A long split on the French left

Submitted by AWL on 22 September, 2015 - 5:12 Author: Vincent Présumey

The "Lambertist" strand of "orthodox Trotskyism" is almost unknown in Britain, but has been relatively strong in France for many decades, and with many international offshoots. A recent split among the "Lambertists" is thus of interest to all activists who seek, as we must, to unravel what of today's would-be "Trotskyism" is authentic treasure gleaned from the great revolutionaries of the past, and what is corruption and degeneration.

The "Lambertists" have in recent years been organised in a group called the Independent Workers' Party (POI). The POI purports to contain four distinct organised "tendencies": the CCI (Trotskyist), and "anarchist", "Communist", and "Socialist" tendencies. In fact it is run by the CCI, the other three "tendencies" being concocted facades.

The POI has been intensely hostile to the European Union, and claims that exit from the European Union is the first step to socialism. It is very influential in one of France's big trade union confederations, FO, and is said to number hundreds of FO full-time officials among its members.

This is an abridged translation of a survey by Vincent Présumey.

As far as can be seen, the crisis in the CCI/POI (the CCI being the successor to the OCI of the years 1960-80, and the main component of the POI) is coming to a head...

The crisis erupted at the start of the summer, at the time of the Greek referendum [5 July], and seems to be culminating now, as the holiday season ends, with what both sides expected: a split, and not a friendly one.

The appearance on 18 July of a new paper, La Tribune des Travailleurs (Workers' Tribune), clearly signalled a split. We observed that the political orientation of that paper was clearer, more assertive, than that of Informations Ouvrières [the POI paper], where Daniel Gluckstein [main leader of the CCI/POI for decades] is still the nominal editor but seems no longer to have any grip over the content. It was more assertive in the direction of preparation for social, and thus political confrontation in France, thought of as imminent.

It was so because it took the gloves off in relation to the leadership of the union confederations [France has, in effect, several "TUC"s]. It attacks them, among other questions, on that of the European Trade Union Confederation, a structure which is more linked to official EU institutions than to the rank and file of the unions, and which is holding its congress in Paris at the end of September and the start of October. The CGT, CGT-FO, CFDT, CFTC, and UNSA [the five major "TUC"s] are affiliated to it.

The new paper was sponsored by the national secretaries of the POI. In an article signed by them (Daniel Gluckstein, Gérard Schivardi et Jean Markun) it claimed to represent the aims for which the POI was founded, and took the same masthead slogans as Informations Ouvrières [the official POI paper]: open forum of the class struggle, "the emancipation of the workers will be the task of the workers themselves"...

For those who launched the new paper, it registered that they felt it impossible to express themselves only, or, now, even mainly, internally. The majority of the DN (National Leadership, formerly Central Committee) of the CCI had decided to schedule the CCI congress after the POI congress (rather than vice versa, as previously) and to declare that a fundamental renovation of the POI was going to be carried through at the congress.

The minority wanted officially to form a tendency. That right was refused them on the grounds that the CCI congress had been put back, and tendencies cannot exist outside pre-congress periods. This clash led to the "suspension" of the members of the minority tendency, more or less a third of the organisation, the changing of the keys of the offices, and similar measures.

It was that minority tendency that launched the new paper, but it did not proclaim that openly. That was wrong: transparency is the foundation of democracy, but they were still at the stage when both factions played the game of "no leaks".

The minority reckoned that the ban on them organising internally called for such a move, but did not say so, since it knew it still had some organisational leverage (shares in the legal entity holding the property of the organisation, positions in the editing of Informations Ouvrières and in the POI secretariat).

On 24 July, the three national secretaries published an "open letter" to the members of the national committee of the POI justifying the creation of a new paper. In particular, they said that Informations Ouvrières had become an "organ of one part of the national committee which has gone to war against another part of the committee", and accused it of saying nothing about the shared position of the European Trade Union Confederation and the "leadership of the [French] national union confederations" in favour of keeping Greece in the eurozone and the EU and of giving poor coverage to a call by local councillors for the repeal of the new local government law of 2015 [transferring power from departments and municipalities to regions].

This letter immediately brought a public reply from a member of the national committee reproaching the members of the secretariat for their indiscipline and individual behaviour, and saying that no differences could be seen from reading the two rival papers.

Informations Ouvrières of 20 August saw an important event, but without sequel. An "open forum" page appeared with two articles by well-known members of the oppositional tendency, Pierre Cize and Jean-Jacques Marie. Marie is well-known as a historian of the labour movement and of the USSR...

Jean-Jacques Marie's article, for the first and it seems the last time, really set the fur flying in the columns of Informations Ouvrières. All credit to him for that. His subject was the European Trade Union Confederation. His substance was supplied by a criticism of a very obscure phrase of [POI leader] Marc Gauquelin's, in a previous issue, about the pressures of the EU institutions on the "radical left". The real obstacle, or the main obstacle, explained Marie, is the leaderships of the trade-union organisations linked to the ETUC. Their political role is bigger than that of the "radical left", though that too has its share of responsibility...

On Saturday 29 August the CCI held one of its traditional rallies at the tomb [in Paris] of Leon Trotsky's son Leon Sedov. This year the rally was special, because it was there that, so to speak, war was declared openly. According to the leadership of the CCI there were "almost 500" there. The two speeches, by Marc Gauquelin and by Lucien Gauthier, were both entirely oriented towards a definitive split - not with a current which had differences but with out-and-out enemies - and towards self-proclamation...

In fact, Marc Gauquelin, on that 29 August, openly declared himself a Lambertist, without quotation marks. The cult of the father of the tendency was in full flow against the contrariness and perversity of those who would contradict it: Marx-Engels-Lenin-Trotsky-Lambert, that was it.

In these two speeches, we learned some new things on the history of Bolshevism. We had already been told that Bolshevism tolerates tendencies only when the leadership declares a pre-congress discussion period. That grossly contradicts the historical facts, since there were always different tendencies in the Russian socialist movement from 1899 to 1921, and Bolshevism was first one of those tendencies and then itself full of diverse tendencies.

In the speeches we learned that the split between the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks [in 1903] had been mainly about the payment of dues, whereas in fact both Martov's and Lenin's versions of the clause in the party rules defining members (the original subject of dispute between them [at the 1903 congress]) declared that members must "support the party materially".

Then we learned that the Mensheviks had immediately... [after the congress] launched a "new Iskra against the party's paper" (Lucien Gauthier) [Iskra was the Russian socialists' central publication at the time]. In fact, the Mensheviks took control of Iskra [after the congress] thanks to Plekhanov [a supporter of Lenin at the congress] who let down Lenin.

These jugglings with historical truth were aimed at justifying an equation between three cosmic events: the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks, the 1952 split of [French] Trotskyism, and the current split in the CCI/POI. Each time the good side was the majority (in Russia: Bolshevik!) And even back in 1903 the Mensheviks [they claimed] didn't want to pay their dues! So, in launching a competitor paper, the Mensheviks of today are flouting majority rule and "democratic centralism" and will undermine the subscriptions to Informations Ouvrières, which comes to the same thing as not paying dues!

It is only a slight caricature to summarise these profound thoughts thus: Marxism-Leninism-Trotskyism-Lambertism is selling the paper and paying your dues. Mensheviks, Pabloites [supporters of the "orthodox Trotskyist" majority in the early 1950s], and Seldjoukites do not want to pay their dues. That is counter-revolution! ...

All this rigmarole on Menshevism, Pabloism, and paying dues... has as its cornerstone this eternal truth: the unions, boys, we must defend them top to bottom, "whatever the policies of their leaderships"...

The author's views, his experience, and his familiarity with this current mean that he cannot equate the two sides in this split. One side is establishing a self-proclaimed post-mortem Lambertist identity covering up a dogma on the infallible essence of the trade unions "whatever the policies of their leaderships". In it there are some perfectly sincere activists and good trade-unionists, but it is a framework whose social function is to sterilise them.

The others are being led by their choices and by the facts to pose themselves questions and to try to act as revolutionaries whose hands will not be tied by the trade-union machines. That makes possible a break with part of their heritage in order to better vivify another part of it. Not inevitable, but possible.

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