C: The Unveiling of Repression and Propaganda

Revolution is as much of a threat to the Communist Party as to the factory owners. The Party has acquired a vested interest in the law and order of capitalist society : it has enormous financial resources, a formidable electoral machine, and controls France's major union. It has vested interests in its long-range political program and in its strategy for eventual parliamentary victory. It has a vested interest in its fabulous bureaucratic structure. The Communist Party could not have "led" the working class to revolution. ''Waldeck-Rochet for Dictator of the Proletariat" [34] would in any case have been a ludicrous slogan in a literate society in the middle of the 20th Century. The conquest of power by the workers would have put an end to the Communist Party's political program and to its strategy for parliamentary victory; it would have annihilated the Party's financial resources, its electoral machine, and its union. To have contributed to the conquest of power by the workers, the Communist Party would have had to bury itself. But the Communist Party is one of the major political forces in modern capitalist society : like other institutions, it has a vested interest in its own continued existence. Consequently, the power, the experience and the knowledge of the Party and the General Federation of Labor were all mobilized to destroy the revolution.

The Government and the Union, the Capitalists and the Communists, mobilized their instruments of repression and propaganda to keep the student example from overflowing into the working class. One of the government's first acts was to have the police occupy the radio transmission center ( at the Eiffel Tower ).

One of the Union's first acts was to take absolute control over every loudspeaker system in every occupied factory. Both the Capitalist and the Communist press repeated the "news" about students concerned over tests and workers concerned over wages, hoping to bring this situation into existence by mentioning it endlessly.

The press did not mention the fact that the students were running their own social activities. This was not due to ignorance, or to lack of information. Censier, for example, was wide open to the public, to the press, even to cops ( in plain clothes, obviously; they weren't invited, but they came; no one stopped them ). Reporters went to Censier; they looked for the leaders, the responsibles, the organizational headquarters, and they found none. They were disappointed, unimpressed; nothing was happening at Censier, and in any case it was anarchy and chaos. A population who depended on orders from superiors, on instructions from leaders, was not told that the population of Censier had done away with superiors and leaders.

In fact, all the techniques known to the "science of information" were used to keep the population asleep, to reinforce their dependence on superiors, leaders, spokesmen, bosses. If leaders didn't exist, then they had to be invented. The press itself went on to install the Spokesmen, the Representatives, the Leaders. Obscure bureaucrats, vigorous professors, outspoken militants, were transformed by the press into the Lenins, the Maos and the Ches of the Revolution. Thus Jacques Sauvageot, vice-president of the student union, became the Spokesman of the Student Movement; Alain Geismar, former secretary of the professors' union, became the Representative of the enraged students and professors; and Daniel Cohn-Bendit became the Leader of the Madmen.

Dany Cohn-Bendit was the favorite. His German origins were pointed out so as to keep anti-Germans well informed about the situation, and his Jewish origins were pointed out to put anti-Semites on guard. Then the situation was clear to all of the middle class, and to most of the working class : their polite sons and daughters had been led to violent, irresponsible, anarchistic, anti-Patriotic demonstrations by a little foreign agitator. And the choice was made lucidly clear for all responsible people. It was all a matter of one or another Leader. Did the Frenchman prefer a responsible, even if slightly senile, De Gaulle, or a German-Jewish Anarchist ? Did the worker prefer a responsible, even if slightly bureaucratic, union official, or a German-Jewish Anarchist ? The circus had to end; the factory owners, the government and the press had grown tired of it; workers had to return to their jobs, students to their tests. Everyone would have a chance to vote for his preferred Leader in the coming election.

The Union's major task was to keep the occupied factories from being transformed into places where the workers could express themselves creatively. This had to be done without the intervention of the police, if possible, since an inopportune attack by the cops during the general strike could have led workers to start organizing their self-defense. The union managed this operation soon after the outbreak of the strike. Union officials placed themselves at the head of the ''movement"; they held on to all the loudspeakers and "initiated" the occupation of the factory; the Union bureaucracy then proceeded to "occupy" the factory instead of the workers. Inside the Union-occupied factory, no one expressed himself : union officials read prepared speeches over the loudspeakers to an audience composed largely of union delegates. The workers inside the factory were not all enthusiastic about the "occupation"; those who were unenthusiastic did not applaud the speeches read by officials over loudspeakers, and in the evening they went to Censier to analyze what had to be done.

Action committee militants were aware of what was happening. "The policy of the union leaders is extremely clear; unable to oppose the strike, they're trying to isolate the most combative workers inside the factories, they're trying to let the strike rot so as to make the strikers accept the agreement which they'll reach with the bosses. And the bosses are in fact ready to negotiate, to give some union leaders more power, the way their likes have already done in other countries. If they have to, they won't hesitate to recognize the union local, in order to increase their control over, and to minimize, the workers' demands." [35]

The Union's next major task is to prevent contacts between the workers and the students, to keep the consciousness of collective power from overflowing into the factories. This is done by a combination of propaganda and force. On the level of propaganda, the workers are told that the problems of students have nothing in common with the problems of workers; that students are worried about tests and want to have a Modern University, and that in any case the students' Leader, Dany Cohn-Bendit, has no understanding of the workers' problems and cannot negotiate for the workers' consequently, the workers must let the union officials negotiate for them. On the level of force : the workers are locked in, the students are locked out. The majority of workers, in fact, are not inside the factory; they're kept away by the fact that nothing happens there; these workers are home, listening to the government on the radio, reading the bourgeois press, and waiting for the strike to end; they're safely removed from the possibility of becoming conscious of anything.

The minority of workers who occupy the factory are locked in; thus they're kept away from the action committee militants outside, and they're exposed to the speeches inside. The strike pickets appointed by Union and Party officials play cards and wait for the strike to end. The action committee militants who come to the factory entrances get as far as the strike pickets, who are instructed not to let the militants inside, not to let the militants talk to workers, not to take the "provocators and adventurists" seriously, and to chase them away by any means necessary in case crowds of workers collect around them.

In factories occupied in this manner, no one expresses anything, no one learns; the level of consciousness remains where it was before the strike. The workers are told by their "spokesmen" that what they want is higher wages and improved conditions, and that only the union can negotiate these gains for them. The whole strike is reduced to the problem of quantitative improvements and material gains within capitalist society. Locked into the factories by appointed strike pickets, spoken-for by union officials, told by loudspeakers and press that the militants outside are anarchistic provocators who follow an irresponsible foreign Leader, the workers become even more dependent. Chained to a context in which all their powers are alienated, the workers view their possibilities from the vantage point of powerlessness -- and from this vantage point, nothing is possible and nothing is learned.

For example, when peasants contact Censier and offer chickens at cost price, and when other peasants offer potatoes free, action committee militants are excited : it's the beginning of the active strike. Trucks have to be placed at the service of the strikers to deliver the food. Militants approach the strike picket of an auto factory. The union guards at the entrance aren't interested. The Boss wouldn't give permission to let the strikers use one of his trucks, and in any case the Union Canteen buys its food through established channels. Union officials hear about the proposition. Like small businessmen they calculate the quantitative gains for the union treasury. They accept : it's a good buy. They send a union truck for the food. Communist officials and a Communist strike committee cannot imagine any social relations other than capitalist relations.

Thus the occupied factories are not transformed into places for expression and learning; general assemblies are not formed; workers do not become conscious of their collective power, and they do not appropriate society's productive forces. The appropriation of social power by the working population would have meant the transformation of the entire society into a place for collective expression, a place for active, conscious, de-alienated creation. Such anarchy is averted. Toward the end of the strike, rank and file committees are formed in factory after factory. The workers in these committees are acutely aware of the means which were used to avert the appropriation of social power by the workers -- this time.

Once the factories are removed from the workers by the Unions, the police attack the universities. In order to justify the repression, scapegoats have to be found. Those who are singled out are the revolutionary grouplets, the vanguards whose importance had declined during the height of the crisis. The revolutionary grouplets are outlawed, several of their members are thrown in jail. It is at this point that the vanguard revolutionaries regain their lost importance. Their role as vanguards has been certified by the capitalist State, and is daily confirmed by the bourgeois press. The banned revolutionaries return to Censier.

This time they're not chased out. Everyone is sympathetic. Meetings to protest the ban are held. Demonstrations to protest the incarceration of comrades are planned. The revolutionaries are followed by cops. A sentinel is placed at the entrance of Censier -- for the first time since the occupation. The revolutionary grouplets are fighting to save themselves : it's time to get organized. A frantic atmosphere and elements of paranoia are introduced to Censier.

Censier is transformed. Action committee militants see themselves looked at, the same way students are looked at by professors. The militants are rated, classed. They are once again an underclass : they are politically unformed, they are unshaped dough. They are raw material which is to be coordinated, organized, led.

It is at this point that the worker-student committees leave Censier. The General Assembly of the Worker-Student Action Committees changes its name : it becomes the Inter-enterprise Committee. It is now composed mainly of workers from various enterprises; it becomes an occasion for members of newly formed rank and file committees to exchange experiences. It no longer meets daily, but once a week. Some individual factory committees, like the Citroën Committee, continue to lead an independent existence. Workers continue to express themselves, to learn, to initiate and to act within the action committees. But the committees are no longer places for the self-expression of all the workers; they're removed from the factories and from the universities. They're groups of people. They have neither a strategy nor a political program. They have a perspective. And they know they've been had; they know how, and by whom.

The repression itself gives birth to the type of "Left" described by the propaganda : a "Left" composed of clandestine societies, persecuted vanguards, tragic leaders, and even students concerned with student problems.

When the general strike is over, when the worker-student committees are gone, Censier becomes "organized" for the first time since its occupation : it acquires an internal hierarchy. The frustrated vanguard revolutionaries, who had not been able to lead, to organize, to plan during the crisis, now bring their talents to Censier. They forge themselves a place in a Central Committee of Occupation. They form a Central Coordinating Committee which assigns rooms to appropriate groups in orderly fashion. They explain that the "anarchists" are gone now; that the ideas of the "anarchists" corresponded to "an earlier stage of the struggle," and that now the "struggle" requires centralization, coordination, leadership. They allocate rooms to new groups -- new committees -- made up entirely of students. And they preside over commissions on university reorganization and course transformation.

"Student problems" come to Censier for the first time since the occupation. On the heels of the "student problems" come the police. When the police occupy Censier no one tries to defend the building : there's nothing to defend; Censier now consists of a student "mass" concerned with the modalities of a reorganized University, and a "vanguard" concerned with keeping itself in the Central Committee. An empty shell is taken by the police.

F. Perlman


[34] Waldeck-Rochet is the top official of the French Communist Party.

[35] Leaflet : "Camarades," Comité d'Action Travailleurs-Etudiants, Sorbonne and Censier, May 20, 1968.