Part 1 of 2
[Editor’s note:] The Danish marxist group Socialisten, maintains political and comradely relations with a group of marxists in France who publish the journal La Riposte and works as an association within the Communist Party of France, PCF. During a recent meeting in Paris, the comrades discussed a draft document on the developing class struggle in France. We provide an English translation which we think will be of great interest, not only to Danish readers, but to an international audience as well.
France has been sliding in into economic, social and political crisis over a long time. This crisis is not a purely French phenomenon. It is European and worldwide. The world position of Europe – and therefore of France – has been in decline for at least the last 25 years. And within Europe, France has been losing ground even more rapidly. The year 2008-2009 marked a turning point in this long process. From this date, all the economic and social indicators for France turn sharply downwards. Industrial production and investment is collapsing. Commercial activity is contracting Household income is declining. Full and partial unemployment have reached extremely high levels, now affecting nearly six million people. Nearly all workers, whether in a job or not, are experiencing a gradual erosion of their living standards.
The capitalists, the workers and the middle layers in society increasingly feel that it will not possible to get out of this situation through superficial reforms and adjustments, and that a radical change is will be necessary. The capitalists are intent on nothing less than the destruction of all the social gains of the past. Social spending, wages, working conditions and workers’ rights are constantly being attacked and undermined, either by governmental measures or by the mechanisms of the system itself, because they represent an obstacle to capitalist profit.
Economic and social decline is gradually creating the conditions for a new revolution, since no social order can exist indefinitely to the the detriment of the mass of the population. Economic instability is leading to social instability. The constant decline of living standards will eventually place the working class before the necessity of overthrowing capitalism in order to halt this decline.
For a certain period, the expansion of the European Union and the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, China and elsewhere opened up vast areas for investment and sources of profits for the biggest industrial and banking groups. The exponential growth in credit injected colossal amounts of money into the economy, artificially increasing both demand and production. However, these factors could not indefinitely prevent the saturation of markets. The penetration of the world market by China has been largely accomplished to the detriment of the United States and the major European powers. A serious crisis of overproduction is affecting the whole of Europe. Its effects have been amplified by massive levels of government debt. The state debts of most European states are out of control.
The traditional methods of increasing tax revenues and cutting spending will not be enough to resolve this problem, which has become so serious that in order to prevent a further increase in state debt – let alone reducing it – an unprecedented destruction of the means of production and a direct offensive against all the past gains of the European working class would be necessary. This would be a much more brutal offensive than the austerity policies being implemented at the present time.The current crisis is therefore not a mere cyclical phenomenon. It is the consequence of the exhaustion and decadence of the capitalist system. GDP growth in France has been hovering around zero for a number of years. Italy has lost more than 10% of GDP since 2008. The corresponding figure for Greece is at least 25%.
Throughout the 20th century, the real economic weight of France was in contradiction with the size of its colonial empire and its world position. Following WW1, with the occupation of the Ruhr, and after 1945, French imperialism hoped that Allied control of or the division of Germany would enable it to keep its status as a great power and to dominate Europe. However, European history took a different course. Today it is Germany that dominates the European Union, economically and politically. This was already the case before 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, but since then the gap between Germany and the other European powers – and particularly France – has considerably widened. The restoration of capitalism in the Balkans and Central Europe, which opened up new markets and new sources of profit to Germany, has only served to further increase its position within the European Union, relegating France definitively to a secondary role and increasing the tensions between the two countries.
Social instability, which, for the time being is mainly visible in peripheral Europe, namely Greece, Portugal, Spain, etc., will eventually affect the main powers. Despite its dominant position, Germany will not be able to escape this process, since the shrinking economies of France, Spain, Italy, etc. tend to reduce their ability to absorb German exports, which represent nearly 40% of its GDP. Whilst attacking living conditions everywhere in Europe, the capitalists are trying to stir up one section of workers against another. For example, since only Germany is able to provide the financial guarantees necessary for the stability of the euro, Merkel makes demagogic speeches asking how much longer must German workers have to work 40 hours per week up to the age of 65, in order to subsidise the privileged workers of France who work only 35 hours week and who have better retirement conditions.
The French economy
Since 2008, the French economy has been growing at rates of close to zero. The utilisation of productive capacity dropped from 85% in 2008 to 72.2% in 2009, before climbing back up to 80.2% in 2013 and then flattening out at around 81% in 2014, that is to say at nearly 4 points lower than its 2008 level. Between 1999 and 2013, the contribution of the manufacturing sector to French GDP dropped from 22% to 10%, compared to 22% for Germany. Not only is France losing ground in the world market but also within the European Union and even on the domestic market.France’s trade balance has not been positive since 2002 (+€3.5 billion). In 2013, it showed a deficit of €61 billion, compared to a positive balance of €199 billion for Germany.
The State has contracted a massive amount of debt in order to bolster capitalism and pay for the social consequences of the system. At the end of 2011, France’s government debt stood at €1,717 billion, which was 85.5% of GDP. A year later, it was €1,834 billion, or 90.2% of GDP, meaning that it had jumped €117 billion in 12 months, despite the austerity program. At the end of 2013, it was already at €1,912 billion (93.4% of GDP), and at end of June 2014, it had already broken through the €2,000 billion threshold! This means French government debt is completely out of control. It has reached such high proportions that it will be impossible to reduce it without triggering a complete economic collapse. This situation cannot go on forever. In the long term, annual increases of this size will inevitably lead to a solvency crisis, which in turn will lead to a drastic contraction of economic activity.
France’s government debt is increasing by between €100 and 150 billion every year. The French government must raise between €800 million and €1 billion every single day on financial markets. Three quarters of these loans come from foreign lenders. Maintaining their confidence is therefore crucial for the country’s economic and social stability. In 2013, the average interest rate paid on this debt by France was 2.3%. Even with this very low rate, the repayment of the debt, plus the interest (i.e. the debt servicing costs), represents the biggest item of expenditure in the State budget, above that of education, pensions and defence. Even a small increase in this interest rate would seriously undermine the State’s financial viability, with serious repercussions for the national economy.
The Hollande government, like that of Sarkozy, boasts about the currently historically low interest rates and claims that this underlines investor confidence in France, thus indicating that France is on the right track. However, the low level of interest rates is, firstly, related to the policy of the main central banks, which are injecting massive amounts of liquidity into financial markets. This capital needs to find borrowers. Secondly, compared with Spain and Italy, which are both on the edge of insolvency, France looks like the “better option” to lenders, who nonetheless use the threat of a rise in interest rates to force the government to carry out further attacks on all that the capitalists believe to be a fetter on profitability – working conditions, the 35-hour week, the minimum wage, Sunday working, social benefits, unemployment pay, pensions, spending on education, healthcare and public services, etc.
The size of the debt and the relentless pressure from the financial markets means that the State, instead of being able to inject capital into the economy to stimulate production, must keep strict “budgetary discipline”, which means raising taxes and cutting public spending. However, this policy is having practically no effect on the level of public debt. Savings made in one field create additional expenditure in others. Also, the overall reduction in expenditure has a negative impact on the level of economic activity in general and therefore on tax revenues. Government expenditure is the equivalent of 57% of French GDP, which shows the extent to which capitalism in France is dependent on public investment. There is practically no major industrial or commercial contract in which the State is not involved, in one way or another. As a result, stricter budgetary discipline would lead to a contraction in both demand and production.
The capitalist system is therefore in a crisis which it can only resolve through the destruction of all the past social and democratic gains of the working class. These gains have become incompatible with the position of French capitalism. They must be eliminated, sacrificed in the name of the competitiveness which is the aim of capitalists and governments alike. This requires a merciless and continual fight against the workers at all levels. The efforts to achieve economic equilibrium will end up by destroying the social equilibrium of the system, which is based on the passivity of the working class. The social consequences of the crisis will get increasingly worse and will force the workers to try and free themselves from the chains of the capitalist system. Rosa Luxembourg’s words “socialism or barbarism” admirably sum up the situation they are confronted with.
Across Europe, the conditions for the socialist revolution are gradually maturing and, in opposition to this movement, the far-right, upon which the capitalist class will try to lean on to defend its power, is also gathering momentum. There are no limits to how far the capitalist class will try to push down the living conditions of the workers, but there is a limit to how much the workers can withstand this. This fundamental contradiction of our times is preparing the conditions for the forthcoming revolution in France and throughout the European continent.
A revolutionary outbreak in Europe would open up a new epoch not only in Europe itself but throughout world. From an economic, social and “civilisational” point of view, the task of uniting Europe is a progressive one as such. However, the question is who – or more precisely which class – will accomplish this, how it will be done and why. This task cannot be left to reactionary capitalist governments or bureaucrats of the EU. It must be accomplished by a mass movement, led by the workers of all countries. A socialist Europe would put an end to capitalist exploitation across the continent and abolish the oppression and economic plunder of the former colonies in Africa and elsewhere. It would establish friendly relations between the peoples freed from capitalism, and, gradually, by means of fraternal cooperation, would contribute to their economic, social and democratic emancipation.
Reformism and communism
At the origin of the labour movement and of “social democracy”, the reformists – who, at the time, still used “marxist” terminology – defended what they called, a “minimum program” and a “maximum program”. The unions and the social democratic parties led – and not without success – many workers’ struggles for isolated demands and reforms. This minimum program went in hand in hand with the assertion that the emancipation of the working class could only be genuinely accomplished through revolution. However, in practice, this maximum program was a task relegated to a distant future. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Luxembourg and Liebknecht fiercely criticised this artificial separation of the class struggle into pre-defined stages. However, even this social democratic strategy, already discredited on the eve of 1914, was a better approach than that of the reformist leaders of today, who have a minimum program, without any serious strategy for implementing it, and for whom the socialist revolution is neither possible nor even desirable.
Today, given that capitalism offers nothing but a continuous decline in living standards, reformism is in an impasse. The Socialist Party leaders have thrown it away like an old shirt. The system they defend demands the destruction of past reforms, and, as a result, the former reformists of the Socialist Party have become counter-reformists. The program of reformism is now borne by the leaders of the French Communist Party, the Left Party, and the union organisations such as the CGT and SUD, among others. The right and the socialist leaders have drawn the conclusion that capitalism can only exist to the detriment of the majority of the population.This conclusion coincides – although from the opposite standpoint – with our own marxist analysis. The reformists, however, persist in believing (or pretend to believe) that capitalism is not incompatible with full employment and social progress, if only the governments managing the system would make the appropriate “choices”.
The fundamental idea of reformism, as Engels wrote in his 1888 preface to the Communist Manifesto, is “to redress, by all manner of tinkering, without any danger to capital and profit, all sorts of social grievances”. They see no need to change the foundations of the system. Reformism claims to be able to protect and expand social gains within the framework of capitalism and that if a revolution is necessary, then this should be in the form of a gradual, calm and constitutional replacement of capitalism, as the result of a long succession of economic and institutional reforms. Reformists claim that this approach is be more beneficial than the revolution we advocate. But unfortunately, this is impossible. Reforms such as wage increases, taxes on capital, new rights and powers for workers, etc. have a direct negative impact on the profits of capitalists. In a context of decline, these losses are not offset by the expansion of markets and rising profits, as was the case during the post-war boom.
Capitalists are only interested in production, in hiring labour – or in anything else, for that matter – if there is profit in it. When they see falling or insufficient profits, they pull out. Increase the minimum wage to €1,700, as the CGT union demands? Businesses would close down. Give workers a veto over redundancies, investments projects, as the Communist Party proposes? No capitalist would invest in production if this were introduced. These are the realities of capitalist production, which the minimum program cannot overcome. This does not mean, however, that the struggle to improve workers’ living conditions should be abandoned. What it does mean is that in order to force capitalists to make serious concessions, their will must be broken, which is only possible through an offensive mass movement based on a program that strikes at the very source of their power, namely capitalist property rights. The class struggle must be linked to the demand for the expropriation of the capitalists.
Reformism has shown its impotence on many occasions. In the 34 years between 1981 and 2015, there were 22 years in which there was either a socialist President or a socialist Prime Minister in power. During this long period, the “left” looked after the interests of the stock market and the major capitalist groups so well that the concentration of wealth in their hands has never been greater than it is today. Unemployment, the most malign expression of capitalist decline, has remained massive and continues to rise. Apart from the first 18 months of the first Mitterrand presidency that began 1981 and the (poorly devised) 35-hour week law under Prime Minister Jospin, introduced in 1999, these years were a continual period of counter-reform and declining worsening living conditions for working people.
Once in power, both left and right governments were, to paraphrase Marx, merely committees for managing the common affairs of the capitalists. They waged wars (Afghanistan, Libya, etc.) on behalf of the capitalists and stepped up the looting of their (rapidly dwindling) imperialist “back yards” in number in Africa and elsewhere. The Jospin government (1997-2002) privatised more state assets than any other one in French history, for a total value of €31 billion. We were even treated to the sorry spectacle communist ministers and a Communist Party leadership who carried out and justified these privatisations. As regards the issue of democracy, of which the reformists are so fond, it turned out that throughout this period the institutions of the French republican capitalist state, far from improving, sank further and further into corruption and immorality. At the end of the day, they are no more than a giant machine operating in the interests of the rich and powerful. Since its inception, bourgeois democracy was never more than a legal veil for hiding the corruption of the State. However, this veil is now slowly beginning to fall off, revealing what is behind it, in all its ugliness. Governments may change but workers’ living conditions continue to slide downwards. This concrete experience has cemented the belief amongst millions of workers that there is no major difference between left and right. This belief is undoubtedly one of the mainsprings behind the rise in electoral support for the National Front.
In the past, during times of capitalist economic growth or during exceptional historical periods such as the post-1945 boom, workers and capitalists alike looked beyond phases of economic downturn and confidently expected the next the next upswing. The situation is completely different now. The current crisis is the rule not the exception. It is causing a permanent decline in working conditions. Under the massive pressure exerted by economic decline, workers are being thrown back in dispersed order. If you listen to workers attentively, it is clear that they understand or instinctively feel that in the current context of crisis and unemployment, partial strikes for economic gains demand enormous sacrifices which are difficult to justify by the results the struggle can achieve, even in the event of victory. Workers – and particularly the most exploited amongst them – understand that as a result of mass unemployment, a struggle for new and extensive rights in the workplace under capitalism is a mere fantasy.
The marxist idea that social reforms are only a by-product of revolutionary struggle is of crucial importance here. The capitalists do not make major concessions to workers unless they fear losing everything. Moreover, even if under the pressure of a given situation the capitalists give in to certain demands, the concessions will remain insignificant in comparison to the severity of the social crisis and the generalised poverty within society. This is the case of the 35-hour week law, for example. Who can possibly imagine, that, given the depth of the current capitalist crisis, that merely switching to a 32-hour week would absorb more than a small proportion of the six million people partially or fully unemployed? When the workers’ organisations limit their program to a list of immediate proposals or demands, they only contribute to disorientating workers even further.
Objectively speaking, the defence of workers’ interests and the winning of major social gains can now only be achieved through the revolutionary expropriation of the capitalists. The main task of the Communist Party and the CGT, as well of the entire labour movement, is to ensure that this fundamental truth is understood by all workers by means of a campaign of thorough and systematic explanation. They must be imbued with the perspective of a decisive break with the capitalist order. They must be inspired and shown a way forward that will justify the rigours of the struggle.
Those elements within the labour movement that defend the ideas and program of Marxism must in no case separate themselves from the experience of the masses. Revolutionaries that stand aside from the labour movement, serving up lessons and criticism to it from the outside, will only ever be able to create marginalised political sects. The major tasks that we must accomplish do not fall from the sky, but from the experience of the class struggle itself. The ideas and social forces that will carry out these tasks will be found within the mass movement in struggle. Even the most correct ideas will always escape the attention of the workers if they do not comply with the objectives that they set themselves in struggle. In order to connect correct ideas with the labour movement, they must be tested by the experience of the labour movement. A small group with the correct ideas has more significance – at least potentially – than a far bigger organisation with confused ideas. However, this does not mean that the small group can do away with the absolute necessity of finding an audience for its ideas. In other words, we must be able to adapt to the labour movement as we find it in order to merge our program with its experience and struggles, we must be able to play a part in events and strengthen the movement by providing it with the necessary clarity of thought and method.
Revolution in our time
During non-revolutionary periods, only a small minority of an oppressed class is interested in the political life of the country, and an even smaller minority takes an active part in it. The very essence of a revolution is the active participation of the previously inert masses. Ideas and methods of struggle that were the norm during periods of social peace are brought into question and put aside, as are conventional organisational forms. During a movement with such a massive involvement of the workers as a revolution has, the trade unions are no longer able to meet the organisational demands of the struggle. It is highly likely that union organisations, particularly the CGT, will gain in strength. But the need to unite large masses of workers with each other, across all sectors of the economy and society, will result one way or another in the creation of organisational forms that can unite the movement and transcend the divisions between the various union structures. This will happen in localities and in towns throughout the whole country.
Each revolution has its own specific features. Despite the fact that marxists often speak of a “classic” form of revolution, in reality, if one takes a closer look at history, this “classic” form done not really exist. The concrete conditions in which the future revolutionary struggle will take place in France need to be taken into account. It will not necessarily follow the same pattern as the Russian Revolution of 1917. The fundamental characteristics will be similar, but the forms and methods are bound to be different. And it will also depend on the international situation.
France will not necessarily be the first country where the workers will take power. It is possible to argue the following general schema: the more countries in which capitalism is already overthrown, the weaker will be the capitalists’ ability to resist in the remaining countries, and the less likely that the socialist revolution will be of a violent and turbulent character. Modern-day France has little in common with the Russia of 1917, whose social, economic and cultural underdevelopment – together with the isolation of the revolution – combined to cause the gradual decline into the nightmare of bureaucratic dictatorship known to the world as Stalinism. The French and European workers of the 21st century would not easily tolerate such a totalitarian degeneration. Modern production methods and techniques, perfected over two hundred years of industrialisation and which today serve the capitalists would, once power is taken by the workers, ensure a higher standard of living for all the population, thanks to a planned economy, and so there would be no need to battle against the extreme backwardness of the productive apparatus, as the Russian revolutionaries had to do almost 100 years ago. A socialist regime in modern conditions would lead to a blossoming of democracy and of the initiative and liberating power of the entire working class.
The forthcoming revolution will take place within a radically different social context than previously revolutionary periods. In the past, the bourgeoisie had a strong base of support within the urban and rural petite-bourgeoisie. The peasantry formed a vast reserve of support for capitalist reaction. The proletarian uprising of 1848 was condemned to failure right from the beginning. The Paris Commune of 1871 was also crushed by peasants in uniform who had been roused up against the Communards. In 1935, the peasantry still formed 50% of the working population in France.Today, it only forms a very small minority. Around 86% of the labour force is now made up of wage-earners. The part of the population that could be very roughly termed rural represents perhaps 13%, and the majority of those who work in this context (around 9 out of 10) are in fact salaried employees.
Therefore, in both urban and rural areas, the modern wage-earning class carries out practically all the essential functions of society. Its predominance has never been so strong and it has never been so homogenous. Admittedly, former working class bastions – in the coal mines, in steelmaking, etc. – have been largely destroyed, but these have been replaced by their modern equivalents where workers, due to their position within the national economy, have an extremely powerful position, such as those working in ports, airports, railways, haulage, energy and communications, in the food industry and in retail distribution.
Many other social groups that formerly were considered as intermediate, such as teachers, health workers, civil servants, bank sector workers, students, fire-fighters, etc., have now come closer to the working class both socially and psychologically speaking, as well as in terms of organisational methods and forms of struggle. The ruling class is aware of the revolutionary potential of such a mass of workers. It uses its control of the mass media in order to create divisions within the wage-earning class. For example, the upper echelons of the wage-earning class are described as being “middle class”. However, merely earning a higher wage than the rest does not change the class position of these layers particularly as, given their position within the production process and their relation to capitalist property, they continue to share the same basic interests as the rest of the wage-earners.
From the point of view of the struggle against capitalism, this change in the balance of class forces represents a huge leap forward. It has major implications for the probable sequence of events in a future revolution and on the potential for developing the forces of Marxism within the labour movement, even starting from a relatively small number of people. The capitalist class is sitting on a powder keg, the explosion of which will not be able to be extinguished as quickly as in the past. If the first, second or third offensive by the workers does not result in the overthrow of capitalism, then a certain feeling of weariness and disorientation might arise temporarily – as has been the case in Greece, after around 30 unsuccessful general strikes – but the capitalist class no longer has the social reserves required to speedily crush a revolution, as was the case in the past.
The revolutionary process might therefore be extended over a long period, during which the ruling class will be unable to inflict a decisive defeat on the workers. This will give more time to the revolutionary section of the labour movement to prove itself in terms of its program, strategy, methods of struggle, etc. However, this advantage is only relative. It does not rule out the possibility of defeat for the revolution. If, during the preceding period, the marxists are not able to create a marxist tendency that is sufficiently strong and well-rooted in the labour movement, then they will not be in a position to attract the attention of the most advanced layer of the working class during the revolution. If there is no revolutionary leadership, then the working class will not be able to take power, even in the most objectively favourable conditions. All the history of the struggle against capitalism bears out this fact. This is the historical challenge that we face in the period that is currently opening out in front of us.
The coming revolutionary situation, like the one in 1968, will probably take the form of a general strike, with many occupations of factories, administrative buildings, company head offices, banks, universities, schools, etc. The fundamental importance of a general strike, leaving aside the partial successes that this method of struggle may obtain, is that it poses the question of power and does so in a revolutionary manner.
By closing down transport networks and factories, the general strike paralyses the economy as well as the government apparatus. This situation of dual power will provide the working class with the opportunity to overthrow capitalism. However, in the generalised social turbulence that we can expect over the forthcoming period, the labour movement will not be the only force in play, particularly as its leadership does not offer a clear alternative to the capitalist system.
When writing about the 1916 Easter uprising in Ireland, Lenin wrote that those who are expecting to see a pure revolution will wait forever. The revolution that presently maturing is also bound to be an impure one, since it will throw into struggle large masses of workers who were previously passive and whose immediate ideas and motivations will be very far from what we consider to be revolutionary. The workers form an oppressed class. Most of their ideas are the same as the ideas that are dominant within society, in other words capitalist ideas. Initially, the mobilisation of workers that were previously passive and non-political will inevitably push to the fore ideas, beliefs and opinions formed in the preceding period. But that will change. The struggle is a great teacher.
The social crisis in Brittany in November 2013 gave us a glimpse of what could happen in the future, although on a far bigger scale. The fact that many demonstrators in Quimper made no clear distinction between their own interests and those of their bosses was precisely due to the fact that this movement was, for most of them, the first time they had ever taken to the streets. This was an extremely important development. The political immaturity of these workers, who had mobilised on a massive scale, was not a straightforward manifestation of reaction.
There was no doubt that the so-called “bonnets rouges” expressed many reactionary ideas. However, this movement, like a large part of the social and electoral reserves of the National Front, was primarily a sign of desperation on the part of large masses of workers and an indication that the economic crisis is in the process of creating a profound social instability. We must expect to see all sorts of confused ideas and demands, even reactionary ones, appear in a more or less chaotic manner. It is highly probable that many riots will break out, particularly in the poorest and most dilapidated areas of our major cities, some of which might take on a religious or racial character. Unemployment and poverty have created a favourable environment for ethnic tensions and for the growth of fundamentalism, sometimes leading to violent confrontations between various communities. Due to the crisis and reformist leadership of the labour movement – which presents no alternative to capitalism – these tensions could well get worse and therefore become a source of division and confusion.
In Islamic fundamentalist propaganda, the succession of imperialist interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria, etc. – are presented as attacks against Muslims. The terrorist attacks of January 2015 were used by the State in order to bolster its power by calling for “national unity”. The ruling class is always ready to exploit terrorism to its advantage. It is thus able to escape the blame for being the source of the oppression and violence that plagues the Earth, and to present itself as the protector the people against terrorist barbarism. The “national unity” championed by the representatives of the State in January 2015 was nothing but a reactionary lie. It was used to conceal the class character of society. And the State was helped in this by the complicity of the reformist leaderships of the Communist Party and Left party; etc., who also called for national unity and for the defence of the Republic.
The emergence of reactionary trends amongst the most oppressed and desperate layers of the population are a feature of the initial phases of all revolutions of the past, without notable exception. The Great French Revolution of 1789-1794 started with the mobilisation of the plebeians by the nobles in their struggle against the monarchy. The liberties the people were being asked to defend for were but the privileges of the nobility. However, within the space of three years, both nobility and monarchy had been overthrown. At the same time, the slave revolution in Saint-Domingue, led to victory by Toussaint Louverture and Dessalines, initially started under the banner of the King of France.The Russian revolution of 1905 started, as we know, with a workers demonstration led by priests carrying religious icons, before transforming into a revolutionary insurrection.
A major social crisis provokes sudden changes in mood within all classes in society. The banners around which people may rally at a particular time are not necessarily of great importance. It is the reformism (but without reforms) of the leaders of the labour movement that have opened the way to the National Front. The rise in the National Front is an expression of exasperation with unemployment, rising prices, rents and taxes. Several millions of poorly-paid workers and unemployed are falling into poverty. All workers are not poor. However, most of them are getting poorer. More and more people are coming round to the idea that there needs to be a radical change in the system. Workers understand that the European Union is operates exclusively in the interests of the banks, of the rich and the powerful, and they have had enough of it. The reformist position according to which the European Union needs to be transformed into a “social Europe” has no appeal and is in any case completely utopian. Workers think in concrete terms. The same goes for governmental institutions. The strength of the National Front is that it is perceived as a party that is outside the current political class, outside the “system” and that it is radically opposed to the European Union. Due to the lack of a revolutionary alternative offered by a mass force – meaning one that is visible and audible to the majority of the population – opposition to the system can find expression in the form shape of nationalism and racism among a sizeable portion of working people. From the moment when a powerful marxist pole of attraction will emerge within the labour movement, many workers who have turned to the National Front out of despair could well be won to the revolutionary cause.
The idea that the success of the National Front is mainly due to the electoral alliances between the Communist Party and Socialist Party in the municipal elections – as was the case in Paris for example – is a very superficial analysis of the situation. Of course Socialist-Communist alliances in local and national government on the basis of right-wing policies have certainly not helped. However, the roots of the support for the National Front are a far older and far more serious problem than that. For a long period the Communist Party leadership has distanced itself from the marxist and revolutionary origins of the party. Through the many phases of “transformation” and “modernisation”, it has managed to rid its program of practically all the elements linking the party to its revolutionary origins, in order to turn itself into a reformist party that aims to soften the social consequences of capitalism improve the way capitalism works.
The leadership of the CGT has followed exactly the same path. However, the current crisis is in the process of crushing all the social gains of the past, eroding the living conditions of the workers. A solution must be found. A growing number of workers and youth can no longer wait. On the basis of an audacious revolutionary policy – the opposite of the present vapid reformism – directly attacking capitalist property, the labour movement could rally to its banner a large layer of worker militants and youth, sinking roots into workplaces, workers’ neighbourhoods and also in the universities. But reformism paralyses the labour movement. The lack of any alternative to capitalism defended by a recognised and mass force – and not just by small marginal groups – has created favourable conditions for the National Front and reactionary forces in general. There is a strong possibility the National Front will get enough votes to progress to the second round of the next Presidential election. At bottom, over the next period, there are two possible outcomes for France. Either the labour movement will free itself from the fetters of reformism, embracing to the marxist ideas of revolution and internationalism, or the forces of reaction will win. There is no other third possibility.
Bourgeois commentators always regard the revolutionary action of the masses as blind, instinctive and spontaneous. Some marxists also seem to have the same idea, being constantly on the lookout for spontaneous and unorganised movements that will free them from the task of thorough, painstaking work within the workers organisations. However, in reality, no struggle is ever really spontaneous. All workers movements, whether big or small, are all led, by one means or another, by the most resolute elements within their ranks. This will also be the case, but on a far bigger scale, in the revolutions of the future.
All the revolutionary episodes in the history of the labour movement have shown us that the masses’ capacity for resolute action, their intelligence, built up imperceptibly in the period preceding the revolutionary outbreak, can shake the entire edifice of capitalism and bring victory within their reach. But they also have shown that these strengths are not enough to overthrow the existing social order. Our revolution, like all revolutions, will have its left wing – partly comprised of organised marxists – and its right wing, with a whole range of intermediate tendencies between the two.
During the revolution’s initial phase, the mass of workers will make little distinction between these various tendencies, as it was at the beginning of the Russian revolution, when they did not understand the differences between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. Initially, they will merely see who is – or appears to be – on their side and who is not. Only the actual experience of the revolution as it unfolds will reveal the real nature of the various tendencies to the mass movement. But the marxist element of the labour movement also needs to be sufficiently strong for the masses to be able to put it to the test. This factor will decide the success or failure of the revolution. This element in the situation cannot be hastily improvised during the course of events.
The practical and theoretical foundations of the future revolutionary leadership need to be consciously developed during the preceding period, at the heart of the labour movement and in relation with the practical struggles that are being fought. In the preceding period, the core of this leadership must have been able dig deep roots in the labour movement. Concretely, this means that we have to build a base for our revolutionary ideas above all in the CGT and in the Communist Party, which represent the main organised structures of the workers’ movement at the present time.
Our political work can and must also be carried out amongst the university students, the school students, during electoral campaigns and in various movements which can arise. However, it should never be forgotten that it will be the level of penetration of marxist ideas, theory and program in the labour movement that will decide the outcome of the revolution itself. If, over the course of successive struggles, the labour movement is not able to rearm itself with a genuine revolutionary leadership, comprised of elements tested in struggle and having consciously assimilated the theoretical and practical lessons of the past, then the revolution cannot succeed.
Part two will be published next week. Original document also available in French