting, we did exactly the same thing as the workers who were herded into factories by the CGT, and who also accepted, stood, watched, and waited.

One of the favorite arguments of "anarchists" and "libertarians" at Censier was : "The workers must make their own decisions; we cannot substitute ourselves for them." This is a blind application of an anti-bureaucratic tactic to a situation where this tactic had no application at all. It meant that action committee militants had no more of a right to tell workers what to do than a bureaucratic mini-party had. But the situation where this tactic was applied was not the one at which it was aimed. The action committee militants were sections of the population who had achieved some level of self-organization. They were not in front of the factory carrying out a strategy which would lead them to "state power." They may have had no strategy at all; in any case, the action was an action of self-liberation, in the sense of eliminating those conditions of daily life which kept them from living. This self-liberation could only have been carried through if they eliminated the obstacles to their self expression. The obstacles to their liberation were in the factories, as means of production which were "alien" to them, which "belonged" to a separate group.

By telling themselves that it was "up to the workers" to take the factories, a "substitution" did in fact take place, but it was the opposite "substitution" from the one the anarchists feared. The militants substituted the inaction ( or rather the bureaucratic action ) of the workers' bureaucracies, which was the only "action" the workers were willing to take, for their own action. The anarchist argument, in fact, turned the situation upside down. The militants thus went in front of the factories and allowed the bureaucrats to act instead of them; they substituted the bureaucracy's action for their own. Later they apologized for their own inaction by talking about the "betrayal" of the CGT. But the CGT was not "to blame" for anything. When the "militants" went to the factory gates and watched, they did no more than the workers who stood and watched. And when the workers watched, they allowed the CGT to act for them. The "militants" rationalised their dependence, their inaction, by saying that the CGT "took over." But the relation is mutual. The militants, together with the workers, created the power of the union bureaucracy. The militants did not go to the factory to liberate themselves; they waited for an inexistent power to liberate them.

Once the strike was under the control of the union bureaucracy, other habits of capitalist daily life returned among the militants. Perhaps the most significant "relapse" was the acceptance of division and separation among different social groups. Even though the committees were composed of workers as well as "intellectuals," and even though committee members ceased to separate each other into these two categories, they developed a "specialist" attitude which separated committee militants from both workers as well as "intellectuals." At the factory they separated themselves from the workers. And in the university they began to separate themselves from "students." The militants developed the attitude that "We are engaged in the most important process because we're going to the factories." There was a self-righteousness about this attitude which was unjustified, since no coherent analysis of the actual importance of the actions was ever made. Contrasted to this lack of self-analysis was a contemptuous attitude towards all committees engaged in "student problems." Perhaps some of the contempt was justified, but the point is that the worker-student committee militants felt no obligation to even find out what the "student" committees were doing. It was automatically assumed that going to the doors of the factories to watch the sheep-like behavior of workers in the face of bureaucrats was, prima facie, more important than anything else that was being done anywhere.

This acceptance of social separation was a relapse in the sense that the people who originally gathered in Censier had begun to break such lines down. Between May 17 and May 20, at the outbreak of the strike, people abandoned their varied separate activities, like literature, specialized jobs. They came to Censier to synthesize their activities in a collective project. For a period of about two or three days, the worker-student committees of Censier were thought to be the point of synthesis of the entire movement. There was a vague feeling that the people who had gathered there were determined to liberate all the means of production for the free development of everyone. It was this feeling that accounted for the sudden excitement around Censier : its general assemblies grew immense, people came from all over Paris to "join" action committees, to ask what they could do in their own neighborhoods. People wanted to be part of this process of liberation. This only lasted for about two days.

This spirit of synthesis, this attempt to integrate one's fragmentary existence into a significant whole, came to an end as soon as the spectacle reaffirmed itself at the gates of the factories. Inside the Citroën Committee, for example, the attempt to synthesize one's life, to make a whole out of a fragment, was suddenly dead. Only a vague perception that "something unusual" had been felt the day the strikes began remained with the militants. And this vague perception had some extremely ironic consequences. The first day the militants went to the factories was felt to be so significant, it carried so much psychological importance in the minds of the militants, that they tried, for a month afterward, to recapture the 'spirit' of that day. And the actual result was a ritualistic repetition of going to the factories day after day -- and through this repetition, specialization and separation returned. They became specialists in the kind of thing they had done on the first day of the strike. They traveled to the factories, they distributed leaflets, they spoke to workers. But there was a tragic difference between these later excursions and the first visit to the factory. On the day of the strike, they had gone to be part of the entire social process, they had wanted to learn everything. But when they became specialists in "worker-student actions," they lost interest in everything else. They now considered themselves different from the commissions engaged in exposing and analyzing capitalist ideology, from artists undermining the basis for a specialized art. A vulgar kind of "workerism" set in; watching the workers in front of the factory was a more important "action" than exposing capitalist ideology or rejecting a separatist architecture. The will to engage in the entire social process disappeared; what took its place was the same kind of specialization, the same kind of ritual repetition, which characterizes daily life in capitalist society.

The passivity of the militants in front of the factory and the sheep-like behavior of the workers who let themselves be herded around by bureaucrats -- this is the situation which mini-bureaucrats interpret as a confirmation of everything they've always known; this is the situation that "confirms the absolute necessity of a Revolutionary Party." As they see it, the "spontaneous action of the masses" ( the action committee people, for example ) cannot take over the factories, and the "spontaneous action of the workers" can only lead to liberal reformism. Consequently, the "only solution" is for the workers to shift their allegiance from the "reformists" to the "revolutionaries" ( the mini-bureaucracies ); the workers must "recognize" the mini-bureaucracy as "the revolutionary vanguard which will lead them to a different kind of life." "Being recognized" by the workers as their "vanguard" means getting the passive support of the workers; this support will make it possible for the mini-bureaucrats to place themselves into all the positions of power in society. This support will make it possible for the Party to "take state power," namely to head every bureaucratic hierarchy and to dispense repression. In order to "take state power," the "revolutionary Party" must convince the workers that the Party "represents the workers' true interests" and, once in power, will satisfy all of the workers' demands. Defining themselves as the only ones able to realize "socialism," the mini-bureaucrats promise a future in which the activities people engage in will not be projects, but external spectacles carried out by separate groups -- in other words, a future daily life which is identical to daily life in capitalist society, with the "major difference" that the former mini-bureaucrats become transformed into "the government." Furthermore, the condition for their coming to power is precisely the maintenance of this passivity. It's precisely the sheep-like behavior of the workers that permits the mini-bureaucrats to assume the power which had previously been assumed by capitalists, state functionaries, union bureaucrats. The separate power of a separate social group continues to rule over people's activities, only now the ruling group calls itself "revolutionary" and may even call its directorates "workers' councils."

The justification for this behavior on the part of the mini-bureaucrats is the supposed "lack of consciousness" among the workers. However, what these "revolutionaries" call consciousness is the theory which will justify this particular group's assumption of state power. What they call consciousness is the theory which rationalizes the separate power of this particular group. "Consciousness" is what enables the bureaucracy to hold power over society as a separate group while defining itself as "the mass of the workers;" it is the theory which makes it possible for this bureaucracy to imagine that its particular rule is the rule of all. The same passivity, the same spectacle, the same alienation of labor persists, only now the factory director is a party functionary, the foremen are all members of a "workers' council," and the new language which describes this situation is a set of euphemisms which in themselves represent a new stage of linguistic development.

This bureaucratic conception of "power" and "consciousness" is not a rejection of the constraints of capitalist daily life. The bureaucratic "Revolutionary Party" which defines its action within a sea of passivity struggles to become the central constraint of daily life.

However, inactivity and spontaneism, an attitude which holds that "we can't substitute ourselves for the workers," is not the opposite of the bureaucratic conception, since such inactivity represents an abdication to the constraints and conventions of capitalist daily life. The point is to break down the indifference, the dependence, the passivity which characterize daily life in capitalist society. The point is not a new illegitimate appropriation of the social means of production by a new separate group, nor a new illegitimate usurpation of social power by new "leaders," but the appropriation of the social means of production by the living members of society, and the destruction of separate power. Consequently, revolutionaries whose aim is to liberate daily life betray their project when they abdicate to passivity or impose themselves over it : the point is to wake the dead, to force the passive to choose between a conscious acceptance of constraint or a conscious affirmation of life.

The Partial Character of the Revolutionary Theory

Submitted by libcom on December 20, 2005

What happened in May ? Was it a spontaneous and incoherent uprising of various sections of the population, or a coherent step on the part of a determined revolutionary movement ? Was it a blind eruption of accumulated complaints and dissatisfactions, or a conscious attempt to overthrow a social order ? Did the student movement which set off the explosion have a coherent revolutionary theory, and a strategy based on the theory ? If it had a theory, to what extent was it communicated to the action committees, to the workers ?

There were unquestionably elements of revolutionary theory at the origin of the movement. This is illustrated by the fact that students in Nanterre began a struggle against the American war in Vietnam and were able to relate the activities of their own university to this war. This does not mean that the "majority" of the fighting students explicitly grasped the connection between their own daily lives and the war in Vietnam. Most students undoubtedly grasped the war as a distant struggle between David and Goliath, they grasped it as a spectacle in which they had sympathy for one side. But a small number of students acted on a much more profound understanding the moment they engaged themselves in a struggle to unveil the connection between the university, the capitalist system, and the war in Vietnam. To these students the war in Vietnam ceased to be an "issue" and became an integral part of their own daily lives.

A background in Marxist theory undoubtedly plays a large role in giving European students some tools with which to grasp the connection between their studies and the war. However, in addition to this background in critical theory, through the mass media European students are given a daily view of the grossest spectacle in the modern world : the United States.

Increasingly sophisticated means of communication reveal to spectators all over the world a spectacle of two hundred million people who passively observe "their own boys" killing, torturing, maiming human beings daily, a spectacle of torture which is "scientifically" prepared by teams of the most highly trained "scientists" in the world, a spectacle of an immense "educational system" devoted to a frantic research for methods of controlling, manipulating, maiming and killing human beings.

The arrogant insistence with which the "American way of life" advertises itself puts the European student on guard against the methods through which "Americans" are produced. The Nanterre student is able to see himself being transformed into an indifferent servant of a military machine. Students become aware that the activities for which they are being trained are intimately related to the Vietnam war. They begin to grasp connections between the bureaucratic content of their "education," the activities performed by the bureaucrats, and the killing of Vietnamese. And when students begin to engage in "exposures" of their professors and classes, they try to make explicit, transparent, the connection between the "objectivity" of this or that "social science," and the activity which is a consequence of the practice of this "objective knowledge"; they begin to unveil what this system of knowledge does.

Students who begin to struggle against the war in Vietnam by exposing the content of lectures at the University of Nanterre show that they have two crucial insights : they perceive that their own activities at Nanterre are a part of an inter-connected system of activities which encompass the entire world society; and they perceive that their own practical activities at Nanterre have repercussions on the entire world society.

Even without a background in Marxist theory, students can see themselves manipulated daily by bureaucrats whose personal achievements and quality of life are not overly impressive : professors, university administrators, state functionaries. The students see themselves being used for purposes defined by the bureaucrats; they see themselves being trained to perform activities which others consider necessary. They also perceive, though more vaguely, that the activities for which they're being prepared are related to the spectacle they watch on TV and in the press. These perceptions become "a theory" when the connections between the activities of the students, the professors, the bureaucrats, are made explicit. Revolutionary theory brings to light the connections between the students' own daily activities and the society of obedient TV-watching robots. The "revolutionary" mini-groups obviously contribute to this elucidation of daily life, since each group's "treasure" is one or another of Marx's numerous insights into the links between the daily activities of people under capitalism.

This exposure of the connections between the separate activities of capitalist daily life, this "research through action" which was undertaken by students at Nanterre, was only partially communicated to other sectors of the population, if at all. As soon as students perceived the connection between their passivity in the classroom and the brainwashing that took place in the university, they also perceived the action they had to undertake to put an end to the brainwashing : they had a strategy, and it consisted of breaking down the passivity of students.

When the Nanterre militants began to expose the activities they were being trained to perform, they developed only half a strategy for their own liberation. When they questioned the legitimacy of state and academic bureaucrats to define the content and direction of their lives, they developed only those tactics which would take power away from the academic bureaucrats. They know that stopping the academic bureaucracy is not enough : they know they have to stop activities in the rest of society. However, their strategy ends where it begins : with the university. Through a disruption of classes, through exposures of professors and occupations of auditoriums, they are able to stop the activities of the capitalist university. They know that their own choices are limited because of the activities of workers; they know that their own liberation means that they take what previous generations built, and they use these instruments to define the content and direction of their lives with other living individuals in collective projects.

They know that the power of the bureaucrats depends on the students' acceptance of this power. They also know that the power of the state, of capitalists and of union bureaucrats depends on workers' acceptance of this power. But the workers' acceptance also has to be explained, since that partly depends on the indifference of the rest of the population. Thus the workers regard it as a normal part of life to sell their labor, to alienate their creative activity, and the rest of the population accepts this.

In the university, students begin to put the separate power of the bureaucrats to an end. But when they go to the factories, they are unable to define the steps which are necessary to break the dependence and helplessness of the workers. This reflects a lack of theory. They go to the workers as if the workers did in fact represent a separate group which must define its own separate strategy of liberation. Furthermore, although the student militants are able to connect their own powerlessness with the sheepishness of the workers who indifferently produce the instruments of their own repression, they make this connection only in concepts and are unable to translate it to reality; they are unable to define a strategy which is related to this perception. In the university they are conscious of themselves as living agents, they are conscious of their own power to transform their daily lives. They are able to set themselves a collective objective, and are able to move towards it. But they are unable to extend this power beyond the university. Once outside, they are suddenly helpless spectators who expect something to rise out of the "working class"; they cease to define themselves as members of society who have the power to transform it. They suddenly accept the legitimacy of the power of separate groups over the social instruments for their own liberation.

Roger Gregoire
Fredy Perlman