In the June euro-election, five trotskyist candidates were elected to the European parliament on the joint slate presented by our comrades of LO (Lutte Ouvrière, the French organisation of our international tendency) 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 organisations, 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 industrialised 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-off 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 councillors (20 for LO and 2 for the LCR) in the 1997 regional elections. This shows that this is more than a protest vote. There is now a section of the working class electorate which identifies with the argument put forward since 1995 by LO and this year by the LCR - the need for the working class to take to the offensive against the bosses and the so-called "left" government on the basis of a programme of radical objectives aimed at stopping the social catastrophe caused by unemployment.
That being said, one should not draw the wrong conclusions from this result.
The success of the LO-LCR slate certainly does not reflect any radicalisation in France, electoral or otherwise. The fact that the communist party's share of the vote has gone even further down, to 6.9%, shows that the working class voters who switched from the CP to the socialist party years ago, have not changed their minds despite the anti-working class policies of the socialist party in government. As to the Greens, who are in government and supported the military intervention in Kosovo, the increase of their score cannot be construed as an expression of radicalisation.
Nor should the importance of this electoral success be overestimated. In parliamentary terms, our French comrades were able to benefit from a system of national proportional representation which made it easier for small organisations like LO and the LCR to reach the minimum 5% required to have candidates elected. But the odds are that this system will be replaced with a system similar to one used in Britain last June - which may mean that it will be much more difficult to get anyone elected next time round. In political terms, one has to put this result in perspective, by comparing it to real tasks of revolutionaries - transforming society. And from this point of view, the election of five MEPs is a one-inch step in a one light- year long walk...
This election result and the fact that it was achieved by a joint list between two organisations, raises a number of questions - for instance how revolutionaries can use such positions as those of MEPs or the future of the LO-LCR alliance. On these issues, we publish below the translations of two articles from the July issue of LO's monthly journal Lutte de Classe.
The need for a party representing the political interests of working people, the jobless and the youth
If unemployment remains at the level it is today (regardless of the massaging of government employment figures) society is heading towards a catastrophe.
This why we call upon all working class activists to recognise 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 organisations 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 act in this direction is to prepare now for tomorrow's necessary struggles.
Our aim is not to weaken the organisations to which these activists belong. Quite the contrary. We are in favour of the unity between all political and trade-union forces, in order to fight the employers and the policy of this government, and 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 the odd 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. We went from Rocard to Balladur and from Juppé to Jospin without even noticing anything different in our day-to-day life.
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 neighbourhoods.
Lutte Ouvrière, just as the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, are only small organisations. 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 estate. It will have to aim at intervening in every strike as well as in the daily struggles in the workplaces and working class neighbourhoods. Indeed it will have to play a role in the struggles taking place outside workplaces which involve workers and jobless people - against threatened repossessions, against the activities of the far-right, against gangs of drug dealers in poor estates, 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 only happen if there exists a party whose aim is to fight the root cause of these injustices and oppressions - i.e. the mechanisms of the capitalist economy and capitalist exploitation.
Such a party will only be able to develop 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 youths' 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 with just the activists and supporters of LO and the LCR. But what we do know is that this party will come to existence thanks to the revolutionary communist ideas included in the Trotskyist programme on which our two organisations are based.
If we say this, it is not a way of boasting about the record of our organisation. Both organisations 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 have to refer to the period following World War I, when the fledgling communist party represented that 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 organised 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 organisation does not represent the future of humanity, but its past.
25 June 1999
LO-LCR - What next?
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 the 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 publicise to the best of our possibilities what is being discussed in this Parliament and the real meaning of the decisions it takes.
As to the relationship between our two organisations, as things stand today, we can say that 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 organisations 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 organisations complement one another around such a large common ground, that together we can appear as a solid pole of attraction. And as events have shown, only our two organisations 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 organisations should maintain close contact at every level. The joint platform around which our organisations 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 organisations 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 organisations takes precedence over what is different.
To summarise, 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 organisations 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 organisations, or even better, it would become possible to intervene in all social spheres without having to abandon any other tasks.
These are the perspectives that we are discussing with the LCR. And as the views of our organisations 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.
25 June 1999