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Workers Vanguard No. 890

13 April 2007

Racist Consensus Against Immigrants, Minority Youth

French Election: No Choice for Workers

We print below a presentation on the French presidential election, the first round of which takes place on April 22, given by Alexis Henri at a March 1 meeting in Paris of the Ligue Trotskyste, French section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist). It is translated from the LTF newspaper Le Bolchévik No. 179 (March 2007).

The 2007 election campaign offers the “choice” between Nicolas Sarkozy, the minister of cops who introduced seven racist security laws and carried out tens of thousands of deportations of sans-papiers [undocumented immigrants]; François Bayrou, author of the first racist decree against young veiled women in high schools in 1994, when he was minister in the right-wing government of Balladur-Sarkozy; and [Socialist Party candidate] Ségolène Royal, former Minister of the Family, who wants to militarize the turbulent youth in the banlieues [suburban ghettos]. Whether it is Sarkozy’s “party of order” or Royal’s party of “a just order,” it remains the order of the bourgeois republic—that is, capitalist and racist order.

In such a con game, people in general prefer the original to the copy. Indeed, a significant layer of backward workers is seriously considering voting for Sarkozy, the main candidate of the bourgeoisie, on the basis that he has proven himself to be determined in repressing youth, while Royal has only made promises.

Sarkozy, who has been a government minister almost continually for the past five years, is running as the candidate who represents a “sharp break.” In a certain sense, this is true. The French political system in the post-World War II period was based on two main pillars. First was the class collaboration practiced by a powerful pro-Soviet Communist Party (PCF), which saved the bourgeois order in 1944. The PCF at the time participated in a capitalist government with the Gaullists and disarmed the workers when the French bourgeoisie was totally discredited by its collaboration with the Nazis. The PCF did it again in May 1968 by selling out the general strike for a mere 6 percent wage increase and new elections. The second pillar was the possibility for French imperialism, which could still look to its former colonial empire for support, of adopting an independent posture. This was tolerated by American imperialism on the basis that it was preferable to have certain countries making speeches and deals with De Gaulle or [former Socialist president François] Mitterrand rather than ending up as satellites of Moscow.

With the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, this period is definitively over. Today the PCF is merely a shadow of what it used to be. Interimperialist rivalries have considerably sharpened, forcing each national bourgeoisie to step up its attacks on the working class in order to increase profits and survive in a climate of intensified competition between corporations. On the one hand, Sarkozy aims to reduce the foreign policy ambitions of French imperialism, bringing them more into line with its status as a third-rate imperialist power. On the other hand, he will need to break the back of the organized working class. He has promised, once he is elected, to take on the strongest bastion of the working class, the railway workers, who derailed Jacques Chirac & Co. in 1986 and again in December 1995. [The Gaullist Chirac was prime minister in 1986 and became president in 1995.] Sarkozy intends to ban railway workers’ right to strike, to go forward with privatization of the SNCF [railway company] and destroy the special pension systems, which are highly advantageous for the workers. Behind this attack, the whole working class is being targeted.

How to Make a New Popular Front from the Old

There is no choice for workers in this election. It is necessary to expose the illusions in Royal being peddled by the “left” and the “left of the left,” who present her as a “lesser evil” compared to Sarkozy. Royal does not represent the workers’ interests. The bloc behind Royal and [PCF leader Marie-George] Buffet constitutes a “popular front,” that is, a political bloc based on a program of managing capitalism in alliance with bourgeois parties such as that of [the Left Radical Party’s] Christiane Taubira, or the formation led by [ultra-chauvinist] Jean-Pierre Chevènement. According to sources as diverse as the right-wing Le Figaro, the PCF’s l’Humanité (10 January) and Rouge [newspaper of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire, LCR], the PCF made an agreement with the Socialist Party (SP) to try to save its parliamentary group—and the government subsidies that go with it, without which the PCF apparatus would collapse. The agreement is not official so as to delude PCF members into thinking that Buffet does not wish to repeat the experience of 1997 [when she became a government minister under Socialist prime minister Lionel Jospin] and to allow her to attract voters on the left—on behalf of Royal.

Royal and Buffet, like their bourgeois allies Chevènement and [Green Party candidate Dominique] Voynet, were all ministers in the Jospin government, which intensified Vigipirate [a campaign of racist cop terror], privatized Air France and a large number of other companies (more so than any previous right-wing government) and strengthened cop surveillance of organizations aiding the sans-papiers. It participated in the NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999 and, after September 11, 2001, introduced the “law on daily security,” which served as a model for Sarkozy. In the course of her major TV appearance on February 19, Royal promised not only to strengthen neighborhood police in order, day in and day out, to better harass banlieue youth and to militarize control over youth. She also pledged to open 24-hour police stations in the banlieues and to create “boarding schools,” which would actually be neighborhood prisons where youth would be locked up after being yanked from the care of their supposedly “failed” parents.

To give the slightest support to Ségolène Royal and vote for her program on the first or second round is in contradiction with the interests of the proletariat as a class opposed to the bourgeoisie. The proletariat produces the surplus value in the factories that is the basis on which the capitalist system functions. Because of this, only the proletariat has the social power and historic interest to overthrow this system.

We have always refused to give the slightest—even highly critical—support to a workers party participating in a popular front, because, in this case, it is part of a bourgeois alliance. To support a component of such an alliance is to support the bourgeoisie and obscure the class line. If the PCF or the SP, which are reformist workers parties, were running independently of all bourgeois parties—which is difficult to imagine today, given how class collaboration is second nature to them—they would be more exposed to pressure from their ranks. PCF members still tell us today that, ten years ago, PCF ministers in Jospin’s government, including Buffet, did everything they could but were constrained by Chevènement or by the other parties. Thus, the popular-front alliance provides a means for the reformist workers parties to conceal their own betrayals.

Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and the LCR avoid saying outright who they will vote for on the second round of the election. But the LCR declares that it is necessary to “get rid of the right in 2007” (Rouge, 16 November 2006). As for LO, at their last conference they adopted a document, with 97 percent of the votes, which states in particular: “The masses must not be able to blame our campaign for making the left lose.” Speaking of the “left candidate,” they explicitly consider, among other possibilities, “that we will call for voting for him (or her)” (Lutte de Classe, December 2006).

They can deny it all they want, but LO and the LCR serve in this way to channel votes for Royal. Yet the popular front in this country is the chief instrument of class collaboration, chaining the workers to the maintenance of capitalist exploitation. And LO and the LCR disappear the fact that Royal is running on the claim that her racist law-and-order politics are more effective than those of Sarkozy. Already in 2002 Jospin played that game, thus opening the road for [fascist Jean-Marie] Le Pen to reach the second round in the presidential election.

The appetite of reformist workers parties, like the SP and PCF, to form alliances with the bourgeois parties flows from their perspective of managing capitalism. But it is impossible to administer capitalism on behalf of the working class—the workers have already gone through the bitter experience of this with Mitterrand and Jospin. In order to satisfy the essential needs of the working class, workers revolution is necessary to smash the capitalist state and put workers in power through the “dictatorship of the proletariat” against the bourgeoisie’s resistance. The key for victory is forging a Bolshevik party, like the party of Lenin which led the Russian workers to the seizure of power in 1917—a party independent of all wings of the bourgeoisie and dedicated to overthrowing capitalism, not administering it. This is the task we commit ourselves to.

Marxists and Elections

In his writings on the 1871 Paris Commune, Marx described capitalist parliamentary elections in the following terms: “deciding once in three or six years which member of the ruling class was to misrepresent the people in Parliament” (The Civil War in France). Lenin wrote in his fundamental 1918 work The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky:

“Take the bourgeois parliament. Can it be that the learned Kautsky has never heard that the more highly democracy is developed, the more the bourgeois parliaments are subjected by the stock exchange and the bankers? This does not mean that we must not make use of bourgeois parliament (the Bolsheviks made better use of it than probably any other party in the world, for in 1912-14 we won the entire workers’ curia in the Fourth Duma). But it does mean that only a liberal can forget the historical limitations and conventional nature of the bourgeois parliamentary system as Kautsky does. Even in the most democratic bourgeois state the oppressed people at every step encounter the crying contradiction between the formal equality proclaimed by the ‘democracy’ of the capitalists and the thousands of real limitations and subterfuges which turn the proletarians into wage-slaves. It is precisely this contradiction that is opening the eyes of the people to the rottenness, mendacity and hypocrisy of capitalism. It is this contradiction that the agitators and propagandists of socialism are constantly exposing to the people, in order to prepare them for revolution!”

Further on, Lenin continues to hammer this point home:

“The working people are barred from participation in bourgeois parliaments (they never decide important questions under bourgeois democracy, which are decided by the stock exchange and the banks) by thousands of obstacles.”

Democratic forms of government are a particularly efficient way to conceal the nature of the state as a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the exploited and oppressed masses. This holds particularly true in the most advanced, the most “democratic” capitalist countries like France, where parliamentary traditions exist mainly to give a democratic veneer to decisions made, as underlined by Lenin, in the stock exchanges, clubs and dinner parties of the big bourgeoisie.

Nevertheless, we have, in the past, presented a candidate in a parliamentary election. In 1988, we ran a worker from Renault-Cléon [auto plant] against [the SP’s] Laurent Fabius. Communists seek to have deputies in parliament in order to use this as a platform for revolutionary opposition to capitalism, its state, its government, its parties and its social-democratic lackeys.

However, this is different from a presidential election, in which one is running to become the chief of French imperialism. The president is the head of the army and has enormous powers, in particular in France. He can declare martial law, dissolve parliament, etc. The positions of president, and of mayor on the local level, are not parliamentary offices that can be used as platforms to oppose the system. They are executive offices of the bourgeois state—the mayor and the president execute the decisions taken by the bourgeoisie.

The Bourgeois State: Special Bodies of Armed Men to Maintain Capitalism

At bottom, the bourgeois state consists of special bodies of armed men like the police, prison guards and the army itself, which have a monopoly on legal violence. They exist to maintain capitalist domination over the working class and the oppressed. This means suppressing strikes, as when the riot police break up a picket line, or “restoring order” against spontaneous rebellions such as the banlieue youth revolt in October-November 2005, or suppressing uprisings in Central Africa or Chad, which threaten French imperialism’s local client dictators. We fight for the withdrawal of all French troops from Africa, as well as from Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Balkans.

The police, prison guards and officer corps are volunteer forces. They sign up to administer repression and are thus deeply dedicated to defending their bourgeois order. They cannot be co-opted to serve the working class in the course of a socialist revolution. We are against cops in the trade unions because the unions are workers organizations, in spite of their pro-capitalist leadership. The Bolshevik Revolution smashed the armed bodies of the bourgeoisie, and workers power rested on new armed bodies of men, the workers militias in the factories. These were subordinate to the soviets [workers councils] and to the Red Army built by Trotsky in 1918.

Under capitalism, executive power, such as the office of president, means assuming responsibility for commanding these armed bodies on behalf of the bourgeoisie. It is the same with the mayor at the municipal level. He has police powers under the control of the prefect. Lenin, in reaffirming the lessons drawn by Marx and Engels from the 1848 revolutions and, above all, from the Paris Commune, explained how the bourgeois state cannot be used by the working class; it must be destroyed and replaced by proletarian power, by workers councils based upon the armed proletariat. In other words, one cannot become mayor or president and use this office to serve the oppressed. One either becomes hostage to the office and does the bourgeoisie’s dirty work or is promptly fired by the bourgeoisie.

Since we refuse to administer the bourgeois state, we have always rejected assuming executive office, whether that of president or mayor. Consequently, we do not run for election to such posts. We formally adopted the latter position at our recent international conference.

This is new inasmuch as Trotskyists did not object to running in such elections—including at the time of Trotsky and [James P.] Cannon, Trotsky’s collaborator in the U.S., who led the American Trotskyist party until the 1950s. This was also the position we previously stated in 2004 in our journal Spartacist, while underlining then that it is principled “as long as our candidates explain beforehand that they have no intention of assuming such offices if elected and make clear why it is necessary to forge a workers government to expropriate the capitalists and sweep away their machinery of class oppression.”

However, after further examining this question we have reconsidered our position. As our recent conference document states: “The problem with running for executive offices is that it lends legitimacy to prevailing and reformist conceptions of the state.” Our entire purpose is to bring to workers the understanding that in any socialist revolution the bourgeois state must be destroyed and replaced by the dictatorship of the proletariat. Lenin taught this, and all history has proven it. To run in elections for executive office thus represents an obstacle to our strategic goal.

Our reformist opponents, like their forebears in the Second International a century ago, seek only to reform capitalism, not to lead a socialist revolution. Thus, they have no qualms about their organizations being financed by the capitalist state. LO and the LCR feast at the trough provided by the government. As recently as January 25, the Journal Officiel de la République Française [the official publication of French state documents] declared that state contributions to LO for 2005 totaled nearly half a million euros—more than one-fifth of LO’s total income. LO was thus able to afford a recent poster publicity campaign at a cost of around one million euros, which is more than their members’ entire annual dues payments. LO boasted that not only was the expense covered by bourgeois state funds but that, in addition, it was not that expensive for the “taxpayers” (Lutte Ouvrière, 15 December 2006). The same applies to the LCR, which got a little more than half a million euros in 2005. As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune.

And the LCR and their comrades internationally do not even have a problem volunteering to directly administer the bourgeois state. Already in November 1990, Hanspeter Uster, a leader of the LCR’s sister section in Switzerland, was elected minister of justice and the police in the canton of Zug. Five years ago, Miguel Rossetto, a Brazilian comrade of the LCR, entered Lula’s capitalist government.

Today [LCR candidate Olivier] Besancenot is quite willing to participate in a government provided that it is “anti-capitalist.” The LCR states in its special election manifesto: “The LCR will assume its responsibilities in such a government.” But since they think that proletarian revolution is today utopian and passé—just good for “far leftists” like us—and since in 2003 they even officially renounced the dictatorship of the proletariat, their government can only be “anti-capitalist” in name. Besancenot fights for a “democratic revolution” and a “social and democratic break.” In other words, he wants to give social democracy a new coat of paint. Before 1981, Mitterrand used similar verbiage about “breaking with capitalism”—before getting elected to run French imperialism and reinforce capitalist austerity and in that capacity sending 25,000 French soldiers to participate in the war against Iraq in 1991.

Like the LCR, Lutte Ouvrière officially renounced the dictatorship of the proletariat in 2003. At their congress that year, they unanimously adopted the formula of the “democratic dictatorship of the proletariat” (Lutte de Classe, December 2003-January 2004). Turn on your TV these days and you are bound to see [LO candidate Arlette] Laguiller or Besancenot answering questions about what they will do if elected president—ban layoffs, build schools and housing, reduce capitalist profits—their “radical reforms,” as the LCR manifesto terms them. Their campaign simply feeds the illusion that capitalism can be administered in the interests of the oppressed, provided that the right person is elected to executive office.

We refuse to run in presidential elections, but this does not mean that we are indifferent to such elections and the democratic rights associated with them. Militants from the Third World, where the right to vote is often trampled upon, exhort us at times to use this right out of fear of losing it. In Mexico, where the right-wing government wanted to prevent the bourgeois populist López Obrador from running by removing his immunity to make him ineligible, we opposed this measure and defended the right of the Mexican people to vote for López Obrador, while at the same time arguing against voting for this “left” bourgeois.

Likewise, we do not reject in principle the idea of giving critical support to another workers organization in particular circumstances, including in a presidential election when it draws a crude class line—that is, for working-class independence from the bourgeoisie. However, in the particular case of this year’s election, there is no one to whom we can offer critical support.

The LCR itself is totally popular-frontist—it is mired in all kinds of political blocs with bourgeois elements, like the social forums financed by Chirac, the Brazilian capitalist government and NGOs such as the Ford Foundation, which is linked to the CIA. The LCR’s electoral manifesto glorifies these social forums: “Resistance to liberal counter-reforms and anti-globalization movements have laid the basis for a new internationalism.” This has certainly nothing to do with proletarian internationalism.

Neither the LCR nor LO is running as a class alternative to the popular front, but rather as a vote to pressure the popular front a bit to the left. Thus, Laguiller stated (Lutte Ouvrière, 9 February):

“So, on the first round of the presidential election next April, workers must reject this right wing which is carrying out policies openly in the interest of the wealthiest. But at the same time they must assert that they do not trust Ségolène Royal to carry out different policies and that [my emphasis] she must take into account the discontent which has for years been growing among the working masses.”

The Left and the Banlieues

In this electoral campaign, the PCF has a few words to offer concerning racism against banlieue youth. Indeed, they still retain a base in many working-class neighborhoods, which they run or aspire to run at the municipal level. The PCF hopes to win the votes of some minority workers and of some of those minority youth who, fearing a Sarkozy victory, registered to vote last year. However, the very nature of municipalism is that it must manage capitalist scarcity which, including in the PCF municipalities, inevitably breeds racist discrimination, “clean up” operations against Roma [Gypsy] camps, racist allocation of public housing in the name of “social diversity,” etc.

At the time of the banlieue revolt in the fall of 2005, the PCF called for re-establishing order. They criticized Sarkozy for being unable to maintain social order and for having instead stoked the unrest with his incendiary speeches. Yet during this period, the LCR spent most of its time in the PCF’s tow, trying to consolidate an “anti-liberal” popular-front bloc for the 2007 elections.

Besancenot’s solidarity with banlieue youth has its limits. In front of millions of TV viewers on February 8 on the program “A Vous de Juger,” Besancenot was asked if he was for “neighborhood police.” He answered, “Why not?” He only objected to them having Tasers, American electric-shock stun guns that have caused hundreds of deaths in the U.S. Besancenot has just signed the “Social and Citizens Contract,” which is based on the list of grievances established by the ACLEFEU group in Clichy-sous-Bois. This list says that “the police must be exemplary,” and it demands neighborhood police as well as police who are more representative of “French diversity,” etc., etc.

In the 32-page LCR manifesto (adopted “almost unanimously”), the banlieues are mentioned on only one occasion, and this is what they have to say about them:

“In response to increased violence in some neglected neighborhoods, which hits the poorest hardest, and in response to social insecurity, increased repression is the proposed solution. This has never solved problems or even led to improving the situation.”

This is formulated in such a way as to leave open just who is responsible for the “increased violence.” Sarkozy says those responsible are youth who attack impoverished French people. We say the main source of the violence is racist capitalism, with its attendant poverty, unemployment and discrimination, as well as the bourgeois state with its daily harassment and roundups of youth.

Lutte Ouvrière does not have much to say on this question right now. They attack Royal on how high the minimum wage should be or warn that she will not carry out her promises. We, on the contrary, think that if Royal is elected, she will implement her law-and-order proposals. Fundamentally, LO shares the same vision as Royal and ACLEFEU on how to deal with the “problem” of banlieue youth: repression with one hand and prevention with the other, neighborhood police on the one hand and increased spending on education with the other.

This is the way LO collaborates with its own bourgeoisie, even if, unlike the LCR, Lutte Ouvrière generally abstains from seeking electoral blocs with petty-bourgeois partners. This is also why, during the banlieue revolt, LO signed a declaration distributed by the League of the Rights of Man that called for re-establishing order. LO then issued a wishy-washy retraction, saying that their signature had been “a blunder of course, but a minor one.” This betrayal went hand in hand with LO’s leading role in the expulsions of young veiled women from schools, which culminated in the racist Chirac-Ferry law against the Islamic headscarf.

The “Welfare State” and the Soviet Union

Besancenot says that “it is simply necessary to do exactly what the bosses have done for the past 30 years—but in reverse” (Rouge, 15 February). Except that one cannot simply turn back the clock 30 years. At that time, the Soviet Union existed, and many advanced workers saw in it proof that it is possible to set up a society where the capitalist class is expropriated. It was, in large part, fear of the Soviet Union—which had its tanks 500 kilometers from Strasbourg and a strong Communist Party in the French banlieues and factories—that explained the concessions made by the bourgeoisie in the face of workers’ struggles. The bourgeoisie was prepared to accept a lower rate of profit out of fear of losing everything. That was the basis for the “welfare state.”

The reformists are nostalgic for the welfare state. Restoring the welfare state constitutes their entire political perspective. However, they rejoiced 15 years ago when the Soviet Union, on which this welfare state was indirectly based, was destroyed. The LCR itself directly supported capitalist counterrevolutionary forces in Poland and in the Soviet Union. Today they want to go back 30 years, but that would mean jumping over their own role in the 1980s Cold War against the Soviet Union. Their anti-communism appears throughout their manifesto:

“After the disillusionment of the 20th century, after the collapse of the caricatures of socialism which the Stalinist dictatorships represented, we must continue working toward the future. From the negative experiences of yesterday, we have lessons to draw. But, having learned what must not be done, we have also won the right to create the future that we want and to begin to build it.”

They simply disappear the Russian Revolution by making an implicit amalgam between October 1917 and its Stalinist degeneration. While a bureaucratic caste represented by Stalin usurped political power in the Soviet Union starting in 1924, this was not the result of an inherent flaw in Bolshevism. On the contrary, the parasitic bureaucracy was consolidated as a result of the failure of the 1923 German Revolution and the fact that the working class in power was isolated in a country where the backward peasantry was numerically dominant and which was encircled by hostile capitalist powers. With “socialism in one country” and “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, Stalin provided the bureaucracy with a program. It resulted in the betrayal of revolutions elsewhere and ultimately brought about the restoration of capitalist rule in Russia by Yeltsin in 1991-92.

Unlike LO and the LCR, our program for socialist revolution in the capitalist countries goes hand in hand with our defense of the workers states, which are based on the liquidation of the capitalist profit system, whatever the deformations of these states and whatever the politics of the treacherous Stalinist bureaucracy. We defended the Soviet Union up to the very end. In East Germany in 1989, when the bureaucracy disintegrated, we threw all our forces into the fight for proletarian political revolution, for a red Germany of workers councils and against capitalist reunification of Germany. On 3 January 1990, 250,000 people took part in a demonstration, which we initiated, against the desecration of a monument to the Red Army in Treptow Park in East Berlin. We lost a battle in East Europe, but we continue today to be for the unconditional military defense of the remaining deformed workers states in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba against imperialism and counterrevolution. In this framework, we struggle for proletarian political revolution in these countries to overthrow the Stalinist bureaucracy and replace it with a regime based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism.

To get back to France, Besancenot wants to go back 30 years in time and, as he never fails to say, such a demand does not equal revolution. Thirty years ago, Chirac was elected mayor of Paris, the first one since the 1871 Commune, and Prime Minister Raymond Barre was officially decreeing austerity. One has to be profoundly demoralized and imbued with the spirit of “death of communism” to want to go back to that. As for Laguiller, she says almost word for word the same thing as Besancenot:

“These are not revolutionary demands in any way, far from it. They are simply necessary measures to enable workers to regain the living conditions they had thirty years ago, which were already difficult for the working masses.”

—Speech in Le Mans,
February 23

The Reformism of the LCR and LO

Besancenot constantly repeats that it is necessary to tackle the question of redistributing wealth. But the problem of humanity is not that the capitalists travel about in Mercedes or private jets. It is that they own the means of production—the factories, the machines, the means of transportation, etc.—and their objective is not to produce to satisfy people’s needs but to maximize their profits. This profit system is what causes economic crises, oppression and war. The bourgeoisie and the workers have fundamentally opposed and antagonistic interests. Capitalism is based on the exploitation of the workers by the capitalists. It is impossible to make it function in the interests of the workers. It is not reformable.

Of course, workers are not ready to immediately accomplish their historic task of overthrowing capitalism. The capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union certainly did not open up new perspectives, as our reformist opponents proclaimed it would on the grounds that Stalinism had finally been defeated. On the contrary, it led to a deep political demoralization among the most advanced workers. The bourgeoisie launched a relentless triumphalist campaign over the “death of communism.” The reason the bourgeoisie is so insistent is that it fully understands that communism remains on the agenda and that it must continually convince the workers that there is no alternative to capitalism. Trotsky wrote in the Transitional Program in 1938:

“The strategic task of the Fourth International lies not in reforming capitalism but in its overthrow. Its political aim is the conquest of power by the proletariat for the purpose of expropriating the bourgeoisie. However, the achievement of this strategic task is unthinkable without the most considered attention to all, even small and partial, questions of tactics….

“The Fourth International does not discard the program of the old ‘minimal’ demands to the degree to which these have preserved at least part of their vital forcefulness. Indefatigably, it defends the democratic rights and social conquests of the workers. But it carries on this day-to-day work within the framework of the correct actual, that is, revolutionary, perspective.”

In this framework, Trotsky put forward a whole series of demands, a “transitional program,” to systematically mobilize the masses for proletarian revolution. The reformists of LO and LCR totally distort the Transitional Program by taking up one isolated demand and making it their current perspective, one which is supposedly realizable under capitalism.

Laguiller, for example, speaks endlessly about opening the capitalists’ account books. However, in LO’s public meetings, she explains that all she is demanding is an extension of the powers already held under capitalism by the comités d’entreprise [management-union plant committees]. With its program for “requisitioning” corporations that are making profits and are laying off workers, LO sees the bourgeois state as the source of progress, provided there are mobilizations in the streets or in the workplace to pressure the state into taking decisions that are in the workers’ interests. For Trotsky, however: “If the abolition of business secrets is a necessary condition to workers’ control, then control is the first step along the road to the socialist guidance of the economy.” When Trotsky speaks of expropriating the large capitalist combines, he specifies that “we call on the masses to rely only upon their own revolutionary strength; we link up the question of expropriation with that of seizure of power by the workers and farmers.”

Besancenot, like Laguiller, promises to ban layoffs. Like the economic crises that cause them, layoffs are inherent to the capitalist profit system. It is a reformist lie to claim that one can “ban layoffs” under capitalism. But Rouge (15 February) says the opposite: “These proposals are radical, but not unrealizable! They simply require going up against the logic of profit, the power of the bosses and shareholders, and redistributing the wealth.” To eradicate unemployment, it is necessary to overthrow capitalism through workers revolution. But that is the last thing Besancenot wants. His campaign consists of spreading the lie that capitalism can be radically reformed to serve the interests of the workers.

Take for instance the question of housing. The number of homeless people is steadily mounting. There is a profound social crisis in the banlieues and particularly in the decaying neighborhoods that are class and, in part, racial ghettos. Against this, Besancenot simply proposes to apply the existing law. And Lutte Ouvrière (16 February) headlined: “The State Has the Means to Build Sufficient Housing.” In this way they breed illusions in the French bourgeois state. To confront the housing crisis, a program of massive urban reconstruction is needed in the banlieues and in the means of transportation, with mass permanent hiring, under workers control. As Trotsky declared:

“But public works can have a continuous and progressive significance for society, as for the unemployed themselves, only when they are made part of a general plan, worked out to cover a considerable number of years. Within the framework of this plan, the workers would demand resumption, as public utilities, of work in private businesses closed as a result of the crisis. Workers’ control in such cases would be replaced by direct workers’ management.”

Laguiller’s central electoral slogan is to immediately increase the monthly minimum wage by 300 euros. The difference between Royal and Besancenot/Laguiller is that Royal promises a 1,500 euro gross minimum wage soon, while LO proposes 1,500 euros net right away. To sum it up, the difference between Royal and Besancenot/Laguiller is the difference between gross and net wages—around 300 euros
—while the difference between all these people and us is the difference between reform and revolution. Adding 300 euros to the minimum wage is cruelly insufficient in view of the poverty facing the working class. Today millions of people do not even earn the monthly minimum wage, either because they are unemployed, undocumented (and thus paid below the minimum wage) or part-time workers, the great majority of whom are women. To put an end to this, it is necessary to share the work among all with no loss in pay—in other words, a 30-hour workweek for 40 hours’ pay. For women to be truly able to work full-time, there must be 24-hour free childcare.

Is the money available for all this? The reformists of the Socialist Party generally say, “No.” In their opinion, demands should thus be reduced to below these necessary minimum demands. The left reformists say, “Yes, all you have to do is take it from the capitalists.” However, capitalism is unable to satisfy the essential needs of the working class and oppressed, and it will struggle to the death to preserve its system of exploitation. It is necessary to overthrow capitalism through a workers revolution, a perspective you will not find in the pages of either Lutte Ouvrière or Rouge.

Reformism and the Union Bureaucracy

Earlier I spoke about the railway workers and the threats against them. On February 8, the unions organized a national demonstration. We sold quite a number of papers and subscriptions, but the mood was rather subdued among the tens of thousands of demonstrators. The example of the EDF [formerly nationalized French electricity company] is on people’s minds. The EDF workers were betrayed by their own leaders, mainly of the CGT union federation, which in 2004 negotiated with Sarkozy, who was the government minister in charge of this privatization. The union bureaucracy agreed with management on the need to “modernize” the EDF and make it a “competitive” multinational corporation, particularly on the European market. They secretly negotiated to “maintain” pensions for the current generation of electricity and gas workers, together with some perks for the union bureaucracy, in exchange for the company’s privatization. I recommend the book by Adrien Thomas, Une Privatisation Négociée [A Negotiated Privatization]. Sarkozy sealed the operation in 2004, but in fact the deal had been concocted under Jospin, when Royal and Buffet were in the government. It was under Jospin, at the Barcelona summit meeting, that it was decided at the European level to open up the electricity market, thus ending the monopoly and raising the perspective of privatization.

The CGT union bureaucracy at the EDF did not commit this betrayal simply because its leader, Denis Cohen, was a sellout. Lenin explained in his 1916 work Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism that, especially in the imperialist countries, there is a strong objective basis for buying off a small layer of the working class thanks to the super-profits coming from the imperialists’ exploitation of the world.

The union bureaucracy is based on this “labor aristocracy,” which in France is generally white and male. Because of its limited advantages, this layer of workers identifies with the interests of its own capitalists against their rivals. They thus consider that the need to “modernize” the corporations—that is, to dismantle workers’ gains—is inevitable. What the bureaucracy did yesterday at the EDF they may well do tomorrow with regard to railway workers, whether we have a Sarkozy or a Royal government. Royal will simply be more able than Sarkozy to count on support from the union bureaucracy.

The fight against chauvinism in the working class is integrally linked to the struggle against racist divisions among workers. We fight for full citizenship rights for all immigrants. We oppose all forms of discrimination, in hiring and elsewhere, against immigrant workers, including work bans against workers from [East European] countries that have recently joined the European Union. The strike last fall at the Modeluxe industrial laundry for the legalization and rehiring of their undocumented colleagues, which was finally victorious, shows that it is possible to mobilize the proletariat in defense of immigrant workers.

However, France today is the European country with the lowest level of immigration. Racist discrimination targets mainly the children and grandchildren of workers who immigrated to France a long time ago, most often from the former colonial empire. These youth are French citizens, but without the rights of citizenship. They are subjected to daily cop harassment, racist discrimination in hiring and housing, heightened job insecurity, etc. These youth today are a strategic component of the proletariat, whether it is in the auto industry (look at the strike in recent days at Magnetto, a Citroën subcontractor at Aulnay) or at the Roissy airport. The government is going after the railway workers in order to be able to take on the whole working class. In the same way, it uses racist poison against banlieue youth to try to divide the working class and attack the gains of all. That is why mobilizing in defense of this most oppressed layer of workers is crucial for proletarian unity, including in the historically proletarian strongholds like the railroads.

It is not possible to clearly draw a class line against the Royal-Buffet-Chevènement popular front by voting in this election. LO and the LCR are running as pressure groups on Ségolène Royal. There is no party or candidate representing workers’ interests that we can call to vote for. With capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, the international working class has suffered serious defeats in the past period. Capitalist exploitation and oppression have intensified. Today the capitalists are on the offensive. But it would be totally impressionistic to think that it will always be this way. The class struggle remains the motor force of history. We struggle for the proletariat to become conscious of its historic mission as gravedigger of the capitalist system. The working class will sooner or later regain the initiative. And the key then will be the existence of a Bolshevik party to lead the proletariat to victory. We are preparing for that victory today by struggling to build such a Bolshevik vanguard workers party.


Workers Vanguard No. 890

WV 890

13 April 2007


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