The GCI attacks the workers’ assemblies and defends union sabotage of the struggle

Printer-friendly versionSend by email On the site of the GCI [1], under the heading “What’s new ”, dated March 21 2006, there is a leaflet, in French and English, on the anti-CPE movement in France. In this leaflet, the GCI, which often, pretentiously, boasts of developing analyses on the forces present in such and such a country, not only doesn’t say a word on how these events in France unfolded, but, further, it lies about these struggles, it attacks and denounces what has been the strength of the movement: the capacity to organise itself in general assemblies (GAs). All this enveloped in an ultra-radical language of denunciation of the CPE and the unions; but when it’s a question of making propositions in order to develop the struggle, the only thing that is said in the leaflet is the “general strike” and “violent actions to block the circulation of goods” (that’s to say road blocks, railway blockades, etc.)… Here, pure and simple, are trade union methods. Faced with the dynamic of the strike that animated the struggle against the CPE, the GCI proposes the union dynamic of struggle! And it has the cheek, lying about it, to criticise the students because they “march behind the unions”!

The GCI tries to put the students and workers struggling against the CPE in the dock

Straightaway, the leaflet deliberately mixes up the attempts of the bourgeoisie to confront the struggles with the initiatives decided during the struggle, attributing to the students the union appeals or the appeals to trust in electoral promises and even to let themselves be trapped in sterile confrontations with the police:

“And against all that (the CPE) how did they react?:

-          By following like sheep those who break our struggles, negotiate our misery with our exploiters and send us back to work and school: THE UNIONS!…

-          By swallowing the promises all kinds of politicians sell us about the miracle of change in order to bury our struggles in the ballot boxes.

-          By falling into the trap of sterile confrontations where the forces of bourgeois order await and are thus stronger” (GCI leaflet).                

This movement of struggle took the bourgeoisie by surprise. The government of Villepin hadn’t foreseen the impact that the attack of the CPE would have on the young generations of proletarians. It didn’t take the time to prepare this attack politically by putting in place a union and “leftist” strategy to accompany it [2]. It’s for this reason that the different forces of the bourgeois state, the unions at their head, had to react on the hop, which left open a margin of manoeuvre to the students. Thus, it is necessary to clearly say that it wasn’t the students who followed the unions, but the latter who had to put themselves forward in order to try to outflank the struggle.

Practically, up to the demonstrations of the 18th March, the unions were not yet present and hadn’t imposed themselves on the movement. On March 7, in Paris, when the students of Censier met up to go to a massive demonstration, the CGT tried to put themselves at the head of the march with its troops and placards; the students stopped the unions from taking the head of the demonstration, themselves took the lead and put forward unifying slogans. The following day, the leader of the CGT, Bernard Thibault, declared on the television: “we are facing unknown acts”, and several journalists of the bourgeois media affirmed that “the CGT have been humiliated”. Thus, it wasn’t the students following behind the unions, but the latter who were obliged to follow behind the students. Even the following week, March 14, the main demonstration in Paris was spontaneous and followed no union appeal.

But it’s not only in the calls to demonstrations that this confrontation with the unions was expressed. In the universities themselves, there was a combat to take control of the GAs and the direction of the movement. The student union, l’UNEF, alongside militants of the leftists organisations (above all, Trotskyists), tried to take over the presidency of the GAs and monopolise the commissions which came from it; but in an important part of the universities, it was the elected presidency, controlled and mandated by the GA each day, which ended up imposing itself, always with the idea of dislodging the professional trade unionists.

Also on the question of the extension of the struggle there was a confrontation with the unions. Some GAs of the universities sent delegation to the industrial zones, but the unions at different places of work did everything to avoid any direct contact between these delegations and the workers, themselves taking charge of the reception of the students in order to try to fool them. Being wise to this manoeuvre, in some of the most combative universities, they didn’t renounce direct discussions with the workers and pickets were sent to the metro and bus stations where workers were on their way to work.

One could say similar things about the GCI’s affirmation that the movement put its confidence in the electoral promises of the politicians (“ swallowing the electoral promise…”). In fact the struggle itself is already a striking contradiction of the idea that the students believed in the electoral promises of the bourgeoisie. It wasn’t by voting that the youth imposed the withdrawal of the CPE, but by struggle. Throughout the movement, up to the imposed withdrawal, no political force of the bourgeoisie could flatter itself with having got to the head of a movement, which remained on a class terrain. It was only at the time of the actual demobilisation that the bourgeoisie tried to recuperate the lost ground, launching an ideological campaign in order to avoid the lessons being drawn: autonomous struggle, on a class terrain, pays. Thus it deployed its electoral and democratic circus, in trying to lead the young, well ordered and isolated, to vote for the left of capital in the next elections. It is evident that it’s quite possible that a good number of youth let themselves be led onto this terrain and that the left of the French bourgeoisie managed to channel a part of them to vote for it. But what is fundamental, what has taken on a historic significance, what comes out of these combats, are these lessons: how to struggle, how to organise the general assemblies and demonstrations, how to discuss, why and how we must look for solidarity, etc. This is what the new generation of workers has won. In this sense of the incorporation of a new generation into the struggle, the experience of the anti-CPE movement is, from all points of view, comparable to what the struggles of May 68 in France, 69 in Italy, or those of the 70s in Spain, for example, meant for the generations of that time [3].

But the height of cynicism is reached by the GCI when it accuses these struggles of letting themselves be “trapped in sterile confrontations where the forces of order await us”. This group itself is constantly dazzled by “sterile confrontations” in Bolivia, Argentina or Iraq, where the working class is led into inter-classist movements and sometimes, in the worst cases, into inter-imperialist confrontations[4]. In fact, the media has not stopped insisting since the beginning of March on the violence in the demos, repeating images of confrontations with the police, etc. The sole objective of this campaign has been to discourage the undecided from going to the demonstration or the assemblies.

From the beginning of the movement, the terrain of violence has been the terrain of the bourgeoisie. It’s the bourgeoisie that organised the provocation and assault on the Sorbonne. It is the ruling class, with the collaboration of the unions (by using their official stewards), which organised the confrontations at the end of the demonstrations, which organised and allowed attacks against the demonstrators by more or less uncontrollable gangs, but no doubt well followed by the police services. But it is false to say that the students let themselves be led onto this terrain. On the contrary, one of the aspects which expressed the consciousness of the movement, its will to unification, its maturity and its proletarian character, is the way in which it responded to this manoeuvre of the bourgeoisie, how it confronted this question of violence.

The night of the 10th and 11th of March, at the time of the police assault on the Sorbonnne, the most advanced students of Paris, who went to this faculty in order to bring solidarity and food to the besieged comrades, denounced the fact that they were about to fall into a trap. And its for this reason that they addressed the CRS, trying by all means to prevent repression and sterile confrontation; they succeeded in part, up to the moment where the provocateurs acted, which was the signal to begin the assault on the Sorbonne.

The movement also gave a response to the confrontations provoked by gangs manipulated by the police. Certain GAs in different places sent delegations to the suburbs in order to affirm that their struggle was also a struggle for the defence of conditions of life of the inhabitants of the estates, who plunged into massive unemployment and exclusion.

“…In fact, even if it is still very far from posing the question of the revolution, and thus to reflect on the problem of class violence of the proletariat in its struggle for the overthrow of capitalism, the movement has been implicitly confronted with this problem and has been able to respond in the sense of the struggle and being of the proletariat. This latter has been confronted since the beginning of the extreme violence of the exploiting class, the repression when it tries to defend its interests, imperialist war, but also the daily violence of exploitation. Contrary to exploiting classes, the class bearer of communism doesn’t carry violence within itself, and even if it can’t be spared the use of it, it never identifies itself with it. In particular, the violence it must use in order to overthrow capitalism, and which it will have to use with determination, is necessarily a conscious and organised violence and must be preceded by a whole process of the development of its consciousness and it organisation through different struggles against exploitation. The present mobilisation of the students, notably from the fact of its capacity to organise itself and to thoughtfully reflect on the problems posed to it, including that of violence, is from this fact much closer to the revolution, the violent overthrow of bourgeois order, than the barricades of May 68 could ever be”[5].

The GCI attacks the general assemblies, the lungs of the movement

But where the intervention of the GCI is totally abject is in its attack against the GAs. Without the least explanation, without any sort of argument, its leaflet says this: “BREAK the democrocretinism of the ‘sovereign and massive’ GAs, spit on the ‘elected and revocable delegates’”.

And yet it is precisely the GAs which confirm the class nature of this movement, its opening towards the whole of the working class, their search for extension, their development of discussion and consciousness. It’s these that prove that this movement of struggles in placed within the development of the mass strike that leads in the long term to decisive confrontations between the bourgeoisie and proletariat.

In the GAs, which have nothing to do with the parodies of assemblies that the unions convoke (even if that was the case at certain universities and, above all, at the beginning of the movement), the former took the struggle in hand by taking the responsibility for decisions and mobilisations, by discussing on all questions. In some GAs, this practice of looking for the unity of the working class was confirmed. They tried to bring together in one GA separate assemblies (workers, teachers, students…). Better still, these GAs were equally open to the intervention of some parents and grandparents who were thus able to transmit the experience of struggles they had lived through in 1960s and 70s. There were even some pensioners who were able to participate in the student’s GAs, thus showing, in practice, the unity of different generations of the working class and the transmission of experience.

In some GAs, you couldn’t help but be aware of the working class nature of this movement.  Thus some questions were formulated in order to organise discussions on the history of the workers’ movement, asking the “oldies” to give their experience in the organisation of struggles.

In many GAs, the problem was posed of looking for the extension of the movement, and, to do so, some decisions were taken to organise demonstrations and delegations to go to the workers’ districts and the industrial areas.

And, above all, the GAs permitted the participation, the implication of the greatest number in the movement, in the struggles, intervening in discussions, making propositions, participating in strike pickets and delegations… With all their limitations, the GAs were a political experience of the first order for a new generation of proletarians who had just gone into struggle for the first time.

Despite all that, the sole thing the GCI remembers, the sole argument that it points to in order to justify what it calls the “weakness of assemblyism”, is that “The GA of Dijon met for 17 HOURS to decide on 2 days of mobilisation”.

We don’t know exactly what happened in the GA of Dijon, which cannot be considered as the epicentre of the movement; but whatever, the time taken in one GA can’t be an argument against it. In fact, in a movement of struggle, the sole manner of taking charge is that the GA is permanent, through which the workers can take charge of the responsibility for the struggle. Moreover, it is hardly a killer criticism to say that this GA has decided two, three or any days of mobilisation.

It remains thus to pose the question: what has the GCI got against general assemblies?

We know already, through other preceding positions, that this group “prefers” minority organisations which prepare struggles, such as… the Mothers of May Square!, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, “real expressions of workers’ associationism” as it says (4). And the leaflet in question now expresses a frontal opposition towards the GAs and their elected and revocable delegates as expressions of the workers’ struggle.

And yet, the tendency of workers’ struggles in the 20th century has always been to develop its general assemblies, with elected and revocable delegates, beginning with the mass strikes in Russia 1902, 1903, or 1905 and 1917 in Russia. The workers’ councils are nothing other than the unification and politicisation of the GAs in a revolutionary situation and at a much higher level. And that was the case later in the century, in Poland 1976 or in 1980, in Spain – Vitoria, in 1976 – just to give a few examples. And, negatively, at the moment of great workers’ struggles as those of May 68 in France, the unions did everything to nip in the bud any attempt to generalise the formation of GAs, in most cases by themselves taking control and leading the struggles into dead-ends. The mass strike, with the GAs and their elected and revocable delegates, is the form that workers’ struggles take in the period of the decadence of capitalism, it is the form that guarantees the direct, massive and unified participation of the working class in its struggles. This is what revolutionaries have to put forward.

The conjuring trick of the GCI consists of passing off the mass strike, the general assemblies, the elected and revocable delegates who carry the germ of dual power against the bourgeoisie, who bear in germ the revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat, as vulgar expressions of democratic cretinism.

What alternative does the GCI propose after having rejected the mass strike, the Gas, the direct participation of the masses in the unfolding of history and, in the long term, the dictatorship of the proletariat?

The trade union alternative of the GCI

After a broadside of lies and insults against the movement of struggle in France, the GCI puts three “positive” propositions for, as the leaflet says, “to come onto the streets in a different way” in order “to be really victorious”:

-          “strangle the dictatorship of the economy as our class brothers recently did, like Bolivia, Algeria, Argentina, Iraq, etc”;

-          “…general strike outside and against the union’s masquerade”;

-          “organise flying pickets, block traffic, goods, at crossroads, stations, airports”.

Let’s leave to one side this lying alternative, which has nothing to do with proletarian struggle (“strangle the dictatorship of the economy as (…) in Bolivia, Algeria, Argentina, Iraq”, on which we’ve already taken a position recently (4).

First of all it’s necessary to examine what the proposition of the leaflet means: we should come down into the street in a different manner to that which developed in this struggle against the CPE. And this “different way” is what? The “general strike”… Whereas the struggle against the CPE arose spontaneously, that it progressively affirmed its extension and its enlargement towards other students and towards workers. Progressively it became conscious of itself and its objectives, with the intervention of workers of different generations and revolutionaries. The general strike, by contrast, is convoked for a given day, without the engagement, without the implication and consciousness of the workers. But this latter serves the manoeuvres and orders of any political leadership, of a minority. Whereas during the struggles in France, the minorities were part of the movement or they joined up with the whole of the workers as part of a unity, at the time of a “general strike”, the minorities are separated from their class.

In fact we heard some “calls for the general strike” from leftists and anarchist of all types. Some appeals were pressing the unions so that they, in their turn, would call the general strike. These appeals had two tonalities: firstly those who put the future of the movement into the hands of the sole forces capable, for them, of making the government retreat and, on the other hand, those who, with their critique, wanted to force the unions into a corner. Whatever the intention, whatever the “good faith” of those who called for the general strike, one thing is certain: in the background, there is always the idea that it is the unions who must and can take charge. In fact the unions will not “decree” the general strike, but a type of  “inter-professional” strike as they say, keeping all their cards in their hands in order to prevent the movement extending. Or else, as in May 68, to try to prevent the growth of the mass strike that started up after May 13, in order to “jump on the moving train” and thus try to derail it. The general strike is, in the best of cases, a confusion of terms or a well-maintained myth. Never has a general strike, ordained by the unions, made the state retreat, above all since the unions have fully become the servants of the state. And it is to play on words and on the credulity of the workers to pretend that the unions can be “forced into a corner”. Thus to better sell this adulterated merchandise of the general strike decreed by the unions (there exists no other), the GCI adopts a phraseology that is still more radical than the leftists’,  calling for a “general strike outside and against the union masquerade”. In other words, struggle against the grip of the unions by utilising the arm that they alone master. To compensate for its political void, the GCI gets into a temper and hurls out all the insulting words in its miserable dictionary (weakness/democretinism…) in order to denigrate the GAs, that is the SOLE means to allow the movement to go forward, towards the extension of strikes, towards the first stage of the mass strike. It is not a question of terminology, but of knowing what is the strength, what is the sense of a movement.

The delegations and pickets of the movement against the CPE came from the GAs and were responsible in front of them. They were supported by them and expressed the force of the whole movement. On the contrary, the pickets to block roads and stations proposed by the GCI in its leaflet only appeal to minorities who prefer acting on their own initiative. Here again, under its “radical” grandiloquence, the GCI only achieves a radical form of trade unionism.

In short, “the form” of the struggle against the CPE in France is borne of the dynamic of the mass strike whereas “the form” proposed by the GCI is only that of the trade unions. To see that, it’s sufficient to return to the experience of the workers’ struggle of the last twenty or thirty years in order to understand who gains from the different general strikes convoked and decided on by the unions. As to “flying pickets, the blockage of goods at crossroads, stations, airports..” that goes no further than minority/commando type actions, advertising the acrid fumes of burning tyres across carriageways as the height of radicalism. Here the unions have the workers at their mercy and use such action to avoid the key question - going out to other places of work to call for real solidarity.

The importance of the movement in France has been to allow new generations of proletarians to gain experience about how to organise themselves and take charge of their own struggles, about what proletarian struggle means in the present period. And it is precisely this that the GCI attacks.

ICC, June ’06.

[1] GCI: Groupe Communiste Internationaliste, or, in English Internationalist Communist Group. We have recently taken a position on the parasitic nature of this group in International Review no. 124. ir/124_gci_icg                

You can read its leaflet here: We don’t know if, outside of its publication on the internet, this leaflet has been distributed at the demonstrations and GAs; in any case, in the different towns and mobilisations in which we’ve intervened, we haven’t seen one copy of it, nor heard any comment about it. This is not surprising: given so many lies in so little text and its contempt for the struggle, it’s possible that the GCI, despite the boastful style that characterises it, feared an adverse welcome from the students. On the other hand, they launched a strong appeal for others to reproduce and distribute the leaflet.

[2] See our article: ‘Theses on the students’ movement, Spring 2006 in France’ in International Review no. 125.

[3] ibid.

[4] We will come back again on the GCI’s increasingly blatant support for the terrorist ‘Resistance’ in Iraq, which it mixes up with the struggle of the proletariat. See also the IR article mentioned above