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.