ICL Turns French Fascists
During the three decades that it upheld the revolutionary program of Trotskyism, the Spartacist tendency/International Communist League (ICL) consistently held that France’s National Front (FN) was fascist. It defended this position tooth and nail against the likes of Lutte Ouvrière (LO), which claimed that the FN was just another right-wing party. The ICL’s French section, the Ligue Trotskyste (LTF), called a labor-centered mobilization against the FN and other fascists in Rouen in 1981. But in the recent spate of articles in the Spartacist League’s paper Workers Vanguard insisting that the FN is not fascist but an “electoral party,” this history is passed over in silence. And what about the fact that the LTF was still calling Le Pen’s party fascist as recently as April 23? Nothing but a shifty WV “introduction” that subtly “corrects” their French comrades’ leaflet. Moreover, it’s not just in France that the ICL is twisting itself into contortions as it vainly attempts to square its new line with the facts. All over Europe it has decreed that fascist parties are henceforth merely electoral. Thus in Austria, while admitting that Jörg Haider and his “cronies” hold “fascistic views,” they wrote that:
“Haider’s FPÖ is a purely electoral machine and does not correspond to what Marxists understand by fascism. Reactionary views alone do not define fascism.”A year later, the ICL wrote on Italy:
“Alleanza Nazionale is the historical descendant of the fascists of the [Italian] Social Movement [MSI], but even though there is evident overlapping between the organization of [AN leader Gianfranco] Fini and [Lega Nord leader Umberto] Bossi and the squads who carry out acts of fascist terror in particular against immigrants, these organizations are at the moment essentially an electoral phenomenon, not different from the Austrian FPÖ of Jörg Haider.”Now it’s Le Pen’s National Front that has undergone an “electoral” rehabilitation by the ICL. The LTF is just a little slow in getting with the program.
In each case, the ICL’s line change came just as the fascist parties in question made electoral gains and what should be done about them became a major issue. The reformist left, as usual, uses “anti-fascism” to mount popular-front protests. The now-centrist ICL, which has settled into a comfortable niche of abstract propagandism, decrees that the fascists have become an electoral party/machine/phenomenon, in order to justify no mobilization, and declares that anyone who says otherwise is playing the pop-front game. The unspoken logic is that if the FN, AN and FPÖ were fascist, then class-collaborationist “anti-fascist” coalitions would be a natural response: a classic case of opportunists standing in fear of their own impulses. For authentic Trotskyists, recognition of the fascist character of the National Front means posing a sharp fight to break the stranglehold of popular-frontism, in order to mobilize the working class in powerful action to crush the fascists, before they become a mass movement.
This is not an isolated example, but an expression of the wholesale turn to the right by the ICL. In the French case, it is directly related to their conditional offer of critical support to the candidate of Lutte Ouvrière, Arlette Laguiller. The condition was that LO make a statement against the “Vigipirate” campaign of police persecution against immigrants. LO didn’t, of course, since they regularly tail after chauvinist sentiments, and the LTF’s offer remained suspended in air. But they spent the whole campaign trailing after Laguiller despite the fact that she and LO had fulsomely supported a bonapartist cop strike by the gendarmes last December! Now, as part of its right turn, the ICL has adopted LO’s electoralist position on the National Front, which it shares with other reformists, including the Socialist and Communist parties. For the social democrats, Stalinists and pseudo-Trotskyists alike, fascist parties are counterposed to electoral parties. After all, if they run against the FN in elections, and even debate Le Pen on TV (as Laguiller has done more than once), then the National Front must be part of the (bourgeois) constitutional order. Yet in Germany the Nazis ran in elections year after year, and Hitler took office by “constitutional” means.
Symptomatic of the ICL’s new-found electoralism is its virulent attack on the League for the Fourth International for our call for an active boycott of the second round of the French presidential election, that is the “choice” between Chirac and Le Pen. Two succeeding issues of Workers Vanguard (17 and 31 May) have run articles attacking the LFI’s “ultra-militant posture” and “pseudo-revolutionary fantasies.” They claim that a call to boycott this “contest” between the reactionary Chirac and the fascist Le Pen “presupposes a level of class consciousness one would expect in a pre-revolutionary situation.” We are accused of ignoring “over one and a half million people, including large numbers of workers, [who] were demonstrating in the streets in support of the bourgeois ‘Republic’ – and the rightist Chirac!”
So instead of calling for dispersing the fascist thugs on May 1 and demonstrating against the electoral farce on May 5, as the League for the Fourth International advocated, a passive policy of electoral abstention would be more “in tune” with the workers? we asked in a heated discussion with supporters of the Spartacist League. How dare we accuse them of calling for abstention, the SLers replied indignantly. And in fact, the ICL didn’t even call for no vote for Chirac or Le Pen, so solicitous were they of the 1.5 million. Their 23 April statement had no slogans at all about the election. On a banner they called for “no unity with Chirac” (which even the Gauche Socialiste, a current of ex-pseudo-Trotskyist burnouts and other graduates of the “far left” in the PS, said as it called to “block the way to Le Pen”), plus a timeless, general call for “class struggle against the capitalist system.” Abstract propagandism anyone?
The ICL’s new line on European fascism is an expression of a profoundly defeatist outlook which despairs of winning the working class to revolutionary consciousness. WV’s bottom line is that the FN, AN, FPÖ and similar parties are not fascist because the bourgeoisie doesn’t need fascism, since the workers’ consciousness is so hopelessly backward that there is no danger of the workers taking power. (Of course, if that were true, the bourgeoisie wouldn’t need popular fronts either.) The ICL mouths incantations about the need to build a revolutionary party as a kind of talisman to ward off the need to intervene in the class struggle to build such a party. As Trotsky underscored in the Transitional Program, that would mean waging a real fight against popular-frontism and fascism in order to resolve the crisis of proletarian leadership, which is key to the future of humanity. But the ICL now says this central thesis of the founding program of the Fourth International is passé, that since the fall of the Soviet Union the central problem is the workers’ retrograde consciousness, not the counterrevolutionary leadership.
WV’s “hear no fascism, see no fascism” line is the smug complacency of a tendency which has lost its revolutionary will to fight. Its soothing lullabies and confusionist double-talk are the hallmark of centrists who have lost the Marxist rudder and are drifting on an opportunist course.
ICL Blames the Workers
We noted above that Workers Vanguard’s redefinition of the French National Front as an electoral rather than a fascist party is part of an operation which the ICL is carrying out across Europe. Yesterday WV said Haider’s FPÖ in Austria, Fini’s AN in Italy and Le Pen’s FN were all fascist; today it says the aren’t. Why not? “Since the French proletariat does not currently pose an immediate threat to the capitalist order, the capitalists are not about to resort to fascist dictatorship.” Therefore, “the FN’s success is an electoral phenomenon.” Ditto for Italy and Austria: the bourgeoisie doesn’t need fascism, therefore the fascist parties that are junior partners in those governments aren’t fascist any longer. So when did they cease being fascist? Judging by the timing of WV’s pronouncements, it’s when they made electoral gains or joined the government. Apparently for the ICL the answer to the question, “when is a fascist not a fascist?” is “when they get a lot of votes.”
WV’s “electoral” whitewashing of the European fascist parties is another result of the ICL’s new line (codified in its 1998 “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program”) that the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state led to a fundamental retreat in working-class consciousness throughout the world:Left: FN leader Jean-Marie Le Pen (with his goons) attacks Socialist Party candidate Annette Peulvast during election campaign at Maintes-la-Jolie, May 1997. Right: Ibrahim Ali, shot and killed by fascist thugs putting up FN election posters in Marseille, February 1995. Le Pen justified this murder as “legitimate self-defense”. ICL says FN is not fascist but an “electoral party.” (Photos: AFP, Reuters)
“Trotsky’s assertion in the 1938 Transitional Program that ‘The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat’ predates the present deep regression of proletarian consciousness.”
This passage was inserted in the ICL’s rewritten principles explicitly in order to contrast it to the declaration of the Internationalist Group that the central thesis of the founding document of the Fourth International holds true today. What the ICL is coyly saying is the very reason for existence of the FI is now outdated. It’s no accident that virtually every revisionist tendency breaking with Trotskyism (Pablo, Cliff) has rejected the same key thesis of the Transitional Program. As we have noted: “Here the ICL is trying to give a theoretical justification for an abstentionist program, claiming that the problem is no longer a crisis of leadership but of the proletariat itself” (see “In Defense of the Transitional Program,” The Internationalist No. 5, April-May 1998).
Now we have another expression of the same ICL line: since the working class is so besotted with backward consciousness, it poses no threat to the bourgeoisie, therefore the bourgeoisie doesn’t need fascist dictatorship, therefore the fascists are no longer fascist but only an “electoral party” and we can all sleep easy because it is not necessary to seek to mobilize to sweep the National Front from the streets. It might be nice if on May Day the LO/LCR/PCF/CGT would occupy the FN’s assembly point, but they won’t, so that’s the end of it. This “great leap backwards” argument idealizes proletarian consciousness prior to the fall of the USSR, which had long been quite reformist, hardly revolutionary or even centrist. But at bottom, it is the bourgeoisie’s “death of communism” thesis dressed up in pseudo-Marxist terminology: they don’t need fascism since there’s no communism. Nice and simple, not to say simple-minded. And wrong. It is a bald-faced justification for opportunism.
ICL Alibis Lutte Ouvrière…
But while the ICL’s reclassification of the fascists is international in scope, it is a tenet of Marxism that opportunism is national in character. Workers Vanguard’s discovery that the National Front is no longer fascist is closely linked to the ICL’s policy of offering conditional (not very) critical support to Arlette Laguiller, the candidate of Lutte Ouvrière in the French presidential election. Most of the “far left” in France and internationally was mesmerized by Laguiller’s vote prospects, stumbling over each other as they offered their “critical” support. Reflecting this, the March 2002 “Open Letter” from the LTF effusively praised the LO candidacy (see our article, “Racist War Elections,” May 2002). The LTF wrote in its letter:
“In this election campaign there is only one candidate who seeks to draw a crude class line against the capitalist government: it is Arlette Laguiller, spokesman for Lutte Ouvrière. We agree with her when she says that…. Laguiller says unambiguously…. For these elections LO is breaking with its frequent history of supporting the popular front….,” etc.This is markedly different from the way the ICL used critical support in the past when it stood on the revolutionary program of Trotskyism. Only after this long string of praise does the LTF open letter criticize LO’s “tacit support” to the Vigipirate campaign of anti-immigrant repression and its “explicit support to the reactionary mobilization of cops.” But then it quickly adds that if LO would just come out against Vigipirate and police terror, “we would envision calling for voting for LO, without muting our criticisms of their program.”
This isn’t the Leninist tactic of critical support (“like the rope supports the hanged man”), ruthlessly exposing the opportunists’ betrayals. It’s an opportunist offer of conditional support with a few criticisms, which they wouldn’t even have to “mute,” since they were already quite muffled indeed. To begin with, the LTF made this offer after LO’s scandalous support for the bonapartist police mobilization against the “law of presumed innocence” of arrested suspects, after LO’s statement “the police, and also the gendarmes, carry out functions that are useful to the whole collectivity,” and after Laguiller’s editorial calling for bullet-proof vests for the cops! As we noted, the coverage of the “crime” issue in Lutte Ouvrière consisted mainly of criticizing youth in the housing projects for hanging out in gangs that trashed autos. And Laguiller’s support to Vigipirate wasn’t all that “tacit”: back in 1995 she editorialized that “it is necessary to show this population [immigrants] that it has nothing to fear from the Vigipirate plan” (see our articles, “Workers, Immigrants: Crush the Fascist National Front!” and “Ex-Far Left in the Reformist Swamp,” The Internationalist No. 2, April-May 1997).
No flabby statement by LO or Laguiller distancing themselves from Vigipirate or the cop mobilization could change that. The French presidential election was waged on the racist theme of “insécurité” (crime), demonizing immigrant youth. This was the home front of the imperialist war as French troops patrol northern Afghanistan and French planes bomb southern Afghanistan in conjunction with U.S. imperialism. The whole campaign put wind in the sails of Le Pen’s fascist National Front. The fact is that LO did not call to defeat the imperialist war; it went along with the anti-“crime” campaign while praising the racist cops for their militancy; and it did not break with Jospin’s popular front but only sought to pressure it to the left, while the LTF in turn sought to push LO to the left. That is why the League for the Fourth International declared, “Down with the Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Worker PS/PCF/Green Popular Front! No Support to the Pseudo-Opposition of Lutte Ouvrière! For a Workers Government!”
Responding to our call to boycott the second round of the elections, in which the fascist Le Pen faced off with the arch-reactionary Chirac, Workers Vanguard (17 May) attacks us for “pseudo-revolutionary fantasies” and an “ultra-militant posture.” This is the classic language of ex-revolutionaries directing their fire at those to their left while seeking to cozy up to the “big fish” to their right. At the same time, they nonsensically claim that the LFI’s “macho phrasemongering is simply a smokescreen for its fundamentally opportunist politics, posturing as the militant in-the-streets wing of the anti-fascist electoral ‘unity’ pushed by the French left in the tow of the popular front.” The League for the Fourth International calls for boycotting the elections, the pseudo-leftists call (openly or tacitly) for support to Chirac; we politically oppose the popular front down the line, the reformists and centrists tail after it. To the ICL, these are fundamentally the same. How is that? Because we say the National Front is fascist – as the ICL insisted for three decades, and its French section said right up to the April/May elections.
WV (17 May) rushes to defend the honor of LO against Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International, saying the IG/LFI “simply equates LO and the LCR [Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire], falsely claiming that both are ‘organizing extra-parliamentary support for the ‘Republican front’ for Chirac (April 26) and ‘openly or tacitly, encouraged a vote for Chirac in the second round’ (4 May).” It claims we “lyingly denounced” the LTF’s offer of “conditional critical support” to LO, and that we “instead simply dismissed LO because it has ‘applauded bonapartist and racist police demonstrations’.” In contrast, says WV solicitously: “We [the ICL] seek to win militants who are drawn to LO on the basis of its stated opposition to the popular front by exposing how that is contradicted by its tacit support to Vigipirate.” Readers can see for themselves that we accurately described the LTF’s opportunist offer to LO, and nowhere will they find a “stated opposition to the popular front” by LO, which doesn’t consider the “plural left” a popular front at all. As for our supposed “lies” about LO’s policy on the second round of the elections, the previous issue of WV (3 May) informed its readers that: “LO…comes out clearly against voting Chirac but then leaves the door open to…voting for Chirac.”
Yet according to the 17 May issue of WV, LO “resisted the pressure to call for a vote to this rightist [Chirac] – for which it was reviled, hissed and booed.” As a result, LO “could be well positioned to make gains” as the consequences of Chirac’s victory are felt. Let’s see what LO’s intrepid “resistance” consisted of. On the day after the first round, Laguiller issued a statement beginning, “I do not call for abstention on the second round of the presidential election. I call on all workers and particularly those who voted for Le Pen not to vote for him, because in addition to being an enemy of labor he holds an ideology that must be absolutely condemned.” In an editorial titled “The Choice Between the Plague and Cholera,” she said that “It would be surprising if Chirac doesn’t beat Le Pen, because he will certainly win with an enormous majority,” but in such a “plebiscite” he would be portrayed as “the savior of democracy against fascism.” Still, the editorial ends: “Of course, everyone must make the choice that seems most justified to him/her” (Lutte Ouvrière, 26 April). A call to oppose Chirac? Hardly.
Buffeted on all sides, LO eventually decided to call for casting a blank ballot on the second round, but this was in no way an opposition on principle to voting for a bourgeois candidate. Instead, they accepted the logic of casting a “useful vote,” arguing only that Chirac didn’t need the workers’ votes to stop Le Pen. After going on about “Le Pen must absolutely not get the workers’ votes,” Laguiller wrote: “If on the one hand, Chirac is elected with the votes of the workers, the votes of the entire left, or if he is only elected with the votes of the right, that could change the future” (Lutte Ouvrière, 3 May). Chirac is going to get elected anyway, she reasoned, but if his vote is too big, he will think he has a mandate for his right-wing policies. LO’s policy was not “no vote to Le Pen or Chirac,” it was “No Vote for Le Pen, But No Plebiscite for Chirac” as an LO banner said on May 1. LOers understood very well what this meant. A supporter of the LFI selling L’Internationaliste in Paris on May Day reported: “LO was very much on the defensive. Several of them explained to me that if Chirac wasn’t assured of winning on the second round, they would certainly call for voting for Chirac. And, they said, although Le Pen is probably a fascist, the National Front is not a fascist party…”.
Even LO’s eventual call for casting a blank ballot was a concession to the massive pressure to get workers to the polls for Chirac. “100% We Will Vote” declared thousands of signs on May 1. The ICL wants to make a qualitative distinction between the campaigns of the LCR and LO, yet the overwhelming majority of those who voted for the LCR or LO on the first round voted for Chirac in the runoff. Exit polls showed that 79 percent of those who voted for Besancenot (the LCR candidate) and 72 percent of those who voted for LO’s Laguiller on April 21 ended up voting for Chirac on May 5; only 10 percent of LO’s first-round voters cast a blank ballot. Maybe they didn’t get the real party line, or maybe they did. Either way, these results give the lie to the myth of determined LO “resistance” to the pressure of the popular front. As for the LTF, it didn’t even call for a blank ballot: its 23 April statement took no stand on what the workers should do on May 5. In a situation where the whole of France was polarized over this question, this is a stunning abdication by a party which claims to be revolutionary.
And it was not an oversight. In a polemical exchange with the Internationalist Group, a Spartacist League spokesman argued that we were just dismissing the million-plus workers who had demonstrated in the streets for the “Republic” on May 1 and who would not understand a call for a boycott. What a solicitous concern for staying in touch with the backward consciousness of the workers on which the ICL now builds its program! Certainly the LTF didn’t risk offending such workers with its thundering silence about what to do on May 5. “For the workers to boycott bourgeois elections presupposes a level of class consciousness one would expect in a pre-revolutionary situation posing the question of state power,” decrees WV.
But to call for the most combative sectors of the proletariat to actively oppose and even disrupt – i.e., to boycott – the run-off “election” in which the grotesque “choice” was between the fascist Le Pen and the crook Chirac, does not at all require a pre-revolutionary situation. The country was convulsed over what would happen on the second round; there was massive revulsion in the plants over this electoral farce. In our article on the eve of the second round vote, “French Elections: Beware of Bourgeois ‘Saviors of the Nation’” (4 May), we quoted from reports to the April 29 national council of the PCF saying that “numerous comrades reported reticence,” even among politicized workers and youth who demonstrated against Le Pen, “to choose the thief over the fascist.” The pro-Socialist daily Libération (30 April) reported that many unionized workers said they were not going to vote on May 5.
Every day the press was filled with articles trying to gauge the sentiment in the country. Interviews were conducted on street corners, on the metro, in factory cafeterias. Le Monde (24 April) reported from Calais that workers angry over the closing of their factory by the Danone conglomerate held Jospin responsible: “the rejection of the government among the employees of LU is total.” The CGT delegate said, “Around me, I know many people who are doubtless not going to go out to vote on the second round. They are too discouraged.” Libération (3 May) reported that in immigrant districts there was discontent over voting for Chirac. Psychiatrists were consulted on how left-wing voters should manage their pain in voting for a right-winger: “they could imagine replacing the name of Chirac on their ballot with the words ‘defense of democracy’,” or they could see it as a stick-up – a “forced choice: your wallet or your life.” Sports stars (including soccer champion Zidane) gave a “red card to Le Pen,” religious figures were mobilized to bless the “blocking vote.” In some plants, unionists were planning to go in groups to the polls so no one would refuse at the last moment. With a stop at the bistro to fortify the spirits – i.e., they had to get drunk to vote for the crook.
Why all this angst if it was foreordained that everyone was going to dutifully troop to the polls to vote Chirac? Moreover, the huge discontent over this election was in the face of a solid wall of “vote Chirac” propaganda from virtually every part of the media and every party save the FN, with at most a barely audible murmur of dissent from LO (and judicious silence from the LTF). A revolutionary opposition that loudly called for no vote for either of the reactionary bourgeois candidates and for active opposition against this hoax would certainly have been widely denounced, but it could also have used this as a platform for authentic Trotskyism, demonstrating the bankruptcy of the popular front which paved the way for the fascists’ advance. The ICL’s pettifogging pedantry in denouncing our call for an electoral boycott prior to a pre-revolutionary situation recalls nothing so much as the centrist Karl Kautsky’s opposition to calling for a general strike before the proletariat is ready to seize power (the ICL has the same line today), or the opposition of the French CP in 1934 to organizing workers militias against the fascist bands. In Whither France? Trotsky dissected the cynical excuses of those who opposed this urgent step:
“‘But the arming of the workers is only opportune in a revolutionary situation, which does not yet exist.’ This profound argument means that the workers must permit themselves to be slaughtered until the situation becomes revolutionary…. A revolutionary situation does not fall from the skies. It takes form with the active participation of the revolutionary class and its party.”One can speculate on what the ICL figures it will get out of its shameless tailing after Lutte Ouvrière. Not so long ago, LO attacked Spartacist salesmen at the annual LO fête and banned the LTF from having a literature stand. It’s worth noting that in the several articles on the French elections in the LTF and SL press there is not a word of criticism of the LO minority, which operates as a virtual party within the party, having a weekly column in Lutte Ouvrière and publishing its own bi-monthly magazine. And we can’t help noticing that the LO minority has the very same position on the nature of the National Front as the ICL has now adopted, often in identical terms. Consider the following, from the LO minority’s Convergences Révolutionnaires (May 2002):
“Up until now it has been only an electoral opening which has not led to the creation of a fascist party. The economic situation today does not compel the big bourgeoisie to finance far-right troops ready to fight it out with left or far-left militants, nor even to recruit whatever it takes to lay down the law in the housing projects. And up until now, even supposing that he will want to do so some day and he will find some troops here and there, Le Pen has never opted for carrying out strong-arm antics in the streets, confining himself to his ritual procession in honor of Joan of Arc every May 1.”Perhaps the LO minority and the LTF should have gone together on May Day to the ceremony commemorating the murder of Bouaram Brahim by skinheads from the ’95 FN march to explain that this was only a “ritual procession” and the National Front is not fascist but “electoral.”
… And Adopts LO’s Line on Fascism (And Not Just That)
Back when they stood on the revolutionary terrain of Trotskyism, the ICL and LTF vigorously fought LO’s prettifying of the National Front. In 1981, when the Ligue Trotskyste initiated a 400-strong mobilization to “Stop the Fascists” in Rouen, it denounced Lutte Ouvrière for boycotting this labor-centered action. An LTF banner proclaimed: “Crush the Fascist Vermin! For Workers Self-Defense!” A few years later, the LTF wrote:
“According to LO, the National Front is not, of course, a ‘fascist-type party.’… LO seems to think that Le Pen’s speeches about the ‘hierarchy of the races,’ his slogans making immigrants responsible for unemployment, his appeals to ‘strike down the dictatorship of the CGT and CFDT [union federations]’ and to put an end to ‘picket lines of North African strikers’ are simply figures of speech, just like the ‘Sunday socialism’ speeches by Arlette.… Le Pen today is the spokesman for a program of anti-immigrant and anti-worker terror. It is not necessary to wait until his thugs go into action on a massive scale.The same could be said about the ICL and LTF today. From Brazil to France it calls to “pull our hands out of the boiling water” of the class struggle whenever things get too hot. And to justify this shameful abstentionist policy, it comes up with the very same arguments which have been the patented “method” of LO for decades.
In our article before the first round of voting in the French elections we noted, “The mild ‘criticisms’ and the fervor of its support can be explained by the political evolution of the now-centrist LTF toward the positions of LO. After all, both the LTF and LO don’t call for the defeat of ‘their’ imperialism in the imperialist war, and neither of them call for independence for the French colonies….” To this we can now add (presuming that the LTF has finally got the word from WV and will duly rectify its propaganda), they both agree that the National Front is not fascist but electoralist. But it is not merely an accumulation of common positions contrary to Leninism and Trotskyism on key questions. The ICL has increasingly come over to the anti-Trotskyist outlook and methodology of Lutte Ouvrière, which underlies the fact that LO has played hardly any role in any of the big mobilizations of the French proletariat and students from 1968 to 1995.
Thus LO played no leading role in the explosive mass strikes of public sector workers in France in 1995. Earlier that year, in the April presidential elections, Laguiller got 1.6 million votes, 5.3 percent of the total (an almost identical number and percentage as this year). In the campaign she made it clear that “I am not asking you to vote for a communist program,” but only for an “emergency program” that could be agreed to by “all working women and men” (speech at Ile des Vannes in supplement to Lutte de Classe, May 1995). The bourgeois media was surprised by the unexpectedly large vote for Laguiller. But an analysis of the situation in France by LO written in late October declared that “the present period continues to be dominated by a demoralization of the working class” (“The Internal Situation,” in Lutte de Classe, January-February 1996). While LO correctly pointed to the demoralizing effect of “the unemployment crisis on the one hand and disillusionment with the policy carried out by the left in government from 1981 to 1986 and from 1988 to 1993,” their overall evaluation was seriously amiss, as would be seen a month later.
During the November-December 1995 strikes, LO militants did no more than act as union militants, calling at most to extend the strikes. Several million workers struck for over two weeks, with daily votes to continue the strike in workplace assemblies, punctuated by mass protests of hundreds of thousands every few days. After letting it continue for some time, on December 15, the CGT, FO and CFDT bureaucrats began their move to break the strike, sending the railroad workers back. In a speech at the Mutualité meeting hall in Paris that evening, Laguiller declared: “The social climate remains marked by demoralization and apoliticism, the consequence of the revulsion with politics provoked by the unity between the PS and PCF and their period in power.” Thus at the very moment when the crisis of leadership was acutely posed, when it was urgently necessary to mobilize the workers against the pro-capitalist bosses, the LO leader instead attacks the “demoralization and apoliticism” of the working class! In a balance sheet of the strikes in January ’96 LO went even further and declared, “the spearhead of the strike was not the determination of the workers, but that of the leaders of the union federations”!!
and students march in Paris, May 1968. Lutte Ouvrière wrote shortly
beforehand that workers would dismiss student battles against fascists
as “Latin Quarter quarrels.” LO played marginal role in revolt, later justified
abstentionist policy saying the “situation was not revolutionary at any
point.” (Photo: Getty Hulton Picture Collection)
To buttress its claim that the French working class was demoralized, passive and apolitical in December 1995, Lutte Ouvrière cited the effect of defeats for the working class going back to the 1920s. “The collapse of the USSR and the crisis of the Stalinist movement opened a new stage in this retreat” (“International Relations,” in Lutte de Classe, January-Feburary 1996). This same argument is now presented by the ICL around the globe. For LO, this was not a new melody but a constant refrain going back to its origins as a tendency. It has always justified its program of economism and national narrowness by reference to the backwardness of the workers’ consciousness. At bottom, this is the line that the working class has the leadership it deserves. And this outlook has always condemned it to irrelevance during the great upheavals in France, most notably in 1968. Just as the explosive student struggles were getting underway, Lutte de Classe (May 1968) published an article on “The Role of Violence Outside of History.” When a number of leftist student groups and Vietnam committees took on fascist groups which had repeatedly attacked them following the Vietnamese Têt offensive, Voix Ouvrière (the predecessor of LO) wrote:
“The present battle waged against them [the fascists] by certain left-wing groups can only appear to the great majority of the workers as fights among students or as the settling of accounts between small political sects. In the best case, they can look upon the revolutionary left with sympathy. But in no way do they feel themselves involved in these ‘Latin Quarter quarrels’.”Within days after this was published, the bankruptcy of VO’s workerism was manifest as ten million French workers went on strike, an uprising directly sparked by the leftist student revolt. Of all the groups on the French “far left,” VO played the least role in those events. And in the aftermath, they dismissed it all as not breaking out of the traditional mold:
“Can one say that the situation was revolutionary? It’s a matter of words. The struggle in fact stayed within the bounds of traditional struggles…. The mistrust of the traditional organizations was not manifested concretely in such a movement to constitute independent organs of struggle. In this way, the situation was not revolutionary at any point.”At the time when it represented revolutionary Trotskyism, the LTF commented on the role of VO/LO in 1968: “There was no revolutionary party in 1968, and that is the principal reason for the defeat of May ’68. But because there was no revolutionary party, does this mean that all was lost in advance? That nothing could be done? That would be a fatalist and defeatist vision….
“Voix Ouvrière, which then became Lutte Ouvrière, developed a defeatist position of this sort in the balance sheet just after ’68…. At bottom, for VO, May 1968 could only take on a revolutionary character if there had been a revolutionary party or revolutionary organizations sufficiently strong and rooted that they could contest the control of the PCF. But because there was no revolutionary party, and because the revolutionary organizations were too minuscule, oh well, the only thing to be done in the end was to get the most out of 1968 at the economic level.”Now the ICL and LTF have adopted the outlook which led Lutte Ouvrière to irrelevancy in 1968. It will do the same for the ICL, LO and the LO minority tomorrow. In his key work, What Is To Be Done? Lenin insisted that the working class from its direct experience cannot achieve consciousness of its historic tasks and mission. For the proletariat to achieve revolutionary consciousness requires intervention “from outside” by a vanguard of professional revolutionaries drawing the lessons of the whole history of the class struggle. For the Bolsheviks Lenin and Trotsky, this was an argument for the urgency of building an authentic communist party through sharp intervention in the class struggle. Today the ICL makes a caricature of this Leninist thesis, standing it on its head and using it as an argument for passivity and flight from the class struggle.
The march of events in France and Europe today will hardly be determined by the pseudo-Trotskyist leaders who seek to divert opposition to the fascist National Front into the dead-end of popular frontism, and those who would lull the working class into complacency with electoralist lullabies. It is possible that opposition may arise within these organizations which falsely claim to represent the heritage of the Fourth International while junking its revolutionary program. Some would-be communists may revolt over voting for the arch-reactionary Chirac or pretending that the fascist National Front is not fascist at all. If so, they must begin by examining where such bankrupt policies come from, and where they lead. This requires confronting the history of struggles for authentic Trotskyism, not just in France but internationally. The struggle to sweep the Chiracs and Le Pens into the trashbins of history can only be waged through the fight to build real Leninist-Trotskyist parties through reforging the Fourth International.
– 8 June 2002
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Front at forefront of capitalist drive toward “strong state” in France
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