Workers' Liberty #53  


Tribunes of the people?

For the Euro-elections of June 1999, the two main working class socialist organisations in France, Lutte Ouvriere and the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR), plan to run a joint slate. Opinion polls indicate that the LO-LCR slate could get seven per cent of the vote. They could win seats in the Euro-parliament. They could even, conceivably, get more votes than the Communist Party, thus opening the possibility of a radical transformation in the direction that rebellious French workers look to for political representation.
An English translation of the joint draft platform has already been published. Here we print an article from Lutte Ouvriere's minority faction, L'Etincelle, on prospects for revolutionary unity.

No sooner had they heard (or thought they heard) on the radio or TV, from Alain Krivine or Arlette Laguiller, that the LCR and LO had agreed to present a joint slate at the Euro-elections, than workers all over were expressing satisfaction or approval to the known activists of one or the other organisation. Neither of the two Trotskyist leaders had, however, announced anything more than the desire of the two organisations to seek such agreement and to start discussions to try to reach it.

That makes the reaction all the more significant. By running ahead of reality, or, rather, by using the opportunity to declare their opinion openly, those workers, sometimes political or trade union activists, most often just sympathisers of the left, reveal the feelings of a section of the world of labour. They declare that they look to the far left for something. And even more surely they declare that they do not expect, or no longer expect, much from the government and from the rainbow left ["gauche plurielle", the term used by the alliance of the Socialist Party, Communist Party and Greens now in office in France to describe itself].

Superficially, however, it would seem that everything is going well for this government, to which the opinion polls credit a popularity rarely equalled by previous governments after a year in office. It had the good luck to arrive at the same time as a small economic upturn. For over a year it has also had the good luck of social calm. Its apologists credit the cleverness of the prime minister for dispelling the threat of movements which were taking shape but remained formless or very limited.

Everything, then, is going swimmingly. At least on the surface. Deeper down it is different. The anxieties, disappointments, doubts and anger of a large section of workers have not been calmed. The "Jospin method" has anaesthetised no-one, or at most a few trade-union leaders.

Neither the unemployed, nor their friends and families, nor those who fear losing their job tomorrow, can be fooled by the statistics. Behind the three per cent growth rate and the hundreds of thousands of new jobs, there remain practically the same number of unemployed, continued speed-up, the extension of casual and part-time work, a freeze on wages, and, to cap it all, often, even job cuts. It is not surprising that almost everywhere rank and file workers saw in the plan to cut the work week from 39 to 35 hours a threat of worsened conditions through flexibility, annualisation of work-time, and a freeze or cut in wages.

This general, almost unanimous, sentiment shows the state of mind of at least a section of the working class. To be sure, the discontent and anger has not erupted into big street demonstrations, large strikes, or other sizeable movements of protest. Thanks to the "Jospin method"? Or to the caution or even cowardice of the official leaderships of the working class? Or quite other reasons? Whatever about that, all those feelings are certainly there. And perhaps they lack only the occasion to express themselves. No-one has offered such an opening in recent times, neither the union confederations, nor any of the left parties, entangled as they are in the government. It thus falls to the far left to try to provide such an opening.

In other times the Communist Party would have played that role, even if only to divert and channel the discontent into paths safe for the possessing classes. But the CP is no longer in a position to do that. Not only because its size has been considerably reduced, but above all because the political situation in which it is placed, in particular by its participation in the government, practically forbids it.

To be sure it tries to patch this up by giving itself two faces: party of government when it leers at the ruling classes, party of "radicalism" when it looks towards the workers. Its activists and its newspapers are called on to criticise what its leaders approve, its MPs vote for, and its ministers carry out. But by doing the splits it no longer fools the discontented workers, or even its own activists - at least those among them, and they are numerous, who disapprove of the CP's participation in government, or simply doubt its usefulness. The openly expressed fears of the CP leadership that they might see the far left outstrip the CP in the Euro-elections prove the point.

So the political circumstances are such that the revolutionary communists can become the spokespeople of the workers' and people's discontent. Obviously nothing is given in advance. The far left has still to prove itself in order to offer a perspective, in the elections but also and above all outside the elections, to the discontented workers. In recent years a somewhat bigger section of those discontented workers has begun to take the far left seriously, as the results of Arlette Laguiller in the 1995 presidential election and of LO in the regional elections of 1998 showed. Let us not forget, however, that there have been many more who, demoralised and disoriented, have turned instead to the National Front.

To make an alliance of the different organisations when they are in agreement on essentials, like the alliance of LO and the LCR for the Euro-elections, already gives some proof that the left is serious. But by itself this unity, this indispensable minimum of responsible behaviour in these conditions, will not suffice. To prove itself, the far left must also know how to offer the workers a policy that corresponds to their general and fundamental interests, in order to convince them of it and bring them to share it.

The coming year, with the start of the euro and the Euro-elections, is likely to see the quarrel between "pro-" and "anti-" Europeans reignited. To choose between the euro and the franc, the European Central Bank or the Bank of France, Paris or Brussels, would be, for the workers, to choose between two policies of the enemy camp. It is vital not to get lined up behind politicians who, even when they fall out among themselves, still remain the adversaries of the working class; it is vital not to adopt objectives which, even those clashing with each other, are all contrary to the interests of the workers; it is vital to emphasise the links which should unite the workers of Europe, and beyond, against the capitalists of all nationalities.

This government, even when it still wants to make us remember that is of the rainbow left, pursues a policy in favour of the bourgeoisie and the bourgeoisie alone. Faced with a government which represents the interests of the enemy class, the workers should not only be distrustful or defiant, they must - perforce, and the sooner the better - oppose it.

To give strength and unity to their social and political struggles, the workers need a few clear and general objectives which would allow them to change their situation and reverse the relation of forces - an emergency plan, as LO called it, which will radically attack the essential evils of today: unemployment; worsening of conditions; deterioration of public services; super-exploitation through work schedules, speed-up or casualisation; low wages; even lower wage and benefit minima; and discrimination against certain sections of the working class like illegal immigrants. We must not forget the necessity for workers' control over the runningof the economy and society, a beginning of power without which successes and advances can only be illusory or ephemeral.

In a context where new opportunities are open for the far left, these orientations can be the basis for an agreement between LO and the LCR. For the Euro-elections... and for many other, more decisive, battles.

Translated and abridged from Lutte de Classe, September-October 1998

Back to the contents page for this issue of Workers' Liberty

Back to the Workers' Liberty magazine index

[ Home | Publications | Links ]