Our comrade Elisabeth has left us

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Our comrade Elisabeth has left us at the age of 77. She died from breathing difficulties which provoked a cardiac arrest, on the night of Saturday/Sunday 18 November.

Elisabeth was born during the Second World War, on 19 May 1941, in Bane, a village in the Jura close to Besançon. Her father owned a saw-mill and a mother was a housewife. Elisabeth grew up in a family of nine children in a rural environment. It was a relatively comfortable Catholic family. Her aunt, a school teacher, provided her primary education before she was sent to a Catholic secondary school run by nuns, in Besançon then in Lyon[1].  She then entered the University of Lyon and developed a passionate interest in oceanography. In 1968, aged 27, she moved to Marseille, renting an old house with a small garden and a terrace on the roof, a few steps from the sea. She was employed by the Centre d’Océanologie of the CNRS[2] in Marseille, after spending a year in Canada. She obtained her PhD in 1983, which enabled her to take on a teaching role and to supervise her students’ research.

Elisabeth was part of that generation of young elements seeking for a revolutionary perspective in the wake of the May 68 movement. She began to be politicised when she was still a student, joining the Parti Socialiste Unifié in Lyon[3].

It was in Marseille that she discovered that the working class was the only force in capitalist society capable of transforming the world. At a demonstration she met Robert, a young element who had been politicised before 1968 in the anarchist movement. She took part in the meetings of the group Informations et Correspondances Ouvrières (ICO) along with Robert, who since 1968 had been publishing Les Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils. In this way Elisabeth discovered the workers’ movement, marxism, and the revolutionary perspective of the proletariat. Having received a Catholic education, she broke with religion and became an atheist, while maintaining very close relations with her family.

In 1972 the group Cahiers du Communisme de Conseils fused with the group that was publishing the review Révolution Internationale. The new group kept the name RI. In 1973 Elisabeth became a sympathiser of RI. In 1974, she joined the group, which would become the section of the ICC in France.

Elisabeth was present at the international conference that founded the ICC in 1975 and the first congress of our organisation in 1976. So with her death a founding member of the ICC, a militant of the first generation, has suddenly left us.

Elisabeth took on important responsibilities in the organisation, always with the utmost dedication. She regularly wrote reports on the international class struggle. She travelled a lot within the ICC and learned Italian in order to be able to participate in the organisation’s work in Italy. She also knew English very well and made many translations, without ever seeing this task as something routine and boring. On the contrary, in translating texts for our internal discussion bulletins Elisabeth was often one of the first French-speaking comrades to be acquainted with the positions and contributions of her English-speaking comrades. And above all, Elisabeth helped establish the ICC’s nucleus in Marseille. For 45 years, alongside another comrade, she maintained the ICC’s political presence in the city.

What animated her militant commitment was her revolt against the barbarity of capitalism, her will to fight against this decadent system, her passion for communism and her conviction in the fundamental role of the revolutionary organisation in the emancipation of the proletariat. Her militant activity was at the centre of her life. Elisabeth had a deep attachment not only to the organisation but also to her comrades in the struggle.

Despite her social status as a CNRS researcher, Elisabeth was extremely modest. She accepted political criticism without ever reacting with wounded pride, always trying to understand and to put forward the general interests of the organisation above her own personal interests. Despite her university degrees, her title as doctor, and her considerable general culture, she was not an “academic”, an “intellectual”, marked by what Lenin, in his book One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, an “aristocratic anarchist”, which is so characteristic of the petty bourgeoisie.

Elisabeth never felt her militant engagement in the ICC as a “prison” or a fetter on the blossoming of her personal life. She did make a career in the university milieu, published scientific books and articles in her sphere of competence, because she had a great deal of knowledge and loved her work. But like Marx and other militants, she chose to devote her life to the cause of the proletariat. We could add that, like all the comrades of the ICC, she had the same conception of happiness as he did: to fight![4]

Thus, at the end of her life, far from being burnt out or crushed by militancy, she showed an astonishing dynamism. Despite her breathing difficulties and her fragile health (in particular since she had fractured her collarbone soon after her last birthday), she participated enthusiastically in a recent ICC weekend of study and discussion. At this meeting she intervened in the debate in a very clear and pertinent way. Before leaving her comrades to go back to Marseille, Elisabeth went with some of them, notably comrades from other countries, to visit the Père Lachaise cemetery and showed the comrades the Mur des Fédérés[5]. This was 15 days before her death.

All the militants of the ICC were thus shocked to receive the tragic news of her sudden death. No comrade imagined that she would be leaving us so soon, without any warning, because she wasn’t so old. Despite her 77 years, she had kept the freshness of youth, and had personal friends from the younger generation.

Elisabeth adored children. One of the great regrets of her life as a woman was that she never had any of her own. This, among other reasons, was why she became friends with the children of comrades who she always welcomed into her home with much affection.

Elisabeth was an extremely warm and welcoming person. She had a deep sense of hospitality. Her old house, in which she had been renting for 45 years, was a place of passage for comrades not only of the section in France but from other territorial sections. They were always welcome, along with their families. She opened her door to all militants of the ICC, without exception. Elisabeth hated private property. When she was away from her house, she always left the key for her comrades (sometimes excusing herself for not having had time to tidy up!).

Elisabeth had her faults of course. But they were the faults of her qualities. She had her own character. Sometimes she would have rows with certain comrades (including those who were closest to her). But she knew how to get over it, always looking for reconciliation because she never lost sight of what united the militants of the ICC: a platform of common principles, the combat which they are all waging against capitalism and the pressure of the dominant ideology. Elisabeth had a deep political esteem for the militants of the ICC, including those whose style or character didn’t suit her. In our internal debates, she listed attentively to all the interventions, all the arguments, often taking her own notes in order to deepen her reflection and, as she put it, “out of a need to clarify”.

 Elisabeth was also very sentimental and had a tendency to see the organisation of revolutionaries as a large family or a group of friends. She used to have a certain illusion that the group Révolution Internationale (which she had joined in a period very much stamped by the student movement of May 68) could become a sort of island of communism. What allowed her to overcome this confusion were our days of study and discussion on the circle spirit in the workers’ movement, as well as our internal debates on the difficulties of our section in France, with the aim of moving from “a circle of friends to a political group”[6].

Thanks to her ability to reflect, Elisabeth was able to understand that the organisation of revolutionaries, while being the “beginning of the response” to capitalist social relations, cannot already be the response (to use a term of our comrade MC), a little island of communism within this society. It was her unbreakable commitment to the cause of the working class, her disinterested devotion to the ICC, which allowed Elisabeth to hold on patiently through all the crises the ICC has undergone since its foundation.  Despite her “sentimental” approach to the organisation and the pain she felt when certain of her friends deserted it, Elisabeth was never drawn outside the ICC out of a misplaced loyalty to them. Every time she was confronted with a “conflict of loyalties” Elisabeth always decided in favour of the ICC and its struggle for communism (unlike other militants who left the organisation out of loyalty to their friends and with hostility towards the ICC). She never lost her convictions. To the end she remained faithful and loyal to the ICC.

Up until her last breath, Elisabeth was a real fighter for the proletarian cause. A militant who gave the best of herself to the collective and associated work of the main group of the communist left.

Elisabeth loved reading. She loved the sea, flowers, art: baroque music, literature, painting. But above all she loved the human species. Her love for humanity was the backbone of her passion for communism and her militant commitment within the ICC.

The passing of our comrade leaves us with a big hole. For the ICC, every militant is an irreplaceable link in the chain. Elisabeth can’t be replaced, so the only way to fill the hole, to pay homage to her memory, is to continue our combat, her combat.

Elisabeth gave her body to science. She has left us without wreaths or flowers.

To her brother Pierre and all her family;

To her friends Sara and Fayçal who immediately told us of her death;

To her friends in Marseille, Chantal, Dasha, Josette, Margaux, Marie-Jo, Rémi, Sarah…who helped us arranging her house with the greatest respect for her political activities and her final wishes:

We send all our sympathy and solidarity.

Farewell Elisabeth! You departed on a night in November, on your own, which is also a blow to us. But you were not really alone, for all of us you remain alive in our hearts, in our thoughts, in our consciousness.

In January the ICC will organise a meeting of political homage to our comrade. Our readers, sympathisers, fellow travellers, as well as militants of the groups of the communist left who knew Elisabeth, can write to the ICC if they want to take part in this homage which will take place in Marseille.

Révolution Internationale, ICC section in France, 24.11.18

 

[1] What's more Elisabeth had some very bad memories from her time as a pupil of the "good sisters"

[2] Centre Nationale de Recherche Scientifique

[3] The PSU was formed in 1960 and dissolved in 1989. It was composed of members of the Socialist Party opposed to the latter’s colonialist policies, left wing Christians as well as elements coming from Trotskyism and Maoism. One of its main leaders was Michel Rocard who eventually rejoined the Socialist Party, where he was at the head of its right wing. In the May 68 movement, the PSU took up positions that were much more “radical” than the Communist Party and was in favour of “self-management”

[5] The wall where 147 fighters from the Paris Commune were shot and thrown into a trench

[6] This formulation is from a very important contribution to our internal debate written by our comrade MC in 1980. The following extract from it was published as a footnote to our text ‘The question of organisational functioning in the ICC’, International Review 109, http://en.internationalism.org/ir/109_functioning: "In the second half of the 60s, small circles of friends, were constituted by elements for the  most part very young with no political experience, living in the student milieu. On the individual level their existence seemed purely accidental. On the objective level - the only one where a real explanation can be found - these circles corresponded to the end of the post-war reconstruction, and the first signs that capitalism was returning to the open phase of its permanent crisis, giving rise to a resurgence of class struggle. Despite what the individuals composing these circles might have thought, imagining that their group was based on friendship, the attempt to realise their daily life together, these circles only survived to the extent that they were politicised, became political groups, and accomplished and assumed their destiny. The circles who didn't become conscious of this were swallowed up and decomposed in the leftist or modernist swamp or disappeared into nature. Such is our own history. And it is not without difficulties that we have survived this process of transformation from a circle of friends into a political group, where unity based on affection, personal sympathy, the same life style, gave way to a political cohesion and a solidarity on a conviction that one is engaged in the same historical combat: the proletarian revolution (...)

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