10. Perspectives for World Revolution After the Occupations Movement
The Situationist International has sown the wind. It will reap the tempest.
Internationale Situationniste 8 (January 1963)
THE OCCUPATION MOVEMENT was immediately seen throughout the world as an historical event of tremendous importance, and as the beginning of a new, menacing era whose program proclaimed the speedy death of all existing governments. A renewal of internationalism and radicalization of revolutionary tendencies was the response to the troubled stupor it created among the leaders and spokesmen of all ruling classes. The solidarity of the workers expressed itself in a number of ways the longshoremen of Savone and Antwerp who refused to load goods going to France, the Belgian typesetters who prevented the passage of the stillborn referendum announced by de Gaulle on May 24th by refusing to print the ballots.
Towards the middle of May the Radical Student Alliance in London sent an address to French workers and students, written in French:
We too have felt the blows of the police clubs and the effects of tear-gas; the betrayals of our so-called leaders are not unknown to us. The sum of these experiences has proved to us the necessity of joining in solidarity with the living struggles against oppressive structures in world society as well as in the universities... But you, comrades, have succeeded in pushing that struggle beyond a questioning of the class nature of the university to a struggle united with the workers which has as its goal the complete capitulation of capitalist society... Together with your comrades in the factories, in the ports, and the offices, you have destroyed the myth of the stability of capitalist Europe, and consequently you have made both the regimes and the bourgeoisie tremble with fear. In the stock markets of Europe the capitalists are trembling, professors and aging technocrats are turning phrases to explain the action of the masses... Comrades, you have reanimated the traditions of 1871 and 1917, you have given international socialism a new force.
The co-ordinating committee of the student strike at Columbia University published a tract in New York at the beginning of June which declared
For more than two weeks twelve million French workers and students have led a mass general strike against the same conditions which confront us in America... Despite the efforts of the trades union bureaucracies, including the "communist" leadership of the CGT, to moderate the movement and to arrive at a compromise with the employers and the Gaullist government, the workers have voted to pursue the strike until their demands are satisfied... If we win in France it will give new life to the international movement which is already manifesting itself in Germany, Spain, Italy, Japan, and even here in the United States. When we launch our own battles here we are helping to create the conditions for a victory in France and everywhere in the world. Their fight is our fight. The workers and students in France are looking to us in America for a response to their first giant step in the battle for a new society.
The barricades and Molotov cocktails of the Berkeley students, the very same who had launched the agitation in the university four years earlier, responded at the end of June. In the middle of May a revolutionary organization had been formed by the Austrian youth around the simple program of "doing the same as in France." At the end of the month occupations of university buildings had taken place in Germany, Stockholm, Brussels, and at the Hornsey Art College in London. Barricades had gone up in Rome on May 31st. In June the students of Tokyo, always combative and resolved on turning the university district into a "Latin Quarter," occupied their faculties and defended them against the police. Not even Switzerland was spared: on the 29th and 30th of June, riots broke out in Zurich, where hundreds of demonstrators armed with stones and Molotov cocktails took the major police station by assault. "The violent demonstrations in Zurich," noted Le Monde on July 2nd, "provoked a certain stupor. Numerous Swiss, who believed their country to be immune from the movement of opposition breaking out in Europe, were disturbed in their tranquillity."
The struggle in the modem capitalist countries naturally awakened student agitation against the dictatorships and in "underdeveloped" countries. At the end of May there were violent confrontations in Buenos Aires, Dakar, Madrid, and a student strike in Peru. In June the incidents were extended to Brazil and then to Uruguay (where they culminated in a general strike), to Argentina, and to Turkey (where the universities of Istanbul and Ankara were closed until further notice), and finally to the Congo (where the high-school students demanded the suppression of exams).
The most important of the immediate results of the French movement was the first tremor against the power of the bureaucratic classes of the East, when Yugoslav students occupied the University of Belgrade at the beginning of June. The students formed Action committees, denounced the bureaucratic ownership of society, demanded authentic self-management in terms of freedom and the abolition of classes, and voted to rename the place Karl Marx University. They addressed themselves to the workers: "We are outraged by the enormous social and economic differences in our society... We are for self-management but against the enrichment of the few at the expense of the working class." Their movement met with great approval among the workers. As at the Sorbonne, "several workers also took the floor at the interminable meeting at the philosophy faculty, where speakers endlessly took turns in the general enthusiasm." (Le Monde, June 7th). The regime saw itself stalked to death. The demagogic self-criticism and tearful confessions of Tito, who spoke of resigning if he could not meet the just demands that had been made, showed up the weakness and the panic of the Yugoslav bureaucracy. It knows perfectly well that the radical demands of the movement, whatever maneuvers they left open for Tito himself, signaled nothing less than its own liquidation as a ruling class, and the proletarian revolution which is coming back to life, there as elsewhere. The concessions of the bureaucrats were accompanied in classical fashion with whatever dose of repression they could afford, and the usual calumnies which put forth the inverted reality of their ideology: the so-called Communist League thus denounced the "ultra-leftist radicals... eager to destroy both the democratic regime and self-management." Even Le Monde (June 12th) recognized that this was "the most important domestic alert that the regime had had since the war." [Since then the uprising of the Mexican students has surpassed in scale all the other responses to the French occupation movement. Mexico is a country only half-emerged from Latin American underdevelopment.]
France, too, remains in the volcanic chain of the new geography of revolution. Nothing has been settled there. The revolutionary eruption didn't come from an economic crisis, but, on the contrary, helped to create a crisis in the economy. What was attacked head-on in May was a well-functioning capitalist economy, but that economy, once shaken by the negative forces of its historical supersession, has to function less well: it thus becomes more unbearable, and reinforces its "underside," the revolutionary movement which is transforming it. The student milieu has become a permanent stronghold of disorder in French life, and this time it is no longer the disorder of a separated youth. The big bureaucratic machines of working-class integration paid a high price for their victory over the strike: many workers have understood. As for the small leftist groups, which were apparently reinforced (all the more so by their unnecessary disbanding by the police), they are virtually finished. The unobtrusive basket of crabs they constituted was strewn about in the limelight during the strike, but always in retreat.
The perspective of world revolution, when it reappeared in France, not only made up for the long delay of its fifty-year absence, but displayed for this reason many premature aspects. Before the occupation movement crushed the state power confronting it, it accomplished what all the revolutionary movements (except that of 1905) had achieved only afterwards. The armed detachments at the disposal of the government had not been defeated. And nevertheless the seizure of certain buildings and their notorious distribution among different subversive groups could not help but evoke some of the events of Barcelona in the summer of 1936. The state was ignored for the first time in France; this was the first practical critique of Jacobinism, for so long the nightmare of French revolutionary movements, including the Commune. In other words, radically new elements were mixed with the sudden return of the specific characteristics of French revolutions the barricades in Paris awakening Europe. Just as it was not enough to simply ignore the State, there were certainly no sufficiently clear perspectives. Too few people had a coherent revolutionary theory, and its dissemination among the masses had to overcome extremely unfavorable conditions. Apart from the power of the existing order's spectacular media, there were the counter-revolutionary bureaucracies, which had at that time been unmasked by far too few. Thus no one should be surprised by the many weaknesses of the movement, but rather be amazed at its strength.
Radical theory has been confirmed and tremendously strengthened. It should now make itself known everywhere for what it is, and break all new efforts by the hard-pressed recuperators. The carriers of radical theory had no concessions to make. They must become even more demanding from the position of strength that history has given them. Nothing short of the international power of the workers' councils can satisfy them they can recognize no revolutionary force other than the councilist organizations which will be formed in every country. The objective conditions for revolution have become visible as soon as the revolution has begun, once again, to speak as an objective power. Now a fire has been lit which will never go out. The occupation movement has ended the sleep of the masters of commodities, and never again shall spectacular society sleep in peace.