Written: 1981 / 82.
First Published: September 1982.
Source: Published by the Workers Socialist League.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Sean Robertson for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
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THE reformist leaders of the French working class are now in a bourgeois government, while a major economic crisis rages with no substantial recovery in sight. Even if the workers at present are vague about what they expect from the government, and are willing to give it time, sooner or later they will demand answers from their leaders. Major opportunities are probable to organise substantial sections of workers around a revolutionary programme.1. The crisis of Gaullism
Gaullism hoisted itself to power on a coalition of diverse groups. Once in power, it pushed through a substantial development and rationalisation of French industry in alliance with big capital, and was able to discard many of its initial supporters (e.g. the Algerian colons). Bu t Gaullism also meant the domination of the state by the mafia of the Gaullist movement, the clogging of normal safety-valves of bourgeois democracy, growing inequality and class tensions which exploded in 1968.
The 1968 general strike mortally wounded Gaullism. The 13 years since then have seen repeated diverse efforts to ‘recompose’ an adequate political party for the French bourgeoisie resulting so far only in further chaos in the bourgeois camp.2. The reformist parties since 1968
1968 immeasurably increased the audience for revolutionary politics in the French working class. It also strained and permanently loosened the internal connecting fibres of the CP. Yet the CP’s membership has actually increased since 1968.
The SP only got five per cent of the votes in the 1969 presidential election. Since then it has reorganised itself to become electorally the biggest party in France. Its membership has also flowered. Although the CP remains the most important party of the industrial working class, SP influence has increased in the CP dominated CGT, and the Socialist-sympathising CFDT has gained relative to the CGT, including in the CGT’s industrial bastions.
“Before exposing their bankruptcy before the whole class”, wrote Trotsky in July 1936, “the opportunist parties become for a short while the refuge of the very widest masses”. Such a process is at work here, though of course at a slower tempo than in the 1930s.
Since the creation of the Union of the Left, the CP has been caught in an insoluble dilemma. Either it fully backs the Union of the Left – and risks gradually losing out to the SP, which is the more effective party of reformism. Or it attacks the SP and brands itself as sectarian and Stalinist. This dilemma is the fundamental factor behind the CP’s twists and turns over recent years. Direct pressure from Moscow plays a secondary role, though probably an important one.
The CP have switched from uncritical unity, to denunciations of the SP as being the same as the Right, back to accepting ministries – all without the least basis in principle. They have not hesitated at the vilest demagogy, as when the CP mayor of Vitry led a physical attack on an immigrant workers’ hostel to back up the CP’s demands for a total ban on immigration and for fewer immigrants in CP municipalities.
This desperate demagogy has brought its just reward, with a huge loss of votes for the CP at the recent elections (specially in its working class strongholds) and a severe crisis inside the CP.
For some years before May 1981, the Left was clearly near an electoral majority in France. What finally tipped the scales in the May 1981 presidential election was not a further shift to the left, or a working class upsurge, but further disintegration of the right, with sections of the centre going over to Mitterrand who seemed well in control of the CP ‘threat’. The ensuing National Assembly elections, however, showed a real rallying of workers round the victorious left.
Bourgeois sectors were rallied behind Mitterrand on the argument openly proclaimed by the SP (with the covert assistance of the CP, which demagogically promised mass strikes if Giscard was re-elected) that only a Left government could prevent a future working class upsurge.
This argument was the basis for Mitterrand sticking to the ‘union of the left’ strategy after the CP had rejected it, and his inclusion of CP ministers.
‘Unity’, therefore, has been used to restrain the working class. But this unity has its own contradictions. As the Left government proves itself incapable of dealing with the crisis, the mass sentiment for unity can turn into a mass drive for united workers’ action, in conflict with the government.3. The nature of the government
The Mitterrand / Mauroy government is a bourgeois government. It is, indeed, more closely committed to NATO and the Cold War than the previous right wing governments (for this reason Moscow was openly more favourable to Giscard than to Mitterrand). Its Third World policy actively seeks to preserve imperialist domination, even if more by diplomatic and reformist methods than by the direct military intervention characteristic of the Giscard regime.
Its economic reforms fall within a Keynesian strategy which, if unusual in the big capitalist powers just now, is nevertheless a solidly bourgeois strategy. For the working class there are indeed only a few crumbs like an increase in the minimum wage, but unemployment continues to rise, and the government’s programme on this question consists mainly of pouring money into the pockets of the bourgeoisie and imploring them to take on new investments and new labour.
The government includes openly bourgeois ministers, most notably Pompidou’s ex-deputy Michel Jobert and Left Radical Michel Crepeau.
Despite a few reforms in the direction of administrative decentralism, the basic structure of the 5th Republic remains intact. Indeed, Jobert explains his allegiance to Mitterrand on the basis that Mitterrand is the best man to conserve and operate the institutions of the 5th Republic.
The bourgeoisie has kept up a noisy clamour against the government. Some of the clamour doubtless expresses a sincere hatred for the Socialists and Stalinists on the part of right wing businessmen. But the chief meaning of the clamour is as a stratagem to ensure that the government’s policy is constantly bent in the direction of minimising the reforms for the working class and maximising the pay-outs to the bourgeoisie. The almost complete gutting of the government’s wealth tax is an example.
By such methods, the bourgeoisie may get as good service from the left government than from a right wing government less able to control the working class and more prepared to stand up for its own ideas.4. The working class and the government
Mitterrand’s victory was a blow to the bourgeoisie in France and throughout Europe, and a boost to the confidence of the working class in France and throughout Europe. Promises such as the 35 hour week are a further boost, despite all the questions about when, or what conditions and indeed whether this promise will actually be kept.
Because of its class nature the government can resolve nothing for the working class. The scene is thus set for a clash between the government and the hopes it aroused in the working class. But mechanical analogies with 1936 are dubious.
In 1936 the Blum government came to power on a tremendous upsurge of working class militancy. After its election the June general strike broke out. Once installed in office Blum with the help of the CP ‘knew how to end’ this strike. But big concessions had to be granted. The bourgeoisie then went on the offensive to win back ground. Despite the mass strikes in 1938 the workers’ movement failed to respond adequately, and finally the Popular Front parliament collapsed into voting full powers to Petain.
Today the first wave of militancy – analogous to June 1936 – has yet to come. There have certainly been no big concessions. And the immediate crushing threat of war and fascism is not there as in 1934-40.
So far workers’ struggles since the May election have been few, often limited to minorities. The working class, it seems, is still mostly in a waiting mood and tolerant towards this government.
Already the tolerance is beginning to fray. The open criticism of the government by CFDT leader Edmond Maire must be a sign of that (The CGT remains almost uncritical of the government, FO criticises the government from a right wing standpoint).
The task for revolutionary Marxists must be to argue for:
* self-reliance and no illusions in the government;
* for the CP and SP, including in the government, to break with the bourgeoisie (in this context, but not as a self-sufficient central demand, it is appropriate to call for the removal of the bourgeois ministers from the government);
* for the trade unions to assert their independence from the government, and management, at the same time as making demands on the workers’ parties; in any case, for independent workers’ organisations at factory level (strike committees, and workshop councils – to be interpreted as independent workers’ committees of struggle democratically elected by all workers, unionised or not). The government’s plans for supplementing the statutory joint union / management committees (law since 1945) with worker directors on management boards in the nationalised industries, should be opposed.
A precise formulation of political demands is possible only on the spot, in connection with day-to-day practice. More important than the details of the following rough outline is the appropriate general approach: a programme of demands analogous to Trotsky’s Action Programme of 1934, with demands posed not merely as objects for immediate sectional direct action, but also as demands on the government: making demands on the government not as pleas directed to Mitterrand / Mauroy, but as focuses for working class action to call the reformist leaders to account.
* 35 hour week immediately and without conditions. Sliding scale of hours. No compensation for the big shareholders of nationalised enterprises; no nuclear weapon programme; use the resources instead for a programme of useful public works at trade union rates. No sackings: open the books to elected workers’ committees, occupy, impose workers’ control, demand nationalisation.
* Full equal rights for immigrant workers; scrap all immigration controls.
* A programme of demands is also needed for the small farmers. And to both the chaos of the EEC and the CP’s chauvinist campaigns against a ‘German Europe’, against Spanish imports, etc., the perspective should be counterposed of the United Socialist States of Europe.
* Withdrawal from the Atlantic Alliance; unilateral nuclear disarmament; opposition to overseas military intervention; self-determination for the DOM and TOM.
* Soldiers’ rights; disbanding of the police, especially such squads as the CRS. In line with the development of the struggle, the call for trade union defence squads can be advanced concretely from time to time, including against fascists.
* Against the relegation of women to part-time jobs: for a woman’s equal right to a job. Free abortion on demand. Free fully comprehensive child care provision under community control.
* Demands for the development of free fully comprehensive social services under workers’ control.
* Moratorium on nuclear power programmes unless and until certified safe by trade union inspection.
* Gay rights.
* No incomes policy: sliding scale of wages, price index compiled by working class committees. A decent national minimum wage, protected by a sliding scale.
* Demands should be raised against the decayed-Bonapartist institutions of the 5th Republic (e.g. for the abolition of the presidency) in the spirit of the 1934 Trotskyist Action Programme for France: “We demand from our class brothers who adhere to ‘democratic’ socialism that they be faithful to their ideas, that they draw inspiration from the ideas and methods not of the Third (c.f. 5th!) Republic but of the Convention of 1793 . . . A single assembly must combine the legislative and executive powers . . .” And the opening of the books of the old state apparatus should be demanded.
* For the workers’ organisations to break from the bourgeoisie and the bourgeois state; for a workers’ government, based on the organisations of the working class and acting against the bourgeois state.
In a situation of acute and continuing economic crisis, the stability of the government cannot be confidently predicted. In the case of a serious effort by the bourgeoisie to dump the government or to obstruct its repressive measures, revolutionary Marxists would be in the forefront alongside the reformists against the bourgeois offensive. However, there is no evidence for the OCI’s theory (based on one sentence of the Transitional Programme grabbed out of context) that the government must inevitably lead either to socialist revolution or to a fascist coup.
With beaming foolishness, hypnotised by formulas, the LCR welcomed the CP’s involvement in the government as a step forward for workers’ unity. Marxists in contrast should explain the reality: the purpose of having the CP in the government is to subdue the working class – to persuade the workers to grant social peace in exchange for a few ministerial armchairs for their ‘leaders’.
Revolutionary Marxists must develop a tactical approach to the memberships of the CP and SP. We propose demands such as those sketched above. We propose to CP and SP members that they fight for their leaders to implement such demands. We propose they demand those leaders sweep away such obstacles (or excuses) as the bourgeois ministers. We ask them the question: if your leaders are not implementing such measures in government, then what are they doing there?
Thus we prepare the way to relate to movements for democracy in the workers’ parties; movements to oust right wing leaders from those parties; or moves from the CP to break from the government, which (given that the CP generally has a closer relation to militant sections of the working class than the SP has) could arise in a situation of sharp class struggle. Our basic line is that the memberships of the workers’ parties should demand that their parties break with the bourgeoisie and that leaders who refuse to break with the bourgeoisie should be replaced.5. The would-be Trotskyist Left in France
The tactic followed by the OCI since Mitterrand’s victory could best be rational-
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“It is necessary for us to understand that the next strike will be directed in all likelihood not against the Blum government, but against its enemies: the 200 families, the Radicals, the Senate, the upper bureaucracy, the general staff, etc. . . . We do not put Leon Blum in the same bag with the de Wendels and their de la Rocques. We accuse Blum of not understanding or foreseeing the formidable resistance of the de Wendels . . . This is a very important distinction, even a decisive one, for the coming period. It is in this sense that systematic propaganda has to be carried on for the second general strike, not to overthrow the government but to break the obstacles before it . . . ”
The OCI focuses its agitation on the obstacles presented by the 5th Republic institutions, the top officials, the bosses, etc., and constantly repeats the alternative: act against the obstacles, or act against the workers.
As we argue above, the 1936 analogy is not good. Mitterrand’s self-presentation as not being able to change too much too quickly (because of the economic crisis), but nevertheless being the only man capable of preventing a working class explosion, is hardly the same as the SP and CP semi-revolutionary rhetoric of 1934-6.
But in any case:
a) The OCI hardly even accuses Mitterrand of ‘not understanding or foreseeing’.
b) Not only its agitational material, but its considered assessments, are wildly imbalanced: the Mitterrand victory, they say, is the concentrated climax of all the workers’ struggles back to 1968, and can lead only to socialist revolution or a fascist backlash.
c) The OCI’s material has no clear direction towards working class self-reliance, and the demands it puts forward seem more like proposals to the government.
d) The OCI’s orientation goes beyond the necessary tactical approach to reformist workers, to explicitly proposing the misleading notion that a stable anti-capitalist government could be formed simply on the strength of the SP-CP majority in the National Assembly – a sort of parliamentary road. (Besides the call to get rid of the bourgeois ministers is not raised at all boldly, the OCI explaining – no doubt accurately – that the workers do not see these ministers making much difference to the government).
Additionally invalidating the OCl’s presumably tactical approach towards workers who support the government is the fact that the policy is put forward (as usual with the OCI) in the most bombastic, self-proclamatory tones, with a rigidity more suitable for genuinely advanced principles than for the OCI’s rather modest proposals.
And the demands the OCI puts forward are not adequate to the task of presenting a rounded political alternative to reformism. The main demands are (speech by Lambert, IO 1023; Political Bureau statement IO 1021):
* End the sabotage of the capitalists and bankers.
* Workers’ control in the banks.
* Sack all top officials appointed by Giscard.
* No sackings, cut hours, take on new labour.
* Real control of prices.
* Sliding scale of wages, no incomes policy.
Some of the same confusion affects the LCR. They also raise, for example, the demand for price control (by the government) which cuts across the sliding scale demand and is illusory, because such controls are necessarily a sham within capitalism, short of a war-type economy which also imposes strict controls on the working class. And practically all their agitation takes the form of demands for the CP and SP to do things, The LCR focuses its agitation heavily around the demand for a 35 hour week immediately and unconditionally – an emphasis which may be correct – but hardly puts forward a rounded programme.
As with the OCI, there is an allegedly tactical approach in the absence of anything but speculations and doctrinal formulas to indicate the gearings and connections through which this tactic will prompt a socialist struggle. That there is genuine confusion is shown by the fact that the LCR denounced LO for standing candidates in the National Assembly elections – not on the grounds that the LCR had found a better way of warning against the limitation of reformists, but on the grounds of the alleged sectarianism of LO’s ‘scowling expression’ in the midst of general rejoicing. The LCR considered itself part of the ‘presidential majority’.
LO has maintained political firmness towards the government (without shrill denunciation) better than the OCI or the LCR. Unlike them it clearly brings forward the question of working class self-reliance. But it veers towards syndicalism by proposing exclusively industrial self-reliance, by proposing demands on the reformist trade union leaders but not the reformist party leaders of the working class, and by practically confining its political demands to the sliding scale of wages and the sliding scale of hours.
As well as organising such solidarity as is possible with struggles in France, the organisations of the TILC should aim to develop a dialogue with Trotskyists in France, to clarify our ideas to seek to gain sympathisers, and to make a contribution towards the building of a revolutionary proletarian party in France.