Maoism in France
In the last chapter, we saw that the evolution of French Trotskyism
over the past half century has led to a point where there are now
three major Trotskyist organizations in the country. On a number of
dimensions, including the organizational, they represent a continuum.
But as the dimension or issue shifts, the organizations do not always
occupy the same position on the continuum. For example, while Lutte
Ouvrière is closer to the OCI than to the Ligue on the
organizational issue, it is closer to the Ligue than to the
OCI in its approach to electoralism. This means that there is a
certain fluidity in the distinctions between the currents of French
Trotskyism which is reflected in their concrete interactions with each
In this chapter on French Maoism we are going to see a very
different phenomenon. Maoists are fond of saying that things must be
divided into two in order to be understood dialectically. At least
from 1968 to the mid 1970s the major characteristic of French Maoism
was indeed a clear cut dualistic cleavage, with the groups on each
side of the cleavage having virtually nothing to do with one another.
I shall refer to the two kinds of Maoism reflected in this dichotomy
as hierarchical Maoism and anti-hierarchical Maoism.
If French Maoism is divided into two varieties, equal attention is
not given to each of them in this chapter. For several reasons, more
is given to the anti-hierarchical variety. First, the major movement
within this current, the Gauche Prolétarienne (Proletarian
Left or GP) was, during its heyday, the most dynamic movement on the
French Far Left. Second, even during the period that it was outlawed,
it felt that the success of its actions depended upon giving them the
widest possible publicity. Its openness and its extensive written
records and self-criticisms made it possible to collect more data on
GP Maoism than on the more cautious hierarchical groups. Third,
because there have been only intermittent signs of life on the part of
people trying to keep GP Maoism going since 1974, and because much of
the written documentation is no longer available, any research and
writing on the movement by people who were not themselves participants
would be very difficult. I thus see the research which I did on the
movement in 1972 as particularly valuable in establishing an
historical record, as well as in making possible the analysis of a
fascinating current of Maoist expression in France.
This brings me to the last reason for devoting so much attention to
this current in France. As we shall see in Chapter 5, there has been
nothing like it in the United States. Elements within the French
context encouraged the development of this kind of Maoism whereas it
was not encouraged in the United States. Although the full dimensions
of this will not be spelled out until the Conclusion of this book, the
phenomenon of anti-hierarchical Maoism presents us with perhaps the
most interesting case of the relationship between aspects of a theory
and elements within concrete contexts of application.
Let us now turn to an examination of the history of French Maoism,
from its beginning to the point where it experienced the cleavage
which we have just been discussing.
FRENCH MAOISM UP TO 1968
Because of the relatively recent nature of the Sino-Soviet split,
Maoism as a distinct ideological current has a much shorter history
than does Trotskyism. As might be expected, the first stirring of a
Maoist current separate from the French Communist Party came within
the Franco-Chinese Friendship Association. Prior to the Sino-Soviet
split, there was no incompatibility between membership in both the
party and the association. However, as the conflict between the Soviet
and Chinese parties intensified and the French party began to accept
gradually the de-Stalinization decided upon by the Soviet party, some
of those in the Friendship Association began to form "Marxist-Leninist
Circles." Among these people were the most diehard Stalinists
within what was one of the most Stalinist parties in Western Europe.
In 1964, the "Circles" were formally grouped into a
national organization, the Federation des Cercles Marxistes-Léninistes.
A second group, founded by an expelled former Communist Party
member named Claude Beaulieu, was also created in 1964.
This was the Centre Marxiste-Léniniste de France. It,
however, never attained the importance of the first group. It was
badly discredited by its support for de Gaulle in the 1965
presidential elections, a support which it justified by de Gaulle's
hostility toward American imperialism. It was the only Maoist group
not dissolved by decree of the Gaullist government after the 1968
Beaulieu's group was denounced as the French followers of Liu Shao-shi
by the other Maoists, and very negatively viewed by the non-Maoist
Left for its support of Gaullism. On the other hand, the Federation,
which changed its name to the Mouvement Communiste Français (MCF)
in 1967, received official recognition as a fraternal organization
from the Chinese and Albanian parties.
Both of the above groups came out of the "adult"
Communist Party. However, within the student group of that party, the Union
des E'tudiants Communistes (UEC), there was a dynamic taking
place which would eventuate in the creation of a different set of
Maoist structures. It will be recalled that from 1963 to 1965, the
parent party virtually lost control over the UEC. Krivine and his
fellow Trotskyists were practicing "entrism" within the UEC.
However, the UEC also served as the womb for an important part of the
Maoist movement, much the same way that the SDS would serve as a womb
for American Maoism.
Perhaps because for the Trotskyists the UEC was a foster home while
for the Maoists it was the womb, it was much more difficult for the
Maoists to accept a clear break than it was for the Trotskyists.
Indeed, in their incipient stage, they were less fully convinced
followers of Mao than were those older party members who had split off
in 1964. They tended rather to accept the criticisms of theoretical
sterility made by Professor Louis Althusser against the party.
Althusser, a professor at the E'cole Normale Supérieure where
this current was initially centered, was a party member who did not
make the transition to Maoism the way many of his younger followers
within the UEC did.
But they moved more slowly and more cautiously than the Trotskyists
because they had no preconceived plan like "entrism." Even
though they thought that the Communist Party's support for
Mitterrand's 1965 presidential candidacy was an error--perhaps not as
great as support for de Gaulle, but an error nonetheless--they did not
openly take a hostile position as the Trotskyists did. And they drew a
distinction between the "leftist" Trotskyist entrists and
"honest militants" in the UEC.
They felt that the Trotskyists deserved to be purged, but that in
doing so the parent party had also excluded some "honest"
militants who were not practicing "entrism" but who were
simply expressing different views from the party leadership's. They
thus created a structure called the Parisian Collective in which those
"honest militants" (mainly themselves) whose cells had been
abolished could continue to participate.
The Parisian Collective, however, proved to be a stepping stone to
the creation of an organization which was to rival the UEC. In
February of 1966, while some of the militants were still in the UEC,
they created the Union des Jeunesses Communistes (marxiste-léniniste),
which is sometimes referred to as the UJC (m-l) but which I shall
refer to hereafter simply as the UJCML.
In March, Althusser's positions were officially denounced by the
Central Committee of the Communist Party.
In April, the UJCML retaliated by distributing at the UEC's Ninth
Congress a tract entitled "Must We Revise Marxist-Leninist Theory?".
This was a direct attack on the position of the Central Committee. The
Communist Party had had enough from the UJCML. Members of the UJCML
were expelled from the UEC the year after the Trotskyists' expulsion.
After that expulsion, the UJCML clearly identified itself as Maoist in
ways that it had not previously.
It has been estimated that there were approximately 1500 militants in
the UJCML at this point.
Aside from Beaulieu's largely discredited group, there were thus
two Maoist organizations in France with quite different social
compositions prior to the 1968 revolt. The UJCML was almost entirely,
if not entirely, composed of students. While there were also some
intellectuals in the MCF, the dominant tone was set by older and
non-intellectual former members of the Communist Party--the most
uncompromisingly Stalinist to boot. They had little patience with the
UCML, which they viewed as an elitist organization of young
intellectuals who knew nothing about the working class and who placed
pseudo-theorizing above practice. The following passage is the
conclusion of a document adopted by the Central Committee of the MCF.
In this case, it was drafted by an intellectual himself, who had
joined the Communist Party in 1940, the year that France was invaded
by the Nazis, whom Stalin was to fight.
It is thus supposed [by the UJCML] that youth constitutes the very
basis of an independent and autonomous organization capable of
finding its way as an isolated detachment in the capitalist world.
And, in consequence, priority is here given to youth as a class
based upon age above that of the proletariat as a social class as
the carrier of the future of the world. Let us add that within youth
itself it is the students who appear, not only as the initiators,
but also as the masters of thought, as the designated leaders.
We always come to the same conclusion: we must let the students,
the intellectuals, constitute themselves as an autonomous
theoretical detachment. When they have grasped the truth--acquired
outside of the workers' experience and verified only by "theoretical
practice"--they will present themselves before the masses who
do not have access to the theoretical basics but to a defective
translation of Marxist theory: the ideology of the workers.
The contention of the MCF was that a youth group can only serve as
an appendage of an ongoing party. The UJCML was, however, not about to
submit itself to the discipline of an "adult" party. It
argued that through a method referred to as the enquête--going
out to the people and learning from them the UJCML could come to know
and understand not only the workers but also such "secondary
categories" as students, the bourgeoisie, and small and tenant
farmers. In other words, what the UJCML does not know it must ask. To
maintain this kind of openness to input from the masses, the UJCML
contended that the centralized form of organization adopted by the MCF
was an impediment. The party was too closed a structure and, in that
sense, at least at the present stage of the struggle, the MCF itself
was elitist. The creation of a true centralized party would have to be
based upon preparatory work such as that being done in the enquête.
It was, in other words, a long-range goal of the UJCML. Up to
that point a more decentralized and fluid movement seeking input from
exploited people in various sectors of the population was more
While the majority of the MCF and the UJCML were doing battle over
the desirability of a centralized party at a given point in time, the
leaders of the MCF had to contend with a dissident wing in their group.
Largely composed of intellectuals, referred to by their opponents
sarcastically as the "groupe de 'professeurs'," these
dissidents argued against a disciplined party form of organization and
for a "grand alliance" of all of the Maoist groups in
France, something which the UJCML also favored.
The leadership of the MCF was thus facing precisely the same
problem with its intellectuals that the Trotskyists faced after the
Second World War. Then, too, a number of intellectuals called for more
fluid patterns of interaction, which many viewed as a virtual call for
the destruction of the party. The Maoist intellectuals were now doing
the same thing, and this general pattern of behavior was not lost on
the majority of the MCF:
This fractional anti-Party group, group of "professors,"
can be characterized as intellectualist and dogmatic. It was rooted
in petit-bourgeois ideology and seriously believed in its
superiority over the authentically proletarian elements in the
In criticizing the UJCML, a member of the majority of the MCF
recalled the words of Lenin:
On the subject of these elements [the Maoists expelled from the UEC],
that we in no way view as enemies, we simply shall recall what Lenin
said in One Step Forward, Two Steps Backward in regard to
bourgeois intellectuals who feared proletarian discipline and
organization: "No one would dare deny that what, in a general
fashion, characterizes the intellectuals as a particular social
stratum in contemporary capitalist societies is precisely their
individualism and inaptitude for discipline and organization."
In late 1967, the anti-party intellectuals were presented with the
hard choice. The majority faction of the MCF decided on a formal
conversion of the Mouvement into a more highly structured
party, the Parti Communiste Marxisie-Léniniste de France (PCMLF).
The generational and intellectual/non-intellectual cleavages which
divided the UJCML and the PCMLF manifested themselves in differences
over specific substantive questions. The PCMLF was critical of the
decision of the UJCML to hold off criticism of the Communist support
of Mitterrand while the UJCML was still part of the Communist student
organization. By the spring of 1968, before the massive revolt took
place in France, two other fairly clear issues divided the two
The first involved relations with labor unions. The UJCML had
adopted a policy similar to the "entrism" of the Trotskyists
(and for which they had been critical of the Trotskyists) but they
applied it to the Communist-dominated labor confederation, the CGT,
rather than to the Communist Party itself or its student affiliate.
The UJCML argued that the CGT is an important confederation (it is the
largest in France) in that some sections of it are "revolutionary"
despite a "revisionist" national leadership and that, in the
minds of most workers, it is the CGT which is associated with the
Thus the major strategy of the UJCML was to go into the factories
to join the CGT, and to engage in both open battle against the
employers and clandestine political organization. The PCMLF, at this
point in time, felt that the CGT was a lost cause. It argued that the
Maoists would be purged from the CGT, which was very tightly under the
control of the "revisionist" Communist Party-oriented
leadership. The PCMLF favored letting their members remain in or join
whichever unions they preferred. Its priority was clearly not the
penetration of unions, but the construction of a vanguard political
A second interesting, if more symbolic, difference developed over
support of the struggle of the Vietnamese against the U.S. and the
regimes which it sustained in the South. The two organizations had
their own NLF support organizations. The PCMLF's organization adopted
the slogan, "No new Munichs! " If this meant something to
the older members of the PCMLF, it was completely lost on the younger
generation for which "Munich" (i.e., the
concessions made by the French and British to pacify Hitler) was out
of the range of direct experience.
By March of 1968, the PCMLF itself recognized the limitations of its
slogan and dropped it, contending that it was not understood by the
Not surprisingly, the PCMLF inherited the Chinese and Albanian
recognition from the MCF, and an important element within the UJCML
was dissatisfied with the progress of their own organization and began
to hope for a merger. Thus in the spring of 1968 the UJCML split, with
a group from Lyons taking the initiative in self-criticism. There were
admissions that "we persisted in an intellectualist and sectarian
attitude," that the UJCML has criticized the MCF "without
seeing that our youth could learn from their experience," that
the UJCML exhibited "petit-bourgeois sectarianism, our desire to
keep ourselves distinct at any price."
It was further contended that "while several comrades of the UCML
have not been able to rid themselves of a certain petit-bourgeois
aestheticism, the PCMLF dares to lead the Marxist-Leninist struggle on
the cultural front through its publication, l'Opposition
The revolt of May and June thus exploded at a very difficult time
for the UJCML. The ideas of the group from Lyons, called the "liquidationist
current," found wide-range acceptance within the organization.
The current was so named because the logical outcome of these ideas
was the liquidation of the UJCML as an organization and the
incorporation of its militants within the party structure of the PCMLF.
The UJCML was caught off balance by the revolt. Mainly preoccupied
with its own internal problems, it argued against the erection of the
barricades in the student district of Paris. On the eve of the battle
known as the "Night of the Barricades," May 10, the UJCML
took a position similar to that of the Lambertist Trotskyists (the
tendency now represented by the OCI and its youth group, the AJS). It
argued that a true revolution must be made by the workers and that
confrontations without them were meaningless. It urged students to go
out to the factories and the working class neighborhoods rather than
mounting the barricades in the Latin Quarter. Members of the
organization did not participate in the battle that night.
Ironically, the PCMLF, the Maoist organization which had been
arguing that youth should not be considered a separate revolutionary
class or a group which would give direction to the workers, was more
supportive of the students. Some of their members or sympathizers were
on the barricades.
However, once the labor unions began to demonstrate support for the
students and workers began to conduct massive strikes and plan
occupations to the point of creating the spontaneous general strike
which paralyzed France, then the UJCML joined forces with the broader
movement by organizing "long marches" out to the factories
in support of the workers.
This attempted reintegration into the broader movement, however,
did not save the organization. The pro-discipline party faction argued
that the regime survived 1968 because there was not a disciplined
party willing and capable of giving any direction to the tremendous
energy unleashed by the revolt. By this time they were clearly a
majority. The UJCML people who had taken jobs in factories were called
out and the majority withdrew from the practical world to seek
guidance in the basic texts. It was a massive retreat. The UJCML was
put to rest permanently.
The 1968 revolt proved to be a watershed. After it, French Maoist
But they went in one of the two directions indicated in the
introduction of this chapter. Those whom I call the hierarchical
Maoists accepted the Leninist concept of a centralized and highly
disciplined party and attempted to build organizations along those
lines. While differing among themselves over specific issues or even
theoretical points, they have not offered any terribly new or
unorthodox interpretations of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. As already
indicated, the anti-hierarchical Maoists went in a different direction,
which was more interesting for comparative purposes. The French
signify the distinction between the two currents by referring to the
first as Marxiste-Léniniste and the second as les Maoïstes
or simply les Maos.
The prototype of hierarchical Maoism is the PCMLF itself. Most of
the other hierarchical Maoist organizations have resulted from splits
within the PCMLF, which continues to be the officially recognized
Chinese organization. Not surprisingly, it defended the position of
the Chinese regime right down the line.
Like most of the Far Left organizations, the PCMLF was banned by
the government after the 1968 revolt. It became a clandestine
organization which made its positions public under the name of its
paper, l'Humanité Rouge (HR). The party continued to operate,
but feared to even permit its Central Committee to meet together in
one place. In the summer of 1970 seven or eight of its leaders were
arrested for reconstituting a banned organization, and these arrests
continued sporadically right up through 1976, when one of their
leaders, Roman Le Gal, spent five-and-a-half months in a prison
without even being convicted.
Both the caution necessitated by the clandestine posture and
repression were having debilitating effects upon the party. Its
membership dropped from between two and three thousand to
approximately a thousand.
Moreover, a group of younger members objected to the clandestine
posture insisted upon meetings of the full Central Committee, and left
the party when their demands were refused. They formed a paper called Le
Travailleur (The Worker) in the summer of 1970. They did a
self-criticism and were readmitted back into the party as individuals
in 1973. However, a second group of young people, many of them having
come from the UJCML, took the same position but did not quit the party.
In an attempt to compromise with these people or pacify them, five of
their number were given responsibility for editing the paper and were
attached to the Central Committee. They used the paper to criticize
the party's leadership, and were stripped of their posts. They refused
to accept the sanction or to do a self-criticism
This group was expelled, and it established a paper called Front
Rouge. It published this paper from the time of its explusion in
1970 to 1974. However, all during this period it refused to recognize
the legitimacy of its expulsion. Like the Trotskyists when they were
initially expelled from the Communist parties, the people of Front
Rouge insisted that they were just as legitimately a part of the
PCMLF as were those who purged them. This was the only way to make a
continued appeal for Chinese and Albanian recognition.
In 1974, they gave up the attempt and formed their own legal party,
the Parti Communiste Révolutionnaire (marxiste-léniniste) or
PCR (m-l). It was a younger party, lacking the older former Communist
Party members at the top which the PCMLF had. It was much more open in
its activities, since it was not working under the constraint of a ban.
And it joined in common demonstrations and other activities with
non-Maoist groups on the Far Left, including Trotskyist organizations.
In the eyes of the PCMLF, the latter was a particularly serious error
and it viewed the PCR (m-l) as an ultraleftist organization attracted
to spontaneous action. The PCR (m-l) viewed the PCMLF as a structure
ossified by its preoccupation with clandestinity and totally isolated
from every other group on the Far Left.
The fortunes of the PCMLF, which had begun to decline in 1970,
continued to decline until 1976. The attractiveness of the PCR(m-l),
which was growing in size, which was able to publish a daily newspaper
just like the PCMLF,
and which was much better integrated into the larger Far Left milieu,
was not helping the PCMLF.
After 1976, two factors pushed these two largest Maoist French
organizations closer together. One was a severe self-criticism which
the PCMLF made against itself in 1976.
It criticized itself for the following errors made at its 1975
Congress: (1) arbitrarily declaring that a war between the two
superpowers was imminent; (2) viewing the French Communist Party as a
direct agent of the USSR;
(3) focusing exclusively on the superpowers as its target while
ignoring the everyday problems of the French working class; (4)
veering toward an alliance with the bourgeoisie in defense of French
national independence; (5) thusly hesitating to attack the nuclear
policy of France, or to side with the peasants protesting the
construction of nuclear plants in their regions; (6) thusly seeing the
GCT and the Communist Party as the major targets in their factory work;
and (7) refusing to support the soldiers in the French armed forces,
who were organizing and pressuring just demands, under the pretext
that they were led by Trotskyists and used by the revisionist
This is the most basic self-criticism that this writer has ever seen
any Marxist-Leninist group make of itself. While focusing on specific
issues, it basically agreed with the charge of sectarianism levied by
The second factor was the upcoming French legislative elections of
1978. It attests to the tremendous impact which those upcoming
elections had upon the entire Left in France that both the PCMLF and
the PCR(m-l), neither of which had ever run candidates before, took an
electoral turn. The self-criticism of the PCMLF made the PCR(m-l) much
more willing not only to enter into a joint electoral pact with the
PCMLF but to do so as an act which would be considered a step in the
direction of an attempt to actually reunite the two organizations.
In the first Maoist participation in national elections 
the two parties ran 114 candidates and received approximately 28,000
While this was a positive experience, some problems still remained in
terms of future unification. From the perspective of the PCMLF, there
were three problems which had to be resolved before the two groups
could unify. First the PCMLF felt that the PCR(m-l) emphasized the
concept of the mass line to the point of virtually denying the
leadership role of the party. The PCMLF placed its emphasis upon the
directive role of the party. This did not concern the internal
dynamics of the party, but rather the relationship between the party
and the masses.
Secondly, the PCMLF felt that Maoist groups should deal only with
each other. The PCR(m-l) entered into discussions with the
Ligue-OCT-CCA coalition prior to its 1978 electoral agreement with the
PCMLF. It was also attracted to the position that Far Left groups
should urge their voters to vote for the Communist or Socialist
parties on the second round. The PCMLF felt that Maoist groups should
not be involved with Trotskyist groups. And it made complete
abstention on the second round a condition of its alliance with the
Third, while the PCR(m-l) condemned the Gang of Four and criticized
the Albanians for their position on the Theory of the Three Worlds,
the PCMLF was still not completely at ease with the appreciation which
the PCR(m-l) had of that theory and with its response to concrete
situations. Shortly after the legislative elections of 1978, when
president Giscard d'Estaing felt emboldened to send French
paratroopers into Zaire, the two organizations took completely
contrary stands. The PCMLF, alone among the French Left, accepted the
Chinese position that a Second World country was countering Soviet
social-imperialism. The PCR(m-l) took the position that every other
group on the Left did, namely that the French were practicing good
old-fashioned capitalist imperialism.
During this period of attempted rapprochement, both parties
continued their daily work. This involved publishing rather short
daily newspapers and selling them either by subscription or through
the comprehensive Maoist bookstore, the Librairie Norman Bethune. The
PCMLF also ran its own bookstore which handled the paper. Both parties
were heavily engaged in work within the factories. This work was
conducted through the union structures. Like the Ligue, they
had in the past found it easier to work within the autogestionnaire
CFDT than within the Communist-dominated CGT. But with the
loosening of internal controls within the CGT, the PCMLF developed an
increasing taste for working therein. Although not liking its close
ties with the Socialist Party since 1974, the PCR(m-l) adopted a more
positive view of the CFDT than of any other labor confederation and
seemed more content than the PCMLF to make its major investment there.
Neither of the Maoist parties has emphasized youth to the extent
that the Ligue has. In fact, while the PCMLF contended that
between 15 and 20 per cent of its members were teachers in 1978, (mainly
at the primary and secondary levels), it readily admitted that as
opposed to 1968, a decade later it had almost no students in its ranks.
The PCR(m-l), which had a lower average age at both the leadership and
general membership level, has made a major attempt at recruiting
younger people, including students, through its Union Communiste
de la Jeunesse Révolutionnaire. This closer similarity in age
and student distribution has made it easier for the PCR(m-l) to
interact with the rest of the Far Left, while the PCMLF has remained
Similar to their positions on youth, both of the Maoist parties
have expressed concern over the oppression of women, but neither has
been willing to go to the extent that the Ligue has in terms
of organizational commitment or of supporting the autonomous women's
movement. For about a year (1974-75) the PCMLF published a little
newspaper on women, and at one time they experimented with women's
commissions within the party. These attempts were terminated. But this
writer was assured that in 1978 much more attention was being devoted
to placing women in leadership positions. One leader estimated that
while only about ten per cent of the Central Committee was female,
about 30 per cent of the emerging leaders coming up through
intermediate levels were women. He also estimated that women comprised
somewhere between 35 and 40 per cent of the entire party. The party
has no position at all on homosexuality, and has been claiming to be
concerned uniquely with the effectiveness of its militants' work
regardless of their sexual preferences.
Finally, both parties have rejected the nuclear power program of
the government and any nuclear power program under capitalism. They
thus have shared the views of the Trotskyist OCI and Lutte Ouvrière,
but do have not accepted the unequivocal rejection of nuclear
power by the Trotskyist Ligue. As reflected in its 1976
self-criticism, this issue has been a difficult one for PCMLF. Up to
1976, its willingness to support any program which strengthened
"Second World" France and thus rendered it less dependent on
the United States--including both its own nuclear power program and
its own nuclear strike force aimed primarily at the USSR--precluded
any critical posture vis-à-vis the nuclear policies of the
French government. This separated the PCMLF from the growing
anti-nuclear movement and from the massive demonstrations against the
installation of specific plants which usually displaced farmers in the
countryside. In 1976, the PCMLF decided that it could eat its cake and
have it, too; that it could support the deployment of nuclear weapons
aimed at the Soviet Union but oppose non-military aspects of the
nuclear program. That position was questioned by others on the Far
Left, including other Maoists.
The Maoist group to raise the sharpest questions about the PCMLF's
self-criticism, which it called a "phoney self-criticism,"
was the Groupe pour la Fondation de l'Union des Communistes de
France Marxistes Léninists. The first five words of the name are
usually omitted and the organization is commonly referred to as the
UCFML. It is probably the third largest Maoist organization in France.
Most of the Maoist organizations in France have emerged as splits
from the PCMLF. This was the origin of the PCR(m-l). The UCFML is an
exception. This organization goes back to 1970, when it was founded by
Alain Badiou, a philosophy professor at the Faculty of Vincennes (this
faculty was itself a concession or an attempt to appease and isolate
the Left after 1968), and a leader of the pro-Chinese tendency within
the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU).
The UCFML has made no claim to be a party, as have the other two
organizations. In fact, it has not even claimed to be a "union"
yet, but a "group" for the formation of a "union."
It has readily admitted that it does not yet have a mass base which
would entitle it legitimately to refer to itself as a party. It also
questions the legitimacy of the PCMLF and the PCR(m-l) so doing.
Despite the fact that it is smaller than the two parties, the UCFML
has been a very active group and has exhibited some quite different
characteristics from them. A great proportion of its energy has been
invested in the support of the struggles of the immigrant workers. In
its very first year of existence it directed its efforts at trying to
assist the immigrant workers who were still locked into the
shantytowns known as bidonvilies. 
The UCFML has been viewed by the other Maoists as being highly
intellectual and theoretical. This is because the organization has
insisted upon doing its own independent assessment and analysis of
problems which it encounters, and of what is issued as a political
line by the Chinese. They have been very blunt in stating that as it
has been formulated by the Chinese the Theory of the Three Worlds is
designed to serve the interests of the Chinese state, but that that is
not the function of the UCFML. They have been particularly adamant in
insisting that the USSR is no more dangerous than the United States,
that the NATO alliance must be opposed without equivocation, and that
French foreign policy is imperialist and must be strenuously opposed,
even if that foreign policy is anti-Soviet and if France does have
certain disagreements with the United States. Unlike a tiny group
which split off from the PCMLF in 1976, the Organisation pour la
Reconstruction du Parti Communiste de la France, the UCFML has
not raised the Albanian banner when it has presented its positions.
They are very similar, but the UCFML has insisted upon independent
analysis and avoided going out of its way to bait the Chinese.
The UCFML has taken a similarly frank but not unnecessarily baiting
attitude toward the "Gang of Four," whom both the PCMLF and
PCR(m-l) have resoundingly denounced. The UCFML was frank in saying
that it found the charges launched against the Gang--charges of
Trotskyism, among other things--deficient. Moreover, it found that
those levied against Mao's second wife, who was unfavorably compared
with his highly subservient first wife, contained strong elements of
sexism. The UCFML refused to denounce the Gang of Four on the basis of
the evidence submitted by the Chinese regime.
Finally, two tactical differences have separated the UCFML from the
two Maoist parties. First, while they have had people working within
factories, they have been absolutely against working within the unions.
They have taken an even harder line on this than the Trotskyist Lutte
Ouvrière, which has emphasized committees outside of
the union structures but which still has worked within the unions. The
UCFML has worked exclusively through groups which it has created,
called the noyoux communistes ouvriers, or communist workers'
cells. Secondly, while the PCMLF and the PCR(m-l) succumbed to
electoralism by running candidates in the 1978 legislative elections,
the UCFML retained a strictly non-electoralist posture, and urged
people to abstain from those elections.
As was pointed out before this discussion of hierarchical Maoism,
despite the differences which have existed among the PCMLF, the
PCR(m-l) and the UCFML, none of these organizations or any of the
other smaller hierarchical Maoist splinter groups have offered any
radically new interpretations of Marxism, Leninism, and/or Maoism. For
major tactical and theoretical innovations, one must turn to the
In September 1968, while the "liquidationist current" of
the UJCML was in seclusion--studying, among other texts, Lenin's What
Is To be Done?--a current of the non-liquidationists called Mao-spontex
("spontex" referring to spontaneity, a very
non-Leninist concept) created a new movement called La Gauche Prolétarienne
(The Proletarian Left, or GP). Simultaneously, a newspaper called
La Cause du Peuple (The Peoples' Cause, or CDP) was started.
The GP was to become the most potent action arm of the
anti-hierarchical Maoist movement. The CDP was its public and
information arm. The impact of this group was so strong that when in
France one said "les Maoïsts", it was usually assumed that
one was referring to the GP.
While a very small number of militants created these structures in
September (not more than forty started the paper, the CDP), the
movement received a shot in the arm when some of the militants from
the Nanterre-based Mouvement du 22 Mars came in in February
and March of 1969. The 22 Mars played a crucial catalytic
role in the 1968 revolt on the Nanterre campus of the University of
Paris. Although it was a coalition which included people inclined
toward Maoism as well as JCR Trotskyists (like present Ligue leader
Daniel Ben-Said) and Trotskyist sympathizers, the dominant tone and
public image was set by Daniel Cohn-Bendit ("Danny the Red")
and his anarchist comrades. Also, some of those who had been fence
straddlers in the dispute between the "liquidationists" and
the "Mao-spontex" decided to enter. The GP was very careful
to screen out those who had taken any kind of leadership position in
the "liquidationist" movement so as to avoid bringing the
dispute which had destroyed the UJCML into the new organization.
While these people were going into the GP, a second
anti-hierarchical Maoist group was being created. This was Vive la
Revolution (VLR). Nanterre was a stronghold of the VLR and, like
the GP, it attracted some of the former 22 Mars people. But
it also attracted some of the "liquidationists" who had gone
into the PCMLF and who were very quickly alienated by both the
hierarchical nature of the organization and what they perceived to be
clandestine caution to the point of inactivity. This anti-hierarchical
group led a short life, terminating in the summer of 1971. But it had
a significance which transcended its own existence.
Vive la Révolution
VLR was smaller than the Gauche Prolétarienne. In 1970,
their relative sizes were estimated at "several hundred" and
"about fifteen hundred."
In social composition they were similar, as might be expected from
what has been said about their origin. Like the GP, VLR entered a
Parisian automobile plant and attempted to do political work with
The special target operation was the Citroen plant in Paris' 15th
Arrondissement. They also worked in approximately twenty factories in
the Parisian suburbs.
Finally, as I have noted, the VLR was similar to the GP in being a
non-Leninist and anti-hierarchical organization.
Ideologically, however, the VLR differed from the GP in centering
its criticism of bourgeois society around a concept developed by the
French Marxist or neo-Marxist sociologist Henri Lefebvre, that of
As this concept was developed within the VLR's paper, Tout, greater
and greater emphasis was placed upon that aspect of everyday life
stressed by Wilhelm Reich, the libidinal. Tout, which
appeared every two weeks during its sixteen number existence, was the
first widely distributed, French political publication to stress
problems of sex, women's liberation, and gay rights.
Despite the fact that a minority of the total number of articles in
Tout dealt with sexually related topics, the attempt to add
this dimension to the revolutionary struggle resulted in the early
demise of the organization. Issue number 12 alienated the members of
the VLR who were attempting to do factory organizing, other groups on
the Far Left, and the government. Two four-page articles, one dealing
with women's liberation and the other with homosexuality, resulted in
factory organizers declaring the publication useless for distribution
to workers, in the Norman Bethune Maoist Bookstore refusing to handle
the paper, and in the government banning and seizing the issue--as
well as bringing an obscenity charge against Jean-Paul Sartre, who had
agreed to serve as the nominal editor of the paper.
The four final issues of Tout, which was dissolved in July
1971, engaged in an analysis of the puritanical attitudes of the Far
Left, of its inability or unwillingness to see that a truly liberating
revolution must break the sexual repressiveness of bourgeois society
as well as the economic and hierarchical repressiveness. It was the
first group on the French Far Left to make this point. While the VLR
itself fell apart, it was helping to set the stage for the entrance of
the counter-cultural phenomena which were so visible by the mid 1970s.
According to Hess, both the women's liberation movement (the Mouvement
de Liberation des Femmes, MLF) and the gay movement in France (the
Front des Homosexuels Revolutionnaires, FHR) grew out of the
VLR experience, and were initially led by former VLR people.
La Gauche Prolétarienne: Initial Offensives &
The Gauche Prolétarienne and its newspaper, La Cause
du Peuple, continued to thrive and to engage management, the
regime, and even the CGT in constantly escalating confrontations. It
stole the thunder of the hierarchical PCMLF, which had been leading a
very cautious, clandestine existence since its 1968 banning. When the
government decided to go after the GP, it was because its dramatic and
daring tactics were perceived as a threat to political stability, and
not for reasons of sexual morality, as in the case of the VLR.
Most Maoist organizations, indeed most Marxist-Leninist
organizations generally, begin with a relatively loose pre-party
structure. The party stage represents a tightening up of the
hierarchical order. It was quite the opposite in the case of the Gauche
Prolétarienne. The first two years of the life of GP Maoism,
from the fall of 1968 to the fall of 1970, represented the high point
of organizational structure of the Mao-spontex current. During this
stage there was a committee structure at the national, regional, and
local levels. These committees called and coordinated periodic "general
assemblies of workers" which were supposed to make the real
decisions. While some people came to be known as "leaders,"
the people within the GP at least told themselves that they were
fighting against the importance of distinctions between leaders and
non-leaders in the making of decisions. The general assemblies were
supposed to maximize political equality. This was a conscious goal,
but some people emerged as more influential than others. The
influentials were disproportionately male.
The thrust of the GP was to create a new "autonomous"
workers' movement by uniting "the anti-authoritarian aspirations
as they were expressed and continue to be expressed by youth and the
new forms of battle in the working class, anti-despotic forms of
The new forms of battle referred to a wide variety of tactics employed
by workers during and after 1968 which included occupying plants,
holding bosses hostage until they gave into demands, resisting the
para-military CRS when it attempted to recapture the plants, and
The first step in the implementation of the strategy of developing
an autonomous work force was the scrapping of the UJCML's practice of
attempting to work within the CGT, the Communist-dominated union. This
step was taken early in the game, at a national general assembly of
workers which the GP called in January 1969, in an attempt to pull
people operating in different plants together so that they could
compare notes. This was even a month or two before the people from the
22 Mars came into the movement. In April, the GP issued the
first number of its own review, Les Cahiers de la Gauche Prolétarienne,
in which the relationship between the "anti-authoritarian
revolt" of youth and the proletarian revolution was explicated.
The major field of confrontation at this time was the Renault plant at
Flins, which again erupted into combat with the police in June 1969.
There was also considerable effort placed in the spring of 1969 upon
reaching secondary school students.
After confrontations and battles with the police at Flins, a second
workers assembly was held. At this assembly ideas were proposed for
gaining control over the speed of production lines and directing the
battle clearly against oppressive bosses and foremen. There were some
experiments with tactics during the summer of 1969, including the
introduction of sabotage techniques to interrupt the assembly line in
a factory in Roubaix-Tourcoing
The second issue of Les Cahiers de la Gauche Prolétarienne, dated
September-October 1969, introduced a new concept which increased the
intensity and spread of the battle--"the non-armed but violent
battle of the partisans."
University and high school students were encouraged to go into the
factories, slums, or working class suburbs "to lead the
resistance, to lead the violent struggle."
From the very beginning, the Maoists faced opposition within the
factories. On the one hand, they had to contend with the militants of
the CGT when they entered plants where the CGT had any strength. The
CGT did not appreciate the attempts of the Maoists to break their
control over the channelling of demands within the work setting. At
times, this led to violent confrontations.
On the other hand, engaging in any kind of "political"
work in the plants was regarded as grounds for dismissal. In some
plants this extended to conversations between workers and to putting
political tracts, publications, or clippings on the bulletin boards.
In plants such as Renault, the work of the CGT was not considered by
management to be "political" and thus was not proscribed. In
the sense that the CGT stresses bread and butter demands and tries to
accomplish them through accepted channels, it is different from the
Maoists, and the Maoists were the first to point out the distinction.
In some plants, such as those of Citroen, management deals with even
more easily controlled "independent" unions.
However, whether or not the CGT is active in a plant or there is an
"independent" union, management has not left it to the
unions to enforce discipline within the factories. In many of them
there has been a virtual police force under the command of the
personnel department charged with patrolling the plant floor and
looking for political trouble. The French call these milices
patronales or the boss' police. And, on top of these people,
there have been informants among the immigrant workers who could cause
considerable grief upon the immigrants' return home. This was a
particularly serious problem for Portuguese workers under the Salazar
regime and for Spanish workers under Franco. Deportation for
participating in radical action in the French plants could entail very
In March 1970, the French government decided that letting the plant
police deal with the militants once they were on the plant floor was
too defensive a strategy. There had been some arrests, but not so many
that the Maoist movement felt seriously threatened. In March, however,
the government decided to strike at the only visible heart of the GP
movement. It went after La Cause du Peuple. The two editors
of the CDP, Le Bris and Le Dantec, were arrested and arraigned for
trial. And the police began to seize the newspaper and attack and/or
arrest the vendors. It came to a point where simply selling the
newspaper could get one a year in prison and perpetual loss of civil
At about the same time, the movement made the decision to go public
beyond merely attempting to sell the CDP. It was during that spring
that Alain Geismar became the major spokesperson for both the GP and
the CDP. Geismar had been a junior faculty member at the Faculty of
Science in Paris before the 1968 revolt broke out. He had been active
within the university teachers' union affiliated with the large
National Federation of Education. By the time the revolt broke out in
1968, he had become the president of the union. Under his leadership,
the union was very supportive of the revolt. But Geismar moved well
beyond where most of the membership was willing to go politically, and
he resigned his union post during the revolt. He was one of the three
most prominent personalities involved in the revolt, along with Daniel
Cohn-Bendit of the 22 Mars and Jacques Sauvageot, the
Vice-President but actual leader of the student union, UNEF. After the
revolt Geismar moved closer to the 22 Mars and was one of
those who merged with the GP in early 1969. Since he was a publicly
known figure with considerable public appeal, and since he had already
been identified as trouble by the government--which had fired him from
his teaching job because of his participation in the 1968
revolt--Geismar seemed like a good person to present the public image
of the movement. He certainly could not be slipped into an industrial
Although Le Bris and Le Dantec were arrested in March 1970, Le
Dantec did not go to trial until May. Geismar filled the gap at the
CDP. Two days before the trial of Le Dantec, Geismar addressed a
protest meeting called by a number of groups. He was one of eight
speakers. He delivered a very short statement within which included
the following message:
In order to break the manoeuvre of the bourgeoise, to break its
attempt to encircle and destroy the popular movement, we must
intensify the resistance. For the bourgeoisie May 27 will be the day
of the trial of Le Dantec. For all revolutionaries it will be the
day of resistance, the beginning of an intensification of the
resistance. There will be no social peace; there will be no social
truce....We support all popular initiatives which will take place
May 27. We support the meetings and we call upon all those who want
to go further, all those who want to make of May 27 a day of
resistance, to organize themselves around militants and tomorrow, in
each college of the university, meetings will be held in the
afternoon to prepare for the organization of the struggle in the
streets on May 27.
Because it is in the street that anger will be expressed against
the hordes of police which are occupying the streets of Paris. The
popular resistance will grow.
Protest demonstrations had been called for the day of the Le Dantec
trial. The police banned the demonstrations, a regular practice going
back at least as far as the Algerian War, and usually justified on the
basis of avoiding traffic disruption.
The police charged the demonstrators. Along with the physical injuries
inflicted there were approximately 490 arrests in the streets. A
police agent with a tape recorder hidden in a brief case had attended
the talk given by Geismar two days earlier. On the basis of the
portion cited above, Geismar was tracked down and arrested for
incitement of the acts for which the demonstrators were charged. While
Le Dantec was sentenced to one year in prison for editing the CDP, and
Le Bris subsequently to eight months, the state was preparing its case
Like Le Dantec and Le Bris, Geismar underwent a long pre-trial
detention. Arrested on June 25th, Geismar waited in prison for this
trial until October 20, 1970. Thus--as in the case of Angela Davis in
the United States-- even if the regime should lose its case in the
courts it inflicts some punishment against its adversaries by forcing
them to expend resources in their own behalf and by obliging them to
remain in prison prior to trial.
From the point of view of both the prosecution and the defense,
Geismar's trial was a political trial. The closing argument of the
prosecution began as follows:
The arguments presented before this court have shown the clash of
two conceptions of democracy: the classic, positive conception which
orients and around which are organized the institutions of most
liberal countries such as ours, and the conception of the ex-Gauche
Prolétarienne which claims to speak for the people but which
has no real massive support among the citizentry.
They promise us proletarian dictatorships. They promise us a
system favorable to the people, but they ignore the will of the
people. Well, our modern conceptions of democracy give a wide place
to liberty of expression. Liberty of expression exists. There is a
press, there is the possibility of writing, of meeting of speaking.
A law almost one hundred years old guarantees a broad freedom of
writing and of speech because the infractions, as you know, are
extremely limited in this law when it comes to the press and there
are all sorts of formal regulations which protect this freedom of
The Gauche Proletarienne declares this system to be
formal, esteems that this legal formality does not guarantee real
rights, and does not serve at all to defend the cause of certain
In truth, it is a question of the interest of tiny groups without
any serious popular base.
Like the trial of the Chicago Seven, growing out of the
confrontations at the 1968 Democratic Convention, this one raised
basic issues. The prosecution in two different breaths argued that
Geismar and his group had no popular support and, on the other hand,
that, as in the case of the editors of La Cause du Peuple, the
imprisonment of the Maoists meant the difference between the regime's
succumbing or surviving:
When we tried the case of the Cause du Peuple here I made
the point that to this fundamental opposition there must be
presented a firm attitude, because the fundamental problem is to
know if we wish to succumb or to survive.
The prosecution further argued that Geismar exerted a particular
hold over young students because of his position as a teacher at the
Faculty. Geismar responded that the police records themselves show
that not even ten per cent of those arrested for protesting the trial
of Le Dantec were students. This statistic is interesting not only as
a refutation of the proposition of the prosecution but also as some
indication of the broadening base of support of the Maoists.
Several other arguments were revealing. The prosecution argued that
the fact that Geismar had co-authored a book in 1969 entitled Vers
la Guerre Civile (Toward Civil War) indicated that freedom of the
press was in existence. Geismar responded that the book, written in
intellectual terms and selling for quite a bit more than a newspaper,
posed no threat at all to the regime. On the other hand, La Cause
du Peuple was written in language that workers could understand
and relate to and, if the worker could afford the price, sold for one
franc. If not, it was free. It was thus the distribution and the
effectiveness of CDP that frightened the regime, and the lack of
effectiveness of the book that permitted the regime to be more
libertarian. But even more basically, Geismar argued that bourgeois
regimes have never willingly granted rights to their opponents, and
that what civil liberties exist in practice have been the result of
struggles waged by those who have been oppressed.
He portrayed the GP Maoists as continuing that historical struggle.
The prosecution claimed that Geismar's words were responsible for
injuries inflicted upon seventy-nine police officers. Yet no medical
records were produced to substantiate injuries. The defense asked that
Minister of Interior Marcellin be obliged to appear to explain the
police complaints. He was not, and the judge ruled that his testimony
was not required. The defense asked whether or not the injuries
incurred by the police officers could not have been incurred on the
unsafe steps of police stations or in the unsafe police wagons. For
the police often explained the injuries suffered by people in their
custody--particularly by young political dissidents or demonstrators,
who claimed that they had been beaten by the police--by declaring that
their prisoners had fallen down the stairs in the stations or fallen
when they were being transported in the vans. If these explanations
were true, the defense argued, the facilities of the police must be
terribly unsafe. Thus medical depositions should be submitted to make
sure that the police officers had not fallen victim to the same fate
as their prisoners. The judge ruled that such submissions were
Geismar, who had declared that his conviction was a foregone
conclusion, was indeed convicted. He was sentenced to and served
eighteen months in prison, five of which were spent in solitary
confinement. But that was not the only achievement of the government.
The Gauche Prolétarienne was banned by ministerial decree
during the trial and, to continue the spiral of repression, at least
three hundred young people who had defied the ban on demonstrations
and the show of force (which consisted of 5,000 police officers around
the court and in the Latin Quarter) had been arrested by the evening
of the first day of Geismar's two-day trial.
Despite the fact that the Gauche Prolétarienne was
formally banned and that an ever increasing number of its members and
leaders were in prison, the movement was not destroyed. On the
contrary, it took some dramatic new turns and simply referred to
itself as the ex-GP. Those in prison conducted hunger strikes for
recognition of their status as political prisoners (regime spokesmen
had claimed that there were no political prisoners in France) and for
recognition of basic rights of all prisoners. This was coordinated
with campaigns for prisoners' rights led on the outside. The Cause
du Peuple did not cease publication. On the contrary, after
Geismar's arrest, following those of Le Dantec and Le Bris, Jean-Paul
Sartre assumed the nominal directorship of the CDP. And the publisher,
François Maspero, went out on the streets to hawk the paper. This was
clearly a challenge to the government to arrest personalities with
world-wide reputations and to try them for the same acts for which
lesser-known, younger militants had been imprisoned. Maspero was
arrested, but charged only with vending without a proper license, a
very minor misdemeanor, while no action at all was taken against
The Anti-Organization of the Ex-Cauche Proletarienne
The GP militants were convinced that there was an inner dialectic
at work so that the movement "naturally" arrived at certain
stages at certain points in time. Neither they nor the government
could completely control this dialectic. Thus, while committed to a
highly voluntaristic conception of the "politics of the act,"
the movement also had a strong element of non-voluntarism. For example,
the reaction to the government's banning of the GP was that the
underground stage was the next "natural" one anyway. Even if
the government had not banned the GP, this stage would have been
dictated by other factors in the environment and the internal,
ineluctable dynamics of the movement. The timing of the regime's
crack-down was a surprise; they thought they probably had a little
more time to operate more openly. But this only meant an acceleration
of the timetable.
One militant, a twenty-six-year-old former math major who came from
a working-class background and went back into the factories to do
political work, clearly demonstrated both the affirmation and the
negation in the GP's attitude toward its structure and dynamic:
It is often said: "Marcellin (the Minister of Interior and thus
chief police officer of the regime) destroyed the Gauche Prolétarienne."
But no, Marcellin. We destroyed the Gauche Prolétarienne. It
is a glorious organization but it has seen its time. Our task is to
destroy the Gauche Prolétarienne or what has replaced it
and to build the party. The party for me is the capacity to
elaborate a consequential revolutionary politics, that is to say to
tie the particular to the general, the immediate to the long-term
program, and to truly mobilize the masses. A party is always a
minority. But the difference between our party and the other parties
is that our permanent objective is not only the construction of the
party, it is its destruction. We are building the party in order to
In fact, the next stage was not one of party construction, not even
party construction for party destruction. The theme for 1970-71 became
"Widen the Resistance" and emphasis was placed upon action
through local, decentralized groups. Some of these groups were already
in existence; a number had to be created from scratch.
In the factories there were already the numerous Comités de
Base (the base committees) which the Maoists had helped to
organize but which were not completely Maoist in composition. In the
spring of 1971, more militant strike forces called Groupes
Ouvriers Anti-Flics (GOAF), or anti-cop workers' groups, were
created. The primary function of these groups was to deal physically
with the attempts to suppress the work of the base committees and to
punish individual bosses or management personnel who abused workers.
Secondly, there was a renewed effort made to mobilize young people
in the schools, particularly at the secondary or Iycée level.
Third, there were the support groups for the Vietnamese fighting the
United States and, more importantly at this stage, for the
Palestinians seeking to regain their homeland.
Finally, a wide network of GP support groups was established. There
was Secours Rouge (Red Assistance), which enjoyed the
directorship of the publisher François Maspero and the active support
of a number of groups and intellectuals on the Far Left, including
Sartre. It was the most important of the GP support groups and its
primary function was to come to the aid of those who felt either
oppressed by the regime or that their needs were not being met. The
gamut of activity went from organizing demonstrations in order to
protest political trials to digging mountain towns out of the snow
when the government did not respond to appeals. Like another support
group, Les Amis de la Cause du Peuple (Friends of the CDP)
which sold papers and gave other support to the newspaper, Secours
Rouge would defy the government's legal definitions. A third set
of structures, the Comités Vérité et Justice (Truth and
Justice Committees), did not engage in illegal activity. Their
function was to investigate and publicize specific cases in which
bourgeois legality was unjustly twisted to the detriment of the
deprived and the benefit of the wealthy and powerful. All of these
subsidiary groups created by the GP Maoists opened up possibilities of
broad contacts for an outlawed movement.
By this time, GP Maoism was indeed beginning to conform more to
Kenneth Keniston's definition of a "movement" than to a
normal organization. Writing about the young people attending a
Vietnam Summer Project in the United States in 1967, Keniston said:
It is significant that these young men and women consider themselves
part of a movement, rather than a party, an organization, a
bureaucracy, an institution, a cadre, or a faction. The term
"movement" suggests a spontaneous, natural, and
non-institutional group; it again points to their feeling that they
are in motion, changing, and developing....Finally,
"movement" summarizes the radical's perception of the
modern world, a world itself in flux, unstable, continually
Of course the difference between the people Keniston was talking
about and the GP Maoists is that the Maoists were moving from a more
structured ideological and organizational configuration to a more
fluid one, while the American students were still at a very early
stage in their radicalization. If those who had passed through the
various stages of this current of Maoism from the UJMCL to this
decentralized "Widen the Resistance" stage could understand
the movement both psychically and politically, it was quite confusing
to people on the outside whom the movement was trying to touch. Unless
one is part of the inner core, it is not easy to orient oneself to
something in a constant state of flux.
This becomes evident in the many testimonies and interviews on
record with workers who have at least "sympathized" with
what the GP Maoists were doing in specific situations. There is
considerable confusion in the minds of some of these workers as to
whether they themselves are "Maoists." But the uncertainly
in terms of identification existed on the part of those who were more
distant or even hostile to the movement, as well as those who were
sympathetic. Some of this confusion is reflected in an interview with
three workers who were at least sympathetic with Maoism, however it is
Patrick (25-year old Maoist militant at Renault): When one is a
Maoist in a factory, one is made responsible for everything that
happens at the doors, even if it is a completely different group
which comes and does who knows what. They tell me: "Your
buddies have distributed a tract," even if they are Trotskyist
tracts. Anything that's not CP is gauchiste [a generic term
for the Far Left as a whole, by which Patrick means that the workers
are not getting the distinctions].
Marcel (44-year old militant coal miner): That is a real problem
for French Maoism.
Germain (58-year-old miner, Resistance fighter and long-time
member of the CP, who explains that he was always a Maoist but not
of the "1968 variety" because he does not have long hair):
So long as the necessary explanatory work has not been done, there
will be mistrust. Contacts must be multiplied; there must be
discussion and education. The Maoist spirit must be made to come
out. There is no concealment among the Maoists. On the contrary, all
true communists are Maoist; but they don't know it yet. There is
just a lack of information.
Actions and Attractions of the GP and ex-GP
Despite the problems caused by the fluid nature of the movement and
its post-1970 outlaw status, the GP Maoists were the most dynamic
group on the French Far Left. Their actions were usually dramatic.
They were sometimes even the stuff that movies were made of,
particularly in the hands of Maoist or Maoist-sympathizing directors
such as Jean-Luc Godard, who directed La Chinoise, or of
Godard and his collaborator Jean Pierre Gorin, who directed the even
more widely known film Tout Va Bien.
Add to this the support of Sartre and Maspero, the personality of
Geismar, and the aura of 1968, and one can begin to understand the
drama, and not just glamour, which surrounded GP Maoism.
I shall briefly discuss the actions of the GP Maoists, both prior
to and after the banning, in four different areas.
(1) The Assault on Renault
The most daring and dangerous of the movement's activities was its
factory work. While the GP and then the ex-GP operated in a number of
plants and work settings throughout France--including Brandt and
Berliet in Lyon, Batignolles in Nantes, the shipyards in Dunkerque,
and the coal mines in the North--the Renault automobile plant at
Billancourt, right on the perimeter of Paris, was a special target.
First, the GP Maoists wanted to pick up on and generalize the
sabotage which was already going on inside the plant, and which was
part of an overall increase in worker militancy at that time.
Secondly, they wanted to pass from the stage of clandestine sabotage
to a more open campaign against what they called "the terrorism
of the administration."
This brought the Maoists into open and direct conflict with the CGT,
which was trying to keep the focus on bread and butter issues. The GP
Maoists were thus following in the path of Barta's Trotskyist
followers who, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, directly challenged
the power and authority of the CGT in its stronghold.
After encouraging the organization of approximately a dozen
decentralized comités de lutte (committees of struggle,
patterned after the 1968 action committees), the Maoists engaged in
their first major battle which incurred the wrath of the CGT. In
response to an increase in the metro fares, the Maoists organized
workers into large groups which jumped over the metro turnstiles and
refused to pay any fares. When eight metro police officers attempted
to intervene, they were roughed up and chased away. The CGT attacked
the Maoists for beating up public employees. The Maoists refused to
recognize police of any nature as normal employees with whom they had
a proletarian bond. Massive deployments of police were then sent to
the station near the plant, and the police sought their own violent
The Maoists also ran afoul of the CGT in a campaign against an
increase in meal prices in the plant restaurant, an increase in which
the CGT was directly complicit because it dominated the Comité d'Établissement
that administered the restaurant. The Maoists distributed tracts
against the increase and called for action. Some workers took food
without paying in a tactic similar to that applied in the metro.
Fights broke out in the canteen between Maoists and CGT militants. The
Maoists claimed to enjoy the support of a good number of immigrant
workers, and accused the CGT of bringing in members of the Communist
youth movement to help them battle the Maoists. While the Maoists won
neither the metro nor the meal price issue, they felt that they had
unmasked the CGT as a bureaucratic structure which was not looking
after the interests of the workers.
After these initial campaigns, the Maoists turned their attention
to the work process itself. They adopted a task rotation strategy to
challenge pay differentials based upon the hierarchical division of
labor. Each worker in a particular unit would teach every other worker
how to perform his or her task. When every worker could perform every
task, all of the workers demanded the pay of the highest paid among
them on the grounds that all were equally qualified.
They also encouraged the direct confrontation of supervisory
personnel. Workers began timing themselves rather than accepting the
word of the supervisors. Supervisors who complained about the quality
of the work were forced into the pits to do the work themselves. And
what was regarded as grossly arbitrary behavior toward any worker, or
demonstrations of racism toward immigrant workers, was punished
violently by the Groupes Ouvriers Anti-Flics (the GOAF or
Anti-Cop Workers' Groups). Some supervisory personnel were beaten up,
and at least one foreman in the painting section had a bucket of paint
turned over on his head.
As the violent resistance against the management increased, so did
conflict with the CGT. But even one Maoist rival group, the
hierarchical UCFML, attacked the GP Maoists for being so
indiscriminate in their tactics that on two occasions they attacked
anyone who came into range wearing the white smock characteristic of
lower management and supervisory personnel in the plant.
More and more plant police were brought into the factory. Firings
for political activity, violent or nonviolent, accelerated. Some of
the fired workers were handed over to the regular police stationed at
the factory gates and were charged with crimes. Others, who were just
fired and ejected from the plant, went on a hunger strike. Two
important sources of moral support came from Sartre--whom the GP
Maoists managed to smuggle into the plant for an inspection trip, but
who was quickly ejected by plant police--and from actress Simone
Signoret--who paid supportive visits to the hunger strikers.
The confrontations reached their peak in February and March 1972.
Pierre Overney, a twenty-three-year-old ex-GP Maoist Renault worker
who had been fired along with a number of his politically active
comrades, returned to the factory gates on Friday, February 25. He and
the others were distributing tracts to the workers as they entered and
left the gates. He got into a verbal dispute with one of the heads of
the security section at the plant, a M. Tramoni. Tramoni pulled a gun
and killed Overney, who was unarmed and standing a good distance from
The next Monday, Renault workers found the plant completely
surrounded by the para-military CRS. They checked the papers of all
the workers. Seven workers who had known of the killing on Friday and
who participated in a demonstration against it were fired.
On Tuesday the CRS circled the plant in convoys, and four more workers
were fired. On Thursday, eleven workers who had been dismissed before
or after the killing managed to get into the plant and issue a public
call to resistance. They were attacked by Tramoin's security personnel
and turned over to the police. Five were charged under the Anti-Cassure
But the Maoists did not rest content with a protest over the
killing of one of their own and the firings of their militants and
supporters. An ex-GP commando group, the Groupe Pierre Overney de
la Nouvelle Resistance Populaire, seized and held in an
undisclosed location the chief personnel officer at Billancourt,
Robert Nogrette. The Maoists had previously engaged in holding bosses
prisoner in the plants until they granted concessions (or were freed
by the police) and in a plant of a subsidiary of Renault they had
"fired" a boss by kicking him out of the plant and obliging
him to remain out for several days. But the Nogrette action was one
which was perceived as being of a more serious order, serious enough
to attract the personal attention and denunciation of President
The commando group demanded, in return for Nogrette's release, that
criminal charges be dropped against the workers who had been turned
over to the police and that all workers fired after Overney's death
(the total had reached about twenty) be reinstated. There was never a
threat to kill Nogrette. And, despite the fact that the police were
not able to find him and that the concessions were not made, he was
released unharmed after approximately forty-eight hours. The Maoists
had expected the labor unions, including the CGT and the CFDT, to
denounce the action, and they did so. But it is not so clear that they
had expected pressure from another source, i.e., the negative
reaction of most of the other Far Left groups, which had declared
their solidarity with the ex-GP in massive demonstrations after
Even the Trotskyist Ligue--the most confrontation-oriented of
the Trotskyist organizations, which had good relations with the GP
Maoists--joined with most of the other Far Left organizations in
publicly criticizing the operation. The Ligue, which at the
time was a major supporter of guerrilla-warfare tactics in Latin
America, felt that the act made no sense given the French political
context and the fact that the Maoists clearly had no intention of
killing Nogrette if their demands were not met. Indeed, those demands
were not met, Nogrette was released unharmed, and it became virtually
impossible to do political work at the Renault plant after this
(2) Work with the Immigrants
A major thrust of the work of the GP and ex-GP Maoists was directed
at the large immigrant worker population. These workers are
disproportionately clustered at the lowest job classifications and
hence at the lowest wage rates--sometimes at variance with their
actual skills or with the tasks which they actually perform. They are
also the least able to absorb increases in such costs as metro fares,
food prices, and rents. The Maoists thus hoped that their work in
protesting the price increases, in adopting the task rotation tactic,
and in physically punishing supervisory personnel who exhibited racist
behavior against Arab or Black African workers, would garner the
support of the immigrant workers and trigger off greater militancy on
An additional tactic--designed to appeal to the Arab workers from
Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia--was the creation of the Palestine
Support Committees in the plants. Initially, the GP Maoists gave
considerable attention to the war in Indochina. Their own Comités
Vietnam de Base (Vietnam Committees at the Base) extended
uncritical support to the efforts of both the PRG in the South and the
government of North Vietnam, while the Ligue was critical of
some elements of the programs of both of them. Moreover, the Maoists
were even more militant in their tactics than the Ligue. While
the latter concentrated on demonstrations, the Maoists engaged in a
number of violent clashes with the police. One occurred after they had
taken over the South Vietnamese embassy and had flown the flag of the
National Liberation Front over it. However, in the ex-GP stage, these
Maoists shifted the emphasis of their work away from Vietnam and to
the Palestinian issue. It simply had more appeal to the immigrant
worker population that they were trying to reach. Moreover, support
for the return of the Palestinian Arabs to their homeland was
virtually the only non-French issue to which the ex-GP devoted
However, the Maoists did not limit their attempt to reach the
immigrant worker population to agitation within the plants. From its
formation in 1968, GP Maoism directed its attention to the plight of
immigrant workers who were forced to live in the shantytowns (bidonvilles)
which were spread across France but which were more numerous in
the Parisian region. The word bidon means a drum, such as an
oil drum, and the huts were made of any such materials which could be
stuck together. Heating, sanitation, or running water were luxuries
not to be found in these make-shift structures.
The Maoists were active on several fronts in the bidonvilles. While
denouncing their existence, they insisted that acceptable alternative
housing be provided before the bidonvilles were destroyed.
They thus attempted to avoid urban renewal American-style. The GP
Maoists fought this battle particularly strenuously in Argenteuil, a
Parisian suburb in which the Communist Party controlled city hall. Secours
Rouge, the GP support group, attempted to supply services which
were supplied inadequately or not at all by public authorities. In one
of the more highly publicized actions of a Maoist commando group, the
fashionable luxury item and food shop Fauchon was raided and the food
was taken out and distributed in the bidonvilles. While the
hierarchical Maoist UCFML, after its creation in 1970, also worked in
the bidonvilles, the GP Maoists were there first. Together they called
national and international attention to the existence of these abysmal
conditions, and this activity undoubtedly played a major role in the
French government's determination to dismantle the bidonvilles in
a remarkably short period of time. By 1975, almost all of the bidonvilles
The GP and ex-GP Maoists also worked within the regular immigrant
ghettos in the larger cities as well as within the residences
constructed specifically to house immigrant workers. In the former,
they attempted to organize around the issues of police harassment,
violent racist attacks by whites, and the irresponsibility of
landlords. Particularly favored tactics were rent strikes, resistance
to eviction, and squatting in vacant housing.
In 1972, the ex-GP Maoists aided French families in working-class
suburbs who were engaging in the same tactics.
In the residences constructed for single immigrant workers or those
who come to France to spend eleven months out of the year without
their families, the GP Maoists encouraged and supported the
immigrants' attempts to fight against the racism of some of the
residence managers (many of whom were former military people in the
colonial service), to gain control over the governance of the houses,
to insist upon proper physical maintenance, and to resist the rent
increases which were levied against the residents at rather regular
intervals. This early work on the part of the GP Maoists--as well as
the continuing work of some of its former Arab members and of the
UCFML--was an important encouraging and supportive element in a
process of conflict which led to a four-year national rent strike
within the residences.
(3) Work Outside of the Urban Context
All of the above actions took place within the urban areas.
However, the GP and ex-GP Maoists broke out of the urban context to a
much greater extent than both the Trotskyists and the hierarchical
Maoists. They did so in three ways. First, a year after their
creation, the GP Maoists mounted the barricades set up by rural and
small-town merchants to protest what they felt to be unfavorable
legislation in 1969. Some on the Left, including Sartre, criticized
the Maoists for fighting the police alongside petit-bourgeois
merchants. The GP was accused of aiding not a progressive movement but
a more likely resurgence of right-wing Poujadism.
Secondly, the GP and ex-GP Maoists supported nationalistic
movements in two areas of France, Brittany in the West and Occitanie
in the South. While in the late 1970s Corsican nationalism attained
very violent levels of manifestations, in the early and mid 1970s the
strongest expressions of a desire for cultural and political
separatism came from the populations of Brittany and Occitanie. While
the GP and ex-GP Maoists supported the struggle of these movements
against the status quo, the complexities of the question were not any
easier for them to handle than the question of racial separatism has
been for American Marxists.
After the GP admitted in 1971 that its thoughts on the question of
"nationalities" were still in an embryonic state,
the following year a GP writer attempted to put the separatist
struggle in Occitanie within an acceptably Marxist framework without
at the same time attempting to impose upon it any specific form or
structure. Stating that the struggle was "for decolonization,
against the pillage of material and human resources, and against the
deportation of the young," the article then goes on to state,
The question then is not "Occitan nationalism,"
"European federalism," or "regionalism," but the
destruction of the French capitalist state and the role of the
popular Occitan movement in the destruction; the installation
of a new government by the proletariat and oppressed people and the
role that the Occitan popular movement will play in this: the
abolition of the imperialist system by the international of
proletariats and oppressed people and the place that the popular
Occitan movement will make for itself in this International.
Transcending the structure of traditional nations, the present
struggles are carving in the world new frameworks within which will
be exercised the power of workers through their control over means
of production and distribution and over everything which is involved
with the creativity of peoples and individuals. It is not excluded
that each framework will reflect an ethic reality. It is up to the
workers then to decide upon their form of organization and
coordination. This choice will be conditioned more by the
development of the struggles in the Hexagon [France], in Europe, and
in the world than by any preestablished will. This development being
uneven, we cannot predict the forms of political organization that
people will adopt.
The French GP Maoists thus adopted the same kind of flexibility
toward separatist movements within France that Mao adopted toward
revolutionary movements in countries other than China. Each one will
cut its own path.
The most active attempts made by the GP and ex-GP Maoists to reach
out beyond the urban environment, however, were two summer campaigns
conducted in 1971 and 1972 in the Loire-Atlantique, the Southeastern
portion of Brittany. This was an area in which militant farmers had
driven their crops into the cities and dumped them in the street,
erected barricades on the roads, occupied processing facilities, and,
in 1969, even held the visiting Minister of Agriculture captive until
he was freed by the police. A number of the above activities entailed
physical combat with the police.
While the GP Maoists had made ad hoc attempts to establish
contacts with the rural population prior to this, in 1970 and 1971
they organized an actual program in which students and other young
people from the cities were recruited to go out and live with farming
families. There were two very precise political motives. One was to
counteract the propaganda campaign that the government had been
conducting against the Far Left since 1968. The young revolutionaries
wanted a chance to show the farmers that, despite what they saw and
heard on television regarding the uprising and the government's
enactment of the "Anti-Wrecker Law" in 1970 they were not
simply people intent upon delivering havoc upon France. This was a
public relations task.
On the other hand, most of the young people were from the cities,
and they knew rural life and the rural population as poorly as the
farmers knew them. They wanted to come to know that life and the
feelings of the farmers first-hand, by living and working with them.
Thus, summer programs were also designed to serve the same purpose as
the enquêtes conducted in the factories. On the basis of
this experience, they came to the conclusion that small and tenant
farmers had been subjected to tremendous pressures by inflation and
the European Common Market. Under the pretended justification of
technological efficiency, the capitalists were exerting pressure which
was seen as a simple attempt to get the small farmer off of the land
and that land into the hands of those who had the wealth to work it
more "efficiently." The dominant capitalist economic
organization of Western Europe thus was seen as being totally
insensitive to the farmer's relationship with the land, and the
Maoists strove to demonstrate a respect for that relationship:
Among the poorest farmers, there are many who possess a patch of
earth on which they survive miserably. And they cling to that earth.
There is no question of telling them that "property is
theft" and tearing it away from them. Certain problems require
time before their resolution. We are told that in China, in order to
prove the merits of land collectivization, those who want to work
individually are permitted to do so until they see for themselves
that they are wrong. There is no other way of persuasion.
And then, what endears the earth to the farmer is not primarily
money but what the earth represents, the investment of soul. In the
cities, in the factories, work is not humane. One works for someone
else, a boss, in the heat and according to the pace of the assembly
line. One makes a piece of a car, of a machine. One does not see the
result. One does not have a feeling of control over one's work. The
farmer's love of the earth is also the love for a labor by which one
creates something that one controls, something living.
The present battles for survival of the small farmers are not
like the "selfish demands of the petite bourgeoisie" that
can be managed by capitalism's offering of higher prices and
represented in Parliament. They are becoming more and more
democratic struggles of a new type turned toward a progressive
future, conforming to the development of humanity. Aiming more and
more at the same enemies as the mass of the people, the farmers, in
this epoch of a general wave of worker contestation, are discovering
that they are not alone.
The feeling for the relationship between the farmer and the land
and the generally high value placed upon agricultural life are much
more characteristic of the writing of Rousseau and Proudhon than of
Marx or Engels, and certainly of Trotsky. The GP Maoists did not make
the distinction between usufruct and ownership, a distinction which
Proudhon took from Rousseau in the hope of permitting that special
relationship with the land to be preserved under conditions of greater
equality. In contradistinction to Proudhon's attempt to preserve rural
individualism through a national credit system available to
small-scale farmers, the GP Maoists did see collectivization, on the
model of the Chinese agricultural communes, as the optimal answer. But
they felt that it was a viable answer only if the landless and small
farmers came to it themselves. They shared the anarchist Proudhon's
revulsion at the thought of bureaucratic compulsion in the form of
forced collectivization, and they rejected Trotsky's pessimism over
the capability of the peasantry to determine their own destiny.
(4) Prisoners' rights
Many of the above actions of GP Maoism involved illegal activity.
Thus, it is not surprising that many of the 1,035 Far Leftists, who
Minister of Interior Marcellin claimed were sentenced to prison
between June 1, 1968 and March 20, 1972, as well as others who were
held in pre-trial detention but not convicted, were GP and ex-GP
The prisons, however, provided the Maoists with yet another arena for
The tactic of the Maoists was to claim the status of
"political prisoners." Such a status would entitle the
Maoists to certain rights under French law. Once their claim was
recognized, the Maoists intended to claim that all prisoners should be
extended the more humane treatment just by virtue of being human
beings. The government was denying that there were any political
prisoners in France, and calling the demands a publicity stunt.
The prisoners' claims were supported outside the prison walls by
demonstrations organized by Secours Rouge and families of the
imprisoned militants. In some cases, these demonstrations brought
further arrests and confinement. Trials were taken advantage of as
forums where parents of people presently detained or former detainees
could talk about prison conditions. On September 1, 1970, thirty
Maoist prisoners began a hunger strike to demand: recognition of their
status as political prisoners; an end to the common practice of
putting the Maoists in solitary confinement from the very beginning of
their stays; a common location where all of the political prisoners
could meet; a more liberal visitation system; and a general
improvement in the conditions of detention, including an end to
tormenting on the part of prison guards.
As the hunger strike and the supportive demonstrations continued,
the government gave in on some of the points in regard to pre-trial
detainees. By September 22, all of the strikers in pre-trial
detention--except Geismar--were transferred to prison hospitals. And,
on September 28, a court accorded the status of political offense to
the writing of a slogan on a wall, which had earned its author three
months of solitary confinement up to that point. The changes in the
treatment of prisoners, however, seem to have been limited to
pre-trial detainees, as Geismar himself served more time in solitary
after his conviction in October.
The two most important sources of public information on the
conditions of prisoners and on their revolt were the Maspero
publishing house and La Cause du Peuple. Maspero published
the pamphlet entitled The Political Prionsers Speak, which
publicized the hunger strike, and also published extracts from
Geismar's testimony at his trial during the following month. The
materials received wider distribution than they would have if the
Maoists had published and distributed them through their own press, Editions
Liberté-Presse. An additional source of publicity for the
struggle of the imprisoned Maoist militants was obtained during the
September 24 concert of the Rolling Stones in the Palais des Sports in
Paris. Before the huge audience the lights were dimmed and the group
turned the microphone over to a Maoist militant to explain why the
Maoists were in prisons. The Rolling Stones then sang "Street
Approximately a year after the hunger strike, in the winter of
1971-72, France experienced a surge of general prison revolts. While
it is impossible to establish a certain causal relationship between
Maoist agitation in the prisons and those revolts, the fact is that
the GP Maoists were still circulating through the prisons, and that
the movement and its newspaper were supportive of the revolt against
the general conditions prevailing in the French prisons which they had
come to know so well.
THEORY OR JUST PRACTICE: WHAT WAS GP MAOISM?
At least on the part of some of the militants, considerable thought
was given to the direction of the movement. This resulted in three
texts which are important for an understanding of the theoretical
basis of GP Maoism. The first is the book by Geismar, July, and
Morane, Vers La Guerre civile (Toward Civil War), which was
published in 1969 and which served as the early theoretical guide for
the movement. The second is a special issue of Sartre's review, Les
Temps Modernes, which Sartre turned over to the GP Maoists in
1972. The third is On a raison de se révolter (It is Right to
Revolt) which was published in 1974 and which contains
transcripts of conversations between GP Maoist leader Pierre Victor,
Sartre, and Phillippe Gavi of the Left newspaper Liberation. Despite
the changes over time which are revealed in these texts, there were
three constants in GP theory which were its root-definitional
characteristics: (1) the emphasis upon action and events; (2) the
rejection of hierarchy; and (3) the rejection of dichotomous class
(1) The emphasis upon action and events
Traditional Marxist-Leninists, regardless of the specific variety,
are committed to two propositions. First, Marxism-Leninism must be
made to fit the concrete conditions in which one is attempting to
apply it as a guide to action. Second, there are limits to the degree
of acceptable adaptation to meet those concrete conditions. The
disagreements between and among Marxist-Leninists of Maoist,
Trotskyist, and Soviet-oriented variety can be seen largely as
disagreements over what those limits are. This means that somewhere
there is a sacred core which must not be tampered with.
GP Maoism, on the other hand, viewed the relationship between
theory and practice as much more reciprocal than traditional
Marxist-Leninists. And the balance was tilted toward action. They drew
theoretical lessons from actions and events. Vers La Guerre civile
attempted to draw theoretical-strategic lessons from two events
in which the GP Maoists themselves played no role or a minimal role.
The violent campaigns in the factories and streets were seen as
analogous to the violent resistance of the partisans to Nazism.
But even more important than the Resistance, in which none of the
GP Maoists could have participated themselves (it was an
"appropriated experience," to use Mannheim's term), was the
uprising of May and June 1968. In fact Vers La Guerre civile was
largely a reflection on the refusal of the UJCML to become involved in
the initial conflict. As a result of this experience, this error, the
GP Maoist movement felt that it learned several important lessons.
First, it had underrated the importance of fighting in the streets
when it urged people to get off of the barricades and to march out to
the factories. This reflected too much of a class-versus-class
analysis. It failed to recognize the revolutionary potential of
students and the lumpenproletariat whose terrain was the streets
rather than industrial plants. Revolutionary activity could not be
confined to any one terrain.
Second, some of the occupations of the university facilities, and
particularly that at the School of Fine Arts in Paris, were seen as
models for liberating and creative work. Passive occupations were
rejected as contributing little to the spread of revolutionary
consciousness. Under such conditions, time was on the side of the
regime and such perceived counter-revolutionary forces as the
Communist Party and the labor confederation in which it is the
dominant force, the CGT. But active and creative occupations like that
at the Fine Arts School were seen as prototypes for workers'
occupations of plants in which the structure of work had to be
Third, illegal action was crucial. Respect for the bounds of
legality was capitulation to the bourgeois capitalistic state without
extracting any cost from that state. Illegal action was crucial
because it forced the state to demonstrate blatantly its
repressiveness and declining legitimacy. Creative illegality raised
the revolutionary consciousness of those who engaged in the action as
well as those who observed it. Active participation in such activity
was thought of as an example for others, who would either join the
immediate action or be potential actors in the future actions. Thus
any refusal to capitulate, any act of revolt against the power of the
state, whether on the part of merchants, farmers, immigrants, young
people, or nationalists, was to be supported and encouraged.
(2) The rejection of hierarchy
The GP's unwillingness to accept the Leninist conception of a
vanguard party, or indeed any permanent organization with leadership
functions, has already been discussed. This represented not only a
difference between GP Maoism and the more hierarchical Maoist
organizations in France, but also went well beyond what was preached
or practiced by the Chinese Communist Party, even at the height of the
Great Cultural Revolution. Moreover, the GP Maoists were bothered by
another manifestation of hierarchy which they perceived in China, a
cult of the personality surrounding Mao. For a time, La Cause du
Peuple went so far as to drop the little picture of Mao from its
masthead. Geismar explained to me that this was because it was too
"foreign" for the workers to relate to. Finally, while the
GP Maoists tried, they had difficulty accepting and defending Chinese
foreign policy. This was especially true in regard to the war over
In a 1975 interview which I had with Geismar, two years after he
himself had left the movement, he reflected, "Maoism was not a
religion for us."
What did attract the GP movement to Maoism and led to their
self-identification as Maoist was the "mass line." This they
saw as the essential ingredient of the Cultural Revolution. While they
perceived the masses as being cut off from any role in policy
determination in the Soviet Union, where everything was resolved in a
top-down fashion within the hierarchical party, they saw Mao as
appealing to the masses to take an active role in the direction of
This they tried to emulate in France with their resistance to the
conception of a permanent structure, and through the heavy reliance
upon the enquête as the means of coming to know what people
in specific contexts were thinking. This is why they also directed
their efforts to contexts in which people were already beginning to
take action to protest or to change their circumstances. They resented
charges that they parachuted people in to initiate conflict. They
claimed only to provide skills and shock troops on the side of those
who were already in revolt. And they differentiated their own concept
of a libertarian revolt (liberté-révolte) from that of
hierarchical groups which engaged in "revolutionary" action
only to seek power for themselves over the workers (liberté-pouvoir).
They saw as examples of the latter both the Communist-Socialist
electoral coalitions of the 1970s and what they perceived to be a
"putschist" power grab by the Parti Socialiste Unifié
(PSU) in 1968. In the GP's eyes, the PSU attempted simply to use
the 1968 events, the student union which it controlled (UNEF), as well
as the labor union in which it had many many members and supporters
(CFDT), to put former Premier Pierre Mendes-France (the "French
Kerensky") back in power.
And they did not hesitate to attack the Trotskyist Ligue's predecessor
organization, the Jeunesse Communiste Révolutionnaire (JCR),
for supporting this attempted seizure of state power (liberté-pouvoir).
Another interesting aspect of the GP's attack upon hierarchy is
their view of its relationship to division of labor and technology. In
Vers La Guerre civile, Geismar and his comrades wrote that
the basis of hierarchical structure and authority is the division of
This position is consistent with that of Marx and Engels in their 1846
essay, The German Ideology.
However, unlike Vive La Revolution, these GP Maoist
writers completely ignored what Marx and Engels pointed to as the
earliest manifestation of the division of labor--the sexual act--and
the earliest structural manifestation of hierarchical authority and
exploitation--the family. Indeed, in the domain of sexual relations
the GP Maoists exhibited a blind spot. The leaders who emerged at the
national level were overwhelmingly males; the question of sexual
relations was not openly examined within the movement; and, according
to one woman informant, women within the movement on at least two
occasions felt driven to confront the males over what they regarded as
Ignoring the possibilities left open by Marx and Engels' work in The
German Ideology and Engels' follow-up work on sexual exploitation
in The Origins of The Family, Private Property and the State, the
GP Maoists traced the detrimental effects of the division of labor
only back to the gap between manual and intellectual labor.
It is this division of labor which they saw as the root cause of
hierarchical structure and authority. And it is this gap which they
saw as the particular job of revolutionary students to close.
This position, enunciated in 1969 in Vers La Guerre civile, is
still not a terribly unorthodox position.
It served as the basis for much of the Cultural Revolution in China.
What is original is that the position was subsequently developed into
a broader attack in which capitalism, hierarchy, division of labor,
and technology become fused. In an attack on the French labor
organization which has pushed the concept of worker self-determination
(autogestion) the furthest--the Confédération
Fran,caise Democratique du Travail (CFDT)--GP Maoist Philippe
Olivier wrote the following in the pages of Les Temps Modernes in
1972, three years after the Vers La Guerre civile had
contented itself with a denunciation of the distinction between mental
and physical labor.
But then the question remains: why does the CFDT say that it is
fighting against the structure of authority in the workshops,
against hierarchy? You are not doing that at all: the CFDT is
fighting against "the methods of governance" in the
workshops. The power of the bosses, the authority in the workshop,
these are "methods of governance." But no... the power of
the bosses does not lie in the methods of governance, it lies in a
system of organization of work of which one of the effects are the
"method of authoritarian governance."
To fight against "authority" in the workshop is to fight
against the capitalist hierarchical system; and, in particular,
against one of its ruses, "technology."
Olivier accused both the Trotskyists and the French Communist Party
of being insensitive to this dimension of the problem. Criticizing
this neglect in the program of the Communist Party, which also then
rejected autogestion, Olivier wrote:
The criterion for evaluating the position of the classes is not only
or even principally the number of nationalizations in their program.
The crucial criterion is their position on the division of labor, on
the kind of "hierarchy" in the enterprise and thus on
their general conception of social relationships.
In the view of GP Maoism, Soviet-Eastern European socialism, which
GP Maoism like all other variants of Maoism views as a form of
"state capitalism," is just as susceptible to this kind of
criticism as are the overtly capitalist Western societies. There, too,
technology and division of labor are used to stratify and control
workers, stratification being merely a control mechanism. It is
pretended that some people are more capable than others of performing
certain tasks which are more highly remunerative.
"Capability" is usually based upon imputed intelligence.
"Knowledge" is then rationed according to a predetermined,
stratified hierarchical plan. The system of education plays a key role
in this rationing pattern. It selectively feeds its students into the
other social hierarchies, and it visibly stamps on them the level of
knowledge of which they are capable.
Technical knowledge thus becomes a mystification, a technique of
control, not a search for truth or human emancipation. What is unusual
about the analysis of the GP movement is its tendency to fuse
technology with division of labor. Whereas Marx saw technology as the
phenomenon which would make possible the release of humanity from the
detrimental effects of division of labor, the GP Maoists at least
implied that technology and division of labor were necessary
correlates which together served as the basis of both inequality and
alienation. This analysis came closer to that of some earlier utopian
writers, such as Fourier, or to contemporary anti-technological
writers such as Jacques Ellul and Theodore Roszak, than to that of any
other Marxist group known to this writer.
(3) The rejection of dichotomous class conflict
The analysis and structure of Vers La Guerre civile was
modeled after two works in which Marx attempted to analyze events in
France: The Class Struggles in France, dealing with the
Revolution of 1848 and its aftermath, and The Civil War in France,
dealing with the Commune of 1871.
In Vers La Guerre civile there is an almost Sorelian
insistence on a clear separation between the workers and the
bourgeoisie. "Hatred" of the bourgeoisie was a necessity.
And when the GP Maoists entered the factories, the line of demarcation
was drawn at the lowest management level. Foremen on the shop floor
were made examples of. Security personnel and police were not treated
as workers--as the unions and the Communist Party were wont to treat
then--but as agents of the oppressors who had to assume responsibility
for their acts.
But even in this early work, a reflection on the events of 1968 and
a theoretical-strategic projection, there was one important and
conscious deviation from Marx's position. Marx viewed the
"lumpenproletariat"--the unrooted, unskilled, hopeless, and
often criminal poor who were not a part of the industrial
proletariat--as being thoroughly unreliable and ready recruits as
security forces and goons to be used against the industrial
proletariat. Vers La Guerre civile, however, maintained that
at least some of the lumpenproletariat were ripe for revolutionary
These were the young who were under-educated and usually
unemployed--the young rebels, to go back to "James Dean"
terminology, lacking a conscious cause but spontaneously fighting in
the streets against state authority in 1968. Rather than let those
people remain on the constant border between restlessness and
criminality, the GP Maoists were convinced that their consciousness
could be raised and that they could be turned into reliable fighters
for the revolutionary cause. The GP Maoists viewed the young people
and the immigrant workers--who were given the lowest wages, most
unpleasant and dangerous tasks, and the least desirable living
conditions--as the most harshly treated victims of France's political
In practice, the GP Maoists deviated even further from a clear
dichotomous conflict between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. In
1969, the very year that Vers La Guerre civile was published,
they mounted the barricades and fought the authorities side by side
with small-town merchants, who were protesting what they felt was
disadvantageous government policy. And they did this despite
criticism--by Sartre himself in this instance--that the cause they
were aiding could hardly be considered progressive.
The defense was adaptation to the superstructure of France to the
point of aiding virtually any illegal and violent confrontation with
the hierarchical regime. This is also what led them into the rural
campaigns in western France, which have been discussed. Until the 1972
strike at Joint Français, they saw little industrial worker militancy
in that region. But the farmers were hurting and taking action, and
this was giving added impetus to a nationalistic movement. If this was
where the people were, if they were prepared to do battle on these
fronts, then this was where the Maoists felt that they belonged.
Two events which had a very profound effect upon GP Maoism's
conceptualization of the struggle were the 1973 Lip strike and the
overthrow of the Allende government in Chile by a brutal right-wing
junta. The Lip strike--in which the workers of the Besançon watch
factory took over the plant and produced and marketed the watches
themselves--convinced most of the older GP Maoists that they were no
longer needed within the industrial setting. The workers had
demonstrated that they were quite capable of conducting their own
From the Chilean coup they learned a lesson which was just the
contrary of that of the Ligue. The Ligue's analysis
was that the Chilean coup proved the necessity of revolutionary
governments coming to power without bourgeois participation but with
the support of an armed working class.
The GP Maoists, however, were convinced by the coup that the
bourgeoisie could not simply be written off as an enemy to be
controlled. They concluded from the Chilean experience chat unless an
important segment of the middle class was included in work for social
change, it would destroy any such attempts.
The combined impact of Lip and Chile was the attempt by the older
group of militants in the ex-GP and CDP to disband the final semblance
of organizational coherence and to cease publishing the paper. They
advocated emphasis upon "cultural work" spread very widely
across social issues and milieux--from environmental issues, in which
engineers and managers would be expected to take an interest, to
concern for the problems faced by small shopkeepers.
Thus a "liquidationism," similar to that of the UJCML in
1968, was attempted in 1973 and 1974. While most of the older
militants who had formed the movement did disperse themselves, a
number of younger militants saw no reason to disband because of Chile
or Lip. If the older militants were simply burned out by the intensity
of the activity and the repression, some of the younger recruits were
not. The latter held together enough to continue publishing and
distributing La Cause du Peuple on an irregular basis for at
least four years after its founders left the paper.
Those older militants spread a bit all over, in a multitude of
national, decentralized, and individual contexts. Some of the more
militant and violently inclined among them probably joined with
younger people in the formation of the Autonomes, a group
devoted to property destruction and street fighting which made its
formal appearance in 1977 and which subsequently turned its wrath on
other groups on the Left. Some might also have been in the specific
commando group which executed Tramoni, the killer of Pierre Ovenney,
after Tramoni had been released from a two-year prison sentence in
It should be pointed out, however, that when that act was
committed, and while it was applauded by La Cause du Peuple,
it was an isolated event in direct retaliation for the killing of
a comrade. In France during this period, even with the appearance of
the street-fighting Autonomes, there was nothing like the
systematic killings and maimings that were being conducted by the Red
Brigades in Italy or by the less-centralized anarchist groups in
For most of the older militants, the GP and ex-GP experience led them
in nonviolent, reflective directions.
Geismar and some of the comrades with whom he was closest started a
commune. They seem to have taken to heart the message of the old VLR
and began experimenting with changes in family structure and living
and work arrangements. They were revising Marx by taking him back in
the direction of utopian socialism, particularly of the Fourierist
Further, approximately half of the staff of the Left
counter-culture daily newspaper Libération, which was begun
at the end of 1972 under the omnipresent formal editorship of Sartre
(who was also called upon to declare himself editor of Tout and
La Cause du Peuple during periods of severe repression), was
composed of former GP and ex-GP militants.
Here too, as Remi Hess points out, these people were involved in an
endeavor which has a striking similarity to what Vive la
Revolution attempted in its paper Tout.By
a different and much more arduous route, these people became part of a
much larger counter-culture which the VLR attempted to introduce into
France from 1969 to 1971, but which destroyed the group in the
Still other former GP Maoists went into the arts, the women's
movement, the gay and lesbian movements, the environmental movement,
or more nationally or ethnically specific movements. Some of the
former Arab members have transferred their efforts to a completely
Arab group which worked with immigrant workers, the Mouvement des
Travailleurs Arabes. Former CDP editor Le Dantec has
attempted to find a new political orientation in the historical
thought and folk-culture of his native Brittany, wherein he believes
lies an appropriate blend of concern for the collectivity and respect
for the individual.
But the former GP members who soon were to get a brief flurry of
publicity in the West were those who belonged to a group referred to
as the Nouveaux Philosophes, or the "New
Philosophers." Former GP Maoists such as Andre Glucksmann and
Michel Le Bris (also a former CDP editor, along with Le Dantec) went
from their modifications of traditional Marxism-Leninism as GP
activists to more systematic criticisms of Marxism itself--as
intellectuals detached from and reflecting upon their past practice.
This, of course, was somewhat infuriating to others on the Left who
had long felt that both their theory and practice were wrong in the
first place, and that their own sudden realization of this would prove
very useful to conservative forces in the Western world. Many came to
see this as a vindication of Lenin, and as an ultimate proof of the
petit-bourgeois nature of the movement all along. This is certainly
one of the few things that Trotskyists, hierarchical Maoists, and the
French Communist Party would all agree upon.
But whatever evaluation one might make of the whole phenomenon of
GP Maoism, it is striking how distinctively French it was. In its
refusal to fetter the workers with a hierarchical political
organization, and in its emphasis upon action and clear cleavages
within the industrial plant itself, it resembled the thought of the
French anarcho-syndicalist theorist Georges Sorel. In the value which
it placed upon rural life and the relationship between the land and
the people who worked it, it shared the sentiments of the Genevan
Rousseau and the French anarchist Proudhon. It shared both Proudhon's
distaste for hierarchical authoritarianism and the negative view of
the division of labor held by the French utopian thinker Fourier.
Both the various Trotskyist groups and the Marxist-Leninist-Maoist
groups have been universalistic in their theoretical orientations, and
most have attempted to maintain or establish ties with the outside
world. The GP movement represented a melange of early Marxism and
Maoism with French utopianism and anarchism as well as with the French
experience. Even the older generation of contemporary theorists who
had an impact upon its origins, development, and termination
(Althusser, Sartre, Foucault) were all French. And with the exception
of the Chilean coup, all of the events which served as theoretical
points of reference as the movement progressed were French. GP Maoism
had virtually no ties with the outside world. Even the symbolic tie of
the little picture of Mao on the masthead of La Cause du Peuple was
removed for a while because it was too foreign.
GP Maoism was the most distinctively French movement within the
French Far Left. Perhaps that is why it was able to strike the
imagination of French people who were not even sure of what it was. It
was a synthesis of their own radical heritage presented by a new
The most interesting impact of the French political context on the
Maoist movement is the one that I have just discussed, i.e., the
impact which the non-Marxist radical heritage in France had upon the
development of an anti-hierarchical variation of Maoism. This resulted
in a dichotomous Maoist movement in France. Aside from contributing to
this variant of Maoism and the resultant dichotomy, the French
political context has also had important and divisive effects upon the
Maoist groups in France in a number of tactical areas.
First, the Maoists have differed among themselves on the question
of if and how to relate to the various labor confederations on the
Left. Although the PCR(m-l) was tempted to push for second ballot
support of the coalition of the Left in the 1978 elections, it backed
down from that position when faced with the refusal and the ultimatum
of its own coalition partner, the Maoist PCMLF. As of these elections,
no Maoist group in France had given support to the major parties on
the Left the way Trotskyists have in second ballot run-offs. At least
some of the Maoists, however, have differentiated between parties and
labor organizations, even if members of certain parties dominate
certain unions. And we have seen a variety of attitudes adopted toward
these structures. The "officially" (Chinese) recognized
PCMLF--which used to write off the Communist-dominated CGT as too
difficult to penetrate and not worth the effort--turned around on the
issue in 1976, and began attempting to work from within it. The
PCR(m-1), on the other hand, preferred to work within the CFDT. The
UJCFML has taken an even harder anti-union position than the
Trotskyist Lutte Ouvrière. Like Lutte Ouvrière it
has created its own groups within the factories, but unlike the
Trotskyist group it has refused to work in the unions at all. The GP,
which grew out of an organization which had attempted to work within
the CGT, turned against working within the established labor
structures, and even engaged CGT militants in physical combat in their
The strength of the major parties of the Left and the good
possibility that they might win the 1978 elections had a severe impact
upon the Maoists' behavior vis-à-vis elections. Prior to
1978, one could have contended that, with one minor regional
exception, a defining characteristic of French Maoists, whether they
were hierarchical or anti-hierarchical, was their total lack of
interest in elections. But the attention and the level of excitement
which was commanded by the prospect of the Communist and Socialist
parties coming to power made it impossible for the two largest Maoist
organizations to resist entry into the electoral fray. While the
UJCFML refused to become involved in the political processes so
attractive to the bourgeois parties, and to what it and the other
Maoists viewed as revisionist parties on the Left, the PCMLF and the
PCR(m-l) dove right in.
Finally, the tactic of violence and the emphasis upon illegality of
the Gauche Prolétarienne was clearly influenced by the
revolutionary heritage of France. The GP was, after all, born out of
the latest of those major upheavals, the 1968 revolt. It seemed to
feel a special responsibility to make up for the Maoist UJCML's
refusal to participate in the revolt. Its actions were considerably
more violent than those of Maoists who did not feel that they had to
live down the fact that they had some association or lineal tie with
an organization which had opposed the latest event in France's
The orientation toward China has also been very divisive among
French Maoists, and France's position as a militarily active power
upon which China looks favorably has not made the situation any easier
for French Maoists. The PCMLF, having been recognized as an official
party of sorts by the Chinese, has given 100 per cent support to
whomever is in control of the Chinese regime, and has accepted their
position on French foreign policy. The PCR(m-l) has really tried to be
loyal to the Chinese, but when the Chinese supported the French
invasion of Zaire in 1978, it was just too much for the organization
to bear. The UCFML, however, has been forthright in saying that its
role is not to support the Chinese regime when it thinks that the
regime is wrong. That hierarchical Maoist organization has rejected
the Theory of the Three Worlds' contention that the USSR is more
dangerous than the United States, has opposed NATO without
equivocation, and has denounced French imperialism whether the Chinese
approve or not.
The anti-hierarchical GP--which at the international level really
only interested itself initially in the war in Indochina, and then
shifted its major attention to the Palestinian issue--did derive some
inspiration from what it thought were Chinese practices in the
Cultural Revolution and in the organization of agriculture and
industry. But the GP militants admittedly did not really know very
much about China, and they were very eclectic in what they thought
might be learned from the Chinese experience. In fact, what the
Chinese actually were or were not doing or saying was much less
important for the GP Maoists than what they thought might work in
France. The Chinese revolution was, at best, "inspirationally
suggestive" for them; the major inspiration was the mass line,
regardless of whether or not that aspect of Maoism was being stressed
in China. Of course, this entire question of orientation toward an
actual regime or its external policies is one with which Trotskyists
simply do not have to deal.
If French Maoists have been heavily affected by the French context,
I would argue that they also have made an impact on that context in
two specific areas. First, it was the GP initially and then the UCFML
which took the lead in calling national and international attention to
the plight of immigrant workers in France and in encouraging and
supporting militancy among these workers. Secondly, the short-lived Vive
la Révolution was in the vanguard in raising the sexual
dimension of politics, and it produced militants who persisted in this
direction through other feminist and gay structures.
Length of survival is not always a good indicator of the impact of
a group. As the anti-hierarchical Maoists were fond of pointing out,
their movements were mortal, and what mattered was how they used that
scarce resource called time. In their own hyperactive way, they did
manage to cram a lot into a relatively short period, and they did
leave an imprint.
1. Bernaid Kouchner and Michel-Antoine Burnier, La
France sauvage (Paris: Editions Publications Premieres, 1970), p.
3. Ibid., pp. 174-175.
4. "'La candidature Mitterrand,' extrait de
'Comment est née l'Union des Jeunesses (Marxistes-Léninistes)!,'
supplement du no. 8 de Servir le Peuple, 15 octobre 1967,
(Troisième Partie)," in Patrick Kessel, ea., Le Mouvement
"Maoïste" en France, I: textes et documents, 1963-1968 (Paris:
Union Generale d'Éditions, 1972), pp. 143-144.
5. It would be most convenient just to use the
initials UJC. However, this would not distinguish between the UJCML
and the UJCF, another group of the Communist Party. So the initials
unfortunately become long.
6. Kouchner and Burnier, France sauvage, p. 176.
7. Ibid., p. 177.
9. "'Arborer le drapeau rouge pour lutter
contre le drapeau rouge' (juin 1967), texte interne du MCF," in
Kessel, Le Mouvement, p. 269.
10. "'E'difions en France un Parti
communiste de l'epoque de la Revolution Culturelle,' Garde Rouge, no.
6, mai 1967," in Kessel, Le Mouvement, pp. 250-257.
11. Quoted from the minutes of the Central
Committee of the MCF. See "La creation du Parti Communiste
Marxiste-Leniniste de France," in Kessel, Le Mouvement, pp.
12. Jacques Jurquet in a political report
presented to the first Congress of the PCMLF in 1968. See "'Créons
le Parti Communiste de France, Parti authentiquement marxiste-léniniste,
Parti de l'époque de la pensée de Mao Tsé-toung,' extrait du
'Rapport politique du camarade Jacques Jurquet presenté au 1er Congrès
du PCMLF,' I'Humanité Nouvelle, no. 88, 8 février 1968 et
no. 89, 15 février 1968," in Kessel, Le Mouvement, p. 328.
13. It is interesting that U.S. decision-makers
made allusions to Munich and the Second World War in an attempt to
sell their Vietnam war policies to the U.S. public. The younger
generations of Americans could relate to this about as well as French
youth could relate to the slogan of the PCMLF. Both sides could have
benefitted from a lesson in Mannheim's distinction between
appropriated and personally acquired memory. See Karl Mannheim,
"The Problem of Generations," in his Essays on the
Sociological Problem of Knowledge (London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1952), pp. 276-320.
14. "'Pour la grande alliance avec le
PCMLF,' extrait de Contre l'anarchisme petit-bourgeois, édifions dans
notre pays un Parti de l'époque de Mao Tsé-toung, Lyon, printemps
1968," in Kessel, Le Mouvement, p. 423.
15. Ibid., p. 426.
16. The role of the PCMLF is a matter of some
dispute. Roland Biard writes that "During the 'events,' the PCMLF
did not involve itself much. The student movement is analyzed [by the
PCMLF] as a petit-bourgeois self-interested movement and, as such,
only ancillary to the workers' struggles." Roland Biard, Dictionnaire
de l'Éxtrême Gauche de 1945 à nos jours (Paris: Belfond,
1978), p. 270. Richard Johnson lumps the attitudes of the UJCML and
the PCMLF together. "The official Maoist party, the PCMLF was
equally displeased with the spontaneous tactics of the students....The
UJCML and the PCMLF refused to enter the student struggle because (1)
petit-bourgeois revolts were inevitably 'pseudo-revolutionary;' (2)
insurrectionary activity was inappropriate at that particular
strategic stage; and (3) when violence is used, it has to be
conscious, controlled, and directed." Richard Johnson, The
French Communist Party versus the Students (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1972), pp. 165-166. While no one would argue that
the PCMLF was as integral to the fight on the barricades as JCR
students, the PCMLF supported the students before and after that
night. On May 6, the PCMLF's Central Committee stated that "the
student revolutionaries must resolutely rejoin the combat of the
working class and place themselves under its political direction. The
students struggling against the monopolies will only be able to win
under that condition. That is why the militants of the Parti
Communiste Marxiste-Léniniste de France are participating elbow to
elbow in the student demonstrations and why they are fighting
resolutely at the students' sides against the government of the
monopolies." The day after the Night of the Barricades, on May
11, the Central Committee issued a supportive statement which
contained the following: "The heroic struggle of the students
which unfurled with a violent force demands the admiration of the
French people. In the night of the 10th to the 11th of May 1968 in
particular, Parisian students joined by numerous workers fought back
against the violent repression of the reactionary forces with courage
and determination....The Marxists-Leninists of the Parti Communiste
Marxiste-Léniniste de France have confidence in the youth and are
participating in all its revolutionary actions." Jacques Jurquet,
ea., Arracher la Classe ouvrière au révisionnisme (Paris:
Centenaire, 1976), pp. 273-275. A leader of the PCMLF whom I
interviewed told me that, although it was before he had become a
formal member, he was on the barricades and there were others that he
knew of The evidence is that while the PCMLF certainly felt that
spontaneous activity had its limitations, it did not take the negative
attitude toward the students taken by the Communist Party, the
Lambertist Trotskyists of the OCI, or the Maoist UJCML.
17. One Maoist group has come up with a count of
21 hierarchical and non-hierarchical Maoist organizations in France as
of the summer of 1977. Not all were national groups, some were
confined to one city or region, most were tiny. "Les Marxistes-Léninistes
en France aujourd'hui," Le Marxiste-Léniniste, double
issue, no. 18/19 (juillet-aôut 1977), p. 19. This is a publication of
the UCFML which will be discussed shortly.
18. Precise numbers are difficult to come by in
the case of the Maoists since they have not divulged current
membership figures the way some Trotskyist organizations have. The PCR
(m-l), the PCMLF's major hierarchical Maoist rival, which will be
discussed shortly, claimed to have brought together 3,000 people at
the meetings in which it prepared the transition to a party. Alain
Jauber et al., Guide de la France des luttes (Paris: Stock,
1974), p. 294. In 1970, Kouchner and Burnier contended that l'Humanité
Rouge "grouped several thousand sympathizers" (p. 182).
Since the party had been banned, there were technically no members--at
least none that could be admitted to. Biard places the number at
between 2,000 and 3,000 in 1970 and, after the 1971-76 decline,
thought that the party regained its 1970 membership level by 1978 (p.
19. The PCMLF's daily was l'Humanité Rouge and
the PCR(m-l)'s was Le Quotidien du Peuple (The People's Daily). They
were both much thinner and less substantial efforts than the Ligue's Rouge.
They were also not distributed on newsstands as was Rouge. Only
approximately 2,000 of the 15,000 l'Humanité Rouge run off
each day were actually sold.
20. The self-criticism only became
"official" at the Third Congress of the PCMLF which was held
just before the legislative elections of 1978.
21. This is the position of the French
22. "Resolutions du 3e congrès du Parti
Communiste Marxiste-Léniniste de France: autocritique du PCMLF
concernant son 2e congrès," I'Humanite' Rouge, no. 25
(16 fevrier-2 mars 1978), pp. 13-14. This is a special supplementary
issue to the daily paper.
23. A Maoist group based in Brittany, the
Organisation Communiste Française (marxiste-léniniste), ran
candidates in Rennes during the 1977 municipal elections.
24. "Les voix de l'UOPDP: un potentiel pour
l'action," I'Humanité Rouge, no. 27 (16 mars-13 avril
1978), p 8. This is also a special supplementary issue to the daily
25. PCR(m-l), "A propos de la Théorie des
3 Mondes," Front Rouge, n.s., no. 2 (novembre-décembre
1977), pp. 7-8. Very interestingly, this article terminates with a
summary defense of the theory, "up to the point that we have
examined it" (p. 10). More was promised on the theory,
particularly its meaning for the First and Second Worlds. Six months
later, as of the end of May 1978, the next number of their theoretical
journal, Front Rouge, with the promised continuation of the
discussion, had not appeared.
26. See PCR(m-l), Programme et statute
(Paris:PCR(m-l), 1976), pp. 37-38 and Biard, Dictionnaire, pp.
27. Interview with a PCMLF leader, June 8, 1978.
29. "Les Marxistes-Léninistes en France
anjourd'hui," p. 20.
30. Its own account of this year is in UCFML, Premiere
Année d'existence d'une organisation maoïst (Paris: Maspero,
31. UCFML, Une Étude Maoïste: la situation
on Chine et le mouvement dit de "critique de la bande des
Quatre," (Paris: Editions Potemkine, 1977).
32. Kouchner and Burnier, France sauvage, pp.
187 and 159.
33. Ibid., p. 187.
34. Remi Hess, Les Maoïstes Français (Paris:
Anthropos, 1974), p. 151. See Henri Lefebvre, Everyday Life in the
Modern World, trans. Sacha Rabinovitch (New York: Harper and Row,
35. Tout was usually printed at the
rate of 50,000 copies per issue. One issue was run off at 80,000.
Hess, Maoïstes, p. 160.
36. Hess, Maoïstes, pp. 163-167.
Sartre would later agree to serve as nominal editior of La Cause
du Peuple and Liberation as well.
37. Hess, Maoïstes, p. 167.
38. Michèle Manceaux, Les Maos en France (Paris:
Gallimard, 1972), p. 201.
39. Ibid., p. 203.
41. Minutes du procès d'Alain Geismar (Paris:
Editions Hallier, n.d.), p. 24.
42. See my Student Politics in France (New
York: Basic Books, 1970), chapter 3.
43. Minutes du procès d'Alain Geismar, p. 149.
44. Ibid., p. 150.
45. For much supporting data for this argument
in the U.S. experience, see Sidney Lens, Radicalism in America (New
York: Apollo Editions, 1966).
46. Manceaux, Les Maos, pp. 211-212.
47. Ibid., p. 65-66.
48. Kenneth Keniston, Young Radicals (New
York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1968), p. 217.
49. Manceaux, Les Maos, p. 94.
50. Julia Lesage, "Tout Va Bien and
Coup pour Coup: Radical French Cinema in Context," Cinéaste
5, no. 3 (Summer 1972), p. 45. Tout Va Bien stars Jane
Fonda and Yvès Montand. Paramount, which had originally contracted
for the film, refused to distribute it for obviously political
reasons. The attraction which this brand of Maoism held for people
involved with the cinema is also attested to by the fact that two
French journals of film criticism, Cahiers du Cinéma and Cinéthique,
adopted Maoist perspectives, with Cahiers turning itself
into a Maoist writing collective (Lesage, p. 43).
51. The number of disputes in industrial
settings increased from 2,942 in 1970 to 4,318 in 1971 and the number
of working days lost due to industrial conflict increased from
1,742,175 to 4,387,781. Yearbook of Labour Statistics (Geneva:
Intemational Labor Organization, 1976), p. 831.
52. Pour l'Union des comités de lutte
d'atelier, Renault-Billancourt: 25 regles de travail (Paris:
Editions Liberté-Presse, supplement a La Cause du Peuple, no.
11, 1971), p. 31.
53. UCFML, A Propos du Meurtre de Pierre
Overney (Paris: Maspero, 1972), pp. 13 and 18.
54. Signoret apparently brought some other
prominent people along with her on some of her visits. Someone whom
she did not bring was her husband, Yves Montand. At the time Montand
was occupied making the Godard and Gorin film Tout Va Bien with
Jane Fonda. See Jean-Pierre Le Dantec (the former CDP editor who made
contact with Signoret), Les Dangers du soleil (Paris: Les
Presses d'Aujourd'hui, 1978), pp. 239-240.
55. La Cause du Peuple, no. 20 (11 mars
1972), p. 4. Only a small portion of the workers who worked near
windows which overlooked the gate knew what had happened. The word
spread to a limited extent right after the event and the CDP claimed
that between 1,000 and 1,500 workers participated in a demonstration
of sorrow within the plant.
56. The first demonstration in response to the
killing was held on February 28. Le Monde estimated the
number of participants at 30,000. The same paper estimated that
approximately 120,000 people participated in Overney's funeral
procession on March 4. Le Monde, 7 mars 1972, p. 8. La
Cause du Peuple estimated the latter at 250,000. I witnessed all
of the major demonstrations in Paris between July 1963 and January
1965 and the second wave of demonstrations from June 10 to July 10 in
1968. The funeral procession was the largest demonstration that I have
seen in Paris.
57. La Cause du Peuple, no. 20 (11 mars
1972), p. 10.
58. For more on that rent strike, see my
"The Battle of SONACOTRA: A Study of an Immigrant Worker Struggle
in France," New Political Science 3, no. 1/2
(Summer/Pall 1982), pp. 93-112.
59. Centre d'Action Paysarme, Où En Sont
les Paysans? (Paris: Editions Liberté-Presse, 1971), pp. 20-21.
60. "Occitanie: 'des luttes paysannes a la
révolte d'un peuple,"' Les Temps Modernes, no. 310 Bis
(1972), p. 169.
61. Centre d'Action Paysanne, Où En Sont
les Paysans?, pp. 6-7. (Italics in the text).
62. The figures are from Le Monde, 21
mars 1972, p. 32.
63. Les Prisonniers politiques parlent: le
combat des détenus politiques (Paris: Maspero, 1970), pp. 28-29.
64. Geismar told this author that he spent five
of his eighteen months in prison in solitary confinement.
65. Les Prisonniers politiques parlent, pp.
66. The December 9, 1971 and January 15, 1972
issues of La Cause du Peuple carried informational and
supportive articles on revolts in the prisons of Toul, Nancy, Nîmes,
Amiens, Loos, Fleury, and Ré..
67. Hess, Maoïstes, p. 219. Hess
reports that the CDP was not as straightforward as VLR's paper Tout
was in its attack on this policy, and sometimes even tried to
justify it. This conforms to Sartre's reflections on his relations
with the GP Maoists in 1972. After criticizing Chinese foreign policy
in Ceylon, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as well as China's reception of
President Nixon, Sartre remarked that the GP Maoists "would not
like what I say about China's foreign policy." See Pierre Bénichou,
"What's Jean-Paul Sartre Thinking Lately? An Interview," Esquire
68, no. 6 (December 1972), pp. 208 and 280.
68. Interview of May 27,1975.
69. In fact, Mendes-France did indeed give every
appearance that he was available to assume the reins of power by
appearing before a massive crowd at the Charléty Stadium on the
evening of May 27.
70. At the time, the student group of the
Lambertist Trotskyists in the OCI was attempting to take over UNEF,
something which it subsequently succeeded in doing. PSU students
controlled the national offices and the JCR allied with them to
prevent the Lambertists, who had opposed the barricades in May for the
same reasons as the UJCML, from taking control in 1968. It is also
interesting to note that Pierre Victor, in a disagreement with Sartre,
attempted to defend Geismar's participation in the attempt to convince
Lip strike leader Piaget to run as a candidate for the Presidency in
1974 by arguing that it was a farce since Piaget would have had no
chance of winning. It was thus presumably still within the realm of liberté-révolte
rather than liberté-pouvoir. See Philippe Gavi,
Jean-Paul Sartre, and Pierre Victor, On a Raison de se révolter (Paris:
Gallimard, 1974), Conclusion.
71. Alain Geismar, Serge July, and Erlyn Morane,
Vers la Guerre civile (Paris: Editions et Publications
Premieres, 1969), p. 371.
72. For a retrospective self-criticism of this
shortcoming by a former male leader, see Le Dantec, Dangers pp.
213 and 234-235.
73. It is true that in The German Ideology Marx
and Engels write: "Division of labor becomes truly such only from
the moment when a division of material and mental labor appears."
Lewis S. Feuer, ea., Marx and Engels: Basic Writings on Politics
and Philosophy (Garden City: Anchor Books,1959), p. 252. However,
Engels was prompted to push further into a detailed analysis of the
sexual dimension in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the
74. Geismar, July, and Morane, Guerre
civile, p. 379.
75. Philippe Olivier, "Après la Bataille
de Renault," Les Temps Modernes no. 310 Bis (1972) p.
76. Philippe Olivier, "Syndicate, comité
de lutte, comités de chaine," Les Temps Modernes, no.
310 Bis (1972), p. 46.
77. See Jacques Ellul, The Technological
Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Vintage, 1964) and
Theodore Roszak, The Making of a Counter Culture (Garden
City: Anchor, 1968).
78. Gavi, Sartre, and Victor, On a Raison de
se revolter, chapters 14, 15, and 16.
79. La Cause du Peuple, no. 15
(mai-juin 1977), p. 3.
80. Former CDP editor Dantec does, however,
think that the GP through its writings and actions in the earlier part
of the decade had an unfortunate influence upon later German and
Italian terrorist groups. He also criticized the killing of Tramoni
and the new group of people putting out La Cause du Peuple for
supporting the act. Le Dantec, Dangers, pp. 246-248.
81. In 1971, the year prior to the appearance of
Libération, ex-GP Maoists worked with others in the
production of a publication called J'Accuse! Libération grew
out of that experiment.
82. Hess, Maoïstes, pp. 177-181.
83. See Andre Glucksmann, Les Maîtres
Penseurs (Paris: Grasset, 1977) and La Cuisinière et le
mangeur d'hommes (Paris: Seuil, 1975) and Michel Le Bris, L'Homme
aux semelles de vent (Paris: Grasset, 1977). Both writers have
been heavily influenced by the late French thinker Michel Foucault.
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