France 1968 — Lessons for Transition

The following quote is a history of France in 1968. It provides valuable insight into how an economy run by multidisciplinary teams in alignment with the life sequence of value can come about. When this happens again in a big way, a development towards the goal of a Resource Based Economy will certainly be on the cards.

“Within a fortnight more than nine million workers were on strike. Every sector was involved; as one eye-witness reported: ‘On Wednesday the undertakers went on strike, now is not the time to die.’

A general strike inevitably poses the question of power … at the level of the factory, of society and of the state. The fact that French workers followed the students’ example and occupied their workplaces added a new dimension to the strike; the sacred right of property, and management’s right to manage, were under threat.

But the enormous power unleashed by a general strike also poses problems … If the whole working class stops work simultaneously it simply condemns itself to starvation. The general strike therefore necessarily raises the question of control; some production and services must continue, but workers must decide which ones and in what form.”

For the purposes of arriving at such decisions, the workers of many workplaces founded multidisciplinary teams in the form of strike committees. Such is the common solution in sizeable prolonged strikes. Unfortunately, however, most workplaces came to be controlled by union bureaucracies, who discouraged mass workers’ assemblies and sent workers home.

But many of these workers became activists who rapidly innovated other forms of multidisciplinary teams called action committees. These were based either on their locale or workplace. Students also set up their own groups and joint student-worker bodies. Through collective action, people took to the tasks of the day.

In what was a widespread break from upholding the money sequence of value, they arranged food provisions, transport, and other services for other striking workers, especially those whom occupied their workplaces. Focussing on the life sequence of value, and looking after one-another, they organised portions of the economy, without capitalist bosses, thereby becoming a real threat to capitalism.

Furthermore, they produced and distributed vast amounts of leaflets and fly-posters and organised street meetings, film screenings and photo exhibitions (for instance showing police repression). They thereby gained mass support and participation. The movement peaked at the city of Nantes where workers’ organisations effectively ran the city, rendering the police and the administration powerless.

The French workers created the embryo of a new society within the shell of the old. Such an event is a repeating feature of capitalism. But even with such promising beginnings, this movement derailed after achieving only reforms sich as pay-rises. Like all histories of workers’ rebellion, we must learn their lessons, we must remember so we may helpfully participate in the next rebellious upsurge and ensure its most thorough development.

Those who saw the potential of these events for sparking a mass and permanent change to society could have established a larger working body long before this mass rebellion, building from smaller workers’ rebellions. If such a party argued that workers should disobey, not just their employers but also their union bureaubracies, and run the factories themselves, the momentum could have sustained to a transformation more complete.

If this situation had progressed further along its this trajectory, the destination would have been a Resource Based Economy.

Forward Movement for updates

Quote source:
Revolutionary Rehearsals, Chapter 1 France 1968, by Ian Birchall (worth reading)

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