Self Organization in General Assemblies

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.