From Besancon to Mount Tsingkiang-December 1973: Gauche Prolétarienne
1:Questions of Strategy
Popular power can only be established in France at the cost of a armed struggle to shatter the reaction of the old exploiting classes: this certainty comes to us from the experience of all popular movements of the past, in France and in other countries; and it is shown over and over throughout the world, the example of Chile speaks not only to what has occurred in Chile but also to the mutters of approval with which the French bourgeois greeted the massacres.
The certainty also comes from an analysis of the development of the contradictions within contemporary France: the advance of the revolution induces the intensification of the counter-revolution. And we are compelled to note, even outside of all partisan theory, that in the final analysis, the imagination cannot forever trick force; the real world is not in fact that of the fairy tale, and there are situations where poetry no longer counts. In striking the state, one strikes a state perfecting itself into a state of open dictatorship, the headquarters of a normalized civil war, which the bourgeois coldly prepares for the popular masses.
But from where comes our oft repeated certainty that the armed struggle will not take the form of an insurrection directed against the central power of the state? To put it affirmatively, what are the reasons to think that the war between the new democracy and the new fascism will take on a prolonged and dispersed form?
1: Does the strategy of armed struggle arise from purely military considerations?
Obviously we cannot be satisfied with: mobility, the effect of surprise, “10 against 1” tactical operations, absence of stable lines, refusal of pitched battle, are certainly the obligatory characteristics of a war of the poor against a powerful armed force; and these characteristics mean that a war of the poor is necessarily dispersed over a long time and prolonged.
A people’s war cannot be considered from a purely military standpoint because the masses do not maneuver spontaneously in accordance with a military logic. To focus exclusively on military strategy and tactics is therefore to assume that the fundamental problem has been resolved; that problem is not knowing how to fight but knowing how to get people to show up for the fight.
What pushes people to make that radical, definitive rupture with the old society, the recourse to arms?
That is the first question which any military theory must ask, because it absolutely determines all the others. It cannot be answered by simply saying or even by demonstrating that it is “inevitable”; Guevara following many others was convinced of the necessity of armed struggle against the exploiting classes and his reasons were perfectly “scientific”; however he is dead, defeated like many others, who did not resolve the question: what pushes people to take up arms?
2: Does armed struggle not arise as a simple reaction?
One is already offering a little more if one says, as have many others,that the enemy will take the lead in the task of educating the people himself, that it is the acts of war committed by the enemy, which produce as a reaction, the first acts of war of the people. This is true but far too vague. If one is restricted only to that response, and not assuming that the only act of war is killing, one could wonder why the counter-war, the peoples war has not begun, because everyday the possessing classes commit countless crimes. Indeed, there are militants or people who are surprised when if a small part of the enemy forces already use arms, there is not also a small part of the popular forces who respond in the same way; and these people have a certain logic on their side: if the armed struggle appears as a simple reaction, because crime demands punishment, if it has not yet begun then this must be due to delay and hesitation to take the leap.
Therefore the following thesis is generally added: “It is necessary to wait until the majority of the people to be convinced of the necessity of taking up arms; however, currently that is not the case etc”
That thesis is simply false; to think that before the occurrence of a single act of the people’s war, it is possible for a majority, or, a uninteresting variant of this, a “large proportion” of the population will aspire to war against the exploiting classes, is to think a ensemble of absurd things, will somehow happen.
To think that some millions of the French people can be convinced of the necessity of taking up arms, and yet not take up arms, is to imagine a prodigious revolutionary energy in suspension, blocked, in unstable equilibrium; it is therefore not thinkable at all, one would also have to imagine a repressive force which constrains consciousness and action, which blocks and prevents the eruption of the storm;
or in other words, it is to think of the party as the general staff of the struggle,which alone knowing the secrets, multiplies the appeals to calm and patience, and compels the observation of a ceasefire, until the moment it has selected when it will at last be “appropriate” to open the floodgates and allow the free play of mass initiative; which is to say that such a scheme is not in anyway imaginable without a authoritarian party/mass relationship, based on a hierarchy which opposes the synthesized knowledge of the party to the fragmented knowledge of the masses, the conscious “scientific” will of the party, to the scattered “spontaneous” will of the masses; however we think that such a party is not possible and more importantly is not desirable, because the intelligence of the masses will not allow itself to be standardized, reduced to a cell of some random central committee.
Furthermore, upon what is this will of millions of the French people to take up arms, based? Necessarily upon thousands and thousands of attacks by the enemy; which is to say that the pseudo-theory: “do not take up arms until the majority has decided to do so” gives in fact, all the initiative to fascism, and is highly likely to end up in the internment camps; because we observe generally, that is a long recognized politico-military principle, that whoever takes the initiative is assured good chances of keeping it until the end; because all historical experience shows that those who in good or bad faith, blindly or out of fear, have allowed fascism to strike blows without retaliation for a long period, have never been able to regain the initiative later, because a large quantity of military victories for fascism and thus popular defeats, do not create a temperament of revolt, but one of discouragement and demoralization.
These two facts are linked, preeminence of the party and a wait and see policy towards fascism; the history of the 20th century has no lack of examples of parties, which allegedly committed to the mission of “choosing the right moment” to launch the armed struggle and push back the deadline until the time that fascism is consolidated and battle hardened, at which point the masses are demoralized having suffered many defeats, and hence the result is an “armed vanguard”.
-Possibly, though this is anyway not the most important aspect-the last ditch struggle and the final act of the tragedy. The link between these two facts is expressed thusly by a Maoist: the military intelligence of the masses is necessarily superior to that of the party; and thus the masses themselves, the real development of the struggle of the real class, and not its deformed reflection in the party must determine the armed struggle, its initiation, its forms and its principle stages.
3: the armed struggle: defense of popular power
So, what is the development of the real class struggle which produces the radical transition in to armed struggle? Obviously there is no absolute rule. However we think the essential thesis is this; as a general rule the people will not take up arms to “tear down the central state power” but “to defend the power they have seized”. There is no need to have a good head for dialectics to see that in the end they are the same thing, to defend popular power is certainly to attack the central state power, the power of the exploiting classes; Defending Lip is attacking the State of Pompidou. Just as in military science, defense and attack are in the final analysis the same thing, because they all aim for the destruction of the adversary: we defend in order to attack; nevertheless there are profound differences between a strategy based in the strategic defensive and a strategy based in the strategic offensive: neither the type of the army nor the nor the type and duration of the war are the same; a revolution which aims to seize central state power and a revolution which intends to establish and defend popular powers are not at all the same.
The people are more willing to fight, one might say, to defend something they have gained, something they have built, then from a theoretical conviction on the role of violence in history. Che Guevara fought to demonstrate to Latin American peasants that revolutionary war was possible: however no one is in any doubt that it is possible. What many of the people doubt is whether it is necessary; and no theoretical discourse, no “propaganda” will convince them, because no book can convince you to risk your life; and likewise the worst misery does not automatically lead to the conclusion that war is the only way out, as is shown by numerous examples, and in particular that of the death of Guevara betrayed by the miserable peasants. What convinces them of the necessity of fighting, is the transformation of their lives, and to see this new life attacked by force; in other words, to seize power and see it attacked by the weapons of the enemy; popular violence is by necessity fundamentally defensive; but not in the banal sense of “responding to violence with violence”: in the fuller sense: opposing a popular power to a reactionary power and defending it against the inevitable assaults. The Chinese Revolution was made this way: the creation of liberated zones, which is to say red power, and the defense of that power against successive campaigns of annihilation. And likewise the Russian Revolution of October 1917 was made to “defend the Soviets” which is to say the popular counter- power coexisting with the power of the provisional government since February 1917.
“From where does the armed struggle emerge?”-?, “from the defense of popular power.” That is our opinion on the principle question and the fundamental thesis of all military theory in France. It is this answer, this thesis, and no other which allows and requires that we envision a armed conflict between the people and the enemies of the people in the form of a prolonged and dispersed civil war; this means in effect that it is the rhythm of the creation and development of popular power which determines the armed struggle which is the self defense of that power. However these powers are not seized by means of the center but in a decentralized, dispersed manner; this conquest of powers is not accomplished by seizing the nerve centers of the enemy, ministries, barracks etc.; it is not an operation carried out against a single, unique link; it consists on the contrary of the production of democratic power in the sites of production, education, free time etc, and this means that the sites of emergence and development of the armed struggle, the logical culmination of the seizure of power, could be a factory, a school, a city, or even a [?], or perhaps in much “stranger” places, but certainly not a position that the armed forces of the enemy would seek to capture.
However, such a conquest of power will necessarily require a long period. And it will not occur in dependence upon the “conspiracy” set secretly in advance by a general staff. What set the schedule of transition from May 68′ to Lip 73′, from the student Republic of the Sorbonne to the worker’s republic of the Palente? Not a conspiracy certainly, all those who would have wished had the time to be persuaded. Thus five years were needed for the branches of the party of the Sorbonne to spread throughout the social body, via innumerable intermediaries and occasionally “startling” mediations until that temperamental “strange” place: Besancon.
On might think and hope and illustrate that the rhythm, the speed of propagation of popular power, will accelerate in its totality: since we are still in the first steps of the process; but it is also true that the multiplication of popular powers, the “revolutionization” of the different strata which comprise the people, which is to say the creation by these different strata of counter-powers opposed to the specific powers of which they are the victims, the extension of these counter-powers throughout all areas of social life, is necessarily a prolonged revolutionary process and cannot take the form of a brief explosion.
4: “Liberated zones” of some kind
Can red power exist in France? Certainly not in the form of liberated areas which are precluded as much by geography as by the characteristics of the white power we have to combat, centralizing and holding the totality of society and space in its authoritarian spiders web. It is still the case that the profound meaning of Mao’s 1928 assertions in “Can Red Power Exist in China?” remain true for France.
The profound meaning which remains true is that the revolution must construct popular powers throughout the power of the exploiting classes; and that is opposed to what has always been said, and said by many revolutionaries, including the maos in their worst moments, according to which no fundamental transformation is possible until we have central state power.
Because the profound motivation of the people’s war is the defense of the power which has been conquered, that remains true, and that contradicts what is always said, and mechanically deduced from the specific citation “destruction before construction.”.
Because popular power is not constructed in the site of the enemy power, but elsewhere, on its margins,
and this margin must grow until it expands into the so called “center”, that is why the theory of the “encirclement of the cities by the countryside” remains profoundly true in France, and contradicts the received idea in which the revolution must first seize the capital and more specifically the nerve centers of the capital.
In short, the impossible “fantasy” of red flags flying on Mount Tsingkang, far from the industrial and political centers of China surrounded by a sea of government solders and warlords is in France the fantasy of “Free Republics of some kind” like Lip, not possessing the same territorial reality as the red bases of the Chinese Revolution1, but serving the same function as a delayed explosion against the central power, which heralds the end, and in the consciousness of the people, invites the seizure of power, showing them the new power and its defense.
A France speckled with free Republics, immediately invaded, ceaselessly threatened and suppressed, but creative, for their purpose is the superior form of popular power, the armed groups of self defense;
This is what we can see on the horizon of Lip.
5: two theories of revolution and revolutionary war
At the end of the day there exist two theories, two logics of revolution and thus of revolutionary war, opposed absolutely and in each of their terms.
The first sets as the objective of the revolution, conquest of central state power; the military form which corresponds to that objective is insurrection, which is to say a blow which takes the defenses of the enemy by surprise and seizes in a few hours or a few days the nerve centers of power; to the fundamental question: “what is the basis for armed struggle?” it cannot respond: for example; that is to say that insurrection supposes the existence of a party and a armed fraction of that party which functions as a general staff and a armed vanguard responsible for making and enacting the decision, which is to say it maintains a relationship of preeminence and authority in relation to the masses; finally the political consequence of such a revolutionary schema, is necessarily the construction of a state even more centralized and powerful then the one which was just overthrown, because the totality of popular power is located in a state apparatus, it must be given excessive means for resisting the return of the exploiting classes. In addition, to be faithful to historical truth, the most likely consequence of this schema is the firing squad and the cemetery, because its success depends on a extremely risky convergence of circumstances which can hardly be known beforehand.
The second logic asserts as the objective of the revolution, the multiplication of popular powers in all sectors of social life; to a certain extent it is question of conquering power not from “above” but from “below”, the construction of a democratic France not by taking the “center” by surprise, but by a progressive transformation of the entire territory, eventually toppling the center.
The military form which corresponds to this objective is a prolonged and dispersed guerrilla; it responds to the question “what is the base for the armed struggle” with the clash between the power of the exploiting classes and the popular powers, the defense of the popular powers against the aggression of the state; the role of the party in this schema is not at all the same: it does not require a general staff deciding without appeal, the day of the decisive conflict, therefore putting it in a dominant position, the supreme collective leader in relation to the masses; it more reasonably requires the party as a instrument for the collectivization and synthesis of experiences, the coordination between and assistance to different points of struggle: thus a collective power at a “human scale”; finally the political consequence of this schema is no longer the establishment of a state holding in its hands intensified means of coercion, but the establishment of a state which in accordance with the formula of Marx “is no longer entirely a state”; that is to say a political system where the majority of power does not devolve into the hands of a minority even a “revolutionary” one, but to the majority of the population where fewer and fewer “special powers” are exercised by the state and more and more “general powers” are exercised directly by the people.
In effect, the collapse of the state power of the old exploiting classes is no longer the result of a sudden action, but of a violent accumulation of power in the hands of the majority of the population.
Conquest of the central state power, insurrection, leading role and dominant function of the party, intensification of the power of the state: that is the first logical sequence. Conquest of popular powers, prolonged guerrilla self defense of these powers, simple function of synthesis for the party, rapid extinction of the new democratic state: that is another logical sequence, another theory of revolution.
Those who live with the superstition of the state and the administration of the bureaucratic and military machine will no doubt be satisfied with the first theory, possibly replacing the “insurrection” element of the series with the element “elections”: and as the case may be, they are included in the sphere of the common program or in that of the authoritarian left grouplets.
However, they will at least not be able to easily charge the second theory with “anarchism”, or “petty bourgeois revolutionism”, real waste baskets in which ostensible science has the custom of tossing what is allegedly utopian: because it is this theory which is faithful to the “true spirit of Marxism” while those would complain are not faithful to the names of their historical avatars.
We have already briefly described the relation which is maintained between the maoist theory and practice of red power and of liberated zones. But this is also the only revolutionary theory which gives a sense of Marx’s conception in which history does not see minority revolutions, but the revolution led by the working class representing the majority. “Where it is a question of a complete transformation of the social organization, the masses themselves must also be in it, must themselves already have grasped what is at stake, what they are going in for with body and soul.” says Engels.
In the words of Marx “the rash act is the answer to the unexpected stroke. Easy come, easy go.”
and whether the rash act is electoral or insurrectionary there is no essential change, because in both cases there is no complete transformation of the organization of society. History supports this judgment of Marx, that a revolution won by a unexpected stroke, can be lost not only to the “rash act” of the class enemy, but also due to the extraordinary concentration of power in the hands of a minority acting in the “name of the people” the unavoidable consequence of revolutionary rash acts.
6: Insurrection or prolonged struggle: Authoritarian or democratic revolution?
To summarize in two sentences, we think that the struggle for a new democracy will develop as a relatively prolonged armed struggle-no more can be said-dispersed throughout French territory, thus avoiding the obligatory attraction to the traditional politico-military centers- “the Paris of revolutions”-; just as Lip evaded the attraction of Paris. And we think that this strategic hypothesis is inscribed in the democratic character of the revolution in France, which is based in four refusals: of the dictatorship of Paris over the rest of France; of the dictatorship of one popular class over other popular classes; of the dictatorship of a party over the popular movement; of a revolution which reconstructs a stronger and more coercive state then the one overthrown.
Conversely, we don’t think that the politico-military theory of insurrection, can be integrated with the revolution beginning in our country, because it is based entirely upon a series of reductions, which are aspects of restriction of the masses, and, as a result of uncertainty on final success.
First reduction: the theater of insurrection is the capital; insurrection targets the nerve centers of the enemy for attack, it therefore is compelled to attack on the terrain of the enemy; which in this country means a reduction to the capital, France to Paris; the rest “must follow”; Paris coerces France, and as often happens, France does not allow itself to be led by example, Paris is crushed: the coercion generates the uncertainty.
Second reduction: The insurrection occurs in the context of the large cities, and the proletariat therein is practically the only agent; the proletariat of the capital brings along the rest of the people and in particular the countryside-in the face of the already accomplished fact: another constraint, another uncertainty.
Third reduction: Insurrection, a military blow against the nerve centers of the enemy, must exploit to the maximum the effect of surprise and speed; therefore, the theoreticians of insurrection are consistent in thinking that it must be led and organized by the party, however one then faces a dilemma: when the insurrection is spontaneous, the masses are there by definition, but then the conduct of military operations is uncertain and hesitant and the insurrection is lost; when the insurrection is prepared, organized and decided by the party, the military plan is by definition more concerted, but in many cases the working masses of the capital do not follow behind, the party is presented with an accomplished fact, another constraint, another uncertainty.
Fourth reduction: it is not even the party in its totality which is the decisive element in the insurrection. It is the “armed vanguard” forged by the party; it is it which carries out the hostilities when the day comes, everything depends upon it: it must march, and hold its ground until the masses follow, the next step is correct “supervision” of the masses. The armed vanguard is the decisive piece in the entire insurrectionary machine: it is what represents the element of organization and of centralization indispensable in a struggle of that type, to meet the organization and centralization of the enemy: one could just as well say that its task is not simple; on the other hand, it is the only element of the insurrectionist machine which evades contingency. Therefore the construction of the armed vanguard is the major preoccupation of every party attached to the logic of insurrection.
Fifth reduction: However heroic the armed vanguard maybe, however good the team is-and there are many examples-, if the insurrectionary general staff is not up to the task, hesitates, or the opposite, is excessively impatient, the vanguard will stay home or engage at the wrong time and be crushed. That is the “choice of the right moment”, a problem enveloped in the mystery of the highest strategy, it brings the vanguard to ruin, but not only them regrettably.
Thus, the theory of insurrection, is based upon a sequence of reductions, in which the country is reduced to the capital, the people to the proletariat, the proletariat to the party, the party to the armed vanguard and ultimately to the insurrectionary general staff. Therefore in the absence of anything else, it results in a pyramid of authorities, the authority of the insurrectionary general staff over the armed vanguard, the authority of the armed vanguard over the working masses of the capital, the authority of the proletariat over the rest of the people and of the capital over the rest of the country. A successful insurrection is the miraculous and seamless embodiment of all these concentric authorities: The general staff decides, the armed vanguard engages, the masses of the capital follow, the rest of the country follows suit.
That is why the history of insurrections is the history of successive failures, and the theory of insurrection is confined to the perennial statement “it could have been” if this or that had been done (better choice of the moment to attack, attack the central station and not the fire department).
That is why, if the protracted self defense struggle of popular power is the military figure of the democratic revolution, the revolution of the majority, the insurrection against the central power is the military figure of the authoritarian revolution, the revolution of the minority. 1
2: Main points of a self critical history
Why was that theoretical exposition a bit long? Because it is absolutely necessary to clarify our strategic ideas to some extent in order to make a critical balance sheet of our work and in order to redefine our orientation something which everyone feels the need to do.
Let’s be clear: in our view, we were on the wrong track; though it is not a matter of an absolute condemnation of the initiatives which have been taken, nor the experience which has been gained; but it is a question of a critique of the fundamental point of view which in fact guided our work.
That fundamental point of view was: that in order to oppose fascism we must construct a solid uniform, centralized military organization; that point of view is nothing but the theory of the armed vanguard; to what do we oppose this? A free federation of groups each possessing its own different political, militant and organizational characteristics.
To illustrate this opposition, let’s pose a question: when somewhere in France the people oppose their counter-violence to the aggression of the police or the henchmen of the employers, what will work better? Attempt to recruit, 2, 3, or 4 in any case a minority, in an attempt to organize according to what was our strict model, therefore casting a little force in the mold of our “national organization”?
Or go to the majority of those who have been active, discuss with them, aid them by all means, including with guidance, maintain regular relations with them, giving them the responsibility of organizing themselves in the way which seems most appropriate to them?
The response depends upon the fundamental strategic hypothesis: if we want to seize the central state power in a sudden act of force, it is incontestable that this requires a small army, functioning with the uniformity, discipline and centralization of command of a regular army: it must be a “armed vanguard”.
If on the contrary, we want to aid the popular power in protecting itself, at the unpredictable rhythm and locations where it is generated, we must favor not the creation of a centralized military organization, but a vast network of self defense groups throughout the country.
The armed vanguard as we have shown in the preceding is indissolubly linked to a authoritarian, minoritarian, centralized theory of the revolution in which it plays the principle part. However considering the two principle stages of our thought and our military practice, characterized in short by first the arrest of Nogrette, and second the reprisal action against the director of Peugeot in Sant-Etienne, two actions whose subversive significance and experimental value we do not question.
1: The military organization as a religious order
The arrest of Nogrette marked the endpoint of a comprehensively vanguardist theory of anti-fascist military organization: in effect.
1: the organization is physically external to the site of the confrontation: Since, though it was concealed at the time, there was no organization linking to Renault, and no certain community of sentiment with the extreme left wing of the factory; it is therefore a question of a small group enjoying a “delegation of power” which is not even direct, and therefore somewhat secretive, founded completely in the analytical capacity of some militants, and which can transform at any time into a usurpation of power.
2: By the logic of that action, the organization is comprised of professionals; this professionalization establishes a radical power differential between the “militants” (the professionals), and the supporters
among the masses, the “friends” (even if, the relation militant/friend, does not take on an underhanded or overtly pejorative meaning in distinction to the example of a couple of celebrated “maos/democrats”..).
3: The organization is also, necessarily bound by an extraordinary assembly of constraints, disciplinary regulations, among which is a no less then absolute secrecy, and which is intended to transform an extreme real weakness into a relative force; it is a “economy of war” which cuts off all possibilities of enlargement, not only towards the masses, but even towards militants: One need say nothing more…
In short, this type of organization presents many analogies to a religious order, which is intended, as everyone knows, to be the spiritual vanguard: provided with a secret delegation of power by the rest of humanity, foreign to the real torments of this world but speaking on its behalf, bound by a complex of regulations which exclude it from the normal world and recompose it as an artificial force. The politico-military logic which underlies such construction is typically vanguardist, it basically amounts to the assignment of the responsibility for the anti-fascist struggle to a small exemplary elite.
2: A reform but not a revolution
Following Nogrette, this thought evolves; basically the motor of this evolution is the contradiction between the very large responsibilities assumed before the masses, and the extremely narrow base which took up these tasks. In a handful, we talk about France, there emerges a movement whose scale is far beyond us, which puts us completely in question; “the vanguard” because it could accomplish a great deal, becomes conscious that it is not. Therefore it will broaden itself, but without really questioning its position, its pretension of being the center of the self defense movement in France: this is the creation of the base groups.
There is no doubt that the base groups represent progress: they are a real unity, on the basis of a factory, or of a political zone; for the bulk of their members there is a good relation between social life, political life on the base of that social life and strictly military work. However the fundamental traits of the vanguard model of organization remain. In particular, the singular organizational model, its regulations and statutes are imposed by the center of the organization upon the base groups; all who seek to join the organization must give themselves up to a single centrally produced mold, and must therefore abdicate a large portion of their liberty to the hands of the center; the concrete figure of this abdication, of this “strict surveillance” under which the center places the base groups, is the professional militant, educated in a strict respect for the regulations and statutes, which has become minoritarian,but whose presence is considered indispensable to the construction both material and moral and intellectual of the base groups: that is the “educator”.
All theories of the vanguard are a theory of the conscious minority: it postulates that it is better to have a conscious and organized minority, then a diverse and less organized majority. That is why it is said that the theory of the vanguard is a theory which reflects the political and military theory of the exploiting classes, thus a captive of this theory; the “political vanguard” is positioned above the masses and given power over them, it is a reflection of the state, the “military vanguard” and the theory of insurrection are a reflection of the special bodies of armed men [Engels] and of the the theory of the coup d’etat; in the theory of the vanguard the revolution is a captive of the counter-revolution, seeking to transcend the counter-revolution in the one place where it is definitively the master of the game, which is to say on the terrain of the organized minority, and abandoning the site of its real strength, which is to say the terrain of the majority.
However the choice made to construct base groups is of that order: better a conscious and organized minority then a diverse and less organized majority. That choice is necessarily manifested in a exclusion and a hierarchy; the exclusion is that which takes place on the base of the regulations and statutes: only those who are part of the anti-fascist organization are accepted, the others maybe “allies” but nothing more; it is therefore the choice of the conscious minority. The hierarchy is that between professional and non professional militants: both in theory have equal rights, but in reality it is the professionals who posses the maximum of power, since they are the “most organized”.
Therefore in the final analysis we have a hierarchal system which separates the professionals, the militants and the supporters; that system does in fact make possible a rather unified organization, a centralization of command; but it constitutes the anti-fascist organization as a minority.
3: the death of the vanguard
In reality, the true merit of the base groups was as follows: in the initial conception it was a broadening which did not affect the vanguardist structures; in reality, that broadening resulted in a crisis of vanguardist thought and the vanguardist system. The non-professional militants challenged the role of the professionals who they were associated with and thereby put their own functions into question: the unwritten internal hierarchy was therefore shaken. On the other hand the militants of the base groups also questioned the separation between the anti-fascists who accepted the statutes and regulations of the of the organization and acquired in so doing the dignity of the “organized”, and those who were not so disposed and were therefore separated: the exclusion of the “non-organized” was therefore equally contested. Thus the base groups, became the internal factor which sparked the contradiction between a real broadening, worthy of the name, that is to say one capable of measuring up to the preparations of the enemy, and the vanguardist thought and structure.
The external factor which sparked this contradiction is Lip (in short, there have been other events, but they were less significant). Lip forced very salutary reflection upon all the candidates for the vanguard role; and, on the military level, how could we not be brought back to our senses, by the fact that anonymous workers, who had not in anyway received an “education”, let alone the organizational mould of a supposed national “center”, were capable of realizing one of the most spectacular and certainly the most effective action of recent years: the seizure of the inventory.
Competition killed the vanguard: by definition there cannot be several; especially if the competition is from people who are willfully situated outside of that line of thought: Lip did not claim the place of the vanguard, but invited others to do as they had done. At the end of the day, and without it being their preoccupation in the least bit, Lip went beyond the military thought of the vanguardist rut: by beginning to reanimate the theory of the democratic, decentralized revolution, the revolution of the base, in the double sense of a revolution from below, and of a revolution through the bases of popular power; demonstrating with facts that any group which is able to defend a popular power, becomes a provisional military “vanguard”, and that therefore it does not and should not exist. 1
3: Proposals for the orientation of the organization
At this point, it is possible to make proposals for the future, based on the strategic hypothesis we have provided in the first part, and on the elements of a self-critical history we have deduced in the second.
These proposals, being only proposals, do not yet form a coherent whole: they are given in the form of detached thesis.
Thesis 1: The strategic hypothesis is that of a protracted war for the self-defense of popular power. Therefore there is no question of constructing a military organization adapted to the hypothesis of seizing central state power via insurrection: we should know how to dance. There is therefore no need for a uniform apparatus, possessing a strict unity of command, and compensating for its numerical inferiority with a excellent organization; no elite corps of revolutionary blitzkrieg. However, there is a urgent need for a free federation of self defense groups, each possessing autonomy in its territory and with no other obligation then that of mutual assistance.
This thesis has the following consequences: “self defense group” does not refer to a group formed artificially by the will of a political organization, but the cohesion of volunteers around a common object of defense. The task of the members of the federation is not to impose a model of organization or experience. It is to weave a link between the groups which are naturally emergent in individual parts of the country, to make them aware of the experience accumulated elsewhere, allowing them to draw from it what is needed. Each group is completely free to organize as it sees fit, it is equally free to take action as it sees fit, which does not preclude the organization of discussions, as they exclude the imposition of a decision elsewhere. The notion of a federation includes the circulation of experiences, political discussion, and mutual aid, in this it resists total collapse; it excludes authoritarian centralism and in that way it is opposed to the traditional idea of organization.
Thesis 2: The statutes of such a federation, are as a consequence should be limited to one or two theses which form the basic agreement of all members (Defense of popular power, irreducible opposition to fascism), and to one or two principles of collective ethics, which create a pact between all members of the collectivity (secrecy, dues payment, mutual aid).
Thesis 3: The federation uniting freely on the political and moral basis of the independent groups cannot allow a “double” interiority by any political organization. Everyone can if they so wish, and within the limits imposed by security, have a additional membership in a political group. But there cannot exist within the groups a secret structure of power beyond the control of the whole. Without this third thesis, the first two would no longer make sense.
Thesis 4: “prepare the phase to come in the current phase”, does not mean: do on on a small what later will be done on a large scale; it means: do something different from that which will be done later, but which prepares the future; preparing for the armed struggle does not mean launching it on a small scale: likewise, though it is certain that the development of the armed struggle for the defense of popular power will force many people into the security of total clandestinity, it by no means follows from this that we should encourage the formation of totally clandestine groups at the current time.
To the contrary, the best option is an equilibrium for each member of a group between participation in mass movements or initiatives, and secret military activities, and it is best for the possibilities of development of the federation of self defense groups, which will eventually be the basis for the totally clandestine groups which which will be necessary in the future.
There are two very different things: the position of those who are entirely clandestine, in other words, those who as a general rule are not employed, who do not appear in public demonstrations, whose entire life is covered by secrecy: the former are “in the maquis”, they become “foreigners in their own country”; this position certainly becomes the rule for most, in the more or less near future, the severity of the struggle will demand it. But at the current time, it does not need to be, it is only a exception; what should be the rule today, is the “double life”: a public face, a job, participation in mass movements; and a secret face, participation in a self defense group and the actions of that group.
This “double life” is indispensable at this time, in order to secure, by way of each of its members, a intimate relation between the federation and the other components of the movement for direct democracy, and in order to avoid the organization becoming a welfare bureaucracy, responsible for procuring a artificial life for those it has removed from real life.
This “double life” involves risks, which can undermine secrecy. In fact, there is no movement, no progress which does not involve risks. The only military organization which is almost totally assured of secrecy is that of a single individual scheming in their room.
Thesis 5: The status of professional militant will be abolished 1.
This point is a necessary consequence of the proceeding one. It is also the only radical way to struggle against the division between intellectual labor and executant labor in our ranks, the permanent reconstitution of a hierarchy of power and the knowledge which continually dictates a “base” and a “summit”.
Thesis 6: Generally we must strive for the destruction of everything which is bureaucratic and unnatural in the organization. The organizations are the states of those who challenge the state, they become parasitic bodies which suffocate real life, create dependency, constraints, and in the final analysis, need for the state, according to the formula: the maximum of powers belongs to the collectivity, the minimum to the delegations of that collectivity.
For example: the majority of indispensable technical functions, should by means of instruction be placed in the hands of the totality of the groups, and not concentrated within a special group.
Another example: the regular and obligatory meetings, veritable lay masses, whose power belongs only to the “officials”, should be abolished; instead, instead any militant should have the power to call meetings upon issues which concern them. In order to struggle against the perpetual menace of bureaucratic encroachment, it is necessary for each group and for the federation in its totality to be a “association of equals”.
Thesis 7: The “leadership” of such a federation can only be assured by a council formed of delegates elected from each real group.
Thesis 8: That council should have only limited powers: essentially only the circulation of experiences and ideas by way of texts and the organization of mutual assistance.
The objective of the revolution, is to construct a state “which is no longer completely a state”: that is not symmetrical with the state of the exploiting minority; in order to achieve this we must create popular power which is not symmetrical with bourgeois power and wage a war in its defense which is not a inverse copy of the war waged by the privileged minority to conquer and defend its power; therefore our organizations which is to say, the networks which produce collective forces, cannot reflect the organizations of the exploiting classes.
We are making these propositions1 to all those interested in the creation of a military power, a power of popular self-defense, which is not a symmetrical reflection and captive of the military power of the enemy, which does not rely on its force of concentration and of organization, but upon its dispersion and its quantity, because it is an expression of the majority. “Transform our weakness into strength”, means fundamentally: to build our strength, wherever the dominant thought, that of the exploiting classes, sees our weakness.
There is no all powerful centralized command, like that on the enemy’s side? This apparent weakness will be our strength. If we do not have one head, we can always still move; we should have a thousand heads like the hydra, that fantastic animal which no power could kill. There does not exist a strict dependence and solid bond between different groups like there does on the side of the enemy? If we were all dependent, the one upon the other like links in the same chain, it is well known that it only requires a break at one point for the entirety to fall apart.
Ultimately, we must pose a question to those who are irresistibly fascinated by the organization of the enemy power: do the Vietnamese construct aircraft carriers for their defense against the Americans?
X.Y. December 1973
1: Even the territorial existence of these liberated regions was only relative; on the one hand they had to be abandoned when the pressure of encirclement became too great; for example the Long March, or rather the Long Marches. On the other hand even during a counter-campaign of encirclement which required accepting being partially overrun by the enemy and “smashing the china”; it was necessary to struggle specifically against the conceptions which tended to put the territorial integrity of the red bases before all other considerations-for example the safety of the red army and which reduced the subversive function of popular power to the extent of territory it controlled.
2: Naturally, what we criticize here,is the theory which limits the objectives of the revolution to the seizure of central power, also reducing the war of the popular classes to a decisive struggle where everything plays out in a few hours, a sort of tragic and uncertain game whose stakes are the state. It is another matter to say that insurrection is the general uprising of the population, which can and must occur at the end of the revolutionary process, that is to say when the bases of popular power have multiplied and drained the central power of all legitimacy after action in defense of that power has constituted a popular military force and exhausted the troops of the counter-revolution, because at that point the political isolation and military degradation of the central power has reached an extreme point. From that perspective insurrection is no longer the singular but only the final act in the seizure of power.
3: We must not confuse two different things: a vanguard practice and a organization constituted as a vanguard; they are usually mixed very little in reality: wherever there is a “vanguard organization”, there is a rearguard practice and wherever there is a vanguard practice there is often no organization at all. The practice of military self-defense is objectively a practice of the vanguard in the sense that it is the most rigorous consequence and most advanced logic of the defense of popular power; currently in France, the action of self defense are the vanguard to the extent that they illuminate for all the path to follow. The recognition of that fact, and therefore that the self defense groups are the most advanced point of the popular movement today, does not mean for all that, that we must construct a organization formed from this vanguard: that is to say a minority detachment endowed with a “unified” consciousness and a centralized organization with an authoritarian articulation of the consciousness of the “unorganized”: the masses.
4: Except obviously for those who are fugitives and those who are considered otherwise unable to “join the maquis”.
5: And these proposals are not rigid: they are not indisputable either for the present, let alone the future, what is to come will produce more experience and demand renewed reflection. On the basis of a few fundamental theoretical points, which is our opinion concerning the organization of a self defensive power: it is certainly not a matter of creating a new dogma.