What Makes ICO Lie?
Internationale Situationniste #12 (September 1969)
Translated by Point Blank
IN THE PRECEDING number of this review (October 1967), we mentioned the many points of agreement we thought we had with the people who publish the bulletin Informations et Correspondance Ouvrieres, without hiding our disagreement over their refusal to "formulate a precise theoretical critique of real society" and making it clear on the other hand that we didn't know them directly. A few of the people who are among us today had had the occasion to know them directly in the meantime, but it will be seen that that is not the only reason for our not knowing them better.
At that time, all we knew about ICO was what we learned from reading its bulletin: that it was an anti-union, predominantly anarchist group. That having been explained, it was not surprising to see them talk about councils without daring to define themselves as councilists, nor to read in their platform ("Who We Are: What We Want") of their definition of their action: "All we can do is furnish the workers with information, in the same respect as they can give us some." What On the Poverty of Student Life called ICO's choice of nonexistence only partially recuperates its reality.
ICO exists and this existence is weighted down heavily enough by lies of omission, secret hierarchy, and direct exhaustion. A member of the group of Enrages (Rene Riesel) attended a meeting of the ICO at the end of March 1968. Since he was asked to, he gave an account of his group's activities, and of the situation in the University of Nantes and Nanterre. This report was published in the issue of ICO that followed this meeting, in a hostile style and with a great deal of misconceptions. Surprised by this malevolence, but all the same conscious of the source of the action (people from Noir et Rouge participating in the ICO, friends of Daniel Cohn-Bendit and the March 22d Movement), the Enrages called by letter for the publication of a severely critical flyer. At the next meeting, the March 22d Movement dispatched a delegate who demanded the joint publication of a response to the flier. The Enrages accepted. Alleging that it was inelegant to mention people one attacked by name (Cohn-Bendit in this instance, who already had the attention of all the daily papers), the ICO's bosses never published the flyer.
The elegance of these people, on a par with the discretion which makes them conceal their opponent's names and texts, is easily perceived. The reason behind it lies in the fact that, however unnatural they may want that to be believed, ICO has an opposition. And it is more in their alacrity to disguise this triviality than in the virtuous antipathy to the printed page, where one finds the explanation of the rage which seized them when a certain number of revolutionaries wrote them to establish contact at the end of the note "Reading ICO" that appeared in IS #11 (October 1967). In a leaflet dated 27 April 1968, ICO complained about the criticisms "of a group of students called the 'Enrages,' influenced by the situationists, who have manifested a sudden interest in ICO." All of a sudden, the mini-proprietors of ICO saw themselves as centers of attention! And they made it clear that it could only have been caused by "ideologues" and the troublesomeness of "ethics" however, they aren't referring to their old friend Rubel for the true class struggle "unfolds on the economic terrain and beyond all 'consciousness' (in the ideological sense of the term)." Can their adversaries and the workers be any better slighted at the same time? And historical reality?
If ICO pretends to offer more than information, it is in return required that nothing more be asked of them. The degree of participation required of its members is thus nothing but their capacity to meet once a month to repeat the same old obvious facts incessantly, communicate the same old information about the same old undertakings discouraged from the start, and bring up again at the following session the discussion of the group's general orientation. When new people try and throw their spanner in the works, the machine stops long enough to tire them out. Finally, one can write that, "Sooner or later comrades who pursue other ends (invariably the propagation of an ideology in one form or another) expel themselves on their own initiative for some reason or other, that is to say, they stop coming." This hypocritical tone should dispel any illusions: when "comrades" clearly saw that they intend to steer the discussion towards the interior of the group, on the basis of affirmed principles, not to negate them, but to go beyond them, to supersede primary economism and to attempt a critique of daily life as well, ICO shows them the door because their text is too long! And when the same "comrades" print it themselves, ICO refuses to send them the list of subscribers. Five or six oppositionals whom we do not know were expelled in this manner at the beginning of 1968. Two months later, the same problem was brought up anew by others.
The fact that the Enrages approached ICO at the same instant seemed to ICO's masters to reveal a vast conspiracy aimed at undermining the perpetuity of their power over the group. That is no doubt why, while minimizing the impact of the movement when it began to take shape, they preferred the March 22d Movement against the Enrages. The Cohn-Benditist wing with which they were in contact sufficiently guaranteed the formal nonexistence and the absence of coherent theory of the March 22d Movement, by means of which ICO placed their confidence in it: at least three students wouldn't butt into the affairs of the ICO's conscious workers.
This consciousness goes no further than their sense of the ridiculous. The lamentable analyses of their May '68 issue, which appeared at the moment when a major confrontation could be anticipated without extrapolation, and which wanted to prove the inanity and inadequacy of the struggle undertaken, have at least enough of the comic in them so that they don't say at what moment these shrewd observers of historical conjuncture ever noticed that "something happened" (The Mass Strike in France, May-June 1968, ICO/Noir et Rouge pamphlet). One can imagine that they did so at about the same time as the Stalinist Party. Nothing contradicts this hypothesis, not even the identical use of the term "general strike" to designate the occupations movement. ICO didn't jump on the bandwagon until the day when the old mole dug under the cafe in which they ordinarily met, disturbing the unfolding of their monthly meeting by the echo of the explosions of police grenades. Like the so-called Communist Party, ICO essentially sees in the occupations movement an accumulation of local strikes. The difference only resides in the fact that ICO knows and says that they were wildcat strikes. Thus, "May '68 was from this point of view (the evolution towards an autonomy of conflicts) only the brutal expression of a latent situation that had been developing over the years, in rigorous conformity with the rapid modernization of French capitalism." Only with the incredible gall of these people is it possible to minimize the occupations movement in this way without laughing, while recognizing on a suddenly lyrical note that "the great mass of workers entered the struggle driven by the will to change something in the system of exploitation." They would be able to see that "the realization of a new world in which their intervention will be total, that is to say, where they will totally manage their activity in their work, and, consequently, in their life" will pass for the explanation of the mystery which presents ICO with these realities as separated.
Who are these undeceived partisans of the wildcat strike trying to kid when they weightily explain in analyzing the class struggles in France in March 1969 ("Organizations and the Workers' Movement"), that since the wildcat strikes before May were directed towards categorical demands, and since in these after May "the workers of a limited sector of the business did not want any part of anything anyone imposed on them that was solely concerned with their working conditions (salaries or whatever), one there finds the character of the wildcat strikes in Holland, England, and the USA." The ICO writes: "Certain people will want to see in these many strikes the beginning of a generalization of the struggles, or a transformation of the struggles or of a radical transformation of the workers' movement. If May had at the same time acted as a revealing force and thus accelerated an evolution, it did not radically modify the context of these struggles." Incapable of seeing that a union doesn't just support a wildcat strike so as to get around it, but because it is far preferable to them to lose it in the meanderings of a legal strike, ICO's realists show themselves to be even more stupid than the cretins of Lutte Ouvriere: "The intransigence of the bosses and the government forced them (the unions) to organize a central demonstration on March 11" granting that the strike of March 11, 1969 "was a part of this political exploitation of the workers' movement." It is surely because they don't beat the drum for any other position than that which they already have as almost acknowledged specialists of anti-unionism that ICO's "workers" can predict a beautiful future for us: "the conquest of a large number of seats in municipal and other councils." As for the workers, ICO forgets a little too easily what the revolutionary movement does to its slanderers.
ICO's hatred for everything that resembles theory doesn't stem from a contempt towards their student militants or their intellectual friends, which would be justified. The objective directors of ICO have themselves been turned into intellectuals simply by pressing the button. Now they wish that real intellectuals would come and relieve them in this arduous task so that they can devote themselves full-time to ICO's preservation, which they know has nothing to lose but an illusory existence. Students will heed their call, but revolutionaries will know that they can read ICO to find the anti-union ideology of the groupuscules in it.