By Martin Thomas
Léonce Aguirre, a leader of the New Anti-Capitalist Party in France, and before that of the LCR (Revolutionary Communist League), died suddenly from meningitis on 29 September.
He was 60, and had been an active Trotskyist since youth, first in his native Switzerland, then from 1976 in France.
He was a ready polemicist, and in the late 1990s, when I knew him best, leader of an opposition group in the LCR called the “Révolution tendency”.
I first met him during France’s great strike wave of late 1995. A contingent of AWL members had gone to a demonstration in Paris, and sought to help out by selling the LCR’s paper and distributing its leaflets.
Wanting to engage politically, I went to the LCR headquarters to hand in the sales money. Aguirre had what is usually the least-sought-after job in a revolutionary socialist organisation: treasurer. I found him in a tiny office, tucked away in the LCR’s large building and piled high with bills and records.
He was keen not only to take the cash, but to talk politically. His grouping sought to push the LCR into clearer self-assertion as a revolutionary working-class political force, and out of the miasma into which it had fallen since the late 1980s, in which its political orientation was focused on endless and fruitless attempts at “broad regroupments” with fragments around the French Socialist Party and Communist Party.
The factional battle in the LCR focused on immediate issues of French politics, often electoral politics. But Aguirre was also keen to discuss broader political questions, and expressed ideas close to the AWL’s on Stalinism.
His group worked closely for a while with Voix des Travailleurs (a group excluded from Lutte Ouvrière in 1997, and which joined the LCR in 2000) and with L’Etincelle (a dissident internal grouping in Lutte Ouvrière from the early 90s: eventually, after a long “cold split”, excluded from LO in 2008, and now in the NPA). From 1999 to 2001, it published a joint magazine with L’Etincelle (Convergences Révolutionnaires).
On an organisational level, Aguirre’s group won its battle. The LCR turned away from obsessive haggling with small coteries of ex-SP or ex-CP people, and did well by running its own candidate in the 2002 presidential election.
Basic self-assertion is fundamental for a revolutionary socialist organisation. It has to be coupled with an incisive yet patient orientation to developing and transforming the existing (non-revolutionary) labour movement. On that, we had less in common with Aguirre’s group of the late 1990s.
Over the last decade, Aguirre was politically reintegrated into the LCR/NPA majority, and on some issues was on what in the 1990s he would probably have thought to be the “right” of the majority. He remained active, thoughtful, open-minded.
Some of his personal qualities are conveyed by the testimonies to him from his factional opponents. The group round Christian Picquet who were Aguirre’s sharpest opponents inside the LCR in the late 90s, and in 2009 split from the NPA, write: “Great was his honesty, and scrupulous his sensitivity on questions of democracy”.
Members of Lutte Ouvrière, with whom he had many political clashes, write simply: “He was a nice guy”.