8. The "Council for Maintaining the Occupations" and Councilist Tendencies
This explosion was provoked by groups in revolt against modern consumer and technical society, whether it be the communism of the East or the capitalism of the West. They are groups, moreover, which have no idea at all of what they would replace it with, but who delight in negation, destruction, violence, anarchy, and who brandish the black flag!
De Gaulle, Televised speech of June 7th, 1968
The "Council for the Maintaining of Occupations (CMDO)" was formed on the evening of May 17th by those supporters of the first Occupation of the Sorbonne who had left with it and who proposed to uphold for the rest of the crisis the program of council democracy which was inseparable from a quantitative and qualitative expansion of the occupation movement.
About forty people were continuously associated with the CMDO, and they were joined for a while by other revolutionaries and strikers coming from various industries, from the provinces; or from abroad and returning there. The CMDO was more or less constantly made up of about ten situationists and Enragés (among them Debord, Khayati, Riesel and Vaneigem) and as many workers, high-school students or "students," and other councilists without specific social functions.
Throughout its existence the CMDO was a successful experiment in direct democracy, guaranteed by an equal participation of everyone in debates, and the decisions and their execution. It was essentially an uninterrupted general assembly, deliberating day and night. No faction or private meetings ever existed outside the common debate.
A unit spontaneously created in the conditions of a revolutionary moment, the CMDO was obviously less of a council than a councilist organization, thus functioning on the model of soviet democracy. As an improvised response to that precise moment, the CMDO could neither present itself as a permanent councilist organization, nor try to transform itself into an organization of that kind. Nonetheless, an almost general agreement on the major situationist theses reinforced its cohesion.
Three commissions were organized within the general assembly to facilitate its practical activity. The Printing Commission took charge of the production and printing of CMDO publications, both in operating the machines to which it had access and in collaboration with strikers from certain print shops. The Liaison Commission, with ten cars at its disposal, took care of contacts with occupied factories and the delivery of material for distribution. The Requisitions Commission, which excelled during the most difficult period, made sure that paper, gasoline, food, money, and wine were never lacking.
There was no permanent committee to ensure rapid writing of the texts, whose content was determined by everyone, but on each occasion several members were designated, who then submitted the result to the assembly.
The CMDO itself occupied the buildings of the National Pedagogical Institute on the Rue d'Ulm, beginning on May 19th. At the end of May it moved to the basement of the building next door, a "School of Decorative Arts." The occupation of the institute was of interest in that, while educators of all kinds were being denounced and ridiculed in their miserable profession, large groups of employees, workers, and technicians seized the occasion to demand control of the workplace and valiantly supported the movement in all its forms of struggle.1 Thus the equal-representation committee of occupation found itself in the hands of revolutionaries. An Enragé from Nanterre was put in charge of security. Everyone congratulated themselves on that choice, even the teachers. Democratic order was disturbed by no-one, which made the greatest tolerance possible: one of the Stalinist employees was even allowed to sell L'Humanité at the door. The red and black flags flew side-by-side on the front of the building.
The student struggle has now been superseded. Even more superseded are all candidates for bureaucratic promotion who think it clever to feign respect for the Stalinists at the very moment when the CGT and the so-called Communist Party are trembling. The outcome of the current crisis is in the hands of the workers themselves if they successfully accomplish the occupation of their factories, what the occupation of the university could only outline.
In ten days, not only have hundreds of factories been spontaneously occupied by the workers and a spontaneous general strike totally disrupted the activity of the country, but, moreover, several buildings belonging to the state have been occupied by de facto committees who are taking control. In such a situation, which in any case can't last but which confronts the alternative of extending itself or disappearing, all the old ideas are swept aside and all radical hypotheses on the return of the revolutionary movement confirmed.
This text enumerated three possibilities, in order of decreasing probability: An agreement between the government and the Communist Party "on the demobilization of the workers in exchange for economic benefits"; the coming to power of the left "which will follow the same policy, albeit from a weaker position"; and, finally, the workers speaking for themselves "by becoming conscious of demands which would express the radicality of the forms of struggle they have already put into practice." They showed how the prolonging of the current situation could contain such a perspective:
The need to reopen certain sectors of the economy under workers' control can lay the basis for this new power, which takes everything beyond the limits of the existing parties and trade unions. It will be necessary to put the railways and printing presses back into operation to serve the needs of the workers' struggle. It will be necessary for the new de facto authorities to requisition and distribute food.
What we have done in France now haunts Europe. Soon it will threaten all the ruling classes of the world, from the bureaucrats of Moscow and Peking to the millionaires of Washington and Tokyo. Just as we have made Paris dance, the international proletariat will again take up arms against every capital city of every state, every citadel of every alienation. The occupation of factories and of the government buildings throughout the entire country hasn't just stopped the economy, it has called the whole meaning of social life into question. Almost everybody wants to stop living this way. We are already a revolutionary movement. All we need is the widespread consciousness of what we have already done, and we will be the masters of this revolution... Those who turned down the ridiculous contract agreements offered them (agreements that overjoyed the trade-union leaders) have still to discover that while they cannot "receive" much more within the framework of the existing economy, they can take everything if they transform the very bases of the economy on their own behalf. The bosses can hardly pay more but they could disappear.
The rest of the Address rejected the "bureaucratic-revolutionary replastering" which attempted at Charlety to bring together all the small leftist groups, and refused the hand which the dissident Stalinist André Barjonet shamelessly extended to the situationists. The Address showed that the power of the workers' councils was the only revolutionary solution, one that had already made its mark in the class struggles of this century. Later, intervening in the struggle at Flins, on June 8th the CMDO issued the tract It's Not Over, which denounced the methods and aims of the unions in the affair:
The trades unions are ignorant of the class struggle; know only the laws of the market, and in their dealings claim to own the workers... The shameful maneuver to prevent reinforcements from reaching the workers at Flins is only one more repugnant 'victory' for the unions in their struggle against the general strike... No unity with those dividing us.
The CMDO also published a certain number of posters, about fifty comic strips, and several appropriate songs. Its major tracts had printings of between 150,000 and 200,000 copies. Naturally, trying to bring its practice and its theory into agreement, the CMDO contacted the workers of the occupied print shops, who gladly put the excellent machinery at their disposal back into operation (it is well known that the independent printers are less dominated by Stalinists than those of the press). The texts were also frequently reproduced in the provinces and abroad, immediately on arrival of the first copies.2 The CMDO itself took responsibility for their translation and first printing in English, German, Spanish, Italian, Danish, and Arabic. The versions in Arabic and Spanish were first distributed among immigrant laborers. A falsified version of the Address was reprinted in Combat on June 3rd. The situationist references and the attacks against the Stalinists had been deleted.
Quite successfully, the CMDO tried to establish and preserve links with factories, isolated workers, action committees, and groups in the provinces. The link with Nantes was particularly well-established. Beyond that the CMDO was present in all aspects of the struggle in Paris and the suburbs.
The Council for the Maintaining of Occupations agreed to dissolve itself on the 15th of June. The ebbing of the occupation movement had led several of its members to raise the question of its dissolution a week earlier. That was delayed by the persistence of the struggles of the strikers, notably at Flins, who were refusing to accept defeat. The CMDO had never tried to get anything for itself, not even any recruitment which aimed at a permanent existence. Its participants did not separate their personal goals from the general goals of the movement. They were independent individuals who had come together for a struggle on a determined basis at a precise moment; and who once again became independent after the struggle had ended. Some of those among them, who recognized in the Situationist International the extension of their own activity, continued to work together in that organization.3
Other "councilist" tendencies (in the sense that they were for the councils without wanting to recognize their theory and their truth} appeared in the buildings of the Censier annex of the Faculté des Lettres, where they held, as the "Worker-Student Action Committee," a somewhat impotent discussion which could hardly progress towards a practical clarification. Groups like "Workers' Power" and the "Workers' Liaison and Action Group," made up of many individuals from various enterprises, made the mistake of accepting into their already confused and redundant debates all kinds of adversaries or saboteurs of their positions Trotskyites and Maoists who paralyzed the discussion, and who even publicly burned an anti-bureaucratic program drawn up by a commission assigned to the task. The councilists were able to intervene in some practical struggles, notably at the beginning of the general strike, by sending members to help in a work stoppage or to reinforce picket lines. But their interventions often suffered from defects inherent in their very grouping: often several members from a single delegation offered fundamentally conflicting perspectives to the workers. The anti-trade union group "Workers Information and Correspondence" (ICO) which was not councilist, and was not even sure of its being a group nonetheless met in another room. Indifferent to the situation, they rehashed the usual rubbish in their bulletin and replayed their obstructionist psychodrama: was it necessary to stick to pure news pasteurized of all theoretical germs, or was the choice of news already inseparable from the hidden theoretical presuppositions? More generally, the defect of all these groups was to draw their proud experience from past working-class defeats, and never from the new conditions and new style of the struggle which they ignored on principle. They repeated their usual ideology in the same boring tone that they had used during one or two decades of inactivity. They seemed to perceive nothing new in the occupation movement. They had seen it all before. They were blasé. Their knowing discouragement looked forward to nothing but defeat, so that they could publish the consequences as they had done so often before. The difference was that they had not had the chance of participating in the previous movements they had analyzed, and this time they were living the moment which they chose to consider in advance from the angle of the historical spectacle, or even from that of an uninstructive replay.
New councilist tendencies did not appear in the crisis, aside from the CMDO, whereas the old attitudes were completely insignificant both in theory and in practice. The March 22nd Movement, of course, had some councilist whims, as it had something of everything, but it never put them forward in its publications and its many interviews. Nonetheless, a growing audience for the call for workers' councils was manifest throughout the revolutionary crisis. That was one of the major effects, and remains one of its surest promises.
1. One poster advised: "DON'T SAY 'TEACHER, SIR,' SAY 'DROP DEAD, ASSHOLE'!" Another reminded that "THE EDUCATOR HIMSELF MUST BE EDUCATED."
2. Among the first reprints we can cite a Swedish pamphlet in the Libertad revolutionary series, a special issue of the clandestine Venezuelan publication, Proletario, and a pamphlet put out by the Japanese Zengakuren under the title Lessons on the Defeat of the May Revolt in France.
3. Certain outside elements were able to claim falsely to be from the CMDO in the same way that individuals much more frequently claimed to be members of the SI, whether out of sheer conceit or murkier motives. Two or three nostalgic former members of the CMDO naturally did not miss the chance to exploit their past in a miserably spectacular style. This was completely foreign to almost all the members, who contributed so many remarkable capacities without ever seeking to push themselves to the fore. The Council for the Maintaining of Occupations will return one day, with its time, which will also return.