Laurence Cox is Senior Lecturer in Sociology, National University of Ireland Maynooth. A long-time activist, he co-founded the social movement journal Interface and researches popular struggles for a better world. He is co-author of We Make Our Own History: Marxism, Social Movements and the Twilight of Neoliberalism (Pluto, 2014) and co-editor of Voices of 1968: Documents from the Global North (Pluto, 2018).
Potere Operaio here is not the slightly later political group, but a Pisa-based political group organized around the periodical of the same name, which would later form a key base for the formation of Lotta Continua. This text highlights the parallels between the conservative role of the French Communist Party (PCF) and its associated trade union federation (the CGT), and their Italian sister organizations (the PCI and the Italian General Confederation of Labour, CGIL). Along with the call to organize independently at the grassroots—which by mid-1968 was already starting to happen in a range of factories across the industrial North—the call for a new “revolutionary organization to direct the proletarians” is striking in retrospect. The Gestetnered text fits on one side of an A4 page, making it ideal for mass production and distribution at factory gates and elsewhere.
This blog is taken from Voices of 1968: Documents from the Global North, a collection of texts from the movements and uprisings of the ‘long 1968’, edited by Salar Mohandesi, Bjarke Skærlund Risager and Laurence Cox.
The revolt which is now breaking out across the whole of France is fundamentally important to us, because it grows out of a situation shared by all the European countries (i.e. the growing exploitation of the proletarians and the ever-harsher authoritarianism of the bosses).If today it is exploding in France, tomorrow it can explode in Italy, in Spain, in Germany, and in England. A regime which retains the form of parliamentary democracy, but where decisions are only taken by the big industrialists and finance, whose greatest representative is de Gaulle. A very harsh incomes policy, with high unemployment, intensified productivity, and the longest average working week in the ECM [European Common Market] countries (45–46 hours). A class-based school where one is taught to think what suits the bosses, and where only bourgeois children complete their studies. The last few months have seen a constant explosion of working-class struggles, particularly among metal and textile workers, of department and workshop committees which have formed spontaneously—struggles organized from below, struggles which the trade unions keep separate and try to extinguish with compromises and defeatist deals, but which often restart as soon as the agreement has been signed, with wildcat stoppages, marches inside departments, passive and sometimes organized forms of sabotaging production.
Often particularist struggles turn into massive struggles in the streets, with fierce battles with the police and attacks on police stations: at Quimper it is the peasants, at Caen it is the young metalworkers. Lastly, in Paris, it is the students who, starting from the struggle to reform education, have quickly arrived at a political language, a revolutionary one, and at the struggle for socialism. 15,000 demonstrators surround the barricades of the Latin Quarter, tear up the streets with pneumatic drills and hold off thousands of police in battle gear throughout the night. The ferocity of the CRS (the French riot police) is incredible: whole apartment blocks searched using the SS approach, Red Cross first aid stations assaulted, with doctors and wounded attacked with batons, girls beaten and stripped in the middle of the street to humiliate them. Then a day of demonstrations in all the French cities together with the workers (800,000 in Paris), and the regime concedes on the issue of education: amnesty for the arrested students, freedom to occupy universities and schools, an immediate start to reforms. But at this point all the working-class categories join the struggle: the factories are occupied, transport shuts down, electricity and gas are at the bare minimum. This is the total paralysis of the country. The workers’ committees, the real leaders of the struggle, multiply, with youth in the lead. In many factories, management has been taken prisoner; at Sud Aviation the office doors were even welded shut, and management was fed through the windows. The movement is still growing, and returning to the streets: while general de Gaulle tries to propose the old referendum trick, Paris and other cities fill up with barricades, and on the barricades students and workers fight with an ever more explosive violence, which is destined to grow and will not be easily smothered. In the countryside the peasants are starting to move, they block the streets with tractors, cut down the telegraph poles, threaten to enter into the heart of the struggle. In the face of all this, the official organizations of the workers’ movement, led by the PCF, keep talking about reforms and democracy, disavow the “extremists” and the “anarchists” who lead the student movement; the trade union bureaucrats stop the students in front of the Renault works saying loud and clear that they don’t want to hear about revolution, that they want improvements to pay and conditions only; in Lyon they refuse to send pickets to strengthen the barricades, but the workers go anyway. Two national leaders of the CGT (the left-wing trade union federation) resign in protest against the treason of the CGT leadership, which clings to minimal issues of redistribution while the revolt catches fire across the country.
ALTHOUGH THE WORKERS’ STRUGGLES ARE LED FROM BELOW, BY THE GRASSROOTS WORKERS’ COMMMITTEES, ALTHOUGH EVER MORE WORKERS ARE COMING INTO THE STREETS TO FIGHT BESIDE THE STUDENTS, THERE IS NO REVOLUTIONARY ORGANIZATION TO DIRECT THE PROLETARIANS TOWARD THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BOURGEOIS STATE AND TOWARD A SOCIALIST SOCIETY.
THE REVOLT WHICH IS EXPLODING IN FRANCE IS FULL OF LESSONS FOR US.
IF WE WANT THINGS TO CHANGE, WE HAVE TO RADICALIZE OUR STRUGGLE AGAINST THE BOSSES, AND WORK TOGETHER TO FREE IT FROM BEING BRAKED AND CAGED BY THE REFORMIST PARTIES. TO DO THIS, WE HAVE TO ORGANIZE AT THE GRASSROOTS, BRANCH BY BRANCH, FACTORY BY FACTORY, SCHOOL BY SCHOOL.
IF WE WANT THINGS TO CHANGE COMPLETELY, WE HAVE TO HAVE THE CLARITY AND THE COURAGE TO SAY OPENLY THAT OUR GOAL IS REVOLUTION AND TO WORK FROM THIS PERSPECTIVE.
THE COMRADES OF POTERE OPERAIO
Republished on nelvento.net. Translated by Laurence Cox.
Voices of 1968: Documents from the Global North is available from Pluto Press.