From International Socialist Review, Vol. 29 No. 4, July-August 1968
Transcription and Mark-up: Andrew Pollack for ETOL.
(The following statement was issued June 10 by the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, the World Party of Socialist Revolution founded by Leon Trotsky in 1938.)
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May 1968 will enter the history of the class struggle as the month of the biggest revolutionary upsurge yet seen in an industrially developed capitalist country. Ten million workers on strike, all the big and medium-sized plants closed down, the most backward and least politically conscious layers of the proletariat and civil service employees brought into action, the technicians and foremen widely involved, the peasants joining the students and workers in the struggle, broader and broader and more and more militant demonstrations confronting the harried and increasingly demoralized forces of repression, a “strong” government out of control of events and more and more paralyzed for two weeks – this was the picture of France in this exceptional spring.
The determination of hundreds of thousands of university and high-school students, of young workers, to bring down the capitalist regime exploded in such a glaring way that no one seriously questioned what had happened. The workers, too, demonstrated in just as resounding a way their determination to battle not only for immediate demands and against the Gaullist regime but also to overthrow the rule of the bourgeoisie and capitalism. This determination was expressed in the occupation of plants, railway stations, power plants, post offices, over which the red flag was raised. It was expressed in the slogans calling for “workers power,” for “power to the workers,” repeated with increasing frequency in chants and on banners in the demonstrations. It was expressed by numerous spontaneous moves to take control or to take over the means of production, by the moves of committees or collective groups of workers and citizens to assume power.
Thus, before the eyes of the entire world, a new power was being born, the power of the future French Socialist Republic, confronting the decaying Fifth French Republic. It was completely possible during the week from May 24 to May 30 to draw a general conclusion from these facts, to cover the country with a network of organs of dual power, to federate them, to take the necessary initiative to topple the tottering Gaullist regime and to bring the revolutionary crisis to a conclusion by the working class taking power in order to build socialism.
If this did not occur, if the bourgeois state was finally able to pick up the reins of power, this was due exclusively to the betrayal committed by the leaders of the workers, particularly the leaders of the French Communist Party [PCF] and the General Federation of Labor [CGT], who controlled the great majority of workers. These leaders of the PCF and the CGT did everything possible to isolate the students and the revolutionary vanguard from the mass of workers, turning the strikes and factory occupations toward purely economic aims, blocking a test of strength in the streets where the relationship of forces was eminently favorable to the revolution, paralyzing the reaction to the repressive violence, blocking the arming of pickets and the organization of a student and worker militia, compelling acceptance of elections offered by a power at bay, and splitting and smothering the strikes, until their own irresolute attitude and the resolute speech of de Gaulle brought about the first pause in the movement.
This betrayal is a consequence of their adherence to the Kremlin’s doctrine of “peaceful coexistence.” The Kremlin views de Gaulle as weakening the position of American imperialism in Europe, and the Kremlin is mortally afraid of the perspective of a revolutionary upsurge in France.
The betrayal is also a consequence of the long years these leaders have spent in electioneering and the parliamentary routine. The refrain “along the peaceful and parliamentary road to socialism” was voiced for years with the excuse that a revolutionary crisis could in no case occur in France. When such a crisis did actually occur, the same reformist strategy was used to dissipate the possibility that was objectively present to take power.
The PCF leadership has lost credit completely with the revolutionary students; its prestige has been broken by and large among the entire vanguard of the youth. This liberation of the youth from the bureaucratic stranglehold has enabled it to enter into action as a new revolutionary vanguard on a scale never before equalled in France.
But within the working class, the PCF and CGT apparatus, although it has been shaken many times over the years, and now again when the workers in the big plants rejected the miserable agreements worked out with the bosses and the Gaullist government to bring the strike to an end, still maintains preponderance and has many ways to stifle workers democracy and free expression of the rank and file will. The scattered elements for a new leadership, which is ardently desired among the young workers, are still too weak and unorganized to be able to assure the building of the organs of dual power on a general scale.
That is why the betrayal committed by the apparatus of the PCF and CGT was able to save French capitalism once again as in 1936 and in 1945-47.
But, in contrast to the outcome of the two preceding revolutionary upsurges in France, the Stalinist betrayal this time was not able to smash the spring 1968 upsurge outright, nor bring about a rapid reversal of the relationship of forces. The revolutionary battles of May 1968 were mounted from bastions like the revolutionary Sorbonne, forces such as those seeking the right to control the ORTF [Office of the French Radio and Telephone], and bodies like the committees of action. The resumption of work in the plants did not liquidate them. Moreover work was resumed at a much slower rate than the Gaullist regime and the PCF leadership hoped for. Considerable sections of the working class in the big plants displayed exemplary militancy and capacity for resistance.
The bourgeois state could not permit these embryonic forms of dual power to be consolidated and extended. But it did not have the strength to eliminate them with a single blow. Thus a transitional period opened in which the repressive forces are making tests, as in the effort to break the strike at the Renault plant in Flins through the use of police. These sallies could become points of departure for resumption of the revolutionary movement.
In addition, the industrial and economic weakness of French capitalism does not permit it to grant the considerable material advantages which it had to accord to the workers in order to assure resumption of work. Price rises, inflation and unemployment will rapidly erode these gains. This, in turn, will set off violent responses from workers.
Finally, the internal crisis in the unions and the traditional workers parties has only begun. This crisis will deepen in coming weeks, particularly after the elections which the PCF is utilizing as the last means to reknit its ranks. The repercussions of this crisis will likewise soon stimulate a powerful resumption of the workers struggle.
All the elements thus exist for forecasting that the dip in temperature that began May 31 will prove to be only temporary, that new explosions and new confrontations are absolutely inevitable. Preparations must be made for these confrontations with maximum lucidity and organization. All the lessons of the struggles of May 1968 must be drawn in order to assure assimilation of the gains so that the next wave can begin at a higher level and make it possible to surmount the insufficiencies of the first wave.
The first wave revealed the extraordinary weakness of neocapitalism under the apparent stability of the “consumer society,” “economic expansion” and the “strong state.” The development of the productive forces, the rise in the level of culture and technical education of the masses, the deep industrialization of the country, the explosion in size of the universities, the drop in average age level of the population – all these changes which the capitalist regime congratulated itself on as merits and signs of modernity, turned definitively against it. This was so because under the capitalist system every development of the productive forces increases the economic and social contradictions. The masses felt by instinct that the immense possibilities to satisfy their fundamental needs were being wasted, cut off or shunted aside under the reign of profit-making and private property.
The youth no longer took it for granted that there should be close to 1,000,000 unemployed while a workweek of 30 hours for everybody was clearly in sight. The students, the highly skilled workers, the technicians, no longer felt obliged to accept the dictates of the bosses, management, or specialists in the pay of capital on how they had to work, what they had to produce and what they had to consume. In the same way the workers have become less and less tolerant of the lack of rank and file control in their organizations and of the rule of an authoritarian bureaucracy.
The Fourth International has worked out a transitional program that corresponds to these essential needs of the masses. This program will be further elaborated and concretized in the light of what has been learned from the explosion of May 1968. Some of the elements can be outlined as follows: the sliding scale of wages; workers control over production; opening of the bosses’ bookkeeping system; workers control over hiring and firing; the outlawing of banking secrets; publication of how all the big companies calculate net costs and profit margins; registration of the holdings of the landlords; the democratic elaboration of a plan for the economic development of socialist France by a Congress of Workers called for this purpose; completely free medical care, drugs, urban transportation, education and school supplies; wages for all high-school and university students beginning at the age of sixteen; administration of the universities by the entire university community; nationalization of all the big companies, private banks, and all credit institutions; elimination of all the representatives of big capital in the administrative boards of the nationalized enterprises; recasting of the government budget by eliminating the nuclear armaments program and drastically reducing military expenses while simultaneously sharply increasing expenditures for cultural and social equipment (hospitals, low-cost housing, construction of highways, sports areas and leisure centers).
These planks culminate in the demand for a workers government based on the representative organizations of the working class – today the unions, tomorrow democratically elected committees. Unquestionably this demand is equivalent in the immediate future to calling on the big workers parties, in association with the unions, to take power; they still enjoy the support in actuality of the majority of the working class. But these parties show no desire whatsoever to take the road to winning power through extraparliamentary means. The deeper and more extensive the revolutionary crisis becomes, the more these traditional parties will be outflanked by the masses and the more the slogan of a workers government will acquire for them the meaning of the workers themselves, organized in committees, taking power.
To promote and to inspire the revolutionary activity of the masses along the road of resuming the struggle of May 1968, the first task is to reinforce the revolutionary vanguard. This must be carried out on several levels, among others the broad vanguard, by force of circumstances regrouping diverse tendencies and organizations around solid unity in action based on precise common revolutionary objectives and observance of workers democracy.
On another level, the revolutionary Marxists themselves must seek to move as rapidly as possible toward the building of a revolutionary party which already has a hearing among the masses. The United Secretariat of the Fourth International points to the admirable way in which the members of the Jeunesse Communiste Revolutionnaire [Revolutionary Communist Youth] and the Parti Communiste Internationaliste, the French section of the Fourth International, have met the test of May 1968. We express our conviction that they will play a capital role in carrying out this double task, without which the French socialist revolution cannot win.
The revolutionary process in France is of supreme importance to the entire world and to the forward march of the world revolution. May 1968 released the brakes on the political situation throughout Europe, bringing the student struggles to a higher level in Italy, Spain, Great Britain, Belgium, and Sweden, stimulating the resumption of the workers struggles in various countries, unleashing the process of the European revolution. May 1968 has already exercised a profound influence in unleashing the student struggle in Yugoslavia, and is contributing in preparing political revolutions in all the bureaucratically degenerated or deformed workers states. May 1968 will assure to the new vanguard now forming in these countries a high level of revolutionary Marxist consciousness. It will compel imperialism to redeploy its forces on a world scale and thus constitutes important aid to the Vietnamese revolution, the Latin-American revolution, and the entire colonial revolution.
But the primary importance of the May 1968 movement was to bring the proletariat of a highly industrialized country into the center of the world revolution for the first time in more than twenty years. This fact has already swept away a whole series of prejudices, of false conceptions, of revisions of Marxism fostered by the subsiding of the European revolution after 1948.
It has cleansed the atmosphere by raising the demand for 100 percent workers democracy from the very beginning of the revolutionary upsurge. It has assured the present phase of the world revolution a higher political and theoretical level than in the past, a revival of the best traditions of the revolutionary, internationalist workers movement.
On this foundation it has created conditions propitious for a rapid development of the international Trotskyist movement and the Fourth International to which the revolutionary Marxist militants are duty bound to respond at once in view of the completely new possibilities which have now been opened up.
Long live the French socialist revolution!
Long live the world socialist revolution!
Last updated on 23 June 2009