French far-left election alliance raises hopes
By Eva Cheng
PARIS — The French far left could win four seats in the June 13 European elections. There has been an encouraging response to the joint ticket between the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (Revolutionary Communist League, LCR) and Lutte Ouvrière (Workers' Struggle, LO) launched late last year. The two groups, with nearly 2000 members each, are the biggest far left groups in France.
The joint ticket has been polling 6-8%. Any French ticket with more than 5% of the vote will get four seats in the European Parliament, but none if it polls less than 5%. Green Left Weekly spoke to the two lead candidates — the LO's Arlette Laguiller on February 16 and the LCR's Alain Krivine on February 17.
Question: What prompted LO to support the joint ticket?
Laguiller: We launched this joint list because of the catastrophic situation that the workers and unemployed are in today. More and more unemployed, workers, intellectuals and young people are arriving at the conviction that only the values of the far left represent the possibility to change society. The LO and LCR working together gives the best chance to test that out.
Question: The campaign's February 5 public meeting in Paris attracted more than 3000 and seemed highly successful. What is your assessment of the campaign so far?
The campaign has just begun, with only two meetings but both were very good. However, we can't assess the dynamics of the campaign or project the electoral results merely on the size of the meetings.
The most important thing is that the militants are inspired by the campaign. The media were surprised by it and interested in this new phenomenon. It's very inspiring for this to happen at the beginning of the campaign.
Question: What possibilities are there for the LO and the LCR to collaborate beyond this campaign?
That will depend on the political context, the electoral results and the state of the working-class struggle. People should be aware of the differences between the LCR and us, despite both engaging in the anti-capitalist struggle.
The main divergence is that the LCR has an approach towards the alternative currents and personalities which in our view has too little to do with the interest of the working class. That's why up to now we haven't been able to work together.
Yet arriving at this electoral platform has been rather easy. Neither has to abandon its convictions.
We are not in the position to engage in negotiation for possible fusion, [but] if unity proved necessary to enhance the working-class struggle, we would seriously deal with it. Between unity and ignoring one another, there are many intermediate situations. After the election, we will discuss what type of relationship is appropriate.
Question: Are there any additional projects that the two can work on together to increase the political space of the far left?
I won 5% of the vote during my  presidential campaign, and LO and LCR have both gone beyond that in some regional elections. However, nationally, if we go beyond 5% it will clearly show a radicalisation of the working class and their rising confidence in the far left, and in the LO and LCR in particular.
It will also help the struggle. When you realise there may be millions sharing the same ideas, this is inspiring and will give you more will to fight, to recruit, to address in a broader way the population and be convinced that one can be strong not only in the electoral field but also in the struggle.
In that sense, a good electoral result will be a useful push for both organisations. But it's too early to talk about further joint projects.
Question: What is the LO's involvement in the movement of the unemployed?
One important reason we can have a common list with the LCR is because we both were engaged in actions to support the unemployed and the workers, especially in the last two years.
Not many unemployed are organised. This is not a criticism. I know how difficult it is to organise the unemployed, and it's clear that revolutionary organisations should give them support.
We think the unemployed can put more pressure on the public authorities, as the wage earners are trying to do. What we should mainly do now is help to link the unemployment movement to the overall movement of the workers — that is, those who still have a job but risk losing it at any time.
Our policy on this question is a bit different from the LCR. The LCR is involved directly in the unemployed movement. But we are trying to link it with the workers' movement such that there's a common struggle in the factories against the ideas spread by the right wing that the unemployed are bludgers.
What's missing now is a common fight between the unemployed and wage earners — a point which both we and the LCR agree on.
Question: There are considerable efforts by some left forces in Asia to collaborate, as seen in the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference in Sydney last April. Is the LO planning to collaborate with left forces in Asia as well?
As revolutionary activists, we aren't indifferent to what's happening in other parts of the planet. But unfortunately, for the time being, there are no militants in Asia who are close to our tendency. But we will surely be interested in having contact with them.
Question: How would you assess the campaign with the LO to date?
Krivine: This campaign is taking place in a very good period compared to all previous electoral campaigns we've been involved in. Since the big strikes in France in 1995, we have a new social and political situation.
A new social movement is emerging, especially in the railways, post office and hospitals. Activists are very radical, both in the factories and outside, among the unemployed, the homeless, migrants and the sans papiers [those without residency papers].
There is a widening gap between the consciousness of the new social movements and the answers provided by the official left in France — the Communist Party (CP), the Socialist Party (SP) and, in a certain sense, the Greens — that is, the "left" parties in government. Within this framework, our alliance with the LO is a very new element.
For the first time, the far left has a big echo among the social movements and those who usually vote for the SP, CP or the Greens. There's an echo even in the TV, radio and national newspapers, which is totally unprecedented.
Many people used to say a vote for the far left is ineffective because under French laws you need 5% to be elected, which is very hard to achieve. But with our joint ticket, people feel there's a good prospect of winning and that our campaign is credible. In the last regional election, the combined vote of the LO and LCR reached 8-10%.
In the polls, we've got 6-8%. We've held only two public meetings, out of a planned 62 to 63. The first one, in a small country town where we have a negligible base, attracted 400, which was very unusual. In Paris, more than 3000 packed the hall. Nobody has had a political meeting this big in Paris for years.
Many who came were leaders of social movements — from trade unions, the unemployed, feminists and those struggling against racism and fascism. Many were supporters of Arlette, who is a popular figure in France who is seen to represent justice. Some of them were workers, unemployed or people in revolt against their terrible conditions of life. Many of them never go to political meetings. Some Greens and CP members also came.
Question: How much is the CP feeling the pressure of your campaign?
The CP is getting about 8% in the polls; the gap with us is tiny. They used to poll 30% 20-30 years ago, and we almost zero.
Many media commentators have said, if this pattern is repeated in the final vote, it would resemble a revolution. It is, so far as the shift in the relationship of forces is concerned.
A majority of the CP membership is going through a crisis of identity. They admit that while their leaders in government are supporting government policies, their members in the social movements are fighting against those policies. This contradiction is impossible to live with.
Question: The CP has opened half of its candidate list to non-members, including people with right-wing politics. What does this indicate?
Today the CP leadership has no political line. It knows what it doesn't want — Stalinism, bureaucracy etc. — but it doesn't know what it stands for now. The leaders said, "Stalinism is archaic and we want to be modern". They tried to be open, but they opened totally to the right.
It seems they want to copy the SP. Their line is to join more and more with the SP to gain part of the SP's credibility — but they can't admit this publicly. I predict the two parties will eventually fuse.
Question: What about the Greens? Their recruitment of Daniel Cohn-Bendit [a famous leader of the 1968 French student revolt who has since become right wing] seems an opportunist trick to attract votes.
The Greens have been forced to swallow many government policies which are in total contradiction to their own program. They were beaten recently by the government's decision to build a new generation of nuclear plants. Their objection to the government's handling of nuclear waste was ignored. Their opposition to a major expansion of roads was also defeated. But despite all these, they remain in government.
Cohn-Bendit brought them further embarrassments. He supported the 1991 Gulf War, in contradiction with the Greens. For a long time he's been in favour of the Amsterdam Treaty (linked to the Maastricht project), but the Greens are against it.
Groups of a dozen or so have resigned from the Greens in some regions. Many are now our close sympathisers and have a presence in our central leadership bodies, but without voting rights.
Question: Has the right wing responded to your campaign?
Not a word yet. But the bourgeois parties in France are in a total crisis. They are totally discredited, which is a problem shared by other right-wing parties in Europe. Even the fascists, who are strong electorally in France, are in trouble. The National Front suffered a split recently.
Question: One-fifth of the delegates at your January congress voted against this joint ticket. Does it pose any problems for your organisation?
They opposed for understandable reasons. There are big differences between the LCR and LO. Both are revolutionary organisations, but we rarely worked with them.
The LO decided it could only have political interventions inside factories. We are also in the factories, less than they, but we are very active in other social movements. In these areas, they are totally absent and are not building any united campaign.
Some of our comrades said it's impossible to explain to our collaborators in the social movements that we're making an alliance with an organisation whom they don't see except during elections. We explained that going into an election, you address not only the thousands in the social movements but millions of people. We can't explain to the population the far left will have two lists because they don't participate in a united committee of the unemployed.
These comrades would probably change when after seeing the success of our initial public meetings and the growing support of many in the social movements.
Question: Might the two organisations fuse in the foreseeable future?
In the present situation, it is unlikely. LO functions very differently from us. It's more than just the differences in daily practice; it doesn't build campaigns with us, but when actions are organised, it comes along with their flags and so on.
Question: Would you work with others on the left who might be elected to the European parliament?
Despite different traditions and situations in different countries across Europe, there is a similar process of decomposition and recomposition of the workers' movement. There's a general feeling that the right is defeated, there's a radicalisation among the working class and the population, and people who reject the right now vote for social democracy because they're the only credible electoral force. But usually these social democrats are going more and more to the right.
This has created a new space for the far left, the anti-capitalists, the ecologists and the feminist movement. You have a radicalisation to the left of social democracy all over Europe. In France it's expressed in our joint ticket.
If we get into the European parliament, we will help the regroupment of these forces. It will also be a fantastic help to the social movements.
Question: What about collaboration with left forces in Asia?
Magnified by globalisation, the left needs more and more coordination, and we will be part of it. We have little information in general about Asia, but we know and are impressed by the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference. If we have someone elected, our resources will improve and that will facilitate our coordination with forces in Asia as well.
[The interview with Arlette Laguiller was translated from French by LCR leader Pierre Rousset.]