After winning 1.5 million votes in the April 2007 French presidential election, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire launched a call for a new “anti-capitalist party” to bring together activists from across the spectrum of the far left in a joint organisation.
This unity effort in some ways echoes the LCR’s previous efforts to turn to other parts of the left, for example in their support for former leading Communist Party member Pierre Juquin in the 1988 presidential election. At present it is unclear what exactly the LCR plans to do – bring together the revolutionary left, or just everyone to the left of the Parti Socialiste’s Blairite leadership? Nothing has been settled as yet, although the debates at the LCR congress on January 24-27 are sure to shed more light on the matter.
However, in practical terms the most important issue at stake in any left regroupment is the LCR’s relationship with Lutte Ouvrière, the other prominent Trotskyist force in France. Their lack of unity has been a political hot potato for four decades, with occasional joint slates in municipal and European elections failing to mask the animosity between the two organisations. Much in the same way as past unity offensives have collapsed, the prospects for LCR-LO cooperation here appear dim, with the majority at LO conference eschewing the idea of a new party. It seems that all the LCR can really hope for at this point in time is to win over some individual activists, the anarchist Alternative Libertaire group, the French section of the Committee for a Workers’ International and a fraction of LO dissidents.
Many of the criticisms which Lutte Ouvrière’s conference document levels against the LCR’s project are fair comment. It decries the idea of an “anti-capitalist” party rather than one which has a working-class led socialist revolution as its explicit goal. Whatever the claims of the biggest faction in the LCR leadership, Marxists do not believe that our politics can be summarised as opposition to capitalism and big corporations. Marx's Communist Manifesto is full of polemic against "conservative socialists" and "petty-bourgeois socialists" who oppose capitalist development but are not in favour of posing a positive working-class based alternative.
LO further criticise the political softness of the LCR, who do not educate their members and periphery adequately in the Marxist tradition, but demagogically pander to “anti-neoliberal” sentiment which lacks real political content. Similarly, they attack the LCR for not learning the political lessons of Trotsky’s critique of Stalinism – as amply displayed by the LCR’s veneration of Che Guevara and the Cuban regime. Furthermore, we could point out that although they are the lone force calling for a new party, the revolutionary socialists of the LCR are softening their politics for the sake of constructing a pseudo-‘united front’ with a largely non-existent right wing – mirroring previous ventures like the Scottish Socialist Party, the Portuguese Left Bloc, the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party, and so on. The “anti-capitalist” party is a construct without a real base.
However, the flaw in Lutte Ouvrière’s analysis is to abstract from their somewhat accurate criticisms of the LCR’s political culture the idea that working together in the same party is impossible. Although expressing a general sympathy for the LCR’s aims and the idea of organising activists, LO’s fundamental problem with the “anti-capitalist” party appears to be that it would not have the regimented cadre structure of Lutte Ouvrière by which the old hands channel their political outlook (supposedly the direct continuation of Leon Trotsky’s ideas) down to the less experienced membership. Unlike the LCR, LO refuse to dissolve themselves into any broader party, and so can only support the “anti-capitalist party” initiative vicariously.
“Although we wish for its success, [the proposed party] is not what we want to create and that’s why, while we watch this initiative attentively and sympathetically, we refuse to participate in building it”
A significant factor in LO’s attitude to the LCR’s project is its own organisational culture, which tolerates little dissent and seeks to recruit only those activists who are already in full agreement with the leadership line. The minority tendency which publishes Convergences Révolutionnaires, more sympathetic to the LCR, is not allowed to recruit new members to LO and has very limited space to publish its views.
In their polemic against the LCR, Lutte Ouvrière takes a patronising and elitist tone asserting their group’s own ‘purity’. For example, it describes setting up a party which recruits activists who do not define themselves as Trotskyists as “turning your back on Trotsky’s teachings” but further adds that “of course, you could describe yourself as Trotskyist and not actually be one!” - a category which purportedly includes the membership of the LCR. It is impossible to reason with the Lutte Ouvrière leaders on this score – their claim to be the sole inheritors of Marxism, Leninism (“no-one knows any more what ‘Leninism’ means”) and Trotskyism, coupled with their rigid organisational culture and belief that non-LO activists are “turning their back on all the ideas” of socialist revolution is hardly conducive to comradely debate or joint work. Indeed, rather than making proposals to the LCR to outline its conditions for unity, the LO leadership has taken an attitude along the lines of ‘we wish you all the best if you want to do your thing; but your suggestion isn’t the same as what we want, so no thanks’. As the LO conference document puts it;
“If we were to say that we hope that it succeeds… it is only because not everyone can be revolutionary and Trotskyist, but many people, particularly young people, want to fight the injustices of the present social order. Some people get involved in NGOs to help underdeveloped countries; others work closer to home helping illegal immigrants and homeless people; others are simply outraged by what the government does and want to oppose it in which ways they can. It would be a good thing if, even though not revolutionaries, these people could find a significant organisation ready to act and which shared some of their ideas.”
The LCR are not seen by LO as comrades taking part in a common struggle against capitalism, but characterised as akin to liberals and do-gooders who want to ‘make a difference’.
In contrast to this sectarian approach, the Lutte Ouvrière minority have welcomed the LCR’s new unity offensive and called for LO to use the opportunity to have a debate about what party the revolutionary socialist left needs. Even if not in agreement with the specific proposals of the LCR, or even its broader politics, LO should say what kind of left regroupment it is in favour of and what positive suggestions it can make to potential allies. After emphasising the need for unity in the face of Sarkozy’s attacks on pensions and jobs but criticising the LCR’s lack of specific perspectives, the LO minority comment;
“It is precisely in order to overcome these problems that both in terms of eventually creating a new party and in terms of intervention in struggles in the here and now we recommend regular and systematic meetings between the LCR and LO at every level, starting with the leaderships. If we haven’t already, now is time to make contact.”
At this level, it is rather hypocritical of Lutte Ouvrière to insist on their version of Trotskyist purity, given their electoral pacts with reformists and indeed their past ‘partyist’ adventures. For example, during the general strike of May 1968 their forerunners Voix Ouvrière set up a co-ordination group with the Parti Communiste Internationaliste and Jeunesses Communistes Révolutionnaires, the two ancestor organisations of today’s LCR. In the aftermath of those struggles, LO looked to form a broad left force comprising not only these Trotskyist forces but also Maoists and the left-social-democrat Parti Socialiste Unifié.
In the struggle against Sarkozy's attacks on the working class, which are supported by the Parti Socialiste, French workers need a party of their own to give political expression to their struggles. The important question here is that the party has a clear goal of organising the working class as a class, and explicitly seeks to lead other sections of society opposed to the rule of capital in a struggle to replace it socialism, so any given programmatic differences should not be erected as barriers to unity. In a party which, unlike Lutte Ouvrière, allowed for free and full debate and platform rights, it would be possible to bring together people with different viewpoints yet still engaged in common struggle.
While revolutionary socialists should always be open about their politics and educate their activists and followers about their ideas, insistence on homogeneity, ultra-'hard' organisational discipline and bureaucratically excluding those who are not deemed to be the correct brand of 'Trotskyist' is no means by which to argue for Marxist ideas in the labour movement. It can only serve to cut off the self-proclaimed revolutionary élan as a sect without broad working class involvement.