Benny LÚvy 1971
Source: Communist Archives;
Interview: February, April, November 1971;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2007.
This text, part of a series of interviews with leaders and members of the Gauche ProlÚtarienne, was carried out in 1971, around the time of the group’s dissolution. Benny LÚvy appears here under his nom de guerre of Pierre Victor.
Victor: I didn’t just discover politics before May 1968. Already in ’65-66 there were a few of us who had decided to enter the elite state schools so as to earn a salary that would allow us to be militants.
I didn’t belong to a family where we talked politics or, if we did, it was always on the wrong side. The determining factor for me was the reality of the countries dominated by imperialism. The number of comrades who quickly threw themselves into the fight because they’d passed through Arab or African countries was very important.
– The discovery of the third world?
Victor: Yes, but directly, thanks to having passed through there. We really began our organized work after the war in Algeria, inside the Union des Etudiants Communistes (UEC). At first it was in the section of School of Letters, and then, at the time of Althusser our numbers grew on the rue d’Ulm [site of the Ecole Normale Superieure].
Our tactic at the time was to organize the greatest number of students on the basis of a theoretical defense of Marxism, so very rapidly the contradiction between this fraction and the official leadership of the UEC sharpened. This led to the split and thus to the creation of the Union de la Jeunesse Communiste Marxiste-Leniniste (UJCML), which I participated in. A few weeks after the creation of the UJCML we began to create the first Vietnam Base Committees.
– Before May ’68 did you think that something was going to happen quickly, or had you set out on a long-distance adventure?
Victor: We had set out on a very long-distance adventure. There were some among us, a few weeks before May ’68, especially after Caen and Redon, who had the feeling there were going to be some powerful working-class explosions. We set out for an alliance with the unions. This was incontestably the dominant idea.
– The idea of sending students to the factories already existed?
Victor: Before May ’68 there were already a dozen factory groups. We preferred doing this in small groups so that the guys wouldn’t find themselves all alone in a completely new situation. At the time we called them “proletarian syndicalists.” they had to work within the CGT, be very hard-line in their class-struggle positions, toughen the movement, radicalize and defend the CGT in the name of its tradition.
– They weren’t expelled?
Victor: In any event the experience was a short one, since the first group of proletarian syndicalists we formed was in the southeast in January ’68. From January to May ’68 there wasn’t much time and there wasn’t a single example of open conflict between these groups and a part of the masses or the leadership of the CGT. There were examples where we intervened in mass movements that had been sold out by a local or departmental union. During these betrayals we assisted in the constituting of groups of proletarian syndicalists, but there weren’t enough of us. The first proletarian syndicalist group that was created still exists, though no longer as proletarian syndicalist, but the guys are still the leaders of the CGT union at their workplace. They weren’t expelled; they led a few more important strikes.
– What was your role?
Victor: My role was that of being the professional on board. We had a commission that circulated information from the factory groups and which assisted in the training of the first groups of proletarian syndicalists. We tried to assist the comrades inside the factories, to systematize their experiences and to cull out certain rules for an art of combat. There were five or six of us doing that.
– What did you base yourselves on in taking decisions? On the ideas of Marx? Those of Mao?
Victor: No, not exactly. There was a first stage in the UJCML, strongly marked by the theoretical hold of Althusser. At that time as a general rule our starting point was books, since after all at that time we created the Vietnam base Committees, which were a real mass organization.
What has to be seen with Althusser is the moment he appeared: it was the end of the war in Algeria, and the confusion in student ranks was very great. It’s true that at that time there were leftist theoretical currents in the strict sense of the term, that is, those re-connecting with the leftist theoretical tradition: Lukacs was being read, the first texts of Marcuse, the first de Lapassade, but it was a current that wasn’t able to give oppositional students an overall view of the crisis in the international communist movement. In this state of confusion Althusser’s first articles appeared a little bit like a mirage. For quite a few among us this was an imposing breath of fresh air: the return to the letter, to the origins, to the principles of Marxism, which was to allow us to overcome practical difficulties.
Grosso modo Althusser said: There is revisionism, and the nature of revisionism is to revise a certain number of principles of Marxism; so if we restore them, these principles, we are doing revolutionary work.
You have to understand 1.- our state of confusion and 2.- the fact that in any case we were in a milieu cut off from productive practice and, since the end of the War in Algeria, were cut off from the practice of the class struggle. Althusser gave us this job and also a certain consciousness of what was happening, a possibility of analysis. Everyone threw himself or herself on it.
Very quickly there were two tendencies: one, with Althusser, was a starting point to truly carry out analysis, the tendency that gave us “Les Cahiers pour l’Analyse,” and the tendency that took Althusser as a starting point but was directed towards Mao. These two tendencies met again in May ’68.
– Did Althusser speak of Mao?
Victor: Yes, from his first texts he spoke of Mao, of his subtlety. The Little Red Book wasn’t translated into French; we had the Selected Works in the edition from Editions Sociales.
We began with Mao’s philosophical texts, since these were the ones studied by Althusser and then, very quickly – though it still took a year – we got our hands on the complete Selected Works of Mao. Althusser praised then highly, but in a very determined sector: his first articles had to do with contradiction, about which he quoted the Chairman’s work “On Contradiction,” but he didn’t say, though we were in the middle of the Sino-Soviet polemic, Mao Tse-tung is the truth and the Russians are revisionism. He didn’t say this. But we have to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s: he was after all a means of access to Mao Tse-tung.
– How did these texts of Mao’s seem to you the first time you read them?
Victor: Given our trajectory, when we reached Mao we had already read Capital, Lenin and all that, which meant that at that moment the reading of Mao was a theoretical delight. Afterwards, we had to re-read everything. After the Cultural Revolution everything changed. We had to completely clear our minds. So the first reading of Mao was a very theoretical reading, but in our practice we had to pass through a very important crisis, which is precisely what led us to sending members to the factories.
– When did you think that Mao’s practice could be directly useful to you in France?
Victor: We really began in the summer of ’67. Obviously, before that there were the Vietnam Base Committees. Their difference with the National Vietnam Committee was very simple. From the point of view of orientation the Vietnam Base Committees rigorously respected the Vietnamese line, that is, the political support was total. We took up in their totality the analyses and the line of the Vietnamese. This was the primary difference with the National Vietnam committee since the NVC, in which the Trotskyists were the most dynamic force, didn’t hesitate to introduce their own merchandise concerning Vietnam. Their famous line was: “there aren’t two stages to the revolution in dominated countries and the revolution in Vietnam is socialist.” This might seem to be archeological, but these were debates that divided us. We didn’t come to blows at the time, but it was really intense. When someone said at a meeting “The Vietnamese socialist revolution” we all screamed. For us it was a revolution that had a democratic and national character, and it wasn’t at all a socialist revolution. This might seem to be a pointless debate, but it isn’t: it has a certain importance, even if for the moment it’s relegated to the background.
The most important difference was in the style of work.
We wanted to do mass work, the first forms of implantation in the neighborhoods, with billboards, tracts, regularity, assiduity. Whenever news came from Vietnam, every week we made billboards with the Vietnam Courier to describe the state of the offensive at the front, the news on American atrocities, all that. Which meant that in certain neighborhoods of Paris (at the time we worked mainly in the neighborhoods of Paris) they became used to us. It was a new image of the militant, since already they no longer very often saw the guys from L’HumanitÚ-Dimanche and the Communists no longer went to the marketplaces. Among the leftists we were the first to make this kind of appearance. We called this: the mass work style. And what we reproached the National Vietnam Committee for was its showy style, its grand gadgets, “six hours for Vietnam” but no real prolonged work.
At the time there were frightful tensions between the Vietnam Base Committee and the National Committee. The Vietnam Base Committee had a newspaper, “Victory for Vietnam,” that reported on the experiences of the committees and what was happening in Vietnam.
– Where did the money come from?
Victor: The militants. A newspaper like this one is easily done. We printed six to ten thousand copies. The VBC’s were a real organization; there were many stable militants.
– They were all over France?
Victor: No. The Paris region, a few regions in the provinces, but not really all of France. Like the NVC, incidentally. That said, a few weeks before May ’68 things had considerably developed. I remember at the national congress of the VBC we felt there had been real growth.
– How did May ’68 hit you?
Victor: Like a thunderbolt. From the moment when at Nanterre they chased away Juquin [the Communist deputy in charge of the education and youth questions in the PCF] we felt that something was developing, which meant that May 3 wasn’t a bolt from the blue but from May 3-10 we completely slipped up. We even missed out on March 22 and the protests, we just didn’t see.
Our point of view was: the students form an important component but they must connect with the masses. If they don’t connect with the masses they have no future, and connect in the most physical sense of the term.
– And when did you start to connect with the masses?
Victor: Autumn ’67.
All the comrades coming from the universities, all the student comrades, created what we called at the time a Movement in Support of the Peoples’ Struggles. As soon as there was a strike movement somewhere they rushed right there, they went to the factory gates , etc. From this point of view we knew how to go factory gates of. But we were deeply contemptuous vis-Ó-vis the student movement. Frankly contemptuous. We had a very, very narrow proletarian point of view. We said: if the students don’t go to the factory gates they have no future, or their future is among the bourgeoisie. Which means that the first week of May was the moment of truth.
– How did you experience it?
Victor: At the moment, like everyone else; it was something that completely overwhelmed us. And this was particularly true for us, because we were very little connected to the aspirations of the student movement. A posteriori we are re-thinking those days in a critical manner.
– What did you do? Did you go to the campuses?
Victor: Not really. We were at the demos, even the night of the barricades, where a certain number of leaders of the UJCML had formally condemned the development of demos in the Latin Quarter. The thesis was that we have to leave the Latin Quarter to demonstrate in the popular quarters. But despite these very severe, and frankly reactionary, condemnations we went to the demonstrations.
We even realized, when we united with the comrades from the March 22 Movement, when we were able to draw up with them a balance sheet of these May days, that for the student left of the time the UJCML appeared as the organization with the most military experience. In fact, the first violent student demonstrations had been about Vietnam and we had been the organizers. In the demos of the first week of May much was expected of us from a military point of view. But we obviously brought nothing to it, since we were out of sync...
During that week there were all kinds of theoretical analyses to justify the position taken concerning the student movement. From May 5-7, for example, the analysis was: attention! There is a veritable plot by social-democratic forces to take over the student movement for its own ends, the ends of Mendes, Mitterrand, etc. And this was the least far-fetched analysis; it was false, but it had a certain verisimilitude.
– What do you attribute this error in analysis to?
Victor: A mistrust of the student movement from the class point of view. We didn’t believe in a contestation that was proper to the students and intellectual youth. For us, you had to get out of the universities. Only the movement to leave the university could constitute an objective for the student movement, which had to be a movement in support of the peoples’ struggles.
– And you changed your opinion? Why did you rally to the March 22 Movement?
Victor: After the night of the barricades we realized that we were wrong. There was no time to work up a balance sheet, which would have brought with it a powerful criticism and rectification movement in our ranks, for the good reason that that after May 10 there was May 13, and after May 13 there was the general strike. So there was no time to do all this, and we found ourselves caught up in the problems born of the appearance of the strike in the factories.
So we took the hit after May 10, realizing that there had been a mistake and we immediately dove in headlong with those at our disposal at the time, that is the proletarian syndicalists, we dove in headlong in the factories.
At that time, since it had become a movement of popular revolt, we found ourselves with the comrades we had had differences with during the first week in May, particularly the comrades of the March 22 Movement. We found ourselves with them at the moment when we put out the slogan of proletarian resistance to the return to work, to Gaullist-CGT collusion. We found ourselves alongside them at Flins and it was there, in practice, that the first ties were formed between a portion of March 22 and a portion of the UJCML, eight months after May ’68. It was only eight months after that that we united in the Gauche ProlÚtarienne, but the baptism, the birthplace unarguably was the meeting at Flins.
– What happened during these eight months?
Victor: Simply, as for everyone, we had to do our accounts, draw up a balance sheet.
Since on the one hand we had committed errors, some of which were very serious – the contempt for the student movement – since on the other hand we were an organization that already had Maoist aspects, that is, a certain relation to reality, so that when we were cut off from reality there appeared serious critiques...within the UJCML we began a critical movement after the official dissolution. And this critical movement very quickly, during the summer of ’68, resulted in a breakup into two camps.
There was a camp that was very much in the minority, and a camp that was very much in the majority. We were in the minority camp! It was truly a tiny group coming from the UJCML that made up the Gauche ProlÚtarienne at the beginning.
If we place ourselves in September ’68, that is, at the end of the vacation season, at a time when everyone was thinking of a “Red October,” there was, coming out of the UJCML and the Movement in Support of the Peoples’ Struggles, something like 4-5000 militants. The overwhelming majority of these militants had positions opposed to those adopted by the small group that was to become the Gauche ProlÚtarienne. The majority camp had ideas that we considered liquidationist.
They explained the issue of May ’68 in the following way: there was a mass movement, it was revolutionary, and since there was no revolutionary party this mass movement couldn’t take power. This thesis was the most dogmatic, the flattest, the most vulgar way of explaining the great failure of May ’68 by the fact that there wasn’t a revolutionary party. We considered, and rightly as the ensuing events demonstrated, that this analysis liquidated the principal ideological gains of May. In its wake it also meant liquidating an important organization, not simply the old organization of then UJCML but what the UJCML had created in the factories, that is, an impressive number of proletarian syndicalist groups.
A summary of the liquidationist theses: “Now that we have understood that in May it was a party that was lacking, we must immediately construct a party.” How do we construct a party? By bringing together the vanguard elements.
How do we bring together the vanguard elements? By training them.
How do we train them? With books.
All of this necessarily brought about the breaking of contact both with practice and with the existing factory groups. And in fact, it was an enormous massacre.
– The members in the factories returned?
Victor: Exactly, they left their factories.
– The need to return to books?
Victor: It was enormous, incredible. This must have been the period in France when Lenin’s “What is to be Done” was most read! A universal phenomenon. In Italy it happened this way. In Belgium also there were two camps, those who said; “We must start from the practice of the masses,” and the others who said, “No we must start from ‘What is to be Done?’” And they fought it out. In Germany it was the same.
– And Mao?
Victor: He didn’t really intervene. They said they were still for Mao, but really they read him through the lens of “What is to be Done.” Let me say right away that we thought What is to be Done a great work, but it’s from another era. You can’t seek support from all the theses in it. In particular the theses on knowledge (imported by intellectuals into the working class movement). It’s because of this that we say that Mao Tse-tung was a new era.
– You called yourselves Maoists at that time?
Victor: It was at this time that we openly called ourselves Maoists. When we were spoken of as “those Marxist-Leninists” we took it as an insult. We claimed the term “Maoist,” the portrait of Mao. That said, we were obviously for Marxism, for Leninism, but we wanted to point up the novelty of Maoism.
– Was this the first appearance of a Maoist group in France, or had there already been something?
Victor: There had been the PCMLF, which was of the strictest Leninist obedience.
– One day you said to yourselves, “We, the Gauche ProlÚtarienne, we’re Maoists?”
Victor: We didn’t say this to ourselves “one day.” The struggle against the other current that we characterized as “liquidationist” lasted from June ’68 to February ’69. That’s quite a bit of time. So we truly had the time, through this struggle, to firm up and clarify our positions. Especially because at the beginning what we said was extremely simple: “Of course we made mistakes. That said, it was completely normal because we were inexperienced. The best way to rectify these errors was to reconnect with practice and to find ideas through practice. So let’s go forward again in the factories and let’s draw the lessons of May ’68 in the factories and on the streets.” Obviously they called us every name in the book. And it’s here that the notion of Mao-spontex, that the word “spontex” appeared. This meant that we didn’t respect “What is to be Done,” that we were spontaneists. The term spontaneist is popular in the Marxist tradition because in “What is to be Done” Lenin criticizes a Russian current that he calls “spontaneist.”
Since we said that the party can’t be created just like that, and that in any case the creation of a party depends on the state of the mass movement, there you go, they called us spontaneists, and since Mao-spontex sounded good this became pretty popular. And since about 10,000 leftists were under the spell of these ossified ideas about the party it was a gibe that had a certain impact. This lasted a long time; until the dissolution of the Gauche ProlÚtarienne they called us spontaneists.
– Where did your conviction of being in the right come from? Once you’ve realized that you could be so wrong as not to understand the student movement, aren’t you a bit worried about new risks of being wrong?
Victor: Absolutely there were fears at a given moment!
– How did you get away from them, if you did?
Victor: When you hang on you find an anchorage in reality. As far as this is concerned, it was Sochaux that was decisive. During the summer of ’68 we went there, we talked with the workers of Sochaux and we learned what happened, that is the confrontations of June ’68.
– You always talk about being “anchored in reality,” of going towards reality, of meeting reality... But everyone thinks they’re in reality! There are very few people who say that they aren’t.
Victor: There you’re wrong. At that time there were a small number of people who wanted to use books as their departure point...
– Because for you there’s an opposition between books and reality?
Victor: No, not between books and reality, but between the method that consists in starting from a book where you’re told to do this or that and the method of those who start from practice, who try to understand practice and who read books in order to better understand.
After May there were two camps philosophically. It’s not me who is interpreting; I’m giving the points of view exactly as they were expressed by each of the camps. The camp characterized as the “liquidators” said: Starting off from reality is empiricist, is spontaneist, etc. For them the starting point had to be a number of theses. A line had to be elaborated! And how do you elaborate a line? It means carrying out an analysis of the classes in society, so you analyze the classes in society; you take books by Raymond Aron that contain statistics from the Ministry of Labor, etc.
We said you have to start from reality, and what does this mean?
The experience that marked us the most was Flins in ’68, an experience we participated in directly. The second experience that some among us discovered during the summer was Sochaux, where the confrontations were much more violent and of a strategic breadth perhaps more important than Flins ’68. So what did we draw from this? A profound conviction that was a powerful arm to repel fear, since fear there was. The conviction that the thesis of “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun” was valid and in a certain way current in a country like France, like for any other country. In September ’68 we were convinced, truly convinced.
This is what permitted us, even though we didn’t see clearly on many questions, even though there weren’t many of us and those who were hostile to us were the overwhelming majority, this is what permitted us to fight and to fight without any problems. Not that we were the holders of the truth, it wasn’t that. We weren’t at all sectarian, we were very open. The best proof of this is that eight months afterwards we carried out an untried experiment and that has never been done since: union with a current based on entirely different premises than ours. Because Alain Geismar and the elements that came from March 22 in the beginning had a completely different method from ours. When we organically united this showed from their point of view and ours a great openness of spirit and a profound determination to unite those who wanted to continue May ’68.
The Gauche ProlÚtarienne was thus formally born in September ’68, but it only began to have a true physiognomy after the union with the comrades from March 22, that is, in February-March ’69.
– What were your fundamental differences with the elements from March 22?
Victor: They weren’t Maoists. In our first discussions they said, “Of course the Cultural Revolution, Mao Tse-tung and all that are very important, but we don’t feel ourselves to be tied down by Maoism. We don’t fully know what it is, but we don’t see why a priori it’s Maoism that must be the basic doctrine for the revolutionaries of May ’68” This is obviously a different starting point.
– What was their doctrine?
Victor: They didn’t have one at all. It was truly an effort to understand May ’68 with what they had at hand. All you have to do is look at their book on civil war.
– Even so, this was “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Victor: And it’s exactly for this that we united. If there was no agreement on fundamental theses we never could have united.
– Why do you say that Sochaux was so important?
Victor: Well, by the workers own admission there were between 8 and eleven CRS killed. Not according to the Ministry of the Interior, but absolutely every comrade in their discussions with the guys from Sochaux who participated in June ’68 confirms this figure. This was important because it was a violence that was properly working-class. As for Flins, it has to be said that this was worker-student violence with the students being in a way in the front lines setting this in motion. Here the violence truly came from the factory, and the balance sheet that the workers from Sochaux drew up was more developed than the one done by the workers at Flins. For the guys from Sochaux the lessons they drew can still be seen in ’71; they say, “the next time its with guns that we’ll greet the CRS.”
The first discussions we had with the revolutionary workers there was “What we need is armed groups,” while in the majority of factories the first question discussed was, “Should we remain in the union, do we do something else, an action committee, a party?” etc.
– Who are the revolutionary workers in these discussions, particularly the young ones?
Victor: Sochaux was unlike anything we saw elsewhere. Nantes-Batignolles was a little like this. We met many veterans who were actively and openly revolutionaries. There is enormous revolutionary potential among these old workers everywhere, but it’s generally particularly the young workers who constitute the most rapidly mobilizable force among the workers. Sochaux is one of those particular cases where the active sympathy we received came often from older workers.
– Why was this especially the case in Sochaux?
Victor: As a properly working class experience, that at Sochaux was the most advanced.
At Renault-Billancourt, for example, the occupation was very inert, very bureaucratic, and the young in order to break with this occupation, left the factory to go to the student demos. As a result, it was the young who got the most out of what was new in May ’68. At Sochaux young and old together confronted repression, from which they were together able to draw lessons and reactivate their old traditions.
– What contacts do you have at this time with these big factories?
Victor: There are no longer any members in factories.
– It’s no longer worth it?
Victor: That’s not what I’m saying. But the first times we sent members to factories it was in order to know reality, to ideologically penetrate the working class milieu, while now our presence in factories is more political. We send members as a function of precise political objectives. Preferentially we send militants who have political experience, and in certain cases only those comrades having experience as political cadres. Sending members to the factories is now seen as the entry of a comrade who is going to assist in the organization of a worker group because there’s no one inside who will allow the guys to connect up among each other.
– How do you maintain relations with what is happening, with “reality?”
Victor: The method is still the same, the research and the liaisons continuous.
– You don’t go there?
Victor: I’m not inside a factory.
– How was the organization constituted?
Victor: There were several moments in the effective birth of the Gauche ProlÚtarienne. In the first place there was the baptism of fire in June ’68. Then there was the formal establishment in September ’68, and we bring out [the paper] La Cause du Peuple, taking over the title of the Support Movement for the Peoples’ Struggles.
– So what did September ’68 mean?
Victor: In Paris a group of comrades, not more than about 40, united on the basis of the struggle against the liquidationist positions which we spoke of a little while ago, and who decided to put out La Cause du Peuple with its thesis: “Again in practice, proletarianization to the maximum.” and the application of the thesis that “political power grows out of the barrel of a gun,” in the concrete conditions in France. This, grosso modo, was our program. There weren’t many other ideas, it was a direction. We commit ourselves and then we see. This was a phrase we very much liked at the time.
So we were a group of thirty or forty comrades in Paris, a part of which was in fact the leadership group – neither elected, nor named, nothing at all – simply the group of those who most consistently fought against the majority theses and around whom could be found those who didn’t want to break with practice.
– The cadres were defined as those who were the most clear-sighted?
Victor: Yes, the most clear-sighted. Those who had succeeded in clarifying the positions of the group that was going to be born and in criticizing what we called ossified Leninism. The most active also. Those who proposed the first practical initiatives and who began to coordinate the groups in the provinces that appeared and resisted the liquidationist current.
There were a certain number of groups, not very many, which – like in Paris – resisted the majority liquidationist current. These were in Sochaux, in Lorraine, in Marseille, in the North. At that time we had an organization with a leading group and militants who were in certain schools or certain neighborhoods in Paris, and militants where we could in the North, Marseille, Besanšon.
– Concretely, were there meetings?
Victor: There were general assemblies. During that period, given our small numbers, we could get by with general assemblies. We held them at the elite schools, at the universities.
– You weren’t particularly pursued?
Victor: In the confusion that reigned at the time it was difficult for Marcellin to know who was who. He’s made progress since then... In any event, at the beginning we weren’t the most dangerous because we were the smallest group.
– What did you talk about at these general assemblies?
Victor: During the first months strictly about the ideological struggle, clarification, critical texts, etc., and there were the first initiatives: in the fall there were the events in Mexico. We plunged right in but the Ligue Communiste and all the liquidationist currents blocked things. So we drew up an accounting of these reactions. There were other initiatives: we wanted to hold a meeting at Citroen where there had been hundreds of layoffs.
– How did it feel to be so few?
Victor: To tell the truth, we didn’t really give a damn. What’s more, we didn’t clearly appreciate the numeric relationship. You have to see that the majority bloc wasn’t a bloc; they went off in all directions. Everyone had his own ideas on the way to apply the line, or better to elaborate the line. But even so they encircled us. We didn’t really give a damn, but they did give a damn. They were always there, on the attack, trying to recuperate people. It was very violent, activated by agents provocateurs. Slanders were circulated that Marcellin helped along. He assembled a large number of dossiers thanks to this mess; we later had proof of this.
– Have they joined you since?
Victor: In ’70, with the first practical successes of the Gauche, all these groups went into crisis and fell apart. Many militants from these groups wanted to join us but on a whole, such an influx isn’t good from the point of view of the relationship of social forces within Maoism. These militants have often developed bad habits in work, thought, and practice. We realize this, and they need some serious re-education.
– You mean to say that they’re bookish?
Victor: They don’t have ideas that are open, clear, sharp. They admit a certain number of things that were tested in practice but they still have a dogmatic spirit in relation to new things.
– What happens when they want to enter your organization?
Victor: As a general rule, those who were cadres, leaders of what we call the liquidationist movement haven’t entered.
– Did they show the desire to?
Victor: It was difficult for them to show this desire because they didn’t expect us to accept them. So they didn’t enter. As for the militants, there were no criteria for exclusion. There was a prudent political principle concerning the recruitment of militants coming from the liquidationist groups, but it was a general principle that excluded no one on the basis of this or that particularity.
– What were things judged on aside from this principle?
Victor: On practice. Proletarianization and militarization.
– Let’s return to the 40 members of the end of summer ’68
Victor: From its starting point in proletarianization and militarization the nascent leftist force attached itself to bringing together the workers who could be brought together and so immediately the workers had as their central task reconnecting with the factories where they’d worked, those with which we could re-connect. It was pointless to re-connect with the factories from which the militants had disappeared. We re-connected with Citroen, with Renault.
All of this brought us, in January ’69, to a national workers assembly where we brought together the militant workers from the different workplaces with which we’d re-opened contact in order to draw up a balance sheet of the experience and to see where we were from a tactical point of view. This was a very important meeting because it allowed us to totally separate ourselves from the “proletarian syndicalist” line. Upon leaving this session we knew that we would no longer work within the CGT.
This was a decisive step towards building concepts based on the constituting of a totally autonomous working class force. But there were still ambiguities. We kind of thought that we were headed towards the creation of a new union, a truly red syndicalism. But the main current was autonomy in relation to official unionism. We had in mind – not in all minds, but among the old worker militants – to recreate the CGTU. But the main current was to completely separate from the CGT.
But to do what? We didn’t really know yet.
Let’s summarize. The first stage of the Gauche: unite in the struggle against the liquidationist current all the workers who could be united, and give these militants an objective uniting all who could be united as revolutionary workers. And then using this as a starting point, separating out the first elements of an orientation for work and combat in the workplaces. We can say that this stage ended with the worker’s meeting that defined the first theses on the constituting of an autonomous force in the factories.
The second stage in the development of the Gauche, marked by the union with the March 22 Movement which we spoke of a little while ago. We realized that in order to regulate the constituting of an autonomous force in the workplaces we had to rely on the mass movement, on youth.
It was difficult to build autonomous worker groups and unite them without the intervention of the powerful ally that was the youth movement, because of which we occupied ourselves, in this second stage, with clarifying our ideas about youth and autonomous practice among them.
This is the stage where, with the comrades from March 22, we completed the balance sheet on May and we defined the theses that were in issue no. 1 of the Cahiers de la Gauche ProlÚtarienne, which dates from April 1969. These theses are contained in the title “From anti-authoritarian revolt to proletarian revolution.” From which we understood that we had to unite the anti-authoritarian aspirations as they were expressed and continue to be expressed among the young, and the new form of struggle in the working class, anti-despotic forms of struggle. In this stage we plunged into mass practice among the young, and especially in the high schools. This is the moment when we developed a series of struggles at Louis le Grand, Henri IV, ...
This second stage ended in June ’69.
At that time we realized that we had the beginnings of some new elements in practice in the factories, and that we had created through the struggles of the high school students a force of young people that we absolutely had to have assault the workplaces in a new way so as to reinforce the first nascent elements in the factories.
In June, on the occasion of the anniversary of May, of the anniversary of the assassination of Gilles Tautin in Flins and also the occasion of the elections – what we called the battle of the active boycott of the elections – we led our first operation introducing a new stage in the development of the Gauche, the operation at Flins in June ’69.
Everything that had been mobilized in the high schools after an intense propaganda campaign in the Paris region was concentrated for an intense anti-boss operation at the factory gates in agreement with the workers’ group that was called at the time the “Revolutionary Action Committee.” This was the first wide-scale operation...
– What was the reaction of the leftists?
Victor: Everyone attacked us! You have to see that a taboo had been literally violated. It was a group operation, an anti-boss operation, against the whole supervisory structure at Flins. What’s more, it was an operation that was militarily prepared, not some spontaneous thing. We had to bring together 150 guys and withdraw them after the operation. This was truly the introduction of partisan operations and it upset all the schemas. At the time it was thought that small group actions were fine for the Vietnamese, for the Chinese, maybe even for the Irish, but not in France. And yet it worked.
This strengthened the attacks against us from organized groups, but it provoked sympathy in the unattached leftist forces. This was the beginning of the third stage.
Starting with Flins ’69 there was an acceleration in the definition of our general orientation. We had a second important work conference with representatives from all the factory groups where we analyzed the meaning of the Flins operation. It was at this time that the first ideas concerning the anti-despot struggle in the factories, the anti-speedup struggles were clarified. This allowed us during the summer of ’69 to generalize it to other factories. The militants in the other places began to use the weapons of the anti-boss struggle.
During that summer of ’69 the first type experiences began to appear. The most important experience was at La Redoute in Roubaix-Tourcoing in the North, a mass sabotage of the work pace, a massive anti-boss struggle. It was a movement that we called an “I’ve-had-enough” movement. The term has spread since...
At the end of the summer (September-October ’69) we defined the so-called resistance orientation. A text appeared in issue no. 2 of La gauche ProlÚtarienne, a text called The October Text,” which summed up these different experiences and systematically introduced the idea of a type of unarmed but violent partisan struggle of a symbolic character, adapted to the French situation after May ’68...
– How is it that you have all this so clearly in your mind? By memory or by principle? Is it necessary to so rely on the historical stages?
Victor: It’s absolutely vital. You must always, always use historical experience as your starting point, lose nothing of the experience. It’s now ’71, but when we hold discuss a problem in depth we always return to ’68, to ’67, to our errors. There are lessons you must always return to.
– Take up the past in the light of the present?
Victor: Always. Take up the past in the light of the present is more or less a quotation from the Chairman.
Sartre, taking over the editorship of the [GP’s newspaper La cause du Peuple after its banning in 1970] and not being arrested, and then distributing it on the boulevards, at the same time that distributors were being arrested and getting sentenced to months of prison, none of this was ‘using Sartre as a star or a gadget;” it was Sartre exploiting to the maximum a contradiction proper to power, which claimed to respect the law when it repressed leftists. By his interventions Sartre clearly showed that the power structure’s respect for the law was relative, limited. Insofar as the power structure didn’t attack Sartre they showed that repression wasn’t the same for all and allowed it to be understood that the repression that fell on the Maoists might also be illegal...
At this moment the Gauche was dissolved. We expected it, not the morning of May 27 , but we expected it. We were ideologically prepared for it. From the beginning of our practice of violent struggle we knew that they were going to try to wipe us out. And so there was our dissolution, the arrests, the whole mess; we knew it was coming but in the realm of organization we weren’t really ready. We also knew that we wouldn’t be really ready when they would attack us. At the time we couldn’t take a whole series of measures that, for example, would have permitted us after May 27 to change, to adapt ourselves to the new situation. I think that some were struck by the fact that [spokesman Alain] Geismar had been so quickly arrested. If this were to happen this year he wouldn’t be arrested so quickly.
We thought that we had to do the maximum amount of legal work as quickly as possible that would allow us to put forth the idea of violent struggle in France. At the moment of repression there would be quite a few losses, and we couldn’t avoid this moment. At that moment we would have to re-adapt. Doing this ahead of time would have limited the struggle’s development.
This is a point that seems to me to be important, because some might say: “When you begin the violent struggle you have to have underground organizations, etc. But this isn’t quite exact. In the French situation it was very important that the violent struggle develop, that before the violent struggle the power structure’s forms of repression appear so that the situation can be transformed and new organizations adapt to the situation thus created.
It wouldn’t have been correct, before the violent struggle we had stimulated developed, to slow down the rhythm as a function of principles that are those of strictly underground organizations.
We can compare the French situation to the situation of other countries, like Uruguay, for example.
How did the Tupamaros develop? It’s clear that when they began their partisan operations they already had underground organizations. In their first years of activity we note a very slow rhythm of operations. What we needed in France was that there appear as openly, as massively as possible the idea that the violent struggle was necessary for the development of contestation. This was necessary before passing to the superior effort of violent struggle, which demands that certain operations be carried out by organizations ruled by the strict principles of underground work.
Our first operations, even if there were done in a spirit of strict protection – obviously there were very many operations without any losses where the cops came a cropper – and were carried out by an organization that, on a whole, was in the open.
Risks, then, were taken. But the final operations became increasingly costly, because the gears were closing in on us...
Now I have to explain what will on a whole serve as an explanation of the past year (70-71)
Before its dissolution, the Gauche ProlÚtarienne expressed the determination to act of a nucleus of the left among intellectual youth and in the big factories and also, in a less solid form, among farmers and merchants. In the orientation and practice of the Gauche ProlÚtarienne there was a correspondence with what these small groups of the left immediately wanted, which allowed for its rapid progress.
When these groups of the left and the Gauche ProlÚtarienne began to transform reality with these ideas, when the government reacted and put in place new forms of repression, a question was posed for the groups of the left and the GP: What should be done to smash the repression? Which’ means: “what are our weak points that the repression aims at and thus, what are the points we must correct in order to resist this repression?”
We immediately saw that the fundamental response was to expand the practices that had this small minority of the left participate so that larger strata in the factories would be able to recognize their issues and so participate.
We quickly saw that we had to expand the practice of what we called “resistance,” have it pass from the stage of actions pushed forward by the small groups of the left to actions bringing along another fraction of the masses, those who formerly sympathized or who asked questions about the actions of the small minority of the left without directly intervening. That was the theme of the end of the year ’70-71.
How to expand the resistance? We had constructed an instrument, the GP, adapted to a mobilization of groups of the left. We couldn’t expand the resistance by expanding the Gauche ProlÚtarienne. So we had to destroy an instrument that had been adapted before in order to construct a new instrument. This is a very complex process. It wasn’t a matter of scattering ourselves to the four winds while telling ourselves: “Now we have to broaden our ideas.”
We would never have had the capacity to coordinate the new initiatives and experiences that we were beginning to accumulate into an orientation common to all the groups of the left in all regions if we had, strictly speaking, destroyed everything. So we had to maintain a minimum of the old ideological, political, and organizational instrument and that starting from this minimum we experience and systematize the new things, since starting with this we step by step construct the new instrument. This isn’t done without an intense class struggle.
I would like to say right away that it isn’t often that we talk of class struggle within a communist organization. For many people the model is the PCF, and when we speak of struggles within the PCF it necessarily means struggles between cliques or fractions. For us, the class struggle is the healthiest reaction possible, the motor of development of a communist organization.
The form that the class struggle took on for us wasn’t the constituting of tendencies or fractions, it was the struggle between old and new ideas. Every militant unit had to deal with a new problem, confronted the beginning of an experiment, had different reactions. It was necessary for these reactions to confront each other and for the new to triumph over the old.
This doesn’t happen on its own. You have to constantly lead an ideological struggle in each militant unit so that it be possible to discern what is new and useful and what is preservation of the old: routine.
The overall objective of the new instrument was given: the militants of the GP, who had been like a closed fist, had to open up and disperse among the different contesting strata in order to attempt to ideologically, and in organizational forms of a mass character, express the aspirations of each of the contesting strata.
Before there was the Gauche ProlÚtarienne, which intervened in all the different strata; now in each stratum there had to be built a mass organization...
– For how long has the notion of “listening” existed in politics?
Victor: Systematically this is the philosophy behind our work; it comes from Mao Tse-tung. But let there be no misunderstanding: I’m not saying that Lenin didn’t listen to the Russian masses. He was integrated into the Russian working class and he showed this, but the starting philosophical theses, the foundation of the construction of the Bolshevik party gave an importance to knowledge coming from outside the mass movement it doesn’t now have.
This had many consequences for the development of the Bolshevik Party, especially at the moment it took power. Certain of the ideas of the Bolshevik Party on the role of intellectuals had a negative affect on the formation of the new bourgeois class.
Obviously democratic centralism is only the point of departure, but if there is no point of departure there is no authentic proletarian party, it must be dissolved, destroyed, split: it shouldn’t last, it’s bad. Starting from this, if the party’s orientation is fixed in accordance with this principle – start from the mass movement, systematize the experience of the masses – there are rules for the functioning of the party: submission of the base groups to the higher instances, respect for discipline. But it’s a conscious discipline: every militant who, starting with his mass practice, finds himself in disagreement with the orientation can and must show his disagreement within his base unit and appeal to the higher instances. In the statutes of the Communist Party, since the Cultural Revolution one of the articles specifies that every militant of the CP can appeal to the Chairman of the Central Committee.
– And he’ll be listened to?
Victor: It’s in the statutes...it’s published in the statutes.
– This calls for continuous re-adjustments?
Victor: Continuous. One must continuously provoke crises within the party.
Let me explain myself: as soon as a party no longer knows struggle it’s a degenerate party. If there is no longer struggle within the party that means it is dead, that it is on the side of the bourgeoisie.
– What do you call a correct idea? By definition, are the masses never wrong?
Victor: The principal current of the mass movement is always reasonable. This is our philosophical foundation.
– It never errs, for example by being defeatist, by renouncing the struggle?
Victor: This isn’t the principal current of a mass movement. And we don’t say that all of the mass’ ideas are correct. We say that the principal current of a mass movement is correct.
There was a large-scale riot in Brussels, and we can say many things about this riot: that it was big farmers who organized the demonstration, that there were demands that served the large and not the small landowners, that there were negotiations etc.: we can say anything. But if we say that the large-scale jacquerie, the mass movement that lead 20-30,000 agriculturalists in the attack on the bourgeois city, if we say that this was bad then we’re in the camp of the bourgeoisie.
– So everything that unites is a mass movement and a correct principal current?
Victor: If we take the example of the “day of the police”: there was a mass movement that brought the cops onto the streets and unarguably the current of this mass movement tried to demonstrate that not all of the police wanted to show solidarity with the totally fascist elements of the police apparatus. This current was positive and we should have supported it, which we did.
But there were ambiguities: some went to enter into dialogue with the police, but in order to ridicule them. This wasn’t our position. We distributed a tract signed “The Maoists” where we took very seriously the current within the police that resisted fossilization and we said that we would have a proper attitude regarding the policemen who resisted; that we wouldn’t attack these policemen in the same way as we attack the Brigades d’Intervention or Ceccaldi-Reynaud at Puteaux.
That said, the day wasn’t in the strict sense a mass movement.
We have to understand the notion of a mass movement in a very precise way: demonstrations of upper management are not mass demonstrations. Upper management is not part of the people.
– For many people the mass of factory workers who, during a strike, want to return to work is also a mass movement. It is also said that the workers aren’t the majority and that the masses, after all, is perhaps also the bourgeoisie. What percentage of the population does the proletariat represent?
Victor: From 35-40%
– The 60% on the other side, they aren’t a mass?
Victor: The proletariat, the strata of farmers, small shop owners, and artisans ruined by capitalist development, intellectual youth and important fractions of the wage-earning intellectuals who are suffering the ideological crisis, this makes up not only the real majority of the population, but the overwhelming numerical majority.
– Isn’t it an out of date concept to say that the working class and the proletariat are the same thing?
Victor: Yes. That’s part of a debate whose terms must be made more precise. In Marxist terminology properly speaking, there is no difference between the working class and the proletariat. In Marx’s first texts there were a certain number of attributes given to the proletariat on the subject of history, different from the economic-political characteristics Marx later gave the working class. This distinction is made primarily by relying on Marx’s first texts.
We can see as a whole what this means: we attempt to distinguish between the working class defined economico-politically and the revolutionary force, but what is certain from direct experience is that the most revolutionary force is incontestably composed of those who in their economico-political conditions are workers in the sense of “the working class.”
It is incontestable that factory workers, the producers par excellence of surplus value, have the greatest potential for revolt. Which doesn’t mean that other categories, also workers, like professionals, don’t have enormous revolutionary qualities and that we don’t often find them leading the fight, for example at Nantes-Batignolles.
In fact many people pose the question about revolutionary forces other than the working class forces as defined economico-politically. We don’t deny that there are other revolutionary forces than the workers properly speaking. And with reason. Young intellectuals also contain a great revolutionary force. Among the farmers, be it among the poor, totally ruined farmers, or those who have entered the mechanism of capitalist development in agriculture and can’t make it, there is a fantastic revolutionary potential.... There are even revolutionary forces among small shop owners. I say “even” because on a whole they aren’t much loved, given their earlier political tradition, in the mythology of the left-wing intellectual.
I don’t need to call all these revolutionary forces the proletariat. They are other forces differently defined from the point of view of their socio-economic conditions.
They are revolutionary because the overthrowing of the current social order is in their interests. They are thus allies of the working class, but it is incontestably still the working class, the good old working class, the producers of surplus value, who are directly exploited by the most repressive system, that is, inside the factory. It is the workers properly speaking who are the most consistent revolutionary force. We don’t see this through books; we would have nothing against it being the young who are the most revolutionary. But de facto, it isn’t they who are most consistent in their revolutionary efforts.
– The many journalists who have gone to China this year have all written enthusiastic reports. They have concluded that what is happening in China is astounding but absolutely inapplicable to France. How, for example, can we imagine a system of production by small units in an industrially advanced county, etc.?
Victor: As a consequence of the Chinese diplomatic offensive, of policies directed at the different counties and even the super-powers, the images that grew out of the encirclement of China are in the process of decomposing.
It’s an enormous progress that they’re saying, “China is good, but the Chinese model isn’t applicable to France.” before they said, “China is shit.” Now, from the point of view of the ideological struggle we have to demolish the idea that what is happening in China doesn’t have a universal scope.
I don’t want to demonstrate that what’s happening in China is going to happen in the same way in France, but rather demonstrate that what’s happening in China goes beyond China’s borders.
Why? Because China has fundamentally resolved the question of popular power of a mass character, a question that dominates the debate of the socialist and revolutionary workers movement in the West. This means that there exist a certain number of social contradictions not resolved in the traditional “socialist” countries, which constitute the principal difficulty for the theoretical and strategic elaborations of western socialists and revolutionaries. These social contradictions are class contradictions at the heart of the enterprise, despite the collective juridical expropriation of the enterprise, despite nationalization.
The second type of social contradiction: the contradictions between immediate producers and those with the functions of coordination, knowledge, management, etc, which in the Soviet Union translates into a wide-open wage scale and oppressive relations.
There are more complex social contradictions, as well, between the city and the country, between manual and intellectual labor, which are at the center of the debate in the western movement and find their positive solution in China, thanks to the Cultural Revolution.
At the current moment in France, in honest left wing circles we are coming to recognize what can be the basis for scientific agreement, that the principal questions are the same there as here, despite the difference in economic development.
And then it’s a question of knowing if the concrete answers given by China to these questions have a general scope. For us, the answer is yes.
To start with, what does the Chinese example give us on the question of the planning of the totality of economic relations in a country like France?
China brings the combination of central and local initiative, a harmonious combination that doesn’t mean the end of all struggle between local and central initiative, rather a method for correctly directing this struggle, and which is perfectly applicable in France. Even bourgeois technocrats are currently asking the question of combining central indications and local solicitations. The so-called socialist technocratic planners in the Soviet Union seek to resolve the relation between local initiative, which they call the autonomy of enterprises, and the central plan. But they reflect on the problem within the limits of bourgeois thought.
In China the overall orientation of the plan is proposed to different production units, which either discuss them based on their practical experience or submit their own proposals, which are then centralized. By this movement from higher to lower, and from lower to higher the overall general plans of the economy are elaborated. In what way is this inapplicable to the French economy when we’ll have a true plan, not the current empty plan that is simply the coordination of big capital in France? Everything that is posed in bourgeois or reformist terms, decentralization, regionalization, the thorny problem in France at the present time is essentially resolved in China, though I’m not saying there are no problems.
The second question that all revolutionary (or not revolutionary) socialists pose Ó propos of the construction of socialism in France is the difference between property relations and management relations. Even Mitterrand’s new Socialist Party is asking this question, and that says it all. Even the PCF, in its last plan for governing leftifies its language about this. But the only country where this problem has been resolved in a manner revolutionary and in conformity with the people’s interests is China, which has systematically said that “changing property relations isn’t everything. The ideological, political and organizational forms of production must be destroyed through successive mass movements.” The bureaucratic apparatuses left by the old production relations must be destroyed by mass movements. Capitalist waste must be straightened out by mass movements. The plethora of parasites in factories or production units must be straightened out by mass movements. The question of the relations between production and management and between production and office work must be straightened out by mass movements.
This world historical event, that is, the radical transformation of production relations in China applies directly to us. If there is a slogan the masses don’t give a damn about it’s that of nationalization. The masses see full well that there is no difference in the mines or at Renault-Billancourt between a private boss and a nationalized director. When the veterans learn – and this is what happened during the Cultural Revolution – how the masses were mobilized to wrest the real power whose formal exercise they’d had, when they learn that the slogan of all the workers was: Take power in your enterprise” they understand everything anew about liberation. How they were fooled, how to organize so as not to be fooled.
Another series of questions concerning socialism in France find their answer in China, with a general scope.
In China there is a conscious policy of the limiting of the anarchic and monstrous development of urban agglomerations, of a rapprochement between the country and the cities, both on the plane of space and on that of the relations between peasants and workers. There is a systematic effort to see to it that verdure remain a dominant element of the urban landscape, including the factory landscape. There is a systematic policy for the combining of the countryside’s creative element with that of modern industry. This goes just as much for us. With popular power we will carry out a systematic re-forestation, we’ll completely transform urbanism.
As for automobile circulation, there will necessarily be a limitation in the production of autos, if only by the suppression of competition between brands.
We will show, by an ideological struggle, how the automobile, in the way it is used, monstrously develops selfishness, and that a certain type of mass transit, or the shared usage of the so-called private car, completely transforms social relations in the city.
– Is it possible for people to renounce their selfishness without passing through twenty-five years of civil war and starting from a state of total underdevelopment?
Victor: In May ’68 there was an immense determination to have done with a life that was marked by this monstrous selfishness. In France the facts show that there is a very broad revolt.
– Is a revolt enough for carrying out a prolonged war? Will people really be ready to fight?
Victor: We have no particular taste for bloody revolutions. It has been proven by the facts that there is already a series of violent struggles, even for a piece of steak, so a fortiori in order to conquer a new society these struggles will end up by becoming much harsher and will become violent armed struggle. We have never seen a change in society without its birth coming from progressive violence.
But in relying upon the drive for another life – to change life, as we have said since May ’68 – which is a collectivist determination to dissolve the different egoisms at the level of the workplace, the housing project, or the street, and by progressing in the struggle against the different targets that mark this oppressive system, and so by progressing as well in the violent struggle, egoism in the different social strata will little by little be weakened, undermined.
This doesn’t necessarily imply a bloody civil war of the Spanish type or a fortiori of the kinds of civil wars that could be set off in the countries dominated by imperialism. This doesn’t necessarily imply famine or the complete collapse of the productive apparatus. It certainly implies the shedding of blood; it certainly implies the disorganization of the productive apparatus, but any strike disorganizes the productive apparatus so this is even more the case for something more that is than a strike: a political revolution.
– How do you see the Cultural Revolution?
Victor: The Chinese communists saw, starting from the armed struggle they carried out against the Japanese and the Comintern, that if you don’t create a new man in he course of the revolution , if there’s not a profound transformation of mentalities, the social relations that are the consequence of the relations of class struggle constitute a continuous appeal for the restoration of the old class relations. To put it more scientifically, once you’ve changed property relations in the large-scale economic sectors the real problems begin. Nationalizing big industry is nothing, it takes two hours. Once they took power in ’17 Lenin sat himself in a corner of the Winter Palace to sign a decree saying that big industry had become the property of the Soviet people.
Where the real problems begin is when you have to change effective production relations in the economic sectors properly speaking, the factories and the countryside, and to completely transform the social relations between the different social categories. These are the real problems, and they weren’t resolved in the USSR. The Chinese attacked these problems and they resolved them.
They said: Socialist revolution means the destruction from top to bottom of class relations. This meant the whole environment of the factory, countryside, the city, all of social life: in the case of China all former relations, both capitalist and feudal. In the factories they had to destroy the relations between the producers and the different holders of the management, coordination and production functions.
To phrase it clearly: they had to transform the relations between the worker, the technician, the engineer, the cadre, and the director.
In the case of the countryside they had to transform the relations between the farmer and the leadership of the cooperatives.
In the case of the university they had to transform the relations not only between the student and the professor, but the relations between the student, the professor, and what is outside the university, that is, the producer.
All this because the relation that puts the material stimulus to the forefront and the man at the machine at the bottom of the ladders is a relationship of bourgeois exploitation. Even if the factory is nationalized, if the factory is officially a state factory, if these relations still exist then the worker, the producer, he who is on the bottom of the ladder still suffers from exploitation and repression. It is the totality of these relations that had to be destroyed.
– And that are naturally reinstituted?
Victor: Yes, as long as they aren’t attacked. The greatness of the Chinese CP lies in its having found the method to destroy all this.
Lenin’s last texts are poignant because he feels that nationalizing industry isn’t everything; he feels how the capitalist czarist past still weighs on Russia. The state was still profoundly bureaucratic, the relations were still three-quarters those of czarism. In the factories the relations of the workers with engineers and directors hadn’t fundamentally changed. Lenin felt all this but didn’t manage to find the methods for transforming it.
The method of the Chinese CP was to rely on all the rebellious feelings of those at the bottom of the ladder so that even after the Red Army took power all the relations that bear the mark of the past would continue to be attacked. The principle of uninterrupted mass movements is the solution.
– What orientation guided these mass movements?
Victor: It was defined by the famous idea: struggle against egoism, criticize revisionism. There can be no radical critique of revisionism if the struggle against egoism isn’t carried out, an uninterrupted struggle in the spirit of all – workers, peasants, intellectuals, cadres – on the basis of the question: who to serve?
In every act of your daily life or your social practice you ask yourself the question: who to serve? Do you live, fight, work for your own interests or for the interests of a small handful? Or is it that you live, you fight, you work for the interests of the great mass? Do you serve the people or the contrary of the people, that is, the bourgeoisie? And in the particular case of China, to reconstruct the old order of things?
– Do we necessarily have to serve something?
Victor: Oh, yes!
– Can’t we think and choose to serve no purpose?
Victor: That doesn’t work. There is nothing beyond the masses and the class struggle. There is nothing beyond them.
– And nothing outside them?
Victor: Nothing, nothing
– But young people have a desire for freedom; a desire to have everything right away that appears in its slogans “Immediate and unlimited enjoyment” which seems to be contrary to the spirit of sacrifice demanded by the Maoists.
Victor: We have to distinguish the relationship young people have with the notion of the party and their relationship with the other strata of the population. It’s true that young people remain marked by the early revolutionary practice of May ’68, its anti-authoritarian practice. So it is quite rebellious to the notion of the party.
But this isn’t the most serious thing, in that they can perfectly well organize themselves independently without it being in keeping with the norms of a party, as a mass movement having its own forms of democratic life, its own forms of organization...
The most important thing in getting them to directly feel the contradictions within the people is to put them in direct contact with the other categories of the population.
This is the case in the “long marches,” when young people go to the farmers and are obliged to put to the test their immediate notions, their immediate aspirations on the family, sexual relations, happiness, the absence of constraints, etc.
When they are with the farmers and they respect them – because if they have contempt for them this doesn’t work – they are obliged to dialecticise a bit their immediate notions, to see that if there are true elements in their struggle against the family they must also take into account family relations in other strata of society. Their ideas and those of the farmers will then enter into conflict, but into progressive conflict.
There is a moment when young people need to gather together in their own movements so as to develop their own growth as a social force in France whose role is important for the transformation of social relations and the revolutionary process. But young people must branch out, develop ties with other categories of the population precisely so that their development not be immediately contained by those in power, using the ignorance, prejudices, or even the correct ideas of other categories of the population to squeeze young people.... We’re not against communes, against the experiments in collectivism among young people, even now. There’s no need to wait for the taking of central power to attempt transformations in social relations, but we are against those communes outside of time and space that are a flight from the demands of revolutionary combat.
Chou En-lai said something fantastic this year: “Young people are right to want happiness, but they’ll understand through experience that there can be no happiness if it isn’t desired by the majority of the population.” These are the two fundamental elements: it is right to desire happiness, but it is something that must be attained.
Besides, the communes in the United States and France quickly realize that you can’t seize happiness in small closed groups in the face of the appeal of the movements of the whole of society....
This ideological struggle demands that we reject a certain ‘tailism’ in relation to mass currents among youth.
We must have the courage the speak of the negative aspects of drugs; we have to have the courage to say to young people that those who think of emancipating themselves while the mass of Frenchmen are assholes have erroneous positions: the struggle must be energetically carried out against these ideas.
The fundamental means for the progress of young people is that they reject their current reticence towards the notion of the party and the notion of popular unity. But we won’t import the policy of popular unity to young people from the outside We can only assist young people, through their own experience, in expanding their point of view, to reject that which is narrow, if no frankly egoist or reactionary, so as to follow a progressive current, the current toward popular unity.
– Isn’t this imposing a political line rather than defining it with the masses?
Victor: This is a reproach that isn’t grounded in reality. We are just as capable as any political group – traditional political force or groupuscule – to define a political line, governmental or transitional program.
Mobilizing architects and engineer to design the plans of the future society and the means of reaching it is within the reach of anyone. It is precisely this concept of the political line that we categorically reject. We don’t think that in order to emancipate themselves the masses need to adhere to a program that political representatives fabricate from without. We think that little by little, starting from their own experience, we must assist the masses in culling out that which is essential, which has a general, universal value.
In short, the elaboration of a program, which is a central preoccupation for we communists, of a program for power, that is, the program that will show that we are a force, candidates for power like any political force worthy of the name: the way in which we will elaborate this program is by multiplying the individual programs of struggle, by beginning with individual programs in the workplaces. A program made with the mineworkers or the construction workers to impose safety at the worksite, seem to me to be more important than 150 pages written by safety engineers, even if they’re from the Socialist Party. Multiplying these individual programs on the different aspects of the conditions of the working class there will then be an experiential material basis that has truly issued from the immediate will of the masses.
We will then have to carry out a labor of systematization, at first expressed in the form of theses that will be sent out to the masses, discussed by the masses, and then definitively elaborated in the form of a small pamphlet of a few pages with the different objectives, the means of obtaining them, etc. In the end, this will be the program, the general program of the communists in France. This, incidentally, is why it isn’t up to us to decide to write the program. We can only decide to assist the masses in multiplying the embryos of particular programs...
– What is the immediate perspective of the Maoists’ struggles in France?
Victor: Our action plan since he end of summer ’71 begins with the objective fundamental fact of the French situation, that is, that the state of crisis reached by French society is such that the latter is at the mercy of an explosion that could come from any aspect of French society, from a worker’s struggle...to a scandal... to the fallout of the crisis in international imperialism on French society...
Even though the explosion will not present the same form as in May ’68, will have neither that degree of surprise or precipitation or generality, we don’t want to find ourselves in a situation like May ’68, so that we are totally disarmed when the question of power is objectively posed like it was after May 24, 1968. We were incapable of articulating anything but “It would be good to seize power,” or “Power is there to be seized,” which aren’t slogans that can rally millions of Frenchmen.
This general program of the communists, starting from the methods I spelled out, must be taken in charge by a new organization that will put an end to the Gauche ProlÚtarienne’s phase of dissolution and will be capable of taking tactical initiatives that aren’t simply a form of agitation... The function of the general program of the communists is to spell out in black and white what is always in germ or potential in the different immediate struggles.
In this plan for the seizing of power, isn’t the term “Maoist” a bad one?
– To be sure. The question of our name is posed at different levels.
In the first place, will the organization that is going to be born be called a party? We aren’t going to wait to be a powerful party, recognized by the large masses of the whole country to choose the term “party.”
If we think that the instrument we are going to construct is relatively adapted to the new situation, that a whole number of objective signs attest to this and that it corresponds to the point of view, not only of the militants, but also of the masses directly mobilized, then incontestably we will choose the term “party.” This is one of the questions that will be discussed in our ranks.
And finally, the name of this party. Will we take the term “communist,” given that it is so devalued for a part of the masses, given what Marchais’ party [the PCF] has done with it? But in all likelihood we’ll keep it, because it isn’t a word we’ll abandon to the bastards.
“Maoist,” “Marxist,” “Leninist,” all these terms must be reviewed. We have no position for the moment, except we see that in fact, “Maoist” is Chinese, and what’s more the Chinese don’t very much like the term “Maoist.” They don’t understand how this term can be used in France. So both from the point of view of the large masses in France and that of the Chinese – who after all have something to say about the world revolution and the very use of the terms “Maoist” and “Maoism” – there is incontestably something to be changed in our current naming.
– The end of this name will thus mark a new stage?
Victor: It’s because a stage has been surpassed that new words re needed.