LCR holds decisive congress

By Murray Smith

Murray Smith is an international officer of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) and a leader of the International Socialist Movement (ISM), a Marxist current within it.

The Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire [LCR] held its fifteenth national congress from October 30 to November 2, 2003. This was the first congress of the organisation since June 2000, an unusually long gap. It should have taken place in 2002 but was postponed because of the presidential election campaign. Originally rescheduled for the end of June, it was again postponed because of the May-June movement. In fact, these two events, emblematic of the political and social crisis that is shaking French society, constituted the political and social backdrop to the congress.

No previous congress of the LCR had attracted so much attention from the media. The debates and the decisions taken were extensively reported by newspapers, radio and tv. The front page headline of Le Monde announced: "The far left launches an electoral challenge to the left". The media coverage confirmed a new political reality: the anti-capitalist left in general and the LCR in particular have emerged as a real political force, and what they decide can affect the course of French politics.

The first point on the agenda was a debate on the balance sheet of the organisation's activity since the previous congress. The LCR has doubled in size since June 2000 and now has around 3,000 members. The presidential campaign of Olivier Besancenot marked a real political breakthrough, and the organisation was extremely active in the May-June movement. Although there were some critical notes, the vast majority of contributions to the debate reflected this highly positive balance sheet.

Three "platforms" defended their positions at the congress. Platform 1, which had the support of the majority of the congress (57.8 per cent), defended the draft theses voted by a large majority of the outgoing leadership and a resolution approving an agreement with Lutte Ouvrière [LO] for next year's elections. Platform 3 (29.5 per cent) also supported the theses, proposing an amendment concerning the new party and a resolution critical of the agreement with LO. Platform 2 (12.7 per cent) presented its own draft theses and some amendments to the majority position on the electoral agreement. The platforms and contributions to the debate were published in a series of internal discussion bulletins, and local aggregates were held where the different positions were presented and delegates elected. In the weeks running up to the congress, each platform also had space in the LCR weekly Rouge to explain its positions.

With over 200 interventions, the debates ranged over many questions, including obviously the May-June movement. But the two themes that dominated the congress were the perspective of a new anti-capitalist party and the question of next year's elections. The first half of 2004 will be marked by two national election campaigns—for the governing councils of France's twenty-two regions in March and for the European Parliament in June.

The building of a new anti-capitalist party has been the LCR's objective for a number of years. Debates centred on whether the conditions were ripe for the LCR to take an initiative towards launching such a party. The question was posed in a more immediate way after the political earthquake of the 2002 presidential election and the ten per cent won by the far left. It became even more urgent after the May-June movement when the question of a political alternative was posed, not only objectively but by many participants. The theses proposed to the congress posed the question of a new party as an immediate perspective and as a priority for the LCR in the coming months.

The amendment from Platform 3 reflected the difference that these comrades have, not on the necessity of a new party, but on where the forces for it will come from. They attach much greater importance to what is happening in the critical sectors of the traditional left. For the majority, "The question before us is not so much the recomposition of the (old) left as building a front of combat, political and social, relying on the emergence of new generations, as we have seen in the anti-globalisation movement and last May and June". In fact the majority do not neglect what is happening in the traditional left, and Platform 3 do not exclusively concentrate on it, but there is a clear difference of emphasis. Nevertheless, the appeal for a new party was voted by eighty-three per cent of the delegates at the congress, Platforms 1 and 3 combined. The draft theses were also adopted by eighty-one per cent of the delegates.

The second big debate was over the electoral agreement with LO. This was supported by Platforms 1 and 2. Platform 2 are opposed to the perspective of a broad anti-capitalist party. They are in favour of a new party but insist that it must be explicitly revolutionary, and although they insist that they do not reduce it to a fusion between the LCR and LO, they certainly make an LCR-LO axis the basis of it. They were therefore very much for the proposed electoral agreement. Platform 3 opposed the agreement that had been negotiated, insisting that a better one was possible, but tending to propose conditions that would be unacceptable to LO. Finally they concentrated their objections around three motions. First, a proposition that the LCR-LO lists would campaign for a "no" vote to the draft European constitution. That is the position of the LCR and the congress reaffirmed it. The proposed electoral agreement also takes a position against the draft constitution. However, LO has abstained on principle in every referendum since 1958, and it hardly seemed reasonable to expect it to campaign for a "no" vote in a referendum on Europe.

The other two motions centred on the second round of the regional elections and the question of the far-right National Front (FN). One proposed that if there were "triangulars" (i.e. lists of the left, the right and the FN) in the second round, the LCR-LO lists should call for a vote for the left. However, since the polls indicate that the FN is likely to pass the ten per cent barrier needed to qualify for the second round in at least three-quarters of the regions, that would amount to calling for a vote for the left almost everywhere. This is in fact the position of Platform 3, who are in favour of voting for the left against the right in the second round as a general policy, even if the FN is not present, but it is not now the position of the LCR. The third motion concerned what the lists should do if they got more than ten per cent and were able to go into the second round—which is now a serious possibility. Platform 3 evoked either standing down or making "technical" agreements with the left, whereby LCR-LO candidates would be elected on a joint list with the official left but with complete freedom of action. (This was done in one or two places in the municipal elections in 2001.)

In reply, a series of majority delegates argued that the main battle against the FN would be in the first round and that the aim was to offer an anti-capitalist alternative to workers so disgusted with the traditional left and right that they were tempted to vote FN. Platform 3 reproached the majority with "now aiming to build a political front by seeking votes first of all among the `popular layers', those seen as abstentionists or as tempted to vote FN". The comrades explained that that was not the lesson they had drawn from the Besancenot campaign and stressed that the LCR had obtained votes from Socialist, Communist and Green electors and among left activists. That is certainly true, but it is only part of the truth. The LCR and LO also won the votes of many who would otherwise have abstained or even voted for the FN. The majority position was that they would only vote for the left in the second round where there was a danger of the FN winning the region, a position that is shared by LO. Except in such cases the position defended by the majority was to maintain candidates in the second round and that even "technical" agreements were likely to be seen as compromising with the official left.

Behind these debates is the appreciation of where the LCR has been and where it is going. The majority argued that after a prolonged crisis. the LCR had made a political turn in 1998 and that since then the balance sheet has been positive. They wrote: "The first thing that is at stake? Confirm and continue the orientation that has guided the LCR for several years and has enabled it to be fully present in social struggles, in particular during the May-June 2003 strike movement, in the anti-globalisation mobilisations and on the electoral terrain, with LO (during the last European elections) or without LO (municipal and presidential elections). And build the organisation by combining a united front orientation, a profile clearly demarcated from the plural left and a policy in favour of building an anti-capitalist alternative."

Platform 3 also laid claim to the continuity of the last five years, though they have opposed certain changes made over the past period, for example when the policy of systematically voting for the left in the second round was abandoned in 2001. But they claim that the agreement with LO represented a break in this continuity because the majority has, according to them, capitulated to LO, which the majority strenuously deny.

It is certainly true that there is a contradiction between the call for a new party and the decision to engage in a joint electoral campaign over the next six months with an organisation that is not a partner for such a party, first of all because it doesn't want to be and secondly because of serious political differences: for example, LO's abstention from the anti-globalisation movement, the women's movement and the ecology movement, as well as the question of democracy, both within the organisation and in the broader movement. These are real problems.1 To put it schematically, Platform 2 proposed to overcome the contradiction between the perspective of a new party and the electoral agreement by just making the first flow from the second. Platform 3's hostility to the agreement was in part because of the contradiction with the perspective of a new party.

The majority's argument was that an agreement with LO was the only way to be able to develop a credible mass anti-capitalist campaign that could appeal to millions of electors. Two separate campaigns would not have the same dynamic and would no doubt have mediocre results. Millions of electors see no difference between the two organisations and would not understand why there were separate lists. The majority posed the question: would or would not a significant vote for LCR-LO lists create better conditions for a working-class fight back against the Raffarin government and for a new anti-capitalist party?

Of course, several tens of thousands do understand the differences and tend to agree with the LCR, and they are part of the audience for a new party. But the LCR's campaign for a new party will continue during the election campaign. A manifesto will be produced as the LCR's contribution to the program of such a party, and other initiatives will be taken. These may converge with the process set in motion by the Marseilles Appeal.2 Furthermore, during the election campaigns the LCR has its own campaign, including such issues such as globalisation, Europe and violence against women. (This is nothing new. In 1999, there were nineteen LCR-LO public meetings and sixty LCR meetings).

The congress also approved reformed statutes of the LCR. The previous version, with very few amendments, dated from 1969, and what was involved was essentially getting rid of outmoded language and taking into account the experience of the last thirty years and the new generations coming into politics and into the LCR. For example, the objective of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" has been replaced by "socialist revolution and workers' power". The reformed statutes were approved by eighty-five per cent of the delegates. The national leadership was renewed by over forty per cent, and for the first time there is parity between men and women.

The main emphasis in press coverage was on the LCR-LO agreement, widely presented as an important factor in the coming elections. An opinion poll that appeared on the last day of the congress indicated that nine per cent of those questioned had already voted for the far left and would probably do so again, nine per cent had done so and didn't think they would again, and no less than twenty-two per cent never had but were ready to consider it this time.3 That shows the possibilities that are opening up, but there is no room for complacency. Precisely because the radical left is now seen as a serious political force, there will be no holds barred. The Socialist Party and its allies, backed by sections of the media, have already launched a campaign accusing the LCR and LO of helping the right by dividing the left vote. This will certainly intensify over the coming months.

The congress clearly showed that after the difficult period of the late 1980s and most of the 1990s, the LCR is becoming a force to be reckoned with. The coming months will be strenuous. Two national elections are certain, and there are likely to be fresh struggles against the neo-liberal attacks of the Raffarin government. But there is a lot at stake. The next six months can confirm the anti-capitalist left as a national political force and bring closer the perspective of a new broad anti-capitalist party. It is clear that the LCR is uniquely placed to play a decisive role in the creation of such a party and in the elaboration of its program.


1. For a more in-depth look at Lutte Ouvrière, see Murray Smith, "Two months that shook Lutte Ouvrière", International Viewpoint 342, July/August 2002.

2. See "The May-June movement and its aftermath" in this issue.

3. Journal du Dimanche, November 2, 2003.