9. The State Reestablished
Everyone must raise his head, assume his responsibilities and refuse intellectual terrorism... there is no reason for the state to turn over to just anybody its administration, its public institutions, nor for it to abandon its responsibilities and forget its duties.
Robert Poujade, Speech to the National Assembly, 24 July 1968
THE BOURGEOISIE HAD WAITED until May 30th to openly show its support for the state. With the speech of de Gaulle the entire ruling class took back the floor and massively affirmed its presence, after having prudently hibernated behind the protection of the CRS for several weeks. The demonstration at the Concorde and on the Champs Elysées was the sub-Versaillaise response to the parades of the CGT calling for a "popular government." Reactionary hysteria flowed freely, ranging from the fear of the "Reds" to revealing slogans such as "Cohn-Bendit to Dachau!" Old veterans, survivors of all the colonial wars, ministers, ex-commandos, shopkeepers, the kittens from the 16th Arrondisement and their sugar-daddies from the better parts of town, old hacks and all those whose interests and tastes lay in senility, came out together for the defense and praise of the republic. The state thus recovered its base and the police their auxiliaries, in the UDR and the civic action committees. As soon as de Gaulle decided to remain in power a violence without cant took over from the Stalinist repression, whose task it had been up to then to clog up the revolutionary breach, mainly in the factories. After three weeks of almost total absence, the state was able to relieve its hatchet-men in the Communist Party. It put as much effort into driving the workers out of the factories as the unions had put into keeping them locked up inside. De Gaulle had saved the Stalinists from the prospect of a "popular government" in which their overt role as the last enemies of the proletariat would have been so perilous. They would help him do the rest.
For both of them the question immediately became one of ending the strike and making way for the elections. The rejection of the Grenelle Agreement had taught the rulers to be wary of all negotiation at a national level. It was necessary to dismantle the strike in the same way that it had begun, sector by sector, factory by factory. The task was long and difficult. Everywhere the workers were openly hostile to the return to work. On June 5th a statement from the CGT headquarters announced that "Everywhere that essential demands have been met the interest of the workers is to come out en masse for a united resumption of work."
On June 6th, bank and insurance employees went back. The SNCF, a CGT bastion, also decided to go back. The trains, which had never been put at the disposal of the strikers as the Belgian railway workers had done during the strike of 1961 were put back into operation for the state. The first rigged ballots for the resumption of work took place at the P&T and the RATP, where only a minority of union members were allowed to vote; CGT delegates brought about the resumption of work by announcing at each station that all the others had gone back. The employees at Nation, seeing through this gross maneuver, immediately stopped work but did not succeed in relaunching the movement.
The CRS intervened similarly to expel the striking technicians at France- Inter, and to replace them with army technicians. On the 6th of June they drove the workers out of the Renault factory at Flins. This was the first attempt, other than by ideology, to break the strike, which was still complete in the steel industry: the strike-breakers moved in, gun in hand. "The time for marches is over," wrote the Flins strikers in their call for the re-occupation of their factory, on June 6th. They realized at that moment just how destructive was the isolation they had put up with. Thousands of revolutionaries responded to their call, but only a few hundred were able to join them and fight at their sides. At the meeting organized by the unions at Elizabethville the workers forced the CGT delegate to allow Geismar, a member of the March 22nd Movement, to speak, not out of any feeling for his particular importance, but out of a simple concern for democracy.
The police attacked at 10 A.M. For twelve hours, two thousand workers and students fought it out with four thousand police and CRS in the streets and fields of the neighboring towns. They waited in vain for reinforcements from Paris. In fact the CGT had prevented the departure of the workers from Boulogne-Billancourt1 and kept the trains at the Gare Saint-Lazare from being put at the disposal of the thousands of demonstrators who had rushed there for the fight at Flins. The organizers of the demonstration, with Geismar and Sauvageot in the lead, were just as brilliant. They backed down to the CGT and finished the work it had begun by dissuading those who thought they were going to the aid of Flins from taking over a train, and calling on them to disperse after the first scuffles with the police. For all that, the miserable Geismar got no thanks for his efforts. This bore was still treated as a "specialist in provocation" in a particularly foul communication from the CGT, which did not hesitate to call the Flins revolutionaries "groups foreign to the working class"; "paramilitary formations who have already made an appearance in similar operations in the Paris region.. and who were "obviously acting in the interests of the worst enemies of the working class," for "it is hard to believe that the arrogance of the management in the steel industry, the support it is receiving from the government, the police brutality against the workers, and the attempts at provocation are not a concerted effort."
The unions were able to bring about the resumption of work almost everywhere; they had already been thrown some crumbs. Only the workers in the steel industry continued to hold out. After the setback at Flins the state was still going to take its chances at the Peugeot plant at Sochaux. On June 11th, the CRS attacked the workers. The confrontation was quite violent and lasted several hours. For the first time in this extended crisis the forces of order fired into the crowd. Two workers were killed. The time had come when the authorities could act without provoking any reaction. The movement was already defeated and the political repression was beginning. Nonetheless, on June 12th, in the wake of the death of a high-school student at Flins, one last night of rioting saw several innovations: the rapid multiplication of barricades and the systematic bombardment of the police with Molotov cocktails thrown from the roofs.
On the following day the State decreed the disbanding of the Maoist and Trotskyite organizations, along with the March 22nd Movement, using a law from the Popular Front period originally used against extreme right- wing paramilitary leagues.2 Gaullism was making real overtures to the same extreme right under the table. This was the chance to recover the first May 13th when the Fifth Republic was founded. The exiled leaders of the OAS returned to France. Salan left Tulle as the ultra-leftists were beginning to populate the redoubt of Gravelle.
There was something rotten in the air after the tricolor flags had appeared on Concorde. Merchants, provocateurs, curates, and patriots lifted their heads and returned to the streets in which they would not have dared to appear a few days before. Provocateurs in the pay of the police tried to whip up the Arabs and Jews in Belleville, and thereby provided an appropriate diversion while the mop-up operations in the factories and occupied buildings were being carried out. A campaign of calumny was stirred up around the Katangans at the Sorbonne. The pitiful leftists didn't fail to be taken in by it.
After the failure of the experiment in direct democracy, the Sorbonne has seen the rise of several fiefdoms, as preposterous as they were bureaucratic. Those the press call "Katangans," a group of ex-mercenaries, unemployed and déclassés, had quickly cut out for themselves a leadership role in a republic of corporals. The Sorbonne thus got the masters it deserved, but even though the Katangans had already played the game of authority, they did not deserve such miserable companions. Having come there to participate in the festival they found only the pedantic providers of boredom and impotence, the Kravetzes and Peninous. The students kicked out the Katangans in the ridiculous hope that they might get permission, by such a low move, for lasting control of a disinfected Sorbonne for use as a "Summer University." One of the Katangans could rightly remark that "the students may be educated but they are not intelligent. We had come to help them out..." The retreat of the undesirables to the Odéon immediately provoked an intervention by the forces of order. The last occupants of the Sorbonne had only 48 hours to clean the walls and chase out the rats before the police arrived to let them know that the comedy was over once and for all. They left without the slightest resistance. After the defeat of the movement only imbeciles could believe that the State would not take back the Sorbonne.
In order to ensure the success of the electoral campaign it was necessary to get rid of the last islands of resistance in the steel industry. The unions, and not capital, gave in on the agreements, which allowed L'Humanité to applaud the "victorious resumption of work" and the CGT to call upon the steelworkers to "prolong their success by the victory of the real union of the forces of the left fighting around a common program in the coming elections." Renault, Rhodiaceta, and Citroën went back on the 17th and 18th. The strike was over. The workers knew that they had won almost nothing. By prolonging the strike beyond May 30th, and by taking so long to end it, they had affirmed in their own way that they wanted something other than "economic benefits." What they had wanted was revolution. But they had been unable to say it, and had no time to make it.
After the defeat it was natural that the electoral competition of the different parties of order ended in the massive victory of the party in the best position to defend it.
The Gaullist victory was accompanied by the last mop-up operations for the return to normal. All occupied buildings were evacuated. It should be noted that the State waited until the first week in July to use the fundamental juridical argument that "the occupation of buildings designated for public service of any kind is illegal." For nearly two months it had been unable to use that argument against the occupation movement. (More or less fallacious pretexts were needed by the police to justify the recapture of the Odéon, the Sorbonne and the École des Beaux Arts.)
The acts of vandalism that had marked the beginning of the movement had reemerged all the more violently at its end, showing a refusal of defeat and a firm intention to continue the struggle. Thus, to cite only two exemplary acts, readers of Le Monde of July 6th were informed of "carpets destroyed with eggs, butter, talcum, detergent, black paint and oil; telephones ripped out and painted red, IBM machines destroyed with hammers, windows blackened with paint, medicines strewn about and daubed with paint, records blotted out with spray paints, insulting and obscene slogans: this was the spectacle presented Wednesday morning at the medical offices (including the secretary's office and that of the Social Service, baptized by the angry inscription "Anti-Social Service"), one of the most important sections of the Sainte-Anne Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital. A scene disturbingly similar to one in Nanterre, where the same means of devastation had been used and where slogans of the same style and spirit reappeared on all the walls... One wonders if there is not some relation between recent changes introduced in this field for strictly professional reasons and these acts of vandalism?" In Combat on July 2:
Monsieur Jacquenod, headmaster of the experimental high school in Montgeron, writes: "In the general interest it is my duty to inform you of the absolutely scandalous doings recently carried out in the Essonne region by the irresponsible Enragé commandos under the influence of a certain 'Situationist International.' Contrary to what the press has implied, these sad individuals have proved themselves more harmful than 'colorful.' The time for benevolence is past, and the shameful degradations of monuments to the dead, churches, monasteries and public buildings which have been carried out are quite simply intolerable. After getting themselves admitted to our building on false pretexts on the night of June 13-14, they went about sticking up some 300 posters, songs, tracts, comic strips and so on. But the real damage was caused by systematic paint scribbling on the walls of the high school and technical college. On June 21, after the police had opened an inquiry, and out of sheer defiance, new degradations (posters, tracts, writings in ink) were committed in broad daylight inside the buildings." Monsieur Jacquenod judges it his duty to alert public opinion to these "acts of vandalism, quite harmful to the peaceful climate we are gradually reestablishing."
1. On the night of June 9-10 a delegation of workers from Flins came to ask for help in the occupied factories and at Boulogne-Billancourt. The students left, but at Billancourt the CGT pickets forbade the delegates access to the factory. The tight partitions which kept the workers in the factories also separated the workers of two factories in the same industry.
2. The pretext was badly framed, for these groups had never armed any militias. All revolutionaries will obviously show their solidarity against this sort of repression. Such measures by the police are, moreover, singularly unsuitable to the character of autonomous non-hierarchical organization which proved to be the most original aspect of the movement. Numerous commentaries on the disbanding tried to assimilate the situationists to the March 22nd Movement. It was only in such circumstances, of course, that the SI did not publicly denounce such an assertion.