For anyone seriously interested in developing a real framework for worker’s councils and inter-industry solidarity and solidarity amongst students and labor, Worker-Student Action Committees should be required reading.
Written in 1969 by Fredy Perlman and Roger Gregoire about the May-June explosion of France in 1968, the pamphlet takes you on a journey of how the militants organized students and workers during the general strikes. Both Perlman and Gregoire were organizers who frequented auto plants and universities around Paris and urged workers to occupy workplaces and resist co-option by their union leaders. They wrote this pamphlet in part to highlight their own shortcomings during the May-June events, and to show how concrete actions in the future could push a general strike situation into a real shift in consciousness toward the socialization of the means of production.
The second part of the booklet is indeed most helpful. In a sub-section titled “Partial Liberation of the Militants,” Gregoire and Perlman explain in depth what was going through the minds of the workers and militants during a month-long period of inaction at the factories after the universities were occupied and used for general assemblies. The workers, they say, waited and waited for the militants to act on the situation handed to them, while the militants waited for the workers to denounce their union leadership. In the end, very little action took place, and the militants complained that the union leaders and Stalinist bureaucrats “took over” these workplaces.
While showing respect and gratitude towards fellow militants of all stripes, they were not afraid to call out a major fallacy in the tendencies of the militant “tiny groups.” They show the need for a delicate balance of anarchist principle and vanguardish behavior.
One of the favorite arguments of “anarchists” and “libertarians” at Censier was : “The workers must make their own decisions; we cannot substitute ourselves for them.” This is a blind application of an anti-bureaucratic tactic to a situation where this tactic had no application at all. It meant that action committee militants had no more of a right to tell workers what to do than a bureaucratic mini-party had. But the situation where this tactic was applied was not the one at which it was aimed. The action committee militants were sections of the population who had achieved some level of self-organization. They were not in front of the factory carrying out a strategy which would lead them to “state power.” They may have had no strategy at all; in any case, the action was an action of self-liberation, in the sense of eliminating those conditions of daily life which kept them from living. This self-liberation could only have been carried through if they eliminated the obstacles to their self expression. The obstacles to their liberation were in the factories, as means of production which were “alien” to them, which “belonged” to a separate group.
By telling themselves that it was “up to the workers” to take the factories, a “substitution” did in fact take place, but it was the opposite “substitution” from the one the anarchists feared. The militants substituted the inaction (or rather the bureaucratic action) of the workers’ bureaucracies, which was the only “action” the workers were willing to take, for their own action. The anarchist argument, in fact, turned the situation upside down. The militants thus went in front of the factories and allowed the bureaucrats to act instead of them; they substituted the bureaucracy’s action for their own. Later they apologized for their own inaction by talking about the “betrayal” of the CGT. But the CGT was not “to blame” for anything. When the “militants” went to the factory gates and watched, they did no more than the workers who stood and watched. And when the workers watched, they allowed the CGT to act for them. The “militants” rationalised their dependence, their inaction, by saying that the CGT “took over.” But the relation is mutual. The militants, together with the workers, created the power of the union bureaucracy. The militants did not go to the factory to liberate themselves; they waited for an inexistent power to liberate them.