Workers Vanguard No. 904
7 December 2007
Labor Tops Sell Out Strikes
Down With Government Attacks on Workers, Students, Minorities!
No to Class Collaboration! For a Revolutionary Workers Party!
On the heels of last month’s strikes by French rail and transit workers, youth in banlieues (working-class and minority ghettos) in several cities erupted in anger after a police car in Villiers-le-Bel killed two youth by ramming their motor bike. The right-wing government of President Nicolas Sarkozy has sent in an army of cops while menacing residents with police helicopters hovering overhead. In a broad crackdown on immigrants and other minorities, banlieue youth are targeted by a “law on repeat offenders” that imposes stiff jail sentences. The government has increased restrictions on immigration and continues mass roundups of sans-papiers (undocumented immigrants) and refugees seeking asylum, with a stated goal of 25,000 deportations this year alone.
These racist attacks are part of a broad assault by the capitalist rulers on the entire working class. Aiming to destroy what remains of the “welfare state,” the government wants to dismantle health care and pension benefits and limit access to university education. Using salami tactics, Sarkozy is trying to isolate and target those sectors of the French working class that have been particularly combative in recent years, most notably the rail workers.
The government is threatening to increase the number of years of work that workers in rail, transit and utilities need to qualify for a full pension from 37.5 to 40, with severe penalties for those who retire early. In response, workers struck the buses and Métro in Paris and other cities for two days in October and for nine days in November, shutting down almost all transit in the country as well as rail freight traffic, despite attempts by the labor tops to bring them back to work. They were joined on strike for a time by utility workers as well as teachers and other government workers. Meanwhile, students had been engaged in their own struggles against a new law on “university autonomy,” a first step toward privatization of higher education that will restrict access for working-class and minority youth. Students occupied and blockaded dozens of campuses.
In an attempt to isolate and weaken the strikes, the government railed against the “privileges” of railway workers, who can retire earlier than other workers. This after the government granted some 15 billion euros in tax breaks for the rich and more than doubled Sarkozy’s own salary! Sarkozy arrogantly declared that the attacks on railway workers’ pensions “are only an aperitif” (Le Monde, 26 November), making clear that pension rights for all workers are next. And in an attack on the very right to strike, a new law imposes a “minimum service” requirement during strikes by railway workers and others.
The Sarkozy government’s offensive against the working class reflects a consensus in the bourgeoisie that the attacks on health care, pensions and trade-union rights are essential to making French capitalism competitive against its imperialist rivals. This consensus is shared by the leadership of the Socialist Party (PS), which disagrees with Sarkozy only over the way he is carrying out his “reforms.” Following Sarkozy’s defeat of PS candidate Ségolène Royal in the election in May, six prominent Socialists accepted key posts in his administration, including Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, the main spokesman for French imperialism’s threats against Iran. Meanwhile, the union tops, in the tow of the reformist parties, are playing their role as capitalism’s “labor lieutenants.” The leadership of the CFDT union federation openly supports pension “reform,” while the CGT federation tops have refused to call for the 37.5 year limit to be extended to all workers. For its part, the PS-led UNEF student federation refused to call for repealing the “university autonomy” law.
The workers’ combativity caught both the government and the union misleaders by surprise. After CGT leader Bernard Thibault was jeered at a number of strike general assembly meetings on November 14, Sarkozy told his advisers, “It is necessary to save the soldier Thibault” (Le Monde, 26 November). While agreeing to Thibault’s conditions for negotiations, the government demanded that union leaders call off the strike. The next day, Thibault obligingly declared that it was “unthinkable” for the strike to continue until an agreement was negotiated, adding that it was up to the general assemblies to decide. But assemblies across the country voted overwhelmingly to continue the strike. CFDT leader François Chérèque, who had tried in vain to get railway workers to suspend their strike, fled from a November 20 demonstration after he was jeered by strikers. Even though the union tops got workers back on the job without wresting any concessions from the government, more strike actions are threatened.
The utter treachery of the labor tops left a leadership vacuum that was filled by fake-Trotskyist organizations such as the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) and Lutte Ouvrière (LO), as well as by anarchists and other leftists. The LCR in particular is widely seen as militant because of its prominent role in the strikes, including calling to extend them. But the LCR’s program is fundamentally no different from that of the class-collaborationist union bureaucracy. For the last 30 years, the LCR has given electoral support to popular-front coalitions, in which parties like the Communist Party (PCF) and PS join bourgeois forces to rule on behalf of the capitalists.
As revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky repeatedly underlined, support to the popular front is not a tactic but the greatest crime. In fighting for the political independence of the proletariat from the capitalist class, the ICL refuses to give any—even the most critical—support to workers parties participating in a popular front. In supporting the popular front, reformists like the LCR share direct responsibility for the racist and anti-working-class policies of these capitalist governments. By tying the workers directly to the capitalist order, popular fronts pave the way for further attacks under right-wing bourgeois regimes.
While the LCR trumpets its stance of opposition to Sarkozy and “independence” from the PS, its stated program is limited to defending the welfare state. As our comrades of the Ligue Trotskyste de France wrote in “It Is Necessary to Fight Back Against Government Attacks!” (Le Bolchévik, September 2007), “For all its invective against the PS these days, the LCR has never, since its inception, strayed from its course of pressure politics, remaining comfortably in the framework of capitalism.” The article lays out:
“The profit system is based on the exploitation of the workers’ labor power by the bourgeoisie, and its state—the cops, prisons and courts—is directed against the workers to maintain and reinforce exploitation. To get rid of capitalist oppression once and for all will require a workers revolution, led by a multiracial workers party, that seizes the means of production from the bourgeoisie.”
Our model is the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky, which led the proletariat to power in the 1917 October Revolution. To forge such a party requires political struggle against the LCR and other reformist groups, which are opponents of this revolutionary perspective.
“Death of Communism” Reformists
Throughout West Europe, capitalist governments are intent on overturning the social measures that were introduced in the main following World War II, after the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany, which laid the basis for the creation of bureaucratically deformed workers states in East and Central Europe over the next few years. Facing a volatile working class and, in many cases, mass Communist parties, the French and other European bourgeoisies were willing to sacrifice some of their profits in order to try to pacify the workers. But with the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union—a historic defeat for the workers and oppressed of the world—the capitalist rulers have massively attacked workers’ gains as well as the rights of immigrants and democratic rights in general.
In response to the capitalist offensive, there have been significant labor struggles in defense of wages and benefits. This has been seen recently not only in France but in Germany, where locomotive engineers staged a combative and bitter strike, the largest in the history of that country’s state railroad system. But under the leadership of the labor bureaucracies, such struggles have time and again been channeled into the dead end of class collaboration. Thus a wave of combative strikes in France in 1995 was derailed by the reformist misleaders who helped bring to power the popular front led by the PS’s Lionel Jospin. That government instituted many of the same anti-working-class measures against which the French proletariat had mobilized.
The destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state has led to a profound, though uneven, regression in political consciousness internationally, with even the more advanced workers no longer identifying their struggles with the aspiration of building a socialist society. This is nowhere more clearly seen than in France, where the formerly pro-Soviet PCF could once rally millions behind its banners. The 1997 Black Book of Communism, written mainly by French ex-leftists, was a focus internationally for a campaign of hysterical slanders against the October Revolution of 1917 and Lenin’s Bolshevik Party.
The International Communist League fought to the last in defending the Soviet degenerated workers state and the deformed workers states of East Germany and East Europe against imperialism and domestic counterrevolution. We called for proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist Stalinist regimes that undermined those workers states. Today we raise the same program in defense of the remaining deformed workers states of China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. This is an essential part of our fight to build Trotskyist parties to lead the struggle for new October Revolutions. As Trotsky insisted in April 1940 in polemicizing against those who, under the sway of their imperialist rulers, rejected defense of the Soviet Union on the ground that it was led by the Stalinist regime, “Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones” (In Defense of Marxism).
Hand in hand with their class collaboration “at home,” the LCR and other “far left” groups criminally aided the imperialist drive to destroy the homeland of the October Revolution. The LCR as well as LO championed Polish Solidarność, which we Trotskyists denounced as the company union of the CIA and Vatican. The LCR joined the imperialists in denouncing the Soviet Union after the Red Army intervened into Afghanistan on behalf of a modernizing nationalist government besieged by the woman-hating mujahedin. It went on to cheer counterrevolution in the Soviet Union itself, supporting Boris Yeltsin and his reactionary rabble. Since then, the LCR has explicitly renounced the dictatorship of the proletariat and run from any identification with the October Revolution.
The same LCR that did its part to help bring capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union now talks about building an “anti-capitalist” party in France to unite dissident PCF members, ecologists and sundry leftists, with the aim of building a new popular front. The LCR would abandon any reference to “Trotskyism” and drop the words “communism” and “revolutionary” from the party’s name (already empty words for the LCR).
“Anti-capitalism” has become a fashionable term for such anti-communist “leftists” as those who populate the Social Forums. These are popular-frontist outfits, avidly promoted by the LCR, that are funded by the Ford Foundation and various bourgeois governments as a means of channeling those critical of imperialist brigandage into the dead end of bourgeois reformism. Brazil’s bourgeois Lula government, a key sponsor of the Social Forums, for some years included Miguel Rossetto, a member of the LCR’s sister organization. As minister of agrarian development, Rossetto was the enemy of landless peasants and the rural poor. The LCR also hails the bourgeois-populist regime of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who supported the brutal repression against banlieue youth carried out by then-president Jacques Chirac two years ago.
“Far Left” Bows Before Bourgeois State
Sarkozy’s electoral victory caused a crisis for the SP and others on the left, including the PCF, which garnered less than 2 percent of the vote. The LCR presidential candidate, Olivier Besancenot, received 4 percent, mainly as a result of its posturing as a sharp critic of the PS. This is despite the fact that on the second round of elections the LCR, as is their historic practice, called to “get rid of the right in 2007”—i.e., vote Royal. In 2002, these politics led the LCR to join a broad alliance, extending from right-wing bourgeois parties to the “far left,” that mobilized behind the call to vote for Sarkozy’s predecessor, Jacques Chirac, against fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen.
As for LO, after its candidate, Arlette Laguiller, made the worst showing in six presidential campaigns (1.3 percent), LO immediately called to vote for Royal on the second round “without reserve” and “without illusions” (Lutte Ouvrière, 27 April). (For more on LO, see “Ordinary Reformists for ‘Ordinary People’,” page 8.) With the PCF reeling, the LCR sees an opportunity to become a significant pressure group on the left flank of the PS. And with its high profile in the recent strikes, the LCR seeks to maximize its vote in municipal elections next spring in order to press for a new popular front.
Like all reformists, the ultimate aim of the LCR and LO is to administer the capitalist state. Besancenot makes no secret of his willingness to join a government coalition calling itself “anti-capitalist.” Meanwhile, LO is negotiating in a number of cities to be included on the municipal electoral lists headed by the PS or PCF. LO leader Georges Kaldy has baldly declared: “Running a municipality does not bother us” (Le Monde, 27 November). Both LO and the LCR openly admit that they take money that the capitalist state doles out to political parties based on vote totals, the number of parliamentary deputies, etc. In regard to such corrupt practices, we can only repeat the old saying, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”
In a polemic against the LCR and LO written earlier this year, the LTF stated the ICL’s opposition in principle to running for executive offices in elections. The article stressed that the bourgeois state consists at its core of special bodies of armed men that have a monopoly on legal violence, adding:
“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 .
“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.”
—“French Election: No Choice for Workers,” WV No. 890, 13 April
The Working Class Needs Revolutionary Leadership
According to a government report last year, French trade unions get at most 57 percent of financing from their members’ dues. The CFDT federation admits to getting more than a quarter of its income directly or indirectly from various government sources. The Sarkozy government and the PS are now moving toward a “reform” that would further integrate the unions into the capitalist state. The measure demands that the union federations make their accounts public and that state subsidies be based on the outcome of union elections.
The trade-union bureaucrats rest on a relatively privileged layer of workers, largely men of French or European descent, who benefit from the crumbs thrown at them by the imperialists. Based on these privileges, the labor tops spread the illusion that workers have common interests with their “own” capitalist rulers. As part of the fight to forge a Leninist vanguard party, we call for a new, revolutionary leadership of the unions that stands for the complete independence of labor from the capitalists and their state.
The program of class collaboration that defines the labor bureaucracy and the reformists of both the PS/PCF and “far left” type has emboldened the bourgeoisie to intensify its attacks on workers and minorities. When banlieue youth in France revolted two years ago against cop terror and racist oppression, the PS and PCF—echoed by LO—refused to defend the youth and called for re-establishing racist capitalist “order.”
The unions must mobilize in defense of all those victimized by the capitalist rulers, demanding full citizenship rights for all immigrants and opposing the Vigipirate campaign of racist cop terror. This includes defending the banlieue youth (in the main French citizens) who are beset by massive levels of unemployment and discrimination, even barred from nightclubs. But minorities in France are not simply helpless victims of oppression. As the LTF wrote in a leaflet distributed during this year’s strike at the PSA Citroën-Aulnay auto plant (printed in Le Bolchévik No. 180, June 2007), “This strike shows where the social power of youth of African and North African origin resides . It is in their relation to the means of production, as workers, not in mindlessly expressing their anger by burning cars and schools in reaction to racist oppression and cop terror in ‘la belle France’.”
France has not only one of the lowest rates of unionization of any industrialized country—with as few as 5 percent of private sector workers organized—but the union movement is broken up into a constellation of federations, many directly run by the reformist parties. The French bourgeoisie is long practiced at exploiting these divisions. After the October rail strike, the government made a separate deal with one of the unions of train drivers, whose participation in the strike had been key. A revolutionary leadership would fight for industrial unions, organizing all workers in a single industry into one union. It is necessary to organize the unorganized, with special emphasis on minorities and women, who are especially subjected to part-time and precarious work.
As the current struggles in France underline, reforms are always reversible as long as power remains in the hands of the capitalist exploiters. In a presentation given in the aftermath of the massive 2006 protests against the Chirac government’s “First Employment Contract” attack on young workers (printed in “Workers, Students Beat Back Government Attack,” WV No. 868, 14 April 2006), an LTF spokesman declared:
“The workers still have the social power to overturn the capitalist system. What they lack to take the struggle to the end is consciousness of their own strength and historic responsibility to be the gravediggers of the capitalist order. They also lack the revolutionary leadership to lead them to the victory that the Russian workers had in October 1917. Our task is to build a party to win the majority of the working class to our revolutionary perspective. Our political opponents are an obstacle to this because, continually telling workers that all they can hope for is slowing down the pace of the attacks, they set up the proletariat for big defeats. The building of revolutionary parties—national sections of a reforged Fourth International—is the central task confronting us, a task we will accomplish. We call on you to make our battle yours and to join us!”