3. The Lycée Movement, Paris, 1973

Against Domestication 3.

The Lycée Movement, Paris, 1973

Following on this, the real importance of the lycée movement (Spring, 1973) can be better appreciated. It brought into clear perspective something that had only been seen in outline in May'68 : the critique of repressive consciousness. Repressive consciousness originated with Marxism in so far as the latter is a concrete formula for the future of the human species : proletarian revolution was supposed to come about when the development of the productive forces allowed it. This legalistic and repressive consciousness operates by explaining away popular uprisings, branding them as premature, petit-bourgeois, the work of irresponsible elements, etc. It is a consciousness which goes to the roots of reification, because it can only be organized consciousness, taking the form of parties, unions and groupuscles. Each of them organizes repression against those who are not organized, or who are not organized according to their particular methods. The difference between these organizations is measured by the amount of repression they are prepared to exercise.

Now the critique of repressive consciousness does not attack the myth of the proletariat directly by arguing over it, but rather more indirectly, by ignoring it and treating it with derision. The young people on this occasion didn't fall into the trap of looking to workerist organizations in order to form a unified front in the style of May '68. But politicians of all kinds went after them trying to get them "involved" : the PCF, PS, PSU, CGT, CFDT [10] and the rest went chasing after high school kids trying to persuade them that they were all somehow under the same banner. When the students broke away from the unitary demonstrations, as they very often did, out came the political masquerade obscenely offering itself for sale : the veteran political hacks and the hardened old temptresses of the PCF and the CCT, discovering five years after May '68 the political importance of youth, marching along demanding deferment for everyone, while the students looked on and jeered. It seemed almost as though the young people had been spirited off and their places taken by their elders !

More ridicule was in store for the politicians of every variety who affirmed once again during these events the primacy of the proletariat, declaring that the critical revolutionary moment was to be occasioned by a strike of skilled workers. This is because they can't conceive of revolution unless it appears dressed in overalls. Skilled workers do not threaten the capitalist system; the capitalist mode of production has long since accepted rises in wages, and as for working conditions, capital is well qualified to improve them. Thus the abolition of assembly line work is a well recognized necessity in some bosses' circles.

The lycée movement belittled the institutions of society and their defenders. Those who wanted (albeit reluctantly) to bring themselves down to the level of "our valiant youngsters" behaved ridiculously -- after all, recuperation has to pay its price. On the other hand, those who wanted to counter the movement from within and didn't succeed, just proceeded to despise it, and in this manner they brought down a similar ridicule on themselves. But then it was the turn of the men of government : out they came, bleating about how we've already got deputies and a parliament and that we should make use of them to sort out the problems that remain unsolved. The young people acted as though none of this existed. Once again, as in May '68, there was no communication, no understanding between the two sides ("We're not closed to arguments, but really I don't know what it is they want" -- Fontanet, the Education minister). They fondly imagine that young people want to discuss with them and present opposing arguments. This is a revolution of life itself, [11] a search for another way of living. Dialogue should be concerned only with the plans and ideas for realizing this desire. No dialogue can take place between the social order and those who are to overthrow it. If dialogue is still seen as a possibility, then this would be an indication that the movement is faltering.

Underlying all this is a profoundly important phenomenon : all human life, from the very beginning of its development within capitalist society, has undergone an impoverishment. More than this, capitalist society is death organized with all the appearances of life. Here it is not a question of death as the extinction of life, but death-in-life, death with all the substance and power of life. The human being is dead and is no more than a ritual of capital. Young people still have the strength to refuse this death; they are able to rebel against domestication. They demand to live. But to those great numbers of smugly complacent people, who live on empty dreams and fantasies, this demand, this passionate need just seems irrational, or, at best, a paradise which is by definition inaccessible.

Youth remains a serious problem for capital because it is a part of society which is still undomesticated. The lycée students demonstrated not only against military service and the army, but also, and just as much, against the school, the university and the family. Schools function as the organization of the passivity of the soul, and this is true even when active and libertarian methods are used; the liberation of the school would be the liberation of oppression. In the name of history, science and philosophy, each individual is sent down a corridor of passivity, into a world surrounded by walls. Knowledge and theory are just so many insurmountable barriers which prevent one individual from recognizing other individuals, making dialogue between them impossible. Discourse must proceed along certain channels, but that's all. And then at the end of the pipeline, there is the army, which is a factory for domestication; it organizes people into a general will to kill others, structuring the dichotomy already imprinted in their minds by the secular morality of "my nation" and "other people", all of whom are potential enemies. People are trained and educated to know how to justify the unjustifiable -- the killing of men and women.

We do not deny that this agitation before Easter had largely reformist tendencies. The reformist aspects were what attracted recuperation, but that is not what interests us here because it tells us nothing about the real movement of struggle of the species against capital. As with May '68, this movement was superficial, (though only a more radical agitation from beneath could have raised it to the surface in the first place), and it will open the door to an improved restructuring of the despotism of capital, enabling it better to realize its own "modernization".


[10] The abbreviations refer to the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, the United Socialist Party and the two big labour confederations : CGT (Communist) and the CFDT ("independent" left). The agitation in the lycées emerged openly on 22 March when 30,000 young people demonstrated in Paris against the Debré law which provided for 15 months military service (previously two years) for all 18 year olds, but with no deferment beyond the age of 21. During the first part of April there were more large demonstrations in Paris (one of them numbering 100,000 according to The Times, 10 Apr 73) and in many other cities in France and also Strasbourg. Strike Committees were formed in the lycées and general assemblies were set up. These were often controlled by political militants (usually belonging to the trotskyist organizations, La Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and L'Alliance Marxiste; the young Communists stayed with the existing student organisations), and these leaders succeeded, against some considerable opposition, in forging contacts with the trade unions which had earlier issued long declarations of support for the striking lycéens. This led to the "unitary" demonstrations of 9 April where leaders of the CGT etc. marched at the head of the columns. [translator's note]

[11] In 1964 Cardan saw that youth insurrections were very important, but he viewed them as something exterior which had to be made use of. This is the tribute which ideology pays to the old idea of consciousness coming from outside : "The revolutionary movement will be able to give a positive direction to todays enormous youth revolt. If it can discover that new and true language which the youth is looking for, it can turn their revolt into a ferment of social transformation, and show them another activity for their struggle against the world which they now refuse." Socialisme ou Barbarie No. 35, p. 35