Freedom for the Peoples of Africa! No to intervention!

By Balazs Nagy  February 2013 (First published in Workers International Journal No. 1)

It would be very wrong to judge France’s military intervention in Mali on the basis of the deafening and unanimous press and television chorus. They think this act of war was inevitable and celebrate it. It galvanised them unhesitatingly and pompously to laud President Hollande as a great leader — the very same politician they used to dismiss as flabby.

But it would be even worse to put any trust this “leader’s” own pronouncements, or those of his aides and their allies in Europe and across the world.

And yet … you cannot actually blame Hollande and co. directly for the long-drawn-out deterioration in Mali and the region, culminating in the present utter decay. But nor can you exonerate them either, since as loyal inheritors of the whole mess they took it on entirely and without a second thought. And in that specific sense the intervention was indeed as inevitable as the — joyful but perhaps over-optimistic – claims of “victory” and a job well done.

Despite the — to say the least — simplistic presentation of the situation in the Sahara and the Sahel as goodies vs. baddies, reality turns out to be incomparably more complex. Understanding it requires a brief review the more outstanding aspects of the historical development which prepared, shaped and conditioned the political and social scene — and the actors – which led to the current situation.

A glance at history

For a start, the immense revolutionary wave which swept across Europe in the second half and aftermath of World War II generally speaking hit the African continent a dozen or so years later. Within Europe, the leaderships of working class parties did everything they could to channel revolutionary movements into shoring up the bourgeoisie through conventional democracies. In contrast, French (and other) imperialisms had been deeply shaken and weakened by the war and were unable to withstand the colonial peoples’ irresistible independence movement. After a shaky early start, first Tunisia and Morocco (in 1956) and then the Algerian people won independence in 1962 after eight years of gruelling armed struggle. The revolutionary shock wave travelled south, and De Gaulle, more clear-sighted than other leaders of an exhausted possessing class, was forced to accept the obvious need to re-vamp old-style imperialism and grant independence to a series of countries in the region – almost all of them by 1960 (Senegal, Mauretania, Mali, Burkina-Faso, formerly Upper Volta, Niger, Chad, Ivory Coast – Guinea from 1958).

Hopes of a promising new start roused and inspired these countries. Borrowing from Algeria and even Tunisia in their search for a path towards a system leading to socialism, Guinea, Senegal and Mali all chose more or less the same route. After Bourguiba in Tunisia and Ben Bella in Algeria, Sekou Toure in Guinea and Modibo Keita in Mali and their governments carried out a series of nationalisations of property of the colonial power and its nationals. On this basis they initiated a policy of taking charge of their respective countries. Distrustful of the continually obstructive colonial power, they turned squarely towards the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for desperately needed support and assistance. Senegal, too, worked towards a kind of socialism, but its president L. Senghor, whose attachment to the republican bourgeoisie in France was well-known, rejected the orientation towards the USSR, preferring a kind of panafricanism and so-called “third worldism”. The national struggle, first for independence and then for this take-over by a kind of “anti-feudal” socialism by Modibo Keita in Mali was particularly powerfully nourished by young people, who had previously languished in the kind of semi-slavery affecting a quarter of the population of the Sahel.

But these initial hopes and efforts and fruitful initiatives quickly came to grief on obstacles born of these countries’ extreme poverty and the cruel shortages of resources imposed on them by the former colonial power. On the other hand, the inadequacies and material shortages in the so-called “socialist” countries, trapped in the impoverishing constraints of “socialism in one country” and hampered by an oppressive Stalinism increasingly in debt to its capitalist creditors, meant that they could not provide the necessary assistance even if they had wanted to. Far from it. And so, disappointed and discouraged, most of these Arab and African “socialist reformers” turned back to the former coloniser and towards a policy of oppression. This was all the easier since their origins and education separated them from the working masses, and in any case they could model themselves on how it was done in Eastern Europe. Not everybody can boast the strength of character or consistency of view of a Keita, a Lumumba or a Sangare. Nor is it a co-incidence that these three were all assassinated.

As for the leaders of the powerful workers’ movement of the day in Europe, they did everything they could to bog these movements down in the swamp of deepening degradation, particularly since they everywhere resolutely drew this entire workers movement into the false and fatal path of “parliamentary cretinism” and collaboration with the bourgeoisie.

But from the outset, this bourgeoisie went in completely the opposite direction, determined to maintain and even reinforce its prerogatives and arrangements as a class. Forced to abandon the colonial methods of its imperial system, it adapted to the new situation through the bonapartist rule of De Gaulle. Run in secrecy by his secretary, Jacques Foccart, the General’s shadow organisations worked feverishly to re-organise France’s political, administrative and military networks and adapt them to the new political configuration. And so the wild beast of colonial imperialism clothed itself in the post-colonial lamb’s skin of “co-operation”. And that is how a whole system was forged, the sadly famous “Françafrique” which (under all Presidents!) continued the old imperialist practices under the cover of close collaboration with the African countries and lightly disguised within the forms required by the “independence” of the respective states.

A whole series of military coups very quickly expressed and made manifest the limits of “independence” in most of the African countries concerned. Even in countries which had been better prepared by a long struggle, the dissident colonels Ben Ali and Boumediene resolutely put an end to the democratic scruples of Bourguiba and Ben Bella. Everywhere the military putschists installed a dictatorship resting on an oversized army and a single party, African regimes corresponding to the “Françafrique” system and symmetrically replicating it. Almost everywhere, independent regimes of the older generation of more radical bourgeois fighters gave way to corrupt regimes of dictators. Where the old guard did stay in power, their degeneration became inevitable.

This series of African countries was independent but had been impoverished and systematically, mercilessly, plundered in the course of the long preceding period of colonial rule. In the way of things, “co-operation” between them and a highly-developed great power like France simply maintained and exacerbated the monstrous economic and social inequality between such “partners”. A hungry wolf in a sheep-fold comes to mind. It is very characteristic that from the end of World War II onwards the straitjacket that was the Franc zone tied the African countries to close dependence on France. On 25 December 1945, a special Franc of the African Financial Community (CFA) was created for use in these countries (including some further south) and its value was set outrageously low by the French government: 1 CFA Franc was only worth 0.02 metropolitan Francs. (N.B. following Sekou Touré of Guinea, Keita of Mali also took his country out of this Franc zone system in 1963. But faced with economic difficulties, he had to re-join it, shortly before he was overthrown).

These decisions to leave were fully justified, since the CFA Franc embodied the crying inequality between these economies — often kept excessively backward — and bourgeois France, one of the most highly-developed countries. Trade imposed by this “benevolent” France provided the latter with agricultural products and raw materials of all kinds at derisory prices, even below world prices which themselves are traditionally low. Conversely, her own industrial products were sold off virtually risk-free at guaranteed high prices on these markets. So this system not only maintained flagrant inequality, but intensified it intolerably. Need we add that this imposed and legalised inequality has continued right up to the present? To be more accurate, it was pushed by the Balladur government (under President Mitterrand in 1994) to the point of an explosion when the CFA Franc was devalued by 50%! The French bourgeoisie carefully retained this shamefully super-exploitative rate when the euro was introduced: in 2011, 1 euro equalled 655.957 Francs CFA. And they insult our ears with fairly stories about the end of imperialism!

In this re-vamped framework of imperialism, these countries were put under pressure – both directly and through successive dictatorships — to abandon dreams of progress. But worse was to come. Within the modified political configuration of the imperialist system, they still had to maintain their traditional role as providers of very cheap agricultural products and raw materials. Open, violent force had been replaced with sly economic constraint. In this sense, these countries objectively contributed, kicking and screaming, to the ability of a thus reinvigorated world bourgeoisie to take on and sustain its “thirty glorious years”. And so the relative “social peace” that prevailed in the course of that expansion secured by that same bourgeoisie’s pact with powerful (reformist and Stalinist) bureaucracies, which kept the workers movement under lock and key, was largely paid for by super-exploitation of the former colonies. It led inevitably to colossal indebtedness on the part of these poor “independent” countries, over which even the bourgeoisie’s various nerve centres shed copious crocodile tears.

Economic, social and political deterioration

The situation got even worse when the bourgeoisie set its neo-liberal agents to work to reduce these debts overall. Starting in the early 1980s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank forced all the countries concerned to adopt massive “structural adjustments” in the form of drastic budget and expenditure cuts and extensive privatisations in return for “aid” in reducing these debt levels. French (and other) firms bought up a great number of local enterprises for peanuts, while huge companies like Total, Areva and a multitude of others made themselves at home. Catastrophic results quickly followed. (It is a remarkable fact that what is going on in Europe at present is not some novelty arising out of the crisis; the Latin Americans had painful experience of it even before the Africans).

In Africa, too, the first victims were the education and health systems, whose often remarkable initial achievements had been a source of legitimate pride to these young nations. Ever tighter budgetary constraints laid waste to these promising beginnings.

Merciless cuts in expenditure also deprived agriculture — bankrupt state farms as much as independent farmers ruined by lack of access to credit — of all aid. Across Africa, already low rural wages saw a general fall of 30% in those years. Mali’s agriculture, for example, which at the end of the 1980s contributed 67% of the country’s exports through cotton production, saw the latter smashed up and the peasantry crushed. Moreover, from the 1960s onwards a series of terrible droughts hit the whole region, resulting in a regular desert encroachments. The funds needed for big irrigation networks and effective water supplies were cruelly lacking, as were the cheap credits essential for small farmers.

These calamities led on the one hand to the terrible famines which periodically descend on the region and on the other to the massive rural exodus which drives tens and hundreds of thousands of people into the terribly overpopulated slums in the cities. The inhabitants of Nouakchott in Mauretania, extremely poor as they are, describe the slums in “their” shanty-town as “rubbish dumps”. As for famines, the hypocrisy of successive food-aid campaigns launched and supported by the bourgeoisie and beloved of right-thinking petit-bourgeois barely masks neither the formers’ direct responsibility for these disasters and their organic inability to do much about them, nor the latters’ deferential complicity. Having said that, no one would want to prevent good souls from helping the starving, but reality puts us on guard against this rather unreliable substitute which in no way attacks the root of the problem.

Chronic unemployment also affects the whole population, which has undergone geometrical growth in the period in question. By 1989 it exceeded 22% of the active population, including more than half of young people in Algeria, for all that this country is better off than Mali or other countries in the Sahara or the Sahel. A significant proportion of the population has persistently sought a way out of this social catastrophe in emigration. This explains the very high number of Malians (2 million) living in France around 1990, as many as a quarter of the whole population of the country! But vigilant France kept a close watch on the situation, and Charles Pasqua — a worthy successor to “Françafrique’s” organiser Foccart — started forcibly repatriating hundreds of thousands of Africans. His successors, also under all Presidents, have virtually institutionalised this into a regular procedure. Following the regular expulsions organised by Guéant, Manuel Valls has most recently filled an aeroplane with several dozen immigrants. A veil is drawn over how they carry this out. Be that as it may, journalists estimate that there are currently still 120,000 Malians living in France. But who knows exactly how many of these working class pariahs there are who have escaped utter poverty over there only to be hounded and persecuted here for the lack of an all-important piece of paper?

While the people – especially the young – are fleeing the country, businesses large and small, French and other, are settling in there as a kind of Eldorado to exploit the natural wealth of the country and its cheap labour. Apart from the odd kick-back, these businesses repatriate the whole of their profits and operate above the law. According to studies by comrades at Survie (a French NGO founded in 1984 to fight hunger and corruption in the “third world” ), France’s trade surplus with Mali was over 300 million euros in 2010-2012, five times more than the derisory public “aid” she grants to that country!

Alongside these destructive activities went a long drawn-out process of reducing these states to subservience, adapting them more and more to the needs of capitalists in the French “protector”. Metropolitan agents of “Françafrique” carefully guided this convulsive change by remote-control. Enriched local cliques devoured each other in order to establish, in an endless series of coups, which one would seize control of a state which itself was reduced little by little to its repressive apparatus. Having laid its hands on the manna from the “co-operation” community and other so-called “development” loans, the winning group would set out to fulfil its role as a substitute for the former colonial power. As poverty grew in these states, their role was more and more reduced to one essential: securing, preserving and reinforcing power in order to consolidate France’s economic and political position and influence while maintaining a repressive regime against working people. Those currently holding power, such as the puppets Deby (Chad), Compoaré (Burkina Faso) and Touré (Mali) have nothing in common with the independent figures of the first generation of leaders. They are even the opposite of someone like Keita, for example. The most important, if not the only, means they use to achieve their objectives has been and is the army. Now, the rapid overall worsening of the situation has provoked a series of coups in which the impoverished masses’ role of detonator has become increasingly visible, reflecting the economic and social deterioration that has been eating away.

Unpicking the tangled politics of North Africa

Above all we must reject the simplistic way the interventionist power presents the context and conditions in this part of Africa. Even if – and this goes without saying – it is so constantly and noisily parroted in the media that certain political tendencies and individuals, while uttering reservations about “neo-colonial ulterior motives”, nevertheless give this military action guarded support as a necessary “pre-requisite”. These include the French Communist Party parliamentary deputy François Asensi (L’Humanité newspaper 18 January 2013) who swallows the intervention whole but hastens to add: “…France must state clearly her aim to re-build a democratic state”. He actually seems to think that is possible on the basis of this intervention!

Despite all the resounding statements and those who are taken in by them, there is no way that trends and programmes in this region of Africa, or the political formations and groupings to which they give rise, can be reduced to isolated groups of Islamic fanatics on the one hand and loyal government supporters on the other. Reality is much richer and more complicated. Before even attempting to sketch a few lines, with no claim at all to presenting the whole picture, it is enough to describe the interventionists and their accomplices as the famous bull in a china shop, especially given the brutal military aggression and lack of concern for “details” that are innate and natural characteristics of so-called “neo-colonial” imperialism.

As described above, after a very short period of national awakening in the aftermath of World War II, successive economic setbacks in the newly independent countries turned into a sustained social regression. The vast majority of the popular classes (workers, farmers, stock-breeders, pastoralists, etc.) have become considerably poorer, particularly the many peoples and ethnic groups at the bottom of society. Their degradation provided the ground for the astonishing explosion of a whole series of programmes and the most varied social and national movements. It is impossible to list them all here, but in general they rested on previous currents and movements, some of them going back to the nineteenth century. Several great traditions of thought and social movements have remained alive to this very day. In the majority of cases, social and national demands have overlapped inextricably. The roots of some movements are to be found in the distant past.

The European workers’ movement of the twentieth century in particular inspired by example a powerful trade-unionism among workers in these countries, as well as the appearance of labour and communist parties. The present-day UGTT union confederation in Tunisia, which opposes the Salafists, is one of the fruits of this co-operation whose powerful resurgence can be considered as an important opposition factor to the government of religious people, but also of a positive political change. We also know that Sekou Touré of Guinea (secretary of the CGT federation of black Africa in 1948!) rested on the Guinean trade unions for support in the national independence movement and spiced up his conceptions with socialism of a kind. The Algerian independence movement was also in large part influence by the French workers’ movement.

It would therefore be unforgivable to look down on the movements for the social and national liberation of these countries from the heights of some imagined European supremacy. Often centuries-old traditions and a wealth of ancient experience also nourish the struggles of workers and people in Africa and its northern part. These movements exist, despite the extremely difficult situation they are in because they pay the price of the backwardness imposed upon their countries, suffering from isolation and repression which are bound to mark the immediate future of the region.

This social and national situation was essentially what we had in mind when we published the press release from the comrades at “Survie” in issue no. 1 of our journal, expressing the desire to “look at certain important aspects of the rebellion in a different light”. Of course the comrades from “Survie” not only bravely condemn the intervention, but are also well-known for having brought together a mass of precious facts in relation to this part of Africa. But in the indignation which informs their timely and correct condemnation of the intervention, we believe they erred in losing sight, behind the inflated bubble of religious fanatics, of precisely these movements and their national and social base. But that is precisely the direction in which to look for the key to the situation, and a way out, and not at all the “armies” of corrupt regimes or their UN protectors. The “Survie” comrades talk about French intervention as “significant pressure on the Malian authorities” as if the latter actually existed independently of the former. They also say France “must respect UN resolutions as soon as possible”.

But in the first place, rather than acting as “pressure”, French intervention is necessary to save these “authorities”. And not only the Malian authorities, but all the rest in the region, too! The comrades should not just see French (state) authorities, but also those of these countries, these African states, as the agents and representatives of a quite definite social class – the bourgeoisie. With the significant difference that the latter do not exist and act on behalf of their own bourgeoisie, since even the feeble shreds of that native class are merely a subaltern appendix of the metropolitan (and world) bourgeoisie. These states, therefore, exist and act as the local organ of the latter, even though they are endowed with the fig-leaf of independence.

From the 1980s onwards, when the capitalist-imperialist system started moving over to so-called ultra-liberalism, this remarkably intensified the exploitation of these countries and revived all the traditions of struggle, and their direct and indirect heirs started moving. The great liberating risings of 2011 which journalists called “Arab revolutions” are also manifestations of these struggles, at the same time acting as a significant precursor to the European and world revolution that is gestating. The outstanding role of the UGTT union in the Tunisian revolution and the overthrow of the regime – even though it was itself contaminated by the latter – is well known. Less well known, perhaps, is the decisive action the Egyptian working class developed in its revolution, organising strikes and renewing its unions. Today its sporadic but incessant struggles constitute a significant element in defending and advancing that revolution. As for the UGTT, we can all see its decisive participation in the current mobilisation.

While the “Arab spring” is an integral component of the European revolution currently gestating and undeniably contributed to the still stuttering awakening of young people in Europe, it also lived on in the convulsive but still disorganised movements of the despoiled and deracinated masses of that region, of which islamist movements form a large but unfortunately distorted and adulterated part. Be that as it may, certain ancient and modern political movements and organisations have raised their heads again, often inspired by the European workers’ movement of former days, but also by their own old traditions, and – closer to home – by the revolutionary overturns of 2011.

A people which oppresses another cannot emancipate itself”(Engels)

For centuries the immense Sahara and the Sahel regions of north and west Africa have constantly been disturbed by movements and rebellions of this or that nation or ethnic group living there. Its artificial division into separate countries by colonial powers only served, in the majority of cases, to reinforce national oppression by devastating and wrenching apart ethnic or national units. During independence, some of these peoples, like the Kabyles in Algeria and their Berber relatives, the Touareg in Mali (and more or less everywhere) hoped to achieve national recognition in return for their participation in the anti-colonial struggle. But right from the outset, all of the newly independent states, based on the primacy of the dominant ethnic group (or tribe), refused to allow any concessions at all, still less any form of autonomy, to ethnic or national minorities. This serious defect left a profound scar on the democratic awakening of the bourgeois revolutions which shook these countries, even those who ventured furthest into a kind of proto-socialism. We do not have the space here to examine all these national movements in detail. Nevertheless the most important ones must be mentioned.

Categorically turned down by the new Algerian government, the Kabyle people started a prolonged struggle for autonomy. Not only was this refused from the very start, but the Kabyle people suffered repeated bloody repressions and a national oppression which continues to this very day.

Far away from there, in another region steeped in prolonged national-ethnic struggle, Casamance in Senegal has battled against oppression. The region has been demanding autonomy ever since Senegal achieved independence. However, despite L.Senghor’s evasive promises, it has not been forthcoming. The region went into open armed struggle in the early 1980s, when Senegal was trying to ward off a massive debt crisis (almost 2 million dollars). The cultivation of ground nuts appeared to offer a way out, but when the government assigned land to colonists from the north for this, the inhabitants of Casamance, traditionally rice-growers, revolted. Ever since, cease-fires have alternated with fresh confrontations and the conflict has persisted, particularly since the Senegalese state, exactly like all the others also in its constantly growing poverty, has shown itself less and less able to resolve the situation and has even imposed further burdens on the region.

When one considers the vast Sahara and Sahel territory from the point of view of the many different peoples inhabiting it, what becomes evident is a profound interweaving of the social degradation of the peoples – often linked to sudden changes in their mode of life also imposed by the neglect of nature – and the subordinate or even oppressed character of their ethnic or national lives. History teaches us that those who try to separate them from social difficulties, or with more reason to oppose them, have paid a high price.

For a long time now the nomadic Saharoui of the western Sahara have undergone a veritable calvary. While they struggled for autonomy, Franco’s Spain would not allow them any rights. In 1975, following a call by King Hassan of Morocco, hundreds of thousands joined a “green march” to invade what they thought was “Moroccan Sahara”. In reaction to this the Polisario Front, founded in 1973 by young Saharoui students, proclaimed the “Democratic Arab Saharoui Republic” under Algerian protection. The Algerian and Moroccan armies have confronted each other in a rivalry that has nothing to do with the interests of any peoples whatsoever. Algeria has protected the new Saharoui republic since Spain left in 1976, whereas she has never allowed Kabylia or the Touareg movement the slightest degree of autonomy.

Following a cease-fire in 1991, Morocco has controlled 80% of this territory, leaving 20% to the Polisario Front. But despotic King Hassan has installed a 2,500km (!) security belt called the “Moroccan Wall”. (This is the nth “wall” built to contain some people to disfigure the world and bring the powerful into disrepute!) As for the new Saharoui Republic, what with recognition by a few countries and rejection by the majority of others – including the UN! – it has no legal existence at all.

The Touregs’ problem is even more complex. Because of the arbitrary and fantastic division of this great region by the great colonial powers, the almost 2 million Touareg find themselves artificially split up between five different countries. They are just one of many peoples who, carved up between several countries, have no right to a legal existence and are often persecuted. When discussing them, one inevitably thinks of the Kurds or the Palestinians in the Middle East. If you want a shameful image of imperialist reality dragged down to the level of simple banality, then look no further. The Basques divided up between the north of Spain and the south of France might have a thing or two to say about this, or the Irish, with the north of their country still under the iron heel of Britain.

On the other hand, the break-up of several multi-national countries and the revival of virulent national feelings also testify to the growing contradiction between capitalism-imperialism and the facts of national existence. (To say nothing of the inability of the Stalinist bureaucracy to solve this problem in the former USSR and its criminal role in the break-up of several multi-national states it used to govern, like Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia).

Be that as it may, the Touareg people were among the losers in the post-war anti-imperialist wave of liberation. In a way, their fate contains just about all the problems of the national question in this part of the world in compressed form: — the capitalist nature of the states in which they live and the role played in this by religion, particularly Islam.

It is really remarkable that even the leaders of the first wave of bourgeois-democratic revolution just could not grasp this problem at all. And so as early as 1963 Modibo Keita severely repressed and Touareg revolt in Mali. He was helped by his Algerian colleague Ben Bella, who handed over to him the Touareg leaders who had fled to Algeria. One Touareg author wrote: “The thousands of deaths caused by repression were met with general indifference”.

But we lack the space here to tell the full story of the many rebellions by this people, their lengthy negotiations with this or that state in the region, and the massacres and flights of thousands of their members which punctuate the life of these states which have degenerated into vassals of imperialism.

As a result of general economic decline and collapse and the consequent successive setbacks to the Touaregs’ national struggles, they toughened up their behaviour and adopted a more radical attitude. All states in the area felt the effects of imperialist super-exploitation, but the Touareg people suffered it twice over (and they were not alone in that). Besides the dismantlement of services, there was no investment to assuage sufferings which were made greater by massive unemployment exacerbated as the introduction of lorries and the severity and frequency of drought put an end to caravans. Hundreds of thousands of them fled Mali and lived under extremely precarious conditions in Niger, Mauretania, Algeria, Burkin-Faso, etc.

As we know, after the overthrow of Ghadaffi, who enlisted many of them among his “protectors”, a significant number of these armed men returned to Mali. But this detachment did not start the armed struggle of the already strongly-radicalised Touregs. All they did was to contribute a considerable force to a movement which had been present for a long time but, hardened by serial disappointments, was only waiting for the right opportunity. The extreme fragility of the Malian state, made worse army Captain Sanogo’s attempted coup fell apart, furnished the signal and the opportunity for attack. The “Azawad Liberation Movement”, formed some months previously, allied itself with armed islamist groups to bulk out its numbers. And so they were able quite rapidly to pulverise the Malian army and occupy the north of the country as far as the River Niger.

Of course this was a mistake, but a very understandable one, as the Touareg movement was very contaminated by its own islamist faction. Mistake though it is, this movement as a whole should not be confused with its islamist faction “Ansar Eddine”, even if the latter has undoubtedly pushed the movement a long way in a radical direction. But it should never under any circumstances be identified with it, as French imperialism and it lackeys strive to do.

Contrary to all the claims of the propaganda machine, political islam – even the most radical kind – is not a recent foreign import to Africa. Even in the nineteenth century, locally-based islamists inspired great anti-colonial struggles. Exploited peoples sought refuge and consolation against all kinds of oppression in religion. Since Engels wrote The Peasant War in Germany we have known that religion serves to encourage and stimulate the resistance and struggle of oppressed classes when they are still insufficiently developed or – we may add – when their elder sister, the world working class, is on the back foot constantly.

If Islamism has in recent years – sometimes aggressively—taken the place of secular leaderships of social and national movements, it is a consequence of the considerable weakening and retreat of the international workers’ movement. Over the last fifty years or so, the emphatic way social democratic parties have gone over from being supporters of the bourgeoisie to being its direct and settled political representatives has been one of the most outstanding features of this historic collapse. The other is the destruction of the Soviet Union and the dominant role played by the Stalinist bureaucracy played within it, followed by workers massively deserting communist parties and their inevitable retreat. A whole series of communist and non-communist parties and groups which used to lead social and national struggles have been marginalised across the world as a result. In their place, religious islamist movements have emerged from Afghanistan to Morocco, by way of Palestine, Egypt, Tunisia, etc.

Obviously this “opium of the people” works like any other drug. While bringing temporary consolation and relief, it cannot cure the ailment but poisons the organism even further. The muslim religion (like any other) brings no improvements but on the contrary preserves the backward and desperate situation working people are in, as we see very clearly in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Tunisia, too. Moreover, this religion contain within itself, as the cloud carries the thunderstorm, its radical Salafist wing with its medieval customs. The people of Tunisia have recently started to struggle even more powerfully against this “opium”, as have the people of Egypt. We should also note that there has recently been a significant internal split in the Touareg salafist group “Ansar Eddine”.

The situation is bound to get worse

Only recently forced to accept cuts in its material resources, the French army has become trapped in an inextricable tangle of intertwined difficulties which it cannot overcome. It is no coincidence that Hollande’s European and American allies have very parsimoniously calibrated their own symbolic rather than real “contributions”. They obviously have a better grasp of the implications and extent of their devastating setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are more than happy to let the French bourgeoisie and its puppet Hollande have the more than dubious glory of pulling their shared chestnuts out of the fire. In fact the French “Socialist” Party has suddenly revealed itself to be the advance-guard not just of its “own” bourgeoisie but of world imperialism as a whole. Only recently the US vice-president conferred a metaphorical knighthood on Hollande, confirming him in this role with a lordly “well done!”

Obviously the forward patrols of world imperialism didn’t have a clue what they were getting into. Incredible but true: neither the army nor its political bosses had any idea of what a simmering cauldron they were involving themselves in. Hollande kept saying they only wanted to stay in Mali a few days, then various unpleasant experiences made them change that to “… an indefinite period”. It was brought home to these ardent interventionists that they would have to re-make the state and army, not just in Mali, but more or less across the whole region – a massive task far beyond the capacity of the French state.

The colossal expenditure such an undertaking entails massively exceeds the meagre resources of a French bourgeoisie mired in persistent crisis. There will be a growing contradiction between the no-doubt long-term financial cost of these involvements and their categorical refusal to allow even the slightest relief of the ever-increasing burdens placed on working people. Obviously, the latter will not tolerate the government making them bear not just the cost of the crisis, but also of the considerable expense of patching up the system oppressing their African brothers. If you believe the French Ministry of Defense (and their figures are almost certainly an under-estimate) the cost of the army alone up to 5 February 2013 is 60 million euros.

This will hardly scratch the monumental cost required by a situation of total breakdown. Everything has had to be re-created: all the machinery of administration, not to mention the health and education systems — all far beyond the reach of a French exchequer swamped and riddled by debt.

As for the army itself, it is quite unable to tackle even such priorities as safeguarding the civilian population. Journalists report several massive lynchings perpetrated by the depraved Malian army, protected by its French army “big brother”.

These facts demonstrate not only the hatred and lust for revenge the country’s ruling strata cherish for all Arabo-Berber peoples, but also the appalling values and moral standards of the French army, which must have looked demurely away while these lynchings were being committed, as it did a few years earlier in Rwanda, so as not to notice the massacre of the Tutsi people. And as the Dutch UN Batallion did in former Yugoslavia, which let General Mladic’s soldiers execute 7000 Bosnians in the town of Srebrenica without lifting a finger. Such are the execrable political and ethical standards of both these armies and the UN, swathed in hypocritical high-flown phrases.

There is not the slightest doubt that this intervention will get even more catastrophically bogged down than that in Afghanistan. The inevitable consequence will be that the situation in Europe and internationally will get even worse, with the recrudescence of an even fiercer international class struggle. For what is happening in and around Mali and concretely also in the mobilisation of working people in Tunisia and Egypt prefigures not only a considerable deteriorations in their conditions of life but also, and above all, the mobilisation and emergence on the scene of masses of working people, broadening their activity and toughening up their struggle.

But when one reads the statements of those groups and parties which oppose French intervention, one is struck by their purely declamatory character. Of course given the massive number of dupes, the very fact that they condemn it at all is commendable, and we stand with them. But even when they resolutely condemn the military intervention, they confine themselves to verbal protest. To put it another way, almost all of these organisations (Communist Party, Left Party, Left Front, New Anti-Capitalist Party, etc.) adopt a position more or less clearly opposed to military intervention but steer well clear of stating the orientation or outcome they are for. I.e., these political formations adopt the profoundly negative attitude of rejection. At most, these comrades add a generalisation devoid of meaning, i.e. that what is needed is to solve the (economic, social, national) problems these countries face. This great general truth is hardly brilliant in its originality, so much so that even the government has given up repeating it.

We need a clear orientation!

To tell the truth, most of these organisations and groups do point to what they think is a way forward. They say – indeed, often demand – that military intervention must be left to African states – Mali and her neighbours, under UN patronage. It is quite obvious that they think this would be a suitable solution since (and this is how shallow their thinking is) it would be a better fit with the African ethnic image and the sacrosanct authority of the UN. They are completely unperturbed by the fact that Hollande and his government have spent long months trying to achieve precisely that arrangement.

Such a “solution” amounts more or less to re-establishing the status-quo, i.e. the situation preceding the debacle of the Malian state and army. But trying to apply it without the French army is simply a bad joke, since the preceding state of affairs was precisely what brought about that debacle and ended up with the present disastrous situation. The French army intervened precisely in order to save the apparatus of the Malian state from complete collapse. Despite appearances, it was not directed against those Islamic terrorists. That pretext was blown up by propaganda to keep everybody happy. In truth they did it to shore up a native administrative apparatus in mortal danger — as it happened, from the islamist attack. The delight the population of Mali showed and which was obligingly filmed by French TV was less at the arrival of a foreign French army than at getting rid of a cruel medieval dictatorship. To present it as enthusiasm for the arrival of a foreign army is to indulge in the same degree of mystification as the attempt to interpret the vote against Sarkozy as support for the plans of the Socialist Party.

So the French army stands there nakedly exposed as the only cement that can hold this feeble state together, or any of the others that share the same congenital weaknesses. In that sense it is not only the chief factor in that African Union, but also the only one that can put up any opposition and organise any resistance to its ineluctable decomposition. It is high time for the parties and groups and their leaders who speak in the name of the working class to break with the backward and grotesque way of thinking which takes African states as if they were an emanation of their peoples and formed a group by its nature independent of imperialism. Whereas in reality they form a quite specific – subaltern but essential — part of the mechanism of imperialism’s world system, officially run by the omni-substitute, the UN.

The clear regression in these states in relation to fundamental problems of African society is the logical consequence and obvious indication of the manifest setback to the attempt by the bourgeoisie – even what were at first it most radical elements – to solve elementary tasks of the bourgeois revolution. The way these regimes are currently decomposing is a striking proof from the negative side of Trotsky’s theory of permanent revolution; specifically, that in our imperialist epoch the bourgeoisie of any country at all – even a backward one – is organically incapable of solving the tasks posed by such a revolution. Every orientation towards a so-called popular front, every policy of alliance with a wing of the bourgeoisie, has led to setbacks. That is the cruel lesson of events.

Thus, in the absence of a clear orientation towards the theory of permanent revolution and its application in order to mobilise the workers of the whole region, a catastrophic situation has got even worse even quicker. Indeed the choice put forward in the past by Rosa Luxemburg and taken up later by Trotsky: Either the working class succeeds in overthrowing capitalism and opening the road to socialism, or humanity will fall back into barbarism — is today an immediate practical question.

In this respect, this part of Africa at least (like the Middle East) is a little ahead of Europe. That continent, too, is from now on confronted with the same direct choice. It is only the many and various reserves at her disposal which still retard the explosive maturing of the same historical dilemma, as well as the general lack of preparedness on the part of the workers’ movement.

The working class in the region of Africa under discussion already has several political organisations, even if they are still weak and enjoy only minority support. But that can change quickly, not to mention the unions which, like the UGTT in Tunisia and in the big cities in the region, are sometimes powerful.

Without going into detail, there are a fair number and variety of organisations which described themselves as Marxist and/or working-class, and they have the capacity to work together for a united struggle in the region. The first pre-condition for such a struggle and for their own development is undoubtedly their ability to take fully into account the orientation offered by the permanent revolution and on that basis work out and apply democratic slogans for revolutionary change.

Revolutionary and working class organisations in Europe can and should do everything they can to help clarify this essential issue. That way they will be able to find their way back to their proper role, making the link with their history and tradition of supporting brothers and sisters in Africa. A precious contribution to this would be to adapt and develop the Fourth International’s Transitional Programme, the only one to express concretely the orientation of permanent revolution. Athough it needs changing in places, as a whole it remains valid. It is the one and only path to solving weighty problems which can at the same time correct wrong orientations and go beyond passive contemplation of events when African activists need clear and active support.

Sarkozy back in political activity and Beefing up the bonapartism! Warning of a real danger! by Balazs Nagy

Not long ago, Nicolas Sarkozy was unceremoniously bundled out of office. Now he’s back on TV in all his pomp and glory. France’s second channel (chaine 2) is supposed to be a public enterprise run by the state, or successive governments, but in any case at taxpayers’ expense. Now it gives Sarkozy the red carpet treatment. The way they transformed him from a duplicitous agent of the bourgeoisie into a messianic liberator was amazing and shockingly servile. One faithful retainer, Yves Jégo, was moved to comment in astonishment, and with some justice: “It can’t be right to give 45 minutes on a current affairs TV show to a Presidential contender” (Le Monde, 23 September 2014).

Now, it was Sarkozy who appointed the boss of this channel, and the current President, Hollande, was daft enough to keep him in the job. This man virtually prostrated himself in front of Sarkozy, and the simpering nonentity who conducted the interview like a willing stooge more or less got down on all fours. It may not make much sense, but that’s the way things go in this general political climate.

Trials and tribulations of post-war Bonapartism in France

The government of the so-called Socialist Party and its associates ̶ what a lot of people still call “the Left”, is visibly on its last legs. It is too closely tied to moribund capitalism, too definitively compromised in the twilit decadence which drags all down in its gloomy wake.

But, debilitated as it is by this decline, the bourgeoisie still has to do something about the fact that its social-democratic servant is bankrupt and too weak now to face the growing perils. This is what explains the growing strength of fascist organisations and the disproportionate extension of their influence right across the old capitalist countries. But Trotsky warned that between social democracy and fascism there is a whole spectrum of intermediate regimes which the bourgeoisie can use to replace their failed social-democratic business managers without going straight over to fascism, with all the burdens and risks that brings. Fascism is an option they keep on a back burner, ready for use as a last resort, but at the moment they are hoping to get by without it, especially since the memory of the traumas it inflicted is still very much alive. But, above all, the ruling class lives in hope that the virtual vivisection that has been performed on the world working class means they can take refuge in less rigid intermediate regimes which might avoid the brutal shock of fascism. (Indeed, the changes the working class has undergone, the way it has been scattered and physically weakened, and its theoretical and political arms changed and perverted, plus a series of retreats and serious defeats, have disarmed the working class and considerably weakened it in action.)

Under these conditions the capitalists think that, for the moment, a bonapartist regime is the most appropriate political form in which they can secure their position. But even in modern France such a political system is nothing new. The French bourgeoisie originally created this type of regime. They have often had to face bold challenges to their power, and are all the more inclined to rely on this particular crutch because it can easily be used as a massive club. But the bourgeoisie had no easy job trying to dust it off after World War II. De Gaulle had everything it takes to do the job and solidly established the Fifth Republic as the prototype of modern-day bonapartism, but in the end even he got the boot in the aftermath of the powerful 1968 general strike. While he himself paid the price for trying capital’s strong-arm tactics on the working class, the Fifth Republic itself survived the onslaught of the oppressed thanks to the connivance of Stalinists and reformists.

You don’t need to look very hard at France’s political history since De Gaulle’s humiliating fall from grace to see that French bonapartism, in the shape of the Fifth Republic, has followed a particularly chequered and contradictory path. None of the heirs to the Fifth Republic’s bonapartist institutions has had anything like what De Gaulle had in terms of means, inclination and courage to destroy working-class gains in an open frontal assault. Every single one of them, without exception, has been steeped in the tepid pseudo-democracy of the Fourth Republic, imbued with the long tradition of flabby pacifism, compromise and unprincipled shilly-shallying as a way of evading or bypassing conflicts and difficulties. The majority of them are impregnated to the very marrow of their bones in the spirit of this bourgeois democracy, whose pillar and vital principle is precisely the class collaboration guaranteed by opportunist workers’ leaders.

But above all they were terrified by very lively recollections of the 1968 general strike, especially since, as irremediably civilian bourgeois, their links with the armed forces have been ad hoc and ambiguous. Mitterrand and later others went on the attack, directly and across the board, on the gains working people have made, but it was under the influence of the general international turn to so-called neo-liberal policies, and it was done tangentially and with many reservations and in the shape of a sustained war of attrition. While what they did was already unbearable for the working class, it has still not been enough to satisfy the bourgeoisie.

So the reason why today’s bourgeois politicians and ideologues bitterly reproach their predecessors for not thoroughly dismantling all the working class’s previous achievements and taming that class is explained by the figures who embodied the Fifth Republic after De Gaulle. All his Presidential successors have liked to dress in the bonapartist lion’s clothes, but have turned out to be pretty toothless in practice, even though they were quite prepared to get their claws into working people.

Hollande’s political incoherence makes him look like a marionette with its strings cut

None of the civilian bonapartist Presidents of France have had what it takes to carry out the mission conferred on them by virtue of their office, but the last in line, Hollande has without doubt been the least competent for the job. Of course, his limited abilities, narrow mind-set and penchant for double-talk all mean he finds it hard to take the job on properly, but he is no more stupid or short-sighted than any of the others. Events have gone completely over his head because, as head of the Fifth Republic he has had to strain every nerve to reconcile the policy of class collaboration (normal in bourgeois democracy) with that of open confrontation between the classes (function of the Fifth Republic). And all the while, the stagnation of capitalism in its twilight prevents him from granting any concessions and insistently demands confrontation with the working class.

And so the wider conflict between these two choices faced by the bourgeoisie nowadays is concentrated in the person and policies of François Hollande. The outcome is the way real concessions are turned into broken promises in a series of pseudo-reforms on the one hand, and on the other the harsh daily reality of blows struck against working people, but which the bourgeoisie do not think are harsh enough. Hence the image presented of a government hanging in mid-air and pushed about by whatever wind is blowing at any particular time, as well as an irresistible sense of things finally falling apart.

When you look at the awful state social democracy’s doctrine is in, what is most astonishing is that Hollande cannot somehow shake it off. Where he should give up on trying to square the circle between two bourgeois lines, one of which, class-collaboration, has already lost the battle to contain and calm class conflict, he has merely tried to alter the form within which he attempted to reconcile them. He did this by delegating a big part of his bonapartist task to that Socialist Party mini-Napoleon, Manuel Valls, a man whose own natural inclinations have already converted him from a shamefaced social democrat into a pocket Bonaparte. But despite what a lot of activists on the so-called far left expected, the obviously lame form of bonapartism affected by the Socialist Party only served to intensify the obvious signs that the party itself is falling apart, testimony to the insurmountable difficulties involved in turning this party into a pliable instrument for a reinforced bonapartism without major internal shocks and crises. Every attempt along those lines will just drag it closer to ultimate decay.

This historic collapse of social democracy, which expresses both the increasing severity of capitalism’s crisis and the bankruptcy of one of the counter-measures the bourgeoisie relied on, also gives Sarkozy a second chance. This simple fact exposes Hollande and co.’s social democracy as the midwife of fascism or, more likely, a more homogenous and resolute form of bonapartism.

Sarkozy’s bid to be iron-fisted Bonaparte.

Sarkozy did not beat around the bush. He announced straight off that he was back on the scene as a serious candidate for the role of unbending Bonaparte saviour. He presented his political re-appearance as dispassionate obedience to the requirements of the situation, renouncing any personal ambition and explaining that he was responding to a higher, nay divine, call to help our suffering world. This marked reference to some quasi-mystical obligation as justification for his re-entry into politics and the clear-cut aspiration to be a supreme saviour are sure signs of a would-be Bonaparte. The odd journalist has noticed Sarkozy’s occasional bonapartist tendencies, but none have pointed out that this re-appearance basically means he intends to set up a consistent and decisive bonapartist dictatorship.

Sarkozy’s declared political project also exhibits all other elements of that sort of bonapartism. All the main ingredients of a pure and harsh bonapartism are present, alongside the insistent and repeated evocation of a supreme call to duty on the part of some divine providence.

First of all comes the claim to be acting for the benefit of society as a whole, above classes. Obviously he could not use the word “class” because he has banished it from his vocabulary, but he explicitly stated he wanted to abolish party differences as outdated leftovers and unite everybody behind his flag.

A whole raft of proposals accompanied and filled out this decision to jump over whatever democratic constraints the bourgeoisie itself has been forced to impose on society in order to channel class contradictions. And, in line with his wish to banish differences between parties, Sarkozy again spoke out against organisations which come between the various classes and the authorities, above all independent trades unions. Moreover, as a consistent bonapartist, he was for regular referendums where class votes are short-circuited by plebiscitary consultations with the “whole of society”.

Needless to say, two essential ingredients of properly-established bonapartism were not omitted from his political plans. One is the intensification of overt nationalism, which Sarkozy expressed in his plan to end the Schengen Agreement guaranteeing free movement around the European Union. The other is his decision to establish a political apparatus in the exclusive service of his bonapartism by radically transforming the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) into a homogenous and docile body under his personal control.

And this last point raises the important question: Will this clearly-formulated plan for an integrated, coherent, vigorous and determined bonapartism actually get the upper hand? To answer that, we need to look above all at the working people who are immediately threatened and targeted by this plan.

Workers disarmed in the face of this bourgeois dictatorship

Problems like this usually go straight over the heads of revolutionary and socialist organisations ̶ because of their formalist and sectarian leaderships. To tell the truth, both their revolution and their socialism are no more than vague references to a rosy future; consequently they are quite separate from their day-to-day preoccupations and practical activities. That’s why they see very little importance, or none at all, in the political and tactical changes the bourgeoisie introduce in the political form in which they try rescue their system as the crisis worsens. Even if some of them do draw attention to the danger of bonapartism, as the Lambertist organisation did over De Gaulle’s accession, their politics have never gone beyond defending traditional bourgeois democracy. So their day-by-day struggle has been limited by that framework and their commitment to socialism remained at the level of propaganda ̶ necessary, obviously, but restricted to the realm of ideas. Later they supported Mitterrand against De Gaulle’s bonapartism in the name of this democracy. But as we know and Hollande has proved most recently, this democracy is no more than the antechamber to fascism or, specifically, bonapartism.

Whether or not these organisations actually mention bonapartism today, their slogans in general do not go beyond defending democracy as a whole against the attacks upon it. But the fact that the bourgeoisie is going over to bonapartism, even in a form masked and softened by an remnants of democracy like the Fifth Republic, means that this system is at already at a complete dead-end. So the concrete threat to toughen up the current “soft” bonapartism makes it even more vitally urgent to apply a bold and appropriate programme which can open up a practical and concrete path to socialism. Sarkozy taking the field to stiffen and toughen up the regime is a signal, a warning of the need to formulate such a programme for a socialist alternative publicly and put it into action. It is a challenge, a veritable tocsin calling all Marxists to reply in one voice, despite and independently of whether they belong to separate organisations, overcoming their divisions and clarifying what this alternative means theoretically and practically.

The Left Front has virtually ceased to exist

Sadly, the Front de Gauche (Left Front) stands out for its complete absence from this particularly agitated political situation. What forces it had have already been dissipated by a succession of defeats in recent (municipal and European) elections, just when violent political crises have shaken the supposedly-socialist Parti Socialiste (but also the bourgeois UMP), exposing their internal contradictions and driving forward their decomposition (or explosion). The Left Front’s main components, the Parti de Gauche (Left Party) and Parti Communiste (Communist Party) are following different political trajectories corresponding to each one’s specific character.

Representing a petty-bourgeois layer of a workers’ aristocracy ensconced in local government and the trade union leaderships, the Communist Party is throwing itself into variously-configured alliances, above all involving Hollande’s disappointed elected representatives and officials. The aim of these parliamentary-style manoeuvres is to re-establish good old bourgeois democracy with “fair” class collaboration using the well-known political method of the popular front. And this at the very moment when the great majority of the bourgeoisie, in its insurmountable torments, has gone far beyond this stage, which is both outmoded and tailor-made to shore up its power. Now this reactionary orientation on the CP’s part is dangerous because, outdated though it is, it can still mislead workers (as it did in the past) and channel their anger into an obvious setback. The CP may have willy-nilly had to abjure Stalin, but it would be a serious mistake to ignore that they have not got over their Stalinist conceptions.

The Left Party, meanwhile has been disappointed by its (predictably) poor election results and seems to have backed out of political life completely, just when politics have got agitated and offer a fertile field for determined intervention by an organisation of workers. The party needs some inspiration to lift it from the demoralisation its defeats have caused, but they seem to be intimidated by how harshly reality has treated their rather broadly-drawn and inconsistent policies, and they have retreated into fantasy. Instead of a political programme, they have put forward a propagandist project for a Sixth Republic. But this demand has turned up all on its own, lacking both a head and a tail and completely detached from the concrete reality of struggles, about as appropriate in time and place as an ashtray on a motorcycle.

This demand is quite unexpected because it is on its own and, as it were, asexual. Nevertheless, at first sight it seems to be opposed both to Hollande’s bastardised Fifth Republic and Sarkozy’s project of consolidating this regime by reinforcing and accentuating its bonapartism. But if you look past the sentiments which animate it to what it concretely means as a demand, it turns out that this opposition is an illusory appearance, a mirage, and it does not really conflict with them at all. This Sixth Republic is not solidly located in a concrete programme for changing the whole of society; indeed, Melanchon scrupulously avoids any attempt to describe such a republic, so the vacuous nature of the project inevitably exposes it as an attempt to re-establish the old Fourth Republic. No amount of goodwill can change what this slogan ineluctably means. If it remains as it stands, this policy is condemned to rapid failure in this time of ever-intensifying class struggle.

(One cannot here pass over in silence Jean-Luc Melanchon’s recent book: L’Ere du Peuple [The Age of the People] which marks a new stage in his theoretical and political regression. This is exposed by his explicit shift from being a declared representative of working people to the retrograde and dangerous mythology that exalts the people in general. At the same time he achieves a parallel conversion to a sort of visceral environmentalism, that petit-bourgeois substitute for social struggles and lifebelt for capital. A fuller examination would exceed the scope of this article, but in view of its significance it will be undertaken shortly).

For all that, it would be a premature to reject the Left Party out of hand as a definitively lost cause where working people are concerned. Indeed, it is hard to believe that all its members and activists will blindly follow that sort of renunciation of the class struggle. It will take an internal struggle to decide the organisation’s fate. But in the meantime this party, for now, like all the other far-left organisations, has shut itself out of the current political struggle in which the immediate stakes are capital’s desire to reinforce its power using consistent bonapartism. The Left Party’s general and summary denunciations of capitalism and/or its Fifth Republic are certainly not enough to make good the glaring shortcomings in their activity.

So an initial response to the question posed above, about whether Sarkozy’s bonapartist project can succeed, is this: given the congenital and worsening maladies besetting the political organisations currently available to workers, as summarised above, they are hardly well-placed to prevent this big political shift, unless, of course, there is some unexpected outburst. So the answer depends on the outcome of the internal struggle currently underway between different political segments of the bourgeoisie distributed around the various bourgeois political parties (UMP, centrists, Front National, as well as the Socialist Party). They are in any case (with the temporary exception of the FN) ravaged by struggles between various factions precisely around problems relating to the profound need to transform the bourgeoisie’s regime of political governance.

Bourgeois parties’ deepening internal crises and conflicts

A relatively strong element in the UMP (to whom the various centrist circles can be added) is lining up behind so-called moderate leaders such as Alain Juppé or François Fillon, who express and represent a wing of the bourgeoisie. This element is still attached to the very relative tranquillity of bourgeois democracy based on class collaboration and is alarmed by the uncertainties of a open, brutal social confrontation and the unforeseeable consequences of a fascist or even just a clearly more authoritarian regime. But their weakness from the point of view of the bourgeoisie arises from the situation itself, which is more and more conflictual and intolerant of any such compromise, and which they are no more fit to deal with than the Socialist Party is.

This segment of the political bourgeoisie is on the one hand taken aback by capital’s need to beef up its power (which means they are impotent in the face of fascism) and on the other disarmed when it comes to breaking the resistance of working people (in particular by smashing the unions). It is true their leaders try to outdo one another in demanding even greater social destruction on their patrons’ behalf than that announced and promised by Sarkozy, but this changes nothing fundamental in their positon.

This is why, in order to remain in that body and/or advance their careers, more and more UMP leaders are rallying around Sarkozy, sometimes unexpectedly (Raffarin, De Villepin, Wauquiez, etc.). They are following or expressing the clear majority of the right both inside and outside the UMP who are massively opting for the tough solution to the crisis.

Analysis of the forces at work thus points to Sarkozy as the probable victor in a political competition already underway to provide weakening capitalism with a tougher and more stable government more able to bring it the support it needs.

But life is much richer and more varied than even the best analysis, based as it must be on the available data. Imponderables arising from the multiplicity of human activities could shift and change the picture. However, such activities themselves do not fall from the skies, since they are already rooted in objective facts. We can point to some of them, even if it is impossible to predict precisely what the future will bring.

For a start, even if the bourgeoisie would like for the moment to avoid and spare itself the extra expenses (economic, social and political) incidental to fascism, and would be content just to toughen up its bonapartist regime, it is possible that their calculations could be upset by various factors within even their own ranks which might help the Front National to come to power.

It is also possible that the break-up and decomposition underway in the Socialist Party will provide another candidate for the role of Bonaparte in the person of Manuel Valls, politically converted and personally completely up for this job.

And who can tell with any certainty what the outcome of the various judicial inquiries underway, all threatening Sarkozy, will be. There is not adequate space here to describe in detail how widespread all the corruption among politicians is and explain what it means, nor how lenient bourgeois courts can be where politicians are concerned. However, it is not entirely out of the question that Sarkozy will be found guilty. That would smooth the path for another UMP candidate, or maybe someone from the Front National. In any case, the victor would be the one who offers the strongest guarantees to the bourgeoisie that he or she will tie working people down hand and foot and destroy the gains they have made in order to rescue exhausted capitalism in its death agony.

For the working-class solution! 

Finally, and for that very reason, it is also possible that the masses of working people, including some of their political organisations, will rise in salutary fashion and come on the stage to overturn these machinations and change the situation from top to bottom. That will be much more likely if the activists in these organisations get involved in a decisive and unified struggle for the resolute defence of working people against the bourgeoisie’s many-sided attacks; that would really lay the basis for a rising of that sort, which would be concentrated, and increasingly confirmed, in the struggle between the intensified attacks and resistance on the part of trade unions. Hence the vital importance of working flat out to link these organisations to the workers’ unions and the struggles they are involved in. In any case, such a link is a major requirement of Marxism, as well as a precise measure of all these organisations’ real relationship to this revolutionary theory.

This theory clearly states that they have a duty, and one moreover, which the social context itself urgently requires, to offer a way out, a political programme for this resistance by the trade unions, and to organise to get it successfully on the road. The main axis of this policy necessarily must be to bring the unions to a break with the deceptive conception and rotten practice which demeans them to the level of “social partners” with the bourgeoisie. And at the same time bring them back onto the path of struggle for the emancipation of the working class. In the absence of such an opening, embodied in everyday practice, those organisations which claim to stand for working people and the revolution will fail in their elementary duty and, like a blunt and rusty knife, end up at the rubbish dump. That is the decisive choice today.

Balazs Nagy, November 2014

On tactics in the French municipal elections

How fragile the Left Front (Front de Gauche) still is has been shown by the municipal elections and the tactical disagreements between the two main participating organisations. We know that the Communist Party (PCF) has advocated – and arranged – local electoral alliances with the Socialist Party (PS) wherever some basis for an agreement made that possible. So they are going for an electoral bloc with the SP, not general and national, but arranged case-by-case as local opportunities permit. The Left Party (Parti de Gauche) on the other hand rejected even a local alliance with the PS from the outset on the basis that it was incompatible with the very justified criticisms the Left Front as a whole has made of the policies of the PS government.

This disagreement has baffled many workers, who expected the Left Front to present clear, united slogans. They feel handicapped by this – to say the least – difference of approach between the main forces in this coalition, which is why it is absolutely vital to examine this disagreement with a view to clarifying what it means and finding a way forward for working people.

What is the Left Front?

We Marxists, we have to say, are not at all surprised by the ongoing disagreements at the heart of the Left Front. Yes, we believe that this front is the first fruits of a genuine attempt to re-build the revolutionary party of the working class, and we are totally part of, but we are still at the very beginning of this process. So, unlike comrades who see this as already the finished form of working class political representation, we think that the Left Front is only a first, promising sketch which has still got a long way to go to fulfil its real mission. It is not united; its class character is still ill-defined; in its composition, Marxists rub shoulders with non-Marxists, consistent revolutionaries with non-revolutionaries, and so forth.

We still have a long way to go to achieve the revolutionary Marxist workers’ party the working class and all working people need. The way may be longer or shorter, more or less painful and difficult and strewn with disagreements and crises, and the progress needed will consist in overcoming these in a positive way. We cannot anticipate everything that will happen along the way, but we can be quite certain that it will be punctuated with disagreements and crises, and what we are currently experiencing is the first manifestation of this.

In general, two exaggerated views of the character of the Left Front can quite often be found among activists clearly situated to the left of the PS – trade unionists, communists and ex-communists and various tendencies which claim adherence to this or that brand of Trotskyism, not to mention all kinds of anarchists. This is hardly surprising, given the present prohibition that has been placed upon Marxist thinking, which has been widely repudiated and suffered recurrent distortion and falsification. The first is to categorically reject the Left Front on the basis of an abstract formalism and professorial pedantry, which sees this re-groupment only as a non-Marxist formation and conglomerate of former social democrat or Stalinist survivors, a formation discredited by the compromised pasts of its various components from a really bygone age. This sectarianism is insensitive and indifferent to the specific forms taken by the powerful dynamics of working class resistance, under the constant attacks from capital at bay that plague it. This view is typical of the tradition of certain organisations claiming adherence to Trotskyism, such as the Lambertist POI (Parti ouvrier internationaliste), “Lutte Ouvrière” and a large part of the New Anti-Capitalist Party (Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste, NPA) and milieus they influence.

The other, opposite, exaggeration assumes that this Left Front – or one of its components – already is the ready-made, finished version of this party the working class so badly needs, which will start to function better as its it grows (occasionally at the expense of the other protagonists). Sadly it seems to me the overwhelming majority of the participating organisations’ leaders share this position with many of their members. One of the drawbacks of such of view is that it cannot grasp the way differences and misunderstandings blow up, however much they are to be expected in a movement that is actually still being build. It sees such things as aberrations disturbing and threatening the smooth functioning of the whole. Consequently, such disagreements provoke a rigid, paralysing blockage which freezes the contradictions and prevents a positive outcome.

Under these conditions, the division over the two different electoral tactics which has hit the Left Front reinforce and accentuate the organisation’s overall weaknesses, one of which (there are others) is the evident inconsistency with which the two organisations each pursue their own tactical choices, as we shall see shortly. This, too, reveals that neither the Left Front nor any of its components is yet ready to be considered this new revolutionary party of the proletariat. We all hope it will succeed in making the necessary adjustments. A decisive step towards that goal consists precisely in passing the present test, positively clarifying the difference and overcoming it as a step forward in achieving greater revolutionary cohesion. And this is the solution to which we hope our thoughts and comments will contribute. The first of these is to define the significance of municipal elections in the current struggle and the role they could play.

Contradictions in an unprecedented situation

The unremitting attacks on the part of exhausted, moribund capital; the fragility of the internal contradictions racking the bourgeoisie’s classical political resources, including above all the presence of the Socialist Party at the helm and managing the bourgeoisie’s bankruptcy; the crushing weight of successive defeats and setbacks the workers’ movement has suffered: all this confers on the current stage an exceptional specific character. This exceptional character leaves its stamp on events and movements, including the municipal elections. It is further accentuated by a growing tendency among working people to defend themselves vigorously while at the same time having difficulty picking their way forward through the lumber of bankrupt ideologies and organisations under the mantle of the workers’ movement, surrounded as they are by deadly traps. But it is this, even subterranean, resistance which feeds and renews and reinforces their attempts to rebuild their fighting potential, above all their party. These are the specific features which determine the current situation and prevent us from considering the coming elections according to schemas and clichés we got used to over past decades.

That is why all views and conceptions that see these elections in the traditional way as a sort of joust between two parties in a tournament miss the essential point. They lose sight of the probable character of these elections as a moment expressing a certain shift or re-alignment of class forces that re-draws the political map of the country.

Even the bourgeois parties and Hollande’s Socialist Party are afraid of such a possibility and do not know which Saints to pray to for intercession or how save themselves from the National Front (Front National, FN). They do not fear the Left Front because it is split – and that in itself is a serious warning sign. Unlike everyone else, we Marxists do not see these elections, in this situation, as the usual competition, but as a potential opportunity for the Left Front to make a big, extra, step forward towards becoming this new party of the working class. And in this the choice of tactics can play a bigger role than in a calmer, less tense, “normal” times.

On the respective content of the two tactics

The Communist Party tactic, which sets its sights on an alliance with the socialists anywhere and everywhere they can, is undoubtedly closer both to the situation and its requirements. It finds backing along a whole wave of critical sources of resentment among socialist activists against government policies which feed various oppositions within this party. Moreover, it has already inspired a number of planned or actual local agreements which have actually had an impact on the government’s arrangements. It could potentially be an effective way of driving a wedge between the government and a section of its party, opening the way to a broader oppositional realignment.

On the other hand, the main problem with the Left Party’s position of rejecting any local alliances with socialist activists is that they see the Socialist Party as one united, homogenous bloc. Against all the evidence, they deny that there is any permanent friction and internal opposition in this party. So, instead of relying on that, they cement this explosively refractory whole together under the leadership of Hollande and co.

Whether or not the competing partners in the enterprise even realise it, differences over tactics also involve different conceptions of or approaches to how effective the Left Front actually is. The Left Front clearly derives its tactics from two profoundly mistaken assessments, both unacknowledged, but all the more deeply held for that.

On the one hand, it is assumed that the Left Front is more or less the fully-fledged and recognised new party of working people, ready to take power and needing only to grow numerically. Too bad if others continue to support other parties or vote for the Socialist Party, even without illusions. Despite popular belief, there are still a lot of them, and even more who turn their back on the SP and do not necessarily go to the Left Front (or the Left Party), but at “best” simply abstain.

Not a million miles from this unrealistic view, on the other hand, the Left Party imagines it can achieve power by increasing its vote. But it is very hard to see that happening, even for a political formation which does not challenge the capitalist system itself and the measures it is taking to survive. But the orientation and basic line of march of the Left Front go clearly beyond this system. So the majority of its demands are incompatible with keeping the system going and even more with the present desperate attempts to maintain it. This relationship entails a major and permanent confrontation which means there has to be a serious investigation and study of the conditions for this conflict and how to wage it.

What do the lessons of history tell us?

To get a clearer assessment, not just of how inadequate it is to plan a direct raid on power, but also of the many dangers that entails, we need to turn to the past of the Marxist workers’ movement, which provides abundant theoretical and practical experiences on this topic. (That is, assuming you really want to replace the power of the bourgeoisie rather than simply amend it.) Here we can only indicate some essential references, without developing the whole topic fully.

The Second Congress of Lenin’s Third International opened fire on sectarianism, that “infantile disorder of communism” and twin brother of opportunism. Then in 1923 the Third Congress broadened this struggle into a vigorous campaign against ultra-leftism, working out communist tactics for winning the majority of working people. In its “Theses on Tactics” it talked of the conviction that “(t)he theory of promoting Communism by propaganda and agitation alone … has been proved utterly incorrect”. It goes on to insist that: “Even the smallest Parties should not limit themselves to propaganda and agitation. The Communists must act as the vanguard in every mass organisation. By putting forward a militant programme urging the proletariat to fight for its basic needs, they can show the backward and vacillating masses the path to revolution and demonstrate how all parties other than the Communists are against the working class. Only by leading the concrete struggles of the proletariat and by taking them forward will the Communists really be able to win the broad proletarian masses …” (www.marxist.org/history/international/comintern/3rd-congress/tactics.htm)

Already the Third International explained the need to establish a whole “system of” partial “demands” in order to engage in this struggle, which was later developed by Trotsky in the famous Transitional Programme of the Fourth International. These Theses very clearly outlined the character of these “partial demands” which “… in their totality, challenge the power of the bourgeoisie, organise the proletariat and mark out the different stages of the struggle for its dictatorship. Even before the broad masses consciously understand the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat, they can respond to each of the individual demands.”

The majority of the Third International followed Lenin, who in many speeches and articles severely criticised the so-called “theory of the offensive” which several young communist parties had adopted. Lenin emphasised the central importance of preparing the seizure of power. In his speech to the Congress he criticised the Italian, Terracini, who “defended the theory of an offensive, pointing out ‘dynamic tendencies’ and the ‘transition from passivity to activity’,” which, said Lenin, “are all phrases the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries had used against us”. Later he added: “If it is said that we were victorious in Russia in spite of not having a big party, that only proves that those who say it have not understood the Russian revolution and that they have absolutely no understanding of how to prepare for a revolution.”

Speaking of the need to win the masses, Lenin explained: “The concept of “masses” undergoes a change so that it implies the majority, and not simply a majority of the workers alone, but the majority of all the exploited. Any other kind of interpretation is impermissible for a revolutionary … what is essential … is not only the majority of the working class … but also the majority of the working and exploited rural population”. (http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1921/jun/12.htm#s3).

Then the Fourth Congress’s “Theses on the United Front” in 1921 rounded out this tactic, which had actually been prevalent from the very beginning of the Third International. They stated that “The Communist Parties of the world … are now trying at every opportunity to achieve the broadest and fullest possible unity of these masses in practical activity.” They emphasised that the reformists “… will not fail to sell out … the … Communists and the revolutionary elements of the … working class must still approach the reformists before the start of every mass strike, revolutionary demonstration or any other spontaneous mass action, asking them to support the workers’ initiative, and must sys-tematically expose the reformists when they refuse to support the revolutionary struggle of the workers. This will prove the easiest way to win the masses of workers who are outside the Party.” (http://www.marxists.org/history/international/comintern/4th-congress/united-front.htm)

Contrary to popular belief, this proletarian united front policy is a general and permanent tactic, not just a policy applied from time to time in the face of dangers like, say, the threat of fascism. (Albeit that today in France such a threat, represented by the clear advances the Front National is making, is perfectly real). It is an integral part of the arsenal of any workers’ party worthy of the name at every point in its struggle to win over a majority of proletarians.

I already mentioned that in the 1930s Trotsky developed this tactic, among other things by elaborat-ing these “partial demands” in the Transitional Programme. At the same time he advanced the united front tactic, particularly in the trade unions and in the socialist parties of the time.

But it is important to emphasise also the less well-known fact that about the same time the Italian Communist leader Antonio Gramsci, imprisoned in a fascist goal, largely contributed to developing this same tactical orientation. Of course the fact that he was in prison, which cut him off from all political activity, explains the more “philosophical” character of his studies and arguments, less linked to immediate practise and less concretised than Trotsky’s. But what they thereby lose in political freshness, they gain in depth of generalisation. Be that as it may, Trotsky’s and Gramsci’s ana-lyses support and complement each other in bringing out and explaining the tactics of the proletar-ian party.

In his Prison Notebooks Gramsci also took as his starting point the rich heritage of Lenin’s International. Even before he was imprisoned, these same considerations led him to oppose the adventurist policy of the so-called “Third Period” of the Stalinist Third International through the famous “Lyons Theses” (1926) of the Italian Communist Party, based on these principles and clearly orientated to-wards the conquest of the masses against the adventurist ultra-left offensive of the Stalinist Comintern. In the years when he was writing the Prison Notebooks, he developed these views into a great theoretical whole dealing with the conquest of power. Without looking at the whole scope of this important theoretical elaboration, one can summarise its essence as follows.

Starting from Lenin’s thoughts on the more difficult conditions for the seizure of power in highly-developed western countries compared with backward countries such as Russia had been, Gramsci came to the conclusion that in the west the bourgeois state, supported and reinforced by a whole range of institutions and movements, is infinitely more robust than in less-developed countries such as Tsarist Russia. Consequently, instead of a quick, direct and offensive “war of movement” like the Russian Revolution, the western proletariat, in its struggle for power, needed to develop a whole tenacious and patient “war of position” to achieve a winning majority. As Gramsci wrote late in 1930: “It seems to me that Ilitch (Lenin) understood that a change was necessary from the war of manoeuvre applied victoriously in the East in 1917, to a war of position which was the only form possible in the West … That is what the formula of the United Front seems to me to mean” (Antonio Gramsci: Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. and trans. by Hoare and Nowell-Smith, London 2003, pp. 237-8).

(The impression this gives that the united front policy had not been applied in Russia is probably due to a lack of precision in Gramsci’s formulation quoted, but does not correspond to his thought in general.)

This brief foray into the heritage of Lenin’s Third International, as taken up and developed and re-fined by Trotsky and Gramsci when faced with the whole Stalinist degeneration, much discredits the ultra-leftism in which Stalinism frequently indulged. Even today a number of organisations tend to follow this bad tradition, popularised by Stalinist adventurism, rather than the traditions of Marxist theory and experience. Reading this, one could of course object that neither the Left Front as a whole nor its various separate organisations are Marxist parties inspired by Lenin’s ideas, nor do they claim to be. And that is precisely why I started this article by talking about shortcomings and inadequacy when it comes to the development of the Left Front as the new, re-built workers’ party.

Let’s assess recent experiences

In fact the Left Front, too, has sufficient experience of its own in this field to draw some valuable conclusions. Its involvement, and the vote it got, in the 2012 general election provide us with some useful lessons.

The spectacular results the Left Front had previously achieved in the presidential election testified to a rapid and unexpected development. This is very likely the reason why Jean-Luc Melanchon decided to take on the Front National leader in Pas de Calais all on his own outside of any alliance, although that did look more like a personal challenge than a politically-considered attempt to win a valuable seat in the National Assembly. After all, the whole political atmosphere seemed to encourage a bold approach.

Sadly, the election results dashed these hopes, revealing that what had looked like confidence was only illusion. From a closer look at the voting figures, we can draw some conclusions which corrobo-rate the theoretical and practical lessons of history.

The Socialist Party candidate, Philippe Kemel, won the seat with 50.11%, a mere 116 votes ahead of Marine Le Pen with 49.89%. So it was very close. Melanchon could only manage third place with 21.48%, less than half of Le Pen’s vote, escaping by a whisker a real political fiasco.

Since 40% of the voters abstained, that outcome really is terrible, but it does help us to get a clearer grasp of why the Left Front was routed. The very high level of abstentions shows that, while a great number of working people have lost confidence in the traditional left parties, they are still far from won over by the new Left Front formation. In any case, in Pas de Calais the Socialist Party was able to keep the support of clearly more of them than the Left Front could win over.

Since then, the only change in the situation is that confidence in the Socialist Party is falling even faster, although that has still not nearly become the mass development the Left Front anticipated. The fact that this development is marking time has not escaped the attention of bourgeois journalists, to their unconcealed satisfaction. The problem is, this is not simply Schadenfreude arising from our opponents’ habitual class instincts.

For example, one of the organisations which has joined the Left Front is the “United Left” (“Gauche Unitaire”, made up of former members of the LCR), who have also criticised the Left Party’s “go-it-alone” tactics. The party spokesperson, Christian Picquet, openly deplored them in an article evocatively entitled “For a united Left Front that can rally everybody together”. Here he roundly states that: “… over the last 18 months the Left Front has not managed to extend the influence that it has gained … it is even obliged to register a certain stagnation, expressing the problems we obviously have in coming across as a credible claimant to office”. This stark assessment entirely coincides with our own observations above, including the fact that this “stagnation” started with the election cam-paign in Pas de Calais.

Before going on, we should remember, in relation to just that critical assessment by comrade Picquet, the argument most commonly-used against the PCF’s tactics and consequently against our own conception of the need for local alliances with socialists. This is that it “would break up the posi-tive dynamic of struggle” engendered by the Left Front in the Presidential elections. But this “argument” is based on an illusion. On the one hand it is clear that the “dynamic” referred to, if it still exists at all, has faded considerably, as the general election showed and various mass actions have con-firmed. On the other hand, it is precisely in order to lend new dynamism to the struggle that the Left Front needs to get out of the sort of ghetto into which, defying hopes and expectations, it has been shunted in the course of these elections shunted. Undeniably, comrade Picquet’s main concern is to make up for lost time by applying the correct tactics in the municipal elections.

He starts the article by saying: “I wish neither to abstain from the debate on what is at stake in the municipal elections nor to add fuel to a controversy in which Le Monde has seen … a Left Front on the brink of imploding. But rather to develop the idea that it is a complicated political problem re-lated more to the considerable challenges involved in the period confronting us today than to any electoral calculations, which seem all the narrower for focusing on next March’s municipal polls.”

This is a prudent and quite timid way of declaring what is actually a criticism, even if comrade Picquet has carefully wrapped it up in a series of mental reservations as if oddly compelled to justify and excuse himself. But nobody gains from waffling about developing “the idea that it is a complicated political problem” instead of tackling the subject head-on. A criticism should be clear and pre-cise if it is going to be useful and effective.

Fortunately, comrade Picquet soon sheds his customary oblique way of talking. He calls on the Left Front to go beyond being a mere radical opposition to urgently set out “to win over sections of the left” and, in an evocative sub-heading, to “Make a move towards the rest of the left”. Here he rightly states: “… there is now a majority on the left that can be won for a change of course, we should aim for the broadest possible re-groupment”. One can only applaud this aim of re-grouping a broader left in the course of the municipal elections.

Laudable as this questioning of the tactic of standing in the elections alone is, however, it stops half way. For one thing because, like absolutely all the groups involved, it, too, is narrowly confined to the elections, and the opportunity to grasp a lever to broaden support is seen only in that context. And for another because, for the same reason, correct as it is, it remains at the mere level of a simple good intention, even if we do see that comrade Picquet, too, feels the need for something more concrete than just a proposal for some vague broadening out. That is why he adds: “… unity cannot be separated from the bold project for transformation … which is at the same time the condition for working class confidence that it can once again find its strength”. Sadly, entirely valid as it is, this proposal is too hazy, general, unclear and laconic to be taken up.

Political wavering and inconsistent positions

It must be said: the two main parties in the Left Front do not only define their tactics differently, they also apply them in inconsistent and contradictory ways. Although it looks like an opening to healthy forces in the PS, the political line of the Communist Party is not obviously any more than the usual kind of electoral manoeuvre. Instead of being an opening through which working people’s struggle can flourish, it is locked even tighter into the strait-jacket of electoral games.

In negotiating these deals, the Communist Party seems to have abandoned any more radical de-mands and content itself with getting together with SP activists who had already decided to shift the government over certain things. In all this horse trading the Communist Party muffled its drums and behaved as the supplicants. It is characteristic that they held these talks in private, sometimes even behind the backs of the Left Party. All that explains the enormous restraint and exceptionally moderate character – in relation to what the government is doing – of these programmatic agree-ments.

But what completely devalued and debased these negotiations is that when they were carried out, the working people concerned were totally excluded, not allowed to participate and not even told. But any political agreements, and the negotiations leading up to them, should be carried out in full view of working people and with their actual participation. The bureaucratic secrecy surrounding these talks reduced them to complicity between office-holders. It is a leaden heritage of Stalinism which the Communist Party obviously finds it hard to shake off.

Even if this is not the same, and not as bad, as the “Marchais-Mitterrand agreement” a few years ago, this way of turning to SP activists is a bureaucratic habit which compromises any opening to-wards these activists and makes a caricature of it. It is, then, hardly surprising that it offended their partners in the Left Party and strengthened comrade Melanchon’s obstinate determination to per-sist in his line that we saw earlier. (Since then, PCF tactics have even lost their only real justification, i.e. their determination to ally themselves only with local socialists more or less opposed to the government. Specifically, in Lyons they entered a rotten alliance with one of Hollande’s worst supporters, the PS mayor, Collomb. This was despite several of their own candidates, faced with this right-wing mayor, linking up with the local Left Party. So it turns out that rather than adopting a correct tactic to break the SP line-up behind Hollande’s policies, the bureaucratic local government forces in the CP are actually renewing their unprincipled tactic of allying with the SP government.)

But it would be an unforgivable mistake to imagine that some sort of rigid last-ditch stand involving an ultra-left blockage is a viable alternative to this lashed-together alliance the PCF has opted for, or its capitulation.

We have already said that the Left Party sees the Socialist Party as one uniform bloc, lost for all time. Their contempt extends to all party members, who are identified with the government, and goes so far as to refuse to even describe them as “socialists”, instead superciliously (and childishly) calling them “solférénians” (The SP headquarters are in the rue Solférino in Paris – Trs.)

But before even going into the obvious shortcomings of such a view, it is worth emphasising that a summary position of this sort presumes that the Left Party (or the Left Front) can double its influence and take power on its own, standing against all the activists who have stayed in other parties, including the SP. What few experiences we have contradict any such belief, even though it is this belief that has seized the minds of the party leadership. Despite its programme, which opposes aus-terity on behalf of working people, and despite its members’ will and obstinate determination to convince workers that their programme is right, the Left Front is, as comrade Picquet explained, marking time. Having reached a certain threshold in its development, it is not managing to get over the critical point to achieve the greater dimension that is needed.

Obviously this has to do with a serious shortcoming in the methods chosen and carried out by the Left Party, particularly their desire to convince everybody by propaganda that their policy, and it alone, is the correct one. They are obviously convinced that all you have to do is present the truth, for it to be not only accepted but, above all, put into practice by working people. The party is particularly convinced of the effectiveness of this propagandism because comrade Melanchon’s oratical talents really did facilitate their spectacular early progress.

But even the greatest charm or powers of seduction are no substitute for a right method and correct political behaviour. It is time to recognise superstitions for what they are and settle accounts with this magic of the spoken word, which still seems to mesmerise certain activists and their leaders. As we all know, at the last CGT (trade union confederation) congress, Comrade Melanchon got more applause than the secretary, Thierry Lapaon. Nevertheless, it is the latter’s proposals that count among CGT activists, not comrade Melanchon’s (more correct) ones. And while, at a meeting of the Parisian members of the PCF, more than 40% of those present voted for a united Left Front cam-paign and only 57% voted for alliances with the SP, people who use that as an argument against the electoral tactics of an opening to the SP members forget the practical realities. Of course this is a significant vote, as an indication, and it would be a mistake to under-estimate its scope. But an indication of sympathy, even a serious one, remains an indication, and cannot replace one policy with another. The PCF members who voted for an electoral alliance with Melanchon nevertheless unhesitatingly apply the opposite policy decided by their leadership. There was not even the shadow of a tendency crystallising inside the PCF, not to mention organised opposition. As for members leaving that party and joining the Left Party, not even comrade Melanchon dreams of that.

Of course the Left Party also feels how limited its forces are and it proved that by its attempts, contradicting its own policy of standing on its own, to find allies in the elections. It reached electoral agreements with ecologists in various towns. We have to call that flagrant political inconsistency, even before we say anything about its content or significance. One the one hand, what they did went against their tactic of standing on their own and their criticism of the PCF for doing just that, and, above all, on the other, while they criticised the CP for its alliance with one governing party, the Left Party made overtures to another party in the same government.

So the wheel turned full circle. You have to conclude that the Left Party not only stands on the same wheeler-dealing electoral terrain as all the other parties, but also hopes to win over a few ecologists this time using the accustomed method of sterile propagandism. But that method is even now showing itself to be ineffective. Eva Joly may have expressed sympathy with the Left Front and Noel Ma-mere may have broken with the official ecologists, but both of them preserve a prudent distance from the Left Front. And actually – given their unshakable illusions in capitalism’s ability to fix itself, illusions on which the Left Party’s political arguments and programme clearly have little impact – we should be relieved.

Break with electoralism without falling into the traps

In clarifying the problem we are dealing with, it is of the utmost importance to re-establish the origi-nal tradition of the revolutionary workers’ movement and of Marxism in relation to elections (local or national), betrayed, denied and blunted though that tradition has been. This past nevertheless teaches us that participating in and using elections is strictly subordinated to direct methods and organisations of workers’ and working peoples’ class struggle. Otherwise, any involvement in elec-tions tends inevitably towards parliamentarism, i.e. adherence to bourgeois democracy through ad-apting to its institutions (including local government) and its rules. In any case, the organisations in-volved in the Left Front have plenty of time between now and the elections to overcome positively the difference which have arisen based on electoral calculation. But that can only happen if there is the will to go beyond the parliamentary (or municipal) horizon by organising workers’ struggles on the basis of a programme that is extra-parliamentary (or which goes beyond municipal politics properly speaking).

In what he writes, Comrade PIcquet is quite right to seek a way forward along these lines, but it is going to take a lot more than his rather general guidance. Even his hasty attempt to sketch out three areas for doing this is botched because it leaves out some immediate and fundamental problems working people face. Apart from his call for a turn to the unions (which is left hanging in mid-air because its scope is limited to opposing the increase in VAT), his proposals for unity with various other left sectors and for “going beyond the way the Left Front is run by a cartel” so as to “blend itself together” are far removed from working peoples’ vital concerns and the problems they face.

In this connection there is of course no denying the positive fact that the Left Front also feels the need to shake off narrow, sordid parliamentarism and turn systematically to the working masses, calling on them to demonstrate for this of that real immediate aim or against things the bourgeoisie is doing. And so on 1 December last the two big parties in the Left Front got together to organise a national demonstration in Paris for a “fiscal revolution” and against the planned increase in VAT. Now. Choosing the tax system as a field of working people’s struggles and the object of a confrontation with the government is obviously a huge blunder. Instead of hitting the enemy full-on, it misses its target – at best.

Taxation as such is hardly a central or particularly important concern for workers. It is important for the bourgeoisie, however, because they have a constant drive to cut the taxes they have to pay. In recent times in particular they have made it one of their war-horses in the struggle to do away with social gains. In reducing the taxes they pay, they also hope to solve the crisis in a way favourable to themselves by weakening and then abolishing the financial resources embodied in the social gains working people have made. The tax system also provides a useful weapon for easing the concentra-tion and centralisation of capital through the elimination of the weakest and above all the destruc-tion of petit-bourgeois intermediate classes. That is why lightening the tax burden, concretely, reducing various kinds of taxes, is a central demand of the petit bourgeoisie which, along with bourgeois layers ruined by competition, sees it as a life-belt.

Of course the working class and its organisations can and should offer support to downtrodden and threatened small and middle farmers, craftsmen and shop-keepers in their struggle against the overwhelming tax burden. Similarly the working class wages an incessant struggle for an effective, progressive tax system as one of its transitional demands to defend real and relative wages and increase the burden on the bourgeoisie. But on the express and indispensable condition that these demands in relation to taxation are clearly subordinated to the objectives of the fundamental struggle against capital and not replace them with a “better” tax system.

This is because, despite the deliberate lies and widespread myths, you cannot have a fair and equi-table distribution of wealth in an unjust and unequal society. The only system of wealth distribution capitalism can provide is one in its own capitalist image, with a tax system as a corresponding means to achieving it. The more the system is cornered, as it is now, the more invasive, aggressive and one-sided its tax system becomes. What this means concretely is that one of the current aspects of the advanced death-agony of capitalism is the colossal, irreparable debt level of all states (to say nothing of other debtors). The preponderantly hawkish character of an omnipresent, arbitrary and unfair tax regime flows directly from this fatal scourge of capital, which uses its state tax system like a wounded beast desperately defending itself and its kin tooth and claw. So it would be a real mistake to separate a tyrannical, unjust and arbitrary tax regime from its immediate source and present it as if it was a sector independent of the socio-economic system as a whole and its current ills, and, moreover, as if it was its main determining feature. Whereas even this capitalism’s own governments openly and cynically describe it as the price to pay for the monumental indebtedness of the state, and a means of paying it.

The general confusion in this field is what made possible the Force Ouvrière (FO) Union confederation’s unfortunate mental lapse on 2 November in Brittany, when it entered an unnatural alliance with the region’s bosses in the Quimper demonstration. (We should note in passing that this perversion on the part of the anarchists leading this union does not mark any significant break with their past, since the anarchist who used to lead FO in the Loire Atlantique department, the late Alexandre Hébert, had already flirted with the local bourgeoisie under the benevolent gaze of his trade-union ally, Pierre Lambert.)

Comrade Mélanchon was a thousand times right to severely criticise this lapse on 2 November last, so it is all the more regrettable that he immediately fell into the same trap, although he did it as it were “independently”, without the disreputable allies. Worse, he jumped in and promptly lost his bearings. As if outbidding the others in some bizarre rivalry, he went much further than a simple protest to add his commitment (together with the Communist Party this time) to no less than a “fiscal revolution”. But no worker would feel that such an objective was any more than fanciful sermonising under capitalism. Under these conditions, all it does is tarnish the idea and practice of revolu-tion, dragging this orientation down to the level of publicity for some detergent. Whereas the right thing to do would be to rise up not against the increasing tax burden, but against the immediate source of this apoplectic, cruel and violent expression of capital in its death agony – the gigantic and generalised debt.

But we know that the Left Front is deeply hostile to this scourge of indebtedness. It has already risen to demand it is repudiated, or rather, that an independent public enquiry is established to examine its legitimacy. We already know that it is illegal and that it should be purely and simply wiped out. But it has to be demonstrated to everybody’s satisfaction that this is the correct thing to do, and that is why such an enquiry is necessary. So instead of fantasising about an imaginary “fiscal revolution” and competing with the bourgeoisie in this field, the Left Front should simply take up and popularise this slogan. There is no doubt that it will find agreement among working people and sup-port from activists. It will also, at a stroke, take care of the very real problems of municipal councils with no money and unable to do all the things they ought to do and which have been made even more difficult by their excessive debts.

(I am perfectly within my rights in making a little detour, within the context of a discussion of tax-ation, to the discussion between François Chesnais and Thomas Piketty over the latter’s latest book Capital in the 20th Century. Having correctly established that in this book Piketty “is going to deal [above all] with the distribution of wealth”, Chesnais rightly criticises this conception of inequality [distribution of wealth] “which has very little to say about the ownership of the means of production it is based on”.

Now this sort of brief comment is virtually all he says about this in the course of a polite and ami-cable discussion! And yet precisely the main question is this attempt to conceal the fact that the source and origin of all the evils of capitalism is production itself, and to replace it with a quasi-autonomous system of distribution that you could improve independently of production. I cannot deal with Pittkey’s book as a whole here, but merely comment that this economist is one of the chief ideologues of the nowadays very fashionable current in favour of channelling the growing resentment against capitalism into this blind alley of distribution. Chesnais understands this completely. So it’s all very well him saying, in his inimitable, well-bred intellectual style, that “the social conditions for this (capitalist) production determine the configurations of this distribution from the outset”, but he does not develop this short passage into a fuller analysis, and even less does he extend that an-alysis to deal with the role this conception has in the plans and programmes of various currents and political parties made up of those who want to “reform” capitalism. It is a great shame, especially since twenty years ago Chesnais was one of the small number of Marxist economists, from where he has only recently sunk back to the level of petit-bourgeois anti-capitalists in Attac.)

The real meaning of unemployment – Who claims to have an effective programme to fight it?

Even though the forthcoming elections only affect local government, it would be an obvious mistake to confine the stakes involved to just local problems, important as these may be. On the one hand the advanced stage reached in the bourgeois demolition of social gains in all fields (carried out and organised by the SP-Green government) and the rapidly and continually deteriorating situation working people are in, and on the other the requirements of building and strengthening the political party of the working class, insistently require a fighting programme which can unite working people in every locality beyond their local demands. Such a programme would necessarily have to combat the very source of the evils, i.e. the capitalist system itself, instead of losing itself in the blind alleys of some illusory “improvement”. Such an overall orientation would also distinguish it from scattered occasional criticisms whose targets shift on a more or less monthly basis. Necessarily, only through such a project can you set yourself up to really oppose that manager of moribund capitalism that is the present government. That is also the only way to rally the workers for a real fight and for driving a wedge between the government and all those who really want to struggle for the interests of working people, which includes certain members and cadres of the PS.

Such a programme would not be hard or difficult to work out because it would not be some artificial invention. It flows directly from the situation and responds to the immediate concerns of all working people. Today, it concerns the massive unemployment which already affects a growing number of working people and threatens all the rest. It is mass unemployment, and its reasons and causes go far beyond those that produce, maintain and increase the “reserve army of labour”, the traditional scourge of capitalism. There is more to it this time. As a mass, it is no longer just the inevitable pro-duct of the contradictory expansion of capital, but on the contrary it is the decisive sign and one of the direct consequences and ineluctable traumatic sequels of capitalism in its death agony. It is no longer just a reserve army, from which capital can recruit workers as it expands. The majority of those currently unemployed are excluded from production for good, without any hope of getting back in. The fact that their number is growing is the most eloquent and convincing proof that even if here and there and from time to time it can happen, that famous economic growth has everywhere become notoriously inadequate.

The vulgar explanation for this phenomenon is simple. Everybody knows it and everybody talks about it at great length, without, however, really considering it or its causes and consequences at all seriously. Broadly speaking, it has to do with the way industry has been largely dismantled, a veritable industrial counter-revolution which has ravaged all the economically advanced countries in recent decades. With capitalist economy swooning from exhaustion – due to the historic blind alley reached by production based on and ruled by profit – the crisis has mutated from a passing purge into a permanent and universal fever, considerably weakening the moribund patient. Let me just explain very briefly here: This “exhaustion” and “historic blind alley” capitalist production faces signify the general fall in the rate of profit and the concomitant global orientation of world capitalism towards, on the one hand, transferring production to more “profitable” locations and, on the other, the extension of the hegemonic domination of finance.

The bankruptcies of a string of firms one after the other make this picture particularly sombre, painfully marked by the acceleration thereby revealed in the process of concentration and centralisation. I shall not go into the calamitous statistics on this which over the last thirty years have caused growing alarm even for those political managers who enthusiastically maintain the system. A brief com-ment will suffice to emphasise two important historical facts: On the one hand the sad reality of the unemployment which has always plagued capitalism as an organic and natural part. Even during the famous “thirty glorious years” (1945-1975) – the age of reference for all the admirers (and dupes) of the system – the years of so-called “full employment” including in the “welfare states”, unemployment was never, anywhere able to fall below an official level of 2.5% per cent of the active population, whereas in the USSR and in the Eastern European countries they dominated, anti-working class and anti-democratic as the Stalinist regime was, unemployment – and capitalists – were unknown. These were palpable reflections of what survived of the October Revolution, despite the fact that many of its legacies were liquidated. These facts are shrouded in absolute silence and obscured by the loud, hateful denunciations of the revolution and the USSR on the part of the bourgeoisie – and renegades – and their servile submission to the bourgeoisie’s dubious traditions.

Since there is no hope of curing the epidemic of unemployment, the system is forced to nursemaid it somehow, and the whole set of political and trade union arrangements for dealing with it in all their manifestations are completely helpless. Their total impotence starts with their utter inability to explain the phenomenon, still less why it keeps getting worse. When they gravely explain that unemployment is caused by a lack of industries, this insight thoroughly deserves its place alongside all other statements of the bloody obvious. Next, they all put forward their own remedy, a whole massive spectrum from simple sticking plasters to universal panaceas. What unites them all is a rather dubious good-will, except for a very few currents and organisations which openly say they want to finish off capitalism. All the rest put forward elixirs for re-invigorating the moribund system and making its raddled face less repulsive. Which is why there is nothing you can do with all this made-up nonsense, and no point wasting time on it.

A central role among these charlatan quacks falls to president Hollande, elected, among other things, for his pompous promise to put an end to this gangrene in the body of perishing capitalism. But a year later his own statistical services report that over the “… 12 previous months, 43 981 businesses have been liquidated (out of 62 431 bankruptcies) … 2 per cent more than in 2009” and that “over the last year, the number of liquidations has gone up from 6 per cent to reach a record high”. (Le Monde, 22 November 2013). All that despite the minister Montebourg, a tame and useful “left” puppet what with his teeth-grinding and the rest of his grotesque contortions as if to pantomime an interest on the part of the authorities in really finding a solution, while at the same time ridiculing it. And of course unemployment spreads inexorably alongside plant closures.

Its worrying growth threatens to bring the whole damn system into disrepute, and the bourgeoisie and its various agencies try to hide it behind various screens. Generally the most widespread form this latent unemployment takes is casual employment (précarité in French) in all its varieties. One of them is the short-term contract (in French CDD -“contrat de travail de durée determine”), something which has recently taken off in a big way. The same issue of Le Monde quoted above splashes the sinister news across its front page that: “3.7 million employment contracts for less than one moth were signed in the first quarter of 2013: the number has doubled in ten years.” And on an inside page the paper tells us that “…more short term contracts have been signed in France in 2013 than ever before”, quoting a report from URSSAF (the central body of the agencies which collect the em-ployee and employer social security contributions in France) that “… more than 86 per cent of the employment contracts currently being signed … are short term contracts. An absolute record since 2000”. To provide a striking image of this, the paper also quotes the informed views of a well-placed economist: “Out of 20 million contracts signed each year, two thirds are short term contracts of less than one month. It’s spectacular.” – more accurately, it’s nightmarish. This way, this capitalist society is ceaselessly and ever faster suppurating at least three large categories of unemployed: Offi-cially-recognised unemployed, the non-recognised unemployed who are lost and damned, and a vast army of latent unemployed, a large proportion of whom are maintained in their precarious existence (while another, far from negligible proportion is shunted off into early and actuarially-reduced retirement, a state that is insecure and instable and precarious in its very essence, a veritable forcing-house of poverty.)

Above, where I mentioned the widespread agreement among all parties, groups, ideologies and currents in political and trade-union thinking, both left and right, about reducing, if not actually abolish-ing, unemployment even within the framework of capitalism, I drew no distinctions between them. But there is one sizable cleavage within this unity which separates them into two distinct and even opposed groups. A minority makes a serious effort to reduce unemployment and sincerely tries to fight for the right to work. Broadly, this embraces the Left Front and its sympathisers and the CGT unions and occasionally the FO unions. Most, on the other hand, (including the bourgeois parties, the CFDT unions and their ilk and, above all, the Hollande government) cynically and brutally plan, present and use their schemes for tackling unemployment as terrible weapons for degrading every aspect of working conditions. The jobs these people offer are nothing but shameless blackmail used to impose, by shock, an indecent increase in both the absolute and relative surplus value extracted by lengthening the working day and cutting wages by holding them down as the rate and intensity of work increases. And that goes nowhere near exhausting the list of measures and forms of refined servitude in return for the offer of a job involving cheap and almost certainly casual labour. So what Hollande and his supporters offer the actual and potential unemployed is the glowing prospect of entering the ranks of the latent unemployed, as long as they agree to being exploited even more. You can reject out of hand all the Hollande government’s efforts and attempts to buy the capitalists’ goodwill, with a bankrupt and cash-strapped state handing them billions to employ more people (under much-reduced conditions, obviously). Just as obviously, the capitalists pocketed all these sumptuous gifts, but instead of acting out Hollande’s fantasies, they obeyed the implacable laws of their system, and didn’t employ any new workers!

Facts are obstinate things, as we all know. Unemployment has continued to rise despite all these plans and efforts, and the scandalous fact that the bourgeoisie has managed to blackmail workers (and all working people) into accepting seriously worse conditions, and to seriously weaken their powers of resistance – with the valuable help of the SP and the conciliator unions (CFDT) etc. But if some unions (CGT and perhaps FO) and parties (Left Front) and groups and other formations do carry on their customary fight against this disaster, they all realise more or less confusedly that their traditional methods of fighting are no longer adequate. The harsh social reality of capitalism with its back to the wall has made the old slogans and methods of fighting null and void and ineffective. You have to go with the evidence: If working people’s organisations don’t change their slogans and methods, they will all gradually start to look like Don Quixote, exhausted by vain battles. With the notable difference that their wooden swords won’t be used on innocent, passive windmills but will shatter on the pitiless reality of capital determined to defend itself with every means at its disposal.

There are extremely worrying signs, such as the loss of trade union membership and the massive levels of abstention, not to say indifference, by working people in elections, which indicate a dumb but critical disapproval of and opposition towards these means of struggle that are past their sell-by date and overtaken by events. Although they cannot by themselves spontaneously and on their own find a way out of the blind alley they are in, their attitude all the more clearly expresses for them the urgent necessity of changing methods and slogans which are no longer adequate for the struggle. All they need to do, these organisations which claim to represent their interest, is to respond to these preoccupations, foremost among them the Left Front, which should also express what they want in the preparations for the municipal elections.

The starting point for such a project is to state firmly that capitalism and its managers are obviously bankrupt when it comes to resolving the various difficulties in the economy, above all the unemployment blighting the lives of millions. There is abundant evidence that capitalism is not only unable to solve of it but inexhaustibly, tirelessly organises it. The programme of a Left Front that is really up to its mission of expressing what working people say and want should therefore concentrate on the permanent and consistent struggle against unemployment, that nationwide scourge which affects every municipality.

This starting point therefore culminates in a central demand in such a programme, based on the total bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie and its plans and efforts to save businesses within the economic, legal and administrative frameworks of this system. So it must aim to go beyond them. It is high time to stop vainly begging capital to behave responsibly. It has proved many times not just that it simply cannot, but that massive and growing chronic unemployment is necessary for it simply to keep going. So we need to to deprive capital of its ability to arrange the whole economy as its own exclusive property and place it under the watchful control of the workers themselves. Capital has amply demonstrated that its aim is to maintain and extend levels of unemployment. Hence the demand for workers’ control of production, which grows out of this untenable situation.

It seems that workers at “Goodyear” at Amiens, exasperated by the light-minded way their bour-geois owners condemned them to unemployment and poverty, are not only keen to re-connect with the great tradition of workers’ control and even factory occupations, but have already taken the first steps along that path. The generalisation of their struggle and its conscious expression in a demand for workers’ control should therefore be at the centre of a Left Front programme for the municipal elections, buttressed by a vigorous repeat of the demand for an independent public inquiry into state – and municipal! – debt. Taking up the demand, betrayed by Hollande and Co., for the right of foreigners to vote in the municipal elections would nicely round off this programme, while at the same time widening the trench between SP (etc.) activists and the government.

Left Front at the crossroads

Ever since the differences broke out over electoral tactics, the respective political lines of all the par-ties and groups in the Left Front have thrown into even harsher relief the mistakes, faults, shortcomings and inadequacies of each of them in turn. These weaknesses have grown more worrying as the situation has degenerated and the dispute, in contrast, has become more poisonous. Lacking the solid backbone which only a bold and adequate programme that responds to the serious problems working people face could provide, these differences have degenerated into a bar-room brawl. The lack of an adequate programme, that reflects the bankruptcy of the bourgeoisie and offers a real way out of the general blind alley that capitalism is in, is paralysing and blocking the development of the Left Front and each of its components. Worse, it condemns them to marking time and the threat of a general step backwards.

Even those whose raise the real problems, like the above-mentioned Christian Picquet, lack clarity and serious objectives and fall into the crudest opportunism. He decided to support the Paris SP in exchange for a few miserable paid positions within its arrangements – but without the SP making the slightest changes to its programme. So Picquet sold his programme (if he ever had one) to secure a place in the future municipal bureaucracy of Paris. Moreover, the real and welcome opportunity of strengthening and widening the contradictions between the SP activists and the government was thus reduced the level of shameless horse-trading.

Now a political programme that arises directly from the untenable situation and matches up with working peoples’ needs and requirements, like workers’ control of production, which appears to be the only real and effective barrier to unemployment, inevitably requires broad co-operation among all the forces of working people. Only blind belief in the omnipotence of the word could lead one to imagine, as comrade Mélanchon seems to, that it is a waste of time to seek and establish alliances based on a programme with slogans that can be acted upon. But you don’t need a programme if you are doing unprincipled deals and sharing out jobs in the municipal bureaucracy, like the CP and fol-lowing them Picquet.

It is not just sterile propagandism that is on trial here, with its idealist delusion that it can win over the mass of working people with pure verbiage (words and discussion), but also the fact that even this propagandism is reduced to conveying a policy which consists essentially of a partial critique of dominant bourgeois policy instead of developing a political line opposed to it. It is high time to recognise that such an attitude, negative when all is said and done, is a brake on all progress and a source of fruitless dissentions. Only a constructive i.e. positive policy expressed in the kind of programme required by the situation would be able to draw workers along with it and at the same time overcome differences.

All the signs are that only a programme like that, supported by a broad mobilisation of working peo-ple, can provide the basis for the opening needed towards activists in other parties (SP, Ecologists, etc.) with a view to exploding the contradiction between them and the government. It is the same path towards strengthen a great proletarian party in the way that is needed, a party whose painful birth-pangs are represented, as it goes and above all, in the convulsions racking the Left Front. The latter is still far from fit for the role, even if it does manage to survive the various stages leading to it.

It is important immediately to emphasise here how vitally essential the trade unions are as partners in such a political programme as formulated and concretised above and, by the same token, associated in a political mobilisation, including for the municipal elections. It is clear that if it, for example, did launch a political programme centred on the demand for workers’ control, the Left Front would no longer be able to maintain a polite distance from the unions, nor keep up its accommodating be-haviour towards them as they are now. It would quickly be forced, and already is anyway, to define a consistent worked-out political line in relation to them, the first point of which should be to specify how to turn them from “social partners” of the bourgeoisie into fighting organisations of working people. A political programme in favour of these working people could tolerate the slightest equivocation on this point.

It must be obvious to anyone who looks objectively at society without self-satisfied blinkers that a political party that fights for workers and wants to change the disastrous situation in their favour – in this case the Left Front – could not, as it stands, conquer power in one dash, like a cavalry charge. So audacious an undertaking requires a tenacious and extremely careful preparation, especially under present-day conditions, which are shaped by a long retreat in the international workers’ movement and weakened by a series of painful defeats and serious losses. Sadly, we are still in a period of defeats and a general retreat. This is the time to sharpen our weapons and assemble our forces, in a word, to prepare patiently the inevitable general rise of the working class and all working people in the decisive struggle against capital. Despite the sceptics and those who mock such a “utopian” view, all the “realist” alternatives and shifts and all the artificial shortcuts for getting over problems are condemned to failure.

The Left Front has reached a cross-roads. But at this point it must be realised, on the one hand, that history does not wait for those who do not make it to the appointment on time, and, on the other, that politics abhors a vacuum. Either the Left Front will seize the opportunity offered by the municipal and European elections to raise itself to the level of its historical tasks, or it will inevitably go backwards. 

Balazs Nagy