French Perspectives

At the present time, of all the European countries, it is in France that the class struggle has been unfolding on the highest level. Contrary to the claims of the capitalist media, there is nothing specifically "French" in this development, nor in its immediate causes. Throughout the whole of Europe, workers and the youth are faced with the same problems. Over the next period, the economic boom will pass away without having solved a single one of these problems. Indeed, in many respects, it will have served only to make matters worse. It can only be a matter of time before struggles break out on a similar scale in the rest of the continent. November 2000. From the French Marxist paper La Riposte

1. At the present time, of all the European countries, it is in France that the class struggle has been unfolding on the highest level. Contrary to the claims of the capitalist media, there is nothing specifically "French" in this development, nor in its immediate causes. Throughout the whole of Europe, workers and the youth are faced with the same problems. Over the next period, the economic boom will pass away without having solved a single one of these problems. Indeed, in many respects, it will have served only to make matters worse. It can only be a matter of time before struggles break out on a similar scale in the rest of the continent. The recent general strike in Greece is a clear indication of this. Our perspectives for France are only part of a more general perspective for the whole of Europe.

2. The public sector strike of 1995 had a profound effect on the consciousness of the working class in France. This was a major social upheaval that lasted for five weeks involving hundreds of thousands of workers. It was the highest expression of the class struggle in France since the revolutionary crisis of 1968. The ruling class only narrowly avoided an extension of the strike to the private sector, in which case the movement could have rapidly assumed a pre-revolutionary character. Indeed, it was the growing threat of such a development, in spite of the treacherous role of the trade union leaders, which eventually forced the Juppé government into an ignominious retreat.

3. Given the behaviour of the socialist, communist and trade union bureaucracies, different layers of the working class have moved into action at different times. With proper leadership, the whole of society could have been raised against capitalism in 1995. As it was, many sections of society that were not directly involved in the general strike nonetheless learned from it, were inspired by it, and were spurred into action in its wake. 

4. One of the most important features of the class struggle in France since the 1995 strike is the mobilisation of previously inert sections of the class. Truck drivers, shop and distributive workers, hotel cleaners, ticket collectors, prison guards, park-keepers, firemen, airline pilots, to give but a few examples, have moved into action. Numerous factories and workplaces have been paralysed by strikes for the first time in their history. Very often, these strikes have been successful. An important element in this situation is the high level of public support given to strikers. The 1995 strike itself was consistently supported by 65% of the population, in spite of the great disruption and inconvenience caused by the movement, which affected the daily lives of the entire population. There has been a radicalisation of the working class, a new willingness to struggle, and a rise in the general level of class consciousness.

5. The middle layers of society have also been affected by the rising mood of militancy. The Confédération Paysanne, which organises what remains of the small-scale farmers, have organised a series of widely supported spectacular protests against the banks and the giants firms which dominate French agriculture. Around 30000 protesters gathered in Millau in support of José Bové, the leader of the confederation, who was imprisoned for his part in the protests. When the monthly newspaper, Le Monde Diplomatique, set up of an association to combat the power of the financial markets, 25000 members were recruited over just two years. The association, known as ATTAC, has a confused, hotchpotch programme, in which progressive demands are mixed in with reactionary proposals such as stringent protectionist measures. This reflects the middle-class outlook of its founders. Nonetheless, the development of ATTAC and the mass rally in rural Millau can only be understood as a shifting of middle class opinion towards a radical "anti-capitalist" position. Doctors, pharmacists, tobacconists, magistrates, lawyers, and many other categories of the professional middle class, which in previous times formed part of the social reserves of capitalism, have taken to the streets in defence of their interests, imitating the traditional methods of struggle of the labour movement.

6. Another symptom of the processes underway is the awakening of the "underclass" of the homeless, the poor, and the illegal immigrant workers. Militant associations of homeless people have been set up. Empty office blocks and apartment buildings are regularly stormed, broken into and occupied. Such has been the public support for these initiatives that even Chirac felt obliged to visit occupied buildings and to express his support for the "squatters". Unemployed workers have occupied job centres, demanding improved benefits and job creation. The illegal immigrants, who formerly hid from the police for fear of detection and expulsion now demonstrate openly in the streets, demanding work permits and equal rights. Attempts to deport illegal immigrants have been foiled on a number of occasions by spontaneous protest from airline pilots and passengers.

7. These processes ¾ the radicalisation of the working class as a whole, an awakening of formerly inert sections of society, and the shift of middle class and rural opinion to the left ¾ all indicate that French society is hurtling willy-nilly towards a new and colossal confrontation between the classes. The 1995 strike was only a dress rehearsal for this future explosion, just as the relatively limited general strike of 1963 was a preparation for the revolutionary events of 1968.

8. The action taken by the capitalist road haulage syndicates in the first week of September further underlined the extremely unstable social and political situation that exists in France. Following a sharp increase in the price of fuel, the country was plunged into chaos as refineries, fuel storage plants, airports, motorways, tunnels, bridges, and a number of railway lines were blockaded. After just three days, fuel supplies had completely run out in a number of major cities, and eight stations out of ten were out of stock. This action, spearheaded by the bosses of the biggest road haulage and agricultural enterprises, was of a reactionary character in itself. Nonetheless, it forms part of a more general picture of profound social and economic crisis. Irrespective of the real class interests which lay behind these blockades, their overall effect on the consciousness of the working population was a positive one, in that they were yet another irrefutable demonstration of the practical effectiveness of collective militant action. This explains the extreme uneasiness of the MEDEF (the French equivalent of the British CBI) about the action taken by its own affiliated organisations.

The capitalist parties 

9. All of the right-wing parties, the RPR, the UDF and the extreme-right Front National, have split over the last few years, with further divisions remaining unresolved within each of the resulting fragments. The ruling class in France has never had the advantage of a single, stable party of the ruling class, but its political organisations have never been so completely divided as at the present time. Jean Tibéri, the RPR mayor of Paris, has now been expelled to make way for a rival candidate from the same party, Philippe Séguin. Tibéri, Chirac, Juppé and many other leading right-wing politicians are up to their necks in allegations of large-scale electoral fraud, corruption, illegal financing and political scandals.

10. The extreme right-wing and racist Front National emerged on the basis of profound disillusionment with the left governments in the 80's. At its highest point, the FN had a 10-15% share of the vote, and won control of a handful of municipal councils. In the face of the rising tide of working class militancy, the FN has broken up into the rump of the Front National led by Jean-Marie Le Pen and the MNR led by Bruno Mégret. Since this split, a new attempt was made to form another parliamentary bonapartist party in the form of the RPF around Charles Pasqua and Philippe de Villiers, but that party has now also split. The breaking up of the FN and the RPF shows the absence of any viable social base for bonapartist reaction. The splits and divisions in the right-wing parties is rooted in the impotence of the direct representatives of capitalism in the face of the social unrest of recent years and, in particular, in the fact that Juppé government so quickly provoked such a gigantic upheaval. The 1995 events, followed by the crushing electoral defeat in 1997, led to a profound demoralisation and disorientation of the ruling class.

The changed relationship of class forces

11. These developments are taking place against the background of a fundamental shift in the specific weight of the contending classes over recent decades. At the time of the 1936 general strike, 50% of the population still lived in rural areas. The vast majority of this rural population was involved agricultural activity. This situation has now been completely overturned. In France today, 87% of the total active population are employed or unemployed wageworkers. Only 18% of the population lives in what could be described as rural areas. Of this section of the population, only one household in ten has even one member engaged in any form of agricultural activity. Just 5% of the total active population work in agriculture, of which 85% are wageworkers. The change in the social composition of the population over the last century has massively increased the specific weight of wage-labour at the expense of the various intermediary layers of society, thus giving colossal economic, social and political power to the workers. It is not only a question of numbers, but also of the concentration of economic power in the hands of different groups of workers because of the concentration of capital and the increased interdependence of different branches of the economy. Even the recent national strike of the security guards who deliver money to the banks was beginning to have very serious repercussions on economic activity in general, after just a few days of strike action. The 1995 strike did not mobilise the entire working class. It probably involved, directly or indirectly, less than one fifth of the working population. Nonetheless, the strike brought the national economy to a virtual standstill.

12. The new balance of class forces places limits on the possibilities open to political reaction in France. In the past, Marx said that France was a country where the class struggle was "always fought to the finish". He explained that unless the working class carried its own struggle "to the finish" by the conquest of political and economic power, then the ruling class would lean on the peasantry and the urban petite bourgeoisie to deal a decisive blow to the proletariat. The crisis was therefore always decisively settled in favour of revolution or of counter-revolution within a short space of time. The bitter truth of this idea was seen in the tragic fate of the Paris Commune. Even in the 1930's, once the revolutionary upsurge of 1934-1936 had become ensnared and exhausted in the trappings of "popular frontism", reaction very rapidly gained the upper hand. A series of quasi-dictatorial measures had already been taken by 1938, paving the way for the Vichy regime and nazi occupation in 1940.

13. However, the erosion of the social reserves of reaction since that time means that this kind of rapid dénouement is no longer possible. In the recent period, even when political pendulum has swung over to the right, as it did in 1983-1986 and again in the early 90's, the parties of the ruling class proved incapable of exploiting their advantage. In 1986, Chirac tried to do this and failed. He appointed Charles Pasqua, formerly vice-president of the murderous Service d'Action Civique, to the Interior Ministry. Pasqua tried to use the police to intimidate the population on a strong "law and order" platform, and an attempt was made to move in the direction of thatcherite counter-reform. Before the end of the year, hundreds of thousands of school students were demonstrating against the government. When the police, encouraged by the warlike demagogy of Pasqua, stopped a student in a quiet street and beat him to death, one million people demonstrated in the streets of Paris and the CGT called a one-day general strike. Chirac suddenly woke up to the fact that the 1968 revolution had been triggered off in very similar circumstances. He immediately retreated, and was thrown out of office by early 1988. Again, when Chirac won the presidential elections in 1995 and appointed Juppé as Prime Minister, within just a few months the new government had provoked the general strike of the transport and public sector workers, which forced the government to retreat and led to a new victory of the left in the spring of 1997. Every attempt to carry out a reactionary offensive has provoked a new upsurge on the part of the youth and of the working class in general.

14. Instead of a rapid development towards a decisive victory, we now have a situation where neither the ruling class nor the working class is able to strike a decisive blow to the other side. The ruling class is paralysed by the erosion of its social basis, the peasantry and the independent "men of property" having almost completely disappeared. On the other hand the working class is held back by the political degeneracy of the socialist and communist leaders. The bureaucracies of the workers parties and of the trade unions are the main obstacles to the overthrow of capitalism. Without their support, capitalism would have been abolished long ago.

15. In the year 2002, the right-wing will have held a majority in the National Assembly for just six out of the twenty-one years since 1981. The experience of the left parties in power has greatly contributed to the heightened political awareness of the workers. The working class, at the cost of defeats and mistakes, is now becoming increasingly conscious of its power and is drawing conclusions from its struggles. The workers are in the process of becoming not just as class "in itself" but a class "for itself", to use the expression of Marx. Further along this road, in spite of inevitable setbacks and disappointments, lies the emergence of a genuine socialist revolutionary consciousness.

The Jospin government

16. Internationally, Jospin has gained the reputation of being more to the left than his European social-democratic counterparts. In reality, Jospin has tried to apply the same kind of policies as Blair in Britain or Schröder in Germany. The present government has privatised more than the combined privatisations of the three previous right-wing governments (Chirac 1986-1988, Balladur 1993-1995, and Juppé 1995-1997). The public services have been seriously undermined by cuts, "restructuring" and "out-sourcing" in favour of the private sector. Even the law reducing the working week to 35 hours contains major concessions to the employers, and has served as a pretext for massive state subsidies to capitalist enterprises, amounting to between 105 and 130 billion francs in 1999 alone. The Juppé "plan" which provoked the 1995 strike, and which Jospin openly supported at the time, has been maintained, as has the racist legislation brought in by Pasqua. The general thrust of the policy of this government is to push ahead with counter-reform in the same way as the previous "left" governments of Fabius, Rocard, Cresson, and Bérégovoy. However, the difference between Blair or Schröder and Jospin is that the latter came into office on the shoulders of the most important mobilisation of the workers seen in France since the 1968 revolution. The left in power has had to deal with an aroused, self-confident, increasingly experienced and militant working class, which enjoys the support of the majority of "public opinion". In 1999, the number of days lost in strikes was 43% higher than in 1998. The increase was particularly high (+60%) in the private sector. A little under one third of these strikes were related to the application of the 35-hour week, where employers tried to take advantage of the breaches opened up by the new law. Air France workers have organised five major strikes over this question alone. Public services have been hit by a number of strikes, involving postal workers, Ministry of Culture workers, Ministry of Finances workers, hospital workers, teachers, railway, metro and bus workers.

17. The struggle against counter-reform and against attacks on the public sector came to a head in March 2000, when simultaneous strike action by teachers and Finance Ministry workers plunged the government into a major crisis. Finance Ministry workers occupied the Ministry buildings and refused to collect taxes until the government abandoned its attacks on their working conditions. Fearing a generalisation of the movement, Jospin was forced to withdraw a series of counter-reforms and sack the ministers most closely associated with them, including the Education Minister, Claude Allègre, and the Finance Minister, Christian Sautter. This was a serious defeat inflicted upon a Socialist-Communist government by the labour movement, and marked an important new stage in the development of the class struggle in France.

18. The most right-wing members of the cabinet have been constantly pushed onto the defensive by events. After the departure of Strauss-Kahn and then of Sautter and Allègre, Fabius, who replaced Sautter as Finance Minister, is now under fire for his tax "reforms" in favour of the rich. Voicing the demands of the Banque de France and the MEDEF, he is recommending a squeeze on public spending, for a revision of the 35-hour week legislation in the interests of the bosses, and for further wage restraint for public sector workers. Jospin has been forced by pressure from below to resist these demands. Fabius is playing for the support of big business against Jospin.

19. Jospin, although belonging to the right of the party, was only able to win the leadership by posturing in favour of break with the corruption and nepotism of late "mitterrandism". The insertion of the 35-hour week in the party program reinforced his stature as a leader more sensitive to the pressure of the labour movement that his predecessors. In the government, Jospin is balancing between the left-wing socialist and PCF ministers on one side, and the most entrenched representatives of capitalism such as Fabius on the other. It is not accidental that Jospin has given the transport and youth ministries to communists and the ministry in charge of secondary education to a representative of the left reformist Gauche Socialiste. Their task is to act as a safety valve, protecting the left flank of government from the pressure of transport workers, teachers and school students.

20. The precarious balance between left and right, with Jospin as the "arbitrator" between the two camps, has been contained within certain limits by the economic upswing. Jospin will try to avoid a confrontation with the unions over the next year in order to increase his chances of winning the presidential elections. However, there are indications are that GDP growth is now slowing, and may well give rise to new increases in unemployment before the end of 2001, although this is not certain. Official unemployment figures rise, as a rule, when growth in the french economy falls below 2.4%. In spite of the slow-down, growth for 2000 will still be around 3.2%. Growth in 2001 is very likely to be weaker. In the event of a "crash" on the US stock market, the economic situation would change dramatically in a very short space of time, pushing unemployment rates up sharply. This would open the way for class conflict on a massive scale.

21. Just as Juppé was thrown onto the defensive by the 1995 strike, Jospin is now also on the defensive in the face of the struggles which have developed since 1997. He is in a particularly weak position since the defeat of last March and because of the approaching presidential elections. The economic boom has provided some room for manoeuvre, which Juppé did not have. The big increase in state revenues through VAT, income tax, taxes on profits and other taxes related to the general level on economic activity have helped to finance a massive job creation scheme for youth and financial handouts to the capitalists. So far, some 300000 youth have been employed on five-year low-wage contracts through the state financed scheme known as emploi-jeunes. Increased state and social security revenue has also eased the pressure for cuts in health, education and welfare payments. On the other hand, the boom has raised the expectations of workers and brought the glaring inequalities in french society into sharper relief. That is why Strauss-Kahn and then Sautter deliberately lied to the National Assembly and to the press about the scale of the budget surplus, claiming it to be just 13 billion francs, a sum which was "already allocated". The real surplus turned out to be nearer 60 billion francs.

22. Since the crisis of last March, the general trend has been towards an increase in the number of offensive strikes, particularly on the question of wages, as was shown by the massive response to the call for a one day general strike of railway workers on the 28th September. As a result of the increased price of fuel and especially because of the sharp fall in the exchange value of the European currency, which is now 30% lower than its initial value, prices are rising and further undermining living standards. On 1st November, a 13% increase in the price of domestic gas was announced. Inflation is stimulating demands for higher wages.

The Economy

23. Overall, the economic indicators of the last six months tend to confirm that the peak of the present boom is now behind us. Industrial production is slowing down. The growth in the value of stocks and shares has been cut back to an average of 4% since the beginning of the year, compared to 13% in previous years. The trade balance, which has been positive every month since 1994, has recently slid into negative figures. Higher interest rates, the massive increase in the price of fuel (paid in dollars) and inflation at 2.2% are undermining demand on the home market. Growth seems likely to taper off throughout 2001, and would fall very sharply in the event of a major crisis on international stock markets.

24. The growth rates of French GDP have been as follows over the last two decades:

1981 1.2%

1982 2.6%

1983 1.5%

1984 1.6%

1985 1.5%

1986 2.4%

1987 2.5%

1988 4.6%

1989 4.2%

1990 2.6%

1991 1.0%

1992 1.5%

1993 -0.9%

1994 2.1%

1995 1.8%

1996 1.1%

1997 2.0%

1998 3.4%

1999 2.9%

2000 3.2% (estimation)

Leaving aside the first of these decades, which we include in order to show the overall pattern of booms and slumps in France, the figures show a series of very poor rates of growth between the end of 1990 and 1997, with a "mini-peak" only just above 2% in 1994 and with negative growth in the 1993 recession. The cycle starts to move upwards again only in the second half of 1997. Quarterly rates for 2000 show a slowing down of growth as we advance towards the end of the year.

25. The fall in the euro has stimulated exports, which have grown by 10% over the last year. Imports, however, are growing at a faster rate than exports, in spite of being between 25% and 30% more expensive because of the currency depreciation. The biggest increase in imports has been in industrial machinery. Reluctance to invest in the past and the obsessional struggle against "excess capacity" has meant that french industry is presently running at 89% of its productive capacity, and cannot cope with the increased demand resulting from the boom.

26. The European Central Bank has tried to prevent the currency from sliding further by increasing interest rates. This policy has not worked. Further increases in bank rates will act as a brake on economic growth in the entire euro zone. One the other hand, if interest rates are not increased this will lead to a further weakening of the currency against the dollar. At a certain stage, the Federal Reserve will intervene, and it already has done, to give some support to the euro, since the fall the European currency also means huge losses on American profits made in Europe and repatriated to the USA. Henceforth, US banks will largely determine the exchange rate of the European currency, an advantage that American imperialism will try to exploit in its own interests.

27. If economic growth does slow down, as seems most likely, this will have very important repercussions on the class struggle. The upswing has taken place at the expense of the vast majority of the population. Average earnings of the working population have fallen, partly because of the massive influx of emploi-jeunes, but also because of the growing casualisation of labour. Four-fifths of collective bargaining agreements now stipulate minimum pay rates below the legal minimum wage, compared to 50% ten years ago. Wages represented on average 52% of the "surplus value" (according to the government definition of this term) generated by enterprises in 1999, compared to 58% in 1997 and 70% in 1983. There are now 650000 interim contract workers, which is a threefold increase over the last 7 years. Part-time and short-term contracts have also increased dramatically in number, for lack of stable full-time employment. Seven new jobs out of every ten are casual contracts. The population living below the official poverty line stands at a figure somewhere between 5.5 million and 6.1 million people. More than 2 million people are very badly housed, without basic facilities, and over 200000 are officially homeless. These statistics have not improved over the last three years of "economic boom".

28. In both the public sector and the private sector, workers are under enormous pressure to be more productive. The use of more sophisticated technology has increased the rate of exploitation, but the machines do not account for the entire increase in productivity. It has also been achieved by imposing greater moral and psychological pressure on the workers, who must work faster and harder. A significant strike took place in a social security office in Paris earlier this year. The workers, mainly women, demanded the sacking of their boss for "intimidation, cruelty and moral harassment".

29. Economic growth has not made any significant impact on the most pressing problems of society. There is a widespread feeling that the "fruits of economic growth" have not been shared with the working people. The boom has therefore increased social discontent. Fabius caused a public outcry on the announcement of his tax "reform", which gave the biggest share of tax cuts to the rich. The poorest quarter of the population received a tax cut of 19 billion francs, the next two quarters received 20 billion and 23 billion respectively, and the last and richest quarter received 79 billion francs, that is to say considerably more than the three quarters of the population below them. If the economy slows down significantly, then pressure will mount from big business and the financial markets for Jospin to impose a new round of cuts in public spending. However, the first tangible signs of a more restrictive government policy will be the signal for a new upsurge of militancy. Even without further restrictions, major struggles are on the agenda over the question of how the 35-hour week is to be applied in the public sector. Struggles on wages are breaking out. On the 26th October, a 24-hour national strike of health workers took place. This is a warning to the government of what is to come in the future, as was the strike on the railways in September.

The Socialist Party

30. In confirmation of our perspectives, the Socialist Party has been affected by the resistance of the working class to capitalist policies and by the polarisation of society as a whole. The upper bureaucracy has been transformed into a conscious agency of capitalist interests. At the same time, however, the ranks of the party are gradually moving to the left. A significant part of the membership of the Socialist Party are teachers and public sector workers who have been bearing the brunt of the restrictive measures applied by both right and left governments over recent years. This explains the emergence of important oppositional tendencies. The main left reformist opposition in the Socialist Party, the Gauche Socialiste is led by Dray, Mélenchon, Lienemann and Filoche, and has the support of something like 15% of the party membership. The other left oppositional current around the former party secretary Henri Emmanuelli probably represents another 8%. A new upsurge in the class struggle will further exacerbate the tensions in the Socialist Party, and push the ranks further to the left.

31. In capitulating to the right-wing of the party at every step, the leaders of the Gauche Socialiste, have repeatedly squandered the potential for the development of a more powerful left opposition within the PS. They supported the Maastricht treaty, calling for a "yes" vote in the referendum, and now complain about the consequences of this treaty. They have offered no serious opposition to the privatisations. They openly accept the "market economy", which they say must co-exist with a "social republic", whatever that might be. The feebleness of their program is summed up in the demand for a "Tobin Tax" of 0.05% on speculative financial transactions, an idea borrowed from ATTAC. They supported the intervention in the Balkans, regretting only that so many bombs were dropped. At the time of the strikes in education against Allègre that led to the government crisis of last March, Julien Dray publicly castigated the teachers for not having seized the "outstretched hand" of the discredited right-wing Minister. The leaders of the socialist left finally withdrew their support for Allègre only after he had been decisively defeated and removed from office.

32. After the crisis of March 2000, the Ministers most closely associated with the contested counter-reforms were sacked. Julien Dray was brought onto the national leading body of the PS and Jean-Luc Mélenchon entered the government. The most contentious measures introduced by Allègre have been effectively dropped. After the defeat he suffered last March, Jospin does not want a new confrontation with the teachers unions or with the student movement before the presidential elections. He is therefore leaning on both the conciliatory Lang and on the Gauche Socialiste, which controls the biggest students union (UNEF-ID) and the school students union (FIDL) in order to prevent a new conflict. After the nomination of Mélenchon, the leaders of this tendency immediately declared that they were now in an "objective alliance" with Jospin, because the main enemy was now Fabius. Mélenchon has recently described himself as "a minister devoid of all ideology".

33. The big increase in state revenues resulting from the boom has provided the economic basis of this compromise. Any attempt to introduce further cuts in education will provoke a crisis within the ranks of the Gauche Socialiste. In spite of the entry of Mélenchon into the government, support for the socialist left is likely to grow in the years ahead. The leaders would like nothing better than to capitulate to Jospin, but they are under pressure from the ranks of their own tendency, with Gérard Filoche, who waged an important struggle against the initial draft of the 35 hour week laws, coming forward as a leading figure to the left of Dray, Mélenchon and Lienemann. The emergence of the Gauche Socialiste as an important left reformist trend within the PS is a reflection of the struggles of the workers and of the growing political consciousness of the working class as a whole. The decline of the PCF, and in particular of the support for the PCF among the youth, will tend to further reinforce left reformist currents in the PS.

The Communist Party

34. The Communist Party has been in a state of continuous decline since the betrayal of the revolution by its leadership in 1968. This decline has been proceeding at a faster pace over the recent period. Official figures published by the Communist Party show that its membership has fallen at an average rate of 4% per annum over the last five years. In the last eight months alone, PCF membership has fallen by 20000. The PCF annual festival, the Fête de l'Humanité, attracted only 80000 daily participants this year, compared to 250000 in the 1980's.

35. The PCF membership has been sickened by the behaviour of the leadership in relation to the Jospin government. Every new counter-reform, after verbal and inconsequential protests "for the record", has been voted for by the PCF parliamentary group. Robert Hue has declared his support for the market economy, saying that privatisation should no longer be "taboo" for communists. This has provoked a hostile reaction from an important section of the party ranks, many of whom remember the bitter experience of the PCF participation in the 1981 government led by Pierre Mauroy. Elected with massive support on a reformist program, Mauroy went over to a policy of counter-reform and wage restraint within less than a year. The PCF, enormously weakened, finally left the government only in 1984, having supported counter-reforms and played a strikebreaking role for two years in the name of "governmental solidarity". At that time the PCF apparatus still had firm control over the CGT. In an attempt to restore its credibility, the PCF leadership tried to repeat the tactics that were applied after the party was thrown out of the Ramadier government in 1947. A series of ill-prepared, minority strikes were orchestrated, without any programme or perspectives that would justify the sacrifices the party asked of its supporters. It was a policy of industrial harassment, dictated by the interests of the PCF bureaucracy and taking little account of the moods and aspirations of the workers themselves. The leadership put forward a virulent nationalist platform demanding priority for "franco-french production" and protectionist measures against foreign products. One example of this policy was the demand for the closure of Renault plants in Spain and the repatriation of "French jobs" to France. The nationalist policies and divisive tactics of the PCF only further weakened the authority of the party in the eyes of the workers. The bureaucracy of the CGT saw that its own position was seriously threatened by its association with the PCF apparatus, and therefore broke away, largely depriving the party of a vital reservoir of support and membership.

36. Georges Marchais and the PCF leadership at that time tried to explain this declining support by saying that society as a whole was "sliding to the right". It was therefore only natural that support for communism should fall away. The leadership of the Socialist Party was designated as a scapegoat. The socialist "traitors" had moved to the right, and the PCF was paying the price for having been in the government with them. Between 1984 and 1997, communist militants were fed a diet of the most virulent anti-socialist propaganda, as a means of deflecting criticism away from the leadership of the PCF itself. It is therefore not surprising that the new 180° about-turn conducted by Robert Hue, taking the PCF back into government with the PS, could only be accomplished at the cost of major crises and divisions within the party. Whereas the Mauroy government of 1981 had carried out a whole series of nationalisations and social reforms before shifting to the right, the PCF is now participating in a government where the communist Minister of Transport, Jean-Claude Gayssot, has direct responsibility for the privatisation of Air France and of the Aerospace Industry.

37. The most likely perspective for the PCF is one of continued decline, with splits to the right and to the left. The more openly reformist elements will probably gravitate towards the Socialist Party, following the example of Charles Fiterman, who was a PCF minister in the Mauroy government. The communist students union, UNEF, is in the process of collapsing into UNEF-ID, which is controlled by the Gauche Socialiste. The leaders of UNEF will be installed in comfortable positions in the united union, but very few rank-and-file members are likely to follow them. After a whole series of splits and divisions, it is possible that some elements of the nationalistic "left" of the PCF will eventually link up with the Mouvement des Citoyens.

The elections

38. It is difficult to predict the result of the legislative and presidential elections in 2002, which are still 18 months away. In the legislative elections, which will take place just before the presidential elections, support for the socialist-communist lists will probably fall back in relation to 1997. The electoral base of the PCF will shrink even further. However, the pitiful state of the right-wing parties means that they may not be able to take full advantage of disillusionment with the left, which will probably be expressed through an increased abstention rate, and perhaps also in increased support for the ecologists and the Mouvement des Citoyens led by Chevènement. However, even small variations in the share of votes can lead to significant swings in the parliamentary representation of the two camps. The results of the municipal elections in March 2001 will provide a clearer picture of what is likely to happen at national level. In the meantime, we can only tentatively forecast that the legislative elections will produce a new left government with a reduced majority in the National Assembly. In the presidential elections, Jospin stands a good chance of defeating Chirac, who has been personally implicated in various financial scandals. The communist vote is unlikely to be more than 8%, and may be as low as 6%, that is to say hardly more than the vote for the ultra-left candidates. In the presidential elections, the real level of support for the PCF will not be masked by local alliances with the PS.

The Sects

39. France is one of the few countries in the world that has sizeable sectarian organisations. The policies of the LCR (Mandelist) and of the PCI (Lambertist) are in fact thoroughly opportunist and reformist. The "ultra-leftism" of these organisations is only true in relation to their attitude toward the PS and the PCF. A third organisation, Lutte Ouvrière, has reduced "Trotskyism" to a sterile litany of basic observations about the class nature of society. Each one of these organisations probably has between 800 and 1500 members. After decades of the most pernicious sectarianism combined with their espousal of all the passing fads of petit-bourgeois politics ¾ Maoism, Titoism, Castroism, guerrillaism, studentism ¾ they have succeeded in discrediting "trotksyism" in the eyes of broad layers of the workers and the youth. They can and do still attract some militants, sickened by the degeneracy of the socialist and communist leaderships. However, when, under the pressure of the workers movement, powerful oppositional tendencies develop within the main left parties, and particularly in the Socialist party, opening up the perspective of sweeping away the right-wing leadership, the ultra-left groups will lose their raison d'être. These organisations have complicated our task to some extent in the past and will undoubtedly complicate it further in the future. However, once we have emerged as a stronger and more "visible" tendency in the labour movement, the clarity of our ideas and our orientation towards the traditional organisations of the workers will enable us to overcome any difficulties arising from these organisations.

The Trade Unions

40. Trade union membership is equivalent to 9.2% of the working population. This percentage is not very high, but gives a false impression of the real influence and power of trade unionism in France. The unions undoubtedly have a mass audience, as has been shown many times over in the recent history of the movement. Indeed, the unions are by far the most powerful force in french society. The biggest single trade union confederation is the CGT, with around 640000 members, compared with 500000 for the CFDT. The CGT has broken with the PCF. In the 1980's, the idea of the CGT leading strikes against a PCF minister would have been inconceivable, and yet this is now a common occurrence, as shown by the many strikes which have taken place throughout the transport sector since 1997. The 1995 general strike pushed the CGT to the left. It is no accident that the present general secretary of the CGT is Bernard Thibault, who led the railway workers in that strike. The membership of the CGT has increased among railway workers and metalworkers, reversing the downward trend of the previous period. A new left-wing trade union structure, the SUD, initially formed on the basis of left splits from the CFDT inspired by the LCR, has emerged over the last few years as a significant force in some branches of the public sector. This is particularly the case among postal workers, where SUD has gained ground. Significantly, support for the right-wing Force Ouvrière confederation among postal workers has fallen sharply, reflecting the mood of workers in this key sector.

41. The CFDT leadership remains in the hands of Nicole Notat. She supported the Juppé "plan" in 1995 and opposed the general strike. The undemocratic structure of the CFDT has helped Notat hold on to her position, but she has also been helped by the shortsighted and sectarian behaviour the LCR. After the open betrayal of Notat and her acolytes during the 1995 strike, instead of waging a struggle for her removal, the sectarian on the left of the CFDT railway federation seized the opportunity to organise a split in the union, taking hundreds of angry railway workers out of the CFDT to form a separate SUD structure. A similar split had already been organised in the social services at that time, leading to the formation of the SACER. The Notat leadership has made it impossible for some union structures to remain within the CFDT confederation. Part of the ANPE employment agency CFDT union has split away, leaving the remainder in the hands of supporters of Notat. In the last few weeks, the shop-workers CFDT union structure, the Syndicat du Commerce de Paris (SYCOPA), a militant union, has also split as a result of supporters of Notat at a higher level signing reactionary agreements with the employers in spite of opposition from the union. The majority of SYCOPA has left the CFDT and will possibly apply to affiliate to the CGT. Opposition to Notat is mounting within the confederation. This opposition includes the powerful metalworkers federation. Notat has benefited from the departure of some of the oppositional unions, and the new and inexperienced layers of workers who have joined the CFDT over recent years have strengthened her position to some extent. This situation will change in time.

42. The Force Ouvrière confederation traditionally stands on the right of the French labour movement. Although within this organisation also, the class struggle has had a certain impact. The "non-political" demagogy of the leadership enabled FO to grow at the expense of the CGT and the CFDT during the early 1980's, when the latter were used to stifle workers opposition to the austerity policies applied by the left government from 1982 onwards. This enabled the FO leadership to present itself as the only genuinely "independent" trade union organisation. During this period, FO recruited mainly among the formerly unorganised sections of the workers. Over the recent period, these layers have been moving into action, forcing the national leadership to support their claims to a certain extent. Over the last five years, FO has gone into decline. The confederation claims one million members. However, a recent official enquiry found FO membership to be no higher than 180000. The "left" in the union is controlled by the "Lambertists", a corrupt and completely degenerate sect that has managed over the years to infiltrate the structures of FO. It is on their insistence that FO refuses to march jointly on Mayday demonstrations with the CFDT or the CGT, which they do not recognise as genuine workers organisations.

43. Against a general background of strikes and social instability, the workers will strive to transform the trade unions into reliable instruments of their struggle. The Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and the trade union organisations will all be affected by the rising militancy of the workers and the youth, who will begin to draw far-reaching conclusions from their experiences. Left reformist and quasi-revolutionary ideas will spread, both inside and outside of the traditional organisations.

44. For the time being, the PS, the PCF and the unions are "mass organisations" only in the sense that they rest upon the social reserves of the mass of the working people and of the youth. The internal politics of these organisations, especially of the parties but even of the unions, are lagging behind the changes in consciousness taking place at the present time among broad layers of workers and youth. The important developments taking place within the PS and the crisis in the PCF are only a foretaste of what is to come in the future. In the Socialist Party, the Gauche Socialiste is likely to make further gains, in spite of the braking effect of its leadership. The development of a new general strike along the lines of that of 1995, for example, would enormously strengthen the opposition to the right-wing policies of the PS leadership.

45. The developments that will take place in the future and the enormous opportunities that will open up for ourselves are indicated by what happened to the old SFIO in the wake of the events of 1968. The revolutionary movement of that year led to a radical transformation of the SFIO, which had been reduced to a tiny parliamentary rump in the preceding period. After the betrayal of the PCF leadership, the reformed SFIO, renamed Parti Socialiste, became a vehicle for the revolutionary aspirations of the youth and of the fresh layers of workers aroused to action by the general strike. Part of the centrist PSU was drawn into the party, the whole of which then moved very rapidly over to the left. In his bid for the leadership of the party, François Mitterrand, a former right-wing politician, was forced to give voice to the prevailing mood. At the 1971 congress of the PS in Epinay he declared that whilst differences may exist as to how the socialist revolution was to be accomplished, "anyone who is not in favour of this revolution has no place in the Socialist Party". The "Declaration of Principles" adopted by the congress defined the PS as a Marxist movement, whose aim was a complete break with capitalism and the socialist transformation of society. A powerful left-wing emerged around the CERES organisation, which won a decisive majority in the youth section of the party.

46. France has entered a period of social instability and class struggle similar to that which immediately preceded 1968. These times are our times. The program, the theory, the methods and the traditions of our organisation are the key to the historical destiny of the working class in France, as is the case internationally. Our duty is to develop the basis of our organisation as rapidly as possible. Opportunities are opening up for us everywhere. We must find the resources to take full advantage of the situation that has opened up. In a country like France, where there are two workers parties, we will inevitably have to carry out some work in both of these organisations to some degree or other. Both of these parties offer possibilities for the growth of our tendency even now, and this will be the case to a much greater extent in the future. The same is true in the unions. But above all, at this stage, we must build a basis among the youth. That must be our priority. We must build a strong, lively, active organisation, based on a clear understanding of our ideas, with a serious attitude towards the development of its apparatus, its finances, its paper and all other aspects of its organisational work. Once we have reached a certain stage of development, particularly in the situation that is now unfolding, we can develop a powerful basis for our ideas in the years that lie ahead. The developments described in this document indicate that France is once again heading towards a major confrontation between the classes, in the course of which the question of power will be posed. There will not be one, but several of such confrontations in the years that lie ahead. Our task is to develop the forces capable of leading the workers movement to a decisive victory, which in turn will place socialism on the order of the day throughout Europe and indeed throughout the entire world.

Paris, 2nd November 2000.