Homage to our comrade Bernadette

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Our comrade Bernadette died on Wednesday 7 October, after a long and painful illness: lung cancer. Bernadette was born on 25 November 1949 in the south west of France. Her father was a skilled worker in an engineering factory and her mother didn’t have a paid job because she had to look after her 8 children. In other words, this was a family of modest means, an authentically working class family. Bernadette thus had a direct experience of the reality of the workers’ condition from a very early age. Also from a very early age she was animated by an ardent intellectual passion, a desire to understand the world and society. She was drawn to literature and loved reading in general. After graduating from the lycée, she entered the University of Toulouse and obtained a master’s degree in linguistics and literature. She then got a job as an office worker in the ministry of national education.

She was still a student when by chance she met a militant of the ICC, in the mid 70s. This comrade, seeing what concerned Bernadette, told her to read the Communist Manifesto. For her this was a kind of revelation: for the first time she found a clear and coherent response to the questions she was asking. “That’s it, that’s exactly it” is how, 40 years later, she described the way she felt when reading this text. Reading the texts of the ICC, which she then wanted to acquaint herself with, made a similar impression on her.

She decided very quickly that the ICC - unlike other groups who called themselves revolutionary and even communist, like the Maoists and Trotskyists whom she also encountered – was a true heir of the marxist tradition, and once she made the commitment to fight inside its ranks, she never deviated from her conviction that revolutionary militancy, dedicating oneself to the construction of the revolutionary organisation and of the ICC in particular, was an absolutely essential factor in the liberation of the working class. Bernadette was present as a member at our second international congress.

Bernadette contributed to the life of the ICC at many levels. She had a sharp perception of the international situation, the manoeuvres of the bourgeoisie, and the advances and retreats of the class struggle, and her ability to write about them, and her mastery of the French language, led her to work on the publications commission for the French section. She was also accomplished in explaining our ideas at the most basic level, “on the streets”, but also to people she met in various circumstances, such as the ambulance drivers who, each week, took her to hospital for her chemotherapy sessions, and who told us “Bernadette doesn’t have an easy character, but it’s extraordinarily interesting to discuss with her”. At demonstrations, she amazed comrades selling alongside her by the number of publications she managed to sell, since she always found the words and the tone needed to convince demonstrators that it was worthwhile reading our press.

But her greatest strength was undeniably her grasp of the organisational principles of the ICC, and in particular of the need to to defend our organisation from all the attacks and slanders aimed at it. Bernadette was always convinced that the revolutionary organisation is a foreign body within capitalism. This was why she was intransigent when it came to respecting the statutes of the organisation and in particular to the question of security.

Bernadette was one of the comrades of the old generation who was most open to the political heritage of comrade MC, our living link to the communist fractions of the past. Although perfectly capable of posing her questions and disagreements with MC, she had no interest in the petty bourgeois ideology of contesting the “older generation”, which was a particular weakness of the student movement that came out of May 68. What she took from him was an awareness of the central importance of the organisational question as a political question in its own right, and of the necessity for adherence to rigorous principles – to a proletarian morality in fact – in the relations that had to be built up between militants and the organisation and between the militants themselves.

Bernadette militated in several sections of the ICC: Toulouse, Paris, Marseille, London, as well as working closely for a while with the Swiss section. But she always saw herself first and foremost as a militant of the ICC, and comrades in Switzerland and London can testify to her ability to chase out the dust of localism by opening a window on the ICC as an international organisation.

Like all human beings and all militants, Bernadette of course had her faults which could exasperate some comrades, especially when her critical faculties seemed to get out of control and function like a machine gun firing in all directions, an expression of her fiery and passionate character. But her faults were also her qualities: her stubbornness, the iron determination which led one of the doctors caring for her to describe her as a “force of nature”, also made her extremely tenacious in her fight against the cancer which finally claimed her life. In the past two years, Bernadette amazed the medical staff by staying alive far longer than they had thought possible, and with all her awareness, her capacity for reflection and her will to understand. She was fighting her illness not only to continue her militant struggle but also to benefit from the greatest gift offered to her by her son: her little grand-daughter. The birth of her grand-daughter, the latter’s attachment to her grandmother and her joie de vivre was an enormous help to Bernadette in putting up with the pains of her illness.

Bernadette never saw her militancy as something narrowly political in the “common sense” use of the term. Instead, she brought to other areas of her life the same passion and commitment. She took on the name “Flora” as her nom de guerre in the ICC, reflecting her love for flowers and also because she was a great admirer of the books of Flora Tristan. She had an artist’s sensibility: she loved painting, literature, poetry. She was equally devoted to the art of cooking which she loved to share with the comrades of the ICC and her personal friends, who she always welcomed with warmth and generosity. She had a natural eye for beauty, which was reflected in the way she organised and embellished the space she lived in and in the gifts she chose for her family, friends and comrades.

Throughout her illness, Bernadette sustained her love of reading, and this in turn helped her to cope with the pain of cancer and the very taxing treatments she went through. Up to the end of her life, she continued to read the classics of the workers’ movement, Marx and Rosa Luxemburg in particular, and tried for as long as possible to assimilate the texts and contributions generated by the ICC’s internal debates, taking position on them, even if briefly, when her strength allowed.

Bernadette had a very deep sense of solidarity. Even though she suffered so much from the cancer and knew that there was no cure, she continued to be concerned for the health of all the comrades, offering them advice, urging them to be tested and not to neglect their health. So it was only fitting that comrades from all sections of the ICC should mobilise to express their solidarity throughout her illness, writing to her, visiting her, giving all the support she needed to leave life as serenely as possible.

Bernadette was not afraid of her own death, even if she loved life with a passion. She knew that every human being is a link in the long chain of humanity and that those who remain will continue the combat. She gave clear directives to the doctors caring for her: she wanted to die in physical, intellectual and moral dignity and refused any relentless therapy aimed at merely keeping her alive. She wanted to end her days peacefully, surrounded by her comrades in the struggle, and by the affection showed her by her son and grand-daughter. Her wishes were respected. Bernadette left us in full consciousness, Three weeks before her death, she forced herself to read the newspapers and follow the international situation. It’s because she felt in her bones all the sufferings of the proletariat that she said to the doctor looking after her at the end of her life: “it’s necessary to end my pain and it’s necessary to end the barbarism of capitalism”.

Until the end, Bernadette demonstrated an exemplary courage, militancy and lucidity. She really was a force of nature. And this force she drew from the depth of her militant conviction, her devotion to the cause of the proletariat and her unshakeable loyalty to the ICC. To her son and granddaughter, to her niece and all her family, the ICC sends all its sympathy and solidarity.

ICC 15.10.15