Defeat the liquidators
Communists should give a guarded welcome to the decision of the LCR to launch a new revolutionary party, writes Peter Manson
The liquidationist minority of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire was comprehensively defeated at last month’s congress. The majority thesis, which won 83% support amongst the 300 delegates, set a timetable for the establishment of a new party which will aim to “regroup the anti-capitalist and revolutionary forces” by the end of the year. According to the agreed thesis, it will be a “party of resistance, for a break with the system, for socialism”.
LCR leader and spokesperson Olivier Besancenot said the new party would “counterpose, against the management of existing institutions, the perspective of a workers’ government”. It would be a party that “wants to revolutionise society, but not a Trotskyist party”. While this statement should be welcomed, it is also ambiguous. Yet another “Trotskyist party” in the mould of the confessional sects would most certainly not be what is required, but the LCR majority do not specify ‘Marxist’ or ‘communist’ for what they have in mind either.
For our part, the CPGB defines a Marxist party in broad terms as one which stands for working class independence (“against the management of existing institutions”, if you like), for internationalism (against national forms of socialism) and for democracy (in relation to both the state and our own working class organisations). From the LCR majority statement at least, the comrades would seem to agree.
While they propose that the new formation would have “links and relations that are presently those of the LCR with the Fourth International” (in forms that “will have to be transparently defined at every stage of the construction of the new party”), it would also “seek to unite with forces belonging to other international currents”.
For the moment at any rate, the comrades prefer to label the formation they intend to establish “anti-capitalist”. This is very much connected with the new forces they hope to attract. According to comrade Besancenot, “We want to bring people together from below rather than from above. We do not want to construct a cartel of existing organisations”.
The LCR believes that the movements and strikes of the 1990s and 2000s, including the 2005 ‘no’ in the referendum on the European Union constitution, “revealed the existence of a powerful current opposed to neoliberal capitalism”. However, the Parti Socialiste has been moving further to the right and the Parti Communiste Français has been caught in the throes of “irreversible and continuous decline”. This, declares the LCR majority, has opened the way for a new party to attract the “left that has emerged from struggle” - in particular the young, ‘anti-capitalist’, environmentalist, libertarian left.
However, the anarchistic grouping, Alternative Libertaire, which the LCR hoped would help pull such ‘new forces’ on board, has made it clear it will not now join. AL wants an ‘anti-capitalist front’, not a party, and rejects the very notion of standing in elections.
Not that the LCR wants to turn its back on the traditional left. It will seek to enter discussions with all those willing to “engage in the construction of this new anti-capitalist party, beginning with those sections of youth and labour that are the most advanced in the anti-capitalist fight”. It hopes to attract “currents emerging from the crisis of the PS and PCF”, not to mention “revolutionaries, including Lutte Ouvrière”.
The LCR’s new-found confidence is based on its success in last year’s presidential election, when it won by far the biggest vote for the far left, with just over 4% - which was also more than twice that of the PCF. No mean feat for a grouping that claimed just 2,600 members 18 months ago. The leadership says that today membership has increased to 3,100, but this is dwarfed by the PCF’s own claimed figure of 135,000.
So what are the chances of a substantially larger revolutionary organisation? Well, speakers at the January 24-27 congress pointed out that in total only around 2,000 have attended the local “collectives” for a new party - in other words, the equivalent of around two-thirds of the LCR’s own membership have been involved in the work of building “from below”.
Although the leadership declares that the new formation should “in no way” be viewed simply as a “transformation to an enlargement of our organisation”, that is certainly the impression you might get from those figures - the new party could well end up as the LCR plus a bit more (whatever its true membership is). The rightwing minority declares that what is on offer is the “simple metamorphosis of the LCR”.
As far as the rest of the revolutionary left is concerned, only the tiny French section of Peter Taaffe’s Committee for a Workers’ International, Gauche Révolutionnaire, along with the comrades around the journal Prométhée, have so far signalled their intention to join. The leaders of Prométhée boast of their revolutionary politics despite a background in ‘official communism’. Many of its supporters and sympathisers are members of the PCF and no doubt Prométhée can be regarded as one of the “currents emerging from the crisis of the PS and PCF”.
The LCR also hopes that the Lutte Ouvrière minority, whose faction rights have just been suspended, will eventually sign up (see below).
Despite the fact that there have been few takers up to now, even the initial participation of two or three small groups plus a couple of hundred newly recruited individuals could produce something that is “more than the sum of its parts”, to use a well worn phrase. The LCR has called for a series of local collectives and regional meetings, culminating in a “general constituent assembly” in May. This will prepare for a founding congress by the end of the year, at which point the LCR will cease to exist.
The main opposition to the leadership at the LCR congress came from the faction grouped around Christian Picquet, editor of the LCR weekly Rouge, and Alain Mathieu. This rightwing faction, the snappily named ‘Platform B’, lost a good deal of ground and could only manage 14% of the congress vote for its rival thesis. According to comrade Picquet, the majority line is “ultra-left”. The new party should neither “regroup only revolutionaries, nor affirm a new movement of the far left”. Thousands, including the left of the PS, members of the PCF, Greens with a social conscience and the (anarchistic) “alternative left” are “looking for a vehicle for their aspirations”, states Platform B.
The other rightwing minority grouping, Platform C, concludes, in similar vein, that the new formation will be merely a “revolutionary party that is a little more filled out”. To aim for an entity that advocates a “revolutionary change in society” is just “too strictly delimited”, says Platform C, whose alternative thesis picked up less than 3% of congress votes.
Platform B “deplores” the fact that the majority has agreed a timetable leading to the dissolution of the Ligue - meaning that it is already determined that the new formation will be centred on the LCR itself. How could it be otherwise? After all, states Platform B, the majority even voted down its amendment calling for the new party to be “pluralist”. However, this, I am sure, was more to do with the type of ‘pluralism’ the minority envisages - ie, a halfway house alliance with ‘anti-neoliberal’ reformists. In fact the final declaration agreed by the congress calls for the new party to recognise the right to form factions and to speak and publish openly.
But the minority comrades are fully fledged liquidationists - some voted and campaigned for the green ‘anti-neoliberal’, José Bové, rather than Olivier Besancenot in last year’s presidential elections. Some of their co-thinkers had already drifted away before the congress. The minority is happy to see the end of the LCR, but is not in favour of a replacement ‘revolutionary party’ (not just yet, in any case). Instead the LCR should aim for a French version of Die Linke, which apparently is a totally different proposition from either the Brazilian Workers Party or Italy’s Rifondazione Comunista.
On one thing, though, Platform B is certainly right - it is just dreaming to hope for a new party based on unorganised radical youth and built “from below”. Or a form of cynicism perhaps.
What is the view of the LCR’s Fourth Internationalist comrades in Britain, the International Socialist Group? As it happens, the latest Socialist Outlook, the ISG’s occasional journal, has just been published, although, as I write, it has not yet made an appearance on the organisation’s website. However, ISG sympathiser Liam Mac Uaid has helpfully reproduced one of the articles on his blog (liammacuaid.wordpress.com).
Dave Packer’s piece is entitled ‘Respect Renewal and the role of revolutionaries’, which “looks at how Marxists should participate in a broader formation”. Comrade Packer argues that what is needed is an organisation like Respect Renewal (RR), which must be a “mouthpiece of the most oppressed and socially excluded” and “build bridges between communities and working class organisations”. Achieving such unity will be difficult, but is “an essential objective for any would-be new party of the left in Britain”.
He continues: “Nor can a unity drive at this time be based on leftist ultimatums and posturing, as sectarian currents might demand. To argue, in a non-revolutionary period in Britain, for the adoption by RR of a revolutionary programme would condemn the Marxist left to irrelevance.”
In case you did not get the message, comrade Packer rams it home: “… revolutionary Marxists, who are today a small minority, must remain organised as a part of the broader plurality. Nonetheless, revolutionaries within RR, or those who wish to associate themselves with building RR, must abandon the ‘sectarian propagandism’ and left posturing, such as fighting for the adoption of their full programme at every opportunity irrespective of the actual conditions in the class struggle, which has tragically been so characteristic of the small, far-left ghetto.”
However, comrade Packer is at pains to make it clear what country he is talking about, when he refers to a “new party of the left in Britain” and the “a non-revolutionary period in Britain”. He only mentions France and the LCR in passing - in relation to its openness vis-à-vis minority currents. In fact nowhere on the ISG website is there any commentary on the LCR turn that goes beyond neutral reportage.
So is his liquidationist approach - the advocacy of a “revolutionary Marxist current” operating within a “broad pluralist party”, which “in today’s conditions can only be united on a limited anti-capitalist programme” - for Britain only? We are not told, but the answer is clear enough - “today’s conditions” apply to France too and the ISG is totally in sympathy with the LCR minority, which was so comprehensively defeated.
“Revolutionary Marxists” must not only “participate” in “broad formations”: they must strive to create them as the only party form suited to “a non-revolutionary period”. Like the ISG in Respect, the LCR should unite programmatically with reformists and non-socialists - perhaps it should hand over its paper Rouge (renamed Rose, no doubt) just as Socialist Resistance has been transformed into the RR paper, Respect.
France’s two other large Trotskyist groups are Lutte Ouvrière and the Parti des Travailleurs. The Lambertist PT has actually substantially more members than both LO and the LCR, but its sectarian dogmatism ensures that its vote is always far lower. The PT is not interested in working with other left groups and is set to launch its own ‘broad’, anti-EU, left nationalist formation, the Parti Ouvrier Indépendant, in June.
LO, by contrast, took part in exploratory talks with the LCR late last year, but unsurprisingly declined to take part in any new joint party. Its statement explains why: “… we are openly for Marxism, Leninism, the first years of the Russian Revolution and Trotskyism. In other words, we are for the ideas and practice which were those of the Socialist Party in its origins and of the Communist Party at its founding” (LO statement, December 3 2007).
What LO really means is that a revolutionary party should be based on its own particular sect interpretation of “Marxism, Leninism … and Trotskyism” (and not at all on the original PS largely Marxist ‘broad church’ or the Leninist flexibility of the early PCF).
Nevertheless, LO promised to “watch this initiative attentively and sympathetically” and commented: “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 in whatever 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.”
This statement is reproduced by David Broder of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty in the January 24 issue of Solidarity. Comrade Broder correctly criticises LO’s “sectarian approach”, but goes on to comment: “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’.”
This is to misunderstand Lutte Ouvrière. LO is not describing the LCR as “liberals and do-gooders”, but the people it wishes to attract. While LO recognises that the recruitment of those who “want to fight the injustices of the present social order” into a “significant organisation” would be “a good thing”, it does not seem to enter the comrades’ heads that such people can be won over to an organisation of revolutionary Marxism. But if such instinctively anti-capitalist youth become politicised and accept the need for organisation, how can it be a “good thing” if Marxists refuse to engage with them?
In other words, while we may criticise the LCR’s pretence at ‘bottom-up’ party-building, it is correct to try and attract such elements (whether its efforts will meet with much success is another question).
Although the LO majority is standing aloof, its minority, organised around the paper L’Etincelle, may yet end up in the new formation. Previously the minority, known as La Fraction, had been given space every week to expand its views in a column in Lutte Ouvrière. But on February 2 its faction rights were “suspended” until the next LO conference at the end of the year. L’Etincelle claims that it has effectively been expelled.
The dispute arose over the deal for the local elections LO has struck with the PS and PCF: in some localities it has agreed to participate in common lists. The LO justifies this by contrasting previous elections, when the “Socialist Party and Communist Party were in government and behaving like the right”, with today, when “unitary lists” are needed “to resist the right” (statement, December 3 2007). For its part the LCR is standing some 180 local lists in its own name.
The liquidationist trend that continues to affect so much of the international left is far more influential in the PCF than in the LCR. While the overt liquidationists were forced to retreat at the party’s general assembly in December, there is no doubting that a move has been made in their direction.
The 1,500 delegates at La Défense in Paris, while accepting that “communism remains an aim and a project for our time”, agreed to “the building of a force that will open up an alternative for change as quickly as possible”. The PCF national council was charged with facilitating a debate to examine “new possibilities and collective forms to fight capitalism”. The delegates voted for a document which states that “No hypothesis concerning the party or its strategy will be excluded.”
National secretary Marie-George Buffet had favoured committing the PCF to a “renewal of the Communist Party”, but the majority of the national council, meeting before the assembly, insisted on a phrasing that left open all options - including the liquidation of the PCF into a new, ‘broad’ formation.
Leading liquidators such as François Dumas, federal secretary of the Cher region, claimed it was merely a question of “posing the terms of the debate rather than closing it”, while Alain Tesserre of La Creuse declared: “If there are communists with certainties after our failures, I envy them.”
Although ‘refounders’ like Roger Martelli, who contend that the ‘party form’ needs to be ditched, considered the agreed statement far too timid and abstained when it came to the vote, most of the leadership maintained a studious neutrality on the outcome of the proposed debate over whether or not the PCF should continue at all.
The liquidationists met with a good deal of opposition: “Those who no longer want a communist party are free to leave,” said one delegate. “As for us, we shall build the PCF!” But 72% voted for the amended mandate - which, after all, was only calling for a debate, wasn’t it? A congress at the end of the year will decide the future of the PCF.
Just as last year’s presidential elections acted as a confidence boost to the LCR, so the PCF’s dismal 1.9% showing gave new impetus to those who want to see the party dissolved into a new, ‘broad’ formation.
Ranged against the liquidators are not only comrades like the supporters of Prométhée and Gauche Communiste (Communist Left), which has three members on the national committee, but an assortment of national Stalinists, the ‘nostalgic’ followers of ex-PCF leader Georges Marchais and the Grantite entrists around the journal La Riposte. Together they made up the 20% or so who opposed the mandate at the assembly.
The PCF left needs to fight on two fronts. On the one hand, it must continue to oppose the liquidators by every means at its disposal. On the other, it must carry the fight for a Marxist party beyond the PCF - and in particular into the new formation established by the LCR.
Why we need a party
Statement by the Prométhée group
The present situation is marked by class confrontation around vital questions for the working class, yet this confrontation is held back by the absence of any perceptible political opening.
This confirms once more the historic truth: to defend their interests workers need a programme, and to carry through such a programme they need a party. That is why we believe that the LCR proposal to build a new anti-capitalist party is quite positive. We regard it as our responsibility to take part in its construction.
However, in order for the construction of the new party to be successful it must have both a political and non-sectarian basis.
Political, because workers need a party, not an NGO. So that their social resistance, expressed initially on the level of trade unionism, may be translated into the constitution of a strong, determined and structured opposition, with the potential to become the majority. Opposition to the representatives of the bourgeoisie who rule over us, but also opposition to those who want to appear more moderate, at least in terms of forms and words, under the cover of ‘democracy’ or even ‘socialism’, while awaiting the moment to take the baton of government from the right when it has become too discredited to keep power.
Non-sectarian, because the party that is needed must be both an advanced force subscribing clearly to the only perspective that can break from the merciless and destructive logic of a capitalism in terminal decline - that of socialism; and a mass organisation open to every genuinely anti-capitalist mood in the working class and popular movement.
To be sure, this is no easy goal and voluntarism will not be enough to reach it. Numerous questions are posed in the here and now, and more will emerge in the short and medium term. Of course, there are overlapping debates, which, we hope, will also develop in other sections of the organised revolutionary movement, as well as in the traditional working class organisations.