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Alain Krivine


First Trotskyist Candidate for President of France

(25 May 1969)

From Intercontinental Press, Vol. 7 No. 22, 9 June 1969, pp. 565–570.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The following interview with Alain Krivine, candidate of the Communist League (Ligue Communiste) for president of France, was obtained May 25 by Richard Wood, an American living in Paris.

* * *

Today I was able to speak with Alain Krivine and other leaders of the Communist League – Charles Michaloux, Hubert Krivine, Daniel Bensaïd, and Henri Weber – during a break in the hectic campaign. Eighty major meetings have been scheduled throughout the country for Krivine and other national spokesmen of the Communist League in the two weeks before election day June 1; and many more smaller meetings are being run by local units of the Trotskyist organization.

Alain Krivine, under French electoral law, is entitled to equal time with the other presidential candidates – one hour and forty minutes on the government-run television network and the same on radio; and he has many other radio and TV appearances as well. The Communist League has been given the use of two small airplanes by sympathizers.

The newspaper Rouge, which reflects the views of the Communist League, has moved from a biweekly to a weekly publication schedule, and its press run has jumped from 30,000 to 50,000.

The meetings already held have been very successful. For example, on May 21 the great hall of the Mutualité in Paris was packed with more than 5,000 persons who came to the rally. Meetings have been held at the Renault plants and at other factories.

In some towns, attendance has run higher than at the election rallies sponsored by the French Communist party for its candidate Jacques Duclos. In Rouen 1,200 turned out; at Montpellier, 1,300.

The members of the Communist League and of the Comités Rouges [Red Committees], which are broad supporting groups, have mobilized for the campaign in an extraordinary way. To get on the ballot, the names of more than 100 elected officials had to be collected. Some 240 brigades were organized to scour the country in search of officials willing to help put a revolutionary candidate on the ballot. More than 230 such signatures were obtained in one week. Under the French electoral law, the government has had to print hundreds of thousands of Krivine campaign posters. These have been put up in every town. The government has also printed thirty million campaign leaflets for each presidential candidate. The Communist League has, in addition, put out many of its own leaflets and posters. Red Committee activists are busy distributing these all over France-in some towns, it appears, from the number of Krivine posters one sees, that he is the major candidate in the election.

In telling me about the election campaign, leaders of the Communist League stressed that they are using the lessons of the May 1968 student-worker upheaval to make their socialist program more concrete.

“For example,” Krivine said, “take the idea of workers’ power. There are a series of examples we are reminding people of through the campaign, where the strikes of last May developed from a ‘passive’ to an ‘active’ stage, where the workers occupying plants began to exercise limited power. In some places strike committees began to take over social functions, the the distribution of food, using trucks and other equipment in the factories where the workers had seized control.

“However, these embryos of workers power were decentralized, local, spread across the country. The power of the capitalists remained centralized in the government and state apparatus. Their power was very much weakened, but it remained centralized. And, although the capitalist class was sharply divided (one of the indications that the situation in May 1968 was truly a revolutionary one), it was saved almost in spite of itself by the Gaullist clique, with the help of the Communist party.

“The CP did everything it could to divide the striking workers, limit the strike movement to non-political demands and finally to disperse it.

“We do not say that the great general strike of May and June could have immediately led to a socialist revolution. We do say that we could have smashed Gaullism through an insurrectional strike which would have shed very little blood. While we would have still had a bourgeois government with someone like Mendes-France or Mitterrand, the working class would have grown in confidence and seen the power of extra-parliamentary mass action by the workers themselves.

“The strike committees would have continued to develop. And this could have led to a struggle for socialism, a struggle by the workers to take state power.

“It’s true we are no longer in the situation we were in in May–June 1968, and the question of taking power is not an immediate one. But this doesn’t mean that we should just sit around waiting for the ‘big day,’ as the anarchists say, when there will be another revolutionary situation like May 1968. We have to prepare now. We are not only using the campaign to explain the potential of the 1968 events, but also to project demands and forms of struggle that will reach workers at their present level of understanding and at the same time raise their consciousness and bring them toward revolutionary conclusions.

“For example, we point to what has happened to the gains won in the May–June strike. As a result of the strike, there was an average increase in wages of 12 percent, workers having won even more in some industries. There were many other gains resulting from the strike, including promises about the reduction of the work-week.

“Where does the situation stand today? Price rises have taken away at least three-quarters of the wage gains the workers won in May. The length of the work-week has increased. Capitalist rationalization and increased capitalist competition – forcing the shutting down of smaller uncompetitive plants – have resulted in rising unemployment and a whole layer of little capitalists being driven back into the proletariat. Unemployment is hitting the youngest and the oldest workers the hardest.

“The tactic of the government and the bosses is to divide the workers, and the CGT [Confederation Generale du Travail – General Confederation of Labor, the CP-dominated union] plays along with them. For example, last winter there were auto strikes at Renault in Paris, in Le Mans, and in other towns. The CGT kept all these strike struggles separated and isolated instead of uniting them, and as a result they were lost. Our militants in these factories attempted to begin to counter this policy by issuing a strike bulletin with news about all the strikes.

“In the campaign, we are projecting demands to help unite the workers and direct their struggle against the capitalist government and capitalist class as a whole.”

The leaders of the Communist League listed some of these demands:

On wages, they are for: (1) A sliding scale of wages for all workers to compensate for inflation. (2)An immediate readjustment of wages to compensate for the inflation since last June. (3) A national minimum wage of 1,000 francs [US$200] a month (the average wage at present is about 800 francs [US$160]).

Workers should have veto power over any firings or closing down of plants.

To fight unemployment, the Communist League demands immediate reduction of the work-week to forty hours with no reduction in pay, and a sliding scale of hours to further contract the work-week, if necessary, to provide jobs for the unemployed.

On working conditions, they are raising the concept of workers control over the intensity and speed of work, etc.

“In other words,” Krivine said, “we are demanding that everything won in May must be given back to the workers.

“In addition to speaking for these demands, we are using the election campaign to publicize local actions where workers have won through struggle some control over the speed of assembly lines, over the amount of time they have for lunch breaks, etc.”

“In raising these demands,” other spokesmen for the Communist League told me, “we tie them in with the need for a fundamental transformation of society, for a socialist revolution. The central focus of our campaign, against the concept of a peaceful and electoral transition to socialism put forward by the CP, is to explain that it is not possible for the working class to take power without a revolution. ‘We cannot make a socialist revolution by electing better people to staff the posts of the capitalist government-in that sense Krivine is not running for president at all. We’re using our campaign to explain the necessity of completely transforming the existing society, breaking up the old capitalist state and replacing it with a workers state.

“Under the present system, the tiny minority of capitalists actually control all the levers of power – the means of communication, culture, education, production, and the violence of the police and army. In order to break this power, the workers and farmers will have to organize themselves into a powerful independent force, using the methods of class struggle.”

One of the questions Krivine and the other Communist League campaigners are asked time and again is whether the organization advocates violence.

“We are against violence in general,” Krivine explains to his audiences, “and want to build a socialist society and socialist world free of violence. Violence is inherent in capitalist society-not only in its police and army, and not only expressed in the horror of war, but also in the daily, continual violence done to individuals in the exploitation of man by man. We want to eliminate the source of this massive violence: capitalism.

“But we warn the workers that the capitalist class itself has absolutely no scruples against using violence to maintain itself in power. It will never allow socialism to be ‘voted in.’ If it feels its power threatened, it will use its army and police, or, if these fail, fascist gangs to defend its power and privileges.

“And against that violence the workers not only have the right but the duty to prepare to defend themselves. We are using this campaign to help explain this to the workers.

“This is the lesson of Greece and Indonesia, and even of France since 1958. Mr. Marcellin, the minister of the interior, is fond of making sermons to us explaining that power resides in the ballot box. We answer Mr. Marcellin: ‘Who made you king? You got your power through the Gaullist coup d’etat of 1958, which violated all the legality of the Fourth Republic. Your post is a result of force and violence.’

“It’s worth recalling a statement made by Trotsky on this subject: ‘It is as absurd to attack ballot boxes with machine guns as it is to defend yourself against machine guns with ballot boxes.”’

Another question often asked the Trotskyist campaigners is “What kind of socialism do you advocate?”

Krivine outlined the answer:

“Neither the ‘socialism’ of Wilson nor of Husak. Real socialism has nothing to do with reforming capitalism, making it run better, which is what the Social Democrats advocate. It is impossible to do what the ‘left’ Social Democratic candidate Rocard [Michel Rocard, presidential candidate of the Parti Socialiste Unifié (United Socialist party – PSU)] advocates, that is, transform the organs of the capitalist state, such as the capitalist parliament, into organs of workers power. Nor arewe supporters of the bureaucratic system found in the deformed workers states such as the USSR.

“We advocate the nationalization of all major industries, banking and commerce, and the operation of the economy under a rational plan democratically decided by organs of workers power.

“Here again we use the examples of the May upsurge to show how strike committees and action committees could become the embryos of a new form of state power, based on democratically elected workers councils. The councils on a local or factory level would elect higher councils, and so on up to a central council which would be the highest organ of state power in the workers state.

’We also favor, in addition to such a democratic structure, other measures to combat bureaucracy, such as the right of immediate recall of any official; the limitation of wages for all officials to the level of skilled workers, etc. Such a democratic workers state would be transitional to a truly socialist form of society, where social classes and the state itself would gradually disappear.”

In addition to such proposals, the Communist League is using the campaign to explain why the French people should solidarize with the struggles of the Vietnamese against U.S. imperialist aggression.

In contrast to this, the candidate of the Communist party, Jacques Duclos, limits himself to supporting the Paris talks. Krivine is also the only candidate who supports the Palestine liberation struggle. Letters threatening Krivine’s life have been sent by both Zionists, who accuse him of betraying Judaism, and by fascists, who accuse him of being part of the “international Jewish conspiracy.” Krivine is also explaining the Communist League’s opposition to the Soviet-sponsored invasion of Czechoslovakia, and his support to such Communist dissidents as Jacek Kuron and Karol Modzelewski in Poland, who call for workers democracy in their countries. The Communist League has declared its solidarity with revolutionary groups in the French colonies that have urged voters in the colonies to boycott the elections. The colonies should be free of French rule, the Communist League maintains, and therefore should not participate in French elections.

Krivine has also demanded an end to restrictions on democratic rights – specifically lifting the ban imposed by de Gaulle on various revolutionary groups after the May events; returning the scholarships taken from many students for activities in May 1968; and reversing the expulsions and banning from France of foreigners who participated in or sympathized with the May movement, such as student leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit; Ernest Mandel, a leader of the Fourth International; Joseph Hansen, editor of Intercontinental Press, and others.

The response to the Krivine campaign among university students has been generally favorable. This includes groups in political disagreement with the Communist League. There is a minority of “spontaneists,” however, who criticize the Trotskyists for running a candidate. The spontaneists argue that this helps promote illusions in the bourgeois electoral process.

“We did not create the illusions in the bourgeois electoral process,” Krivine said, “and, unfortunately, the vast majority of the French people still have these illusions. Since these illusions do exist, however, the masses take the elections seriously. To abstain from them would mean to allow the reformists, who do reinforce illusions in the elections and in capitalism, to go unchallenged.

“We enter the elections, utilizing the democratic rights that are part of the electoral process. These rights them- selves were wrested from the ruling powers by the people in past struggles. We then expose the sham nature of these elections. One of our posters, hundreds of thousands of which have been put up all over France, declares: ‘Against the electoral farce, for the upsurge of the class struggle.’”

It is also argued in some circles that the Communist League is attempting to monopolize the legacy of the May upsurge. One of the Trotskyist spokesmen told me,

“It is true that in May the predecessors of the Communist League were one tendency among many. Millions of workers participated, and dozens of groups.

“One of the key differences between us and almost all of the other groups was our insistence upon the need to build a democratically centralized combat party to lead the struggle of the workers for state power through to victory. We were looked upon as sectarian because of our insistence on this point.

“During the May uprising itself, during the upturn in the struggle, it was understandable that many people should agree with the spontaneists. Cohn-Bendit was the best of them. But the need for serious organization began to be felt as soon as the actual power of the capitalist state began to be felt, especially when the repression began.

“There is no question that in the final struggle itself a combat party will be necessary for victory. We are in the process of constructing such a party.

“If we can present a candidate today despite all the difficulties created by the election law, it is because we have won the battle on the question of organization.

“So, while in May we were just one group-although an important one-among many, our group succeeded in consolidating organizationally the experience of May, putting these lessons into the context of the rich theoretical experience of other struggles which are a part of the Marxist program, and in that sense we are the legitimate continuators of May.”

I asked the Communist League representatives to make some comments on the other candidates.

“Well, Pompidou is presenting himself as the ‘man of order’ and keeps pointing to the ‘dangers of May.’ He says he is for ‘continuity with progress,’ which means essentially the continuation OPGauliist policies and the Gaullist Fifth Republic without some of the idiosyncracies of de Gaulle.

“Poher, who says he is for ‘progress with continuity,’ is an absolute mediocrity. He is fighting for support among the middle layers of the bourgeoisie, who have some grudges against de Gaulle. He would rule in the interests of the big bourgeoisie just as Pompidou would, only he would be weaker than Pompidou.

“Although Poher is trying to get the support of the middle bourgeois layer, he doesn’t really know exactly what to say to them. So he is trying to say as little as possible, because every time he opens his mouth he loses votes.

“It’s just the opposite with us. The mass of workers didn’t know about us or what we stood for. The more we speak, the more support we receive.

“There are two Social Democrats running, a left one and a right one. The right-wing one is Defferre, who has the support of Mendes-France. He wants to run capitalism more rationally. He calls for better roads, wants to know the truth about prices, etc. He is pro-Washington.

“The left Social Democrat is Rocard, who calls himself the nominee of socialism. In fact his central theme is reformist. He calls for the gradual transformation of the capitalist state, from the inside, without destroying it. He wants to unite both the revolutionary and the reformist currents. In reality he is squeezed between Mendes-France and Krivine. He says that he has two regrets: that his good friend Mendes-France is supporting Defferre, and that Main Krivine, who was so good in May, has gone back to Trotskyism, which is an old-fashioned theory.

“During the campaign, Rocard falsely accused Trotskyism of being against independent trade unions. He cited a position taken by Trotsky during the civil war in Russia in 1921.

“This gave us an opportunity to explain our view that under a workers state, the trade unions should not be mere ‘transmission belts’ for orders to the workers, but independent organizations defending the interests of the working class.

“Ducatel [Louis Ducatel, inventor of an unbreakable sewer pipe] is a millionaire running without party backing. He is appealing to the shopkeepers with some echoes of the line of Poujade. He’s the only candidate who said Alain shouldn’t be allowed to run but should be sent back to the army.

“The CP has put up an old Stalinist hack, Jacques Duclos. He is presenting himself as the candidate of the ‘unity’ of the left – on a completely reformist program.

“Against all of these stands the revolutionary candidate Alain Krivine, the youngest candidate, on parole from prison, and an ordinary soldier.”

I asked Krivine what the reaction to his campaign has been among the soldiers.

“At my camp, and from what I can tell from soldiers elsewhere, the reaction has been very sympathetic, because my candidacy caused the brass so many headaches before they finally gave me a furlough to campaign.

“There is a general politicalization in the French army since May, especially among working-class youth. Besides political discussions, there is a strong antimilitarist sentiment developing. It’s this anti-militarism that promotes sympathy for the campaign of a fellow private.”

As a result of the campaign, in addition to reaching millions of workers with the Communist League’s revolutionary socialist program, Red Committees are growing rapidly. Red Committees are springing up in towns where there are no members of the Communist League.

Smiling, Krivine pointed out, “I’m the only candidate who can say beforehand that he has won the election – that his objective has been achieved.”

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Last updated: 16 March 2022