What follows is a translation of Robert Linhart’s preface to the economist-sociologist Albano Cordeiro’s 1981 Pourquoi l’immigration en France? (critique des idées reçues en matière d’immigration). The choice to publish Linhart’s preface on its own might at first seem strange. And indeed, Cordeiro’s slim yet powerful book deserves recognition and study on its own terms.1 That said, Linhart’s preface, “This Concerns Everyone,” is important and revealing on its own, insofar as it develops a key, understudied thread in Linhart’s broader corpus, namely the decisive role of race and immigration in navigating working-class struggle. The goal of this brief introduction is to encourage further study of Linhart’s work through this optic.
Readers of Viewpoint will likely be familiar with Linhart for his coordination of and participation in the French Maoist practice of établissement, wherein students left their elite universities (if only temporarily) to infiltrate factories with the intent of organizing the working class from within.2 By most accounts, Linhart’s intellectual biography begins with his matriculation into the École normale superiéure (ENS) in 1963, and early association with Louis Althusser and his circle of students.3 Then there is the founding of the Cahiers Marxistes-Léninistes in 1964, the break with the PCF-associated Union des étudiants communistes (UEC), and the subsequent formation of the more radical, Maoist Union des jeunesses communistes marxistes-léninistes (UJCml), which served eventually as a springboard for series of “enquêtes” into working-class and peasant zones across France, and then the more seriously committed experiments with établissement. Following the events of May ’68 – and Linhart’s hospitalization after a psychic breakdown caused by these same events – the UJCml was dissolved and replaced by the Gauche Prolétarienne, effectively headed by Benny Levy and later taken under the protective wing of Jean-Paul Sartre. Accounts of Linhart’s student trajectory are widely available in both French and English, as is Linhart’s 1978 memoir, The Assembly Line, which recounts his établissement in the Citroën-Choisy automobile factory just outside of Paris in 1968-69.4
Before arriving at the ENS, however, Linhart had been politically engaged in support of the Algerian War of Independence (while in high school) and would travel to Algeria to study post-independence agricultural programs during the summer of 1964 under the auspices of the UEC.5 And The Assembly Line is deeply preoccupied with the transposition of a racially coded colonial “sorting logic” from France’s ex-colonies into the division of labor, maintaining smooth automobile production. In a pivotal early scene, he recalls the moment when the racial division of labor at Citroën was first revealed to him. Having been assigned to an Algerian worker, Mouloud, to be trained onto the line, Linhart is startled to learn that even with no work experience, he has been hired onto a higher position with better pay.
Soon after another colleague explains the system to Linhart, who describes it as such:
There are six categories of nonqualified workers. Starting at the bottom: three categories of laborers (M1, M2, M3); three categories of semiskilled workers (OSI, OS2, OS3). The distinction is made in a perfectly simple way: it’s racist. The Blacks are Ml, right at the bottom of the ladder. The Arabs are M2 or M3. The Spaniards, Portuguese, and other European immigrants are usually OS1. The French are automatically OS2. And you become OS3 just because of the way you look, depending on how the bosses want it. That’s why I’m a skilled worker and Mouloud’s a laborer, that’s why I earn a few centimes an hour more, although I’m incapable of doing his work. And later they will draw up subtle statistics about the “classification grid”, as the specialists say.6
As the book unfolds, it becomes clear that this division of labor along racial lines is fundamental to the maintenance of tensions and divisions amongst different nationalities within the factory, in order to prevent collective struggle and to maintain unhindered production on the assembly line (a set of management tactics which Linhart refers to as the “antistrike machine”).7 This entails securing immigrant workers in a position of protracted, structural vulnerability – lower wages, dependency on factory housing and staff translators, and, not least, subjection to management often directly transferred from colonial service. As Linhart puts in the text below: “In French factories, the Algerian War never really ended on the assembly lines, and old colonial officers, integrated into management positions, still strive to avenge the loss of Empire in “making the wogs sweat.” Immigrant work, ‘inferior’ work.”
“This Concerns Everyone” scales upwards to account for this dividing logic in broader terms of immigration and capitalism in 1970’s France. Linhart alludes to the “double wave” of racist attacks and draconian immigration reform confronting immigrant workers in 1977, but this trend easily stretches back to the beginning of the decade, when France’s capitalist golden age, the “Trente Glorieuses,” was crashing to an end. The unfortunate confluence of rolling recessions and a rise in both immigration and unemployment led to scapegoating and a spike in racist violence in France, particularly against North Africans, and the drafting of a number of laws designed to curb immigration flows.8 Linhart points out a key contradiction here, namely that French heads of industry had no intention of giving up their hold on immigrant labor as a cheap, flexible reserve army willing to do jobs deemed “below” the French. If anything, the heightened precariousness of their legal standing further enabled manipulation by factory management, and as the history of French economic immigration policy continues to demonstrate, the law rarely poses a great challenge to the recruitment of clandestine labor forces abroad.
In a talk presented in Venice in 1977, Linhart once against comments on the rise of racism in 1970’s France, this time outside of the factory:
Scarcely a month passes any more without a North African worker being shot down in cold blood: by street-hooligans (in the Rue Montorgueil in Paris), by policemen (Brigadier Marchaudon in Nanterre, four policemen at Saint-Charles Station in Marseilles), by café-owners (Flers), and so on. With complete impunity. When a trial happens by chance, it ends with an acquittal (in Flers, the café-owner who paralysed and Algerian worker for life with a rifle-shot was acquitted by the Assize Court), or with a completely token sentence (the concierge who murdered the young Algerian Djellai in 1971 has just been condemned to…two years in jail! The jury may just as well have congratulated him.).9
Linhart’s concern with race, immigration, and imperialism as central, easily manipulated factors in the division of the working class constitutes an important, current which spans his written work.10 Each of his three books dedicates significant space to mapping capital’s imperial, expansionist logic. In The Assembly Line it is described as a “giddy whirlwind of nations, cultures, and societies, all destroyed, broken open, and ravaged, which poverty and the worldwide extension of capitalism throws, like a few crumbs, into the endless drainage canals of the work force.”11 In Lénine, les paysans, Taylor, we read of the “gigantic machine of global oppression which floated Europe’s ‘Belle Époque’ of celebrated courtesans and the first automobiles.”12 In Le sucre et la faim, we learn of the deep immiseration of Brazilian sugar day workers, their lives and mobility governed by hunger under the pressures of a mono-culture export economy. A key strength of “This Concerns Everyone” is precisely its quick and direct introduction of these concerns which animate Linhart’s thought.
Linhart’s introduction represents a characteristic unwillingness to submit to a logic of the inevitability of this same capitalist-imperialist project. This too is a persistent quality of Linhart’s work: an insistent, hopeful current that sees past temporary defeats into the longue durée of anti-capitalist struggle. The thwarted strike in The Assembly Line, the failure of the unionization vote which concludes Sugar and Famine – neither of these elicit lasting despair. Out of the former comes proof of the greater possibility of bridging the color-line in worker struggle, and out of the latter, the “awakening of a peasant movement.”13 “This Concerns Everyone” evinces the same stubborn hope, as the very mechanisms of oppression under criticism are revealed to engender the means of their eventual dissolution. Namely, in the same growing heterogeneity of the working class borne out of the tendency for capital to divide and subdivide its labor power – drawing on ever-shifting international labor markets – lies the potential for the composition of international solidarity movements to come. As Linhart writes in conclusion: “Of all who contribute to this heterogeneity, of all those who cross the inner-divisions carefully maintained by capitalism, the worker movement tends toward the constitution of unity: this is its greatness.”
– Patrick Lyons
“This Concerns Everyone,” Preface to Albano Cordeiro’s Pourquoi l’immigration en France: critique des idées récues (Office Municipal des Migrants de Creteil, 1981), 5-14.
Capitalist organization divides and subdivides industrial labor into posts, gestures, sequences, and cycles. Marx qualifies such a division, at the end of his prophetic description of it in Capital, as “the assassination of a people.”14 But it is not only labor which is divided. Labor-power is as well. And it is this same movement of division and subdivision which slices it apart into qualifications, wage levels, stable and unstable employment along moving lines of distribution: adults and youths, men and women, white or black, nationals and foreigners, urban and rural. In all capitalist countries, organizing work means dividing workers: exploring ever new “labor reserves,” just as one begins production on a new mining deposit, wearing down and laminating its dense cores. As a result of this tendency, the organization of labor never stabilizes, even in periods where technology remains constant. Workers resist a mode of exploitation which seeks, limitlessly, to intensify work and make labor-power more lucrative and, on its end, capitalism strives to detect and deepen weak points within worker resistance. This double pressure produces a moving, heterogeneous composition of the working class. Sometimes, setting entire populations to work has such catastrophic effects – that is, compromising profit security – that the system must seek palliative measures against itself. Albano Cordeiro shows how French capitalism turned early on towards foreign labor in order to slow the demographic pillaging of its own working-class families – an entire population devoured and stunted by setting women and children to work – and then in order to preserve rural populations whose political support appeared so decisive at the moment of the Paris Commune. Class struggle is inscribed in the very formation of the working class, at every moment of its existence.
There are abundant examples of these recruitment policies that big industry uses to detect, and overcome, points of resistance. In the 1950s and 60s, the automobile industry explored the French countryside in search of ideal unskilled workers (O.S.): were not young rural folk a malleable labor force, rarely unionized, without much work experience, and generally available for the advertised positions? This is the case with Le Mans, Flins, Cléon, etc.15 Yet it is precisely this young working class fresh from the west countryside that would be the most virulent in the movements of 1967 and 1968 – strikes, protests, sequestrations. Wouldn’t it be wiser to repopulate the assembly lines with shipments of Algerians, Malians, and Turks who, carefully divided on the production lines and often housed in company hostels, would be subjected to the tight control that the old colonial powers, experts in managing indigenous affairs, know so well? Many immigrants were hired and, following this, from 1970-1973, unskilled worker revolts spread. And everywhere, these same immigrants were supposed to assure calm production in the workshop were the first to go on strike. How to break this resistance? Racism, police pressure, anti-immigrant procedures. And perhaps also, in the long term, turning in part towards other “labor deposits”– for example, what about those old working classes in the North and East devastated by the death of heavy industry? Might we not rediscover their aptitude for hard work? And so on and so forth. A machine with many keys: immigrants are one of them, always important despite public discourse on the matter.
In 1977, when the immigrant population in France suffered a double assault of a racist wave (“ratonnades”16 and murders) and new governmental dispositions, a study was submitted to the Ministry of Work on the “substitutability of immigrant labor.” If we chased away the immigrants, would the French take their place within production? This question was posed to a sampling of enterprises. Nearly all of them responded in the negative: we cannot do without “our” immigrants: they accept the hardest work, low wages, the most complicated hours, frequent displacements, all sorts of hardships that French workers refuse. Certain employers spoke of a “critical threshold” beyond which a job is considered “Arab work” or “Black work”: they hire a certain number of immigrants in a workshop or for a type of post and no longer worry themselves with ameliorating work conditions. After a while the French refuse to take on work therein – it has become an “immigrant sector.” Assembly lines, foundries, presses, painting, cleaning. It isn’t difficult to piece together a map for these jobs: rhythms, exhaustion, heat, benzolism and other illnesses, roaring din and deafness…
Engels said that the contempt for servile manual labor handed down by Antiquity would persist long thereafter, like a poison needle, to corrupt and fetter the productive systems that followed. In certain of its characteristics, immigrant labor – and above all the modern offspring of colonial labor, which constitutes an important part of it – plays a comparable, devalorizing role. In French factories, the Algerian War never really ended on the assembly lines, and old colonial officers, integrated into management positions, still strive to avenge the loss of Empire in “making the wogs sweat.”17 Immigrant work, “inferior” work. The assembly lines, construction work, the cleaning and maintenance of heavy industry sites (more and more, petrochemical, steel and cement making enterprises subcontract a great deal of work to smaller enterprises; these are whole functions which “leave” the central enterprise and are distributed across control centers, temporary work, and various contracts, for which immigrant labor is a key reservoir).
A dividing line thus produces, in the heart of the working class, a subaltern proletariat, and this division is inscribed in the labor process itself. Only, on this side of the inner boundary, there are more than just immigrants: women, youths, and delinquents constitute other components of this productive population. And there can arise slippages in the sorting logic: between a Black sweeper and a cleaning woman; between an Arab worker and a juvenile delinquent sentenced to temporary work by a children’s judge; between the undocumented Turkish clothing worker and the old woman who makes boutonnières at home; employers may have their pick. Sometimes subtle rules of alignment are established – this is “feminine” work, while that is best suited for “Maghrebis,” etc. Employers’ responses to the 1977 survey include a full hierarchy of immigrant nationalities, just as at Citroën we classified manual and unskilled workers according to their country of origin. From one population to another, there are slippages, but the principal source of this subaltern proletariat remains immigration. And it must not lose its advantageous characteristics. The employers insist upon this point. Immigrants must remain mobile, not too organized. As Albano Cordeiro shows, anti-immigration politics of the 1970s seek to reestablish these characteristics of “good immigration,” rather than eliminating it altogether.
For an entire part of industry, the good immigrant is the “fresh” immigrant: mobile, not affixed to a family, nor integrated into a union movement (strong, unencumbered arms, medically selected arms, as Cordeiro describes). If too many immigrants lose the ideal characteristics, we’ll expel them to import new ones. But, for other industrial work, the accumulated experience of more established immigrant workers may be of use: a knowledge base acquired on the assembly line or in workshops – paid sparingly and without recognition for qualifications – is not negligible (this massive under-qualification of immigrants is frequent. In South Africa, it appears in its most developed form: Black immigrant labor essentially keeps the mines working, but all qualified posts are officially assigned to whites, even though Black workers are in fact doing the work – and the titular official is content to surveil them). Finally, in periods of demographic stagnation – currently the case in France – the supply of a youth base to “Frenchify” offered by the “second generation” is considerable, as much as cultural and scholarly segregation funnel it into the low-cost labor reserves.
Such are the diverse and often contradictory imperatives, therefore, which orient the logic of what Cordeiro names “the new migratory model,” whose general traits he discerns through the clutter of regulations, reports, and declarations of intent: the maintenance of a stable immigrant population, reconstitution of a mobile transitory workforce renewed every three years, undocumented workers forced to work in the black. Stable work, precarious work, undeclared work: this ensures the domestication of diverse labor markets modeled on a production process that has incorporated within its very structure the inequalities of the labor hierarchy. And how are these inequalities allocated? The management of a multinational labor force on French soil is only one piece of a larger imperialist apparatus, and it depends upon others: contingent contracts and training/return arrangements are negotiated against oil, the importation of families against benefits offered to French capital, expedited rotations against credit lines. This is why one immigrant doesn’t necessarily equal just any other in value, and a supplementary sorting logic accompanies the relative weight of the states upon which these transplanted workers depend. In large, Southern Europe provides stable contingents of the labor force (and a portion of their descendants to “Frenchify”), the Third World provides transitory and undeclared work. (But there can arise more complex subdivisions as well). A crude restructuration, inspired in part by what is taking place in Switzerland and the Federal Republic of Germany.
Eliminate immigration, send everyone back? A bluff. Cordeiro shows precisely what benefits immigration brings in, if only for social service agencies. It is claimed that immigrants cost more than nationals in terms of health costs. Albano Cordeiro studies the numbers and demonstrates that the opposite is true: immigrants receive less in social benefits and the relevant data is exaggerating when one only considers hospitals, forgetting the clinics where immigrants rarely go, when one systematically gathers examples in large cities where immigrants are overrepresented, when one forgets that they receive no benefits for children that remained in their home country and that they pay into retirement funds of which they often never see a single cent. Cordeiro thus establishes that immigration in fact lightens the deficits for the various Social Security funds by the millions. No, it is not by philanthropy that France “welcomes” immigrants. The fact that this must be demonstrated with the numbers in hand is astounding. But since there are those who deny the evidence…Propaganda efforts try to claim that immigration is too costly – like supposed aid to the Third World. In truth, like this “aid,” immigration brings in money, it constitutes a foundation of our system, and we shouldn’t hold our breath to see it deliberately give up this source of profit.
But insecurity is not all bad. Consider unemployment. The economist Phillips gave his name to a curve which establishes a correlation between the number of unemployed and the general level of wage (which are better contained when the pressure of unemployment is stronger).18 This “Phillips Curve” is one of the equations used to design FIFI, the physico-financial model of the Sixth French Plan.19 An important level of unemployment, by “moderating” wages, is supposed to diminish costs of production and, in doing so, ameliorate the “enterprise self-financing” (profits) towards which we are told everything must tend. Thus we find unemployment incorporated in the official economic model (in the discrete complexity of its equations, it is true) as a factor of French industry’s competitiveness.
The Stoléru Plan, expulsions, stricter regulations, the threat of return play a similar role: not all immigrants are directly affected, but all are threatened.20 And this situation is exploited to render those who stay more compliant and lucrative. We have here a sort of implicit “Phillips Relation” then between the volume of repatriations and expulsions on the one hand, the general docility and cost of the immigrant population on the other – a formula no doubt germinated in one of those technocratic culture mediums where governmental politics simmer and stew.
Cordeiro is right to insist upon this: immigration is not an outside factor, an exterior element to French society and its economy. It constitutes one of their essential, internal components. If one wishes to analyze the industrial structure of developed capitalist countries, one cannot abstract them from their sources of nourishment. Capitalism draws its substance not only from the productivity of workers’ labor, but also from a constant supply of income and value produced outside of its proper sphere; it draws new labor forces out of reserves where their reproduction is assured and costs nothing. The social problem posed by this intermingling of diverse populations profoundly impacts the organization of the labor process. Studies have established a link between mass immigration at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century in the United States and the formation of modern labor management strategies. Between 1890 and 1914, 15 million immigrants arrived in the United States during the same period that methods by Taylor and Ford were being established in factories, systems of social control and theories of population organization and surveillance developed (with the rise of sociology), and a change in trade unionism was taking shape. Today still, and across all capitalist countries, the depreciation of black labor, immigrant labor, women’s labor, the labor of youths, delinquents, and prisoners does not constitute a vague periphery to industrial production: it works the system from its center and no island exists which is spared its effects. The semi-penitentiary atmosphere which reigns in any given big industry workshop is a clear sign of this. And the working classes of capitalist countries are composed of this heterogeneity and these inner divisions, which accompany their very formation. Of all who contribute to this heterogeneity, of all those who cross the inner divisions carefully maintained by capitalism, the workers’ movement tends towards the constitution of unity: this is its greatness.
– Translated by Patrick Lyons
↑2 See Jason Smith’s excellent account, “From Établissement to Lip: On the Turns Taken by French Maoism,” Viewpoint Magazine 3 (2013), and his translation of the UJCml’s établissement program.
↑3 On Linhart’s time at the ENS and the Cahiers marxistes-léninistes, see Frédéric Chateigner, “From Althusser to Mao: Les Cahiers Marxistes-Léninistes,” trans Patrick King. Décalages, 1.4, 2015; and Peter Hallward and Knox Peden eds. Concept and Form: Volume 1: Selections from the Cahiers Pour L’Analyse and Volume 2: Interviews and Essays of the Cahiers Pour L’Analyse (London: Verso, 2013). See especially Hallward’s introduction, “Theoretical Training” and Hallward’s interview with Jacques Rancière, “Only in the Form of Rupture.” See also the symposium in the recent issue of Rethinking Marxism, 33.4 (2021) which includes a translation by David Broder of Linhart’s 1966 text, “For a Concrete Theory of Transition: The Political Practice of the Bolsheviks in Power.”
↑4 Perhaps the best historical account available in English is Donald Reid, “Établissement: Working in the Factory to Make Revolution in France,” Radical History Review 88 (Winter 2004): 83-111 and contains an expansive bibliography, while Virginie Linhart’s Volontaires pour l’usine: Vies d’établis (1967-1977) (Paris: Seuil, 2010) provides key testimonial material from the établis themselves, excluding Linhart himself. See too the July-October 2015 issue of Les temps modernes on “Ouvriers volontaires, les années 68: ‘l’établissement en usine’” and Marnix Dressen, De l’amphi à l’établi: les étudiants maoïstes à l’usine (1967-1989) (Paris: Belin, 2000).
↑5 A paper derived from the findings of this trip was published in the second issue of the Cahiers Marxistes Léninistes, recently translated into English: Robert Linhart, “On the Current Phase of the Class Struggle in Algeria,” trans. Peter Korotaev, Cosmonaut, November 2021. The best account of Linhart’s summer in Algeria is provided in a recent two-part set of interviews watchable here and here. Linhart would return to Algeria in 1974 while working as a consultant for the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies in France: “Le ‘transfert des technologies’ et ses contradictions: quelques aspects de l’industrialisation algerienne,” Revue française d’administration publique 4 (1977): 123-33.
↑6 Robert Linhart, The Assembly Line, trans. Margaret Crosland (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1981), 25.
↑7 Linhart, The Assembly Line, 89, 94.
↑8 Most notably, the Marcellin-Fontanet Decree, which was designed to reduce economic immigration flows by reorganizing the procedural order by which immigrants could apply for residency permits. Applicants were henceforth required to present proof of employment and “decent housing” before applying. As Daniel Gordon notes, this made it “impossible for immigrants to retrospectively regularize their situation,” which up until this moment had been standard procedure. See Daniel A. Gordon, Immigrants and Intellectuals: May 68 and the Rise of Anti-Racism in France (London: Merlin Press, 2012), 129.
↑9 Robert Linhart, “Western ‘Dissidence’ Ideology and the Protection of the Bourgeois Order” (1977), trans. Patrick Camiller, Rab-Rab 5 (2019): 273. The text originally appeared in Pouvoir et opposition dans les sociétés postrévolutionnaires, ed. Rossana Rossanda (Paris: Seuil, 1978).
↑10 Linhart addresses the trajectory of his written work during the 1970s in the “Avant-Propos” to the republication of Lénine, les paysans, Taylor (Paris: Seuil, 2010), 8-9.
↑11 Linhart, The Assembly Line, 35-36.
↑12 Linhart, Lénine, les paysans, Taylor (Paris: Seuil, 1976), 60.
↑13 Robert Linhart, Le sucre et la faim (Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 1981), 63-93. For a longer analysis of this text, see Marcelo Hoffman, “A French Maoist Experience in Brazil. Robert Linhart’s Investigation of Sugarcane Workers in Pernambuco,” Cahiers du GRM 16 (2020).
↑14 Cited in Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1, trans. Ben Fowkes (London: Penguin, 1976), 485. Translators’ Note: This is in fact a citation drawn from David Urquhart, Familiar Words (London, 1855), 119. Marx’s note accompanying reads: “Hegel held very heretical views on the division of labour. In his Philosophy of Right he says: ‘By educated men we may prima facie understand those who…can do what others do.’ GWF Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, trans. H.B. Nisbet, ed. Allen W. Wood (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 268.
↑15 TN: Linhart is referring here to three Renault automobile factories in Northern France.
↑16 TN: In French, “ratonnade,” derived from the work raton (rat), originally refers to racist attacks specifically targeting North Africans.
↑17 TN: The French reads “faire suer le burnous,” a pejorative turn of phrase originating in France’s North African colonies which means to exploit indigenous labor-power.
↑18 TN: Linhart refers to the “Phillips Curve,” named after the economist William Phillips, which suggests an inverse relation between unemployment and inflation. On the history of the Phillips Curve, see: Robert J. Gordon, “The History of the Phillips Curve: Consensus and Bifurcation,” Economia, 78.309 (2011): 10-50.
↑19 TN: The “Sixth Plan” refers to a period of economic planning from 1971-1975. Among other things, this period entailed intensified attention paid to developing French industry to remain competitive within a global market economy. For a brief introduction to the history of French Planning since World War II, see: Diana M. Green, “The Seventh Plan–The Demise of French Planning?” West European Politics, 1.3 (1978): 60-76. On the Sixth Plan in particular, see Thomas Angeletti, “How Economics Frames Political Debates: Macroeconomic Forecasting in the French Planning Commissions,” Socio-Economic Review 19, no. 2 (2021): 635-57.
↑20 TN: In 1977, Lionel Stoléru, then Secretary of State under Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, orchestrated a controversial plan to encourage immigrant repatriation by offering 10,000F “return assistance” targeting North African immigrants in particular. See: Maxim Silverman, Deconstructing the Nation: Immigration, Racism and Citizenship in Modern France (London: Routledge), 1992), 52-57.