“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx
Jun 25, 1999
In the June European election, five Trotskyist candidates were elected to the European parliament on the joint slate presented by LO (Lutte Ouvrière) and the LCR (Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire). Among the five, three are from LO and two from the LCR, including the national spokespersons of the two organizations, Arlette Laguiller for LO and Alain Krivine for the LCR.
The LO-LCR slate won 914,680 votes, or 5.18%. Of course, this is an average. A closer examination of the results shows that the LO-LCR slate scored much higher in heavily industrialized areas in the north and east of France, as well as in the Paris "red belt" – the working class suburbs which still remain the stronghold of the communist party.
This result is a success in two respects.
First, because for the first time since the days of the 1920s, when the French communist party could still be considered as revolutionary, candidates standing openly as revolutionary communists have won seats in a national election.
Second, because this is not a one-time result. It comes after the 1.6 million votes (5.3%) scored by LO's candidate, Arlette Laguiller, in the 1995 presidential, and the election of 22 regional councilors (20 for LO and 2 for the LCR) in the 1998 regional elections. This shows that this is more than a protest vote. There is now an electorate which recognizes itself in the language of the class struggle; an electorate which doesn't accept, or accepts no longer, to be held hostage to the insistence that the only way of opposing the right and the extreme right is to vote for the governmental left, even when this left, carries out precisely the same pro-boss policy, when it's in the government, as the right which it pretends to combat. This electorate recognizes as its own the program which the LO-LCR slate defended.
The fundamental idea of this program is that there is no other way to vanquish unemployment than by putting our hands on capitalist profits and on the fortunes that the big bourgeoisie continue to accumulate, in a scandalous fashion, thanks to the crisis which has plundered the popular classes.
The score for the LO-LCR slate has a class character. Those who voted for it did not do so by chance, but because they have understood or felt that the slate was the only one in the elections to truly defend the interests of the workers, the unemployed, the youth. The LO-LCR slate was the only one to defend the interests of those whom the capitalist economy unjustly and madly pushes into unemployment and misery, for no other reason than that a tiny, privileged and parasitical minority can accumulate still more riches.
From now on, the extreme left appears as a stable and significant political force, even if it is for now only on the electoral level. And this will count for the future, and in the future not only on the electoral level.
But the fraction of the working class which identifies with the program put forward by the LO-LCR slate is still small. The success of the LO-LCR slate certainly does not reflect any radicalization in France, electoral or otherwise. The fact that the slate did not significantly increase its score since 1995; the fact that the communist party's share of the vote has gone down even further, to 6.9%; the fact that the Greens, who are in the government and supported the military intervention in Kosovo increased their score – all these results go in the same direction, indicating that a generalized consciousness of the necessity to fight back does not yet exist in the working population.
Nonetheless, even taking into account the situation, the absence of any push to the left, we can say that the result that LO-LCR obtained is a down payment on the future.
This election result and the fact that it was achieved by a joint list between two organizations, raises a number of questions – for instance how revolutionaries can use such positions as that of a deputy in the European parliament or what will be the future of the LO-LCR alliance. On these issues, we publish below translated extracts from two articles in the July issue of LO's monthly journal Lutte de Classe.
....If unemployment remains at the high level it is today (no matter what the government's employment figures pretend to show), society is heading towards a catastrophe.This is why we call upon all working class activists to recognize that any policy which supports the present government amounts to turning one's back on the interests of the working class.
To all activists in the communist party and trade unions, we say that they must act to force their organizations to change their policy into one aimed at defending the material, political and moral interests of the working class as a whole. And the best way to move in this direction is to prepare now for tomorrow's necessary struggles.
Our aim is not to weaken the organizations to which these activists belong. Quite the contrary. We are in favor of unity between all political and trade-union forces, in order to fight the employers and the policy of this government and to change the course of events by changing the balance of forces in society.
Such is the general direction of our activity for the coming period.
But we also call upon all those who believe, as we do, that workers in this country are deprived of a party which really represents their political and social interests, to work with us, or in parallel with us if they prefer, to ensure that such a party can be rebuilt as soon as possible.
Economic and social struggles will not really reach their aim – that of changing the social balance of forces – without converging into a common political struggle. It will have to be a political struggle in the sense that it will need to go beyond targeting individual bosses around specific demands – it will need to target both the capitalist class as a whole and their state, on the basis of demands which are common to all the exploited. But such a political struggle requires a party representing the interests of the working class, a party which defends those political interests permanently and not just during an occasional election campaign.
The capitalist class never ceases to influence government policy by using its money, its economic power and the many ties it keeps both with politicians and high-ranking unelected officials in the state machinery. The employers and the wealthy have at their disposal many parties which represent their interests. In certain circumstances, these parties may offer different political options, but always to the privileged classes. However, over the past twenty years, the parliamentary left and right have not had different policies when they were in government....
By contrast, the emergence of a party representing the interests of the working class requires more than proclamations from the top. It requires the militant commitment of tens of thousands of women, men and youth. It requires that a significant section of the working class identifies with this party, not just at election time, but in the many struggles it has to wage to defend its interests, whether in the workplaces or working class neighborhoods.
Lutte Ouvrière and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire are both only small organizations. We are weak in numbers. We are not present in most of the country and not even in all the large workplaces. And where we are not present, workers have no way of hearing what we have to say, except for instance, at election time.
A party which really represents the interests of the working class will have to be able to make itself heard. It will have to be present across the country, in every factory, workplace or working class neighborhood. It will have to aim at intervening in every strike as well as in the daily struggles in the workplaces and working class neighborhoods. Indeed it will have to play a role in the struggles taking place of workers and jobless people outside the workplaces – against threat of being thrown out in the street, against the activities of the far-right, against gangs of drug dealers in poor neighborhoods, etc. It will have to defend particular sections of workers who are under threat – such as, for instance, the immigrant workers who are now deprived of legal IDs. Such a party will have to counter the policies of the bourgeois parties with a policy corresponding to the interests of the working class in every sphere of social life.
It will also have to provide culture and education to all those who turn to it. It will have to fight the political and moral influence of the wealthy classes among the working class by providing workers with the weapons of knowledge.
There are many groupings which set themselves the task of fighting one particular kind of oppression or injustice. And this is a good thing. All these partial struggles can complement one another and converge into a larger struggle. But once again this can happen only if there exists a party whose aim is to fight the root cause of these injustices and oppression – i.e. the mechanisms of the capitalist economy and capitalist exploitation.
Such a party will be able to develop only thanks to a large influx of youth – young workers, those waiting for a job, but also that section of the intellectual youth who has other ambitions than just making a career in an unjust society. Indeed youth's enthusiasm, energy and will to change the world will be necessary.
It is obvious that the party needed by the working class will not be formed by just the activists and supporters of LO and the LCR. But what we do know is that this party will b e made thanks to the revolutionary communist ideas included in the Trotskyist program on which our two organizations are based.
If we say this, it is not a way of boasting about the record of our organization. Both organizations are small. They both have a very modest record both in political terms and in terms of their role in the struggles of the working class. We say this because we are based on a tradition which is much larger and richer than we are ourselves. We inherited our ideas from the entire workers' movement – the same tradition which the communist party would have been able to uphold much more effectively than we have, had its leaders not chosen long ago to betray it....
Our aim is not, of course, to go back to the tradition of the communist party of the Stalinist period, even if it was during the period, after World War II, that the CP reached the peak of its influence.... Rather we refer to the period following World War I, when the fledgling Communist Party represented the emerging consciousness, among thousands upon thousands of workers, that it was necessary to transform society from top to bottom.
A party cannot really serve the working class, nor even defend its interests effectively, if it is tied in any way, materially or ideologically, to today's society. To paraphrase the Communist Manifesto, the proletariat has nothing to lose but its chains in the fight for the overthrow of capitalism.
This economy based on the private ownership of the means of production, exploitation, profit and market chaos, must be replaced with another kind of economy where production is organized and planned according to the needs of all. A party which represents the political interests of the working class must defend the idea that the present form of social organization does not represent the future of humanity, but its past.
June 25, 1999
Beyond the positions that we will have to adopt as we discover the issues which are discussed and decided upon in the European Parliament, we can already define our fundamental orientation.
We know that the European Parliament cannot change the fate of the working class – not only because this is not within its real powers, but also because, as an institution, it is designed to serve the interests of the capitalist class.
We know that we will make up only a tiny minority in this Parliament, just like the representatives of all the groups that we can hope to be able to influence.
What we commit ourselves to do, however, is to support the few decisions which have some chances of being beneficial for working people, and to fight against all those which are designed to benefit the bosses of whichever nationality.
We commit ourselves to publicize to the best of our possibilities what is being discussed in this Parliament and the real meaning of the decisions it takes.
We engage ourselves to do the following: whatever possibilities being in the European parliament gives us, we will utilize to further the interests of the workers and their struggles.
As for the relationship between our two organizations, what we can say today is that we will try to maintain the joint working relationship which has operated during the election campaign.
It is still too early to say whether our activities during this campaign, our public meetings – particularly in the towns where our militant presence is minimal – and our election results will bring us militant reinforcements. This is what we hope, of course, as this would be an important factor in deciding what our two organizations can do jointly.
During the election campaign, everyone noticed that LO and the LCR complement one another. In many areas, our ways of seeing things are different. But we also have a large common ground. In particular we have a large social common ground which allows many people – whether working people, jobless, immigrant workers, homeless, youth, intellectuals, teachers, students – to identify with our criticism of this society and government.
And it is because our two organizations complement one another around such a large common ground, that together we can appear as a solid pole of attraction. As events have shown, only our two organizations could achieve this.
Our different ways of seeing things mean that we choose to invest the energy of our activists in different fields, we give different priorities to various activities and the initiatives we take are different – but never in opposite directions. This was shown by the smooth operation of our election campaign, and it is a vital confirmation.
We believe that in the immediate future our organizations should maintain close contact at every level. The joint platform around which our organizations have been united during this election campaign will unite them tomorrow in their interventions.
If we have been a pole of attraction in this election it was both because we complemented one another without losing our respective identities and, at the same time, we were fundamentally united. Our two organizations have, therefore, every interest in carrying on operating along these lines, jointly.
We intend to discuss together all the problems which will be raised by the situation and all the interventions that can be envisaged. We will act together whenever it is possible and we will act separately when doing otherwise would compel our activists to give up their normal political tasks. This is the only way to ensure that, with the passage of time and the emergence of new situations, what is common between our organizations takes precedence over what is different.
To summarize, we can operate politically and practically in the way that two fractions within the same communist party would. Proclaiming such a party today would be meaningless without the emergence of a new generation of activists, coming both from the youth and the working class, and numerous enough to enable this new party to be present in the vast areas of society from which we are absent today. But the emergence of such a new generation could transform the unity between our two small organizations into a party capable of having a real influence on the political scene. In such circumstances, it would be possible to arbitrate the differences that may exist between our organizations, or even better, it would become possible to intervene in all social spheres without having to abandon any tasks.
These are the perspectives that we are discussing with the LCR. And as the views of our organizations come closer, we will translate these common views into practice.
Of course, there will be no current towards building a party representing the political interests of the working class without the working class rebuilding confidence in its own strength. Only the development of the class struggle can bring into activity and steel a new generation of activists.
The success of our joint slate in this European election can, nevertheless, be a step in this direction. The election results we have achieved over the past four years have brought us a bit closer to the spotlight as far as the working class is concerned. This may help us to be in a better position to play a role in the struggles to come. And there will be struggles, inevitably. It will then be up to us to be capable of facing up to our responsibilities.