Party News: Socialist Activity in France
The Paris-based group of the World Socialist Movement, which publishes the journal Socialisme Mondial, recently held the latest in its series of public meetings. The meeting, on the subject of socialism and working-class organisation, was quite well attended, and was also participated in by several members who had travelled over from London, as part of a weekend of socialist activity in Paris.
The rest of the weekend was devoted to running a stall for Socialisme Mondial and the Socialist Party as part of the Fête [de] Lutte Ouvrière or “Workers’ Struggle” festival, which is held in the extensive grounds of a castle in the Val d’Oise. just north of Paris, every year towards the end of May. Lutte Ouvrière is one of the main French Trotskyist parties, not unlike the SWP of Britain in some respects, though perhaps better known. Like the SWP, Lutte Ouvrière continues to cling to various Leninist dogmas about the workers’ supposed need for strong political “leadership” from a self-styled professional vanguard; they regard the state capitalist dictatorship in Russia as being worthy of workers’ support On the other hand, they are rightly highly critical of the main reformist parties in France, and in particular of the French “Socialist” Party, which is a reformist party like the British Labour Party and which formed the government in France for the first half of this decade
It is generally understood that the dozens of different political groups with stalls at the festival do not necessarily support Lutte Ouvrière in any way; they simply pay a small hire fee and then proceed to put their ideas and literature across to some of the many thousands of visitors who pass by during the weekend. It is, in other words, a kind of bazaar, a “free market” of political ideas. (There was. however. no sign of Margaret Thatcher; she must have been peddling her wares elsewhere that weekend). Our own uncompromised and clear case for socialism was amply voiced, both in French and English, and a good deal of the literature was sold.
The festival itself is in fact a remarkable event, and well worth attending, as there is currently nothing comparable in Britain. It is quite a feat of voluntary organisation, with the total number of stalls running into hundreds. Aside from various political parties and groups, there were stalls with food and music from many parts of the world. There is an attempt to create a fraternal atmosphere to contrast, for two or three days, with the alienated and antagonistic world of capitalism. While this can never properly be achieved in isolation there is a strong camaraderie in the holiday atmosphere Long lanes of stalls were renamed with mock road-signs such as “Marx Road’ and “Freedom Avenue”. Banners were displayed with slogans such as “No socialism without women’s liberation, no women’s liberation without socialism” One stall invited passers-by to complete a vast jigsaw of the world, as the banner overhead proclaimed: “the whole world is my country”.
Perhaps the only dubious gesture of this kind is the issuing of “labour voucher”-type token money for use inside the festival. Extra “token francs” are issued against “real francs”. so that the festival currency is “devalued”, forcing stallholders who are selling their goods to each other effectively to reduce their prices. This may be of some passing benefit to those who buy more than they sell at the festival (which, of course, would have applied far more to the many Trotskyist groups present than to ourselves) But there is a dangerously misleading impression created, that socialism will perhaps have some need of a new type of currency, with which to ration and distribute goods according to some “just” scheme. In fact, socialism means that all property relationships will have ended, so that any means of exchange becomes unnecessary and the money-rationing system for distributing poverty can be replaced with a system of free access, according to self-determined need.
There was an incredible range of American and French Trotskyist groups at the Fête [de] Lutte Ouvrière. Indeed, it was rumoured that some of the American groups had travelled over only to set up their stalls opposite one another and shout tirades of abuse at each other across the grass verges, in a holiday atmosphere. Such scenes did take place. Perhaps the most depressing experience, though, was stumbling across a couple of stalls from which could be heard the familiar English (as opposed to French) jargon, as representatives from the British SWP and RCP stood and sweated over how many years it was before the Russian Revolution “degenerated”. To suggest that the Bolshevik or Leninist model for social change should itself be questioned meets with howls of derision from these experts in historical confusion.
The need to propagate a clear case for revolutionary, democratic socialism is more urgent than ever, and at the Fête [de] Lutte Ouvrière we made sure that some steps, however small at first, were being taken in that direction.