Lutte Ouvrière: Workers Struggling for What?
Many ideas which are basic to Socialism are accepted among far wider circles than the ranks of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Indeed there are many organisations throughout the world which would appear to endorse whole areas of the socialist case. These groups (who often tell us that ‘we are all socialists’) would generally argue that our aims are identical and that it is only on the question of means to achieve the ultimate socialist society that we differ. One such case is Lutte Ouvrière — a group based in France which, on the face of it, appears to share many of our ideas. Their programme socialiste (Lutte Ouvrière — June) correctly summarises the principal features of capitalism:
. . . the capitalist system, based on the private ownership of the means of production, organises production for profit, without caring about the real needs of men, but on the contrary subjecting man completely to the needs of profit.
and points out why Socialism has become possible and how it will differ from capitalism:
. . . with the development of technology and science it is possible to give to all men a decent standard of living under conditions of total liberty . . . What stands between us and socialism is not scarcity of technical resources but simply the political system (des entraves politiques) which throws the economy into anarchic production, full of contradictions and resulting in insecurity, the destruction of wealth and the alienation of liberty.
But between Socialism and capitalism, argues Lutte Ouvrière, there must be a transition period during which the workers’ state will have a double goal: “to raise individual salaries (as long as the wages system lasts) but above all to develop free and collective facilities (housing, transport, education, public health, sport, leisure, etc.).” This, of course, is merely a rehash of the old Bolshevik maxim that “an epoch of proletarian dictatorship must inevitably intervene between a capitalist and a communist society.” The twin tasks of this transition period or ’dictatorship of the proletariat’, said the Bolsheviks, were to boost production through industrialisation and above all to crush the “resistance of the sometime capitalists, landlords, bankers, generals, and bishops. . .” This is obviously a perspective shared by Lutte Ouvrière since they write that workers’ power will involve such measures as an “embargo on the banks, the finance societies, the insurance companies . . .”
To the Socialist Party this seems a completely false assessment of the problems that will face a socialist working class. With Marx we recognise that one of the first priorities for society after a victorious socialist revolution will be to develop rapidly the forces of production. But with Marx too we also understand that this will be achieved within the framework of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production—in other words within the framework of the moneyless, wageless society of Socialism. This is not the ‘transition period’ but a stage in the development of socialism itself. Hence Marx in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, where he partially deals with this question, refers not to a ‘transition period’ but to different phases in a communist (or socialist) society. And, of course, the idea of the workers applying terror during an entire ‘epoch’ to “sometime capitalists, landlords, bankers, generals, and bishops . . .”, which is central to Bolshevik thinking, becomes ludicrous when it is set against the Marxist concept of a democratic revolution by a majority of conscious socialists. We cannot say how fierce the struggles will be at the time of the socialist revolution but it should be clear that once the capitalist class has been stripped of its wealth it will certainly pose no kind of threat to “the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority” (The Communist Manifesto). It is the Bolshevik fetish of leadership which still makes groups like Lutte Ouvrière cling to their ideas of a ‘transition period’. In the Bolshevik plan of things one minority, the ‘revolutionary vanguard’, holds down other minorities, such as the former ruling class, while the workers are attaining consciousness. The whole scheme might have some slight merit as a rather ingenious fairy tale except that it has always masked the rise to power of a new ruling class.
Lutte Ouvrière are also deeply influenced by Boshevism in their attitude towards parliament. Elections are a ‘masquerade’:
A masquerade first of all in the goal which is given to them. To elect for seven years a president of the Republic . . . is no more nor less than choosing the man who for seven years will have the right to send the CRS and the police forces against struggling workers and peasants, against demonstrating lycéens or students.
. . . They ask the elector to put his trust for seven years in a man who for one month will have come out with beautiful promises as bait, but who once he is elected, will not have to answer to anyone.
Obviously, many of the points made here are valid — but how they can lead Lutte Ouvrière to the conclusion that elections are a masquerade is beyond us. When a capitalist party gains a majority in the national assembly or when a capitalist candidate is elected as president, this indicates that a majority of workers look upon the capitalist system as the only practical method of organising society. This was well illustrated in the presidential elections in France recently when the vast majority of working men and women voted for one or other of the capitalist contenders. Behind the ‘masquerade’ of the millions of votes for Pompidou, Poher, Duclos etc. stood a working class committed to capitalism.
But Lutte Ouvrière claim that this election was different from others because a ‘revolutionary’ candidate (the trotskyist Alain Krivine) was standing.
It is in this sense that the elections are a barometer. That Krivine should obtain 20, 300, 10,000, or 50,000 votes is not a matter of indifference. His score will permit us to estimate approximately the influence of left ideas among the population . . . the trotskyist candidature allows revolutionaries to count themselves . . .
Once again there are valid points here. A revolutionary candidate is useful as a thermometer of support for Socialism — but, as the Socialist Party has always emphasised, this is only achieved if he runs on an exclusively socialist ticket. A reform programme, such as Krivine embraced and which caused Lutte Ouvrière to support him, defeats the object of the whole exercise. Our criticism of Krivine’s programme is well summed up by this passage from Le Prolétaire (Programme Communiste):
The ‘socialism’ of the trotskyists does not cause the economic categories of capitalism to disappear: the wage slave remains a wage slave, the product remains a commodity. Nothing is changed . . . Mr Krivine and his friends then have nothing in common with the historical programme of the proletariat, nor as a result with the struggle of the working class and the revolutionary and scientific socialism of Marx and Engels.
Another hangover from the bourgeois ideology of Bolshevism in the programme socialiste of Lutte Ouvrière is their idea that the socialist revolution will be essentially a national affair, the workers gaining power country by country.
The workers’ power will maintain economic and political relations with other countries by giving in the first place its support to the exploited of these countries.
It seems that they seriously imagine that Socialism will be achieved in France while Britain and Germany, or America and Russia, or Japan and China remain gripped by capitalism. But ideas today are international. When a group like Sheng Wu Lien in China points out that China is a capitalist country and explains that the so-called cultural revolution has merely enabled the ‘red capitalists’ led by Mao to tighten their hold on the means of production, they are talking a language which radicals in every continent can understand. Or when a tin-pot capitalist revolution on a small island in the Caribbean led by unoriginal political thinkers like Castro and Guevara is successful, its repercussions echo round the world. So Lutte Ouvrière should ask themselves what would be the likely effects on the world working class of a mass socialist movement starting to appear in any one country. The Socialist Party of Great Britain suggests that by the time the workers in France or anywhere else are turning to Socialism and preparing to take power they will be doing the same in every other advanced industrial country. World Socialism will be the outcome of a world socialist revolution..
It is on these grounds that the Socialist Party urges the members of Lutte Ouvrière and the many groups like it to examine their strategy and tactics. Like them we think that “world communism which will co-ordinate in a harmonious fashion the sum total of human activities yet also protect the peculiarities and customs of each section of the population” is an aim worth struggling for. But the Socialist Party also maintains that means and ends are indissolubly linked. A world socialist community can only be achieved by a majority of conscious socialists capturing political power in order to reorganise society on a basis of common ownership and democratic control. Attempts to apply Bolshevik or syndicalist techniques to the struggle for Socialism are self-defeating because inevitably such means cause those who use them to arrive at a different end from Socialism.