The Problem of the Workers’ Paper (1955)


This text opens a dis­cus­sion on the prob­lem of the work­ers’ paper, which will be car­ried on in the fol­low­ing issues of Social­isme ou Bar­barie. It draws on the expe­ri­ence of Tri­bune Ouvrière, pub­lished for over a year by a group of work­ers from Regie Renault, from which we have pub­lished extracts in the pre­ced­ing issue of this review, and from which one will find new extracts in the cur­rent one.

The devel­op­ment of cul­ture and the role of polit­i­cal par­ties are at the origin of the enor­mous expan­sion of the press that char­ac­ter­izes our cen­tury. The divi­sion of labor, on the other hand, had turned jour­nal­ism into a dis­tinct indus­trial branch with its own laws. This is par­tic­u­larly the case in “lib­eral” cap­i­tal­ism, where the press must gen­er­ally be a prof­itable indus­try.

Although total­i­tar­ian regimes sup­press this appar­ent auton­omy, and closely bind the paper to the regime, it is no less true that the paper of a com­mu­nist party in a pop­u­lar democ­racy must obey the same fun­da­men­tal rules of a lib­eral paper in a West­ern democ­racy: to inform, influ­ence the ide­ol­ogy of its read­ers – and above all: to be read. It’s for this rea­son that even in total­i­tar­ian coun­tries, the paper must make con­ces­sions to read­ers; since these can­not be made on the polit­i­cal or ide­o­log­i­cal level, the role of the jour­nal­ist is pre­cisely to find the means of inter­est­ing the reader through the back door. We will not put jour­nal­ism on trial here, or ana­lyze the con­tra­dic­tions in which it devel­ops.

Against the offi­cial press arises the press of rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tions: the lat­ter, and in par­tic­u­lar dur­ing peri­ods of rev­o­lu­tion­ary cri­sis in soci­ety, are blessed by the fact their polit­i­cal con­tent cor­re­sponds to the inter­ests of their work­ing-class read­ers. But, although their polit­i­cal con­tent may be com­pletely dif­fer­ent, rev­o­lu­tion­ary papers always have this in com­mon with bour­geois papers, their sep­a­ra­tion from the work­ing class; the paper is in both cases a sep­a­rate body, with its offi­cial staff, its hier­ar­chy of edi­tors, of which some have pro­pa­ganda as their task, all kinds of papers; con­clude, under the pre­text that both of them pro­duce other infor­ma­tion, etc.

On the one side, there­fore, we have the bour­geois or Stal­in­ist paper, on the other the rev­o­lu­tion­ary paper, each of which spreads its own ide­ol­ogy. Our goal here is not to mix these two kinds of papers; to assume that both make pro­pa­ganda and pol­i­tics, that they have the same ide­ol­ogy, would be a stu­pid­ity that one would only find in syn­di­cal­ist and anar­chist cur­rents.

But if we have spo­ken of these papers and dis­cov­ered a char­ac­ter­is­tic com­mon to them, it’s in fact to set them against another kind of paper, which we call the work­ers’ paper.

This is not about a new idea, pro­duced through intel­lec­tual cre­ation; such papers have already existed in the his­tory of the work­ers’ move­ment (work­ers’ papers of the 19th cen­tury). And, as we will try to show in the fol­low­ing pages, this idea belongs to the fun­da­men­tal con­cep­tion of social­ism, the capac­ity of the work­ing class to destroy cap­i­tal­ism and man­age a social­ist soci­ety itself.

This work­ers’ paper will be a paper that will not have a sep­a­rate appa­ra­tus; in other words, its edi­tors, its dis­trib­u­tors, its read­ers will be a rea­son­ably large ensem­ble of work­ers. Not only will the paper’s appa­ra­tus not be sep­a­rated from from its read­ers, but its con­tent, too, will be deter­mined by this col­lec­tive of work­ing-class edi­tors, dis­trib­u­tors, and read­ers. The paper will not have as its objec­tive the dif­fu­sion of an estab­lished polit­i­cal con­cep­tion to the work­ing class, but will share the con­crete expe­ri­ences of indi­vid­ual work­ers and groups of work­ers, in order to respond to the prob­lems that con­cern them.

What are these prob­lems?

There are first of all prob­lems of exploita­tion, which impose them­selves every day, at the heart of pro­duc­tion – and we don’t just mean by that the prob­lems of every­day demands [reven­di­ca­tion], but all aspects of the work­ers’ alien­ation within the frame­work [cadre] of cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion. There are then all the prob­lems that the social frame­work of cap­i­tal­ism imposes on work­ers. But the class is not only held in its exploited role by the eco­nomic laws of cap­i­tal­ism, but also by the ide­ol­ogy of this soci­ety. The con­cerns of the work­ers are devi­ated from their real goals by the dom­i­nant ide­olo­gies: either bour­geois or Stal­in­ist cur­rents deform the prob­lems that con­cern work­ers (for exam­ple the prob­lem of wages tied to pro­duc­tiv­ity by the bosses, or Ger­man rear­ma­ment by the Stal­in­ists), or they insert into the class con­cerns that are fun­da­men­tally alien (elec­toral law). Finally, the very exis­tence of these ide­olo­gies and their dif­fu­sion in the heart of the work­ing class poses a prob­lem in itself. What are these ide­o­log­i­cal cur­rents, in what way do they influ­ence the work­ers, in what ways do the work­ers react? Respond­ing to these ques­tions is the goal the paper has to set for itself. It is there­fore just as absurd to say from the start that the work­ers’ paper will only talk about the inter­na­tional polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion, as to say that the jour­nal will only talk about the rela­tion­ship between work­ers and the man­age­ment. Thus, the paper must be “empir­i­cal” to a cer­tain degree; it must fol­low the every­day con­cerns of the work­ers. Only the bureau­cratic or bour­geois orga­ni­za­tions could fear this; rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies have noth­ing to lose in this dia­logue, they have every­thing to gain because only the work­ing class can provide the means and the forms of strug­gle against cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.

If we are led to talk to talk about this prob­lem today, it’s because there exist two exper­i­ments with a paper of this type, one in the United States with the paper Cor­re­spon­dence, the other in France, with Tri­bune Ouvrière. We will exam­ine the prob­lem in light of the expe­ri­ence of Tri­bune Ouvrière, both at the the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal level, and we will try to draw lessons from this exper­i­ment, how­ever slim they may be.

We will there­fore remain loyal to this fun­da­men­tal con­cern: the rela­tion between the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion and the work­ing class, between the­ory and the prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence of work­ers. These two ele­ments will have to meet up, and their junc­tion will not only be an absorp­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­ogy by the work­ing class, but also an assim­i­la­tion of work­ing-class expe­ri­ence by rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tants. In this arti­cle, we will try to put into dia­logue [met­tre face à face] our fun­da­men­tal the­o­ret­i­cal con­cep­tion and the dynamic of the work­ers’ efforts who par­tic­i­pate in this paper. We will always be led by these two ele­ments, and in the end we will try to bring them together, the most abstract and the most con­crete, to for­mu­late pre­cise con­clu­sions on the devel­op­ment of the work­ers’ paper.

The Two Processes of Politicization

Pol­i­tics, in cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety, has become a spe­cial­ized pro­fes­sion, a kind of sci­ence requir­ing study; becom­ing ini­ti­ated is ardu­ous and dis­cour­ages many work­ers who often end up clas­si­fy­ing every­thing they don’t under­stand as “pol­i­tics.” There is there­fore a divi­sion within the work­ing class between those who do pol­i­tics and those who don’t.

For social­ist, Stal­in­ist, or Trot­sky­ist mil­i­tants, the objec­tive is to “politi­cize the worker,” which is to say, to ini­ti­ate him, in a vul­gar­ized and sim­pli­fied form, into the mys­ter­ies of this sci­ence. This ini­ti­a­tion aims to con­vince him that the party in ques­tion defends the worker and that, for his part, the worker must defend the party.

For Stal­in­ists, this politi­ciza­tion con­sists in intro­duc­ing the work­ers to the polit­i­cal mech­a­nisms of the bour­geoisie, both on the domes­tic ter­rain (the mean­ing of the bour­geois par­ties), as well as the for­eign (the mean­ing of inter­na­tional rela­tions). For Trot­sky­ists, intro­duc­ing work­ers to pol­i­tics is much more com­plex and dif­fi­cult: it requires an inter­pre­ta­tion of the his­tory of the work­ers’ move­ment (the degen­er­a­tion of the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion and of the Third Inter­na­tional), and an equally abridged expla­na­tion of Marx­ist the­o­ries on the econ­omy, pol­i­tics, etc.

Both the attempts to ini­ti­ate work­ers to bour­geois pol­i­tics as well as the attempt to intro­duce them to abstract ques­tions rests on a par­tic­u­lar con­cep­tion of the role of mass orga­ni­za­tions and move­ments. For Stal­in­ism and Trot­sky­ism, the mass orga­ni­za­tions and move­ments are only the reser­voirs from which the party draws its worker mil­i­tants, and onto which the party tries to imprint its unique ori­en­ta­tion, by means of infil­tra­tion and other maneu­vers. They tend to sub­sti­tute the pol­i­tics of mass orga­ni­za­tions with the pol­i­tics of the party, the ini­tia­tive of the work­ers with the ini­tia­tive of the party; it’s all about sub­sti­tut­ing the prob­lems that are born in pro­duc­tion or in the pub­lic lives of work­ers, with the gen­eral polit­i­cal prob­lems that con­cern the party. This is how they end up explain­ing to work­ers that low wages are result of the accords made in Paris, or that they are the pro­duct of the degen­er­a­tion of the Rus­sian Rev­o­lu­tion – some­thing that is, in vary­ing degrees, an absur­dity and a mys­ti­fi­ca­tion.

In the two con­cep­tions, we find the same idea: gen­eral polit­i­cal prob­lems that con­cern the party, no inter­est, the only inter­est resides in the pol­i­tics of the French gov­ern­ment or in the pol­i­tics of the Rus­sian bureau­cracy.

Aside from its mys­ti­fy­ing con­tent, this con­cep­tion rests on fun­da­men­tal the­o­ret­i­cal error: it mis­rec­og­nizes the exis­tence of two processes of politi­ciza­tion, one which is par­tic­u­lar to mil­i­tants, another which is par­tic­u­lar to the work­ing class.

If the train­ing [for­ma­tion] of rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant is a for­ma­tion that is almost exclu­sively intel­lec­tual, espe­cially in those peri­ods, like the ones we have lived through, where the absence of work­ers’ move­ments has uprooted the rev­o­lu­tion­ary minori­ties from the class, the polit­i­cal for­ma­tion of work­ers is, on the con­trary, almost exclu­sively prac­ti­cal. It’s in the course of its dif­fer­ent strug­gles that the work­ing class assim­i­lates, in a more or less last­ing way, a cer­tain polit­i­cal expe­ri­ence, and cre­ates its own meth­ods of strug­gle.1

If it’s obvi­ous that these two poles, the imme­di­ate expe­ri­ence of the work­ers and the the­o­ret­i­cal expe­ri­ence of rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tants, must come together, the con­tro­ver­sial ques­tion is to deter­mine their meet­ing point. The Stal­in­ist con­cep­tion only con­sid­ers one aspect of the rela­tion­ship between the orga­ni­za­tion and the class, the one in which the party gives its rev­o­lu­tion­ary ide­ol­ogy to the work­ing class. The other aspect, passed over in silence, is that the ide­ol­ogy which the van­guard orga­ni­za­tion gives to the work­ing class is itself drawn from this class. Thus, there is not only one cur­rent, going from the orga­ni­za­tion to the class and from the class to the orga­ni­za­tion. In this sense, if the work­ing class needs the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion to the­o­rize its expe­ri­ence, the orga­ni­za­tion needs the work­ing class in order to draw on this expe­ri­ence. This process of osmo­sis has a deci­sive impor­tance.

When we say that the orga­ni­za­tion draws from the work­ing class, we don’t mean that it only draws from it the method to make itself under­stood, the way of teach­ing its the­o­ries to the pro­le­tariat, but also the essen­tial ele­ments for the very devel­op­ment of this the­ory. To schema­tize, the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion has noth­ing to do with the Church, which instills a dogma by using every mode of expres­sion, slang for the work­ers, music for the artists. It’s not a ques­tion of find­ing a lan­guage acces­si­ble to the class, but of extract­ing the ideas that it gen­er­ates within itself.

One is thus led to acknowl­edge the deep link between the basic and spon­ta­neous reac­tions of the masses and the estab­lish­ment of a social­ist soci­ety; but then, the role of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion is noth­ing more than to sup­port these reac­tions through tac­tics and solely to attach itself to the masses, or else, to trans­pose these onto the ter­rain of bour­geois pol­i­tics. These are the fun­da­men­tal aspi­ra­tions that must guide us.

There are not, of course, two sep­a­rate prob­lems, one of which would be the strug­gle against the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem cul­mi­nat­ing in the seizure of power, and the other being the real­iza­tion of social­ism and the man­age­ment of soci­ety by work­ers; and the role of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion is not to “con­quer” mass organ­isms, but to help them to become the struc­ture of soci­ety.

Indeed, social­ism is only pos­si­ble if the work­ers are able to man­age this soci­ety. The abil­ity to man­age must be devel­oped to a max­i­mum at the very heart of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety. How­ever, this man­age­ment can­not be done within cap­i­tal­ist pro­duc­tion, but only in the strug­gle against cap­i­tal­ist man­age­ment; put dif­fer­ently, there’s no way  that work­ers can man­age any­thing so long as cap­i­tal­ism per­sists, with the only excep­tion of their own polit­i­cal bod­ies designed to strug­gle against cap­i­tal. And the meth­ods of this appren­tice­ship in man­age­ment must be directed from the start towards the goal they set out to real­ize. How can the work­ing class’s abil­ity to man­age be devel­oped? It’s this ques­tion that the work­ers’ paper must answer, not only in its con­tent, but also in its very con­cep­tion, and in its way of oper­at­ing; which is to say it must itself be man­aged by work­ers.

The Nature of the Workers’ Paper

The work­ers’ paper must there­fore be at the same time the expres­sion of work­ers’ expe­ri­ences (and in this sense, we will see, it can only be writ­ten by work­ers them­selves) and the means of aid­ing in the the­o­riza­tion of this expe­ri­ence (and, in this way, con­tribut­ing to the process of politi­ciz­ing the work­ing class). But the paper must not sep­a­rate itself from this expe­ri­ence, for oth­er­wise it will nec­es­sar­ily escape the con­trol of the work­ing class.

In this def­i­n­i­tion, the work­ers’ paper is nei­ther a polit­i­cal paper, nor a trade-union paper, nor doc­u­men­tary lit­er­a­ture.

a) This is not a polit­i­cal paperthat means it is not the expres­sion of a polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion, that it does not cir­cu­late the ide­ol­ogy of this orga­ni­za­tion within the masses. It does not assume a pre­req­ui­site agree­ment between dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal ten­den­cies under a pro­gram. The prin­ci­ple that it bases itself on, and that suf­fices to dis­tin­guish it from every other under­tak­ing, is that “the work­ing class is itself able to resolve the prob­lems of its eman­ci­pa­tion.”

This does not at all mean that the paper will not dis­cuss pol­i­tics. It can deal with polit­i­cal ques­tions. But the polit­i­cal ideas that will come out of this paper will only be the find­ings of actual expe­ri­ences; they will never be posed as thoughts or pos­tu­lates imply­ing the prior accep­tance of what­ever ide­ol­ogy.

b) But nei­ther will it be a trade-union paper con­cern­ing itself with eco­nomic ques­tions.

We have already had the oppor­tu­nity to show how this sep­a­ra­tion between eco­nomic and polit­i­cal ques­tions does not cor­re­spond today to any­thing in real­ity, that every syn­di­cal­ism, how­ever pure it may be, is polit­i­cal. The paper will not be trade-union paper in the sense that the ques­tions treated will go beyond the frame­work of union­ism.

c) This will not be doc­u­men­tary lit­er­a­ture. The work­ers’ paper can­not be a mag­a­zine that con­tents itself with recount­ing the life of fac­tory work­ers in an anec­do­tal fash­ion. The worker knows what hap­pens in the fac­tory; the descrip­tion of his place of work and of his rela­tions with man­age­ment only inter­est those who are out­side the fac­tory. And this is not the case of the paper. The descrip­tion of an event in the fac­tory or some­where else is only of inter­est if one can extract from this event some reflec­tions that con­cern work­ing-class expe­ri­ence in gen­eral.

The paper will be nei­ther a polit­i­cal paper, nor a trade-union paper, nor a doc­u­men­tary on the life of work­ers, but it will be all of that at once. We are not say­ing that the work­ers’ paper must be a paper of which one part must be reserved for pol­i­tics, another for eco­nom­ics, and another for descrip­tion.

The paper will have a more uni­ver­sal mean­ing to the extent that it will con­dense the polit­i­cal, the eco­nomic, and the social. It’s in this way that it will attain a deeper mean­ing of pol­i­tics.

In tra­di­tional papers one part is reserved for polit­i­cal ques­tions that are the polit­i­cal ques­tions of the bour­geoisie of dif­fer­ent coun­tries: the evo­lu­tion of the rela­tions between the dom­i­nant classes of dif­fer­ent coun­tries, the rela­tions between dif­fer­ent polit­i­cal par­ties, etc.

Another part is reserved for eco­nomic ques­tions and con­sists in lay­ing out the demands of this or that pro­fes­sional cat­e­gory or of this or that union.

Fur­ther­more a con­stant effort is made to recon­nect these sec­tors among them­selves. For exam­ple, the cam­paign led by the CGT against Ger­man rear­ma­ment is tied directly to all kinds of min­i­mum demands of work­ers. This prac­ti­cally amounts to: in order to increase your wages, strug­gle against Ger­man rear­ma­ment.

There are there­fore two poles, one polit­i­cal, the other eco­nomic, and for the party papers, it’s a ques­tion of draw­ing a path from one pole to the other. It is in this sense that today the union is a polit­i­cal form and that the polit­i­cal party is an eco­nomic union. It’s a ques­tion of going from the uni­fied agree­ment of the work­ers around a demand, under­stood by every­one, towards a gen­eral pol­i­tics which can­not be eas­ily under­stood by any­one.” For exam­ple, the fact that the unions defend a pro­gram of demands such that “40 hours paid 48, 3 weeks of paid vaca­tions” might make it so that the work­ers will accept the pol­i­tics of the unions, not for them­selves but for the demand. The com­mu­nist munic­i­pal­i­ties take care of old work­ers, vic­tims, pub­lic works, etc. in order to legit­i­mate their gen­eral pol­i­tics. The fact that at this level the com­mu­nists are unbeat­able is the result of their posi­tion of oppo­si­tion to the gov­ern­ment.

A minor­ity that is even more detached from the appa­ra­tuses of the bour­geois state than the Stal­in­ists are, which there­fore has noth­ing to lose, could at this level rival and sur­pass the com­mu­nist orga­ni­za­tions.

This is what Trot­sky­ist and anar­chist orga­ni­za­tions, which out­bid the demands posed by unions as well as their forms of strug­gle, often do.

Thus appears an entire hier­ar­chi­cal lad­der of polit­i­cal and demand-cen­tered strug­gles. The Syn­di­cat Chré­tien or FP ask for a 10 franc raise, in propos­ing one day of strike. The CGT will demand 20 francs and two days of strikes; the Trot­sky­ists and anar­chists demand a 1,000 franc raise and an unlim­ited strike.

The path that leads from a sim­ple eco­nomic demand to a polit­i­cal demand or action is tor­tu­ous. Some will tie the demands to the ques­tion of Ger­man rear­ma­ment; for oth­ers, the demands will be tied to the destruc­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and the seizure of polit­i­cal power by the work­ing class.

For both, there exist two issues. The first is the imme­di­ate demands of the work­ers, that of the spon­ta­neous action of the work­ers, of the class strug­gle at its most basic state; the other is the seizure of polit­i­cal power. The con­nec­tion between these two con­cerns can be boiled down like this: “if you help us take polit­i­cal power, you will no longer have to strug­gle for your imme­di­ate demands: we will give them to you.”

This pro­pa­ganda tends to pro­pose a sort of deal to the work­ing class to show it that in every sit­u­a­tion it has the most to gain by vot­ing for this party, and to put this party in power or to make a Rev­o­lu­tion that demands a 10-franc hourly raise every six months.

In fact, this pol­icy con­sists either in show­ing that the work­ing class takes the wrong road when it demands or defends itself in this way, or that it does not demand enough and that in ask­ing for more it will be able to suc­ceed lit­tle by lit­tle in pro­vok­ing crises and pre­cip­i­tat­ing the con­tra­dic­tions of the regime and will, in this way, oppose itself more and more to the sys­tem itself.

But for all these orga­ni­za­tions the work­ers’ strug­gle is con­sid­ered an acces­sory, some­thing sec­ondary, a means to real­iz­ing a final end.

The work­ers’ paper belongs to a dif­fer­ent con­cep­tion. This con­cep­tion is that the most ele­men­tary class strug­gle con­tains within itself the fun­da­men­tal ele­ments for the destruc­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and for the estab­lish­ment of social­ism. And these are the ele­ments that the paper must find and develop. For it, there is a deep con­nec­tion between the rev­o­lu­tion­ary con­cep­tions of social­ism and the every­day class strug­gle.

We don’t at all want to say that every class strug­gle poses in its entirety the fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of the destruc­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem and the estab­lish­ment of social­ism. Every class strug­gle car­ries the trace of bour­geois or Stal­in­ist ide­o­log­i­cal influ­ences. And it’s first of all these influ­ences that the paper must expel from the class strug­gle. But this can­not be done by enlarg­ing the scope of the strug­gle like the Trot­sky­ists or the anar­chists do, but in dis­cov­er­ing the real objec­tives of this strug­gle. Thus, for exam­ple, for the strike of 28 April 1954, the Trot­sky­ists and the anar­chists launched the idea of an unlim­ited strike – with­out con­cern­ing them­selves with the demand itself. In con­trast, we iden­ti­fied the false mean­ing of the demand, which had been hier­ar­chized. This had a deeper polit­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance than out­do­ing a move­ment  that only rested on a tac­ti­cal objec­tive and which had a false base from the start.

How­ever, the paper could nei­ther address all the fun­da­men­tal issues nor provide an auto­matic con­clu­sion to every issue. The expe­ri­ence of the work­ing class is often a par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ence; the role of the paper will be to start with these par­tic­u­lar expe­ri­ences in order to pull gen­eral con­clu­sions from them - this is not to say that these gen­eral con­clu­sions are always pos­si­ble.

The paper will also have to com­bat bour­geois or Stal­in­ist con­cep­tions. In order to do this, it will some­times have to dis­cuss in gen­eral and abstract terms, but will try to recon­nect, as much as pos­si­ble, these issues to the liv­ing expe­ri­ence of the work­ers.

Every­thing we have just said about the con­tent of the paper cor­re­sponds to a cer­tain ide­o­log­i­cal ori­en­ta­tion. This is unde­ni­able and it would be hyp­o­crit­i­cal to want to present the work­ers’ paper as a paper that does not fol­low any course of action, guided sim­ply by “what the work­ers want and think.”

A paper with­out a direct­ing line would auto­mat­i­cally be con­tra­dic­tory paper which, sooner or later, will fall under the influ­ence of the most wiley polit­i­cal ele­ments. The paper has a line. It’s the dis­cus­sion and inter­ac­tion of the work­ers, but it is only the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tants who have under­stood the great mean­ing of this dis­cus­sion, and of the par­tic­i­pa­tion of work­ers in polit­i­cal, eco­nomic, and social issues, who can pre­vent the stran­gu­la­tion of this dis­cus­sion by crafty politi­cians.

The role of rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant in the paper is not lim­ited to that. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant is not a spec­ta­tor who watches the clash­ing of work­ers in a dis­cus­sion, or who gath­ers, like a col­lec­tor, the reflec­tions of the work­ing class. He is a defender of this dis­cus­sion, but also a par­tic­i­pant. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant will aim to deepen and develop the dis­cus­sion, which will become a dia­logue between work­ers and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary orga­ni­za­tion. The rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant will try to make his ide­ol­ogy tri­umph but, in con­trast to bour­geois and Stal­in­ist politi­cians, he will only use the expe­ri­ence of the work­ers, on the ter­rain of con­crete ques­tions. In this sense, his dia­logue with the work­ers will be a gen­uine dia­logue, and not a mono­logue.

In this way the paper will avoid the dan­ger of being noth­ing but a con­fronta­tion between polit­i­cal par­ties, and can escape the rut of these par­ties. The role of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant is to help the work­ing class get out of this rut at that will be the direct­ing line of the paper.

In this sense, the sep­a­ra­tion between polit­i­cal arti­cles and “arti­cles that inter­est work­ers” must dis­ap­pear. In bour­geois or Stal­in­ist papers, it is cus­tom­ary to make the polit­i­cal arti­cle eas­ier to swal­low by dilut­ing it with faits divers, with things that hap­pen in every­day soci­ety.

In this way the two things are sep­a­rated: the con­crete aspects of life and the abstract aspects, the things “of the peo­ple” and the things “of the politi­cians” or the “ini­ti­ated.” The things that hap­pen every day and which the work­ers can appre­ci­ate are con­sid­ered gos­sip, the gos­sip with which the main­stream media guar­an­tees its suc­cess.

The crit­i­cism of the main­stream paper is not that it deals with this every­day life but that it deforms it and that it han­dles it ran­domly, in accor­dance with their moral­ity and ide­ol­ogy. But inas­much as these are the ide­o­log­i­cal con­cerns of the exploit­ing lay­ers who give an inter­pre­ta­tion to real facts, it fol­lows that the facts them­selves undergo a dis­tor­tion.

Real­ity is also, as a result, unreal, above all dur­ing the peri­ods in which the pro­le­tariat tends to free itself from the dom­i­nant ide­olo­gies.

In this way one rep­re­sents abstract men with imag­i­nary feel­ings. The ideal pro­le­tariat – such as it would have to be for a com­mu­nist bureau­crat or for a bour­geois. Thus the com­mu­nist Super­man has more in com­mon with Great Man of His­tory than with the worker-reader that it is sup­posed to rep­re­sent.

The worker paper will not con­tain these two sep­a­rate ele­ments – the­ory on the one hand and real­ity on the other – not to pan­der to or to have a larger fol­low­ing, but because the prob­lems of every­day life are the essen­tial prob­lems that the work­ing class and its van­guard have to resolve, and because want­ing to limit these con­cerns of the work­ers to “polit­i­cal” aspects of the strug­gle is the inher­i­tance of a false con­cep­tion that only sees in the pro­le­tariat a force likely to back the polit­i­cal party.

The final goal, the solu­tion of all these prob­lems is incon­testably the sup­pres­sion of cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety and its replace­ment by a social­ist soci­ety.

The final goal is an abstract solu­tion in the sense that it cor­re­sponds to a purely intel­lec­tual notion. The final goal is the schema, the frame­work that the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant has absorbed. But this notion remains abstract up until the moment when the expe­ri­ence of the work­ing class leads it to con­cretize this schema, to blan­ket this frame­work with an entire net­work of prac­ti­cal actions. But before this period, the gap sep­a­rat­ing the real actions of the work­ers and the final goal can­not be resolved through a leap from the actual sit­u­a­tion to an abstract solu­tion. Thus, we have crit­i­cized this way of arti­fi­cially treat­ing every prob­lem, which ends every arti­cle with the neces­sity of mak­ing the social­ist rev­o­lu­tion. In order to remain on a con­crete plane, the paper can­not there­fore jump over this gap arti­fi­cially. If, how­ever, we want to offer a con­clu­sion, a per­spec­tive that could be absorbed, which appears con­crete, we risk falling into cer­tain traps. Sim­ply observ­ing the pos­i­tive role of the bureau­cracy of the fac­tory or of the State, for exam­ple, might lead to the con­clu­sion that sup­press­ing the par­a­sites in the very frame­work of soci­ety would be enough to resolve these prob­lems.

That is where the essen­tial role of the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant emerges; if he can­not provide a con­crete con­clu­sion to a prob­lem, he can show that every solu­tion call­ing for the reform of this soci­ety is impos­si­ble. In this sense, the paper becomes the set­ting of a real dia­logue that can con­tinue through sev­eral issues.

Even if the solu­tion to every prob­lem finds itself joined in the destruc­tion of the cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem, there are actions, pos­si­bil­i­ties for defense, or of strug­gle against cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety; these strug­gles suc­ceed in devel­op­ing the con­scious­ness of the work­ers, advanc­ing their expe­ri­ence. The mil­i­tants will have to enrich all of these strug­gles with their own expe­ri­ence as the­o­rists, with­out, for all that, say­ing that they can nec­es­sar­ily provide a solu­tion to every prob­lem.

The Workers’ Paper in the Present Period

If we pose the prob­lem of the work­ers’ paper today, it’s not solely because this work­ers’ paper fol­lows from our fun­da­men­tal the­o­ret­i­cal con­cep­tions, but also, and above all, because this paper seems real­iz­able in a very con­crete way. It cor­re­sponds to the most appro­pri­ate form of activ­ity in our present period, the form of activ­ity that may be the link [trait d’union] between rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tants and the worker van­guard. It is nec­es­sary here to pre­cisely define this period.

In the period that fol­lowed the Lib­er­a­tion, the pro­le­tariat adopted the pol­i­tics of the Stal­in­ist par­ties. The prob­lems that the work­ers posed for them­selves were resolved by the par­ties. Inso­far as the solu­tions pro­posed by the par­ties were only false solu­tions, the adhe­sion of the work­ers to these polit­i­cal forces could not last for long. This is prov­ing to be true more and more clearly today. In this way, we can say that a work­ers’ paper in this period was impos­si­ble in the sense that the pro­le­tariat still put its hopes in the polit­i­cal forces that it fol­lowed. If today, the rela­tion between the work­ers and “their” par­ties has changed, it has not changed in the sense that the Trot­sky­ist orga­ni­za­tions had hoped. The work­ers have not changed their pol­i­tics. They have not changed their ideas on Rus­sia in order to pro­gres­sively con­sti­tute them­selves as a frac­tion, or a party, fur­ther left than the Stal­in­ists, in order finally to bring them­selves closer to the Trot­sky­ist posi­tions, and then the Trot­sky­ists of the Left. This is roughly what the left­ist orga­ni­za­tions had expected would hap­pen over the years, and the major­ity of the strug­gles between these group­ings were based on the tac­tics to adopt in order to form a mass party fur­ther to the Left than the Stal­in­ists. If many work­ers have held onto their hopes about Rus­sia, they have detached them­selves lit­tle by lit­tle from Stal­in­ist pol­i­tics. They have refused to fol­low their watch­words, to union­ize, to read their press, etc.

In this devel­op­ment of the work­ing class one can say that the influ­ence of the social­ist par­ties or the FO unions had no heft since all the pro­pa­ganda and every ide­ol­ogy of these orga­ni­za­tions lim­ited them­selves to an anti-Stal­in­ism that sub­se­quently became their very raison d’être.

If the work­ers have bro­ken away from Stal­in­ism after break­ing away from the Social­ist Party, it’s not to go to the Trot­sky­ists, it’s to not do “pol­i­tics”; the work­ers are less and less inter­ested in “pol­i­tics.”

There, we saw a unan­i­mous reac­tion from all the Left­ist par­ties, from the social­ists to the Trot­sky­ists, who were out­raged by such an atti­tude from the pro­le­tariat. Every­one saw in it a reac­tionary devel­op­ment that could have led to fas­cism.

For all of these par­ties, the pro­le­tariat is a force that has to be dom­i­nated, canal­ized in its own direc­tion. That the work­ers were mys­ti­fied by Stal­in­ism is only a lesser evil. For oth­ers, it is a ques­tion of find­ing the tac­tic or the method for secur­ing the work­ers through com­pro­mises, alliances, etc.

But the work­ers do not want to let them­selves be canal­ized by any exist­ing orga­ni­za­tion – pre­cisely what makes all these politi­cians shud­der with bit­ter­ness.

In con­trast to all these par­ties, we thought that the proletariat’s detach­ment from “pol­i­tics” had a pos­i­tive mean­ing.

Not only has the pro­le­tariat bro­ken away from the pas­times to which the bour­geois or the Stal­in­ist par­ties tried for year to fas­ten it and which is their own pol­i­tics. But this very deep dis­af­fec­tion does not end in blind con­for­mity to other polit­i­cal par­ties, but in a gen­eral dis­trust.

In this sense, one can say that the indif­fer­ence of the pro­le­tariat to pol­i­tics is a real­iza­tion that has a polit­i­cal value infinitely more pro­found than the dis­cov­ery of the degen­er­a­tion of Rus­sia.

These two char­ac­ter­is­tic traits of the work­ing class today (dis­en­gage­ment from the par­ties and pas­siv­ity) are, it is true, applauded by the bour­geoisie which sees on the one hand a weak­en­ing of a rival power – Rus­sian Stal­in­ism – and on the other hand an ide­o­log­i­cal dis­or­ga­ni­za­tion of the work­ing class. In the past, the work­ers who broke with the par­ties, bypassed these par­ties through their direct action. This was the case with com­mu­nist minori­ties within social democ­racy. If the bour­geoisie delights in the pas­siv­ity of the work­ing class, we can see the dif­fi­cul­ties that this very pas­siv­ity brings about for the devel­op­ment of its own pol­i­tics. Because the dis­af­fec­tion of the work­ers from the Stal­in­ist party is at the same time a very pro­found detach­ment of the work­ing class from the dom­i­nant classes. Thus, for exam­ple, the mobi­liza­tion of the work­ers by the Stal­in­ists for a nation­al­ist demon­stra­tion against Ger­man rear­ma­ment does noth­ing, in real­ity, except rein­force nation­al­ist ide­ol­ogy, even if it finds itself led against the bour­geoisie in a cer­tain period. On the other hand, the refusal of the work­ers to mobi­lize them­selves under the watch­word “against the CED” sig­ni­fies a cer­tain rup­ture with the nation­al­ist ide­ol­ogy, which is to say, bour­geois ide­ol­ogy. This rup­ture has con­se­quences on another plane. When the bour­geoisie will try to recruit the work­ing class to its national ide­ol­ogy, for this Euro­pean army or for the main­tain­ing its dom­i­na­tion in the colonies, it will find itself faced with the very refusal of the work­ers who favored it in the pre­ced­ing case. See­ing the proletariat’s action as pos­i­tive ele­ment in itself, even if this action is com­pletely or in part led towards bour­geois objec­tives amounts to con­sid­er­ing the proletariat’s action, and the pro­le­tariat itself, as an instru­ment merely capa­ble of act­ing, with­out itself deter­min­ing its direc­tion. From such a con­cep­tion flows, for exam­ple, all the Trot­sky­ist pro­pa­ganda, which con­sists of lead­ing every work­ers’ action by sup­port­ing these actions and in try­ing to make them go beyond their frame­work, “in push­ing the move­ment.”

We think that the pas­siv­ity of the pro­le­tariat is pos­i­tive inso­far as it is a form of dis­en­gage­ment from bour­geois ide­ol­ogy. This is not to say that we wel­come such pas­siv­ity; the pro­le­tariat finds itself in a period where it finds its own route by shrug­ging off bour­geois and Stal­in­ist ide­ol­ogy lit­tle by lit­tle. The work­ers’ paper is pos­si­ble only inso­far as this auton­omy emerges.

The out­line of the present sit­u­a­tion in which work­ers expe­ri­ence devel­ops must how­ever be clar­i­fied.

If the work­ing class today has accu­mu­lated a cer­tain “polit­i­cal” expe­ri­ence, it is nec­es­sary to imme­di­ately trace the lim­its of this expe­ri­ence.

The role of the Stal­in­ist party in France was not as deeply advanced as in the coun­tries of “pop­u­lar democ­racy,” the role of the reformist union bureau­cracy is not more devel­oped than in coun­tries like Eng­land or Amer­ica. France remained mid­way between the erst­while forms of cap­i­tal­ist dom­i­na­tion and the new bureau­cratic forms. In this sense, work­ers expe­ri­ence finds itself in a very ambigu­ous sit­u­a­tion and it’s from this sit­u­a­tion that comes the dif­fi­culty of cre­at­ing a work­ers’ paper that can dif­fer­en­ti­ate itself from other polit­i­cal ten­den­cies on every plane. The work­ers’ paper will not only have to strug­gle against the new ten­den­cies of exploita­tion, the bureau­cratic ten­den­cies, it will also have to fight the pre­vi­ous forms and there it will find itself next to the Stal­in­ist or reformist forces from which it will be dif­fi­cult to delimit itself.

The work­ers’ paper will have to fight two forces:

  • The power of the tra­di­tional bosses;
  • The bureau­cratic forces (reformist or Stal­in­ist);

The great major­ity of French cap­i­tal­ists are com­posed of small, pri­vate own­ers who man­age their firms them­selves. In many fac­to­ries, the unions are prac­ti­cally nonex­is­tent. The trade union mil­i­tant risks get­ting fired, there is no union bureau­cracy. The strug­gle against the employ­ers has held onto these older forms and there the work­ers will even have to aid the unions in mak­ing the bosses respect the law. Next to this, there are large fac­to­ries, pri­vate or nation­al­ized, where the union bureau­cracy played a cer­tain role in the pro­duc­tion appa­ra­tus and where the “mod­ern­ized” forms of dom­i­na­tion have sur­passed the tra­di­tional, vio­lent forms.

In par­al­lel with the diver­sity of the forms of dom­i­na­tion in French cap­i­tal­ism, one finds the diver­sity of forms of resis­tance. The fact the union bureau­cracy has not been able to play its role in France, the fact that Stal­in­ism finds itself in the posi­tion of an oppo­si­tion party, has given to these forces a char­ac­ter which is dif­fer­ent from their true role. Thus, the Stal­in­ist or union forces, instead of demand­ing to man­age soci­ety, con­tent them­selves with tak­ing over, more often than not, a pol­i­tics drawn from the tra­di­tional reformist arse­nal: par­lia­men­tarism, munic­i­pal dis­putes, etc.

In this com­plex sit­u­a­tion, the work­ers’ strug­gle against the small cap­i­tal­ist [petit patron] or the work­ers’ strug­gle against the bait­ing of the fac­tory man­age­ment, could be sup­ported by the Stal­in­ist or reformist unions. The work­ers’ strug­gle against the union bureau­cracy could be sup­ported by the fac­tory man­age­ment. The strug­gle against the reformists could be sup­ported by the Stal­in­ists.

Only in par­tic­u­lar and really char­ac­ter­is­tic cases will the work­ers’ strug­gle against their exploita­tion simul­ta­ne­ously be a strug­gle against the employ­ers and the union bureau­cra­cies; it is over the most fun­da­men­tal issues that this strug­gle will there­fore become a real­ity on the three planes.

From this, it appears with evi­dence that the expe­ri­ence of the French work­ing class with Stal­in­ism and union bureau­cracy is a latent and incom­plete expe­ri­ence, and it’s from this that the prin­ci­pal obsta­cles to the real­iza­tion of a work­ers’ paper will arise.

The Obstacles

We will now try to describe the prob­lems we have encoun­tered in our prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence with the work­ers’ paper:

La Tri­bune Ouvrière.

I. The difficulty in demarcating ourselves from other forces

a) Strug­gle against the bosses

At an ele­men­tary stage, it we found that our strug­gle against cap­i­tal­ist forms of dom­i­na­tion was iden­ti­cal with that waged by Stal­in­ism.

We can cite a few exam­ples:

  • Man­age­ment fires a worker.
  • A worker is injured by the lack of proper safety mea­sures.
  • Man­age­ment sets up a fundraiser for the direc­tor general’s funeral ser­vices.

Faced with these events, what is done?

The work­ers dis­cuss; some are enraged; oth­ers are pas­sive; oth­ers finally accept and, even jus­tify, the con­duct of the man­age­ment.

The reac­tion of the most con­scious work­ers is to protest these kinds of things. They want to talk, to make oth­ers under­stand, and that is jus­ti­fied. But it is impos­si­ble to talk about these things in a way that is dif­fer­ent from the Stal­in­ists, unless they tie these three events to some polit­i­cal ques­tion. The only way to demar­cate our­selves would be to deepen these facts by return­ing them to the course of his­tory. Tak­ing the third case for exam­ple: “you are out­raged by the fundraiser for the direc­tor, yet in a given year you glo­rify him.” But already the dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion seems arti­fi­cial and in bad faith. One can respond that for­merly the com­mu­nist party made mis­takes, etc.

b) The strug­gle against Stal­in­ism

The cap­i­tal­ist in France is anti-Stal­in­ist these days. We have already spo­ken about the anti-Stal­in­ist ten­den­cies rep­re­sented by the FO unions, Chris­tian or Gaullist. The neces­sity of dis­tin­guish­ing our­selves is incon­testable, but some­times dif­fi­cult. Exam­ples:

  • The CGT demands a moment of silence to com­mem­o­rate the death of Stalin.
  • The CGT demands to hold an action to defend a cam­paign against rear­ma­ment or the release of Duclos.
  • The CGT calls a warn­ing strike [grève d’avertissement] doomed to fail­ure from the start. The work­ers find them­selves split into two blocs, this split does not often rep­re­sent a delim­i­ta­tion based on posi­tions in the class strug­gle.

Some work­ers go on strike because, for them, the strike is a way of oppos­ing their exploita­tion: “Every­thing that is against the boss is for the worker.” Oth­ers, on the other hand, don’t go on strike, even if they still share Stal­in­ist ideas about Rus­sia, because the strike requires effort, sac­ri­fice, a risk they are not will­ing take, because they are afraid of the super­vi­sors, because they want to ingra­ti­ate them­selves with the man­age­ment. When a split hap­pens in this way, one is right to affirm that such a split, despite its false polit­i­cal char­ac­ter, cor­re­sponds in real­ity to a split on the level of the class, a split between the brawlers and the cow­ards.

But in most cases the divi­sion is far more com­pli­cated. Take for exam­ple the strike of April 28, 1954. Many work­ers really saw the mys­ti­fi­ca­tion of the move­ment and the impos­si­bil­ity of its suc­cess. Oth­ers refused to go on strike to show that they no longer wanted to fol­low a union that had betrayed them. The refusal to strike was the refusal to fol­low the union lead­er­ship. Still oth­ers did not want to go on strike in order to get back at the unions that had led them, in cer­tain peri­ods, almost by force, into move­ments which they dis­ap­proved of. What posi­tion to adopt under these cir­cum­stances? Any posi­tion could be ambigu­ous. To go on strike is to leave your­self open to reproach for being a tool of the union; not going on strike is open your­self up to reproach that you defend the boss. How to avoid this ambiva­lence? We solved the ques­tion in the fol­low­ing way. We denounced the strike to all those who asked for our opin­ion, adding, how­ever, that we didn’t want to be scabs, and that we would fol­low the major­ity, while affirm­ing that those who refused to par­tic­i­pate in this strike were not nec­es­sar­ily cow­ards. We adopted a very ambigu­ous posi­tion by par­tic­i­pat­ing in the move­ment.

c) The strug­gle against the reformist unions

  • The reformist unions agree to par­tic­i­pate in the funeral ser­vices of the fac­tory direc­tor.
  • The reformist unions put together a fundraiser with the man­age­ment to help out vic­tims.

In our crit­i­cism we find our­selves side by side with the Stal­in­ists.

Faced with such prob­lems, the work­ers’ paper find itself before an alter­na­tive:

  • either to deal with these events and to risk per­haps adding to the con­fu­sion.
  • or to keep quiet about these events because they do not suf­fi­ciently per­mit us to dis­tin­guish the paper.

To not stand up to a provo­ca­tion by the man­age­ment under the pre­text that it would be impos­si­ble for us to do so with­out being able to dis­tin­guish our­selves from anti-worker forces would be the very nega­tion of a paper that must han­dle the prob­lems that con­cern the work­ers, and which must, on the other hand, cover the prob­lems that appear at the level of work­ers’ expe­ri­ence.

Want­ing to arti­fi­cially down­play cer­tain prob­lems under the pre­text that they are tend­ing to dis­ap­pear – the strug­gle against the pri­vate employer, for exam­ple – would be the proof of an absurd sec­tar­i­an­ism.

We must respond to the real prob­lems that the work­ing class con­fronts every day. If his­tory were cut up into dis­tinct slices, if the world evolved accord­ing to the sin­gle rhythm, if the devel­op­ment of soci­ety were every­where uni­form, such prob­lems would not pose them­selves: but the fact that some prob­lems are fated to dis­ap­pear does not at all mean that they have dis­ap­peared, and that is why we must still respond to them.

In cer­tain peri­ods one risks, there­fore, in cre­at­ing a work­ers’ paper that will be orig­i­nal solely because its arti­cles will be finely tuned, and because it will simul­ta­ne­ously crit­i­cize the three ten­den­cies: cap­i­tal­ist, reformist, and Stal­in­ist.

Pre­tend­ing that a work­ers’ paper can only exist when it will be able dis­tin­guish itself on every ques­tion, that one will only be able to pose the prob­lem of the work­ers’ paper in period that will have per­mit­ted the work­ing class to have acquired a far more advanced expe­ri­ence is an absur­dity; because, this period will be the period of the total­i­tar­ian dom­i­na­tion of the bureau­cracy. Then the prob­lem of the work­ers’ paper will have been bypassed, it will be unre­al­iz­able and the work­ing class will have to find other forms expres­sion.

II. Difficulties due to the passivity of the working class

The work­ing class’s rup­ture with the tra­di­tional polit­i­cal forces is not accom­pa­nied by an autonomous activ­ity; it appears that the expe­ri­ence of the work­ers in polit­i­cal par­ties or unions has worn out their desire to revolt, their need for activ­ity. And that is pre­cisely one of the obsta­cles to the appear­ance of an activ­ity as sim­ple as the edit­ing, dif­fu­sion, and financ­ing of a work­ers’ paper.

In a sit­u­a­tion of acute cri­sis between the man­age­ment and the work­ers, or between the union bureau­cracy and the work­ers, the prob­lem of the work­ers’ paper is easy to solve; when some­thing has aroused the anger or indig­na­tion of the work­ers, when the divi­sion of the work­ers expresses itself through dis­cus­sions and show­ing matches, when they form two camps – those who approve, those who crit­i­cize – the rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tant only has to gather these polemics, to arrange the argu­ments, and the arti­cle is writ­ten. It will inter­est, it will cor­re­spond to an effort by the van­guard work­ers to resolve the prob­lem.

But it’s not always like this. The antag­o­nism between the work­ers and the machine, between the work­ers and sys­tem of man­age­ment, does not always arouse a vio­lent oppo­si­tion: this antag­o­nism is like a wound that heals itself dur­ing cer­tain peri­ods. The role of the paper is not to arti­fi­cially open these wounds – it more­over does not have the power to do that; the antag­o­nism can only be born from the events them­selves. The paper can, at most, only give an expla­na­tion, try to express, and ori­ent this class antag­o­nism.

In these peri­ods the work­ers will not expe­ri­ence the need to express them­selves and the work­ers’ paper will fall again unto a nucleus of the most con­scious, most politi­cized work­ers, but who will have the ten­dency to express their own polit­i­cal or the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lems. The work­ers’ paper will there­fore have a ten­dency to fall back into the same rut as the other papers. It will lose its inter­est, the prob­lems treated will not cor­re­spond to the con­cerns of the work­ers. The work­ers will place their trust in their com­rades, des­ig­nat­ing them to speak, to write, to think, in their place. One there­fore sees the dan­ger in such an atti­tude, which could lead the work­ers who have the trust of oth­ers to express, in turn, their per­sonal ideas, with­out relat­ing to the prob­lems of work­ers.

The other dan­ger is of cre­at­ing a lead­er­ship of the paper that is more and more sep­a­rated from the other work­ers; that the pas­siv­ity of some leads to a cer­tain habit by the lead­ers to decide in their place.

III. Difficulties due to the opposition of workers

We started by affirm­ing that the paper will have to reflect the level of expe­ri­ence of the work­ers. But two dif­fi­cul­ties result:

  • First is to deter­mine this level;
  • The sec­ond is to respond to the prob­lems that the work­ers pose at this level.

We have said that the prob­lems which inter­est the work­ers are essen­tial prob­lems that must be resolved. This is true, but it is nec­es­sary, how­ever, to add a few restric­tions to this idea – two orders of restric­tion. The influ­ence of bour­geois of Stal­in­ist ide­ol­ogy on the work­ing class: the dis­cus­sion around the elec­tion of Mendès-France for exam­ple. When the major­ity of work­ers, at the moment, still end up influ­enced by a wave of chau­vin­ism, it is obvi­ous that if we address these prob­lems, we will be in oppo­si­tion to the major­ity of work­ers.

At another order of ideas, one finds the prob­lems that divide the work­ers in two; for exam­ple, one worker wants to write an arti­cle that crit­i­cizes the divi­sion of labor and hier­ar­chy, but this cri­tique is solely made against his own com­rades; he shifts the blame for his con­di­tion onto his com­rades. Such a prob­lem is dealt with in a way that agrees with the man­age­ment, and it is impos­si­ble to accept it.

Thus, in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions, one finds one­self before the fol­low­ing dilemma: either accept reac­tionary cur­rents in the pages of the paper, or oppose one­self to the major­ity of work­ers. It goes with­out say­ing that on this plane we have always cho­sen the sec­ond solu­tion.

We some­times also find our­selves before the impos­si­bil­ity of respond­ing to cer­tain prob­lems. Faced with this impos­si­bil­ity, the edi­tors will have the ten­dency to replace solu­tions with dem­a­gogic arti­cles that suc­cumb to the crit­i­cism we made above about union or polit­i­cal papers. We will pro­pose a demand that will receive the approval of the work­ers, but will remain a pious vow; or else we will hurl insults towards super­vi­sors, man­age­ment, or the gov­ern­ment.

IV. Difficulties due to the enlargement of the paper

The level of work­ers’ expe­ri­ence is not the same every­where; it dif­fers with pro­fes­sion, indus­trial sec­tor, cor­po­rate tra­di­tion, geo­graphic milieu. It also dif­fers for rea­sons accord­ing to the very nature of the prob­lems.

It suf­fices for all that to refer to the polemics on the union ques­tion in order to to observe the diver­sity of prob­lems. Thus, an arti­cle con­cern­ing the O.S. on the assem­bly line at Renault will not nec­es­sar­ily inter­est, or respond to, the prob­lems of the worker of Toulouse fac­tory. The devel­op­ment of such a paper can there­fore only hap­pen in the oppo­site way of other papers; this devel­op­ment will be con­di­tioned by the growth in the num­ber of its par­tic­i­pants and edi­tors. A dilemma poses itself here, which can be dis­tilled as fol­lows: the paper must inter­est the work­ers so that they will par­tic­i­pate in it and express their own expe­ri­ence, but these work­ers will only be inter­ested in the paper if they find in it the prob­lems that them­selves deal with the expe­ri­ence that they have lived.

V. Difficulties of form

Pol­i­tics, like jour­nal­ism, tends to breaks itself away from social real­ity, to become a par­tic­u­lar sci­ence. In this way, polit­i­cal and jour­nal­is­tic lan­guage tends to sep­a­rate itself from real lan­guage.

One must not think that the work­ers, when they want to express them­selves, draft an arti­cle that is free from these lit­er­ary prej­u­dices. It enters into spo­ken habits in one way and writ­ten ones in another. There­fore the arti­cles writ­ten by the work­ers are quite often stamped by this jour­nal­is­tic form, full of clichés, ready­made and inex­act for­mu­las. The work­ers most fit to write are pre­cisely those who have been most sub­jected to this jour­nal­ist influ­ence and who, ini­ti­ated into these mys­ter­ies, think they must only express them­selves in an equally tor­tu­ous way or with the help of expres­sions that are quite often incom­pre­hen­si­ble to the major­ity of work­ers. The paper’s task is there­fore also to free the work­ers from lit­er­ary prej­u­dices, to encour­age them to express them­selves in a fash­ion as sim­ple as their nat­u­ral form of spo­ken expres­sion. The allu­sions, images, ref­er­ences, com­par­isons can only be bor­rowed from of daily pro­le­tar­ian life. In this sense the most capa­ble of writ­ing will be both the most con­scious work­ers, the most cul­ti­vated, but also those who will be the most dis­en­cum­bered by bour­geois or Stal­in­ist ide­o­log­i­cal influ­ence.


We have devel­oped sev­eral fun­da­men­tal ideas on the work­ers’ paper, on what it must be. We have exam­ined the prin­ci­ple obsta­cles that a paper of this type encoun­ters. In accor­dance with all of this one ques­tion poses itself:

Is a work­ers’ paper pos­si­ble today?

Pro­duc­ing a work­ers’ paper today entails a series of dis­ad­van­tages.

In those peri­ods when the paper will not respond to the needs of the work­ers it risks becom­ing a paper with­out inter­est. A paper that will have no echoes among the work­ing class could dis­cour­age the few worker mil­i­tants who devote them­selves to it, los­ing them for good. But can we give up on the paper after hav­ing made it, after hav­ing earned the sup­port of the work­ers, let­ting go of it solely because dur­ing six months or more the work­ers seemed dis­in­ter­ested in it?

Can one think that the com­bat­iv­ity of the work­ers grows in a con­tin­ual way, that there aren’t peri­ods of calm and dis­cour­age­ment, even when the work­ing class pro­gresses in its expe­ri­ence?

In any event, in the peri­ods of work­ing class com­bat­iv­ity, can one think of mak­ing a paper from scratch, with such a for­mula, the day after tomor­row. Can one believe that, because the work­ers will have under­stood the role of Stal­in­ism and unions, they will spon­ta­neously be led to write for a paper that we put at their ser­vice? Will they not be sus­pi­cious of us as well? Would it not be bet­ter that the paper exist dur­ing the peri­ods that fol­low and pre­cede these moments?

Must we not pre­pare the most expe­ri­enced and most con­scious work­ers to become the cadres of this paper?

An inter­mit­tent paper is unthink­able and unre­al­iz­able.

What bal­ance sheet can we draw up of this expe­ri­ence that has lasted less than one year?

Despite the errors we have made with the paper, it appears that we have accom­plished our objec­tive on the four most impor­tant points.

  1. The work­ers – more than fif­teen – have par­tic­i­pated in and writ­ten for this paper – the major­ity among them hav­ing never writ­ten before.
  2. The sub­jects of the paper are the prob­lems of the fac­tory and the prob­lems picked up by the work­ers, and no longer the prob­lems of the bour­geoisie treated  by the usual papers.
  3. The paper in large part no longer com­prises only insid­ers, but even the least cul­ti­vated and least politi­cized work­ers.
  4. The paper has sparked lively dis­cus­sions in the work­shops.

We believe that this bal­ance sheet is pos­i­tive and that it allows us to con­clude that this paper must be con­tin­ued, enriched, devel­oped. But this does not only depend on us; it depends on the work­ers who are inter­ested in it.

Image thanks to Pierre J.

  1. It is quite obvi­ous that these two processes have been reduced here to a schema; in real­ity there exists nei­ther one nor the other as pure state. In the for­ma­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary mil­i­tants there is always a dimen­sion of prac­ti­cal expe­ri­ence, and in the for­ma­tion of van­guard work­ers there exists a dimen­sion of intel­lec­tual for­ma­tion. 

Author of the article

was a member of Socialisme ou Barbarie.