Revolution or War n°19

(September 2021)

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About the ICC’s Polemic against the ICP-Le Prolétaire: the Communist Groups’ Intervention During the Strikes of 2019 in France

Erratum: In the following article, we made two factual errors. We realized this while translating it and looking for the quotes from the ICC translated into Spanish. The first is the claim that it did not intervene until December 1. In fact, an article translated into Spanish was written on November 7, 2019 in Révolution Internationale #479 ( The second: the leaflet Solidarity of All Workers and All Generations is dated December 15. The sentence, "today, Tuesday, December 17, after the revolting speech of Édouard Philippe and his measures that announce an extension of working hours and an aggravation of misery...", may lead one to think that the Prime Minister’s speech took place that day. However, after rereading, it appears that the article refers to the speech of December 11. The polemical footnote, number 17, that we have written in the article is therefore irrelevant. As the reader will be able to see by reading the orientation put forward in November – "to regroup, to discuss, to reappropriate the lessons of the past, in order to prepare the future of the class struggle (...) to keep alive the memory of the immense experience of struggle of the working class" –, these two errors do not take anything away from our fundamental criticism of the intervention of councilist nature and politically late that this organization has carried out during this massive proletarian struggle.

We have decided to publish the same original version of our article in all languages, without correction and assuming our error, but systematically preceded by this erratum.

Revolution or War, 25 September 2021

“The greater the spontaneous upsurge of the masses and the more widespread the movement, the more rapid, incomparably so, the demand for greater consciousness in the theoretical, political and organisational work of Social-Democracy.” (Lenin) [1]

The French pages of the ICC website published a polemic, Les graves faiblesses du PCI dans le mouvement contre la réforme des retraites [2] [The Serious Weaknesses of the ICP in the Movement against the Pension Reform, only in French so far]. This polemic criticizes the intervention of the ICP [3], which publishes Le Prolétaire in France [the journal Proletarian in English], in the massive workers’ mobilization of fall-winter 2019 in this country. The ICC’s polemic thus allows us to return to past experience, especially the most recent, of massive struggle and to draw attention to the content and method that the intervention of communist groups must use for them to assume their task of political leadership in the struggles of their class. Our intention here is not so much to criticize the approach and the positions of the ICC itself, although strongly marked by economism or councilism as we shall see, but to share, and to submit to criticism, our conception and our orientations of intervention to anticipate the period of massive struggles that cannot fail to arise in the face of the crisis. The reader will obviously be able to refer to the concrete intervention of the ICC, of the ICP and of ourselves, in particular the leaflets, which each of us has been able to develop during the struggle and which are available on our respective websites. For one can only draw conclusions and lessons from a workers’ struggle and from the intervention of revolutionaries in relation to the positions, leaflets, slogans, orientations, etc., adopted in the course of the struggle itself, at the very moment when the different battles, or particular episodes, were being waged. To do so post-festum, and only on the basis of general principles – even if right in themselves – without taking into account the very course of the mobilization and the real questions and successive stakes, is of little interest, and at worst reveals a dogmatic and abstract approach.

As a preliminary, we will briefly recall here the actual course of the workers’ mobilization that lasted from September 2019 to January 2020 and that we have traced in our communiques [4] available on our website. The announcement of a new pension reform during the summer of 2019 by the government of French President Macron forced the unions to organize a Day of action, consisting of demonstrations and strikes, on September 13. The massive participation in it, especially of the Paris urban transport workers of the RATP and the expression of their combativity, surprised the unions and worried the entire bourgeois state apparatus about the combative spirit reigning in the ranks of many proletarian sectors of the country. Immediately, the FO and SUD unions, joined later by the CGT [5], set a new Day of action for... December 5, presented as the beginning of an indefinite strike in all sectors, thus trying to cut short any immediate outburst of the struggle. However, at the end of October, following a train accident on the 16th, the train drivers of the SNCF spontaneously stopped work for three days on a national scale. Then the technical center of Châtillon, in the Paris region, which is in charge of the maintenance of high-speed trains (TGV) for the southwestern region of France, went on a wildcat strike against a reorganization of their working conditions and low salaries in the week of October 21 to 27, calling on ’all railway workers to raise their heads with them.’ [6] In doing so, they were breaking the framework, the timing and the terrain of demands – the straitjacket – that the unions had established to lock up the proletarians and force them to wait for December 5, and they were opening a concrete opportunity, however slim, for the extension and generalization of the struggle to the railway workers of the SNCF, but also to all the other sectors, including some in the private sector that were affected by particular mobilizations and strikes. In spite of some attempts to extend this particular conflict, sabotaged by the unions, SUD in particular, and faced with the retreat of the local management on the specific demands, the strike stopped after a week, thus closing the window on an overtaking of the unions and their days of action tactics.

Many workers from all sectors took part in the massive demonstrations and strikes of December 5, in which there were sometimes clashes with the police, as well as in the numerous pickets that were set up in front of some workplaces. This day was supposed to mark the beginning of the indefinite strike in many sectors. Nevertheless, it became clear that the bourgeois state apparatus, government, unions and media, controlled the situation and the workers’ combativeness, the latter being directed towards a strike unlimited in time but confined for the most part to the railway and city transport workers [7] – it could be said that the rest of the class was ’striking by proxy’ – and without any real perspective other than its duration and a blockage of production through the stopping of transport. That is to say, precisely what the Châtillon strike at the end of October had, in fact, sought to call into question, provided it was extended. The day after the union day of action of December 10, which saw a drop in the number of demonstrators and in the dynamism of the strike reduced to transport and closed in on its unlimited duration, the government thought it was strong enough to decide on an additional measure – the maintenance of the pivot age [8] – further aggravating the conditions for retirement. This announcement provoked a revival of workers’ anger, thus re-launching the dynamics of the struggle and reopening, albeit very slightly and for a short time, the window of extension and generalization that had closed on the 5th. It forced all the unions, including the CFDT [the most ’right-wing’ French union], which did not call for a strike, to re-launch a new day of action for the 17th, three days before the end-of-year school vacations. It was clear that, once the teachers would be on vacation, the railway workers of the SNCF and bus and metro workers of the RATP, even though paralyzing most cities and national transports, would remain alone and isolated in the struggle, with the unions, particularly the CGT, delaying the call for an unlimited strike in the ports and refineries, for example.

Unfortunately, it was so. This second opportunity to break with the terrain and timing imposed by the unions and their days of action was not taken any more than the first. Certainly the strike and the mobilization lasted until mid-January for the first one and practically until the bursting of Covid for the second one. But the fate of the struggle had been decided, except if an event – ’another’ struggle or strike – had arisen that was specific and external to this very dynamic of mobilization, in another sector of the private sector for example, that could have broken the timing imposed on the events by the union days of action. There are therefore, in our opinion and obviously in broad strokes, five moments or episodes of this struggle that presented particular stakes and according to which the revolutionaries had to adapt their orientation and their slogans if they wanted to try to rise to the vanguard of this class struggle and to play a real role of political leadership in it: from the 13th of September to the end of October; the week of strike at the Châtillon center until the 5th of December; the day of action from the 5th to the 11th of December; and then up to the 17th, or even 23rd of December [9].

Abstract and Dogmatic Criticism and Reality of Interventions

The critique by the ICC does not take into account these moments, nor other moments that it would have been able to see and identify itself, to polemicize with the ICP. It elaborates its critique from the principle, which it shares with us, that the unions are in our historical period organs of the bourgeois state and, consequently, any union apparatus can only sabotage workers’ struggles. But it remains essentially abstract and dogmatic, without any relation to the reality and dynamics of the struggle itself. It does not address the concrete orientations put forward by the ICP during the conflict. For the ICC... "the most correct approach was therefore not to follow the radical expressions of trade unionism, but to highlight the conditions of the class struggle, to show, as the ICC sought to do, the reality of a subterranean reflection expressed by a need for solidarity, which precisely the trade unions and the whole bourgeoisie sought to distort (sic!). It was necessary to place the struggle in its context of emergence of a renewal of combativity and to respond politically to the need for reflection within the class." (emphasis added and translated by us)

The reader will not blame us for advancing Rosa Luxemburg’s vision, which she puts forward in Mass Strike, Party and Union and which, for our part, we take on board and try to apply: “Instead of puzzling their heads with the technical side, with the mechanism, of the mass strike, the social democrats are called upon to assume political leadership in the midst of the revolutionary period. To give the cue for, and the direction to, the fight; to so regulate the tactics of the political struggle in its every phase and at its every moment that the entire sum of the available power of the proletariat which is already released and active, will find expression in the battle array of the party; to see that the tactics of the social democrats are decided according to their resoluteness and acuteness and that they never fall below the level demanded by the actual relations of forces, but rather rise above it – that is the most important task of the directing body in a period of mass strikes.” (Rosa Luxemburg, our emphasis) [10]

The ICC is far, very far, from the search and the fight for any effective political leadership in the real class confrontation. And close, very close, to the councilist vision carried by Anton Pannekoek in 1947 who defends that communists must limit themselves “to spread insight and knowledge, to study, discuss and formulate social ideas, and by their propaganda to enlighten the minds of the masses.” [11] Far from these abstract and dogmatic councilist arguments, let’s approach the reality of the interventions of the ICP and the ICC, and of our own.

Before December 5th

As soon as the wildcat strike at the Châtillon center broke out on October 21, the strike that opened a breach in the trade union mechanism of the days of action planned from December 5, the ICP published a leaflet – reproducing a communique made by the striking rail workers –, Grève illimitée et sans préavis : les cheminots grèvistes de Châtillon montrent la voie ! [Unlimited Strike and without Notice: the Striking Railway Workers of Châtillon are Leading the Way! [12]] This leaflet calls for "the extension and generalization of the movement (...) to unlimited [ie, indefinite] strikes, without notice with occupation of premises or picket lines, extension to other establishments, strike committees, etc.", the workers to "take their struggle into their own hands independently of collaborationist organizations [the unions]." For our part, and even if we differ on the trade union question with the ICP, we believed that the ICP leaflet advanced the slogans and orientations that corresponded to the situation, in particular to the need for the fight against the government attack and the sabotage tactics of the unions and leftists. On the same side of this barricade, in this first battle, we decided to support and reproduce this leaflet, rather than publishing one ourselves, accompanying it with a communique aimed at presenting our analysis of the situation and explaining our approach. In particular, we called on the workers to break the straitjacket of the days of action by breaking their timing set for December 5. During this first episode, which saw the strike end after a week, the ICC is absent. It does not say a word. Silent.

December 5th

Before the demonstration of December 5, the ’official’ beginning of the strike according to the unions, the ICP published a second leaflet on November 29 in which it renewed its slogans of "unlimited strike without notice (...), elected and revocable strike committees, picket lines or occupation of the premises to effectively stop the activity, extension of the movement to the other companies." It is only on December 1st, one month after the wildcat strikes of October and while the jaws of the union trap are closing, that the ICC in France intervenes for the first time by a leaflet,
Unify our struggles against the attacks of our exploiters! [13] We can already note that in terms of timing, it is late in relation to the bourgeoisie, in particular the government and the unions. We also note that it has completely missed, or ignored, the perspective opened by the paralysis of the trains, then the wildcat strike at the TGV maintenance center, at the end of October in a general climate of workers’ combativity. In short, the ICC was already behind the movement and the unions which, at that moment, were at the forefront and announced a long and hard strike. Worse, it is also politically behind the unions. Although right in itself, in particular its denunciation of the unions, the leaflet remains very general about the perspectives and slogans: "All the working class must struggle!", "Our unity is vital: we must build it and defend it". But above all, it focuses on self-organization and general assemblies, not as means and tools among others to carry out strike and extension slogans and, actually, to oppose and confront the unions sabotages, but as prerequisites to the struggle: “Only the coming together within open, massive and autonomous general assemblies, really deciding how to conduct the movement, can constitute the basis for a united struggle.” At the very moment when it is a question of putting forward immediate and concrete alternative orientations and slogans to those put forward by the unions and of disputing with them the direction of the real concrete struggle underway, it calls on “the most combative and determined workers [to] regroup, discuss, re-appropriate the lessons of the past in order to prepare for the autonomous struggle of the whole class.” (emphasis added) That is to prepare for a future, pure and autonomous struggle; in other words, a struggle in which the bourgeois forces in the working class milieu, first and foremost the unions, will have disappeared; in fact, a struggle that would no longer be a struggle between classes. At the very moment the class is fighting and needs concrete immediate political orientations and slogans, the ICC proposes to discuss, reappropriate and prepare a future and pure struggle, the lifelong dream of the petty bourgeois, afraid of the real class struggle.

For our part, “under these conditions and before the 5th, it seemed pointless to us – we wondered – to make a particular intervention on the call for a strike and its renewal, which would have been added to all the others coming from trade unions, local unions, left-wing and leftist political groups and even revolutionary forces”, we said on December 8. [14] We decided to distribute the ICP leaflet at the demonstration of the 5th insofar as the slogans and demands it put forward corresponded to the issues at stake at that time, on the occasion of that day and for its aftermath. In fact, from our point of view, the call to mobilization for that day had to set as orientation the overcoming of and the confrontation with the unions or, more precisely, the transformation of this day of union action of sabotage of the workers’ response into a moment of the fight for the unity of the struggle and its extension to as many sectors as possible, essentially by the slogan of renewal of the unlimited strike and its extension to the sectors that had not yet decided to join it. That is to say, globally, the slogans that the ICP put forward in its leaflet [15].

After the 5th and until the 10th

The ICP published a leaflet on the 7th, The Trade Union Leaderships Temporize, to Win, the Workers must Take their Struggle in Hand. It renewed its previous orientations and slogans of taking in hand the struggle and its extension, which responded to the increasing confinement of the proletarians, in spite of their combativity, in the nets of the union tactics. We can nevertheless note that it didn’t succeed in taking into account the new moment, following the reinforcement of the union control following the day of the 5th, to adapt its orientations and watchwords.

For our part, we intervened on December 8, by way of a communique. Taking note of the day of the 5th and the union success it represented, we warned against “the risk for all proletarians [to] to simply and passively wait for the transport blockade with the hope it may make the government withdraw its project instead of entering into the open struggle themselves. (...) If there is no real extension of the strike to sectors other than transport, the unions that already master the timing and the field will be able to ’play’ with the wear of railway and RATP workers, (...) and thus make it defeated and put an end to it. (…) Only an entry into struggle and a renewable strike in other sectors can make it possible to overcome a strike whose sole objective could become only the ’production blockage’, a field on which the unions will have even more control and leadership over the movement. (…) To this end, [the proletarians] cannot avoid disputing with the unions over the direction of the fight, action decisions and demands, and even negotiating tasks with the government if they are to take place. That is the issue for the two next days, probably until Wednesday and the government’s announcements.” Putting forward "economic" demands, on retirement and on wages, in which all sectors, especially public and private, could recognize themselves and make their own, and to which the unions were opposed, we called for the extension of the strike on the basis of these demands, thus giving a concrete objective to its extension. Aware that after the 5th, only a minority of workers could be the bearers of this perspective, we ended by calling for the “regrouping [of] combative and isolated proletarians into struggle committees on the basis of the call for a strike and the sending of massive delegations to extend it based on the unitarian demands.”

The ICC remained silent until the 15th.

From the Break of December 11 to the 17th

The clumsiness or the provocation of the Prime Minister on the evening of December 10, which weakened the control and the direction of the unions on the strike, seemed to us to reopen a door that the proletarians could, and should, have seized in order to try to win the initiative of the fight from the unions. Immediately, on the 11th, we published a leaflet, Tout faire pour aider le privé à s’engager dans la grève ! [Do Everything to Help the Private Sector to Engage in the Strike! Do Everything to Broaden the Struggle! Do Everything to Extend the Strike to all Sectors!]

“Training, encouraging, helping, the private sector workers to engage in struggle and strike action is the priority of the day if we want to make the government move back! Blocking transport will not be enough. The proxy strike, which puts most of the weight of the struggle on the railway workers and RATP [Paris region Transport] workers alone, can only lead to a deadlock and exhaustion of the strikers. The window, the opportunity, the occasion, to train and extend the strike to the proletarians of the private sector is still there. At least by next Tuesday the 17th and the demonstrations of that day. After that, it is quite possible that the strike, reduced to railway workers and RATP workers for the most part, will be reduced to a ’arm-wrestling’ struggle with no other aim than to last as long as possible. At this game, the bourgeoisie and the entire state apparatus will be the strongest. They will control the situation, if only through the unions, and will wait for the struggle to end on its own. As for the railway workers in 2018.” [16]

The ICP and the ICC published a leaflet at the same time, on the 15th, in view of the day of action and demonstration of the 17th which, if there were no particular proletarian initiative in the meantime, would inevitably close the door left ajar. The ICP, Against the pension reform..., proletarian class struggle! is aware of this despite its confusions about the so-called class collaborationism of the trade unions: "the way to a victorious struggle requires the break with the practice of class collaborationism and the return to the class struggle, to its methods, its means and its objectives." (emphasis added)

Far from taking into account the moment and the possibility, however weak and temporary, of a break with the dynamic imposed by the union control, the ICC leaflet, Solidarity in the Struggle of All Workers and All Generations (sic!) [17], called for "taking advantage of this day to discuss and reflect together in the [union-organized] demonstrations" on the 17th! "To carry our struggles further, (...) learn to organize by ourselves." As an immediate perspective, it called for the formation of struggle committees ... "in order to discuss together, draw lessons from this movement, reappropriate those of past movements and prepare for future struggles." In short, the ICC had nothing to say to the proletariat in terms of perspective and orientation of immediate struggle. It reserved its preaching—pardon, its slogans—for future struggles. And, imagine, us who would accuse it of being at the tail end of the movement!

After the 17th, the Dead End of the Long Strike

The union action day of the 17th, two days before the vacations of the teachers who seemed to be the most likely to join the strike massively, definitively closed any possibility of extension and generalization of the struggle. Although the strike continued until mid-January, the bourgeoisie and its state apparatus, government, parties, unions and media, were then content to wait peacefully for the strike to wear itself out. We published a communique on the 21st drawing the essential, according to us, of the balance of this experience of struggle. The ICP continued to publish leaflets regularly, on the occasion of the following days of union action, until February 17. They renewed orientations and slogans of struggle as well as the denunciation of the union tactics. While the strike, more and more minority and without perspective, was definitively in deadlock, the ICC published two leaflets which were completely out of time and out of the reality of the struggle, in particular the reality of its deadlock and of its almost inescapable failure. On January 13, it still calls, in unison with the unions and the leftists, for a massive and united struggle of all the exploited, and on February 4, still, to "take our struggles in hand" as were doing the leftists of the NPA, themselves apostles of self-organization in the interprofessional GAs (general assemblies) [AG interpro].

Silent until December 1, when the situation remained open to any proletarian potentiality, the ICC frantically multiplied leaflets and articles – two are dated January 13 and another on January 14! – once the workers’ defeat was assured, until it dared, shamelessly, to criticize the ICP in a dogmatic and abstract way. But despite its confused, even opportunistic, positions on trade unionism, the ICP managed to be in the vanguard of this episode of the class struggle and at the various key moments of it. The same cannot be said of the ICC, which always lagged behind the unions and leftism in the political field.

On the basis of the experience of the mass strike of 1905 in Russia, Lenin took advantage of it to expose clearly the attitude, and especially the method, that the revolutionaries had to adopt towards the organizational forms that the proletariat had to acquire in its struggles in order to be able to assume the political leadership in the best way. In this, he does not differ from Rosa Luxemburg. The sincere militants of the ICC should reflect on this if they wish to free themselves from the shameful councilism of their organization, in particular from its fetish of self-organization and General Assemblies (GAs).

“In the first place, Marxism differs from all primitive forms of socialism by not binding the movement to any one particular form of struggle. It recognises the most varied forms of struggle; and it does not “concoct” them, but only generalises, organises, gives conscious expression to those forms of struggle of the revolutionary classes which arise of themselves in the course of the movement. Absolutely hostile to all abstract formulas and to all doctrinaire recipes, Marxism demands an attentive attitude to the mass struggle in progress, which, as the movement develops, as the class-consciousness of the masses grows, as economic and political crises become acute, continually gives rise to new and more varied methods of defence and attack. Marxism, therefore, positively does not reject any form of struggle. Under no circumstances does Marxism confine itself to the forms of struggle possible and in existence at the given moment only, recognising as it does that new forms of struggle, unknown to the participants of the given period, inevitably arise as the given social situation, changes. In this respect Marxism learns, if we may
so express it, from mass practice, and makes no claim what ever to teach the masses forms of struggle invented by “systematisers” in the seclusion of their studies.” [18]

RL, August 2021



[2. À notre connaissance, elle n’a pas été publiée dans le journal Révolution internationale.

[5. The CGT is the main historical militant French union and SUD is a leftist and rank-and-file, or base, union whose leadership is mainly Trotskyist and anarchist. It should be recalled here that there is no closed-shop union system in France and that the workers on strike don’t receive any wage or money during any strike. For instance, during this struggle, many RATP and SNCF workers, as well as others, were not paid for more than a month. Certainly, it is also an objective fact that makes more exhausting the participation in any strike and exacerbates the danger of long duration strikes.

[6. One can read or reread the communique of the Châtillon SNCF strikers on our site:

[7. Other sectors, mainly in the public sector, such as education, joined the strike but mostly in a very small minority.

[8. A scheme invented by the French ruling class to “incentivize” elderly workers delaying their retirement.

[9. Obviously, this periodization made in the course of the struggle is questionable in itself.

[11. Anton Pannekoek, Cinq thèses sur la lutte de classe, 1947, in Pannekoek et les conseils ouvriers, EDI Paris, 1969, translated by us

[12. The ICP statement and the Châtillon strikers communiqué can be read in English on our website :

[14. See our communiqué of December 8 ( in which we explain the reasons for the choice of the leaflet of the ICP to the detriment of that of the ICC. Mainly because the latter made self-organization a prerequisite for struggle: "the basis for a united struggle, and advancing ’demands’ that are not directly linked to the mobilization, and therefore abstract and of no use for its real generalization..."

[15. Mainly because of our weak forces in France and the fact that the potential for overflow from the unions on this day was weak, even if it existed, we decided not to make a specific intervention on this occasion. Certainly, this can be questioned and debated.

[16 It’s worth underlining that these predictions we made, among a few others, and in head-on opposition to the whole unions and leftism, were fully realized from December 18th up to mid-January and the end of the mobilization.

[17. This leaflet – not in English –, Solidarité dans la lutte de tous les travailleurs et toutes les générations, is dated December 15 but mentions the Prime Minister’s speech of December 17. Is it backdated? Would the ICC cheat with the dates in order to hide its tardiness and indifference to the proletarians in struggle? "Today, Tuesday, December 17, after the revolting speech of Edouard Philippe..." (