The power next time: France May 1968

Submitted by AWL on 24 July, 2008 - 6:38

Suddenly, like an enormous explosion, the revolt of the French working class has burst on a startled bourgeois Europe. Already it has changed the political climate of Europe as sharply as the rising of the sun after a long arctic night.

Sparked by the militant actions of Trotskyist, Anarchist and Maoist students, and fanned by the viciousness of police brutality, the flames of revolt soon spread to the working class. It led to a great conflagration prepared by the long accumulated, bottled up discontent and frustration of the workers.

The working class had seemed drugged and demoralised by years of relative prosperity. It had remained confused and quiescent, under the control of conservative labour leaders, through the many crises that have rocked French post-war capitalism.

Now, with little warning, it rose to its feet, pulling its trade union leaders — “Communist”, “Socialist” and Catholic — and political leaders helplessly behind it. Effortlessly it brought the country to a standstill. By instinct, without any real leadership — and initially against the leadership it seized and held the productive forces of society, wrenched from out of the powerless hands of the capitalists. It proceeded to enact what will surely go down in history as the dress rehearsal for the French workers' revolution.

Factories, mines, docks, ships at sea and in port, theatres, offices — all were swiftly occupied and placed under the control of workers' committees.

Grave-diggers and chorus girls, bank clerks and taxi drivers, petit-bourgeois as well as proletariat, trade unionists and non-unionists, the whole of the French working masses were in action.

Journalists refused to lie to order, and censored their employers' press journalists. Technicians at the ORTF (television network) revolted against the role of whore assigned to them by the system. Even the farmers joined in. So did schoolchildren, who took over the schools following the action of students who had seized universities. And they were joined by the teachers!

Everywhere the Red Flag was hoisted. Everywhere enthusiasm, marches, demonstrations of strength. The Internationale, sung too often discordantly by Stalinist functionaries, now thundered its command victorously in its real tune in millions of voices, in every street of every city, and across the borders: "Arise, ye starvelings”. And not only the starvelings' arose, the vanguard were, and remain, the best paid of all — the workers of the giant state-owned Renault plants.

The rulers of the rest of Europe and the world have looked in shock and horror at this stupendous demonstration of the power and revolutionary instinct of the working class. Their journals are still not sure whether or not to believe it.

For decades now, have they not preached, have their 'thinkers' and hacks not procalimed — and proved no less — that the industrial working class is dead as a revolutionary force? Had they not, as late as May 12-13, carried articles celebrating the 10th anniversary of the army coup that raised De Gaulle to power and gave France 'stability"? Is not this western Europe, in the year 1968; is not the number of cars and TV sets growing?

Are not the capitalists in possession of a vast bureaucratic army of efficient lieutenants within the labour movement to police it and keep the working class within the ranks of bourgeois society. Are not Lenin and Trotsky long since dead and buried?

Thus it seemed. And then, before their fearful eyes, the working class rose suddenly from off its knees - and gripped French capitalism by the throat.' By their rising the French working class have answered not alone the bourgeoisie, but all those within the labour and Marxist movement who had proclaimed or tacitly accepted that the epicentre of revolution had moved away from Western Europe for the next historical period…

Given the entrenched power of pro-capitalist bureaucrats (some misnaming themselves as “communists”) in the French labour movement the full victory which was objectively possible was not to be expected. To achieve this goal the class will have to shake off the shackles of the labour bureaucracies and prepare a revolutionary organisation equal to its drive for control of its own life.

It can now no longer be doubted that the conquest of power by the workers of Europe is firmly on the agenda. The French proletariat has smashed down the barriers, the mental ones as well as some of the physical ones. The road is opening up.

Editorial, Workers Fight No 7, June 1968