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Mitterrand’s first six months in power

Interview with Alain Krivine of the LCR

(14 November 1981)

From Intercontinental Press, Vol. 19 No. No. 46, 14 December 1981, pp. 1212–1215.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The following is an interview with Alain Krivine, presidential candidate in the first round of the French elections last spring for the Revolutionary Communist League(LCR), the French section of the Fourth International.

In the final round of those elections on May 10, Socialist Party candidate François Mitterrand was elected to a seven-year term as president. In parliamentary elections in June, the Socialist Party won a majority of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies.

Mitterrand named a cabinet with a majority of Socialist ministers, four ministers from the Communist Party,two from the bourgeois Left Radicals and one from the left Gaullists, also a bourgeois formation.

The interview with Krivine was conducted November 14 in Paris. At that time, a wave of strikes and factory occupations had broken out throughout the country, involving workers at the Renault and Peugeot auto plants, the rail roads, and many other industries.

At the root of these struggles is the deepening economic crisis. The unemployment rate is 8.8 percent, and prices had risen 13.9 percent in the previous twelve months. There was also an outcry against the Mitterrand government’s proposal to raise the social security tax on workers by 1 percent.

The interview was conducted in French by Cindy Jaquith, coeditor of the U.S. socialist weekly Militant. The translation is by Intercontinental Press.

* * *

Question. What is the significance of the Mitterrand victory?

Answer. The victory was not expected by the majority of workers. The May 10 election came in the midst of a period of deep division in the workers’ movement. There was a fantastic state of rivalry between the Communist Party and the Socialist Party on the political level, and in the factories, an unprecedented degree of division which had reached the level of open warfare between the two big trade union federations, the CGT and the CFDT. [1]

Despite this, we saw the victory of the Communist Party and the Socialist Party on May 10. We think there were two basic factors be hind this victory.

First, it shows that the desire for unity in the ranks of the workers was much stronger than the divisions among the party and union leaderships. There was massive voting by Communist voters for Socialist candidates and by Socialist voters for Communists.

The second factor behind the victory is the tremendous desire for change within the workers movement.

May 10 reflected disgust with the right-wing government of Valery Giscard d’Estaing. I think that the vote was not a vote for the SP’s program. The majority of workers saw a vote for the SP as a “useful vote,” as the only way to get rid of Giscard and the right.

This is very important, because certain people abroad viewed the vote for the SP as the beginning of a process of “social democratization” of the French working class, as exists in England and West Germany. We think this analysis is absolutely false.

We feel that in France in the years to come we will see a very important growth in struggles, which will probably lead to a decisive confrontation between the employers and the working class. Therefore, we feel that a revolutionary period could be opening up in France.

For at least some years to come it will not be possible to stabilize, to achieve a long-term status quo in the relationship of forces between the social classes.

There is no possibility for the right to return to power through a normal alternation of governments. An eventual victory for the right will have to take place through a decisive defeat of the working class.

Q. How does the LCR characterize the Mitterrand government?

A. The new government is basically a government of the Communist Party and the Socialist Party with the presence of a small bourgeois party,the Left Radicals. So in its composition it is a class-collaborationist government since there is a bourgeois wing,even if it is only a “shadow of the bourgeoisie,” as Leon Trotsky said.

But in its essence it cannot be compared to the Popular Front government in 1936. [2] At that time the Radicals were a major force in the French bourgeoisie, while today they are totally insignificant.

No significant faction of the bourgeoisie supports the Mitterrand government. The inclusion of two Left Radicals and one left Gaullist in the cabinet is indicative of the desires of the CP and SP, not of the bourgeoisie.

It is also a class-collaborationist government in terms of its program as well as its composition.

Therefore the government is not easily able to grant the main demands of the workers. If we take all the actions carried out in the first months of the new government, we can say that in a number of areas – in general those that are least costly and that do not challenge the power of the employers – the government has taken some measures that are in fact positive and are seen as such by the workers.

These include the changes that have taken place in the television system, a series of laws increasing civil liberties in France with the dis solution of the state security court, the freeing of all political prisoners, and the end of the expulsion of immigrant workers.

On the other hand, with regard to the economic crisis, the workers feel that the government is trying to simultaneously please the employers and the working class.

The government today explains that given the economic crisis, it is necessary in France to establish a vast national front of solidarity, including the employers and the working class. The government tells the workers that this is their government but that they must be patient since everything cannot be done today, while it daily calls on the employers to participate in the economic revival.

The government tells the workers it will try to raise the lowest wages and create several tens of thousands of jobs at a time when unemployment is around 2 million in France. It tells the employers that they will get tax breaks,for example, to allow them to regain their confidence and carry out an investment policy that will create jobs.

The government’s policy today is beginning to pose very serious problems for the working class. For example, the recent measures concerning social security are not much different from those attempted by the previous government. The financing of the deficit in the social security system is to be taken out of the wages of the workers. This is a very important question in France because ever since the social security system was set up, it has been considered the principal gain won by the working class. Every government that has tried to attack social security has been confronted by a general strike.

This government’s attempt to attack social security has caused deep discontent within the working class. When you follow a policy of class collaboration that aims to satisfy every one,in the last analysis only the bosses are satisfied.

Q. How has the French bourgeoisie responded to the new government?

A. Up to now the employers have not been hit too hard by the government. The five industrial groups nationalized, for example, were enormously compensated. The shareholders were given 35 billion francs. [3]

Despite this, the attitude of the bosses is increasingly violent, increasingly shrill. Not because they are worried about governmental measures, but because the employers have never had any faith in this government,since it is basically composed of workers parties. They are not worried about the policies of the government, but about the social dynamic that lies behind the government and the confidence that the victory gave the workers.

The employers are systematically boycotting and sabotaging the government’s plans and are following the same policies in the factories as they did under the previous government – to maximize their profit by attacking working conditions.

There are various aspects of this outlook: the massive export of capital (according to official figures, more than 35 billion francs have left France since May 10); massive layoffs in the factories and continued plant closings; and an intransigent attitude on all levels in the factories.

The employers know that in the immediate future they cannot get rid of this government. But their policy is to exert constant pressure on the government to force it to capitulate. And the more concessions the government makes to the employers, the more the employers raise their demands.

Today there is no possibility of the right providing an alternative government because the political parties of the bourgeoisie are in the midst of a crisis.

The rightist parties in France were primarily based on their relationship to the state apparatus. Once they lost control of the state apparatus they reverted to what they are today, parties with a very weak social base. The result is that today these parties are deeply divided between Giscardists and Gaullists. Because of the total crisis of the bourgeois political parties, the employers themselves have come to the fore. Their organization, the CNPF [4], today systematically intervenes through use of television and radio as the bourgeoisie’s only political means of expression. Therefore the workers today more and more directly have to confront the bosses and their organization, which is even reflected in the arena of slogans. The workers don’t attack the bourgeois parties as such, but rather the CNPF, which they see as the basic opponent.

Q. What is the feeling of the workers to ward the government now?

A. In the factories and in the working class there are still those who think that the government should have a “period of grace,” in François Mitterrand’s words, which is to be expected. After such a victory there is a climate of enthusiasm, a climate of expectation. Many workers think the government needs time to carry out their demands.

Before the workers go into struggle against the bosses, they want to wait and let “their” government do things.

This “period of grace” is now largely coming to an end for two reasons:first, because the attack by the bosses is very, very strong; and second, because the government policy is beginning to cause growing discontent among the workers.

Q. Can you describe the strikes and other protests breaking out now?

A. The present situation is rather complex. On the one hand we are beginning to see strikes and demonstrations throughout the country. But at the same time, the illusions in the government remain very strong. It would be absolutely wrong to say that the majority of workers no longer have confidence in the government.

But the May 10 electoral victory also encourages the workers’ self-confidence against the bosses. The workers are starting to react to the offensive of the bosses, especially in the absence of any activity on their behalf by the government. All the struggles today are directed against the bosses. None are directed against the government.

The struggles now taking place are totally uncoordinated, uncentralized. They are around working conditions, the pace of work, jobs and layoffs, prices, the standard of living, and increasingly around the demand for a reduction of hours as a way to lower unemployment. struggles broke out first in the best-organized sectors of the workers movement, such as the Renault factories and the railroads, both of which are nationalized. In recent weeks they have spread to the private sector.

We are also beginning to see forms of self-organization. Very often workers sweep over the trade-union leaders and take charge of the struggles themselves. This is quite new in France.

In several factories, once the strikes broke out, workshop delegates were elected or work shop councils established. These are workers who are directly tied to the rank and file or on the assembly line and are the direct representatives of the strikers. The ranks have sometimes been able to get these representatives into the negotiations alongside the regular union dele gates.

About a month ago there was a strike by rail workers in Paris in which the workers blocked the trains. Tens of thousands of workers from the suburbs were stranded.

The strikers took over the station’s public address system and directly explained the reasons for the strike to the stranded workers. Then the strikers explained they had decided to allow the trains to roll again, but with crews made up entirely of strikers, in order to get the stranded workers home.

Q. What changes have taken place in the Socialist Party and in the Communist Party?

A. The SP is having real trouble with its ranks. It has recruited 50,000 new members since May 10. With the exception of some government functionaries motivated by opportunism, the bulk of the new recruits are young people, white-collar workers, students, teachers, and a relatively few blue-collar workers.

These new members are very combative. They come to the Socialist Party not because they are social democrats, but because they feel that it is the only way to activate the change.

The Socialist Party, at its congress which just took place, saw a strong push to the left in its ranks. Within the Socialist Party we are seeing the beginnings of the embryo of a left op position.

One point is important to stress. While the Socialist Party has become the number one party of the working class on the electoral level, the Communist Party continues to have a far larger working-class base and a much stronger organization.

If we neglect this distinction we would make a big mistake about the relationship of forces within the working class. The Communist Party is going through a crisis as serious as any that it has seen since the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact.

You can imagine the turmoil in the CP when it goes from a Union of the Left policy [i.e., electoral coalition] with the SP; switches over night and denounces the SP; and then swings back to a totally pro-SP policy.

The CP had to sign a terrible pact to enter the government, a solidarity pact that involves two things: total solidarity at the governmental level, and total solidarity at the factory level. In line with their commitment, the Communist ministers have made no public criticisms of the government. They make proposals within the government but publicly make no criticism.

But the CP as such is making some slight criticisms today. For example, the CP is against the law on social security. The CP ministers accept the law, but the CP members of parliament say they are against it.

This is a highly stylized operation that does not have any practical repercussions. They criticize some government measures, but this does not lead to any activities by the CP. They do not mobilize the workers.

The CP has even begun to attack some strikes as they did during the Popular Front and in the period right after liberation from the Nazis. Charles Fitelman, CP minister of transport, recently attacked some strikes that took place within his ministry as “ultra-left.”

In the factories and unions, the CP is completely divided between workers who follow the party leaders and those who follow the more combative elements. In the unions we are seeing the development of a left opposition in both big federations, which is something new in France, and the appearance of the nucleus of a class-struggle tendency, at an early stage of course, but on a scale never before seen in France.

This opposition includes thousands and thousands of workers and trade-union cadres. While it does not have a national structure, it exists in all the industry federations of the unions today and includes Communist oppositionists, SP activists, members of the LCR, and many others who are in no organization. We view the emergence of what might be called a class-struggle and united tendency in the unions as a decisive development.

Q. What is the political perspective of the LCR in this situation?

A. Politics in this period means taking the illusions of the workers into account and trying to dispel them. It does not mean viewing the government today as the adversary. We don’t put forward the slogan of kicking out the government.

That would be totally absurd, irresponsible, and would not be understood. In the immediate future there is still no credible working-class alternative. Our general perspective of a workers government is correct, is a compass, but cannot yet be concretized for the great mass of the workers.

Our entire policy at this point is to concentrate our fire on the bosses and on class collaboration. We try to orient the workers as a whole against the employers, against the CNPF, within the framework of a united battle around specific demands that respond to the economic crisis.

We put forward this frontal policy against the bosses in such a way as to encourage united struggle, and try to develop all the forms of workers self-organization. At the same time, while our main fire is aimed at the bosses, we criticize all the government’s class-collaborationist measures.

The results of this policy are beginning to be seen in strikes where political parties like the CP and SP, which are part of the government, are paralyzed, while the policy we put forward is beginning to see some success.

I don’t want to exaggerate the scope, but in many factories for the first time members of the LCR are recognized as leaders of the strikes. This was the case in the strike at Renault Sandouville, where LCR members in the CGT provided leadership, and in the Gare de l’Est in the Paris railways, in textile, and in other struggles. LCR members have always played a part in the strikes, but what is new is that they are being recognized as people who have solutions for the workers.

Q. What is your view of Mitterrand’s foreign policy?

A. Mitterrand’s policy in Africa has been the area where there has been the least change from the previous government. The French bourgeoisie’s economic interests in Africa are extremely large, and there are puppet governments that remain in power solely through the logistical support of the French army and the economic support of the French government, which pays the salaries of the civil servants.

Although on a purely military level the French intervention in Africa is more subtle than it was during the Giscard period, the new government is following a neocolonial policy of total support for the puppet bourgeoisies that exist in these countries.

There has been a greater change in policy to ward Central America, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Cuba, with the famous Franco-Mexican declaration. [5] The declaration was seen as a help by the comrades of the FDR in El Salvador because it involves de facto recognition of the FDR. We should not neglect that aspect.

But we should also not neglect the fact that there are certain maneuvers behind this declaration. In essence Mitterrand’s policy in Central America is, I think, linked to the entire Socialist International, which thinks it can win some ground from the Castroist current. It also hopes to win some ground against U.S. imperialism’s control of the region, while holding back the socialist radicalization of the revolutions. And it has hopes for building organizations linked to the Socialist International, especially in Central America and in the Caribbean.

From this I think flows a dual attitude to ward American imperialism by the French government. In Central America the French government has visibly taken its distance from the American policy, showing hostility toward it and supporting the struggles against dictator ship and imperialism.

But on the other hand, the international policy is aligned with U.S. imperialism’s aims, especially in East-West relations and in the present imperialist armaments policy. France supports the NATO pact, even though it is not a member of the military command of NATO, and carries out an Atlantic alliance policy. Its one divergence from U.S. policy is Central America – Nicaragua and El Salvador – and Cuba.

For example,on November 28 there will be a big national march in Paris in support of the people of Central America and especially El Salvador. This march is officially supported by the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and all the French trade-union confederations. This is the first united initiative in the new period. Today on the international plane the French government in fact supports imperialism’s ar maments plans. There was a declaration by the minister of foreign affairs saying that France was the backbone of NATO, which, however curious a statement, is indicative of the govemment’s attitude. The French military budget is the highest in Western Europe. It is the one that has risen the most since Mitterrand came to power.

The development of the French atomic strike force and the decision to go ahead with the seventh nuclear submarine falls within this framework. So does the SP’s denunciations of the massive antimissiles demonstrations that have developed in Western Europe. The SP explains that “neutralism” is the greatest danger. They say Western Europe confronts Soviet hegemonism today and needs a clear anti-Soviet policy.

Q. What is the anti-missiles movement like in France today?

A. The movement is much more developed in the rest of Europe than in France today. There are reasons specific to France for the fact that the October 25 anti-missiles demonstration in Paris attracted only 30,000 people.

First of all, in France the Communist Party and Socialist Party, the two main workers’ parties, have been for a French nuclear force, leaving only the smaller groups like the ecologists and the far left to fight nuclear weapons. This is beginning to change within the ranks of these parties and some people are starting to challenge the leaderships on the question.

Second, France is not in the NATO military command, so there is not much of a sense of NATO in the country.

Third, no American Pershing or Cruise missiles are scheduled for placement in France, which also leads to smaller mobilization.

Finally, for a long time anti-war activity has been carried out only by the Communist Party. A lot of people do not want to participate be cause they feel it would just help the CP’s policies.

But this movement is now beginning to raise its head. We participated in the October 25 demonstration of the CP and the Movement for Peace with our own contingent, and there were also some Socialists, and some Christians involved in it, although the Socialist Party condemned the demonstration.

I think the movement can bring in a lot of trade-union and political militants by tying the anti-missiles campaign to the arms budget, especially with the beginnings of austerity. The axis of the LCR’s campaign is, as our posters say,”CP-SP, you have the majority, you must make the bosses pay.”

The government’s plan to build a seventh nuclear submarine will cost something like 12 billion francs. We try to explain what could be done with 12 billion francs to answer the demands of the workers. We argue that that is what the government was elected to do – to break with the bourgeois austerity drive, to break with the war drive – and that is what it must do.

Q. What about the military draft?

A. A movement of young people has developed around the government’s original promise to lower the time of military service from the present twelve months to six months. Now the government has refused to implement this measure. This is part of the war drive, but the government explains it as a measure against youth unemployment.

We try to tie this in with the real solution to unemployment – saying that the thirty-five hour week is better than the barracks as a way to create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Among the groups participating in the movement for a six-month draft are the youth groups of the International Communist Organization (OCI), the United Socialist Party (PSU), and us. A recent demonstration in Paris of 2,500 young people was organized by a coalition called the Coordinating Committee for the Six Months. It includes groups in the high schools, local groups, and groups in the military. A whole network of committees for the six months are being set up.

Q. Why are you for a six-month draft rather than an end to the draft?

A. The total elimination of conscription would mean a bourgeois professional army and we feel that is much more dangerous to the workers movement than an army in which you have young workers and former students, among whom we can do political work, mobilize, organize, and at a time of confrontation even try to undermine the bourgeois army from within.

It is much more difficult to undermine a professional army, like in England for example. The troops in a professional army are much more homogeneous, have far fewer ties to the working-class world,and are much more difficult to penetrate.

At a time when the army might intervene against the workers or in a colonial situation, we don’t think that the military hierarchy should have a total monopoly in the army. That is why we are for a conscription army as now exists, and within that army for the right to organize soldiers’ committees, which still have to operate clandestinely. Today there are dozens and dozens of soldiers’ committees, which put out leaflets and publications and intervene in various ways among the soldiers.

These soldiers committees are sponsored by the civilian trade-union organizations. Their clandestine activity for democratic rights often gets support from the unions on the theme that the soldier is a young worker under his uniform. This makes it possible to build links be tween the workers’ movement and the soldiers’ movement.

Eventually it gives us the possibility of intervening within the army any time the army is sent to move against a strike or in a colonial adventure.

For some time we have been working in the army to build the soldiers committees and provide them with a perspective of building a union of soldiers. That is the context we work.

Q. What are the general political positions toward the Mitterrand government of other groups on the left?

A. Since 1968 the far left has shaken out in France. Most of the centrist organizations have totally disappeared; the Maoists have virtually disappeared from circulation;and what remain are three important organizations that describe themselves as Trotskyist – Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the OCI, and us.

Lutte Ouvrière unfortunately has a false sense of the situation. On the eve of the elections Lutte Ouvrière explained that the election of Mitterrand would not change anything,that the left and the right were the same, and it made no distinction between the workers’ parties and the bourgeois parties.

As a result, Lutte Ouvrière has no sense of the kind of demands that should be raised in this period.

Today Lutte Ouvrière maintains that this government is just like the previous one, and therefore centers its fire against the government and the CP and SP.

It is for abstract struggle – for struggles, struggles, and more struggles – without any strategy, any perspective, any political dimension or any sense of building a united front. We of course maintain a fraternal attitude to ward these comrades in the factories where they have a presence.

The OCI’s attitude has been marked by constant changes. During the presidential campaign it went from proposing to support my candidacy all the way to calling for a vote on the first round for the Socialist Party, which was the first time the OCI had called for that. Generally the OCI calls for a vote for any workers’ candidate in the first round, without singling out the Social Democrats against the Stalinists.

Today, if we just look at their writings and documents, they have basically the same attitude, the same approach, the same method regarding the government as we do.

But in practice, and this is a tradition of the OCI, they have a totally opportunist attitude toward the Socialist Party and the social democrats. The OCI gives leftist speeches about the need for socialism, the need to go beyond the antechambers of socialism, the need for workers councils, etc. But it has no practical application.

In contrast, in daily struggles, they show total opportunism regarding the Socialist Party. In the trade unions they are very supportive of the Socialist Party and very harsh toward the Communist Party.

The OCI maintains that the presence of the four Communist ministers in the government is the main obstacle to the development of the class struggle. The Communist ministers are put forward as much bigger agents of betrayal than the Socialists.

Our attitude toward the OCI and Lutte Ouvrière is clear. In the new period that has opened up in France, those who call themselves Trotskyists have a very great responsibility toward the workers. We are talking about thou sands of members when all three groups are taken together. This is not a small thing in France.

Our general perspective is that we are for the unification of all those who call themselves Trotskyists. But in order for that unification to be solid, it must be tested.

Because the conditions do not exist today, we do not propose fusion with the other two organizations. Instead we try to propose united campaigns and unity in action; hopefully through the experiences gained in the united actions we could move in the direction of fusion. But both Lutte Ouvrière and the OCI have refused to get involved in joint activities.

* * *


1. The CGT (General Confederation of Labor) is the French union federation led by the Communist Party. The CFDT (French Democratic Federation of Labor) is led by the Socialist Party.

2. The Popular Front government came to power in France in 1936 on the crest of a massive workers up surge. In the spring 1936 elections, the Socialists, Communists, and bourgeois Radical Socialists together won a majority of seats in the Chamber of Deputies. With their majority, the three parties formed a class-collaborationist government with Socialist Leon Blum as premier.

3. One franc = US$0.18.

4. The CNPF is the National Council of French Employers.

5. The governments of France and Mexico issued a joint declaration August 28 recognizing the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN) and the Revolutionary Democratic Front (FDR) as a “representative political force” in El Salvador.

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