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International Socialism, April/Maly 1969


Lutte Ouvrière

France: Results and Prospects


From Survey, International Socialism (1st series), No.36, April/May 1969, pp.6-8.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


On January 31st a public meeting was held in Paris, organised by Rouge and Lutte Ouvrière, on the theme Building the Revolutionary Party. Some 4,500 people attended. A joint communique at the end stated that the numbers and enthusiasm of the audience showed ‘The desire of these revolutionary students and militants to see the different tendencies of the far Left undertaking, everywhere possible, joint work with the aim of working towards a united front or even a common organisation of all revolutionaries’. They expressed themselves aware of the obstacles, and that they were embarking on a slow process, but considered this first step to be important. The two publications planned to continue discussions on joint activity amongst themselves, and to organise further similar public meetings.

There follow extracts from the speeches made at the public meeting by the three spokesmen for Lutte Ouvrière.

1. May has proved, if it ‘were necessary, that the working class still knows how to fight. May has proved that it was far from hostile to revolutionary ideas. May has also proved that the far Left did not represent a totally negligible force, and that there exists, at least potentially, a milieu within which the revolutionary party could be built.

The first and most crucial obstacle lies in the nature of this far Left, in its social composition dominated by intellectuals and students. We cannot do anything about this straight away. It is a historical fact which has many causes. For while it is true that the communist opposition has never since it came into being succeeded in implanting itself solidly in the working class, it is also true that it has come up against difficulties unprecedented in the history of the working-class movement. For the first time in history revolutionary militants found themselves brutally and almost totally cut off both from the earlier traditions and from the real workers movement. Numerous political, organisational and human links stretched from the Communist League to the Third International. The Third International created itself within the womb of the Second, fighting against its reformist leaders but benefiting also from its revolutionary traditions.

From its birth the communist opposition has been totally cut off from the Third International. The Russian Section of the Left Opposition, which incarnated all the traditions and conquests of Bolsheviam, found itself isolated in prisons, and camps, unable to transmit its heritage. An entire generation of militants was broken or assassinated, while a deep gulf was dug between the far Left and the whole of the working-class and Communist movement. This far Left which was from the first composed essentially of young intellectuals, never really succeeded in surviving outside the petit-bourgeois intellectual milieu.

For fifteen years the balance of forces has been noticeably shifting. Stalinism lives in permanent crisis, leading slowly but surely to its decline. An optimist might conclude that the far Left would also, slowly but surely, win its missing audience.

But unfortunately things are not so simple and the progress being made by revolutionaries, encouraging though it is, is not crucial because it is essentially confined to its original petit-bourgeois milieu.

Here there is a serious danger. There is a great temptation to do only that work which seems to produce most results, in this case to devote the bulk of one’s activity to the petit-bourgeois and particularly student fields.

This is not a trap in which only revolutionary students can be caught but also those few young workers who come spontaneously to revolutionary ideas. Remember, for example, what happened in May. In many factories it was the young workers who were the originators of the strike. Yet they were quickly disheartened by the union apparatus and instead of devoting themselves enthusiastically to the strike, they rapidly deserted the factories to come and breathe some fresh air in the Latin Quarter, leaving the apparatus to regain control.

The task before us is to win the whole class to socialist ideas, and it is first of all to build a working-class revolutionary organisation. This is a task within our strength, if we are not spontaneists, if we know how to direct our efforts not to the easiest work but to that which is most important.

It is to the whole working-class that we must address ourselves, not only to those organised in unions or parties, In a country where more than four-fifths of the workers are unorganised it is ridiculous to despise the unorganised majority. Amongst them are thousands who have for long been militant in the CGT and even the CP, who were disheartened by this and failed to renew their cards. There are thousands of others who have never joined because the picture offered did not tempt them at all.

This does not mean that we can lose interest in union work nor turn our backs on the workers organised in the CP, whom we must win at all costs if we wish to build the revolutionary party. It is obviously in the most important sectors of the class, in the major factories and enterprises that the weight of the apparatus is most felt and that we encounter greatest difficulties, but it is in these, above all, that we must try to gain support.

It is by this work alone that we can form the hundreds and thousands of militant revolutionary workers who will constitute the backbone of the future party. It is in the course of the daily struggle in the factories that these militants can gain the confidence of their work mates, that they can weave the million strands of confidence between the revolutionary organisation and its class without which the finest organisation is nothing.

This is something the far Left has too often forgotten. Because it has been rich in programmes and slogans and poor in militants it has too often called this poverty a virtue and considered that the programme and the slogans were enough.

2. It is impossible to understand the task of a revolutionary militant in a factory and the difficulties he has to conquer without recognising the weight of the Stalinist apparatus in the enterprise. May gave an example of the strength and the fearsome efficiency of this apparatus. With rare exceptions the CGT never lost control of the situation. In May the CGT apparatus showed itself clearly to be the principle conservative force within the workplace. Since May the CGT has certainly lost influence. The elections for unionshop representatives have shown in most large factories a decline in the votes cast for the CGT, nonetheless it remains by far the most influential of the unions, receiving 70 per cent of the votes.

It is through this union and the possibilities that it offers that the CP exercises its rule over the working class. Furthermore, the CP does not exist as such in the factories outside the union structures. The only CP militants you meet are union militants and furthermore the term ‘union militant’ does not mean much, for the only ones whose presence is really manifest in the shop or office are those who are called in union jargon the ‘elected ones’. For the CP and the CGT to be active means to be elected either as ‘delegue du personnel’ or to the Executive Committee. It is easy enough to find employment for all the militants. It also suffices to guarantee the complete seizure of the union by the Stalinist bureaucracy. For with only very few exceptions, there is no union life outside the limited circle of the ‘elected ones’ in the factory. On the contrary all union meetings take place in working hours which automatically excludes all rank-and-file workers. The ‘elected ones’ are granted time off work which may be up to 20 hours per month to attend the meetings. The bourgeoisie thus allows a certain number of hours to its worker aristocracy, but it is the apparatus alone which distributes these precious hours. To have a right to them one must keep one’s nose clean. If a worker shows the smallest oppositional attitude the hours are taken from him by the apparatus and by that act, even if he is not excluded, he can no longer participate in union activity.

The principle reason for the rule of the CP and the CGT lies in its bureaucratic seizure of the union apparatus. Yet it is certain that the CP involves tens of thousands of militants throughout the country. These members are essentially devoted and militant, but have been selected and trained to be disciplined and obedient to the apparatus; and for such militant workers the CGT and the CP are better than nothing. That is why the CP succeeds in keeping its influence over the working class despite its ceaseless betrayals; for the rank-and-file worker judges the CGT and the CP by the militant who is daily by his side rather than the line laid down by Seguy or Waldeck-Rochet. This situation has been established over many years and cannot be changed unless the revolutionaries are capable of offering a third alternative to those of going to the CP or doing nothing; of tearing up cards or becoming integrated into the local political and union apparatus.

In the face of the apparatus and the Stalinist militants, revolutionaries are few and isolated. Why? This is above all because the slow union work of explanation, of elementary organisation of the workers, of conscious education about the aim of the movement and about workers’ democracy, which was the basic activity of union militants in earlier periods, has all been destroyed by Stalinism. This has reached such a point that even in the minds of the workers, the union has become a machine which ought to give directives, decide on slogans, lead strikes and have its delegates.

When revolutionary militants come to do concrete union work, the workers often regard them with amazement, not understanding these militants who use the free hours of a delegate discussing and organising on the shop floor, who refuse to hold union meetings in these hours, who ask the workers’ advice and allow all who have something to say to speak. Stalinism has weighed so heavily on several generations that it is often difficult to explain what is a democratic meeting of all the workers, a shop-floor meeting taking its decisions after all opinions have been heard.

Nevertheless wherever the revolutionary militants set themselves seriously to the task it is rare that a minority of conscious workers do not become interested in militant activity, being willing to sacrifice a little of their time and money to defend their class interests. Yet as soon as any union members in any section begin to concern themselves with the affairs of their union, as soon as they try to free themselves, even by unconscious actions, from the heavy guardianship of the apparatus it reacts. It would prefer the section to become unorganised rather than allow workers to develop habits which it, rightly, considers dangerous to its rule.

Such are the conditions with which the revolutionary militant must cope. As soon as he begins to do so, as soon as he appears openly or is merely suspected, before he can surround himself with a few sympathisers he unleashes against himself all the ill will of the union apparatus. The union leadership does not hesitate to use slanders, denunciations to the boss and physical violence.

Facing this, the revolutionary workers cannot successfully resist the ill will of the CP unless they are sure of the power to reply to the blows they receive, unless they have the technical means to reply to slanders with explanations, to the monopoly of the right to speak with loudspeakers, to false political lines with true ones, and these can only be provided by a revolutionary organisation, only a party can make it possible. If we can build this organisation, then all hopes are possible; for May proves that thousands of young (and not so young) workers who are potentially revolutionary militants exist in this country. They are dispersed and isolated within their workplaces. Each time one of them lifts his head, each time he faces the conservative and ossified bureaucracy to make his voice heard, he is blocked by a powerful coalition.

Our essential, primary task is to win these potential militants. By the seriousness of our activity, by the example we set for their own individual actions, we must show them how to gain a strength with which to resist the repression of the apparatus. We must inspire them with self confidence in the revolutionary possibilities. It is here that the union between students and workers must be made. Most of the young workers who came to revolutionary ideas in May are isolated again within the world of work, and the right of free speech has again been monopolised by the union bureaucrats. We must be able to bring to each revolutionary worker, isolated in his work place, the means to carry on revolutionary propaganda there, and to conduct a struggle.

3. Since the events of May the revolutionary groups have become stronger in the working class than ever before – but this has not occurred to a degree which would make a qualitative change. May, above all, gave us opportunities, and we must not waste them. No worker in France is any longer unaware of the existence of the ‘far Left’. This only means that the revolutionary current is increasingly considered by them to be a political current within the working-class movement, in the same way as are Stalinist and reformist tendencies. The workers are waiting for it to declare itself, to say what it wants to do and to show what it can do. Above all, a section of young workers – several thousands – is looking hopefully towards us.

This is why unity is necessary. Today, a revolutionary movement, regrouping the different Trotskyist, Maoist and Anarchist tendencies would, by the addition of members and by the new political fact which it would constitute, have sufficient impact to build a solid base in the factories and the workers’ districts. None of the existing groups can seriously claim to have such a potential by themselves.

Workers do not believe in the effectiveness of a small group even if they agree with its ideas. We cannot win them unless we can set another force against the force of the union machine. That force can only by constituted by our unification. Such an organisation at this time can be no more than a sort of front, in which all tendencies keep full liberty of expression, organisation and action, internally and outside. But we need a common organisation, and a common newspaper, to search out and initiate possible united activities among the working class.

This would not, of course, be the Leninist party which we think is necessary to lead a social revolution to victory. But such a regroupment is nonetheless the necessary path imposed by circumstances, along which today the interests of the revolutionary workers’ movement can travel. There will not be a real revolutionary party unless it is fundamentally linked to the working class and recognised by it as its party, the organisation of the real revolutionary vanguard. We cannot today constitute a real party, but we can lay the foundations for it. In order that a revolutionary party should come into being there must be thousands of revolutionary workers making up its essential core. It is through them that the party can really participate in the class struggle. But only the unity of the revolutionaries today, can make it possible for us to find and regroup these workers.

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