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French Left Discusses Prospects for Unity

(June 1976)

From Intercontinental Press, Vol. 14 No. 37, 4 October 1976, pp. 1408 – 1410.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

In its June 10–16 issue, the Paris weekly Politique-Hebdo published debates about the prospects for unity of the organizations that claim to stand to the left of the Communist and Socialist parties.

The discussion was focused on the response of these formations to the growing strength of the traditional reformist organizations, grouped along with a small bourgeois party in the Union of the Left, and to the probability of a victory of this coalition in the 1978 legislative elections.

One debate was between Gilbert Hercet from the National Bureau of the Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU – United Socialist party, a centrist formation) and Alain Krivine from the Political Bureau of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR – Revolutionary Communist League).

Another debate took an indirect form. A correspondent of Politique-Hebdo interviewed Ernest Mandel, a member of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, in Brussels. In response to this interview, Yvan Craipeau, a founding leader of the PSU, contributed an article. Craipeau was a leader of the French Trotskyist movement from 1935 to 1946, when he broke with Trotskyism.

The exchanges between Krivine and Hercet and Mandel and Craipeau follow. The translation is by Intercontinental Press.

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Debate Between Hercet (PSU) and Krivine (LCR)

Question. The immense majority of the workers in this country are pinning their hopes for change on an electoral victory for the left. Is the far left able to offer any other way out?

Krivine. Let’s look the facts in the face. If you consider the immense impact of the parties rallied around the Common Program [the electoral platform of the Union of the Left], it is illusory to think that an alternative can emerge on the level of day-to-day struggles alone. The workers equate the idea of change with a victory of the left in the elections. I would point out in addition that the weakness of the far left, its inability to offer a political alternative, is not unrelated to the growth of electoralist illusions. So,we face a situation that we can’t try to hide. The elections will he a day of reckoning for revolutionists and we must prepare for this.

Hercet. I agree with this analysis essentially. In fact, in the minds of a large majority of the workers, the solution for this period is an electoral victory for the left. And the far left cannot change this in the slightest by shouting “we won’t wait until 1978.” Does this mean that we are going to twiddle our thumbs? Obviously not. We know very well that in such periods as this, the big organizations put a damper on struggles that threaten to frighten the middle classes. Our role, on the contrary, is to take part in these struggles, constantly trying to establish a link between the social and political arenas. So, let’s prepare for the elections, but let’s also be present in all fields of social and political activity.

Krivine. The two reefs that we have to steer away from are in fact quite visible. One is subordinating all our activity to the elections (which is what the reformists do).

The other is to concentrate on social struggles in such a way as to fail to make the link between the experience in these struggles and political solutions. So, what line should we follow? We should do everything possible to centralize the social struggles (around demands that unify the workers, around self-organization) and also intervene in the political arena. Here also, even if we are in a minority, we should combat the illusions focused around the Common Program.

Hercet. When you say that our intervention in the political arena should be directed at exposing the illusions of the Common Program, that seems rather facile to me. This is an oversimplified view. It amounts to thinking that reformist leaderships are betraying the masses and that once we have shown that this is what they are doing, one fine day the masses will come over to the revolutionists. No, the present leaderships of the workers movement do represent some thing. And among these leaderships,there are differences between the strategies of the CP and SP. It would be absurd to argue as if there were a strategy of the Common Program. The Common Program serves today as a cover for two different strategic plans, the Communist plan and the Socialist one. And we also have to be able to play on the contradictions that exist between these plans.

Fundamentally,we have to be able to get into the workers movement, shoulder to shoulder with the big workers organizations, so that the left victory in the elections can unleash a process of social change.

Krivine. Let’s put the question hard and straight. Do you in the PSU think that the Common Program represents a stage in the advance toward socialism and that, basing yourselves on the masses, you are going to push the reformist leaderships toward the socialist revolution? Or do you think that the backers of the Common Program are leading the workers into a blind alley?

Hercet. I think that we can’t forget who the enemy is. The enemy is the bourgeois authorities that have to be overthrown. It bothers me sometimes to see the far left concentrating all its fire on the Union of the Left. There are two camps, and it is clear what kind of a battle is going on. We are in the camp of those who want to overthrow the bourgeois authorities. Talking about the Union of the Left as class collaborationist signifies that the main left parties are in the other camp. That is unacceptable. The PSU is, of course, not participating in the Union of the Left on the basis of the Common Program. But we stand shoulder to shoulder with the signers of the Common Program in the struggle against the bourgeoisie and its regime.

Krivine. This attitude that you have to choose between the two camps can lead very far. To be effective, why not sign the Common Program so that you can help change the left from inside? Of course, the main enemy is the bourgeoisie, and it is precisely because the Union of the Left is not really fighting the bourgeois government that we criticize it.

Hercet. That’s why we don’t join it!

Question. The debate might be clearer if we took up the question of the attitude revolutionists should take after a victory of the left in the elections. What line should the far left groups take toward the left in power?

Krivine. The victory of the left is unquestionably going to unleash a great wave of enthusiasm in the working class. Not only that, it is going to touch off an important mobilization of the workers. For a certain time the illusion will persist that the government elected is the workers’ government and that all their essential demands are going to be rapidly met. I would add that the forms of the mobilization will depend on the conditions in which the left enters the government. But, in any case, we don’t think that the role of revolutionists will be to shout: “Out with the government, long live workers power.”

We have to take account of the combative mood of the workers and push for satisfaction of basic demands that will help to unite the class. Secondly, our main efforts should be concentrated on questions of self-organization. What is decisive in fact is for the workers to take their own struggle into their own hands and to multiply experiments in workers control. Gradually, the contradictions will emerge between the ultimate consequences of these struggles and the program of the government parties.

The emergence of these contradictions will lead to the first breaks with the program of the government parties, to the appearance of the first signposts pointing out a different road. This alternative will have credibility only when such a break assumes mass scope, that is, when these committees have become a mass phenomenon.I would note, to make myself clear, that it is not excluded that on a specific point we might support one or another initiative by the government, if it corresponded to a demand raised by the masses.

Hercet. You start off from the idea that the electoral victory is going to spark enthusiasm and mobilization,especially in the beginning. But in such periods, you should not underestimate the self-inhibiting capacities of the masses. The illusion that the government will eventually satisfy their demands can last a rather long time. This is all the more true since the modernist faction of the bourgeoisie can, at the start, accept a certain number of reforms, which, while going beyond Giscard, will change nothing fundamental but can serve to pull the wool over the eyes of the workers.

This said, it is clear that the left forces are going to want to delay implementing the Common Program. Not only the structural reforms but the immediate measures called for in the Common Program will be put off until later. So, we will have to consider the Common Program as a minimum program. The left parties have committed themselves to it, and we will have to demand that they apply it.

How can we go beyond this? You stressed that the problem is to lay the foundations of another power. In this area, the far left must draw the lessons of recent experiences, especially in Portugal, and not give the name “people’s power” to what is only the embryo of this,and above all if it is actually only committees of the far left. To the contrary, the people’s unity committees can only be the basis for a genuine “people’s power” if they are built on a mass base and in the spirit of unity.

The far left, therefore, will have to be present at all levels of the political, institutional,and perhaps even the govern mental struggle, constantly seeking to link up these various levels.

Krivine. We do have to draw the lessons of the recent experiences. The structures of self-government have to be open to all workers, including those influenced by reformism. In this respect, the sectarianism of the Portuguese FUR [1], which drove away the Socialist party workers, led the far left into isolation and defeat. In such a situation, the revolutionists must to the contrary appeal tirelessly to all the workers to participate in these forms of self-organization in order to win satisfaction of their fundamental demands. Otherwise, we will end up with counterfeit structures of self-organization and actual minority committees including only the converted. Thousands of workers can, in fact, agree with the platform of these committees without thereby feeling any need to fight the government.

Hercet. This question of what attitude to take toward the government is an important one. The PSU, as everyone knows, has no objection in principle to supporting a government of the left forces, or even to participating in such a government. Starting from this position, do we have to give up anything? What’s at stake for us?

Laying the bases of another kind of power. Of course, the organs of people’s power will be autonomous with respect to the government. But does this mean that these committees will be hostile to the government? You have stressed the following point, but it must he highlighted still more: Workers under the political influence of the left parties will be led to work in these structures. They are not going to be driven away under the pretext that they don’t support a program of struggle against the government! With whom are we going to establish socialism, if not with the masses of reformist workers. But we are not going to have any credibility with these workers, we are not going to win their confidence, unless we “get our feet wet” along with the others in the struggle to overthrow the bourgeois authorities. You can’t be clods coming from the outside to score points. You can’t just make a pretense of being for unity. A defeat of the left will not just be a defeat for the reformists. It will also be a defeat for us.

Krivine. I notice that there has been a very clear evolution in the PSU,and not in the right direction. It’s unthinkable for revolutionists to participate in a left government on the basis of the Common Program, unless they want to serve as left cover. You can’t have one foot in the government and the other in rank-and-file committees representing the embryo of a rival power.

Hercet. I didn’t say the PSU would be favorable to participating in a government on the basis of the Common Program. I said that there is no opposition in principle to participating in a government with the left forces.

Krivine. On that, everyone agrees. If revolutionists participate in a government that sets as its task the destruction of the bourgeois state, bravo. But the debate is not over that.

Question. Everyone feels very clearly that in a situation created by the victory of the left, everything will depend on the relationship of forces that the revolutionary current is able to establish with the left parties. Otherwise, the debates over orientation will remain mere incantations. The impact of the far left will depend primarily on how united it is. Is there any chance for achieving unity before the hour of reckoning comes around?

Krivine. Tens of thousands of youth and workers who have broken with the reformist organizations are very anxious to see the unity of the revolutionary organizations. This desire for unity goes very deep. It would be irresponsible not to draw the conclusions from everything we have just said. Time is working against us. This debate shows that, over and above the differences, there is a possibility for agreement on the essentials. We can come together in common work to advance unifying demands and to promote forms of self-organization in the mass movement (in the women’s and soldiers’ movements).

It is totally irresponsible in such a situation to continue to act separately. As soon as possible we have to reach an agreement affecting electoral tactics.

Question. How do you explain the fact that up until now there has not been such a meeting of the minds?

Krivine. To be quite frank, the responsibility falls on the PSU, which does not want to cut itself off from the signers of the Common Program. To make myself clear, we don’t criticize the PSU for following the principle of unity in action with the reformist parties. But if you want to appeal to the reformist workers with a minimum of credibility, you have to do so on the basis of having a much larger base of activists. If the revolutionary organizations reach an accord, they will draw behind them, and into a common struggle with them, a mass of unorganized activists. It is to this end that we will continue to wage the fight for unity. Today, there is no other way out for the far left.

Hercet. The LCR often has a very strange way of engaging in dialogue with the PSU. For example, showing a con tempt for our democratic internal life, they select out the “good” PSU members from the “bad” ones. But let’s try to get to the root of the matter. It is true that a feeling exists among many militant workers that there is no credible revolutionary organization. The current that we represent is far larger than our organizations. It is these unorganized activists that we have to turn to first of all. This said, it is not an accident that there are several political organizations. Differences exist, and with so much at stake in this period, we have to be particularly careful. It would be easy to agree on a certain number of points such as the characterization of the content of the Common Program, workers control, and self-organization. Such convergences make possible unity in action. But organizational unity is something else again.

We think that socialism can only be built on the basis of broad popular agreement. It is on this idea that our strategy of people’s unity is based. This is a social strategy based on the convergence in anti-capitalist struggle of the working class and other strata of the people. On the political level in the present period, this strategy involves unity in action of the political organizations. The tactical implications of this for the municipal elections seem clear.

They call for the formation of common slates with the left organizations. Already in these municipal elections, we have to get in position for the hour of reckoning in 1978. The only way to gain credibility for an independent line is to be present in a united way in preparation for the decisive battles.

The municipal elections are thus an important occasion to clearly demonstrate a line of unity. I said, of unity, but I also said, with clarity. This means that the essential elements of our municipal pro gram have to be taken into account by the left parties. In this respect, it does not seem to me to be a negligible thing that the city governments can become points of support for the workers struggles and, most importantly – even looking toward committees of people’s unity – that they can make possible concrete experiments in direct democracy.

Krivine. Toward the revolutionists, you take a very hard line. You demand fundamental agreement. With the reformists, you are satisfied with a partial agreement on how the city governments should be run.

Hercet. Don’t mix everything up. We don’t make the same demands in the case of electoral tactics as we do for organizational rapprochement.

Krivine. Common slates imply a common basic political agreement.

Hercet. In the municipal elections, our aim is to put forward a line. It is also to be present in the city councils. It is not an unimportant thing to win some seats and use them as points of support to help in the development of struggles and to promote new forms of local democracy (people’s assemblies in the neighborhoods, for example).

Krivine. If I’m following you, you think it is more important to have a few PSU city council members than to present a clear and unified alternative.

Hercet. We have to prepare the conditions so that the workers will have the best possibilities for action when the left is in power.

Question. If the signers of the Common Program refuse to take account of your municipal program, what will the PSU do?

Hercet. We don’t know how national negotiations would develop. It is possible that there would be no agreement. On the basis of the party’s line, comrades will have to assess the situation locally and get agreement in those cities where negotiations can produce something.

Krivine. If the PSU persists on this path, it’s going to be the only political organization not to realize the national implications of the municipal elections. You are responding in a thoroughly petty way to a grave situation. The truth is that in order to gain credibility, you are following an opportunist line without assuring the means to safeguard your independence. For you, the unity of the revolutionists is no longer an axis. You prefer the company of the left parties. In this way, you are assuming a very grave responsibility in the eyes of workers who are looking to the far left and waiting for it to unite. They will not wait long.

Hercet. Be serious. We are aware of the political choices we are making. There is no point in trying to teach us lessons. Our tactic for the municipal elections was developed, as I said, starting from our concept of people’s unity. So, obviously the overall political context was taken into consideration. Our line enables us to develop an autonomous force, while at the same time putting pressure on the Union of the Left. You can always declare your independence. This is only the independence of a few leaderships without troops. What point is there in crying out in the wilderness, following the line, supposedly, of the last of the just? Let us dare to carry our line to where the decisions are made, including the institutions of government.

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1. Frente de Unidade Revolucionária (Front of Revolutionary Unity), a coalition originally formed in support of the Gonçalves government. The front was based on, among other things, a program of defending the “people’s power” scheme of the ruling Armed Forces Movement. It was formed to build the August 25, 1975, demonstration in Lisbon, the last major attempt by the CP to defend the Gonçalves government. On August 27, when the CP began to make conciliatory signs to the Socialist party,the most ultra-left and sectarian groups forced its expulsion from the front. – IP

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