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7. The High Point

Let us conclude: those who are unable to change methods when the times demand it doubtless prosper as long as they remain in step with fortune; but they are lost as soon as fortune changes. As for the rest I think it is better to be too bold than too cautious...
— Machiavelli, The Prince

ON THE MORNING of May 27th Seguy went to announce to the workers at Renault-Billancourt the agreement concluded between the unions, the government and the employers. The workers unanimously shouted down the bureaucrat, who, as his whole speech showed, had come in hopes of having himself acclaimed for these results. Confronted with the anger of the rank-and-file, the Stalinists suddenly took shelter behind a detail which had been suppressed up to that point, and which was in fact essential — nothing would be signed without the ratification of the workers. Since the workers had rejected the agreement, the strike and negotiations would go on. Following Renault, all sectors rejected the crumbs with which the bourgeoisie and its auxiliaries thought they could purchase the resumption of work.

The content of the "Grenelle Agreement" certainly had little enough to arouse the enthusiasm of the working masses who knew they were virtually masters of production, which they had paralyzed for ten days. The agreement raised wages by seven per cent and lifted the legally guaranteed minimum wage (SMIG — salaire minimum integral garanti) from 2.22 to 3.00 francs. This would mean that the most exploited sector of the working class, particularly in the provinces, those earning 348.80 francs a month, would now have a purchasing power more suited to the "affluent society" — 520 francs a month. The days lost in the strike would not be paid until they were made up in overtime. This tip would already be a heavy burden on the normal functioning of the French economy, especially in its obligations to the Common Market and other aspects of international capitalist competition. All the workers knew that such "benefits" would be taken back in kind with imminent price rises. They felt that it would be much more expedient to sweep away the system which had already conceded all it could, and to organize society on a new basis. The fall of the Gaullist regime was necessarily the pre- requisite for this reversal of perspective.

The Stalinists understood how dangerous the situation was. Despite their constant support, the government had just failed once more to reestablish itself. After Pompidou's failure on May 11th to check the crisis by sacrificing his authority in the domain of the university, a speech by de Gaulle and the hastily concluded agreement between Pompidou and the unions had failed to circumvent a crisis that had become profoundly social. The Stalinists began to despair of the survival of Gaullism, since they had been unable to save it up till then, and because Gaullism seemed to have lost the elasticity essential to its survival. They found themselves obliged, much to their regret, to run the risk of being in the other camp — where they had always claimed to be. On the 28th and 29th of May they gambled all on the fall of Gaullism. They had come to terms with many pressures, mainly those of the workers, and subsequently of those oppositional elements who began clamoring for the replacement of Gaullism, and thus could have been joined by those who first and foremost wanted the regime to fall. These included the Christian trade unionists of the CFDT, Mendès-France, the dim-witted Mitterrand's "Federation," as well as the crowd that turned out at Charléty stadium for the formation of an ultra-leftist bureaucratic organization.1 All these dreamers were raising their voices only in the name of the supposed forces that the Stalinists would put into play to open the way for their brand of post-Gaullism, mutterings which events immediately revealed as ridiculous.

The Stalinists were much more realistic. They resigned themselves to asking for a "popular government" in the powerful and numerous demonstrations staged by the CGT on the 29th, and were already preparing to defend it. They knew perfectly well that such a government would only be a dangerous last resort. While they were still able to help defeat the revolutionary movement before it succeeded in overthrowing Gaullism, they rightly feared that they would be unable to defeat it afterwards. On the 28th of May, an editorial broadcast on the radio had already contended, with a premature pessimism, that "the French Communist Party would never rise again," and that the principal danger now lay with the "situationist leftists."

On May 30th a speech by de Gaulle firmly underlined his intention to stay in power, whatever the price. He offered a choice between the coming elections or immediate civil war. Trusted regiments were deployed around Paris and abundantly photographed. The overjoyed Stalinists had no trouble restraining themselves from calling for an extension of the strike to bring down the old regime. They eagerly rallied to the Gaullist elections, no matter what the price would be to themselves.

In such conditions the alternatives were irrevocably posed: the autonomous affirmation of the proletariat, or the complete defeat of the movement — a revolution of the councils or the Grenelle Agreement. The revolutionary movement could not settle accounts with the French Communist Party without first throwing out de Gaulle. The form of workers' power which would have been developed in the post-Gaullist phase of the crisis, being blocked by both the old state reaffirmed and the Communist Party, no longer had any hope of reversing its approaching defeat.

1. It was to the credit of the Cohn-Bendit faction of the March 22nd Movement that they refused the advances of the renegade Stalinist Barjonet and other ecumenical leftist small-timers. It goes without saying that the situationists, for their part, responded only with contempt. (See the Address to All Workers by the Comité pour le Maintien des Occupations.)

The Council for Maintaining the Occupations and Councilist Tendencies