World View: Trotskyists in the European Parliament
Not many people know this but there are Trotskyist members sitting in the European Parliament. For the 1999 elections two Trotskyists groups in France—Lutte Ouvrière and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire—presented a joint list and managed to get more than 5 percent of the national vote, so entitling them to 5 seats. It is this example that has inspired the main Trotskyist groups in Britain, led by the SWP and Militant, to get together as the so-called “Socialist Alliance” in the hope of repeating this performance.
But supposing they did get elected to Parliament what would they do? The French Trotskyist MEPs can provide a clue. In order to get full parliamentary facilities they have had to join a parliamentary “group”. The one they have chosen to associate themselves with is the “European United Left/Nordic Green Left” made up of “Communist” and various other left-of-Labour MEPs. Too much should not be read into this as it is essentially an arrangement to get access to meeting rooms, interpreters and funds. The French Trotskyist MEPs use some of their share of the money to produce a “bulletin des députés” (members’ bulletin) in which they publish their speeches and details of their other activities.
Lenin was not an anti-parliamentarist (he wasn’t wrong about everything) but was in favour of Bolsheviks getting elected to Parliament and using it as a tribune from which to get their message across to workers in the country at large. As good Leninists, this is what the French Trotskyist MEPs try to do. There is nothing wrong with this as such. It is what Socialist MPs and MEPs would try to do too, only the message would be different—very different.
Whereas Socialist MPs would emphasise that capitalism can’t be reformed to work in the interest of wage and salary workers who should therefore get together to bring it to an end and replace it by a system based on common ownership, democratic control and production for use not profit, the Trotskyist MEPs merely repeat the slogans demanding reforms that they shout on demonstrations and publicise in their papers.
Thus the front page headline in the May 2000 issue of their Bulletin des Députés reads: “IT’S THE BOSSES’ PROFITS THAT SHOULD BE TAKEN TO CREATE JOBS”. Their speeches seem to indicate that they actually believe that unemployment could be ended by doing this. Here’s Chantal Canquil (of LO):
“It is not that it’s impossible to immediately end unemployment but that would require a voluntarist policy which would not hesitate to draw on the profits of the financial and industrial groups and on the personal wealth of the big shareholders.”
And Arlette Laguiller herself, LO’s perennial candidate for President of France, called for a mass movement
“to force big capital to take from its profits the wherewithal to create non-precarious jobs, paid at a decent wage”.
Alain Krivine, of the LCR, who has often been Laguiller’s rival in French presidential elections, even outlined a detailed programme as to how capitalism and capitalists could create full employment and decent wages for everyone:
“A reduction in working time with the obligation to take on people and without introducing flexible working practices; wages to go up in line with productivity; a tax reform harmonising upwards taxes on income from capital; a Tobin tax aimed at discouraging financial speculation; and finally the implementation of a planned programme of energy saving.”
Do they really believe this nonsense about keeping capitalism and being able to force, either by legislation or by strikes and demonstrations, the capitalists to use their profits to create jobs for everyone at a decent and ever-rising wage (anyone who knows how capitalism works will know that this would provoke a massive economic crisis)? Or is it just a populist slogan to attract gullible supporters who they believe they can then lead in an assault on capitalism (in fact to replace existing mixed private/state capitalism by full state capitalism)?
Either way they are condemned as anti-socialist. If they believe this is possible, then they stand exposed as reformists, and naive and unrealistic reformists at that. If they don’t believe it, then they stand exposed as dishonest and cynical demagogues perpetuating reformist illusions just to win a popular following. Perhaps Krivine and the LCR believe it and LO don’t. The LCR does offer more specific reforms than LO who confine themselves to vague general slogans. On the other hand, the LCR could be the more Machiavellian (or Leninist—the same thing) since it thinks the more practical you appear the better chance you have of attracting a bigger following.
Genuine Socialist MEPs of course would not advocate such reforms or encourage such reformist illusions. They would tell it like it is: that unemployment is inevitable under capitalism and will go up and down depending on which stage of its unavoidable business cycle capitalism happens to be in and that there’s nothing that can be done to stop this; that there is no such thing as a decent wage since capitalism is based on the exploitation of wage labour with wages always being less than the value added in production and appropriated by the capitalists. Having said this, we would be less than honest if we didn’t concede that occasionally the Trotskyist MEPs have used their speaking time to make the same criticism of capitalism as we would, even if from the perspective of establishing full state capitalism rather than real socialism.
But what about their voting record? This is a tricky one even for Socialists as this has been a subject of controversy within our own ranks. In the early days there were members who argued that Socialist MPs shouldn’t take their seats and others who advocated that they should either vote against or abstain in all votes. But the majority position, which is still our current position, was that whereas Socialist MPs shouldn’t propose anything (other than Socialism) they might under certain circumstances vote for something proposed by others i.e. a measure considered by the Party to be in the interest of the working class or the socialist movement). So we can’t criticise the Trotskyist MEPs for sometimes abstaining, sometimes voting against and sometimes even voting for. For the record, they have generally voted against or abstained on economic issues and have only voted for general anti-racist declarations and pro-ecology measures.
Basically, the French Trotskyist MEPs either are or have behaved as leftwing reformists and so have done nothing to further the cause of Socialism. There is no reason to suppose that Trotskyist MPs in the British House of Commons would behave any differently.