From Établissement to Lip: On the Turns Taken by French Maoism


When the mass­es think, the intel­lec­tu­al dies.

—Anto­nio Negri, The Win­ter is Over

In his remark­able and still untrans­lat­ed 1976 book Lenin, the Peas­ants, Tay­lor, Robert Lin­hart speaks of the arc of the “ela­tion of the intel­lec­tu­al petite bour­geoisie”: the “about-face” that unfail­ing trans­forms an ini­tial “mys­ti­cal ado­ra­tion” for the mass­es into “dis­gust.” Lin­hart speaks in par­tic­u­lar of the revul­sion many pre- and post-Rev­o­lu­tion Russ­ian intel­lec­tu­al youth reserved for the peas­antry. He asserts that the “anti-peas­ant ide­o­log­i­cal offen­sive” launched by Max­im Gorky among oth­ers dur­ing the peri­od dur­ing and just after the Civ­il War was noth­ing new among this petit-bour­geois lay­er, hav­ing its roots in the fail­ures of the late 19th cen­tu­ry “pop­ulist” cam­paigns in the coun­try­side to fuse the young intel­lec­tu­als with the peas­ant mass­es. In the short run, these fail­ures pro­duced “despair and nihilist temp­ta­tions.” But in the long run, he explains, this expe­ri­ence “secret­ed the poi­son of a fero­cious­ly anti-peas­ant ide­ol­o­gy” among sig­nif­i­cant frac­tions of the social­ist intel­li­gentsia, an ide­ol­o­gy whose affec­tive tenor ranged from bit­ter­ness, to fear, to hatred. Lin­hart places par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on a text writ­ten by Gorky on the occa­sion of Lenin’s death, in which he recalls a scene from 1919 in which thou­sands of peas­ants arrived from the North of Rus­sia and squat­ted the Win­ter Palace. A detail stands out. The peas­ants, Gorky notes, went out of their way – the bath­rooms were func­tion­ing per­fect­ly well – to relieve them­selves in the pre­cious vas­es acquired and exhib­it­ed by the for­mer Tsars, using them as cham­ber­pots. Gorky is par­tic­u­lar­ly tak­en aback by this, see­ing it as a form of “van­dal­ism” express­ing a desire to “dis­hon­or beau­ti­ful things,” to “defile the beau­ti­ful” – a desire con­sti­tu­tive of the Russ­ian peas­ant. Such is the mood per­vad­ing these for­mer “friends of the peo­ple”: a ter­ror before the bar­bar­i­ty and cru­el­ty of these mass­es who shit in the vas­es of Tsars.1

Lin­hart recounts this episode and ana­lyzes this affec­tive tra­jec­to­ry, in order to con­clude by not­ing that he him­self “wit­nessed sim­i­lar phe­nom­e­na” among his com­rades in the étab­lisse­ment move­ment in France, par­tic­u­lar­ly among those mil­i­tants who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the first waves of this move­ment ini­ti­at­ed by the Union des jeuness­es com­mu­nistes marx­istes-lénin­istes in the Fall of 1967. Not all of those who entered this move­ment into pro­duc­tion – the estab­lish­ment of Marx­ist-Lenin­ist intel­lec­tu­als at the heart of the French indus­tri­al work­ing class – per­formed this about-face. Lin­hart him­self did not. But a “bit­ter blath­er­ing minor­i­ty” of these ex-étab­lis expe­ri­enced just such a hatred, feed­ing an “entire anti-work­er ide­ol­o­gy” among “cer­tain post-68 cur­rents.”2

The Union des jeuness­es com­mu­nistes marx­istes-lénin­istes (Union of Marx­ist-Lenin­ist Com­mu­nist Youth, here­after UJCml) – was orig­i­nal­ly a French stu­dent orga­ni­za­tion formed in Decem­ber 1966. It result­ed from a split with­in the offi­cial, Com­mu­nist Par­ty-con­trolled stu­dent union, the Union of Com­mu­nist Stu­dents (UEC), by a group of stu­dents close to Louis Althuss­er and led by Robert Lin­hart. The first seeds of the orga­ni­za­tion were sown, how­ev­er, in the peri­od just before this split, when the UEC was wracked by a strug­gle between two ten­den­cies: a Trot­sky­ist fac­tion allied with a democ­ra­tiz­ing, reformist fac­tion dubbed the “Ital­ians,” because they want­ed to fol­low the Ital­ian Com­mu­nist Party’s democ­ra­tiz­ing exam­ple, on one side; and a fac­tion led by Lin­hart that defend­ed the French Com­mu­nist Par­ty (PCF) ortho­doxy on the oth­er. After suc­cess­ful­ly purg­ing the Ital­ians and win­ning con­trol of the UEC, this fac­tion then set its sights on that same Par­ty ortho­doxy, under­tak­ing a pri­mar­i­ly the­o­ret­i­cal rec­ti­fi­ca­tion and defense of Marx­ist the­o­ry inspired by Althuss­er him­self, against per­ceived devi­a­tions and revi­sion­ism with­in the Party’s the­o­ret­i­cal and strate­gic frame­work. The vir­u­lence of this cam­paign led to this fac­tion being expelled from the UEC in its turn, and opened the way to the foun­da­tion of the UJCml.

The foun­da­tion of the UJCml took place dur­ing a momen­tous peri­od. The Decem­ber 1966 for­ma­tion of the group coin­cid­ed with the pub­li­ca­tion in that same month of an issue of the jour­nal Cahiers marx­istes-lénin­istes, devot­ed to the “Great Pro­le­tar­i­an Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion” that was launched in Chi­na in August of the same year. The issue includ­ed an unat­trib­uted text writ­ten by Louis Althuss­er with the title “On the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion.”3 In this arti­cle Althuss­er argued, with a sober enthu­si­asm, that the rev­o­lu­tion­ary process then cur­rent­ly under­way in Chi­na rep­re­sent­ed an “unprece­dent­ed” event in this his­to­ry of the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­nist move­ment, an event that had nev­er­the­less been antic­i­pat­ed by Marx, Engels and Lenin: the set­ting in motion of a cul­tur­al or “ide­o­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion” after an ear­li­er seiz­ing of the means of pro­duc­tion and state pow­er. Under­tak­en in view of pro­tect­ing an ongo­ing rev­o­lu­tion­ary process always threat­ened with a regres­sion that could divert it down the “cap­i­tal­ist road,” the ide­o­log­i­cal class strug­gle placed on the agen­da in August of 1966 entailed the emer­gence of new forms of orga­ni­za­tion (in par­tic­u­lar the “Red Guards”) dis­tinct and in some sense even autonomous from the Par­ty. For good rea­son: the role of these orga­ni­za­tions, accord­ing to Althuss­er, was to “oblige the Par­ty to dis­tin­guish itself from the State” after a peri­od dur­ing which these two forces under­went, per­haps ineluctably, an at least “par­tial fusion.”4 If Lenin had already, at the end of his life, seen the need to encour­age the for­ma­tion of non-par­ty orga­ni­za­tions – such as the “Work­er and Peas­ant Inspec­torate” tasked with, as Althuss­er puts it, “regulat[ing] the rela­tions between the Par­ty and the State in order to avoid the pit­falls of bureau­cra­cy and tech­noc­ra­cy” – it was only with the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion itself that a pro­lif­er­a­tion of mass ide­o­log­i­cal orga­ni­za­tions capa­ble of sin­gling out so-called “cap­i­tal­ist road­ers” with­in the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty lead­er­ship began to prac­tice this “reg­u­la­tion” on a mass scale. The Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion was launched in view of con­tin­u­ing and even inten­si­fy­ing class strug­gle, in a soci­ety in which the means of pro­duc­tion had been social­ized and the state sub­sumed, to the point of “fusion,” by the Com­mu­nist Par­ty. It aimed at bring­ing that strug­gle to the heart of the Par­ty itself. The sub­se­quent unfold­ing of the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion would reveal the risks entailed by the unleash­ing of such forces.

The UJCml, in its strug­gle against the “revi­sion­ism” of the PCF lead­er­ship, clear­ly took its inspi­ra­tion from the ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gles in Chi­na and the forms of orga­ni­za­tion that emerged with­in these strug­gles. (In August 1967, the lead­er­ship of the UJCml would make the oblig­a­tory trip to Bei­jing to wit­ness these events first­hand.) But the his­tor­i­cal sit­u­a­tion was, to be sure, com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent: the France of 1967 was hard­ly a social­ist coun­try torn between the temp­ta­tion to cap­i­tal­ist relapse and the will to surge for­ward along the path to full com­mu­nism. The task the UJCml set for itself was more mod­est, if still enor­mous: it would rebuild, from scratch, a prop­er­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary, mass com­mu­nist par­ty of the sort the PCF, in the UJCml’s esti­ma­tion, once aspired to be.

The UJCml would last a mere year and a half, being forced to dis­band by the French state after the tumul­tuous events of May and June 1968, while also hav­ing encoun­tered its own, inter­nal lim­its dur­ing those months. We can iden­ti­fy three basic tac­ti­cal phas­es it devel­oped dur­ing this peri­od. The first was the for­ma­tion, soon after the found­ing of the group, of what were called “Viet­nam Base Com­mit­tees,” orga­ni­za­tions meant to full-throat­ed­ly sup­port the Viet­namese strug­gle against Amer­i­can impe­ri­al­ism in oppo­si­tion to both the PCF’s weak plea for “Peace” in Viet­nam – the CVBs coun­tered with “The FLN will win!” – and the rival Trot­sky­ist Nation­al Viet­nam Com­mit­tee, with its more crit­i­cal if still unflinch­ing sup­port for the Viet­namese “rev­o­lu­tion.” These com­mit­tees had the effect of carv­ing out a space for the UJCml on a crowd­ed left, siphon­ing off many rad­i­cal­ized lycée stu­dents in par­tic­u­lar who might have oth­er­wise drift­ed toward the hege­mon­ic Trot­sky­ist posi­tion. More impor­tant­ly, these fledg­ling mass orga­ni­za­tions gave the UJCml a foothold in pop­u­lar and work­ing class neigh­bor­hoods, where the base com­mit­tees were able to main­tain a sus­tained con­tact with class lay­ers out­side of its stu­dent core. Though this ini­tial tac­tic was not aban­doned, and con­tin­ued up to May 1968, its lim­i­ta­tions were nev­er­the­less appar­ent: the UJCml’s capac­i­ty to build an authen­tic, rev­o­lu­tion­ary mass com­mu­nist par­ty would require con­tact with indus­tri­al work­ing class of France at the point of pro­duc­tion. It would require enter­ing the fac­to­ries.

The ini­tial form this took was a series of so-called enquêtes – inquiries or inves­ti­ga­tions – among work­er (and, impor­tant­ly, poor peas­ant) milieus in the sum­mer of 1967. Inspired by the cel­e­brat­ed Maoist dic­tum “no inves­ti­ga­tion, no right to speak,” the results of these inquiries – which ulti­mate­ly afford­ed only lim­it­ed, exter­nal, and dis­con­tin­u­ous con­tact between the mil­i­tants and those class lay­ers whose expe­ri­ence and self-activ­i­ty were to form the cor­ner­stone for the build­ing of a new com­mu­nist par­ty – were deemed insuf­fi­cient, if not dis­ap­point­ing. Regroup­ing at the end of the sum­mer after a peri­od of dis­per­sal across France, these mil­i­tants decid­ed to take a rad­i­cal tac­ti­cal turn. The enquêtes would be con­ceived of as a set of ini­tial sur­veys, a pre­lim­i­nary sort of range-find­ing that would pre­pare for a new “step nec­es­sary for the devel­op­ment of the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist move­ment in France” and “for the build­ing of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty.”5 The inves­ti­ga­tions they had con­duct­ed over the sum­mer of 1967 would pave the way for a mil­i­tant implan­ta­tion with­in the large indus­tri­al com­plex­es on the out­skirts of Paris and oth­er major French cities. The mil­i­tants of the UJCml would clan­des­tine­ly enter pro­duc­tion as “pro­le­tar­i­an syn­di­cal­ists” in order to cul­ti­vate the most com­bat­ive ele­ments of the French work­ing class and to rad­i­cal­ize, from with­in, the com­mu­nist-con­trolled CGT trade union, trans­form­ing it into a “class strug­gle CGT.” The étab­lisse­ment move­ment was launched.

There is no “estab­lished” trans­la­tion for this par­tic­u­lar term in Eng­lish lan­guage accounts of this move­ment.6 In the arti­cle trans­lat­ed in this issue of View­point, we have cho­sen, with some regret, to the leave the term untrans­lat­ed. In all like­li­hood, the term was derived from a speech made by Mao Zedong in ear­ly 1957, and sub­se­quent­ly trans­lat­ed into French. The speech was deliv­ered in midst of the famous “Flow­ers” cam­paign that last­ed from late 1956 until the next July, fol­lowed and to some extent coun­tered by an “anti-Right­ist” cam­paign as well as the launch­ing of the ill-fat­ed (not to say dis­as­trous) “Great Leap For­ward” with its people’s com­munes. Just a few weeks before, Mao had giv­en one of his more impor­tant the­o­reti­co-polit­i­cal texts, “On the Cor­rect Han­dling of Con­tra­dic­tions Among the Peo­ple.” Now, at a Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty con­gress devot­ed to pro­pa­gan­da work, Mao under­lines that despite the vic­to­ries won in the pur­suit of “build­ing social­ism” by the Chi­nese peo­ple, includ­ing much progress toward “social­ist indus­tri­al­iza­tion” and the trans­for­ma­tion of social rela­tions, the suc­cess of the ongo­ing strug­gle for social­ism will depend on resolv­ing the ques­tion as to who – the bour­geoisie or the pro­le­tari­at – will win on the “ide­o­log­i­cal front.” The class strug­gle con­tin­ues at the heart of the social­ist project, even if it no longer takes the form of vio­lent, rev­o­lu­tion­ary war, as it did pri­or to the vic­to­ry of 1949. “There is still class strug­gle,” he says, and “it is very acute, too.” And: “The ques­tion of ide­ol­o­gy has now assumed great impor­tance.” This strug­gle must even take place with­in the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Par­ty itself, in order to root out the var­i­ous devi­a­tions or errors that plague it: “sub­jec­tivism, bureau­cra­cy, and sec­tar­i­an­ism.”

It is here that the prob­lem of “intel­lec­tu­als” gets posed – and its solu­tion wagered. After remark­ing that among the mil­lions of intel­lec­tu­als in Chi­na there exists a large stra­tum that still “wavers” in its com­mit­ment to Marx­ism, and indeed a small minor­i­ty that remain res­olute­ly “antag­o­nis­tic” toward it, Mao out­lines a series of steps of increas­ing inten­si­ty and, implic­it­ly, effec­tive­ness in – this is Mao’s term – “remould­ing” intel­lec­tu­als. Three forms of con­tact with the mass­es:

We encour­age intel­lec­tu­als to go among the mass­es, to go to fac­to­ries and vil­lages. It is very bad if you nev­er in all your life meet a work­er or a peas­ant. Our state per­son­nel, writ­ers, artists, teach­ers and sci­en­tif­ic research work­ers should seize every oppor­tu­ni­ty to get close to the work­ers and peas­ants. Some can go to fac­to­ries or vil­lages just to look around; this may be called “look­ing at the flow­ers on horse­back” and is bet­ter than doing noth­ing at all. Oth­ers can stay for a few months, con­duct­ing inves­ti­ga­tions and mak­ing friends; this may be called “dis­mount­ing to look at the flow­ers.” Still oth­ers can stay and live there for a con­sid­er­able time, say, two or three years or even longer; this may be called “set­tling down.”7

This sort of image is typ­i­cal of Mao. Among the lat­ter two images – “dis­mount­ing” from the horse for a few months, or “set­tling down” for a few years – we find the two forms of mil­i­tant prac­tice that would form the back­bone of French Mao­ism and shape the tra­jec­to­ry of its first group­ing: the inves­ti­ga­tion or enquête, and set­tling down, or s’établir (as the French trans­la­tions of Mao’s Man­darin had it). The title of the pro­gram­mat­ic UJCml tract estab­lish­ing the aims, scope, and tac­tics of the étab­lisse­ment move­ment could very well be trans­lat­ed: “On Set­tling Down.” And the indi­vid­ual mil­i­tants that prac­tice this tac­tic: set­tlers.

“On Étab­lisse­ment” is indeed a pro­gram­mat­ic text: it states the long-term strate­gic goals addressed by the for­ma­tion of groups of “set­tlers” in pro­duc­tion, states the impass­es and antin­o­mies such a project will inevitably encounter, and pro­pos­es a series of tac­ti­cal steps to resolve or avoid these block­ages. If the stat­ed ambi­tions of the UJCml are to build a rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mu­nist Par­ty to sup­plant the revi­sion­ary PCF, and if the task of the étab­lisse­ment groups is to cul­ti­vate, among the most com­bat­ive work­ers in each pro­duc­tion unit, lead­ing nuclei or cores on the basis of which the “Marx­ist-Lenin­ist move­ment” in France can be con­struct­ed, the fun­da­men­tal impasse these groups will address is a uni­ver­sal one, cor­re­spond­ing to a “law of his­tor­i­cal devel­op­ment”: a “divorce” between the rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas cir­cu­lat­ing among stu­dents and intel­lec­tu­als and the spon­ta­neous com­bat­ive­ness of the advanced ele­ments of the work­ing class. The uni­ver­sal solu­tion to this dis­con­nec­tion is, accord­ing to the Lenin­ist line, the “fusion” of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary Marx­ism and the work­ers’ move­ment. But the con­crete form this solu­tion will take is what here mat­ters. If the rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism (“the ideas of the mass line, of the strat­e­gy and tac­tics of pop­u­lar war, of the devel­op­ment in stages of the unin­ter­rupt­ed rev­o­lu­tion­ary process, of the com­mu­nist ide­ol­o­gy of ‘Serv­ing the Peo­ple’ and of going to the school of the mass­es, the style of work that entails self-crit­i­cism and sub­mit­ting to the crit­i­cism of the mass­es”) always take hold first among the intel­lec­tu­als, only the “work­ing class” can “lead” the rev­o­lu­tion.

Mao’s text on pro­pa­gan­da work cen­tered in part on the neces­si­ty to “remould” intel­lec­tu­als. Such a trans­for­ma­tion is iden­ti­fied as a key aspect of the “ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle” need­ed to com­plete the con­struc­tion of social­ism. “On Étab­lisse­ment” in turn ends with a call to elim­i­nate the “ide­o­log­i­cal ter­ror­ism” that com­mands “self-rev­o­lu­tion­iza­tion” on the part of intel­lec­tu­als.  What is pro­posed instead is that the set­tler groups see them­selves as “inter­me­di­aries” between the class and the class’s own devel­op­ment, and as pro­vi­sion­al for­ma­tions that, upon con­tact with the advanced ele­ments of the class, will give way to “com­mu­nist work groups” led not by UJCml mil­i­tants but by work­ers won over to the rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism. The pos­ture to be assumed is more tor­tu­ous than it is made out to be in the tract. Where the post-1968 Gauche pro­lé­tari­enne, com­posed of rem­nants of UJCml and the “lib­er­tar­i­an” March 22 move­ment, will empha­size Mao’s con­cep­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion as first and fore­most the mere “sys­tem­ati­za­tion” – rather than pro­duc­tion – of rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas already cir­cu­lat­ing among the mass­es, or that emerge with­in the strug­gles the mass­es under­take, here we wit­ness an unar­tic­u­lat­ed ten­sion between this task of sys­tem­atiz­ing the thought that emerges from the mass­es them­selves and the impor­ta­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary ideas from with­out.

The for­ma­tion of work­er-led com­mu­nist work groups, and the weav­ing togeth­er of net­works of these groups that would uni­fy and gen­er­al­ize work­er strug­gles across and between pro­duc­tion units and sec­tors, was to form the infra­struc­ture nec­es­sary to build a suc­ces­sor to the PCF. But to do this required “clan­des­tine” work – aimed not at under­min­ing the CGT, or encour­ag­ing work­er self-activ­i­ty and self-orga­ni­za­tion out­side the relay belts of the entrenched insti­tu­tion­al forces of the clas­si­cal worker’s move­ment, but at return­ing to CGT’s mil­i­tant roots. “Long live the class strug­gle CGT!” was the watch­word of the groups set­tling down in the fac­to­ries. As Pierre Vic­tor, for­mer UJCml mil­i­tant and even­tu­al leader of the Gauche pro­lé­tari­enne puts it in a long inter­view record­ed over the course of 1971,

We set out in search of an alliance with the unions. This was incon­testably the dom­i­nant idea.… [The étab­lis] were to mil­i­tate with­in the CGT, to be real­ly tough on posi­tions regard­ing class strug­gle, to make the move­ments hard­er, to con­tin­u­al­ly rad­i­cal­ize them and to defend the CGT in the name of its tra­di­tion.8

The prac­tice of étab­lisse­ment would con­tin­ue after the dis­so­lu­tion of the UJCml and the for­ma­tion of the GP in Octo­ber 1968, but this tac­tic of restor­ing the hon­or of the CGT was ulti­mate­ly shelved after the cat­a­stroph­ic role the lat­ter played along with its polit­i­cal over­seer, the PCF, in break­ing the insur­rec­tionary surge of May and June 1968.9 The GP will favor, par­tic­u­lar­ly in 1970-71 and exem­plar­i­ly at Renault-Bil­lan­court, the for­ma­tion of what it called “apo­lit­i­cal base com­mit­tees.”10 Focused pri­mar­i­ly on work­ing with unskilled and poor­ly paid immi­grant work­ers from North Africa, the GP’s tac­tics came to resem­ble in some ways, at times con­scious­ly, the “direct action syn­di­cal­ism” of the clas­si­cal CGT,11 with mil­i­tants in cer­tain fac­to­ries even study­ing Émile Pouget’s 1912 tract on sab­o­tage, while also prac­tic­ing the mil­i­tant forms of “ille­gal­i­ty” (boss­nap­ping, phys­i­cal attacks on fore­men, and so on) for which it became noto­ri­ous.12

The étab­lisse­ment move­ment large­ly dis­si­pat­ed along with the final dis­so­lu­tion of the Gauche pro­lé­tari­enne. There were, to be sure, many “set­tlers” work­ing with oth­er group­ings, Maoist or not, that remained. And the move­ment had, truth be told, lost its vig­or even among the GP mil­i­tants by the time of the latter’s shut­ter­ing, short­ly after the mur­der of Pierre Overney by an armed guard out­side the gates of a fac­to­ry (he was attempt­ing to enter it with a group of GP mil­i­tants) in Feb­ru­ary 1972. The response of the GP’s clan­des­tine “armed” wing was to kid­nap a Renault exec­u­tive. He was released short­ly there­after. The GP lead­er­ship lat­er insist­ed that the death of Overney pre­sent­ed the GP with an unac­cept­able choice: to con­tin­ue meant armed strug­gle, of the sort wit­nessed in Italy and Ger­many. Some ex-GP mil­i­tants chose that path; oth­ers entered the “auton­o­mist” squat­ter scene; most returned to a non-mil­i­tant life. The GP’s short, tumul­tuous exis­tence has giv­en rise to a vol­u­ble lit­er­a­ture on the sub­ject; the étab­lisse­ment move­ment has incit­ed few­er nar­ra­tive accounts, Robert Linhart’s cel­e­brat­ed L’établi (trans­lat­ed into Eng­lish as The Assem­bly Line) a notable excep­tion. Many of the set­tlers returned from the fac­to­ries full of fear, even rage and hatred, for the work­ers whom they ear­li­er approached with what Lin­hart called “mys­ti­cal ado­ra­tion”:

In France, I saw, just before or after 1968, young intel­lec­tu­als “set­tle down” among the work­ers and enter the fac­to­ry with the reli­gious fer­vor of men to whom the absolute truth was going final­ly to be revealed; then, after a dif­fi­cult expe­ri­ence or after fail­ures, these same men aban­doned this “set­tling down” by declar­ing that the work­ers had become irre­me­di­a­bly bour­geois – indeed, were cor­rupt or fas­cist.13

The reli­gious, indeed Chris­t­ian, note almost always accom­pa­nies these accounts. The UJCml’s pre­scrip­tion against petit-bour­geois ide­o­log­i­cal ter­ror­ism – one enters into the fac­to­ry sole­ly to rev­o­lu­tion­ize one­self – gave rise to accounts that can often best be described as “tes­ti­monies,” or forms of bear­ing wit­ness. As the ety­mol­o­gy of the term under­lines, these set­tlers were trans­formed into mar­tyrs. It is not by chance that many GP mil­i­tants ral­lied to the move­ment around the Lip fac­to­ry occu­pa­tion, and the Larzac land strug­gles that echoed it in coun­try­side. This occu­pa­tion marked the resur­gence of a rad­i­cal syn­di­cal­ism led by Catholic rad­i­cals asso­ci­at­ed not with the CGT but the CFDT14, includ­ing a Domini­can “red” priest sym­pa­thet­ic to Mao­ism, that attract­ed many. Some of these same mil­i­tants would look back on their years in the GP and their devo­tion to the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion as an expe­ri­ence com­pa­ra­ble to the Gnos­tic sects of ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty. They would write a book to this effect called The Angel.15 Short­ly there­after, they would ral­ly to the right­ist, post-gauchiste phe­nom­e­non called “The New Phi­los­o­phy.”

The sequence opened by the launch­ing of the move­ment in the Fall of 1967 and closed by the resur­gence of rad­i­cal Chris­t­ian syn­di­cal­ism dur­ing the occu­pa­tion and “self-man­age­ment” of the Lip watch fac­to­ry in 1973-4 took place a mere 40 years ago. It is, all the same, our antiq­ui­ty. The peri­od in ques­tion wit­nessed the most pow­er­ful wave of class strug­gle seen since the years fol­low­ing the end of the first World War. It was a cre­pus­cu­lar moment. The Lip episode rep­re­sent­ed the wind­ing down of the Maoist moment and the defin­i­tive burn­ing off of the ener­gies released by May ‘68. That this peri­od was char­ac­ter­ized, as much in Italy as in France, by forms of strug­gle that emerged out­side of the orga­ni­za­tions of the clas­si­cal work­ers’ move­ment and the strug­gles around wages these orga­ni­za­tions orches­trat­ed and man­aged in con­cert with the State and the cap­i­tal­ist class, makes both the UJCml ambi­tion to rad­i­cal­ize the CGT from with­in and the cen­tral role the CFDT and its ide­ol­o­gy of work­er “self-man­age­ment” played in the Lip occu­pa­tion fit­ting, if iron­ic, brack­ets for this paren­the­sis.

In a text devot­ed to “Build­ing the Par­ty and the Union Ques­tion,” the Maoist group­ing led by Alain Badiou, Union of Marx­ist-Lenin­ist Com­mu­nists of France (UCFML),16 not­ed that the 1967 UJCml line on the orga­ni­za­tion of the pro­le­tari­at – “entry­ism in unions,” under the slo­gan “Long live the class strug­gle CGT!” – mis­tak­en­ly “postulate[d] that the work­er Left is syn­di­cal­ist,” a posi­tion that con­tra­dict­ed “the spon­ta­neous anti-revi­sion­ism of this Left, which in fact has as its prac­ti­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal form anti-syn­di­cal­ism.”17 This judg­ment was offered in 1975, a cou­ple years after the final dis­so­lu­tion of the GP and its var­i­ous avatars, and in the final phas­es of the Lip episode. It was con­sis­tent, how­ev­er, with the posi­tion Badiou devel­oped in ear­ly 1969, when he was still a mem­ber of the Par­ti Social­iste Unifié (PSU), head­ing up a Maoist ten­den­cy that would even­tu­al­ly splin­ter away from the PSU in order to form the UCFML. But in a text pre­sent­ed at the PSU par­ty con­fer­ence that same year, Badiou announced two ways in which his tendency’s line depart­ed from that of the UJCml. “In May ‘68,” he not­ed, “com­rades who had and still have our active sym­pa­thy, and even more than that, the mil­i­tants of the for­mer Union of Marx­ist-Lenin­ist Com­mu­nist Youth were the vic­tims” of a “grave mal­a­dy of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary move­ment”: work­erism. Work­erism, as Badiou defines it, con­sists of three relat­ed errors: a sen­ti­men­tal depic­tion of the life of work­ers, a “blind belief in work­er spon­tane­ity,” and a con­cep­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary process as car­ried by work­ers alone, rather than by a pop­u­lar “unit­ed front” that would fuse work­er and stu­dent strug­gles, while bring­ing onboard “poor peas­ants” as well. The work­erist devi­a­tion had led to a mas­sive error at the open­ing of the May 1968 stu­dent revolts: the UJCml thought its “con­tempt” for the stu­dent move­ment was autho­rized, inso­far as the lat­ter was deemed “petit-bour­geois” and “focused on the Uni­ver­si­ty.”18

The pas­sage from Robert Linhart’s book I cit­ed to open this text was writ­ten at same moment, just after the crest­ing and shat­ter­ing of the Maoist wave in France. It forces us to estab­lish an uncer­tain con­nec­tion between the UJCml’s reput­ed work­erism and its use of the étab­lisse­ment tac­tic, to the sub­se­quent “about-face” expe­ri­enced by a vocal minor­i­ty with­in that move­ment: the turn from work­erism to a vir­u­lent hatred of the work­er, to a rabid “anti-work­er” ide­o­log­i­cal posi­tion that unde­ni­ably con­tributed to the larg­er right­ist turn among the French intel­li­gentsia in the mid-to-late 1970s. In a much more recent set of reflec­tions, Badiou speaks, in terms recall­ing Lin­hart, of a “turn­coat” phe­nom­e­na among the GP lead­er­ship as well. He traces the rever­sals char­ac­ter­is­tic of this lead­er­ship to a set of three errors: “an impa­tient mega­lo­ma­nia with regard to the course of his­to­ry,” an extreme ide­ol­o­giza­tion among its mil­i­tants, and a “com­mu­ni­tar­i­an­ism” that lead them to orga­nize work­ers along eth­no-cul­tur­al lines, par­tic­u­lar­ly Arab work­ers.19 These crit­i­cisms are aimed large­ly at the GP in the peri­od after it aban­dons the “Class strug­gle CGT” line. We are nev­er­the­less autho­rized to ask, on the basis of Badiou’s ear­li­er crit­i­cisms of the UJCml posi­tion, what role the adop­tion of the tac­tic of étab­lisse­ment played in the ulti­mate right­ist bend in the road many of these mil­i­tants made. To iden­ti­fy such a turn with the adop­tion of a mere tac­tic would be absurd. The tac­tic was deployed in a deter­mi­nate con­text, with­in a very spe­cif­ic strate­gic hori­zon: a work­erist ide­o­log­i­cal envi­ron­ment, an entry­ist inser­tion at the point of pro­duc­tion in view of rebuild­ing a union of work­er com­bat, the ambi­tion to build a prop­er­ly rev­o­lu­tion­ary mass par­ty that would in turn take on the his­tor­i­cal tasks the PCF had renounced. To under­stand the his­tor­i­cal part played by this tac­tic or to coun­te­nance its con­tin­u­ing via­bil­i­ty would require account­ing for all of these ele­ments, and their com­bi­na­tion.20

  1. Bruno Bosteels dis­cuss­es Gorky’s account in his analy­sis of Ricar­do Piglia’s “Hom­e­na­je a Rober­to Arlt.” See the chap­ter “In the Shad­ow of Mao” in Marx and Freud in Latin Amer­i­ca: Pol­i­tics, Psy­cho­analy­sis, and Reli­gion in Times of Ter­ror (Lon­don: Ver­so, 2012). 

  2. Robert Lin­hart, Lénine, Tay­lor, les paysans (Paris: Seuil, 1976), 59-60. 

  3. “On the Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion,” trans. Jason E. Smith, Décalages 1 (2012): 1-18. Most arti­cles in the Cahiers Marx­istes-Lénin­istes were pub­lished unsigned. Nev­er­the­less, it should be not­ed that Althuss­er would like­ly have been crit­i­cized severe­ly with­in the PCF had this arti­cle appeared attrib­uted to him. The edi­to­r­i­al con­ven­tions of the jour­nal here served as cov­er. 

  4. Ibid., 18, 17. In his excel­lent account of the Chi­nese Cul­tur­al Rev­o­lu­tion as per­haps the “last rev­o­lu­tion,” Alain Badiou also char­ac­ter­izes this recourse to “forces for­eign to the par­ty” as an at least “par­tial defus­ing of the par­ty and the State” (L’Hypothèse com­mu­niste [Paris: Lignes, 2009], 90, 92). Badiou’s term for this process of defus­ing is “dés­in­tri­ca­tion,” a term that is most like­ly bor­rowed from Freud’s the­o­ry of the fusion and “defu­sion” of dri­ves. Cf. Jean Laplanche and Jean-Bertrand Pon­tal­is, The Lan­guage of Psy­cho­analy­sis, tr. Don­ald Nichol­son-Smith (New York: Nor­ton, 1974), 180. 

  5. “On Étab­lisse­ment,” trans­lat­ed in this issue. 

  6. The best Eng­lish lan­guage account is Don­ald Reid’s “Étab­lisse­ment: Work­ing in the Fac­to­ry to Make Rev­o­lu­tion in France,” Rad­i­cal His­to­ry Review 88 (Win­ter 2004): 83-111. 

  7. Mao Zedong, “Speech at the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party’s Nation­al Con­fer­ence on Pro­pa­gan­da Work,” March 12, 1957. 

  8. Ênquete sur les maos en France.” Pierre Vic­tor was the pseu­do­nym adopt­ed by Ben­ny Lévy. 

  9. The Gauche pro­lé­tari­enne will aban­don their ambi­tion to build a “class strug­gle CGT” in Jan­u­ary 1969. For an exhaus­tive time­line of Mao­ism in France, see Chris­t­ian Beu­vain and Flo­rent Schoumach­er, “Chronolo­gie des maoïsmes en France, des années 1930 à 2010,” Dis­si­dences (Spring 2012). 

  10. On Renault-Bil­lan­court, see for exam­ple “Rap­port d’ênquete: Renault-Bil­lan­court,” Cahiers Pro­lé­taires 1 (Jan­u­ary 1971): 48-59. This report details the forms of sab­o­tage under­tak­en by mil­i­tant work­ers at Renault-Bil­lan­court and the for­ma­tion, in late 1970, of “Anti-cop Work­er Groups” in response to the “ter­ror­ism” exer­cised by plant man­age­ment. These groups took it upon them­selves to attack “boss­es” sin­gled out for such ter­ror­ism, in forms rang­ing from the punc­tur­ing of auto­mo­bile tires to “face smash­ing [cas­sage de gueule].” 

  11. The CGT of the first decade of the 20th cen­tu­ry was recep­tive to anar­cho-syn­di­cal­ist ten­den­cies, as evi­denced in the famous Char­ter of Amiens of 1906. 

  12. See Marnix Dressen, “Le mou­ve­ment d’établissement: une résur­gence du syn­di­cal­isme d’action directe?,” Le mou­ve­ment social 168, no. 3 (1994): 86. The GP was, of course, noto­ri­ous for the more spec­tac­u­lar forms of direct action it staged out­side the point of pro­duc­tion: the theft and free dis­tri­b­u­tion of sub­way tick­ets, the loot­ing of lux­u­ry gro­cery stores to feed the poor, and so on. 

  13. Robert Lin­hart, Lénine, Tay­lor, les paysans (Paris: Seuil, 1976), 59-60. 

  14. The Con­fédéra­tion française démoc­ra­tique du tra­vail was formed in 1964, but it orig­i­nat­ed out of the Chris­t­ian syn­di­cal­ism of the for­mer French Con­fed­er­a­tion of Chris­t­ian Work­ers. Dur­ing and after May 1968, the CFDT was close to the eclec­tic Par­ti social­iste unifié (PSU) and by 1970 orga­nized its syn­di­cal activ­i­ty around the idea of auto­ges­tion, or work­er self-man­age­ment. 

  15. Chris­t­ian Jam­bet and Guy Lardreau, L’ange: pour une cynégé­tique du sem­blant (Paris: Gras­set, 1976). 

  16. Union des com­mu­nistes de France Marx­iste-Lénin­iste

  17. May 1968 demon­strat­ed this: “In 1968, work­er anti-syn­di­cal­ism was no doubt spon­ta­neous, con­fused. But it was also, already, the syn­the­sis at a first lev­el of a pro­longed his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ence: that of the strug­gle between two paths, between revi­sion­ism and the pro­le­tar­i­an posi­tion, such as it appears in a prac­ti­cal, wild, form in any class strug­gle that is the least bit seri­ous. Whence the mas­sive, glob­al anti-syn­di­cal­ism in May 68.” Cf. “Édi­fi­ca­tion du par­ti et ques­tion syn­di­cale.” 

  18. A. Badiou, H. Jan­covi­ci, D. Men­e­trey, E. Ter­ray, Con­tri­bu­tion au prob­lème de la con­struc­tion d’un par­ti marx­iste-lénin­iste de type nou­veau (Paris : F. Maspéro, 1969), 42. Badiou does not men­tion the spe­cif­ic impre­ca­tion cast upon this move­ment by the polit­i­cal bureau of the UJCml on May 9, one week into the rebel­lion: “the largest anti-com­mu­nist move­ment since 1956,” i.e. the revolt in Hun­gary that was smashed by Sovi­et tanks. It should be not­ed that Badiou also dis­cuss­es the ambi­ent sen­ti­ment with­in the PSU of giv­ing “pri­or­i­ty to implan­ta­tion in enter­pris­es,” but does not address the UJCml’s set­tle­ment ini­tia­tive per se

  19. Alain Badiou, “Roads to Rene­ga­cy,” New Left Review 53 (Sept.-Oct. 2008): 125-33. 

  20. Thanks to the edi­tors of View­point, Asad Haider and Salar Mohan­desi, and Rachel Kush­n­er, for their help in the draft­ing of this short essay. 

Author of the article

is Assistant Professor at the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, CA.