May ’68: Resurgence of the proletarian struggle
May 1968 -- first sign of the crisis and of the reawakening of the proletariat;
May 1978 -- deepening of the crisis and the rise of the class struggle.
This succinct formula, which summarizes the whole evolution of the last ten years, allows us both to affirm our own position and refute all the interpretations and scribblings of the left and leftists about the real meaning of May 1968. Because May 1968, far from being an accident of history, a gratuitous revolt, was in fact one of the first reactions of the working class to the reappearance of the crisis of capitalism.
************I. The events of May 1968
Ten years ago, on 3 May, a meeting which drew a few hundred students took place in the inner courtyard of the Sorbonne in Paris. This meeting had been organized by the UNEF (student union) and the March 22 Movement formed at Nantes University a few weeks before. There was nothing very exciting in the theoretical speeches of the leftist ‘leaders’, but there was a persistent rumor: “Occident is going to attack us”. An extreme right wing movement thus gave the police an excuse to officially ‘intervene’ between the demonstrators. It was an attempt to put an end to the student agitation, which had been building up for several weeks at Nanterre. The students had a number of reasons for being fed up: among other things they were protesting against the university hierarchy and calling for greater individual and sexual freedom in the internal life of the university.
And then the ‘unthinkable’ happened: the agitation continued in the Latin Quarter for several days. Every evening it mounted a bit higher. Each meeting, each demonstration attracted more people than the previous one: ten thousand, thirty thousand, fifty thousand. The confrontations with the forces of order grew more and more violent. Young workers joined the battles in the streets, and despite the openly declared hostility of the PCF which heaped abuse upon the ‘enrages’ and the ‘German anarchist Daniel Cohn-Bendit’, the CGT -- in order to avoid being completely by-passed -- was obliged to ‘recognize’ the spontaneous general strike. Ten million strikers shook the torpor of the Fifth Republic and signaled the reawakening of the proletariat in a most remarkable way.
The strike unleashed on 14 May at Sud Aviation extended itself spontaneously and, right from the beginning, took on a radical character in comparison to the kinds of actions which had been imposed by the unions until then. The strike was near general in the key metal-working and transport sectors. The unions were left behind by a movement which by-passed their traditional policies and which straight away took on an unlimited and often rather imprecise character, as Informations Correspondance Ouvrieres (ICO) pointed out:
“At the base there were in fact no precise demands. Obviously everyone was for higher wages and a shorter working week. But the strikers, or at least a majority of them, were aware that these gains would be rather precarious: the best proof of this is that they never resolved on any joint action. The real motive for the strike was clearly summed up on the boards stuck to the gates of the small factories in the Parisian suburbs: “We’ve had enough!”. (‘The Generalized Strike in France: May/June 1968’, ICO, no.72, July 1968)
In the confrontations which took place, an important role was played by the unemployed, the ones the bourgeoisie called ‘declasses’. But these ‘declasses’, these waifs and strays, were in fact pure proletarians. The workers and unemployed who have already worked are not the only proletarians -- those who have been unable to get any work at all are also proletarian. They are products of the epoch of the decadence of capitalism, of overproduction and the over-productivity of men and machines. Massive youth unemployment is a symptom of the historical limits of capitalism, which is incapable of integrating the new generation into the process of production.
But the unions wasted no time in regaining control of this movement, which had erupted outside the unions, and to some extent against them, because it broke with the usual methods of struggle advocated by the unions. On Friday, 17 May the CGT distributed a leaflet which stated very clearly the limits it intended to put on its actions: on the one hand, traditional demands linked to a Matignon-type agreement and guaranteeing the existence of union sections in the enterprises; on the other hand, a change of government, ie elections. Although they had shown distrust of the unions before the strike, had started it over the head of the unions, and extended it on their own initiative, the workers nevertheless acted throughout the strike as though they found it quite normal that the union should be given the job of bringing it to its conclusion.
But despite its limits, the general strike gave an immense impetus to the worldwide revival of the class struggle. After an uninterrupted series of defeats following the crushing of the 1917-23 revolutionary wave, the convulsions of May-June 1968 were a decisive turning point, not only in France, but in Europe and the whole world. The strike not only shook the ruling establishment but also its most effective bastion, the one that is most difficult to throw down: the left and the unions.II. A crisis of youth?
Once the initial surprise and panic had died down, the bourgeoisie rushed to find an explanation for these disturbing events. It is hardly surprising that the left should use the phenomenon of the student agitation in order to exorcise the real specter looming up in front of a frightened bourgeoisie -- the proletariat. Or that these social convulsions should be reduced to an ideological quarrel between the generations. May 1968 is presented to us as the result of youthful disenchantment with the modern world. Thus the French sociologist Edgard Morin declared in an article published in Le Monde, 5 June 1968:
“First of all, this was a whirlpool stirred up by a struggle between the generations (the young against the senile, youth against adult society) but at the same time it provoked a class struggle, a revolt of the dominated, the workers. The struggle between young and old sounded the toxin for a struggle between workers and authority, (the bosses and the state).”
The same kind of explanation was given by the Liege anarchist paper Le Libertaire which said:
“If they reject structures and responsibilities, it is because they distrust an adult world in which democracy is betrayed. With them we’re seeing an extraordinary return to the utopian socialism of the nineteenth century.” (Le Libertaire, no.6, June 1968)
As for the International Communist Party, in its organ Le Proletaire of May 1968, it explained the causes of the movement as follows:
“A number of motives are mixed up in all this ferment -- among them the war in Vietnam and the demand for direct student participation in the ‘running of the university’, ie for reforms of the structure.”
Among the innumerable analyses published on the May events, some explain that the factory occupations which suddenly multiplied across the whole country were a response to the occupation of the Sorbonne by the students. The workers on strike were imitating the Parisian students. Others, like ICO, refer to the Fifth Republic’s political inability to understand the problems of youth:
“The weak link of French capitalism is undoubtedly its young people and the problems they are posing to a ruling class which can’t even perceive them, because it’s so imprisoned in a political practice in which promises take the place of action, and immobilism and respect for the power of money replace dynamic solutions.”III. The integration of the working class?
All these ‘analyses’ and explanations emphasize the spectacular role of the student movement and attempt to minimize the role of the working class, going so far as to deny that the working class has any revolutionary role to play:
“It is vital to say strongly and calmly that in May 1968 the industrial proletariat was not the revolutionary vanguard of society; it was its dumb rearguard.” (Coudray alias Cardan alias Castoriadis in La Breche)
This is no accident. The bourgeoisie, with its accredited ideologues and with the help of various fringe utopians, has always tried to mask the reality of capitalist exploitation. It’s always done everything it could to divert the working class from developing its consciousness, using all kinds of mystifications to demobilize and demoralize the proletariat. The attitudes and explanations which seek to negate the revolutionary nature of the proletariat have their source in the leftist intelligentsia, crushed and pulverized by the decline of world capitalism. In the 1930s and 1940s, the Stalinist sympathizers of the Institute for Social Research (Marcuse, Horkheimer, Adorno) began to lay down the framework used today by the ‘radical’ theoreticians who have been recuperated by the bourgeoisie; these ideologues claimed that ‘advanced’ or ‘modern’ capitalism had eliminated the differences between society’s economic base and its superstructure. Implicitly this notion means that the working class has been ‘bought off’ by a capitalism which itself suffers no fundamental economic contradictions. It follows that the contradictions of capitalism have moved from the base to the superstructure. Thus the critique of everyday life assumed a preponderant importance for these ideologues. Marcuse analyzed the various aspects of consumer society, explaining that although the citizen would be assured of comfort from now on, he would be denied any right to exercise freedom and responsibility, any ability to protest. In a word he would be deprived of nearly all his human dimensions, hence the title of his book One Dimensional Man. For Marcuse the student revolt was one of the first signs of man rebelling against a machine which negated him because it took away his freedom and any control over his own actions:
“This revolt isn’t directed against the misfortunes of this society, but against its benefits. It’s a new phenomenon unique to what can be called the opulent civilization. We must have no illusions, but neither must we be defeatist. It would be pointless to wait for the masses to join the movement and participate in the process. Things have always begun with a handful of intellectuals in revolt.”
Marcuse asserted that the consumer society was particularly adept at integrating rebellions. It produced ‘slaves’ who were all the more enslaved because they were not aware of their oppression. In particular the working class was no longer a revolutionary force because all its demands had been accepted and assimilated by society. The only ones who remained revolutionary were the intellectuals who had a critical enough spirit to see that the opulent society was a trap and the marginal elements who didn’t enjoy its ‘benefits’.IV. The reaffirmation of the revolutionary nature of the proletariat
“The proletariat is dead. Long live the Provotariat!” cried the young marginals of Amsterdam. A premature funeral. The May-June movement set things straight about the real nature of the proletariat: against the conception of a humanity acting on the basis of eternal and inexplicable ideals, the proletariat advances the notion of societies divided into economic classes and evolving as a result of economic struggles. The revolutionary project can only be defined by a class, ie by a part of society defined by its specific position within the relations of production. This class is the working class, “The antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is a struggle of class against class, a struggle whose highest expression is total revolution”, wrote Marx in The Poverty of Philosophy. The specificity of the proletariat in relation to other classes in society lies in the fact that it represents the living force of associated labor. It is when society enters into an economic crisis that classes reveal their true historical nature. Because of its situation as a collective producer, the proletariat cannot envisage an individual solution to the economic crisis. Placed at the heart of production, creating the essential wealth of society, working in an associated manner, having only a collective relationship to the means of production, the industrial proletariat is the only class in society which can understand, desire and carry out the collectivization of production. The essence of capitalist social life is the struggle for surplus value between those who create it and those who consume it and use it. The motor of the proletariat’s activity is this battle against the extraction of surplus-value, against wage labor. As long as capital exists, the entire activity of the proletariat is and will remain determined by the fundamental antagonism between itself and capital. Communism is a real possibility because of the objective contradictions of the capitalist system and because they correspond to the movement of the proletariat. Concrete historical conditions determine which of these possibilities are real ones in a given period, although the choice between the various objective conditions always depends on the consciousness, will and activity of the workers.V. The student movement
It’s obvious that May 1968 was marked by the decomposition of many of the values of the ruling ideology, but this ‘cultural’ revolt was not the cause of the conflict. In his Preface to a Critique of Political Economy Marx showed that:
“With the change of the economic foundation the entire, immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed. In considering such transformations a distinction should always be made between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, aesthetic or philosophic -- in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.”
All the expressions of ideological crisis have their roots in the economic crisis, not the other way round. It is the state of crisis which indicates the real direction things are taking.
The student movement was certainly an expression of the general decomposition of bourgeois ideology, the warning signal of a much deeper social movement, but precisely because of the place the university and its component elements occupy in the system of production, they only rarely have any connection with the class struggle. It would be wrong to think that student riots with barricades and battles with the police are a recent discovery. Ever since the Middle Ages the history of all the great European universities has been marked by violent incidents and an intense political activity. The boycott of courses was ‘invented’ eight centuries ago. In the twelfth century, students reproached their teachers with having not moved forward since the days of Charlemagne, just as the rebels of 1968 denounced a university which was still based on the model set up by Napoleon. A campus before the name existed, the student city of Corbeil, which grouped together 3,000 students outside Paris, was at the beginning of a phenomenon of ‘contestation’ in 1104. What is more, when you look back in history, you notice that the students of today have not gone as far as some of their predecessors. In 1893, for example, the students attacked the Police Prefecture. The students, however, are not a class, not even a social stratum. Their movement is not a class movement. The demands put forward by the students are linked to the existence of the bourgeois division of labor and to capitalist society in general. This movement can never have a historical and economic vision of the objective development of the contradictions of society. Some of the German or French students believed that they could open the door to the revolutions of the twentieth century by imitating the communes and barricades of the nineteenth century. But the student revolt put most of its hopes on the ‘radical’ models of state capitalism, from Cuba to Chile, from China to Portugal, and in any case quickly exhausted itself. The already existing leftist sects, Trotskyist, Maoist or anarchist, found their ranks temporarily swollen with new militants, the anti-authoritarians of yesterday, mystified or insecure about their inability to realize their petty bourgeois dreams. At the extremes of isolation and despair, the most marginal elements went into terrorism.
May 1968 demonstrated the intimate relationship between social conflicts and economic deterioration, between the decomposition of the ruling ideology and the crisis of the economy. In this sense, May 1968 was not an unexpected occurrence, a sort of historical accident. The strikes and riots were simply a response to the first symptoms of the new phase of the world capitalist crisis.VI. The crisis of capitalism
Marx explained how capital could only survive by periodically destroying the excess capital created in periods of overproduction, in order to rejuvenate itself and attain still higher rates of expansion: “however these catastrophes which regularly regenerate capitalism are repeated on an ever-greater scale and end up provoking the violent overthrow of the system.” In the massive destruction undertaken with the aim of once more reconstructing, capitalism discovers a dangerous, provisional, but temporarily effective solution to the problem of the market. Thus, in World War I, there wasn’t ‘enough’ destruction: military operations directly affected an industrial sector which represented less than a tenth of world production. The self-destruction of Europe during World War I was accompanied by a growth of 15 per cent in American production. But by 1929 world capitalism was again plunged into crisis. As if the lesson had been learned, the destruction in the Second World War was much more intense and extensive. But still, when the period of reconstruction after World War II began, capitalism had long since ceased to grow through “brusque expansionist thrusts”. For decades, the productivity of labor had grown too quickly to be contained within capitalist relations of production. For thirty years the productive forces had been crashing repeatedly and with increasing violence against the “fetters which hold back their development”, savagely devastating the whole of society. Only the misery and barbarism of these years of growing depression could explain the dazzling economic growth which took place in the reconstruction period.
This growth certainly dazzled those who saw themselves as being “at the highest level of revolutionary consciousness”, the Situationist International. In a work published in 1969, ‘Enrages and Situationists in the Occupation Movement’, the SI wrote “no tendency towards economic crisis was in sight ... the revolutionary upsurge did not come out of an economic crisis ... what was attacked frontally in May was the capitalist economy functioning well.”
At the end of 1945, US commodities allowed production in Europe to start up again, part of Europe’s debts being paid by yielding its enterprises to American companies. But after 1955? The USA stopped its ‘free’ aid, the US balance of trade was positive whereas, for the majority of the other countries, it was negative. American capital continued to be invested more rapidly in Europe than in the rest of the world, which steadied the balance of payments in these countries, but which soon put the US balance of payments into disequilibrium. This situation led to the growing indebtedness of the American treasury, while the dollars invested in Europe or the rest of the world left the world in debt to the US. In the early 1960s this external debt went above the gold reserves of the American treasury, but the non-covering of the dollar wasn’t enough to put the USA in difficulty as long as the other countries were still in debt to the US. The US could thus continue to appropriate the capital of the rest of the world while paying in paper. This situation was reversed with the end of reconstruction in the European countries. This was expressed by the ability of the European economies to throw onto the world market products that could compete with American products. Towards the mid-sixties the commercial balance of most of the formerly assisted countries grew positive whereas, after 1964, the US trade balance deteriorated more and more. As soon as the reconstruction of the European countries was completed, the productive apparatus showed itself to be too prolific in the face of a saturated world market; the national bourgeoisies were forced to increase the exploitation of their proletariats in order to cope with the exacerbation of international competition.
France didn’t escape this situation and in 1967 the French economy had to go through a capitalist restructuration: rationalization, improved productivity, which could only lead to a growth in unemployment. Thus, at the beginning of 1968, unemployment went beyond the 500,000 mark. Partial unemployment affected numerous factories and provoked a reaction from the workers. A number of strikes broke out, limited and contained by the unions, but expressing a definite malaise (see ICO). The threat of unemployment was particularly strong in the generation produced in the post-war demographic explosion.
In connection with this unemployment, the bosses were attempting to lower workers’ living standards. The bourgeoisie and its government mounted an attack on living and working conditions. At this time, France, with its gold reserves, still occupied a privileged position in the world exchequer, but in the general asphyxia that was affecting the world economy, this position was soon lost, and the French bourgeoisie had to go through some spectacular political changes. Thus, in all the industrial countries, in Europe as well as in the US and Russia, unemployment was growing imperceptibly, the economic perspective was becoming more somber, international competition was becoming more acute. At the end of 1967 Britain had to devalue the pound in order to make its products more competitive. But this measure turned to nothing as a whole series of other countries devalued their currencies. The austerity measures imposed by the Labor government of the day were particularly severe: massive reduction in public expenditure, withdrawal of British troops from Asia, a wage freeze, the first protectionist measures. The US, the main victim of the European offensive, reacted strongly, and at the beginning of January 1968, Johnson announced a series of economic measures; and in March 1968, in response to the devaluation of rival currencies, the dollar too fell. This was the economic situation prior to May 1968. It was not yet an open economic crisis but the signs were there for those who wanted to understand the real situation.VII. The lessons of May 1968
We can thus reaffirm that the events of May 1968 mere the result of the reemergence of the economic crisis of capitalism. Instead of making an apology for May 1968, revolutionaries must be able to draw the lessons from these events, emphasizing both its strengths and weaknesses. Although it was the first response of the proletariat to the crisis, May 1968 was not a revolutionary situation. Among its many weaknesses was the total inexperience of the workers in struggle. Although there was a real determination in the struggle, due essentially to the fact that this was a proletariat which had not gone through the defeats of the counter-revolution and the Second World War, the victory of the bourgeoisie was facilitated by the workers’ lack of experience.
The spontaneous movement of the class quickly became immobilized, allowing time for the unions to regain control, and for the bourgeoisie, once its fear had subsided, to go onto the offensive. Paradoxically, in appearance at least, the strikers themselves offered the bourgeoisie the means for regaining control, by occupying the factories. The unions managed to transform the occupations from a clumsy, incomplete expression of the radicalization of the workers into a weapon for defending law and order. What did the strikers want to do when they occupied the factories? First and foremost, to ensure that the strike would be total, to show their determination through mass action, and thus to avoid dispersal. But by skillfully exploiting the corporative limitations of the movement -- expressed precisely by the workers shutting themselves up in their enterprises -- the unions deliberately imprisoned the workers in the factories, thus ensuring that a near-general movement remained fragmented and divided. The streets were forbidden to the workers, as were contacts with other enterprises.
Fifty years of organic break with the wave of struggles in the 192Os, and the absence of a clear, coherent revolutionary minority capable of synthesizing the lessons of the past, weighed heavily on the balance of class forces. But despite the limitations of the proletariat’s actions in May 1968, this expression of proletarian life was enough to topple all the Marcusian theories. The post-1968 period saw the disintegration of the modernist school into various sects who have since wandered into the void. However, reactionary ideas die hard, and the bourgeoisie has been obliged to carry on its work of mystification with more appropriate ideologues.
To state baldly that the proletariat is integrated into capitalism when millions of workers are on strike doesn’t get you very far. But it’s still important for the bourgeoisie to demoralize the working class, to distort the historical significance of its activity, to obscure the relationship between the working class and its vanguard.VIII. The post-May confusions
Since the fundamental weapons of the proletariat in its struggle against capitalism are its consciousness and its self-organization, in its decisive confrontation with capital the working class expresses this dual necessity, on the one hand through its general, unitary organs, the workers’ councils, and on the other hand through political organizations, proletarian parties, which regroup the most advanced elements of the class and which have the task of generalizing and deepening the development of consciousness, of which they themselves are an expression. In trying to deal with this question, we have seen the appearance of two theories which express a lack of confidence in the revolutionary action of the proletariat: Leninism and autonomism. In both these conceptions, the class and its political organizations are two independent entities, external to one another.
Leninism proclaims that the class is ‘trade unionist’ and gives primacy to the party, whose main function is to struggle against this autonomy or spontaneity and thus to direct the class. For the autonomists, any attempt by the most conscious elements of the class to form organizations distinct from the unitary organs of the class necessarily leads to the setting up of an organization external to the class and its interests. Henri Simon, former leading light of ICO, clearly expressed this position in a work called ‘The New Movement’:
“The appearance of the autonomous movement has led to the evolution of the concept of the party. In former times, the Party, as a ‘leadership’ saw itself as the revolutionary vanguard, identifying itself with the proletariat. It saw itself as a ‘conscious fraction’ of the proletariat, who had to play a determining role in the raising of ‘class consciousness’, the high level of which would be the essential sign of the formation of the proletariat as a class. The modern heirs of the Party are well aware of the difficulty of maintaining such a position; so they entrust the party or the group with the very precise mission of making good what they consider to be any deficiencies in working class activity. This gives rise to groups specialized in intervention, liaison, exemplary action, theoretical explanation, etc. But even these ‘groups’ can no longer exercise the hierarchical function of specialists in the general movement of struggle. The New Movement, that of workers and others in struggle, considers all these elements, the old groups like the new, to be of exactly equal importance as their own actions. They take what they can borrow from those who come to them and reject what does not suit them. Theory and practice appear now to be no more than one and the same element in the revolutionary process -- neither can precede nor dominate the other. No one political group has thus an essential role to play.” (Liaisons, no.26, December 1974. Available in English in Solidarity Pamphlet, no.51. )
The autonomy of the working class has nothing to do with the workers rejecting all parties and political organizations, no matter where they come from, or with the autonomy of each fraction of the working class (by factory, neighborhood, region or nation) from the other -- in a word, with federalism. Against those conceptions, we insist on the necessarily unitary, worldwide, and centralized character of the working class movement. At the same time, the incessant effort of the working class to become conscious of itself gives rise to political organizations which regroup its most advanced elements. These organizations are an active factor in the deepening, the generalization, and the homogenization of consciousness within the class. While the autonomy of the proletariat, ie its independence from the other classes in society, is expressed through its own general, unitary organs, the workers’ councils, it is also expressed on the political, programmatic level through the struggle against the ideological influence of other classes. The lessons of half a century of experience since the 1917-23 revolutionary wave are clear: the unitary organs of the class can only exist in a permanent way in moments of revolutionary struggle. They then regroup the entire class and are the organs through which the proletariat seizes power. Outside of such periods, in the various struggles of resistance against exploitation, the unitary organs formed by the working class -- strike committees based on general assemblies -- can only exist during the struggles themselves. On the other hand, the political organizations of the class, since they are expressions of the continuing effort of the class to develop its consciousness, can exist in the different phases of the struggle. The basis of their existence is necessarily an elaborated and coherent program, the fruit of the whole experience of the class. This question is completely evaded by Leninism which sees only one motor for the proletariat’s action: the party. A party which, whatever the circumstances, can set the proletariat in motion. The Trotskyist leader Krivine summed up this view when he wrote:
“For the revolutionary explosion of May 1968 to have succeeded, all that was lacking was a well-implanted revolutionary organization, recognized by the mass of workers. Lenin saw this as the indispensable subjective condition for the maturation of the revolutionary crisis. Such an organization would have ensured that all the struggles converged and extended themselves. It would have put forward slogans that could have advanced the struggle, such as the unlimited general strike, leading inevitably to slogans calling for the seizure of political power. If May 1968 didn’t succeed, if it was only a ‘general rehearsal’, it is precisely because such a party didn’t exist ...”
The same idea is put forward by the Bordigists of Programme Communiste who in their manifesto on the general strike distributed in June 1968 called on the proletariat to organize itself under the banner of the party and to create red trade unions:
“This will prepare the workers, under the leadership of the world communist party, by chasing from their own ranks the various prophets of pacifism, reformism and democratism, by impregnating the union organizations with communist ideology and making them transmission belts for the organ of political direction -- the party ...”
These ideas introduce a qualitative separation into the class struggle of the proletariat: the ‘political’ struggle on the one hand, which is external to the ‘economic’ struggle on the other hand. The movement from economic to political can only take place through the mediation of the party. In this conception the struggle of the proletariat can only develop through the ideology and initiative of the party. For the defenders of this position, it’s logical to say that the proletariat can only express itself when the party exists: thus Battaglia Comunista denies the proletarian character of the May-June strikes because they were not led by the Party! (See Texts and Proceedings of the International Conference, Milan, 1977, pp. 56-58. )
Thus, between the ‘economic’ and ‘political’ class struggle, between the defense of class interests and the revolution, there is no continuity, it is not one movement which transforms itself by radicalizing itself, but there is only the mediation provided by the party. Instead of seeing the revolutionary movement as a process of breaking from the forms of the capitalist economy, Leninism sees these forms as the historic, material basis for socialism, which is seen to be in continuity with them.
Against these conceptions, we insist that the proletariat makes its history within the limits imposed by the economic and social development of a given situation, within definite conditions; but it is still the proletariat which makes its history, and it does this through its praxis which is the dialectical link between past and future, and which is both cause and effect of the historical process. There is thus an objectivity, an obligation, in the action of the class, not an idealistic movement. The struggle for better working conditions (wages and hours) is an immediate necessity for the working class. The struggle of the proletariat, as we understand it, is first of all a struggle to resist the effects of the accumulation of capital, an attempt to prevent the depreciation of labor power brought about by capitalist development. The act of resisting capitalist exploitation is the basis, the motor-force, for the revolutionary action of the working class. But what gives this struggle all its real importance, which goes beyond the specific demands of the struggle, is the new reality which it can inaugurate: during the course of the resistance against exploitation we see the appearance of association, which momentarily puts an end to division and atomization and annuls the effects of competition. The unfolding dynamic of the struggle is what opens the way to the confrontation between bourgeoisie and proletariat on a political level. It is thus a question of extending, prolonging, organizing this real movement towards communism. This is the task of the organs which are created when the class acts in a collective manner -- allowing for the association of workers, strengthening solidarity. This is a vital element in the development of proletarian class consciousness.
Revolutionaries intervene in this process in order to clarify the meaning of the struggle, putting forward the general goals of the movement and helping it to go beyond partial demands; they participate in the organizations of the class, defending the most adequate forms of action for extending the movement. As the Communist Manifesto says, the communists are the most resolute elements in the struggle, and have a decisive role to play through the clarification they bring to the movement, but this has nothing to do with any power of decision, which for us remains in the hands of the unitary organs of the class. Revolutionaries, a product of the class movement, are the most conscious elements of the class, and their consciousness is constantly strengthened by the class movement; at the same time they accelerate the maturation of this movement through the theoretical clarification they carry out.
Although the defeat of the proletarian movements of the late sixties and early seventies has allowed the bourgeoisie to regain the initiative through the unions and parties of the left, and thus to bring the world’s attention to the capitalist solution to the crisis -- a new world war -- it remains the case that the working class has not been crushed, and that the class movements which have developed all over the world are the result of the perspective opened up by May 1968: the response of the working class to the increasingly severe crisis of capitalism; the inevitable deepening of the crisis; the radicalization of the proletarian struggle through periods of advance and retreat; the culmination of all this in the revolutionary upsurge of the working class.