Revolution or War n°6

Biannual - September 2016

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[Warning: Most of the articles of this issue have been translated by French speaking comrades and they could not be corrected, nor verified, by a native English speaking one. Therefore, we apologize for their possible "heavy" and difficult readability and if the reader finds any political confusion or mistake, we call him/her to refer to the French version]

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Reflections and Balance-Sheet of the Spring 2016 Working Class Struggle in France

The working class struggle against the law called ’El Khomri’ which changes the legal conditions of the labour force in France has lasted 4 months, beginning March to July. Despite this, the law has been passed and the failure is obvious even though it just basically codifies the already existing conditions of work for the most part of the workers of this country and, at first, the young. As such, the conditions of exploitation of the labour force are just aligning with the rest of western Europe where the same kind of labour regulations have been passed some time ago. But beyond the attack at the economic level, it is the violence of the repression that left its mark to this movement. And thus even though the unions have kept the control on it, certainly with difficulty because the very strong workers’ militancy, as clearly shows the fact that the mobilization remained trapped by the agenda, the rhythm, the timing imposed by the union ’Days of action’. Already, as such, the characteristics – violence of the capitalist ruling class and utilization of the state of emergency against the working class, relative working class’ powerlessness and appearance of more militant and determined fractions of workers in front the state violence and its political forces – of this episode of the class confrontation in France express the new degree of the confrontation between the classes at the international scale. The level reached by the capitalist contradictions, crisis and war exerting an increased pressure on the whole capitalist ruling classes, constrains these one to attack more and more violently and frontally the conditions of exploitation of the labour force and to provoke the international proletariat.
The ’rhythm’ of this mobilization has been given by the 12 days of action organized by the unions. If there were relatively few strikers during these days, a minority but important fraction of the working class, gathering ten of thousand workers of any age and statutes, has attempted to find an alternative to the sabotage of any massive mobilization by the union tactic of days of action : by participating to the street demonstrations, often outside the union processions and slogans; and by opposing the violent repression, new in its form and content for ages, and the increased provocations of the police. We can point out four phases or moments of this struggle.

March

The announcement of the law in February did not provoke any ’spontaneous’ response nor any particular struggle in one sector. Beyond the on line petition launched by Left bourgeois militants preparing ’Nuit debout’ [’All Night Up’ [1]], the unions set up their traditional tactic of days of action planed in advance and staggered over time which enables them to prevent any massive and united strike dynamic in the factories and workplaces under the argument of ’preparing the fight back’. Since the first March 9th demonstration, it is obvious that very numerous workers are reluctant to follow the unions. The number of strikers is fairly low even though the participation to the street demonstrations is important. At that moment, and during the whole month of March, the memory of the traditional union sabotage through days of action whose the CGT – main French union – has become the specialist during the previous massive mobilizations of 2003, 2007 and 2010 in particular, is in all minds. And even though there can be other motives as the ’modern’ conditions of exploitation (the managerial dictatorship in the workplaces for instance which makes more difficult and risky to participate to the strikes), the past experiences provoke an obvious hesitation to go on open struggle, on strike, in the production places.

In front of this workers’ hesitation and the bourgeois device put in place – the division of work between the government and the union days of action –, there is no concrete orientation or slogan that the revolutionaries can really put forwards and their intervention cannot be but general with a more propaganda than agitation character. For our part, and after the Brussels bombings of March 22nd , we publish a leaflet that we distribute in the mobilization. In this one, we denounce the national union lauded again by the bourgeoisie and we precisely call the proletarians to struggle for the defence of their class interests as unique response to the bombings and the war [2]. Given the reality of our militant forces (a single comrade can intervene in France), our intervention cannot be but limited. Beyond his participation to the street demonstrations, he attends to various open student assemblies in which we note that the concern for the ’unlimited general strike’ is present and shared by all as well as the mistrust towards the unions. And, at the same time, a great part of these assemblies – in particular the one of the faculty of Tolbiac – is composed of young ’autonomous’ and other ’black-blocs’ who only want to do battle to the police. And above all they openly display the rejection of any political debate or reflection as well as any political group, included the revolutionary ones.

April

April begins… March 31st: after the demonstration of that day, the first meeting of ’Nuit debout’ is hold on the Republic Place in Paris – after having diffusing our journal and the leaflet during more than 4 hours in the demonstration (under an intense rain), our member cannot attend it. No doubt, this is a weakness of our part. Before ’Nuit debout’ was definitively established and defined on the ’democratic and citizen’ political basis, on an ’Spanish indignados’ kind of organization and on an orientation of support to the unions, an intervention could have – may be – freed a minority being in rupture with these orientations. The leaflet that we reproduce after this article provides other elements of criticism against ’Nuit debout’. During that period, this one is in the foreground and the media present the unions as being overcome. The street demonstrations remain massive and above all determined despite the growing repression under the pretext of the ’black-blocs’ rioters. Few workers join the one day strikes. As the same time, ’Nuit debout’ are set up in other cities, most of them with little success. Sometime – up to our knowledge –, included under the ’Nuit debout’ label, embryos of coordinations or ’inter-sector general assemblies’ [’AG interpro’] are constituted as it seems it has developed in the industrial and harbour region of Normandy (the cities of Le Havre and Rouen). Yet no dynamic of workers struggle affecting the production places appears during April even though the participation to the street demonstrations remains very important [3]. This forces the unions to plan other days of action.

For our part, besides the attendance to some assemblies of ’Nuit debout’ and other actions of ’blockage of the economy’ mainly led by student assemblies often in connection with the local unions SUD, we are looking for a point of rupture with the dynamic under way which could present a determined orientation of class struggle such as it could have been expressed in the ’inter-sector general assemblies’ [AG interpro] of 2010 for instance. So we find workers and political militants who had led this 2010 ’AG interpro’ around a nucleus of railway workers. Amongst these workers whom we meet then, there are also political members of Matière et Révolution (http://www.matierevolution.fr/), of Robin Goodfellow (https://defensedumarxisme.wordpress.com/) [4] and the GARAP (www.http://garap.org). We are all looking for a ’class point of rupture’ in the mobilization which can offer an alternative to the unions tactic of days of action supported by ’Nuit debout’. Except some discussions on the situation, these meetings do not come out onto any formation of a struggle committee which could present a perspective of struggle and represent this first ’class rupture’. Up to our knowledge, only amongst the revolutionary groups [5], Robin Goodfellow publishes a statement, Statement on the Social Movement of March-April 2016 – April 2016 (only in French) that, amongst other things, denounces ’Nuit debout’ and puts forwards the necessity for ’a revolutionary, communist, party capable of unifying the proletarians’ actions of different countries and to develop a coherent strategy and tactic at the international level’ by presenting what could be a concrete revolutionary measures program. This statement have the merit of responding to the questionings on capitalism and on the necessity of ’another society’ by opposing the communist revolutionary alternative to the one advanced at that very moment by ’Nuit debout’ and the leftists with the media’s support.

May

End of April, despite what begins to appear to many to be a political dead-end from the struggle point of view, the ’conscious’ willingness for the fight and the confrontation to the state, its government, its police, its unions, continues to prevail amongst large strata of the working class. It is particularly expressed in the demonstrations: in Paris, minorities increasingly important – 5 000 to 10 000 demonstrators – fight with the unions and their ’service of order’ over the lead of the procession even if it means to be with the black-blocs ’rioters’. On several occasions, the union police in connection with the official police represses the demonstrators. In this first part of the demo, no union sound system covers up the slogans and the songs shouted by the demonstrators. Only are they responded by the increasing explosions of the police grenades. All this gives a militant and combative character to the demonstration which encourages all those who participate despite the numerous injured [6], some seriously, and the arrests as numerous too. The May 1st demonstration reveals openly the new degree of repression that the government has decided to impose since several demonstrations. Facing the police provocations which split the procession and violently isolate 5000 demonstrators of the lead, the rest of the demonstration of all ages and conditions, refuses to withdraw despite the bludgeonings, the gas and threat of the flash-ball when the ’hand-to-hand’ situation makes the policemen themselves panic. Even though it was sprayed by tear gas directly to the faces and hit by truncheons for its first lines, and grenade for the others, it ’sticks’ to the anti-riot police cordons shouting ’they don’t prevent us demonstrating’, ’let’s us pass’ and ’we all are rioters’. After 45 minutes of confrontation and slogans, surrounded, ’fish-trapped’ [7], at its turn, the police is finally forced to withdraw and the demonstration ’reunites’. The willingness to oppose to the intimidations and the repression – often the same way as described above – won’t stop to assess itself amongst a minority every time greater of demonstrators. Up until the very violent street demonstration of June 15th in Paris.

After May 1st, the unions call… for the Deputies to go into action with the opening of the parliamentary debate wishing so, after two months, that the street demonstrations end up. Nevertheless, they don’t succeed to discourage the willingness for struggle and are constrained to call new demonstrations all the more so because their refusal to call for a ’general strike’ helps make them even more discredited. No doubt, there is also one of the explanations for the degree of the police violence. From then on, the republican, citizen and democratic ideology carried out by ’Nuit debout’ is no more appropriate and this movement definitively passes at the second plan – the media almost don’t say anything on it except for underlining the night confrontations with the police. On the other hand, in May, strikes begin to appear in some sectors, often controlled by the CGT, as in the oil refinery and docks (the cities of Le Havre and Marseille), the truck drivers and the airports; and calls for an unlimited strike are launched at the National French Railway Company (SNCF). It is the moment we decide to distribute a leaflet that we reproduce here after. It seems to us that an opportunity can open at this precise moment, for a reduced time, through which one centre or some centres of struggle from the production places could provide a different dynamic which would break with the one imposed by the unions for one part and which would give a clear-cut class orientation for the movement. There is why we call to the open struggle and attempt to put forwards concrete fight orientations.

But this opportunity has closed quite rapidly and did not lead to any spreading of significant and massive strike, not even in the most militant sectors – because the distrust, very widespread, and the hesitation lasting in particular in sectors like the railway workers. With the absence of generalization of the strike and the media propaganda on the power shortage and the waiting lines of… the motorists willing to go to work, the unions have no difficulty to focus on the ’blockage of the economy’ in the transport and energy sectors to the detriment of the search for ’political blockage’ through the going on strike massively of other sectors and their direct confrontation to the capitalist state.

June

Despite the attacks – the murder of a police couple by a young claiming to the Islamic State –, the utilisation of the state of emergency against the strikers and the demonstrators, the blackmail for the success of the Euro football competition (mid-June), the mobilization continues and essentially focus on the street demonstrations during the days of action. The one of June 15th in Paris is no doubt the more violent because the ceaseless provocations of the police. This one goes up to block the procession in many points sometime up to one hour so provoking constant confrontations. Utilizing the incidents and the violences that the police has provoked [8], the government decides in a first time to ban the demonstrations, later to restrict their route and their access by a full police coverage. Little by little, the last strikes running out, the relay so much waited and so necessary from the production places not coming, with the football Euro under way and the holidays coming, the mobilization finishes with a last demonstration July 5th completely surrounded by the police which participates also to the weak number of participants and their feeling of powerlessness after four months of mobilization.

For our part, and after the general (international) amazement which follows the Brexit victory (June 23rd) and signs the United Kingdom exit from the European Union, we decide to publish a leaflet (After the Brexit Victory, The Capitalist Contradictions Explode at all Levels! Only the International Proletarian Revolution Can End it! [9]) that we also distribute to the last demonstrations. The Brexit surprise and its utilization by the media against the mobilization still under way make this event an additional factor of workers’ interrogations on the seriousness of the general situation, after the attacks and the war in Middle-East. It seems then to us necessary – in any way, in itself the event Brexit deserved an international statement – to intervene vis-a-vis the mobilization by trying to favour the working class reflection on the insuperable contradictions of capitalism and the indispensable revolutionary struggle of the proletariat.

What Lessons ?

The proletariat is not ’historically’ defeated, nor fully submitted to bourgeois ideology and to the capitalism’s interests. The mobilization in France expresses this intact militancy. As well, its (new) distrust towards the unions and the bourgeois ideological ideology centring around the democratic mystification – included under its ’Nuit debout’ variant which had only a weak success in the working class ranks – reveals that the experiences of the past struggles and the reality of the capitalism’s historical dead-end remain in the workers’ consciousnesses. Even better, the displayed willingness for the confrontation to the state and for resistance to its massive repression like the slogans heard in the demonstrations, in particular against capitalism and its state, are the reflect of an initial return of the revolutionary perspective in the consciousnesses of a significant minority of workers – without being yet the clearer one of communism, far from it. « The controversy aroused by the Labour Law drifts towards an ideological crisis and a rejection of the system in general » according to an internal note of a police intelligence French service [le Service Central du Renseignement Territorial] on April 28th (Le monde ou rien, Remarques sur l’agitation sociale en France au printemps 2016, Alèssi Dell’Umbria [10]). Besides these positive lessons, important weaknesses remain which can be fateful if they are not overcome.

The first one is the one the proletariat have to politically assume the distrust it feels towards the political and union forces of the capitalist state. That is to confront them resolutely in the struggles which these forces systematically sabotage, by at least fighting with them over the control and the timing of the struggle, indeed its initiative. In particular during this mobilization, this political willingness only expressed in a too limited manner. Basically and in the absence of struggle or particular strike centre which could have been a reference and a pole for an active general mobilization, this political will has only appeared amongst those who fight with the unions over the lead of the demonstrations and refuse to give up to the intimidation and to the violence of the police repression. Unfortunately, they still too much limited themselves only to the question of the confrontation with the police without going further. For instance by attempting to utilize – or to ’transform’ – these days of action and union demonstrations to make them genuine moments of gathering, spreading and unification of the struggle.

The second one is the lack of regroupment and organization of the most militant and conscious minorities into ’struggle committee’ or ’coordinations’ (whatever is the label one gives it) to fight with the unions over the political leadership and the organization of the working class fight. In this mobilization, these ones could have organize to prepare and intervene during the days of action for transforming them in moments and means for the generalization. Amongst these minorities, we include the even more reduced and dispersed minorities, that is the revolutionary and communist groups. Contrary to the massive mobilizations of 2003-2007-2010, no minority regroupment of the kind of ’interpro General Assembly’ or coordinations has actually arisen.

The third, more general, is the fact that the proletariat can not, not yet, raise its class fight at the level required by the economic and political attacks that it suffers and by the stakes of the situation which is sinking into the economic crisis and the exacerbation of the imperialist rivalries and wars. Therefore, it remains incapable of presenting a revolutionary perspective to the whole society which can end up with misery and wars, with capitalism. Yet, the apparition and the extension within the consciousnesses of a revolutionary perspective is fundamental so that these working class struggles succeed to overcome their present limits. Actually, by allowing to understand them as a moment of the historical class struggle, the ’hope’ for another society provides the necessary energy to each particular struggle so that it can overcome its ’economist’ and immediate limits; and to those (the most militant workers fractions) who are particularly conscious of it, it energizes them to be the active vanguard of these struggles. And the perspective of communism, that is of the working class insurrection and the dictatorship of the proletariat, for those (the communist groups) who are convinced of it and specifically conscious of it, it energizes them putting forwards the most efficient orientations and slogans of action according to the moments and the stakes of each fight.

This struggle has certainly been the first skirmish of importance of this new period of international massive confrontations between the classes which has opened up. As important and significant of this period it may be, the mobilization in France underlines the historical responsibility of the proletariat as revolutionary class. It is this dimension that it has to assume every where and every time. Let’s be clear, it is not a question of calling to the revolution at every moment and every where. But it matters to set the methods and the objectives – organization-orientations and demands, economic or not – of each struggle from its concrete conditions and possibilities with, as guide (or method) of action, the revolutionary perspective and more specifically the political confrontation with the capitalist state and its overthrow. The working class mobilization in France manifests the fact that, in the period which has opened up, the most militant and conscious workers minorities, whether they are the most advanced fractions of the proletariat or still its revolutionary and communist political minorities, are already a material element of the situation, included… when they are notably absent. Without being the only reason for their absence, ’Nuit debout’ has certainly taken the place of the ’interpro General Assembly’ of the previous mobilizations. No doubt that the active, permanent and determined intervention of one revolutionary group, or groups, particularly the communist ones, in the demonstrations and the gathering of any kind – without mentioning the presence and the intervention of communist militants within the workplaces – would not only have enabled to assert more strongly the class alternative, the practical means and objectives of struggle, amongst the workers, and to make these ones develop. But above all, it would have make them (orientations and slogans) active material factors of the situation, factor of the class fight, that is the development of an immediate relation of forces between the capitalist class and the proletariat in France.

There is why is going to be raised, it already raises, the indispensable question of the communist groups regroupment – we do not say fusion in one single organization which would not have any sense – and a coordination of the intervention in the working class struggles by those who set themselves on the ’partidist’ side (who struggle for the constitution of the communist party as organ of ’political leadership’) of the Proletarian Camp and who, basically, systematically tend to put forwards the same orientations and the same slogans: make the practical class orientations active and direct factors, make them moments, of the decisive proletarian fights which are beginning.

The IGCL, August 2016.

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Notes:

[1. For our English language reader, we can say that ’Nuit debout’ (’All Night Up’) is the 2016 French version of the former Spanish ’Indignados’ and ’Occupy’ movements. We come back on it later in this article and also in the leaflet we reproduce in this issue of the journal. The name comes from the fact its initiators called for gathering at night on the Republic Place in Paris and hold a permanent assembly of debates.

[2. New Attacks in Brussels : Capitalism is Misery and War ! No to Terrorism, No to Anti-Terrorism ! Only One Path : To Struggle against Misery and War for Destroying Capitalism (March 22nd 2016), (http://igcl.org/New-Attacks-in-Brussels-Capitalism).

[3. The expectation and the hope of a strike which would ’block the economy’ – the fetishism of the ’general strike’ is historically very strong in France – put forwards by the leftists and ’radical’ unionists, particularly within SUD but also now within the CGT, actually leads to wait for a paralysis of the economy by a corporation, in the transports or the energy sectors for instance, which would force the bourgeoisie to give up. Thus, at every massive but hesitant mobilization, the leftists exert the whole weight of the fight upon a corporation as the railway workers. By doing so, they maintain powerlessness and wait-and-see policy within the workers ranks.

[4. Both web sites have English pages

[5. Having, it seems, militant forces as limited as ours, but not present in Paris, the PCint-Le Prolétaire [Proletarian for its English journal] has intervened by leaflet since March 7th, then May 1st and finally May 29th. Globally, its stance is on the same side as ours in regards to the days of action, to ’Nuit debout’ and to the general orientations of struggle. Amongst the milieu of ’former Left communist groups members’, often of the ICC, only one text What does the “Up All Night” Movement Express? (http://www.leftcommunism.org/spip.php?article438) presents ’Nuit debout’ as ’a point of support and reference for present and future struggles’ on the Controverses web site… from June 11th only. For the ICC, it intervenes March 20th to… defend the supposed lessons of the anti-CPE student movement of 2006! Then May 20th, while strikes are emerging for the first time and while ’Nuit debout’ is no more a central stake, it publishes on What is the real nature of the Nuit Debout movement? in which it denounces this one as the ’the anti-Indignados’ defending the supposed lessons of the Spanish movement of 2011! No orientation has been put forwards by this organization all along this four months long mobilization. By the way, let’s point out that we have not seen any militants of the ICC in any demonstration in Paris...

[6. There have not been any dead despite the fear and the panic which was taken hold of numerous police forces when they were in the middle of the crowd, surrounded from every sides, often threatening with their flash-ball at close range, some times using them as in Rennes where there has been a young seriously injured, or still with the flat trajectory fires of grenades. It is both a ’miracle’ and in great part due to the political responsibility of the great masses of demonstrators. In more than one occasion, they could have let to retaliations when the physical relation of forces, because the number and the proximity – sometimes about ten policemen were fully surrounded by the mass –, was obviously in their favour and while the anger was huge. The solidarity with the young ’rioters’ in front of the repression has also expressed at that ’political’ level by staying there and by ’opposing’ the police violence according to the immediate stakes of the struggle. Contrary to the past, it is clear that the government and the ruling class do not try any more to prevent any dead or serious injuries during the working class demonstrations as it do not hesitate to sentence to jail numerous demonstrators arrested on the base of lying police reports.

[7. The police has utilized a new tactic in the demonstrations aiming at cutting them and splitting some parts. The parts fully surrounded were trapped with no exit contrary to the past tactics of the anti-riot police which, always, used to leave an exit for preventing any panic and violent reaction of the crowd which could be returned against… the police itself and provoke many victims. The new tactic comes to confirm that times are changing and so are the political stakes: the bourgeoisie provokes the working class and tries to intimidate it through a frontal repression.

[8. With the massive participation of all the media for banning the demonstrations, the government used the so-called destruction of the Necker Hospital in Paris – actually a few external windows broken by one individual whose ’quality’, idiot, agent provocateur or police, does not really matter – that it has carefully organized by blocking the massive demonstration at that precise place during at least one hour and while, since its beginning and all along its route, it have ceaseless assaulted directly and permanently the whole first militant part of the demonstration.