A: Exemplary Character of the University Occupation

To understand why university students in an industrially developed society are "enraged," it is essential to understand that the students are not enraged about the courses, the professors, the tests, but about the fact that the "education" prepares them for a certain type of social activity : it is this activity they reject. "We refuse to be scholars cut off from social reality. We refuse to be used for the profit of directors. We want to do away with the separation between the work of executing and the work of thinking and organizing." [5] By rejecting the roles for which the education forms them, the students reject the society in which these roles are to be performed. "We reject this society of repression" in which "explicitly or implicitly, the University is universal only for the organization of repression." [6] From this perspective, a teacher is an apologist for the existing order, and a trainer of servants for the capitalist system; an engineer or technician is a servant who is super-trained to perform highly specialized tasks for his master; a manager is an agent of exploitation whose institutional position gives him the power to think and decide for others. "In the present system, some work and others study. And we've got a division of social labor, even an intelligent one. But we can imagine a different system..." [7] This division and sub-division of social labor, perhaps necessary at an earlier stage of economic development, is no longer accepted. And if growing specialization is associated with the birth and "progress" of capitalist society ( as was argued, for example, by Adam Smith ), then the rejection of specialization by future specialists marks the death of capitalist society.

Students have discovered that the division of social tasks among specialized groups is at the root of alienation and exploitation. The alienation of political power by all members of society, and the appropriation of society's political power ( through election, inheritance or conquest ) by a specialized ruling class, is the basis for the division of society into rulers and ruled. The alienation ( sale ) of productive labor by producers, and the appropriation ( purchase ) of the labor and its products by owners of means of production ( capitalists ), is the basis for the division of society into bosses and workers, managers and employees, exploiters and exploited. The alienation of reflective activity by most members of society and its appropriation by a specialized corps of "intellect workers" is the basis for the division of society into thinkers and doers, students and workers. The alienation of creative activity by most people, and its appropriation by "artists," divides society into actors and audience, creators and spectators. The specialized "professions" and "disciplines" represent the same pattern : a particular economic task or social activity is relegated to a particular individual who does nothing else, and the rest of the community is excluded from thinking about, deciding or participating in the performance of a task which affects the entire community.

By refusing to be formed into a factor or a function in a bureaucratically organized system ( even if it is an intelligently organized system ), the student is not denying the social necessity of the tasks and functions. He is asserting his will to take part in all the activities that affect him, and he is denying anyone's right to rule him, decide for him, think for him, or act for him. By struggling to destroy the institutions which obstruct his participation in the conscious creation of his social-economic environment, the student presents himself as an example for all men who are ruled, decided for, thought for, and acted for. His exemplary struggle is symbolized by a black flag in one hand and a red flag in the other; it is communicated by a call to all the alienated and the exploited to destroy the system of domination, repression, alienation and exploitation.

* * *

"On Saturday, May 11, at 6 in the evening, militants of the May 3 Action Committees occupy the annex to the Faculty of Letters, the Censier Center. All night long and on the days that follow, the atmosphere is similar to that of the "night of the barricades," not in terms of violence, but in terms of the self-organization, the initiative, the discussion." [8] The university ceases to be a place for the "transmission of a cultural heritage," a place for training managers, experts and trainers, a place for brainwashing brainwashers.

The capitalist university comes to an end. The ex-university, or rather the building, becomes a place for collective expression. The first step of this transformation is the physical occupation of the building. The second step is discussion, the expression of ideas, information, projects, the creative self-expression of the occupants. "In the large auditoriums the discussion is continuous. Students participate, and also professors, assistants, people from the neighborhood, high schoolers, young workers." [9] Expression is contagious. People who have never expressed ideas before, who have never spoken in front of professors and students, become confident in their ability. It is the example of others speaking, analyzing, expressing ideas, suggesting projects, which gives people confidence in their own ability. "The food service," for example, "is represented at the meetings by a young comrade : he's thirteen, maybe fourteen. He organizes, discusses, takes part in the auditoriums. He was behind the barricades. His action and his behavior are the only answer to the drivel about high-schoolers being irresponsible brats." [10]

What begins at this point is a process of collective learning; the "university," perhaps for the first time, becomes a place for learning. People do not only learn the information, the ideas, the projects of others; they also learn from the example of others that they have specific information to contribute, that they are able to express ideas, that they can initiate projects. There are no longer specialists or experts; the division between thinkers and doers, between students and workers, breaks down. At this point all are students. When an expert, a professor of law, tells the occupants that the occupation of a university is illegal, a student tells him that it is no longer legal for an expert to define what is illegal, that the days when a legal expert defines what people can and cannot do are over. The professor can either stay and join the process of collective learning, or else he can leave and join the police to re-impose his legality.

Within the occupied university, expression becomes action; the awareness of one's ability to think, to initiate, to decide, is in fact an awareness of one's ability to act. The occupants of the university become conscious of their collective power : "we've decided to make ourselves the masters." [11] The occupants no longer follow orders, they no longer obey, they no longer serve. They express themselves in a general assembly, and the decisions of the assembly are the expression of the will of all its members. No other decisions are valid; no other authority is recognized. "The students and workers who fought on the barricades will not allow any force whatever to stop them from expressing themselves and from acting against the capitalist university, against the society dominated by the bourgeoisie." [12] This awareness of the ability to express oneself, this consciousness of collective power, is itself an act of de-alienation : "You can no longer sleep quietly once you've suddenly opened your eyes." [13] People are no longer the playthings of external forces; they're no longer objects; they've suddenly become conscious subjects. And once their eyes are open, people are not about to close them again : their passivity and dependence are negated, annihilated, and nothing but a force which breaks their will can reimpose the passivity and dependence.

The general assembly does not only reject former masters, former authority; it also refuses to create new masters, new authority. The occupants conscious of their power refuse to alienate that power to any force whatever, whether it is externally imposed or created by the general assembly itself. No external force, neither the university administration nor the state, can make decisions for the occupants of the university, and no internally created force can speak, decide, negotiate, or act for the general assembly. There are neither leaders nor representatives. No special group, neither union functionaries, nor a "coordinating committee," nor a "revolutionary party," has the power to negotiate for the university occupants, to speak for them, to sell them out. And there's nothing to negotiate about : the occupants have taken over; they speak for themselves, make their own decisions, and run their own activities. The State and the capitalist press try to set up leaders, spokesmen, representatives with whom to negotiate the evacuation of the university; but none of the "leaders" are accepted : their usurped power is illegitimate; they speak for no one. In the face of this appearance of direct democracy, of grass-roots control ( the Capitalist and Communist press call it "anarchy and chaos" ), the State has only one resort; physical violence.

Consciousness of collective power is the first step toward the appropriation of social power ( but only the first step, as will be shown below. Conscious of their collective power, the university occupants, workers and students, begin to appropriate the power to decide, they begin to learn to run their own social activities. The process of political de-alienation begins; the university is de-institutionalized; the building is transformed into a place which is run by its occupants. There are no "specialists" or "responsibles." The community is collectively responsible for what takes place, and for what doesn't take place, within the occupied building. Formerly specialized social activities are integrated into the lives of all members of the community. Social tasks are no longer performed either because of direct coercion or because of the indirect coercion of the market ( i.e. the threat of poverty and starvation ). As a result, some social activities, like hair dressing and manicuring, are no longer performed at all. Other tasks, like cooking, sweeping the rooms, cleaning the toilets -- tasks performed by people who have no other choice in a coercive system -- are left undone for several days. The occupation shows signs of degeneration : the food is bad, the rooms are filthy, the toilets are unusable. These activities become the order of the day of the general assembly : everyone is interested in their efficient performance, and no one is institutionally coerced to perform these tasks. The general assembly is responsible for their performance, which means everyone is responsible. Committees of volunteers are formed. A Kitchen Committee improves the quality of the meals; the food is free : it is provided by neighborhood committees and by peasants. A service of order charges itself with maintaining clean toilets stocked with toilet-paper. Each action committee sweeps its own room. The tasks are performed by professors, students and workers. At this point all of the occupants of Censier are workers. There are no longer upper and lower class jobs; there are no longer intellectual and manual tasks, qualified labor and unqualified labor; there are only socially necessary activities.

An activity which is considered necessary by a handful of occupants becomes the basis for the formation of an action committee. Each person is a thinker, an initiator, an organizer, a worker. Comrades are being seriously injured by cops in the street fights : a floor of Censier is transformed into a hospital; doctors and medical students care for the patients; others without medical experience help, cooperate and learn. A large number of comrades have babies and as a result cannot take part in activities which interest them : the comrades unite to form a nursery. The action committees need to print leaflets, announcements, reports : mimeograph machines and paper are found, and a free printing service is organized. Townspeople -- observers and potential participants -- stream into Censier constantly and are unable to find their way around the complex social system which has started to develop within the building : an information window is maintained at the entrance and information offices are maintained on each floor to orient the visitors. Many militants live far from Censier : a dormitory is organized.

Censier, formerly a capitalist university, is transformed into a complex system of self-organized activities and social relations. However, Censier is not a self-sufficient Commune removed from the rest of society. The police are on the order of the day of every general assembly. The occupants of Censier are acutely aware that their self-organized social activities are threatened so long as the State and its repressive apparatus are not destroyed. And they know that their own force, or even the force of all students and some workers, is not sufficient to destroy the State's potential for violence.

The only force which can put the Censier occupants back to sleep is a force which is physically strong enough to break their will : the police and the national army still represent such a force.

The means of violence produced by a highly developed industry are still controlled by the capitalist State. And the Censier occupants are aware that the power of the State will not be broken until control over these industrial activities passes to the producers : they "are convinced that the struggle cannot be concluded without the massive participation of the workers." [14] The armed power of the State, the power which negates and threatens to annihilate the power of collective creation and self-organization manifested in Censier, can only be destroyed by the armed power of society. But before the population can be armed, before the workers can take control of the means of production, they must become aware of their ability to do so, they must become conscious of their collective power. And this consciousness of collective power is precisely what the students and workers acquired after they occupied Censier and transformed it into a place for collective expression. Consequently, the occupation of Censier is an exemplary action, and the central task of the militants in Censier becomes to communicate the example. All the self-organized activities revolve around this central task. Former classrooms become workshops for newly formed action committees; in every room projects are suggested, discussed, and launched; groups of militants rush out with a project, and others return to initiate a new one.

The problem is to communicate, to spread consciousness of social power beyond the university. Everyone who has attended the general assemblies and participated in committee discussions knows what has to be done. Every action committee militant knows that the self-confidence in his own ability, the consciousness of his power, could not develop so long as others thought, decided and acted for him. Every militant knows that his action committee is able to initiate and carry out its projects only because it is a committee of conscious subjects, and not a committee of followers waiting for orders from their "leaders" or their "central committee."

Censier exists as a place and as an example. Workers, students, professors, townspeople come to the place to learn, to express themselves, to become conscious of themselves as subjects, and they prepare to communicate the example to other sections of the population and to other parts of the world. Foreign students organize a general assembly to "join the struggle of their French comrades and give them their unconditional support." Realizing that "the struggle of their French comrades is only an aspect of the international struggle against capitalist society and against imperialism," [15] the foreign students prepare to spread the example abroad. East European students express their solidarity and send the news to their comrades at home. A U.S. group forms an Action Committee of the American Left, and they "plan to establish a news link-up with the U.S.A." [16]

Most important of all, Censier's main contribution to the revolutionary movement, the worker-student action committees, are formed. "Workers" . . . "To destroy this repressive system which oppresses all of us, we must fight together. Some worker-student action committees have been created for this purpose." [17] The formation of the worker-student committees coincides with the outbreak of a wildcat strike : "In the style of the student demonstrators, the workers of Sud-Aviation have occupied the factory at Nantes." [18]


[5] "Votre lutte est la notre," Action, May 21, 1968, p. 5.

[6] "Les enfants de Marx et du 13 Mai," Action, May 21, 1968, p. 1.

[7] Daniel Cohn-Bendit in interview with Jean-Paul Sartre, "L'imagination au pouvoir," Le Nouvel Observateur, May 20, 1968, p. 5.

[8] "L'Occupation," Action, May 13, 1968, p. 7.

[9] "L'Occupation," Action, May 13, 1968, p. 7.

[10] "L'Occupation," Action, May 13, 1968, p. 7.

[11] Leaflet : "Travailleurs de chez Rhône Poulenc," Comité d'Action Ouvriers-Etudiants, Centre Censier, May 14, 1968.

[12] Leaflet : "Appel general à la population," Centre Censier de la Fac des Lettres, May 11, 1968.

[13] Sign on a Censier wall, quoted in Action, May 13, 1968, p. 7.

[14] Leaflet : "Travailleurs R.A.T.P.," Les Comités d'Action, Censier, May 15 ( ? ), 1968.

[15] Leaflet : "Assemblée Generale des Etudiants Etrangers," Centre Censier, May 20, 1968.

[16] Leaflet : "Permanence Americaine," Centre Censier, May 17, 1968. In this leaflet, the American students also mention that they are willing to inform their French comrades of "attempts of students to organize workers" in the U.S. The Americans found very few action committee militants who were interested.

[17] Leaflet : "Travailleurs," Comité d'Action Etudiants-Travailleurs, Censier, May 16, 1968.

[f18] Le Monde, May 16, 1968.