Self-Organization in Action Committees

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.