Not everyone has accepted the mainstream media coverage of recent events in France. Many people have found that there’s a lot more going on than attacks by riot police and violence at the end of demonstrations. Those who’ve looked further, on the internet, at meetings held by groups like the ICC, or on our website, have been inspired by the students’ level of organisation, by the efforts to extend the struggle to the waged workers and the unemployed, by the discussions in general assemblies, by the will to create an effective movement against attacks on the working class.
Predictably the right-wing press see just another example of Gallic excitedness. Meanwhile leftists reduce the struggle to just another part of the “wider movement against neo-liberalism” (a member of the French Trotskyist group, the LCR, in Socialist Worker, 18/3/6).
SWP, LCR: the diversion of the struggle
A different member of the LCR wrote that “The self-organisation of the struggle in the universities is impressive” (ibid). This enthusiasm is contradicted by the leftists’ constant promotion of unions and left parties, institutions which stand against the whole process of self-organisation.
For example, despite the evidence of self-organisation, Socialist Worker (25/3/6) says that “Now it’s up to the students and rank and file workers, and their ability to draw in wider forces to push the union leaderships to call on the action needed to win”. In this convoluted sentence, those who have shown their capacity to fight are asked to put pressure on the unions that have proved themselves a fundamental obstacle to the struggles currently underway.
Leftists affirm that “This movement is now in direct confrontation with the state” (ibid), yet the movement in which they want to submerge workers and student is based on appealing to the state, trying to change governments’ policies and participating in state institutions. According to the LCR/SWP this ‘movement’ includes the campaign for a ‘no’ vote in the referendum on the EU constitution. So, students and workers struggle against the state’s attacks on their futures, but the left wants them diverted into electoral circuses and Europolitics.
Similarly, there should be no confusion about what the leftists mean when they say that “Driving the protests is a desire to stand firm against market values in both education and in the workplace” (SW 18/3). The whole neo-liberal/market value spiel is a very thin cover for a left versus right world view. The SWP says that past protests have got rid of the governments of Balladur and Raffarin, and that Villepin is the next potential victim. They even throw in May 1968 as “causing the crisis that paved the way for the demise of president Charles de Gaulle”. In each case the working class has been dragged into disputes between factions of the ruling class, and away from the defence of its own interests. De Gaulle was followed by Pompidou, Balladur by Juppé, Raffarin by Villepin, and who knows who’s going to replace Villepin? The capitalist state is kept intact while the procession of bourgeois governments continues. Daniel Bensaïd of the LCR (SW 25/3) criticises the Socialist Party for hoping that a change of government will be seen as a “lesser evil”, while at the same time saying it’s “crucial” to identify with the “themes of the campaign for a left ‘no’” in the EU referendum. Isn’t that the classic electoral ‘lesser evil’?
WSWS: just a touch more critical
The World Socialist Web Site has a Trotskyist content that’s a shade more sophisticated than its rivals. For example, they say that “The Socialist Party and the Communist Party are participating in the movement against the CPE in order to conceal their record of defending the interests of French capitalism” (WSWS statement of 6/2/6). They criticise those who participated in the EU ‘no’ campaign who had “said they were fighting ‘neo-liberalism’ or ‘the Anglo-Saxon model’ - a cut-throat confrontational import. They claimed that it is possible to have another kind of capitalism, the French or European model based on social partnership and class collaboration”
Yet, while they say that capitalist governments can’t be “pressured into defending workers’ rights, living standards and social services” (ibid), and criticise the whole left for not boycotting the last presidential election and supporting Chirac against Le Pen, they still see the possibility for reforms within capitalism with “the placing of the major financial, industrial and commercial enterprises under democratic and public ownership” (WSWS statement of 18/3). They live in a world where unions are criticised for their shortcomings and their role “in containing and eventually dissipating the mass opposition”, but not as organisations that can now only ever serve the ruling class. They criticise the existing Socialist Party but insist that “Youth and workers must build their own socialist party” to struggle for reforms within capitalism.
The struggles in France have been an inspiration to everyone who’s found out what’s been happening. The leftists, whatever the details of their positions, have shown how, whenever they see creativity, they want to crush it in electoralism, unionism, reformism and the divisions between the left and right wings of the bourgeoisie. Car 29/3/6