In terms of revolutionary thought, the main problem has always been to move from theory to praxis, that is, the transformation of the idea into action. In the eleventh of his Theses on Feuerbach, Karl Marx ordered intellectuals to put down their pens, to intervene directly in the social field, at the heart of the relations of production. Throughout the 20th century, this call was heard several times, and we remember eloquent gestures of rupture, such as that of the philosopher Simone Weil swapping, in the mid-1930s, her teaching blouse for that of a factory Girl.

A generation and a half later, before and after May 68, the experience was repeated by Maoist militants who signed up as voluntary workers in the factories. This movement, called “the established”, was recounted by one of its main actors, Robert Linhart, a normalien, student of Louis Althusser, in an autobiographical and memorable book, L’Etabli (Les Editions de Minuit, 1978), which testified in the first person to this approach.

It is this feat of activist history that Mathias Gokalp brings to the screen, continuing the social furrow dug with Nothing personal (2009). The story opens at the start of the 1968 school year, during the medical examination at the end of which Robert, Linhart’s fictional double, played by the excellent Swann Arlaud, is declared, under an assumed identity, fit to hiring in the Citroën assembly plant at Porte de Choisy, in Paris.

Infernal cadence

On the spot, things are more difficult than expected. On the 2CV assembly line, Robert proves clumsy, damages his hands, and fits in poorly. The infernal pace of the factory, the repetitive gestures, the pressure and the bullying exerted by the foremen produce on the intruder a sort of massive crushing, a stupefying of all will, which postpones indefinitely his project of mobilization of employees .

It is from the boss himself, Junot (Denis Podalydès), that the opportunity will come, served on a platter: deciding to recover the hours lost during the spring events, he excessively extends the working day without repercussions salary. With the help of the union forces present (CFT, CGT, including a priest-worker played by Olivier Gourmet), a collective quickly came together, bringing together workers with varied profiles (Czech exiles, North African or sub-Saharan immigrants, rural people moved to the capital…).

From Linhart’s book, Mathias Gokalp retains the promise, the unifying impulse, the emancipatory ideal, a slope less disillusioned than the text, whose depression, crushing and silence he obliterates. We can see a form of watering down here, even in the reconstruction which smoothes the decor of the factory beneath the period varnish. The fact remains that L’Establishe stands out from the rest of social fiction and, despite a certain patina, demonstrates great didactic flexibility. Which, in this well-marked area, is already a form of success.