On January 30th a successful meeting was held in Paris to launch a network of PCF members who want to struggle to bring back the ideas of Marxism into the French Communist Party. Lessons of the past were discussed and conclusions drawn on what are now the next steps that need taking. Speaking at the meeting was also Alan Woods, editor of Marxist.com and a comrade representing the Marxists in the Italian PRC.
A hundred and twenty communist activists and sympathisers attended the meeting giving birth to the network “Build the French Communist Party, Back to Marxism” on Saturday, January 30th, in Paris. There were comrades from all over France: Finistère, Haute-Garonne, Deux-Sèvres, Gard, Allier, Aisne, Seine-Maritime, Territory of Belfort, Meuse and most departments from Ile de France. The atmosphere and the debates were excellent.
The crisis of capitalism and the relevance of Marxism today
The afternoon was split into three separate sessions interrupted with breaks. Alan Woods, editor of marxist.com and founder of the international “Hands off Venezuela!” campaign, opened the meeting with an overview of “the crisis of capitalism and the relevance of Marxism” in a quite humorous manner: “Welcome to the funerals! Marxism is dead! Communism is dead! How do I know? I know it because I read it every day in the newspapers; I hear it every day on the radio; I watch it every day on television.” Then he recalled what Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda, used to say: “if you lie, don’t say a small lie; say a huge lie, the coarsest, the roughest possible. And repeat it again and again; it will be accepted eventually,” That’s exactly what the media and the pro-capitalist intellectuals do. Day after day, they keep saying that communism and Marxism are obsolete.
Alan emphasised the bankruptcy of the bourgeois economists. For years, they have been explaining that the crisis of capitalism was over, that the economic cycle had been abolished. And here we are, facing the largest crisis since the thirties. “It’s not only a crisis of credit,” as Alan explained, “it’s a classical crisis of overproduction. There are too many goods, too many productive forces compared to the demand. Even the bourgeois economists have got to admit it. Actually, they don’t talk about ‘overproduction’; that would sound too Marxist. They talk about ‘overcapacity’, but it is exactly the same thing.”
Alan explained that there would inevitably be a revival of the economy, at some stage. “As Lenin used to explain in the 1920s, there is no such thing as a final crisis of capitalism. Capitalism will always recover from the worst crisis – until it is brought down by the collective and conscious action of the workers, led by a Communist Party.” He added, however, that we cannot expect the economic recovery to bring improvements in the standard of living of the working masses. All the jobs that have disappeared during the recession won’t come back. Moreover, the capitalists will present the workers the enormous bill of the public deficits. Counter-reforms and huge cutbacks are on the order of the day. In the face of this, “Don’t think the French working class will remain passive! Great struggles are being prepared. We’ve got to get ready for it and get the Communist Party ready too. We have got to take up Marx’s and Lenin’s ideas again.” Alan also spoke on other topics like the Bolivarian revolution, the beginning of the Iranian revolution, etc... His speech was greeted with the warmest of applause.
In the debate that followed, a communist activist from Iran, Bijan Rastegar, emphasised the extraordinary importance of the events taking place at the moment in Iran: “If Ahmadinejad’s regime falls, there will be revolutionary consequences all over the region.” Allain Duguet, CP activist in Alès, in the department of Gard, intervened to say how pleased he was about having such a meeting and to encourage all the activists to hold similar meetings all over the country. Among the contributors, we must note also one ‘ultra-left’ who reproached the Iranian demonstrators for shouting “Allah is great” during the demonstrations, and then made people laugh when he encouraged all the communists there to leave the PCF! During his conclusion, Alan answered him explaining that there are many Muslims in Iran, which probably explains the religious slogans during the demonstrations. Then he added, “we must speak to the real working class, the working class of this world, and not to an imaginary, ‘perfect’ working class, or the working class on Planet Mars, that we would have, by the way, most difficulty in contacting”. Alan in his concluding remarks called on all the comrades present to help us in our work to strengthen the PCF and arm it with a Marxist programme and politics.
The future of the PCF: Marxism or reformism
The second session was introduced by Jerôme Metellus, member of the PCF and its Marxist wing, La Riposte. He spoke about the politics, the programme and the prospects of the party. After describing briefly Sarkosy’s reactionary politics, which have multiplied the effects of the crisis, Jerôme stressed the fact that this situation poses the PCF with big responsibilities: “We think that the PCF can and must play a major part in the struggle to put an end to the capitalist system.” He added, “I quite realise that this idea is not very fashionable. Whenever the PCF is mentioned, either in the press or on television, it is nearly always to announce its imminent death. When this idea comes from our opponents, from the media and from our intellectual bourgeois, it is normal. They play their roles. The real problem is that this idea has gained ground in the tops of the party itself. Many of our leaders think that Communism is ‘obsolete’, that we have to ‘invent something different’. But what? We don’t know: it’s still in the process of being invented!”
As Jerôme explained, the PCF has been through different periods of severe decline in its history. After the congress of Tours, in 1920, when there were 100,000 members, the party went down to 10,000 members in 1930.That was the result of the sectarian politics at the head of the party, who, in conjunction with the nascent bureaucracy in Moscow, was predicting the impending fall of capitalism and described the Socialists as “social-fascists”. However, soon afterwards, in the great strikes of 1936, the PCF filled out again with workers open to mass struggles and the party reached nearly 400,000 members in 1937. Similarly, when France joined the Second World War, the party was again reduced to a few thousand members, especially because of the impact of the Hitler-Stalin Pact on the official “line” of the party. But still, the same party in 1944 freed Paris from Nazi occupation. The PCF was, by far, the main force in the Resistance and counted up to 500,000 members.
“So the history of the party is linked with the ebb and flow of the class struggle”, Jerôme summed up. “However, the links between the class struggle and the evolution of the party are not automatic or mechanical. The politics of the leaders plays a major part. For example, between 1995 and 2007, France witnessed a few massive mobilizations: the big strike of December 1995, the demonstrations against the war in Iraq, the 2003 struggle to defend pensions, the struggle against the CPE, many massive school and university students’ mobilizations, among others. But, in the same period, the PCF declined even further. The problem was not to be found in the conditions, but in the party itself: in the wrong politics of its leadership.
Finally, Jerôme explained the need to boost the discussion about the fundamental ideas of Marxism, within the party. “That must be the first task of this network we are founding today. Every time La Riposte has organised a meeting about one of the aspects of Marxist theory, the comrades of the party have been very enthusiastic. We have to multiply these types of meetings. Everywhere the Communists must take up this kind of work. Electoral deadlines and tactical questions linked to elections take up too much time and space in the internal discussions within our party, to the detriment of discussions on the ideas, the programme, and on the most important developments of the class struggle on a world scale. How many branches of the party have taken up the events in Iran or in Venezuela on the agenda of their meetings? Very few! We must correct this. Let’s not forget that Communism is in essence internationalist.”
Jerôme concluded by encouraging the comrades to set up the network, to expand it and turn it outwards – and encourage the best comrades to engage in this task in order to revive the ideas of Marxism inside the party.
During the discussion that followed Jerôme’s speech, different questions were raised: the need to nationalise the banks, the impact of the collapse of the USSR on the Communist movement, the role of the mayors, councillors and MP’s of the party, etc. Two comrades intervened to criticise the growing gap between the rank-and-file of the party and its elected officials. To this Jerôme answered: “This is a general concern, in the party. Many officials of the party – not all of them, fortunately – play a disproportionate role in the party. And there is a general feeling, among the rank-and-file members that we have very little control on the comrades elected to state positions. This must change.”
The PRC and the struggle against Berlusconi
The last session was introduced by comrade Francesco Giliani, secretary of the PRC in Modena, Italy, and member of FalceMartello, the Marxist wing of the PRC. The topic of this session was the class struggle and the Italian Communist Movement. Francesco first explained a few points about the particularly severe crisis which is affecting Italian capitalism, “one of the most fragile and the sickest in Europe”. He explained how “the ruling class and the Berlusconi government are trying to divide the workers by fomenting racist feelings against the immigrant workers”, just as in France with the debate on the “national identity” and the burqa. But without a clear and active alternative from the left-wing leaders and the unions, this racist campaign is gaining ground among some layers of the Italian working class and poor. Francesco explained how last January the government sent the army and the police to “restore order” in Rosarno, in the south of the country, when thousands of immigrant farm hands had rebelled against the racist harassment and the unbearable working conditions they were victims of.
Our comrades of FalceMartello played a decisive role in the left turn in the PRC during the last congress of the party, in July 2008. Paolo Ferrero, the new general secretary of the party, gained a majority when he committed himself to putting an end to the liquidation of the PRC – and to asserting that the PRC rejected any kind of alliance with the Democratic Party (PD), a pro-capitalist party born out of the PDS (social-democrats) and a “centre” party lead by former Christian Democrats and other representatives of Italian capitalism. A year and a half later, Paolo Ferrero abandoned the position adopted at the 2008 congress. On the one hand, he is speeding up the process of liquidation of the PRC by trying to set up a “federation” with a conglomerate of small organizations, all to the right of the PRC. On the other hand, the leadership of the party has entered a political alliance with the Democrat Party, for the upcoming regional elections. “This policy has been very badly received by the rank-and-file of the party. Comrades who had come back to the party in 2008, are now leaving again. But the final word on this questions has not been said. Opposition to this turn to the right will grow stronger within the ranks of the party, and the FalceMarcello comrades will play their part in it.”
Finally, some “closing remarks” were made by Greg Oxley, member of the PCF in Paris and editor of La Riposte. He said that after the big success of this meeting, we must all strive to develop the influence of these ideas in the party and among its sympathisers. He quoted Lenin’s slogan: “patiently explain!” Then we all sang the Internationale and Avanti Popolo.
The meeting was full of enthusiasm. Now, we must build this network “Build the French Communist Party, Back to Marxism” in every region of France. The comrades must take up this task and organise similar meetings in different branches of the party. There is no time to lose. Forward to the victory of the Marxist ideas and programme!