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a socialistworld is possible: the history of the cwi by peter taaffe
new introduction

Lost opportunities in France

In Europe, the USFI’s most prominent national section is the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR – Revolutionary Communist League), in France.

On a number of occasions since 1995, including in recent elections, the opportunity has existed to take decisive steps towards the formation of a new mass workers’ party. The LCR together with Lutte Ouvrière (LO) seemed to be attracting significant support from young people and workers protesting at the shift to the right of the ‘pluralist left’, the Socialist Party (PS), in the main, but also the French Communist Party (PCF). For instance, in January 2004, two months before the French regional elections, polls indicated that 9% of the French population would vote for the LO/LCR candidates and another 22% were seriously considering it. However, the LO/LCR alliance suffered a serious setback. It polled only 3.3% of the vote in the European elections and lost all its 5 MEPs. A short-term squeezing of the vote of the smaller left parties can sometimes occur when voters flock to an opposition that is seen as the ‘lesser evil’, so as to defeat the parties of the right. However, LO/LCR ran a lacklustre campaign, which was deficient in putting forward fighting demands and a clear explanation of a socialist alternative. They attacked the parties of the ‘traditional left’, such as the ex-social democratic PS, and described them as ‘social-liberals’ – whatever that means! But they did not raise the idea of a new workers’ party as a socialist alternative to the bourgeois parties. It was discarded as something for after the elections; in the meantime another opportunity has been lost.

What is needed is an active campaign and plan of action for the formation of a new workers’ party. Two years previously, the combined vote of LO and LCR reached 10.4% in the first round of the presidential elections, such was the opposition to the outgoing PS/PCF government. The movement against Jean Marie Le Pen, who reached the second round of the presidential elections by beating the then prime minister Jospin into third place, was an enormous opportunity to initiate a lively broad campaign for a new workers’ party.

Instead, the LCR, by adopting the slogan, "Fight the National Front in the streets and in the polling stations’, did not present an independent working class position and allowed the working class to be mobilised behind Chirac, the incumbent president. Chirac, who received less than 20% of the vote in the first round of the presidential elections, and who was widely seen as totally corrupt, came out of the second round with 82.15% of the vote. This formed the basis for a second election victory for the right and the subsequent formation of a government with the confidence to attack fundamental workers’ rights, like welfare and pension ‘reforms’.

In May and June 2003, there was another opportunity to form a new workers’ party. The protests against the government’s pension reform led to a situation of a near general strike, with millions demonstrating against the right-wing Raffarin government. The need for a mass party defending the rights of workers and the poor was in the forefront of everyone’s mind, as nobody believed the parties of the ‘Gauche plurielle’ (PS, PCF and Greens) had any alternative to offer.

In an opinion poll taken the week after the massive demonstration on Sunday 25 May 2003, 47% said they thought the PS would be neither better nor worse in dealing with pension reform (47% said the same on education reform and 50% on health reform). At demonstrations a layer of the workers’ blamed the radical left for calling for a Chirac vote in the presidential elections a year earlier – saying that this had lead to a stronger right-wing government. In the aftermath of the struggle against pension reform, when trade union leaders only just saved the government by avoiding a general strike, attention switched again to the political stage.12